Lotsa Stuff

My blog post titled Stake President of the United States has received over 50,000 unique visits and counting and has been cited by media outlets across the country, including just last week by the Deseret News. It tells the story of Mitt Romney removing a hornet’s nest from my cousin’s second-story air conditioner. The story has been received positively by many, and it seems to have spread far and wide, although a few people have questioned its veracity. I actually had one guy I don’t know quote my blog post back to me while I was participating in a political focus group. When I told him I’d written that story, he asked me “well, is it true?”

It is.

What’s more, you no longer have to take my word for it. You can read an interview with the cousin in question, Grant Bennett, here, and he recounts the story in his own words. I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard him repeat it at tonight’s Republican National Convention. Grant will be speaking about his experiences with Mitt Romney as a Mormon bishop between 8 and 9 pm EST.
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People are still asking me about the NBC Rock Center special about the LDS Church and what I thought of it. I was surprised to read this report from Newsbusters.org, a conservative media watchdog site, that referred to the special as a “Mormon hit piece.” Longtime commenter Daniel Z. has tagged me as having a persecution complex on the subject, but I found myself pleasantly surprised by the report, which, overall, was very favorable to the church.

Could it have been better? Sure. But it could also have been much, much worse.

Take polygamy, for instance. Of course they had to mention it, but we didn’t get and extended segment with Warren Jeffs acolytes the way we did when the BBC did their hit piece a few months back. Instead, we got a very thoughtful comment from an official church leader who put the practice in its historical context and clarified that it hasn’t been a part of the church since the 19th Century.

As for past racism in the church, that was mentioned but not dwelled upon, and they gave a great deal of time to an interracial couple from Lehi, Utah, where the African-American husband made it clear that he’d never experienced any bigotry in his LDS congregation. The interview with Mormon feminist Joanna Brooks and the openly gay bishopric counselor Mitch Mayne were remarkably complimentary, and segments about the church’s welfare program were practically gushing in their admiration, and, overall, I think anyone with no knowledge of the church prior to watching that show would have come away with a very favorable impression.

And although I winced when it was clear that they were going to close the program with a segment about the incredibly offensive Book of Mormon musical, imagine my surprise when they decided to highlight Clark Johnson, the one (former) Mormon in the cast who had incredibly gracious things to say about his own missionary experience. (Name drop alert: Clark Johnson was an actor at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre in 2001 when I was the Artistic Director there. I taught him several Gershwin numbers for that year’s preshow. I was astonished that he didn’t mention that, as I’m sure it was one of the seminal moments of his career.)

So was it perfect? No. Why not? Abby Huntsman.

The twenty-something daughter of failed presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who can’t decide whether or not he’s still a Mormon, Abby was Brian Williams’ “go-to-guy,” so to speak. She got the final word on subjects like temple marriage and temple garments, even though she’s no longer a member of the church and has never experienced Mormon temple rituals firsthand. She was held up as an authority on these subjects because she is “Mormon royalty” that is “descended from one of the church’s original twelve apostles,” although they never said which. Is a dissident really the most authoritative voice on how the church operates, particularly a very young dissident who has limited personal experience with the things she’s discussing? Plus what was with her lipstick? It looked like she’d just had her collagen implants spray painted.

Still, that’s essentially a quibble. If all media treatments of Mormonism are executed with as much thoughtfulness as this one was, then I’ll be forced to concede that Daniel Z. was right.
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So what do I think of the Republican Convention so far?

I think it’s a home run. I think Ann Romney faced ridiculously high expectations and effortlessly exceeded them. I thought Chris Christie’s speech was grand, thoughtful, and inclusive. I thought Paul Ryan delivered a devastating blow to the Obama administration last night, and I have fallen madly and deeply in love with Condoleezza Rice.

What will America think, and will this provide a significant bump in the polls? I don’t know. If they’re watching, it will. And it will depend almost entirely on how well Mitt does tonight. But I think a good sign is that the MSNBC anchors are beside themselves with blind, sputtering rage – especially Chris Matthews, who thinks everything the Republicans are saying is really a secret code that means “we’re anxiously engaged in efforts to enslave African-Americans all over again.” To him, everything a Republican says is latently racist. But if everything is racist, then nothing is racist. Or, as the great Harry Nilsson once observed, “a point in every direction is the same as no point at all.”

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Four of my columns have now run in the Deseret News, which is the second largest paper in Utah and the fastest growing newspaper – maybe the only newspaper with growing circulation at all – in the United States.

The first was Superheroes should maintain their super values and talks about superhero movies.

The second, which I referenced in this blog post, is titled “Not bad” isn’t necessarily good and recounts my experiences rewriting Tuacahn’s Utah! musical, which I also talked about in this blog post.

The third was on the front page of the Sunday Arts section and is titled Movie ratings useful, but can be arbitrary. It recounts a story that I told in one of my very first blog posts back in 2007.

The fourth generated quite a bit of controversy on my Facebook page, and it’s titled Hollywood mocks what it doesn’t understand. I anticipate that my fifth column will run this Sunday. I’ll post a link here when it does.

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My year-old album up on Amazon and iTunes has still sold precisely zero copies. So that’s why I added a new single to several online stores called “Edge of a Crow,” which has the best production values of any song I’ve ever recorded. It seems I’m getting the hang of GarageBand, but not of selling anything. So if you want to be the first person on the planet to plunk down 89 cents for an original Stallion Cornell tune, now’s your chance.

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I have nothing more to say to you, at least today. Feel free to go about your business.

 

More than Bad Grammar

“A word out of place.”

That’s what Representative Todd Akin has apologized for with regard to his ludicrous contention that victims of “legitimate” rape can somehow “shut down” their reproductive systems and thereby prevent pregnancy.

So, essentially, this is all a big grammatical misunderstanding.

Akin has repeatedly apologized for using the word “legitimate” as an adjective for the word “rape,” because “rape is never legitimate.” With regard to a victim’s magical birth control powers, he hasn’t recanted.

And guess what? That is, by far, the most offensive part.

Akin is doing a huge disservice to himself, to his party, to his country, and to the pro-life cause by remaining in this race. He doesn’t seem to realize that efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion to the legislative arena will be severely undermined by his unforgivable dippiness.

Abortion remains one of the most divisive issues in American politics because there is so little room for compromise. Yet one area where many people on both sides of the debate can find common ground is in the idea that women should have the option to terminate a pregnancy resulting from sexual assault. Akin doesn’t believe that, but Mitt Romney does. So does Stallion Cornell.

In light of that principle, Representative Todd Akin’s recent comments on this subject are scientifically, intellectually, and morally indefensible.  Indeed, there is so much that is wrong with what he said that it is difficult to know where to start.

Even if one forgoes the warped distinction between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” rape, as Representative Akin is now limply attempting to do, his standard would suggest that a pregnant rape victim didn’t “shut down” and therefore was likely not raped at all, legitimately or otherwise. This adds additional insult to injury, and it demeans the suffering of women who tragically find themselves pregnant after the most traumatic experiences of their lives. That’s an intellectually rancid position that immorally attaches a measure of blame to the victim. All such opprobrium should be reserved exclusively for the perpetrator.

Of course, scientifically speaking, Akin’s assertion is ludicrous.  Anyone with a knowledge of basic biology knows there is no known physiological mechanism by which the female body can “shut that whole thing down.” We might allow for that level of ignorance in breathless gossip passed between schoolchildren on a playground during recess, but to hear such nonsense stated by someone who wants to serve in the United States Senate is beyond excuse.

We live in a country that too often ignores the serious moral repercussions of abortion. We believe there is much work to be done in the public arena by those who want to reverse the current trend of devaluing human life, and there are many who are pursuing that goal in a thoughtful and effective manner. Their efforts are undermined by Representative Akin’s altogether reprehensible statement.

Drop out, Representative Akin. Drop out now. If it makes you feel better, don’t think of it as dropping out, but rather as a legitimate way in which your electoral future is shutting down.

The Definitive Take on Paul Ryan

I found out about potential veep Paul Ryan late in the evening. The choice didn’t thrill me to my bones. Then I got up the next morning and drove Corbin and Cornelius to their soccer tournament. (They lost in a heartbreaker. They were up 2-0 at halftime, only to give up three goals in the second half.) On the way, I listened to Paul Ryan’s speech. I decided that this is a shrewd choice that has the potential to fundamentally transform the race in a way that will work to Mitt’s advantage.

The Obama administration has distinguished itself by running ads that claim Mitt gave a woman cancer and other ads narrated by Ann Romney’s horse. The goal has been to pummel voters into submission and convince them that Mitt is an unacceptable choice, so they’re painting him as a rich, unfeeling weirdo.

Now that they’re attacking Ryan for his controversial budget proposal, they don’t seem to realize that they’ve just moved on to Mitt’s turf. By criticizing economic ideas instead of equine dressage, they tacitly concede that they have to come up with ideas of their own. Sooner or later, that will blow up in their face.

What’s been especially delightful has been watching the Obama administration’s flailing attempts to demonize Ryan’s Medicare plan while trying to shore up their rear flank as Romney/Ryan rightfully criticize Obama’s decision to slash over $700 billion in Medicare funding. If the Democrats can’t scare geezers into thinking Republicans are trying to slaughter them, then they’ve pretty much got nothing.

As for the specifics of the Ryan budget, I think he takes the wrong approach with a Medicare voucher, but I admire the living snot out of the fact that he actually made a proposal that reforms entitlements. For far too long, neither political party has been willing to face the reality that it is mathematically impossible to balance the federal budget without reforming the nation’s metastasizing entitlement programs.

There’s a reason for that.  These programs – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – are far and away the most popular programs in the federal budget. Every time someone tries to fix them – Gingrich, W., – they’re practically tarred and feathered. Yet these programs are far and away the most expensive items on the federal menu, and they currently consume nearly two-thirds of all federal spending and 100% of all tax revenue collected.  In other words, every tax dollar that comes into Washington, DC goes right back out to fund these programs, and everything else the government spends is borrowed money.  You could shut down everything else the government does, including the entire United States Military, but without entitlement reform, you would still have a deficit.

Paul Ryan is one of the few elected officials who understands that.

I admit his plan isn’t perfect – no legislative plan is – but it’s a starting point. If nothing else, it kicks off a dialogue that both Republicans and Democrats would much rather kick down the road. This is an issue fraught with political danger, and it is easily demagogued.  Ryan himself had to endure ads depicting a Ryan look-alike hurling an elderly woman out of a wheelchair and over a cliff.

That kind of nonsense is an inexcusably flippant approach to a very serious problem. Fortunately, Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate ensures that this serious problem will now take center stage of the national debate.

This choice demonstrates that Governor Romney is willing to tackle these tough problems and face the demagoguery head on. There’s no doubt that President Obama will fervently oppose the Ryan approach, but Ryan’s presence on the ticket may force the president to move beyond demonization and come up with a few solutions of his own. Perhaps he could revisit the deficit-cutting alternatives of his own bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission, which offered substantive suggestions that the president has essentially ignored. In any case, Congressman Ryan as a vice presidential candidate will make it much harder for America to ignore this pressing problem, and with any luck, more Americans will understand the nature of a problem that Washington has spent decades avoiding.

We’ve kicked this can down the road long enough.

“Not Bad” Isn’t Necessarily Good

I’m preparing the final word on Paul Ryan for your perusal, but today, I begin with a bit of blog business:

For the past two months, I’ve been a freelance writer for the Deseret News, Utah’s second largest newspaper and the fastest growing newspaper in the country. I’ve submitted a number of articles, and they’ve actually published some of them. What they haven’t published has ended up here. So it’s a win-win for everyone, unless you hate what I write, in the which case, what are you doing here?

They’re also publishing a column under my name. The column focuses on the topic of “values in the media,” and you can read the first one, titled Super Heroes Should Keep Their Super Values, at the Deseret News website. They were even kind enough to include a link to this blog.

They published my second column today, but, curiously, it hasn’t been published online…

See? Here’s the print version. I’m not just making this up. (And I don’t care a hill of beans about Hoopes Vision.)

UNTIL NOW!!!
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What does it take to be on the cutting edge of family entertainment?

For me, that has never been a rhetorical question. I spent five years as the Executive Producer of a small summer theatre in Jackson, Wyoming, and then another five as a producer and director at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Southern Utah. My goal in both places was to produce shows that would attract family audiences and sell a whole lot of tickets, not necessarily in that order.

I learned that the challenge of being in the “cutting edge” of wholesome theater is that many people believe a show that’s appropriate for the whole family can’t have any edges. Edges are sharp, and they offend people. Some therefore define decency in the media not by the presence of positive values, but rather by the absence of naughty bits, which means that what isn’t in the story becomes more important than what is. More often than not, that approach produces material that isn’t objectionable, but it isn’t much of anything else, either.

Take Utah! as an example. Not the state – the spectacular outdoor musical.

Utah! the musical was a massive original stage production produced by the Tuacahn Center for the Arts in the four summers from 1995 to 1998. It was written to be family friendly, but some took offense at the controversial historical events that were woven into the storyline – notably polygamy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. So the show was revised three times before Tuacahn abandoned it altogether.

All that happened before my time. I came on board at Tuacahn as their Marketing and Artistic Director in 1999, when Utah! was receding in the rear view mirror. I had never seen the show and knew very little about it when Tuacahn management decided to bring it out of mothballs to launch their inaugural fall season in 2002.

They asked me to rewrite it.

The idea was to use the original story but to conveniently ignore the parts that would bother anybody. The Mormon characters were polygamists, but I wasn’t allowed to mention that. Mountain Meadows was off limits, too. But that wasn’t all.

“The Mormons can’t be the bad guys,” they told me emphatically. “And neither can the Indians.” It seems members of both groups had been insulted by how previous iterations of Utah! had portrayed them. Well, okay, that’s fine. Except no bad guys means no conflict. So what was the story going to be about? Should the Mormons and their Indian pals head off to the North Pole and meet Santa Claus?

After considerable haggling, they allowed me one Mormon bad guy who engineered a misunderstanding that was quickly and conveniently diffused. I did it within a very narrow timeframe, so polygamy and Mountain Meadows never had an opportunity to come up. I also added a goofy comedy love interest subplot, which I quite enjoyed, but it was filler more than anything else.

The show debuted, and if I offended anyone, it was because I had wasted their time. The reviews were scathing – the Deseret News was particularly harsh – and ticket sales were less than stellar. It’s no surprise that Utah! has remained dormant in the decade since.

So I’m still not sure what cutting edge family entertainment is, but I know from firsthand experience what it isn’t. Pablum is a waste of time. Good stories have to be about something, and for that something to matter, the story has to find an appropriate way to address the evil as well as the good.

That’s probably why you shouldn’t look for Utah! on Tuacahn’s docket anytime soon.

 

Culture Is Not Race

Racism is reprehensible, and people of good will are right to reject it whenever it rears its ugly head.  In like manner, we should also recoil every time someone levels spurious accusations of racism at political opponents when no such racism exists.

In his trip to Israel, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney noted that the the average Israeli has a per capita GDP of $21,000, compared to the per capita GDP of just $10,00 for the average Palistinian. He attributed the difference to “culture and a few other things.”

“It is a racist statement” to give voice to that conclusion, according to Palestinian official Saeb Erekat. If it is, there is no evidence that it is. Why should anyone conclude that “culture” is synonymous with “race?” And would Mr. Erekat have us believe there are no significant differences between Palestinian and Israeli culture?

Certainly Mr. Erekat can’t argue with Mr. Romney’s numbers. Other reports maintain that the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian economic performance is much broader than Mr. Romney suggested – $31,000 in Israeli per capita GDP, compared to just $1,500 per capita among the Palestinians. These are hard facts, and hard facts are incapable of being racist.

So how, then, does Erekat account for the chasm between Israeli and Palestinian economic performance? Apparently, it’s all Israel’s fault.

“The Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential,” Erekat maintains, “because there is an Israeli occupation.” This same unrelenting hatred of Israel is what fueled Palestinian outrage when Governor Romney rightfully acknowledged Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  The Palestinian Authority refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, which has created a national culture of bitterness and resentment.  That kind of cultural toxicity is bound to contribute to the negative economic consequences that Governor Romney described.

Compare that to Israel, which built the first representative democracy in the Middle East while surrounded by neighbors who would like nothing more than to wipe them off the face of the earth. What does it take to thrive under those kind of adverse circumstances? It takes a culture of economic resilience and a great deal of courage, one that fosters a sense of individual responsibility that rejects the call to blame someone else for failures and setbacks. Were the Palestinians willing to imitate the positive aspects of Israeli culture and adopt similar economic principles, they would no doubt produce similar results.

Instead, they resort to calling Mitt Romney a racist. That’s entirely unfounded, and it certainly doesn’t do the Palestinians, the Israelis, or the rest of the world any good.

Rethinking Heather and Lily

So yesterday was Chik-fil-A Appreciation Day, at least according to Mike Huckabee. (That sealed the deal for me. If Satan’s Brother wants me to eat Chik-fil-A, then it’s time for a Big Mac.)

So, with that said, I thought I’d get all controversial again.

In 1989, the controversial children’s book “Heather Has Two Mommies” introduced elementary school students to the idea that two mommies provide just as good an arrangement for raising children as a mommy and a daddy. Over two decades later, ABC’s sitcom Modern Family has introduced the world to a young girl named Lily, who is being raised by two loving and committed daddies. But recent studies have demonstrated that both Heather and Lily’s circumstances are atypical not just because their parents are gay, but because they have two of them.

A recent study published in Social Science Research discovered that, on average, children of gay parents face with worse financial, emotional, and physical circumstances than those raised in homes with a married mother and father. It’s drawn a tremendous amount of fire from gay rights activists, who point out that it’s familial instability, not sexual orientation, that produces these negative results. I think they’re probably right. If you were to compare Modern Family’s Cameron and Mitchell to any given pair of straight parents, you probably wouldn’t see a lot of variation in childrearing outcomes. But one telling piece of data that this study reveals is that the Camerons and Mitchells of the world are pretty few and far between.

One would be hard pressed to find that reality reflected in popular culture.

As it stands, Heather’s two mommies are in it for the long haul, and Lily’s two dads structure their lives to dote on their daughter. The implicit message is that “modern” families are no different than traditional families, and characters in these stories that question that premise are depicted as ignorant and hateful bigots. Sadly, the facts of the matter are far thornier than the conventional wisdom suggests. Heather and Lily’s circumstances may be idyllic, but they are not representative. They are remarkably rare exceptions.

A large percentage of the children of gay parents come from homes where only one parent is a constant. In the Social Science Research study, 58% of the children raised with heterosexual parents reported that two parents stuck around for the entirety of their childhood. Contrast that with less than one percent of children of gay parents who could say the same.

Critics of the study have argued that it doesn’t demonstrate a direct correlation between a parent’s sexuality and any negative outcomes for their children. They’re right; it doesn’t. It does suggest, however, that gay parents are likely to bring multiple sexual partners into their homes and, consequently, into the lives of their kids.  That creates an environment of instability and uncertainty for children who are looking to find a secure haven amid the challenges of growing up.

When gay parents prove to be temporary parents, that produces bad results. That’s true of straight parents, too.  It should be conventional wisdom that temporary parents with no significant connection to the children they’re raising are a bad idea, regardless of their sexual preferences. Our culture and our institutions should be designed to encourage permanent parents who are deeply invested in their children’s happiness.

Therefore, rather than rail against the study’s findings, gay rights advocates ought to embrace the real lessons of this data and pursue the argument that gay marriage would encourage more Camerons and Mitchells and make sure Heather has two mommies throughout her childhood. That’s one of the main purposes of marriage, and, indeed, the only secularly persuasive argument against gay marriage is that children ought to have a mom and a dad.

I’d be heartened to see more gay marriage proponents who see same-sex marriage as an inalienable right recognize the critical child-rearing responsibility that goes along with it.

Tragedy Makes Bad Politics

When Representative Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded and six other bystanders were slaughtered by a gunman in 2011, pundits leapt to the conclusion that the shooting was politically motivated.

To be more specific, it was all Sarah Palin’s fault.

Before I go any further, please, please understand that this is not written in defense of either Sarah Palin or the Tea Party in general. I don’t really like either one. I maintain, however, that you can believe Palin and the Tea Party are both obnoxious and wacky and still think they are not murderers. Indeed, I think a reasonable person needs to believe that.

Governor Palin, you may remember, had produced a campaign flier showing key congressional districts highlighted by rifle crosshairs to show where Republicans were “targeting” incumbent House Democrats for defeat. Rep. Giffords represented one of the targeted districts, so when she was attacked, it was clear to many partisans that the shooter was simply following Palin’s orders.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ blood is on Sarah Palin’s hands,” screamed the headline in the New York Daily News. Media outlets everywhere referred to the Tea Party’s “climate of violence” that had supposedly inspired the attempted assassination. When it turned out that the shooter was actually a leftist who despised the Tea Party, media interest in the killer’s politics dissipated quickly. Palin received a scant few apologies for all of the inflammatory, politically motivated accusations that she was an accessory to murder.

You’d think the media would have learned their lesson. If so, you’d be wrong.

After the horrific shootings at a Colorado movie theater, it didn’t take long for ABC News to report that there was a Jim Holmes who had recently signed up on a Tea Party website. “Now, we don’t know if this the same Jim Holmes” who is now in custody for the shootings, reported ABC’s Brian Ross.

That’s correct. And the reason he didn’t know is that he didn’t bother to check.

We’ve seen this too much of this kind of vicious sloppiness recently. Remember, for instance, when Spike Lee decided to tweet George Zimmerman’s address to encourage vigilante justice, only to discover that the Zimmerman who lived at that address was an elderly man with no connection to the Trayvon Martin shooting? At least Lee wasn’t being paid to get his facts right. Ross should be fired. Why wasn’t he?

When tragedies degenerate into politics, the facts don’t seem to matter as much as the political narrative. None of the information that has been gathered since the shooting suggests that the suspect had any political agenda for his mass murder. He identified himself as “the Joker” to police, and the reports now paint a picture of a seriously disturbed individual with no obvious political persuasion or motive.

In addition, even a cursory review of the facts would have revealed that the Tea Party Jim Holmes is a man in his mid-fifties, while the alleged shooter, James Holmes, is 24 years old. ABC later apologized, but not until after the Tea Party Holmes was inundated by media requests and forcibly dragged into a story that had nothing to do with him. In an interview with the Daily Caller, the fiftysomething Holmes asked, “Really, seriously, how do we take a journalist seriously when it’s pretty clear they really haven’t done any sort of check on their facts?”

Good question. The next time tragedy strikes, it would be nice not to have to ask it again.