Steve Urquhart: Let’s retee, adjust our stance, and swing again.

I find myself in the uncomfortable position of being out of step with my church, and it’s tying me up in knots. As my Facebook friends already know – and I’m taking a short weekend-long sabbatical from Facebook in order to calm down – I am deeply troubled by the Church’s new policy to withhold blessings from children of same-sex couples. I find all the explanations and justifications for this policy that have been hitherto offered to be unpersuasive. I see this policy as a fundamental contradiction with one of our most basic Articles of Faith.

I love and sustain the Church and its leaders. I have been richly blessed by my association with this church which has done immeasurable good in this world. God’s hand has been clearly visible in its work. I wish to remain a member in good standing. I have no interest in tearing my church down. I have defended it repeatedly on this blog and elsewhere, and I will continue to defend it as often as I am able.

That said, I cannot escape the conclusion that this policy is a profound error.

As I thought what I would write about this, I saw an essay on Facebook written by Utah State Senator Steve Urquhart, who was one of the primary movers and shakers behind the legislation protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination that recently passed in Utah with the Church’s full support. Steve was my neighbor when I lived in St. George, and he’s one of the finest people I know. He’s also one of the brightest, most clear-thinking individuals on the planet, and what he wrote on this subject expresses my own opinion perfectly. With his permission, I am reposting his words here.

___________

I want to explain why I care that the Mormon Church has decided to ostracize (i.e., exclude from privileges and rites) the children of gay parents (e.g., parents in committed same-sex relationships).

The Church’s decision will hurt individuals. It will hurt families. And it will hurt the Church.

Let me be clear upfront. To my core, I love the Mormon Church. My life is immensely better because the Mormon Church—and so many of its loving, giving, beautiful, Christ-like followers—was there to guide me, my mother, and one of my brothers. My childhood was sloppy. My family was messy. After our already-unsound foundation was rocked by tragedy, my mom, my brother, and I joined the Mormon Church. We were in free fall, and the Mormon Church caught us, supported us, and saved us. Yes, it is flawed, but the Mormon Church is a glorious institution.

Also, the Mormon Church does much, much, much good in this world—most of it very quietly. The leadership of the Church and the members of the Church are consumed with doing good things. Though the Church sporadically frustrates the bejeebers out of me as it struggles to find the right place on issues involving women and gayfolk, Mormons are my people. They are my tribe. And if any of you bastards dare to storm the gates of the temple, I’ll dust off my Triple Combination (scriptures) and use it to beat the living hell out of you. Got it?!

My fellow tribesmen and tribeswomen, I hope you know that many gay members of our tribe need the Mormon Church. They believe in the Church. They draw strength from it. Like the rest of us sinners, they fall short but keep going because of their faith. This policy change will deny their kids rites and blessings.

In addition to our gay tribes(wo)men, there are gayfolk who want nothing to do with the Church themselves, BUT they fully support and appreciate their children’s devotion to the religion. This beautiful reality should be easy to grasp. My dad, for example, thought the foundational claims of the Mormon Church were total bullshit, but he 100% appreciated and supported his boys’ devotion to the religion. He encouraged and paid for my mission. Why? Because he realized that he fell short. He knew that we needed help. And he was proud that we had the discipline to believe and live according to our faith. If he weren’t in Sailors Paradise, I guarantee you he also would defend the gates of the Temple. (He’d have some hilarious asides, but he loved that crazy-ass institution, because it was good for his boys).

Okay? That’s point one. You shouldn’t cut people off from full participation—especially if you believe that they need an extra portion of help and salvation.

Point two. This hurts the Church, because it is bigoted and small. The Church has actively ostracized two groups: polygamists (those who stayed after we got out) and blackfolk.

To justify the decision to ostracize kids of (some) gayfolk, people argue that the same policy applies to kids of polygamists. Yes. That makes my point about bigotry. Honestly, we can’t stand plygs. Our religiously hillbilly cousins claim the same genealogy, name, scriptures, traditions, and stories, and it drives us crazy. People confuse us for them, and we really don’t like it. So, we ostracize them. We are prejudiced against them. And our leadership handbooks reflect that bigotry.

We have been trying to put behind us our ostracism of blackfolk. Just like we now do for kids of gayfolk, for over a century we ostracized blackfolk, denying them rites and privileges. Just like members are now doing regarding kids of gayfolk, members spent a century explaining away the racial bigotry as a mystery of God, something to be cured in the next life, etc. But it was just bigotry. The Church recently took the healthy step of admitting that. The racism of Brother Brigham found its way into church practice (and leadership manuals) and was, then, unfortunately, followed for generations. It was never of God. It was fear, misunderstanding and bigotry.

And that’s what the ostracism of children of gayfolk is: fear, misunderstanding, and bigotry. It’s not of God. It’s of man. And it needs to change. Members of the Church don’t need to explain the denial of rites and blessings as somehow good for a targeted, ostracized group of people. That’s transparently wrong and embarrassing. It is now clear–Church approved–that anyone truly in touch with God’s will would have known that the ostracism of blackfolk was wrong. They would have been right to speak out against it.

I don’t know the will of God. He doesn’t speak to me. But it seems his messages must get garbled in Google Translate at times. When I tried to tell my dad the Joseph Smith story, he said, “Son, you seem reluctant to talk with me about the idea of God talking to a man. I believe it. I see it every day. I know lots of people who talk with God. It is an undisputed fact. But . . . from what I can tell, he must tell them some crazy-ass shit.” It must be difficult to clearly hear and interpret the will of God.

The Mormon Church has learned some lessons from its history of ostracizing blackfolk. We now know that the prophets Brigham Young, John Talyor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Harold B. Lee all struggled to find God’s actual will regarding his black children. We had it wrong for a long time. Similarly, the Church is struggling to find God’s will regarding his LGBT children.

Suffer not the children in my tribe. Let’s continue to work on this issue. The Mormon Church really has made some good progress on LGBT issues. Really. On this one, though, we shanked it into the woods. Let’s retee, adjust our stance, and swing again.

Enhanced Column: Mormons and “Quantico”

So I have an idea.

My regular columns for the Deseret News have cut into my blogging time. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. I’ve thought about simply reposting my columns over here, but that’s kind of pointless, given that they’re already online over at the D News website.

Producing these columns is a process that understandably has tighter boundaries than blogging, and sometimes stuff that I write for the paper, for whatever reason, doesn’t make it into print. So what if I were to reproduce a sort of “director’s cut” of these columns here on this blog? Not all of the columns will merit such treatment, but there are several that I think would benefit from an expanded and revised presentation.

So I hereby present the first of what I’m calling my “enhanced columns.”  (You can read the original here.)

____________

So there I was, minding my own business watching the season premiere of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC – which was quite good, by the way – when a stern looking fellow comes on to frighten everyone preparing to watch the upcoming episode of the new FBI drama “Quantico” with the news that it may contain material Mormons will find offensive. Apparently, the local station had pleaded with ABC to show more respect for members of The Church of Jesus Chrost of Latter-day Saints, but to no avail. The tone seemed to suggest that what was about to follow would have Mormons running screaming into the night as they watched something so horrific that it might melt their eyeballs right out of their sockets.

That was the best ad they could have possibly run. I had no intention of watching “Quantico” prior to that, but after such a dire warning, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

(Warning: serious spoilers for the debut episode follow that may or may not melt your eyeballs.)

I knew something was wrong when they introduced this Mormon guy, nicknamed “Elder Eric,” by showing his family throwing him a party inside the Salt Lake Temple, which the producers mistakenly seem to think is some kind of wedding reception hall. So it was clear from the outset that they weren’t going to get anything right when it came to how my faith was going to be represented.

The advance word on this show was that they were going to show a Mormon character wearing only his temple garments, which are sacred to Latter-day Saints and are often mocked in popular culture. While there was some debate as to whether or not such a scene would make it tour, it did, indeed, make the final cut, but just barely. That is to say, if you blinked, you probably missed it. (He also was removing them in order to get dressed, which defeats their purpose and, once again, demonstrates that these people know nothing about Mormons.) The temple garments were never identified as such, and I would think casual viewers had no reason to recognize them as anything unusual. In any case, they were used as the catalyst for conversation about the Mormon character’s high moral standards, which were depicted as admirable and praiseworthy. So, all things considered, it could have been a whole lot worse, right?

Right. Because just a few minutes later, it definitely got a whole a lot worse.

The plot focused on several FBI recruits beginning their training. The newbies are given the unlikely assignment to dig up dirt on their fellow trainees, which struck as a pretty poor way to develop camaraderie within the ranks. The guy assigned to find the skeletons in the Mormon’s closet is kind of incompetent, so, to make himself look good, he bluffs and starts bragging that what he’s uncovered is really earth-shattering, scandalous stuff. Unfortunately, the Mormon really does have a deep, dark secret that involves pedophilia, abortion, and possibly murder that took place while he was serving as an LDS missionary(!). This, again, makes no sense, since Mormon missionaries spend 24 hours a day with a companion who makes sure they don’t get mixed up in these kinds of shenanigans. In any case, he then ends up killing another trainee and then himself to prevent it from being discovered.

So, yes, the Mormon turns out to be pretty much the most despicable human being who has ever lived. Yippee.

What’s remarkable, however, is that, dramatically speaking, the net effect isn’t necessarily an indictment of his faith, but rather an affirmation of its virtues. The question everyone asked was, “How could someone who seemed so decent and upright – a Mormon, no less – turn out to be such a monster?” The character’s religion was used to create a stark contrast between a righteous appearance and a sordid reality. The only reason the comparison worked is that they expected the audience to instinctively identify Mormons as good people. Had this character been introduced as something despicable, like a drug dealer or a presidential candidate, his fall from grace wouldn’t have been nearly as compelling. That’s something, I guess.

But, really, it’s not much. “Quantico” isn’t really worth your time – it’s a sleazy, by-the-numbers procedural/soap opera teeming with impossibly beautiful millennials. The best thing about it is that they’re unlikely to ever have a Mormon on this thing ever again.

Pointless Political Prognostication

William Goldman, screenwriter of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “The Princess Bride,” is famous for coining the phrase “Nobody knows anything.” He was talking about Hollywood, but his assessment is far better suited for Washington DC.

This adage doesn’t just apply to the talking heads on cable television who have to fill up a 24-hour news cycle with recycled pseudo-witticisms, stale/obvious observations, and heaps of partisan blather. This principle also applies to the campaigns themselves. Consultants who know no more than you do are paid millions of dollars every election season to flounder about in the dark and make colossal mistakes and watch their candidates go down in flames. Of course, somebody has to win, which means a handful of these people will stumble into doing something right, and they are then hailed as geniuses for getting lucky, until they eventually go on to crash and burn with a loser down the road.

So, that said, allow me to make some predictions that will be as wrong and worthless as anyone else’s. Remember that I know as much as they do, which is nothing.

Keep in mind, too, that I’m of the opinion that America and, indeed, the whole concept of the nation state is on its way out, so I don’t much care who gets the 2016 nod to hold the wheel of the sinking ship. My hardcore cynicism therefore allows me to enjoy the entire Trump spectacle rather than lament about how it is sure to destroy whatever paltry electoral chances the GOP had this time around.

Which brings me to Trump, and the question I asked when he first announced – how does Trump end?

Because when Trump first jumped in, the conventional wisdom/stupidity was that he would flame out pretty quickly, and that he was just this cycle’s version of Herman Cain.  But he’s not flaming out – he’s burning brighter, and everyone else is getting scorched. His unfavorables two months ago were in the 60s, which is where his favorables are now. A 60-point shift in two months?! Man, the rules don’t apply to him at all. Imagine if Jeb Bush had made a crack about Megyn Kelly menstruating – he’d be done. (Actually, he is done, although he doesn’t seem to realize it yet.) What would happen if Scott Walker had praised the virtues of single payer healthcare in a Republican presidential debate, as Trump did? We’d still be talking about it, and Walker would be done. (Actually, he is done, although he doesn’t seem to realize it yet.)

The other slice of trite nonsense that’s being fed to everyone is the idea that Trump is simply the logical next level downward in the gloomy Republican Tea Party spiral. But Trump isn’t a Tea Partier, despite ol’ Tea Party Ted cruzing himself all over Trump’s lapels like some kind of demented Donald Mini-Me without the combover. Glenn Beck, one of the Founding Deadbeat Dads of the bastard that is the Tea Party, is apoplectic about Trump during his rare lucid moments between visions from Cthulhu. How many other Tea Partiers brag about bribing Hillary Clinton to come to their third wedding? If Satan’s brother Mike Huckabee had tried that, he’d be done. (Actually, etc. etc. etc.)

No, Trump’s appeal comes from the fact that you can believe in him without really believing in anything. You don’t have to know a lick about policy or ideology – you just have to dig a guy who “tells it like it is,” despite the fact that what he’s telling you is the intellectual equivalent of armpit farts.

Scott Adams, the dude who draws Dilbert, also writes a blog in which he insists that Trump is the most persuasive candidate in the history of the republic, and that he will win the GOP nomination and the general election “by a wide margin.” He says this not as a Trump advocate – Adams is neither Republican nor conservative – but as an admirer of Trump’s considerable people skills. His series of “Trump persuasion posts” are well worth reading, because they’re saying things nobody else is saying, and they’re absolutely correct up to the point where they’re dead wrong.

Which is to say that Adams is right that Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. Because, honestly, who’s going to stop him? Jeb?

My numerous reasonable Republican friends still cling to the illusion that Trump will implode, because, well, he’s Donald Trump, for crap’s sake. But Trump has repeatedly lit the fuse of his own implosion, yet nothing stupid he can say seems to be able to do the trick. For Trump to lose, Republicans can’t rely on him self-destructing. Someone’s going to have to take him out.

Which brings us to the latest Mitt Romney bubble.

There seems to be a percolating sentiment among Trump loathers that the guy to take down The Donald is the old, white Mormon guy who already lost twice. Now, I realize that, on its face, this is stupid. But if you take the time to dig down deeper, you discover that it’s really stupid.

And yet, I can see a scenario where it might work.

If Romney were to get in, it would attract enough attention to spur some kind of snide bile from Trump himself, which would give Romney an opening to hit back.  And Romney would have to hit back hard – really go for the jugular. Jeb is running an ad now that nobody is paying any attention to which highlights Trump’s very recent departures from conservatism. Romney could get attention for bringing all that up, and maybe it might sting a little. But it won’t be nearly enough. Romney would have to get personal and dirty, and start calling Trump all the kinds of names that Trump is calling everyone else. Sleazeball. Perv. Blood coming out of his wherever. He would have to get so vicious and nasty that everyone would be shocked into actually seeing Donald Trump for who he really is.

Show of hands, folks – how many of you think Mitt Romney is the best man for that kind of hatchet job? Yeah, me neither.

So Trump doesn’t implode, and nobody can take him out. So he’s the nominee. Then what?

Well, then he loses. And not just loses, but Barry-Goldwater-George-McGovern-Walter-Mondale loses.

Seriously? You think Trump’s reality show hijinks are going to keep Hispanic voters from rising up in droves to vote against the guy who wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants and their 4 million children who are U.S. citizens? W. got 45% of the Hispanic vote in 2004; Romney got a paltry 27%. What percentage is Trump going to get? My guess is that it will only be measurable with an electron microscope.

As for the other end of the equation, Hillary is going to be the nominee unless this email scandal puts her in jail. Which means she’s going to be president, and Bill will use the Lincoln Bedroom to consummate his contacts from his Ashley Madison account. The Biden thing makes no sense – in the Age of Trump, why would the Democrats turned to a white, elderly Dan Quayle clone who’s been in Washington longer than Ben Affleck has been alive? Literally?

So there you have it. My predictions. And, of course, they will be wrong. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway. My predictions have been so famously inaccurate that I’m now putting my bad electoral mojo to good use.

A Cheap Lawyer’s Trick

So, on Facebook, an old friend threw down the gauntlet on a subject that is near and dear to my heart and rather boring to most folks.

I quote his original post in full:

I now vent in the specific direction of “Oxfordians” who believe that William Shakespeare did not write his own poetry and plays: REALLY? Have you read Edward DeVere’s poetry? Have you studied anything about his personal narcissism? Have you asked yourself why such a vain man would put his own name to poetry that a sixth-grader might be ashamed to own – but Shakespeare’s name to the greatest English verse ever conceived? Have you wondered how a subpar writer who died in 1604 could’ve written plays credited to William Shakespeare that were written after that? Some dated as late as 1613????!?

Edward-de-Vere_1528470c

Edward de Vere, AKA William Shakespeare

This led to a lengthy and, to my mind, extremely pleasant exchange, other than the friend of my friend who referred to me as a “garrulous douchebag.” In this exchange, I pointed out that I fully believe that William Shakespeare wrote his own poetry and plays, but I believe William Shakespeare was a pseudonym, and not William Shaksper of Stratford, who usually gets the credit. I also addressed the dating of the plays, but the subject of DeVere’s supposedly low-quality poetry called to mind an excerpt from Charlton Ogburn’s “The Mysterious William Shakespeare: The Myth and the Reality,” which is a tome that many Oxfordians consider to be the gold standard of Oxfordianism. I had thought that the test he mentions on page 393 of that book would be somewhere online, but, alas, it is not.

So, being the garrulous douchebag that I am, I thought I ought to remedy that.

I now quote Ogburn at length from pages 393-393 of his book. His words are in blue. In this excerpt, Ogburn quotes a Dartmouth professor names Louis P. Bénézet, whose words are in green.

_________________

The reader who does not see signs of a common origin in the two sets of verses might test his ability to discriminate between the styles of Oxford and “Shake-speare” on a pot-pourri made up by Louis P. Bénézet of Dartmouth… Professor Bénézet writes:

This mixture contains seventy lines; there are six passages from the works of one author, seven from the other; no passage is longer than eight lines; none shorter than four. 

It has been most interesting to see the Shakespeare scholars tackle this problem. I handed the book to a former college instructor in Elizabethan literature, now an editor for a well known publishing firm. He picked it up with an air which said: “This is going to be easy. Just watch me detect the true Shakespeare lines.” I had given him the number of lines in each selection, so it should have been doubly easy. He not only failed to pick the Shakespeare passages among the first forty lines; he exactly reversed them, attributing de Vere’s stanzas to Shakespeare and Shakespeare’s to de Vere…

An old friend of mine, who has been teaching English for forty years, took my booklet home and made an honest attempt, after careful reading and study, to pick out the Shakespeare passages. I met him afterwards, and he confessed that he had missed three of the first eight and was not sure enough to go on to the end. 

But the most surprising test was an interview which I had, four years ago, with a famous professor of literature from one of the nation’s oldest and greatest universities, a man whose name is synonymous with literary knowledge and who is quoted from coast to coast [William Lyon Phelps of Yale].

I read him the pot-pourri. “What do you think of it?” I asked. 

“It is beautiful,” he replied. 

“Where do you place it?” I asked. 

“Oh, it is Elizabethan,” was his answer. 

“Did one man write all of it?” I persisted. 

“Oh, unquestionably,” said he…

A prominent literary figure, a committed Stratfordian, to whom I submitted the test, would have nothing to do with it, calling it “dirty pool” and “a cheap lawyer’s trick.” Here it is:

[Stallion editorial note: I will now show you the trick in question, but I’ll do it in black text to make it easier to read, as well as numbering each line. See if you can tell which is which. Unfortunately, Ogburn never provided an “answer key,” so I had to Google all of them to find out for myself. All of DeVere’s poetry comes from his youth, so one would expect it to be less accomplished than what he later wrote as Shakespeare. At the same time, I think this amply illustrates the fact that DeVere’s supposedly shoddy poetry is only shoddy by reputation, not by empirical examination.]

  1. If care or skill could conquer vain desire,
  2. Or reason’s reins my strong affections stay;
  3. There should my sighs to quiet breast retire,
  4. And shun such sights as secret thoughts betray;
  5. Uncomely love, which now lurks in my breast
  6. Should cease, my grief by wisdom’s power oppressed.
  7. My reason, the physician to my love,
  8. Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
  9. Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
  10. Desire is death, which physic did except.
  11. Past cure I am, now reason is past care,
  12. And frantic mad with evermore unrest.
  13. Fain would I sing but fury makes me fret,
  14. And rage hath sworn to seek revenge of wrong;
  15. My mazed mind in malice is so set,
  16. As death shall daunt my deadly dolours long;
  17. Patience perforce is such a pinching pain,
  18. As die I will or suffer wrong again.
  19. For if I should despair, I should go mad,
  20. And in my madness might speak ill of thee;
  21. Now this ill-wresting world is grown so bad,
  22. Mad slanderers by mad ears believed be.
  23. Love is a discord and a strange divorce
  24. Betwixt our sense and rest, by whose power,
  25. As mad with reason, we admit that force
  26. Which wit or labour never may endower.
  27. My thoughts and discourse as madmen’s are,
  28. As random from the truth vainly express’d;
  29. For I have sworn thee fair and thought thee bright
  30. Who art as black as hell and dark as night.
  31. Why should my heart think that a several plot
  32. Which my heart knows the wide world’s common place?
  33. Or mine eyes seeing this, say this is not,
  34. To put fair truth upon so foul a face?
  35. Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?
  36. Who taught thy tongue with woeful words of plaint?
  37. Who filled your eyes with tears of bitter smart?
  38. Who gave thee grief and made thy joys to faint?
  39. Who first did paint with colors pale thy face?
  40. Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?
  41. Above the rest in court who gave thee grace?
  42. Who made thee strive in honor to be best?
  43. Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
  44. The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
  45. O, though I love what others do abhor,
  46. With others thou shouldst not abhor my state.
  47. What worldly wight can hope for heavenly hire,
  48. When only sighs must make his secret moan?
  49. A silent suit doth seld to grace aspire,
  50. My hapless hay doth roll the restless stone.
  51. Yet Phoebe fair disdained the heavens above,
  52. To joy on earth her poor Endymion’s love.
  53. And shall I live on earth to be her thrall?
  54. And shall I live and serve her all in vain?
  55. And kiss the steps that she lets fall,
  56. And shall I pray the Gods to keep the pain
  57. From her that is so cruel still?
  58. No, no, on her work all your will.
  59. And let her feel the power of all your might,
  60. And let her have her most desire with speed,
  61. And let her pine away both day and night,
  62. And let her moan, and none lament her need;
  63. And let all those that shall her see,
  64. Despise her state and pity me.
  65. Let him have time to tear his curled hair,
  66. Let him have time against himself to rave,
  67. Let him have time of Time’s help to despair,
  68. Let him have time to live a loathed slave,
  69. Let him have time a beggar’s orts to crave,
  70. And time to see one that by alms doth live
  71. Disdain to him disdained scraps to give.

The answers are in white text below. Highlight to read.

So? How did you do? Let me know in the comments. Don’t cheat; that’s no fun.

Shakespeare wrote lines 7-12, 19-22, 27-34, 43-46, and 65-71

Edward de Vere, using his own name, wrote lines 1-6, 13-18, 23-26, 35-42, and 47-64. 

 

Dressing in the Dark

Mormons have long been hesitant to discuss the subject of temple garments in casual conversation, because such garments serve as reminders of sacred covenants that aren’t to be taken lightly.

That’s why I bristle every time someone dismisses them as “magic underwear,” or worse. I don’t think such comments are always intended to be cruel, but they demonstrate a lack of sensitivity with regard to a religious practice that requires a great deal of context to be properly understood.

A few decades ago, I felt that such context was unlikely to be found in the loosey-goosey atmosphere that often prevailed in dressing rooms when I was a theater student at the University of Southern California. So when it came to changing into costume, I initially tried to find ways to do it out of public view. This was easy in the Bing Theatre, USC’s largest proscenium, because I could change in a bathroom stall without calling any attention to myself. But in the smaller theaters, the bathrooms were too tiny, so I ended up trying to put on my costumes in the dark corners of crowded spaces, which was very much a hit-or-miss proposition.

So I eventually gave up.

After a few semesters of this pointless hide-and-seek, I got dressed right alongside everyone else and braced myself for a wave of ridicule that never came. Oh, sure, there were a few questions here and there, but they were never unkind.  If there were rude or nasty comments, I never heard them.

All this is prelude to the news, reported by the Salt Lake Tribune, of an upcoming ABC-TV drama showing a Mormon character wearing nothing but his temple garments.

“Quantico,” which premieres on Sept. 27, follows the lives of several FBI recruits in training. At one point when they are disrobing, a Mormon recruit gets asked if he is wearing “pajamas under (his) clothes.” This raises more questions, and the Mormon explains that Latter-day Saints are appealing to the FBI because they “respect authority, don’t drink or take drugs, spend time in foreign countries, and they speak several languages,” according to the Tribune. And that’s pretty much it.

If that’s all that happens, I don’t really see this as much of a problem. Certainly it could be a whole lot worse.

In discussing this with a friend, he pointed out that ABC would never feature a scene where someone was wearing, say, a T-shirt with a Mohammad cartoon. That’s true, but I think it’s because writers fear backlash, not because they intrinsically respect Islam more than Mormonism. In addition, it doesn’t sound like the point of the scene is to make fun of Mormons or temple garments, but rather to depict a moment that has surely had several real-life antecedents with LDS FBI recruits, and one that is not that different from my own experience.

As for those who insist that it is never appropriate to show temple garments in any context, they need to take issue with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which officially released an explanatory video and pictures of temple garments earlier this year.

Don’t misunderstand me. This is still an insensitive thing for “Quantico” to do, and I’m troubled by reports that suggest that, over the course of the series, the Mormon character doesn’t live up to the standards of his faith. There’s also still a question as to whether or not that particular scene will make it to air. But what I find encouraging is the fact that there’s a Mormon character at all. Television now seems to be willing to depict a Latter-day Saint as a three-dimensional human being rather than as a stereotype used to openly mock religion.

As Mormons become more prominent, we should expect pop culture to take notice and also anticipate that there will be a few bumps in the road along the way. That shouldn’t be a reason to go back to dressing in the dark.

Birthday Thoughts

This may seem odd, but I’m over here at my blog hiding from Facebook, where, so far, 180 very sweet, wonderful people have decided to wish me a happy birthday.  (Yes, today is my birthday. I am a year older, not much wiser, and still devastatingly good-looking.)

Every time someone is thoughtful enough to take time out of their day to wish me well, I think that act of kindness deserves a personalized response, and it takes time to respond to 180 different people, and if I get started mid-day, more well-wishes from others pop up as I’m writing back, so I end up feeling like I’m falling behind, and what ought to be a fun exchange with friends ends up feeling a bit like a chore, which is an ungrateful way to respond to good folks who care enough about me to say so. So I’ve decided to steer clear of Facebook all day until everyone’s news feed moves on to the next birthday, and then I can begin the response process on the second day of my 48th year on Planet Earth.

So for all of you wishing me well, thank you so much. You have made me loved and appreciated, and that’s no small thing in this lonely world of ours.

So if I’m not going to hang out on Facebook, the least I can do is to keep this blog from drifting off into oblivion. I thought I’d weigh in on a few issues that have been rumbling around in my brain, each of which could easily merit a blog post of their own.

1. ON DONALD TRUMP

donald-trump-hair-photos-mystery-transplant-combover_2014-09-14_21-59-27-573x430
I’ve written the definitive piece on Trump’s candidacy in my most recent column for the Deseret News, but I fail to mention the issue that is of primary concern to most of those following this bizarre reality show circus, which is that of The Donald’s hair.

Consider the “Hell Toupee” meme:

6834e99713f262a9ab2c72125c46085eIt’s funny, sure, but The Donald doesn’t wear a toupee. That’s all his own hair, which is why there’s so dang much of it. A toupee wouldn’t consume such a large degree of Trumpian scalpular geography. It would just sit there like a dead raccoon, much the way William Shatner’s has done for lo these many decades.

trump-twilight-zone

Much better is the “We Shall Overcomb” meme:

we-shall-overcombe-shirt-square-heather-grey2I’m convinced Trump manipulates huge swaths of bleached hair to cover scalpular* portions which God hath left desolate. A toup would just fly off in a strong wind, not flutter askew like a pencil troll gone to seed.

trump-hairThe evidence clearly suggests overcombing, not hairpiecing.

Which brings me to my second item of the day:

2. “EVIDENCE” IS NOT A SYNONYM FOR “PROOF”

Rummaging through one of the many pointless, bait-click online lists I stumble across far too frequently, I bumped into a statement by actor John Malkovich where he was quoted as saying the following:

johnmalkovich“I believe in people, I believe in humans, I believe in a car, but I don’t believe something I can’t have [sic] absolutely no evidence of for millennia. And it’s funny — people think analysis or psychiatry is mad, and THEY go to CHURCH…”

John Malkovich, Non-Combovering Atheist

While I respect the fact that Mr. Malkovich has made far less ridiculous scalpular choices than The Donald, I find it very tedious that so many atheists keep claiming there is “absolutely no evidence” of God’s existence, which is false, when what they mean is that there is “absolutely no proof” of God’s existence, which is, in fact, true.

Mormons deal with this a lot.

For quite some time, the Mormon blogosphere, known by the faithful as the “Bloggernacle,” has been engaged in a long-running discussion/argument/flame war as to the historicity of The Book of Mormon – the book of scripture, not the rancid musical. For those of you who are unaware, The Book of Mormon purports to be a translation of ancient religious records of people that migrated to the American continent and established a civilization that all but collapsed circa 400 AD. It is now fashionable in certain circles to refer to The Book of Mormon as “inspired fiction,” and, while it represents a tour de force of religious insight by purported-translator-but-assumed-author Joseph Smith, there is “no evidence” that there were actual people called Nephites and Lamanites who lived and died and did stuff.

Over at a blog called “Enigmatic Mirror,” Mormon scholar William Hamblin has been exchanging posts with a non-Mormon academic named Philip Jenkins, who likens belief in The Book of Mormon as a historical, non-fictional document to belief in Bigfoot – who we all know is Cain, punished to wander the earth swathed in matted, unbleached Donald Trump combover strands for thousands of years until he finally guest stars as Andre the Giant on The Six Million Dollar Man.

I digress.

Jenkins refuses to either read The Book of Mormon or even acknowledge that there is any reason to do so, because there is – you guessed it – “no evidence” that it’s historical. When Hamblin suggests that Jenkins has “tacitly” admitted that at least some evidence exists, Jenkins gets quite huffy.

“At no point have I ever suggested that there is any evidence whatever in support for the historicity or historical value of the Book of Mormon,” Jenkins huffs, huffily. “I have never suggested or stated that tacitly, or openly, and it is wrong to suggest that I have.”

But there is a great deal of evidence of the Book of Mormon’s historicity, much of which I’ve talked about on this blog. What Jenkins is complaining about, like Malkovich, is the lack of proof, not evidence. (Hamblin himself makes the same point in his response.)

This is the primary argument, incidentally, on an issue of far graver importance than the nature of God or scripture – namely, the identity of William Shakespeare. There is considerable evidence, but no proof, that William Shakespeare was not the similarly named William Shakspere/Shaxper/Shagspur of Stratford-on-Avon who currently gets all the credit for those plays, sonnets, and poems, but rather that William Shakespeare was the pseudonym of Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, much the same way Stallion Cornell is the pseudonym of Jim Bennett, the 47-year-old wannabe Duke of Earl.  Yet if you go to Wikipedia, source of all wisdom, Oxfordians base their case on “the dearth of evidence for any conspiracy as evidence of its success.” So not only is there “no evidence” that Oxford was Shakespeare, but the lack of evidence is our evidence? What the crap is that?

If evidence were always proof, then why would we have a criminal justice system? Jury trials involve two opposing advocates using identical evidence to argue for diametrically opposite conclusions. Even the most devoutly religious concede there is no conclusive proof that God exists, but they’ll offer up a great deal of evidence for why they believe he does.  But if the intellectually lazy can equate a lack of proof with a lack of evidence, then they can end all arguments before they begin.

This bugs me.

3. GEEKY PEEVE
You know what else bugs me? Peter Capaldi in Doctor Who.

As I announced in one of my columns, I’m binge-watching Doctor Who, which has conveniently incorporated the changing actors in the lead role into the plot structure of the show. The show’s title character is the Doctor, a time-travelling, nigh-unto-immortal alien whose surname is not Who. When the Doctor is close to death, he “regenerates,” i.e. turns into an entirely different person played by an entirely different actor. While he retains his memories from previous incarnations, his personality changes with each new body, too.

This first happened at the end of the first season of the new series, and I thought I would never accept David Tennant as the Doctor after Christopher Eccleston, who was the first to play him in the 21st Century. So imagine my surprise when David Tennant turned out to be a far superior Doctor to Eccleston. Yet after three Tennant seasons, Tennant regenerated into Matt Smith, and I thought there was no way I could make the Tennant-to-Smith transition. But Matt Smith was so brilliant in the role that he won me over almost instantly. So when Matt Smith’s tenure came to an end and the Doctor became Peter Capaldi, I thought, “well, I did this twice before, and it turned out OK. How bad can it be?”

Well, pretty bad, as it turns out.

Eccleston, Tennant, and Smith played the Doctor as a sort of dashing, eccentric rogue, but Capaldi is a 57-year-old arthritic curmudgeon. He’s a full three decades older than Matt Smith, and his Doctor is so far removed from Smith’s interpretation that it’s very difficult to suspend disbelief and pretend they’re the same person. I’m three episodes in to Season 8, and I was hoping I’d accept Capaldi by now. I don’t. But at least there’s no combover.

And so we’ve come full circle. Again, thank you for you kind wishes, and maybe I’ll post here a few more times before my next birthday.

_______________
* I have used the word “scalpular” several times in this blog post, when, to my knowledge, “scalpular” isn’t really a word.  Autocorrect keeps trying to change it to “sculptural.” If you can’t tell by the context, I use “scalpular” as an adjective with a definition meaning “of or pertaining to the scalp.” Should this word be incorporated into common English parlance, I will therefore expect Webster’s Dictionary to send me royalty checks. In any case, I have copyrighted “scalpular” and reserved all ancillary rights thereto. Should you decide to say it in conversation, you will owe me $.25 per usage.

Can forgiveness win, too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hate now has to be punished.

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

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

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

If love wins, can forgiveness win, too?

Jenner Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-American Possibilities

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

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

Ask and ye shall receive, sir.

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

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

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

That time is coming faster than most people realize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commerce, for instance, has already outgrown provincial governments. 

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

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

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

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

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

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