Temple of Dung

imagesThat’s a harsher title than it ought to be, as I don’t hate “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” But the revisionist history going on across the Interwebs as we mark the 30th anniversary of the first sequel to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” has me completely baffled. It’s also directly contrary to my own personal experience.

AintItCoolNews, for instance, posted a plethora of article under a series they titled “Fortune and Glory,” in which the writers talk about how underappreciated the Indy prequel is. Many of them admit they didn’t like it much when it first came out, but the intervening years have caused them to appreciate the film’s charms over time.

For my part, I loved “Temple of Doom” back in 1984.  The year previous, I had ditched school to stand in line to see “Return of the Jedi” on opening day, and I refused to admit, even to myself, how disappointing I found the third “Star Wars” entry. I had no such feelings about Indy II. It was non-stop action, with every sequence even more exciting than the last. Yet for me, the movie really hasn’t aged well at all. It’s got some of the best set pieces of the entire series, but none of them hang together in anything like a cohesive whole. It’s easily my least favorite “Indiana Jones” movie, and, yes, that includes “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” for which I’ve become a rather vocal apologist.

Of course, I’m operating from the premise that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is the closest thing to a perfect film ever made. Everyone kept saying how closely it followed the old black-and-white serial formula from my parents’ era, but I knew nothing about black-and-white serials. All I knew when I first saw Indiana Jones was that it was entirely original and unlike anything I’d ever seen. (I remember sitting in the theatre having to pee when I first saw it, but I didn’t dare leave my seat for fear of missing a single moment.)  This movie is still the template for how to do an adventure film, yet nothing that has followed has been the equal of “Raiders.” Nothing has even come close.

As a kid, I was captivated by the action, but as an adult, the movie endures because Indiana Jones isn’t just a generic action figure. You’re introduced to his idiosyncrasies early on – he hates snakes, you know – and the contrast between his fedora and professor personas makes him much more interesting.  And when we meet Marian drinking a sherpa under the table, we fall in love with her instantly. And what terrific bad guys! Belloq, the lazy weasel who steals the idol right after Indy’s done all the work! That sneering Nazi with the medallion seared into his hand! You’re just as eager to see the villains get their comeuppance as you are to see Indy succeed. “Raiders” manages to create indelible and unique characters in the midst of all the commotion, and that’s the main reason why it’s the masterpiece that it is.

In 1984, I didn’t really notice that the characters weren’t all that interesting in “Temple of Doom.” The movie is so busy – or perhaps “cluttered” is the right word – that you don’t realize until afterward that the Indiana Jones that was so fascinating in “Raiders” is largely absent here. Fact is, “Temple of Doom’s” Indy, up until the very end, is kind of a jerk. You don’t really notice at first, because there’s plenty of leftover “Raiders” affection for him, but if you take “Temple of Doom” as a standalone, this Indy is pretty boring.

Of course, he’s the height of complexity when compared to the shrieking banshee that is Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott. Even in 1984, I thought she was nails-on-a-chalkboard awful. I’m sure she’s a great lady in real life – Steven Spielberg fell for Capshaw on set and has been happily married to her since 1991 – but there’s a reason her career never went anywhere after this.

Of course, it’s not all her fault, as her character is supposed to be grating. But that’s the problem – “grating” isn’t fun to watch, unless maybe it’s “funny/grating” or “grating-with-a-heart-of-gold.” But Capshaw was none of that. She was just “watch-me-whine” grating. I think a better, more likable actress could have brought more to the part than was on the page and somehow make us not hate her, but Capshaw is ultimately the weight that sinks the film.

The only other character worth mentioning is Short Round, Indy’s kid sidekick who, almost by default, becomes the most interesting character in the movie. The scene where breaks the voodoo-esque spell on Indy is the most compelling moment in the entire film. But he’s largely undeveloped, and much of his shtick is a little too cutesy for my tastes.

As for the bad guys, there’s nothing to see here. Mola Ram is a stock villain pulled off the B-movie shelf.  He’s bad because he’s bad. Yawnsville. The MacGuffin – the Sankhara Stones – pales in comparison to the Lost Ark. Dramatically speaking, there’s not much to hold anyone’s attention.

That leaves the action sequences, which include the finest such sequences in the entire franchise. The Club Obi-Wan stuff is dazzling and the best opening sequence in all four films. The mine cart ride is a practical special effect tour-de-force that would be hard to recreate today, even with CGI. And then there’s the awesome rope bridge stuff at the end, which is still so audacious that it leaves my head spinning every time I see it. With stuff like this, it’s easy to understand how the 1984 me was able to overlook the fact that the rest of the movie kinda stunk up the room.

In the film’s defense, there is something to be said for the fact that Lucas and Spielberg didn’t follow the traditional sequel route and recreate the original movie beat for beat. (They essentially did do that with “Last Crusade,” but that was still far more satisfying than “Temple of Doom.” If you have to rip off a movie, “Raiders” is a pretty good source to steal from.) So the producers score points for taking a risk. It’s just that not all risks pay off.

Also, Willie Scott is the Jar Jar Binks of the Indiana Jones series. Meesa loathe her.

2016

A friend of mine posted a link to a story about Senator/Loon Ted Cruz winning a GOP presidential straw poll and panicked about what bad tidings this might portend. I might share his trepidation if I thought a GOP straw poll – or indeed, the GOP itself – had any bearing on the future of this nation, which, along with the Republican Party, is lumbering inexorably to irrelevance and, ultimately, collapse.  I can’t get hot and bothered one way or the other about whatever pinhead the Republicans decide to toss into the morass this next time around.

Now, I can hear some of you thinking that I have no business prognosticating about 2016, as I was so very, very wrong about 2012 that you can use me as your own personal Dick Morris – i.e. whatever I predict will be the opposite of what will actually happen. To that, I can only say that before I became emotionally invested in Mitt Romney, my dispassionate initial predictions proved to be eerily prescient. Allow me to repeat what I wrote on the day after the Iowa caucuses:

Mitt will win the nomination – maybe quickly, more likely after a long slog – because the Republicans don’t have anybody else. Bachmann’s gone, but Rick Perry is apparently staying in the race, which is nice, because Perry and Gingrich may be able to dilute Santorum’s likely South Carolina win and weaken him for the slog.

And then Mitt loses to Obama, mainly due to the fact that a Mormon can’t win a general election. I state that not to be a victim, but rather as a recognition of reality. The Mormon thing matters, and nobody wants to talk about how much. But both Iowa and South Carolina provide plentiful evidence that there are oodles of evangelical voters who would rather suffer through four more years of Obama than legitimize the LDS Church by putting someone from such an alien cult into the White House.

This is, in fact, what happened, but it was more than this. The Mormon thing kept Republicans from falling in love with Mitt, but what ultimately defeated him was the demographic lock that the Democrats have on the Electoral College, which now makes it virtually impossible for a Republican to win.

This is a relatively recent development – remember, George H.W. Bush carried California in 1988 – but those who think it might change in time for 2016 are deluding themselves.  With California’s 54 electoral votes in the bag before the race even begins, the Democrats just have to keep from blowing it on colossal scale, while the Republicans have to run the table with no margin for error.  True, George W. ran the table – twice! Not bad for a supposed dunce!  – but each of his victories was way too close for comfort. Even his decisive popular vote victory in 2004 only yielded a 286-251 electoral vote win. Since then, Republicans have lost Florida, Virginia, and Ohio, and they don’t look likely to get them back. Demography is destiny, which means the GOP is destined to the historical scrap heap.

This is the demography, incidentally, that prevents Tea Partiers from supporting even the most common sense immigration reforms. Since the National GOP is now only the party of white men and married white women, Tea Party types think the way to survive is to keep fewer people from coming into the country who aren’t white men/married white women. It’s a practical, not personal, sort of racism, but that doesn’t make it any less rancid. And it’s an implicit admission that Republicans are incapable of expanding their appeal beyond their already-imploding status quo.

Keep in mind, however, that these demographic trends don’t necessarily prevent the GOP from winning on the congressional level, as low midterm turnout among minority populations and old-school gerrymandering have carved out enough Republican districts to stave off their inevitable decline for a couple more decades. Indeed, the GOP will likely control both houses of Congress after the midterm elections, which will mean, in practical terms, um… pretty much nothing, except that the Democrats will be able to demonize Mitch McConnell in a Newt-Gingrich-circa-1996 kind of way to leverage 2016 success, although they may not, because they won’t need to.

So here’s 2016, two and half years early. After the Democrats quickly choose their nominee, Republicans will squabble messily and embarrass themselves, and hoary non-issues like evolution and contraception will be discussed to make the GOP look stupid, which, granted, isn’t hard to do. Then the damaged Republican nominee will run against Hillary and lose miserably, and the nation will reward the Clintons with a do-over so they can steal more White House furniture, pardon more fugitives, and remind us all that they are the sleaziest couple to ever infest the Oval Office, although all those who openly acknowledge that sleaze will be dismissed as haters and whiners. Meanwhile, entitlement spending will balloon, Medicare will likely go bankrupt, America will continue to embarrass itself at home and abroad with both incompetence and corruption, and our national metastasization of statist bloat will continue unabated.

Let freedom ring.

Deseret News X-Men column: The Stallionic Director’s Cut

In my recent X-Men continuity problems post, I promised more info the next day, and that additional info didn’t come. That’s because I adapted that post into my latest Deseret News column, which addresses the subject.

However, the size limitations of that column didn’t allow me to cover the issue completely. So I will repost the column, originally published here, and offer some additional thoughts at the end.

(Also, please note that the column doesn’t contain any significant spoilers, but my addendum does. I will ruin the ending for you if you’re not careful.)

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The X-Men movies break their own rules.

By Jim Bennett, For the Deseret News
Published: Thursday, May 29 2014 5:12 p.m. MDT

 

Having seen all the X-Men movies, as well as the two Wolverine spinoff flicks, I was encouraged by the reviews that said that “X-Men: Days of Future Past” would finally clean up the mess left by the dreadful “X-Men 3: The Last Stand.”

This film series has been plagued by plot holes, and many wish that the third movie had simply never happened. “Days of Future Past,” with its time-traveling plot, essentially grants that wish by altering the past to create a new future that lifts the franchise out of the corner into which it had painted itself.

Now don’t get me wrong. I quite enjoyed “Days of Future Past,” and I consider it to be the best X-Men movie to date. The scenes with Quicksilver, the mutant with a need for speed, may well be the most entertaining moments of superhero cinema ever filmed. Taken as a standalone piece of entertainment, the movie is superb.

But when considered part of a larger whole, “Days Of Future Past” only served to exacerbate the X-movie continuity problems it was ostensibly designed to fix.

Let’s start with the problem of Professor Charles Xavier, as portrayed by Patrick Stewart. This character died about halfway through the third movie. His body was blasted into a million pieces, and it was kind of a big deal. Yet at the beginning of this latest outing, Patrick Stewart’s Xavier is back, front and center, battling the bad guys without missing a beat. Nothing in the “Days of Future Past” time-shifting narrative allows for this possibility, and the professor’s passing never even gets a passing mention.

I can’t imagine I’m the only one who was bothered by this.

When I’ve raised this issue, some are eager to point out that Professor X did, in fact, return from the dead in a post-credits scene at the end of “The Last Stand.” Well, yes. But he did so by transferring his consciousness into someone else’s brain-dead body — someone who presumably didn’t look exactly like Patrick Stewart. In addition, Professor X is still in a wheelchair at the outset of “Days of Future Past.” So even if this body donor was somehow Xavier’s identical twin, it makes no sense that he would have an identical spinal cord injury, too.

I wrote up a lengthy diatribe about this subject on my blog, and I included several other continuity issues that nagged at me. How did Magneto get his powers back after losing them in X3? At the end of “The Wolverine,” Trask Industries is just starting construction of the mutant-hunting Sentinels who are the “Days of Future Past” bad guys, but in DOFP, the Sentinel program begins back in the Watergate era. What’s with the 40-year discrepancy?

And as long as we’re ranting, why is Xavier both ambulatory and bald at the start of X3 when he’s paralyzed with a full head of hair at the end of “X-Men: First Class?” I mean, come on! How dumb do they think we are?

After posting a link to this on Facebook, my sister commented, “Holy crud, you’re nerdy.” She’s right; I am. In fact, I’m so nerdy that I’ve actually had some personal experience in this area. I’m writing a young adult novel, and recently my editor pointed out some places in my manuscript where the plot was inconsistent. At first, I didn’t think it was that big a deal. This is my fictional world, after all. Don’t I get to make the rules?

“Yes,” she told me, “you make the rules. And readers will be completely unforgiving if you don’t respect them enough to follow them.”

Those are wise words for nerds and X-Men alike.

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That’s the column. Now here’s an addendum with a few other errors that didn’t make the final cut.

What’s the deal with Wolverine’s adamantium claws?

Remember, they were sliced off at the end of “The Wolverine,” and in the dreaded post-credits scene of that movie that brings Patrick Stewart back from the dead, reignites Magneto’s powers, and delays the Sentinel program by four decades, Logan still has the bone claws. But by the time “Days of Future Past” rolls around, the adamantium is back. How did that happen?

I mentioned that to a friend, who shrugged it off and said, “he probably just got an upgrade between movies.”

Neat! An upgrade!

Except the process by which he got them in the first place was so traumatic that it dominated two other movies – “X2-X-Men United” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”  – and was even referenced in “Days of Future Past” as the most stressful moment in Logan’s life. What are the chances he would voluntarily submit to going through that again just for some kind of “upgrade?”

It’s thoughts about being injected with adamantium that threaten to knock Wolverine out of the past and back into the future – which brings up another glitch, but one that isn’t specific to this movie per se. The whole concept of time travel always opens itself to bizarre continuity concerns in every story that uses the idea, and it’s hard to really hold some of these against anybody.

Still, it seemed strange that Kitty Pride had to keep doing whatever it was she was doing to Logan’s temples in a real-time parallel to the events happening in the past. It was as if Kitty’s virtual massage was happening simultaneously with Wolverine’s Watergate-era antics, when one took place fifty-plus years in the past. The illusion of concurrence is convenient for the narrative, but it really doesn’t make any practical sense. It’s even more improbable when you consider that Logan’s time in the past spanned several days, if not weeks. Are we really supposed to believe Kitty was in deep concentration, day and night, without food or drink or bathroom breaks, for the same span of time Logan was cavorting through history?

Perhaps the most egregious problem, however, is the one that many reviewers are calling a triumph. At the end of “Days of Future Past,” history has changed, and it’s as if “X3: The Last Stand” never happened. DOFP   brings both Jean Grey and Cyclops back from the dead and wipes the slate clean. It’s a bit like the end of the first “Back to the Future” movie, when all the bad stuff in Marty McFly’s life is replaced by a much hipper family and a cool new car.

There’s a significant difference, though. In “Back to the Future,” each of the changes in the new future is directly related to Marty’s adventures in the past. So Biff is now a groveling loser because he was humiliated at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance, and Dad is now a successful sci-fi author because he followed Marty’s advice, so he has more money and confidence to create the future to which Marty returns.

None of the changes in the “DOFP” follow any similar logic. Sure, the Sentinel program collapses, but the events of the first three X-films had nothing at all to do with the Sentinel program. So why wouldn’t they still have happened? Jean Grey’s transformation into Phoenix was the catalyst for all the badness. How did she avoid it in the new timeline when it was made clear that it was inevitable? This is just sloppy storytelling all the way around.

Yes, this is nerdy. Yes, it’s “just a movie.” But these holes demonstrate that the producers think it’s “just a movie,” too. Which means that the people who made these films ultimately stopped caring about them somewhere down the line.

And if they don’t care, then why should we?

UPDATE: An email from a column reader explains all!

“The reason your [sic] confused about the reason why Professor x is back you do not watch the end credits of films at the end of xmen last stand the end credits shows professor x alive also the end of the wolverine he was alive.”

Well, that certainly clears it up, in case your [sic] still wondering.

Honestly, why would you take the time to email a columnist when you clearly didn’t read the column?

The “Not for Resale” Principle

I’m a big fan of comedian Jim Gaffigan, whose penchant for sloth and junk food is consistent with my own. In one condiment-themed comedy bit, he highlights the absurdity of individual ketchup packets that bear a label stating “not for resale.”

He then sagely observes that, “If you’re in a position where you have to sell ketchup packets, ‘not for resale’ isn’t going to hold you back.”

That principle has eluded many of my Facebook friends, who have taken to posting the following graphic in response to the murders at UC Santa Barbara.

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Yeah, swell. Except if you write a 100,000+ word manifesto about the need for a Day of Retribution to punish the universe for not letting you hook up with hot blondes, what are the odds that a change in the regulation of guns is going to hold you back?

Of the six people killed this weekend, half of them were slaughtered in their sleep by the combination of a hammer to the head and a knife to the neck. Which proposed change in gun regulation would have stopped that from happening?

This infuriates me every time there is a mass shooting like this. Yes, I agree there have been too many of them, although even one is too many. Yes, there will likely be many more. And I would be willing to do just about anything to keep them from happening.

“You would? Really?” I hear a straw man ask, more than a little incredulity in his voice. “Well, how about more gun control, then?”

All right? How about it? I’m on board.  Yes, Mr. Straw Man, I would be happy to accept more gun control. Heavens, I’d be happy to confiscate guns, ban guns altogether, and shred the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

If.

“Oh, you have an ‘if’,” the straw man sneers. “Typical Republican gun nut. I knew there was a catch.”

Don’t you want to hear what my ‘if’ is, Mr. Straw Man?

‘No, I don’t. It’s time we did something, and you’re just making excuses.”

I’m really not. I have no affinity for guns. I do not own a gun; I have no intention of owning a gun. My ‘if’ is not offered in defense or praise of guns. It is, rather, a consideration that ought to be applied to every piece of legislation ever written, not just about guns.

Specifically, I would be happy to eliminate all gun rights if doing so would actually prevent these kinds of murders. I would be happy to take drastic measures if such measures actually worked.

Would more laws make these things stop? There is extensive research on the subject that shows that more gun laws would actually make the problem worse, not better. Law-abiding gun owners are the only ones who would stop getting guns if such laws were passed. The people planning Days of Retribution see such prohibitions as little more than a “Not for Resale” label on a ketchup packet.

Guest Post: A Creaver’s Perspective

Hello. I am Creaver. Stallion is lazy, and he wanted someone else to post so he wouldn’t have to. So I am posting today. Resign yourself to it.

So I suppose you want to know about me. (Actually, no supposing is necessary.) I was born circa 1913, when records were spotty and English had not yet been standardized. I was raised in joint custody by a pack of wolves and the Department of Motor Vehicles. I don’t like the word “stat.”

I am currently old. I find things to be not as good as other things, like groove things that are shaken. Smells are common. I don’t think that’s something you didn’t already have the pleasure of knowing. But I raise that to point out that effluvia is a subject about which I find much interest, even against my better judgment. It will be plenty of time for questions later.

Now you know some about me, but not all. There is more. I came to prominence when Adria Watley and me stormed the vaudeville circuit singing “Kentucky Waters” even though we had not been booked on the stages and were often cited for disorderly conduct. Lockdown is once where I met my wife, whose name was Frieda Glutz. She is now dead, but that doesn’t stop her from sending me letters. She can be a rascal – stat!

This may have answered your questions. I may have some questions of my own. Just as an example, can you read this question? They say reading is fundamental, but you and I know who writes the checks. Nobody writes checks. It is of a bygone era, and this consternates me.

All of what I have written is encompassed in several categories. Perhaps there is one more to your liking then several of the others. A token of this can be found in several places. Sniff it out.

I have involuntarily patterned my life after Marie Osmond’s. I would have mentioned that at the outset if it weren’t so freaking obvious. I yearn to be a geodetic surveyor. Yearning is not a thing that I typically do, but typical isn’t always an obstacle.

I napped in between paragraphs. You may not have noticed the passage of time. I have chronicled it here for you convenience and for your review.

I think supermarket self-checkout machines are too chatty. They all me a “valued customer,” when everyone can transparently observe that this is a falsity. If it were a person, it would not be wishing me a nice day but rather be smacking me on the tuckus with a broom because I was fondling the grunions on aisle 3.

This is what I have written. I will conclude with a picture of some shoes that are not mine.

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Dark Thoughts from a Calabasas Kid

I grew up in Calabasas, California, now known to the world as the home of the Kardashians. It was, and still is, a town rife with wealth and privilege. I went to high school with the children of sports legends and movie/TV stars, and my peers without fame still seemed blessed with a fortune well beyond mine. Everyone was better looking, better liked, and better funded than an awkward, skinny, pale kid who was bad at sports and incapable of speaking in complete sentences when within a ten-foot radius of the opposite sex.

Spoiler alert: that awkward, skinny, pale kid I just mentioned? It was me. Me, of all people! O woe! Woe beyond imagining! O thou baleful world, which doth cast its cosmic aspersions upon the trousers of my soul! O weep for me, the most wretched of God’s wretchedest thingees!

Pfffft.

I find such self-pity to be silly in retrospect, but I couldn’t get enough of it back in the day. All too often, this perceived disparity between my meager blessings and everyone else’s bounty frustrated me to no end. I’d see a pretty girl, and I’d want her, and I knew I couldn’t have her. The crushing disappointment was almost physically painful. So I’d resent the girls, and I’d loathe the guys they chose instead of me.

This would occasionally lead me to indulge in dark thoughts.

Yes, I could imagine the scales of justice being balanced by me getting everything I craved and everyone else getting their comeuppance. Usually, these ugly musings involved humiliating people, not hurting them. But sometimes, I confess, the fantasies crossed the line into scenarios that are better left unblogged.

Yet in spite of all that, I’ve somehow made it to middle age without ever killing another human being. I’ve never even come close.

That’s not to say my dark thoughts never translated into real world petulance or cruelty. But it is to say that such thoughts were never allowed to fester unchecked long enough to become truly destructive. Good thoughts intruded on the bad, reminding me that what I was contemplating was inherently wrong, and that my jealous, angry instincts represented the very worst part of who I was.

As this internal struggle has raged on throughout my life, two other truths have helped the better angels of my nature stay on the winning side. The first is the recognition that this is a universal battle that all of us fight. Everyone encounters disappointment, and everyone occasionally finds themselves bogged down in spiritual mud and contemplating unacceptable options.

The second truth is an extension of the first – it’s the recognition that those I envied were all engaged in the battle, too. In my youthful resentment, I assumed the beautiful people never had problems, that they had no clue what it was like to feel awkward, abandoned, or ostracized.  I was very wrong. I was also stunned to discover later in life that some of these people even envied me. Me, of all people! That floored me. Didn’t they read that part about endless woe I wrote earlier?

The point is, to paraphrase The Police song “Message in a Bottle,” none of us are alone in being alone. And the internal conflict between light and darkness is both universal and intimately personal, and we should never assume that someone else isn’t right in the thick of it.

The good news is that most of us ultimately win that battle, more or less. Very few people allow their fouler impulses to dominate their character, which speaks well for us as a species. But, as exemplified this weekend by that other Calabasas kid who shot up Santa Barbara, there are rare and heartbreaking instances where some of us not only give in to that evil, they embrace it.

I think our collective response to this kind of evil is well-intentioned – we want to think the best of everyone, and we don’t want to admit that our fellow man or woman is capable of such monstrosity. That’s why we try to defang it by coming up with therapeutic or societal explanations. I read several articles claiming that this piece of human garbage “suffered from” this or that mental disorder or condition, implying this is a clinical problem that some medicine or treatment could have fixed. I saw several tired attempts to revive hoary civic debates, as if there were some piece of legislation that could keep everyone from giving in to evil. Some of those efforts come from a good place, but they’re hampered by an unwillingness to confront ugly truths about ourselves.

It’s not just that we want to think well of others. It’s also that we don’t want to admit the commonality of their evil with our own.

Every person reading this – indeed, every person who has ever lived – has had opportunities to let the dark thoughts win. And each time the dark thoughts win, it’s easier for them to win the next time. Eventually, each of us could find ourselves in a place where we don’t even allow righteousness to offer a rebuttal. We could then make the choice to stage our own nightmarish “Day of Retribution” and convince ourselves that wickedness is justice.

For me, this incident highlighted that possibility in very stark terms. The killer was a Calabasas kid, as was I. Both of us had similar opportunities, or, in the case of girlfriend possibilities, a distinct lack thereof. Both of us felt the world was actively plotting to thwart our success, and both of us brainstormed about ways to get even.

But he indulged the darkness, and I didn’t. And he killed people, and I didn’t.

So you want to prevent this kind of atrocity in the future? You won’t do it by passing a law or prescribing a pill. You’ll do it by acknowledging the reality of evil in every soul, and you’ll do everything you can to help strengthen the forces fighting against it.

That strength comes not from the illusion that monsters like this other Calabasas kid are completely alien to us, but rather from the recognition that we could have been monsters, too, but we chose not to be.

X-Men Problems

X-Men-GermanSo I saw “X-Men: Days of Future Past” with my twin boys last night.

We had a good time. It was a good movie, probably the best of the X-films, with the possible exception of “First Class.” If you like this sort of thing, rest assured you will enjoy yourself during the watching process.

I am not particularly interested in reviewing it. It’s good. Quicksilver’s ten minutes are some of the best superhero moments ever filmed. Go see it. I will not stand in your way. I will, however, spoil the plot details for you from here on out if you have not seen it. (So, you know, spoiler warning, abandon all hope, yada yada yada.)

One of the big selling points of this movie has been that it’s designed to clean up the continuity messes made over the course of the X-film series. And according to every review I’ve read, it has succeeded brilliantly in doing so.

Well, I am here to tell you, unequivocally, that it hasn’t. If anything, it has made the problems far worse.

Does anyone recall “X-Men 3: The Last Stand?” You probably shouldn’t, because it was wretched. But lots of things happened in X3, things that ought to be consequential in DOFP. “The Last Stand” was the one where Professor X dies halfway through, where Magneto loses his powers at the end, and where Wolverine impales Jean Grey and James Marsden’s Cyclops dies offscreen in the first reel so Marsden could go play Lois Lane’s cuckold in “Superman Returns.”

By the end of this new movie, none of that actually happened. Isn’t that great? DOFP washes away all the X3 stink. Except the consequences of the X3 events ought to have been adequately addressed by the DOFP plot, and, for the most part, they’re ignored completely.

Let’s begin with the good professor, shall we? In X3, his body is completely obliterated by Jean Grey’s telekinesis, and they have a funeral for him and everything. Yet he pops up in the post-credits stinger of last year’s “The Wolverine” movie alive and well. That didn’t bother me, as I presumed they’d explain his miraculous rise from the dead in “Days of Future Past.”

Nope. They didn’t even mention it.

And before you get all geek-huffy on me, I recognize that there was a post-credits resurrection moment for Dr. X at the end of X3. We’re therefore supposed to assume that this was how he came back, and there’s no need to waste any screen time in explaining it further.

But for pity’s sake, doesn’t anybody remember how he came back?

There’s a scene in X3 where Charles Xavier is teaching a class on mutant ethics. He cites as a case study the healthy body of a man with no consciousness. If a mutant had the power to inject his consciousness into this brain-dead body, would that be an ethically acceptable thing to do? Before he can get an answer, however, the demands of the plot interrupt him, and the issue is never raised again – until the very, very end, when the woman monitoring the brain-dead dude hears him speak with Patrick Stewart’s voice. So Xavier has leapfrogged all ethical obstacles and transferred his mental hard drive into all-new hardware.  Presto! Our hero has returned!

Yeah, that’s swell. Except nobody seems to notice that our hero has returned in someone else’s body. Why, then, does he still look like Patrick Stewart?!

In Googling this, I came across an explanation from X3 director Brett Ratner, who apparently said in the DVD commentary that this body belonged to Professor X’s identical twin. Um, ok. That’s ridiculously lazy writing, as there’s never been any reference to Xavier having a twin brother who has been a vegetable on life support for six decades or so, but fine, that’s probably the best you can do.

So why does this convenient, out-of-nowhere spare body donor on reserve in case of Xavier’s death also have a spinal cord injury? Shouldn’t Patrick Stewart’s Professor X be up and walking now that he’s traded in his old fleshware for the new? Nope. he’s still tooling around in his really cool wheelchair. Why? Well, because. Stop asking questions.

As for Magneto, his return to form didn’t bother me as much in light of the last pre-credits shot of X3 when he barely moves a metal chess piece without touching it. But that’s a far cry from the kind of magnetic firepower he wields in the third movie. But OK, the future part of the third movie takes place decades after X3, so his powers could have come back over time. But what about the post-credits scene in “The Wolverine?” Magneto’s back in full force there, and that movie shows Wolverine dealing with the aftermath of the third film as if it happened relatively recently. So the X3 mutant “cure” wore off pretty quickly, didn’t it? Doesn’t that entirely negate the entire premise of the third film?

DOFP did nothing to resolve the myriad of  continuity issues with that Xavier/Magneto/Logan moment in the second solo Wolverine movie. There are so many crammed into such a short span of time that they simply stagger the imagination. Rewatch it, and then come back to me.

There, as Wolverine walks through airport security, he sees TV ads for Trask Industries that suggest they’re just starting to roll out the Sentinels that make life for all mutants hell on earth. These ads are being broadcast circa 2013.

But in “Days of Future Past,” the Sentinels are rolled out by Richard Nixon way back in 1973. You can say that this whole process was sped up by the events in DOFP, but at the beginning of the new movie, they announce that Mystique’s murder of Bolivar Trask at the Paris Peace Accords sets the Sentinel Project in motion in the timeline of the original X-films. Yet in that timeline, the first mention of the Sentinels project isn’t until 2013! What accounts for the four-decade discrepancy here, other than extreme sloppiness?

All right, maybe if you have really strong belief suspension skills, you can assume that Trask Industries has been building Sentinels all along, and nobody’s ever bothered to bring it to our attention. But even if the audience didn’t know that, surely Wolverine would have. Yet when he’s approached by Professor X and Magneto at the airport, they warn him of the grave threat that threatens to destroy all mutants, and it’s the first time he’s heard about it. Magneto even says that there are “dark forces building [present tense] a weapon that could be the end of our kind.” So the idea that the Sentinels have been coming off the assembly line since the Watergate years pretty much falls apart.

There are so many more problems, and I’m already over a thousand words. More tomorrow.

Talking of Tenets

NOTE: The first six hundred or so words of this post deal with a tedious, somewhat tendentious issue in Mormon apologetics, which I felt compelled to describe in detail to illustrate my larger point. But if you want to just skip to that larger point, I highlight where it begins in  BOLD ORANGE TEXT below.

____________

I stumbled across a rather bizarre article on an obscure blog where the author claims to have talked to several high-ranking LDS church officials – all unnamed, of course – who secretly confess that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is on the brink of collapse because… well, pick your favorite anti-Mormon meme. I won’t link to it here, because the blog only launched at the beginning of the month, which means it is undiscovered, and it deserves to stay that way.*

Among other things, the author insists that church founder Joseph Smith owned a “Jupiter talisman” that he considered to be one of his most prized possessions. The blog helpfully explained that a “Jupiter talisman” was a satanic artifact designed to gain the support of whatever evil spirits were in the vicinity. The blog insists that Joseph’s obsession with satanic jewelry was well-documented by historical records.

Now I thought I’d bumped into just about every wacky argument against my church that was out there, but this was one I’d never heard before. So I turned to the Almighty Google to do a little research, and I quickly discovered that the only reference to Joseph’s devil trinket came from a guy named Charles Bidamon, the illegitimate son of Lewis Bidamon, the second husband of Joseph’s widow, Emma Smith. In 1938, nearly a century after Joseph Smith’s death, Charles Bidamon sold a “silver pocket piece” to a Mormon memorabilia collector with an affidavit insisting that this piece “was in the Prophet’s pocket when he was martyred at Carthage, Ill.” This piece wasn’t specifically identified as a “Jupiter talisman” until 1974.

So there it is. Abandon ship, Mormons – Ol’ Joe Smith was a satanist, and your church is a fraud!

But there’s a problem. It turns out that everything Joseph had on his person when he died was itemized in a list given to Emma, which reads as follows:

Received, Nauvoo, Illinois, July 2, 1844, of James W. Woods, one hundred and thirty- five dollars and fifty cents in gold and silver and receipt for shroud, one gold finger ring, one gold pen and pencil case, one penknife, one pair of tweezers, one silk and one leather purse, one small pocket wallet containing a note of John P. Green for $50, and a receipt of Heber C. Kimball for a note of hand on Ellen M. Saunders for one thousand dollars, as the property of Joseph Smith.

No mention of Joseph’s supposed “prize possession” on loan from Hell can be found in this list, and no mention of Joseph owning such can be found anywhere else in any historical record. So the idea of a “well-documented” claim that Joseph just loved his Beelzebub bauble gives way to the reality that some guy conned a collector by selling him the historical equivalent of an autographed baseball card with Babe Ruth’s misspelled signature written in neon green ink from a “Hello Kitty” magic marker.

MY POINT!

After digging through all the research necessary to refute this tiresome attack on my faith, I find that I’m seriously ambivalent in my approach to Mormon apologetics. Having had my first disturbing encounter with anti-Mormonism back in college, I am grateful for those back then who had taken the time and energy to patiently respond to the heated, misleading, and often baseless misrepresentations of what my church teaches and what its members believe. That’s why, when I encounter similar accusations today, my first instinct is to pay it forward by diving in, fighting back, and beating down those who would define my community in ways I don’t recognize. I’ve done that oodles of times on this blog, and I’ll likely do it again.

But is that always a good idea?

Back when I was a missionary in Scotland, my wise mission president pointed out that such discussions don’t necessarily advance the cause of righteousness. He quoted the Doctrine and Covenants counsel about “reviling not against revilers” which was followed by this instruction:

And of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism, and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.
 – Doctrine and Covenants 19:31, emphasis added

I confess  I didn’t know what a “tenet” was when I first read that verse. My mission president described a “tenet” as a component of our history or theology that is a relatively small part of the big picture that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, those trying to bring others to Christ ought to focus more on declaring repentance and less on squabbling over whether or not Joseph Smith owned a Jupiter talisman.

That’s good advice.

The fact is that tenet-based discussions rarely, if ever, change people’s minds, and those who are eager to smear Joseph Smith with made-up nonsense like this won’t be convinced of his integrity once you prove that your tenet is better than their tenet. More likely, they’ll just pick another tenet and move on to the next attack.

The other problem with a tenet-based focus it does not represent a genuine Latter-day Saint experience. Members of my church do not remain faithful because they’ve constructed a theological house of cards that can be brought down with the discovery of a Jupiter talisman. Rather, they continue to serve in the Church because they have had a genuine experience with their Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that is far removed from heated confrontations with dissidents. So while belligerent critics aren’t likely to alter their opinion when you win a squabble over tenets, so it is that devoted Mormons aren’t likely to abandon their faith when they hear the latest recycled accusations against the church they love.

All that said, I still think it’s important that the answers to all of these questions be made available, which is why I applaud the Church for their expanded efforts in this area. When I respond to critics, I do so knowing that neither my mind nor their mind will be changed, but someone reading the exchange who was troubled by an accusation might realize that there are, in fact, reasonable and logical answers to the questions being raised. I’m grateful someone did that for me, and if I can help someone else, all the better.

But, granted, it can seem pointless and get pretty boring. You should know that yourself if you’ve read this post all the way through.

____________
*In the course of writing this post, I discovered that fairmormon.org, they with the great website and the lousy Facebook group, discovered the same “the-church-is-crumbling” piece that inspired this post, and they eviscerated it with ease. Not only is the original piece wrong, it’s also plagiarized. Again, I won’t link to the original piece*, but the fairmormon response is worth your time.

*And, it turns out, the original piece, including the entire blog that hosted it, has been yanked offline. So I couldn’t link to it if I wanted to.

This post means what you want it to mean

As an LDS missionary way back when, I remember a conversation with a man in Thurso, Scotland, who had participated in a discussion that introduced the basic elements of the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the end of this conversation, we invited him to read The Book of Mormon and pray to know whether or not it was true. To assure him that these prayers would be heard and answered, we asked him to read aloud what has come to be known as “Moroni’s promise,” found in Moroni chapter 10, verses 3 through 5, which you can review here.

“Oh, that’s brilliant,” he said afterward. “It’s very clear what that means.”

That was an encouraging thing to hear.  “How would you put it into your own words?” I asked.

“Well, basically, he’s saying that I should do what’s best for me and mine and stay with the church I’ve got.”

Sorry, what?

Moroni 10:3-5 talks about reading the Book of Mormon, pondering it, and praying about it. Moroni says that if you have faith and a sincere heart, the Holy Ghost will let you know that the book is true. But somehow, that became “stick with your old church, toss this book into the trash, and show the Mormons the door.”

Granted, Moroni 10:3-5 says a lot of things, but none of them are that.

This incident was probably the most dramatic and strange example of someone altering scriptures to suit a position they already had, but the phenomenon was evident throughout my mission. It was astonishing to me how easy it was for so many to ignore the plain meaning of simple words and replace any message with one they liked better.

I’ve found that this is a problem among the secular set, too.

I recently read a column by my father in the Deseret News about the economic consequences of implementing “fairness” through the redistribution of wealth. He shows that policies designed to help the poor by sticking it to the rich end up destroying the means to create the wealth they’re eager to redistribute, hurting everybody in the process. He concludes by saying that “the fundamental truth remains – wealth must be created before it can be redistributed.”

That last line is quoted in the comments section by someone who claims to agree. “I think that is the argument,” writes someone named Baron Scarpia in Logan, Utah. Except the argument, when he restates it in his next sentence, comes out like this: “The wealthy keep getting wealthier, but the middle and lower classes seem to be left out of the economic boom they’ve enjoyed.”

Well, okay. That’s an argument, but that’s not the argument, at least not the one that’s made in the column.

But, sadly, Baron isn’t the only one who seems to have read a different column than the one that was written. Another guy seems to think he’s talking about the capital gains tax, and another guy thinks he’s not adequately defending the GOP, and others say that the wealth has already been created, so it’s time to spread it around. But none of these guys address anything that was actually said.

This is par for the course in any global warming discussion. Alarmists use the bogus 97% figure to support any part of any argument they choose. What, you think a carbon tax and/or cap and trade is a bad idea? Well, 97% of scientists disagree with you! You’re not convinced that global warming will destroy life as we know it? Maybe you ought to talk to the 97% who say it will. You think Al Gore is a pompous, hypocritical know-nothing who spreads alarmism he doesn’t understand to fuel an extravagant lifestyle paid for by the fears of the ignorant? Well… yeah, that’s pretty much indisputable. But the 97% agree with me on everything else.

That stupid 97% figure comes from a flawed analysis of tens of thousands of scientific articles about the climate, 97% of which indicate that humans have some impact on the climate.

That’s it. Humans have some impact. Which is, of course, undeniable. I emit all manner of gasses on a daily basis, and those gasses have an impact. So I’m part of that 97%. (The real question is who these wacky 3% are. What, their poop smells like roses? You have an impact, people. Turn on the fan.)

But extrapolated from that statistic is every alarmist viewpoint imaginable, and it gets very tiresome when people decide things mean whatever they want them to mean.

It’s just like when Maya Angelou said ““Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud,” which clearly means “vote Republican.”

Amen.

Bigotry on the Brink of Theocracy

Years ago, I read two novels by author Ben Bova, “Mars” and “Return to Mars,” which described scenarios by which mankind would explore the surface of the Red Planet. I vaguely remember enjoying them.

While wandering through Barnes & Noble, I stumbled upon a third Mars book by Bova, entitled “Mars Life.” It was a paperback priced at $6.99, so it was a low-risk purchase in which I indulged. Yet only twenty pages into the thing, I’m ready to throw it across the room and never pick it up again.

Bova’s book is built on the scientifically indefensible premise that the polar ice caps will melt in just a few years, which will result in… well, I’ll let you tell you himself.

From his preface:

The political results of massive greenhouse flooding will be, I fear, to accelerate a trend toward ultraconservative religion-based governments almost everywhere on earth, a trend that is already evident in much of the world, including the United States.

When I read sentences like that, I fall into despair.

Mr. Bova seems to be, by all accounts, a bright man. But if he truly believes that theocracy is just around the corner, then he has misunderstood me and others like me in such a profound way that it is impossible to believe that we could have any productive communication whatsoever. It’s also impossible for me to respect anything he says, as he has revealed himself to be vapid, arrogant, and almost irredeemably ignorant.

For further evidence of such, consider this fictional scientific presentation to a California school board that Bova thinks is a plausible prediction of the near future:

Maxwell remained in his chair, smiling back at the board members. He was a stocky man in his late forties, with crinkles around his deep set eyes.

“This won’t take long. I represent the Mars Foundation, as most of you know. The Foundation wants to make its package of learning materials available to the schools of your district.” Almost as an afterthought, he added, “For free, of course. ”

“A package of learning materials?” asked one of the board members.

 

“About Mars. About the exploration work going on there,” Maxwell said. “The lifeforms they found. The cliff dwellings. The ancient volcanoes. The kids’ll love it.”

 

One of the two male board members, tanned and sun-blond as a beachcomber, knit his brows. “This is science stuff, isn’t it?”

 

Nodding, Maxwell replied, “The exploration’s being done by scientists, yes. But it’s exciting. It’s an adventure in discovery!”

 

The beachcomber shook his head. Turning to the chairperson, he complained, “Look, they tried to ram Darwin down our throats years ago. The scientists are always trying to sneak their ideas into the school curriculum. It’s our duty to protect our children from their secularist propaganda.”

 

“But it’s not propaganda! “Maxwell cried, sounding genuinely hurt. “It’s real. They’re actually searching for the remains of a village that intelligent Martians lived in millions of years ago!”

 

“Yeah. And I’m descended from a monkey. “

Granted, the possibility of ancient Martian villages may seem absurd, but it’s far less ludicrous than the possibility of a California public school board rejecting Darwinism as “secular propaganda.” Maybe that’s why Bova moves onto an easier target at the end of this passage.

For it seems that having been rejected by the Sacramento Inquisition, this poor fictional scientist dreads what comes next.

From page 20:

Reluctantly Maxwell got to his feet and shuffled out of the meeting room. He knew what the board’s decision would be. And he didn’t look forward to the next stop on his itinerary: Salt Lake City.

Oh, spare me.

We are left to assume that the Mormons like me epitomize the tyrannical theocracy that is to come. Mr. Bova fears me, but he clearly does not understand me. There is a word to describe people who slander others they fear but do not understand.

That word is “bigot. And “bigot” is a label that Ben Bova goes out of his way to earn.

Only prejudice can explain the premise that the Western world is on the brink of theocracy. The fact is that, outside of the Middle East, religion has never been more marginalized in affairs of state than it is today, and the worldwide trend is decidedly toward the secular, not the sacred. Europe is now essentially a post-Christian continent, and anyone who tries to mention God in a state-sanctioned setting in America is subject to lengthy and costly litigation. Maybe Bova’s worried that China, the world’s fastest growing economy and an officially atheistic nation, is about to wholeheartedly turn to Jesus?

That’s something that can only be believed by willfully ignoring reality. And the willful ignorance of reality is a primary criterion for bigotry.

So this is why I despair. Asking me to find common ground with a bigot like Bova is like asking the Chairman of the NAACP to reach out to the Klan. There can be no productive discussions until bigotry is set aside and people treat each other with respect and courtesy, all the while acknowledging a common set of facts.

But Bova’s bigotry is not accepted as such by the cool people, the people who consider prejudice to be enlightenment, who hide behind scholarly pretense to breed ignorance and stoke fear.

So, to sum up, I’m done with “Mars Life,” and I wasted seven bucks. Maybe I’ll just read Harry Potter again.