The Third Option

As a follow-up to my non-Catholic post, allow me to share with you a statement made by John Dehlin as posted over at The Millennial Star:

Being active and in full fellowship with the church (i.e., temple recommend holding, attending meetings weekly, paying tithing, holding a calling, etc.) is not likely going to work for me (as I’ve mentioned before — I’m not comfortable supporting the church financially, and they have sent me the message that they don’t want me as a vocal semi-believer).

But leaving the church completely has the potential to negatively impact the reach of Mormon Stories podcast, since possibly some TBMs are willing to listen to Mormon Stories because I remain active (I get this feedback from time to time). In essence, active church participation isn’t working for me, but I don’t want to harm the good that Mormon Stories can do. For those of you who are genuine supporters of Mormon Stories…what should I do? I’d love your perspective here…again…especially from those who are financial supporters…

To sum up, then, Dehlin refuses to participate in the church in any significant way, but he won’t stop going completely because it might hurt his website and alienate his financial supporters. Make of that what you will.

Let me then turn my focus to Kate Kelly’s case.

Kate Kelly, as near as I can tell, is not as far gone as John Dehlin seems to be. She has not openly rejected the central claims of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the way Dehlin has. Her circumstances, therefore, don’t seem anywhere near as clear-cut to me as those of Dehlin, who essentially left the church himself a long time ago and is now aghast that the church is going to formally acknowledge that. But Kelly doesn’t think the church is a fraud; she just wants women to be able to hold the priesthood, too.

For my part, I would welcome the ordaining of women to the priesthood should revelation be received to implement such a change. At the same time, I think lobbying for such revelation is inherently problematic.  Lobbying is an effective means to influence democratic institutions, but the church is not a democracy. Our doctrines are not the product of a majority vote.

It’s true that we frequently vote in church, but those are sustaining votes, not election votes. Nobody’s running for Sunday School President. The Bishopric decides who’s going to fill which office, and then they put those names forward to the congregation, which then chooses whether they will sustain those choices or not. If someone opposes a bishop’s choice for Nursery Leader, they are not given the option of another candidate.

It’s therefore difficult for me to reconcile this reality with the public behavior of Ordain Women, which has often seemed designed to embarrass the church into taking action that meets their goals. That’s usually a counterproductive approach in a church that prides itself on its unwillingness to accommodate the shifting standards of the world at large. The more likely outcome of lobbying church leaders is that those leaders will dig in their heels rather than appear to cave in to a lobbyist’s demands.

OK, fine. But does that mean Kate Kelly deserves to be excommunicated?

I honestly don’t know. I’m not in a position to answer that. And many in the blogosphere are too willing to draw sweeping conclusion about the very few people who are.

Over at patheos.com, a blogger named Gina Colvin posed a series of pointed questions to Kate Kelly’s bishop that make it clear where she stands on this issue:

Firstly, I wonder if you could confirm whether or not you initiated this action. It would be nice to know if we are dealing with another case of local ecclesiastical idiocy, or if these orders are from those in high places.

Note the unstated assumptions here. Either this is “local ecclesiastical idiocy,” or this bishop is acting on orders from the Brethren. He’s either an idiot or a puppet. To Colvin, and many other bloggers like her, there is no third option.

So let’s consider the two options we’re given. The Church has explicitly stated that discipline in Kelly’s case has not been “directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.” If you take the Brethren at their word, and I do, that puts the “puppet” option off the table. So what about the “idiot” option?

In her post, Colvin tells this bishop that even if he is a puppet, he’s an idiot, too:

You had a faithful member of your congregation sharing and confiding, inviting you to ask questions, to correct and counsel. You did none of these while you were with her in your office, your ward.

Really?

“Actions to address a person’s membership and standing in their congregation are convened after lengthy periods of counseling and encouragement to reconsider behavior.” So reads the next-to-last sentence in the church’s statement on this subject. If the bishop truly did “none of these,” as Colvin maintains, his inaction would constitute flagrant negligence of his responsibilities. Such flagrant negligence would likely be grounds, at the very least, to have this bishop released from his office and perhaps subject to church discipline himself.

Yet bishops do not function in an ecclesiastical vacuum. If a disciplinary council is going to be held, the steps leading up to that eventuality would be discussed with the stake president, too. If this bishop had truly not made any other attempt to correct Kelly and is launching a banzai attack from out of the ether, any remotely competent stake president would have put the kibosh on it before it got this far. So to believe that this bishop is a rogue imbecile requires you to believe this stake president is in on it, too.

OK, fine. If you believe that this church is run by corrupt and clueless men, then you should have no difficulty accepting either option one or two. (I don’t particularly understand why you would want to stay in a church led by the clueless and the corrupt, but that’s another story.) For my part, I don’t think the Brethren are lying, and I don’t think this bishop and stake president are in cahoots to boot people out of the church in defiance of clearly defined procedures.

That leaves me with Option #3: Kate Kelly, at least in part, is misrepresenting how the church has handled this situation.

I don’t wish to pile insult onto Kelly’s injuries, but this is easily the most plausible of the three possibilities. I think it likely that this bishop did more – much more – to correct and counsel Kate Kelly than she admits. Again, the caveats I outline in my last post on this all apply here. I don’t know Kate Kelly personally, and I don’t know her heart. I hope every effort is made on both sides to keep her in full fellowship with the Saints. I wish her and her family well, and I hope the church will not cease its efforts to minister to her and work for the welfare of her soul.

All I ask is that we all consider the possibility that the church is not the bad guy here. This bishop’s stewardship requires him to maintain complete confidentiality on the subject. So while Kate Kelly has a direct line to the New York Times to tell her side of the story, this bishop has no outlet to tell his.

Thoughts from a Non-Catholic

I’m a big fan of Catholicism. I love and respect the Roman Catholic Church immensely, as well as many of its members and former members.  I believe in many of the central, non-distinctive moral teachings within Catholicism (e.g., love, kindness, charity, forgiveness, faith, hope), but I do not believe in papal infallibility, transubstantiation, Catholic apostolic succession, or the necessity and efficacy of Catholic ritual or priesthood authority, or any of the other principles that are unique to the Roman Catholic Church.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, since I’m not a Catholic. My position on these issues, therefore, isn’t really controversial.

But if I were to join the Catholic church, these positions might cause some problems, both personally and institutionally. That would be especially problematic if I were to publicly announce my disbelief in the church’s central tenets on a website that provides a forum for some of the church’s most virulent critics, all the while doing so under the auspices of being a Catholic in good standing.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

“I have deep love for the LDS church, for its members, and for its former members,” writes John Dehlin, the proprietor of the Mormon Stories website, whose front page now features a four-part hagiographic interview with Sandra Tanner, arguably the most prolific and prominent anti-Mormon of the past fifty years. Dehlin goes on to say the following:

I believe in many of the central, non-distinctive moral teachings within Mormonism (e.g., love, kindness, charity, forgiveness, faith, hope), but either have serious doubts about, or no longer believe many of the fundamental LDS church truth claims (e.g., anthropomorphic God, “one true church with exclusive authority,” that the current LDS church prophet receives privileged communications from God, that The Book of Mormon and The Book of Abraham are translations, polygamy, racist teachings in the Book of Mormon, that ordinances are required for salvation, proxy work for the dead).

In other words, Dehlin wants The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to continue to allow him to represent himself as a member of that church, while, at the same time, publicly rejecting that church’s doctrines – some of which he misrepresents in that statement – and running a website that is largely antagonistic to both the church and its mission.

That simply doesn’t make any sense to me, but others seem to see it differently.

Recently, a New York Times story announced that Dehlin and Kate Kelly, the founder of the Ordain Women movement, are facing church discipline and possible excommunication for apostasy from church teachings. This set the Mormon blogosphere afire, and many of my friends lamented that that my church refuses to accommodate any doubt or dissent within the rank and file.

I’m not going to get into Kate Kelly’s case here. While it has considerable national prominence, I’m less familiar with it than I am with Dehlin’s situation. (Perhaps I will research and discuss Kelly and Ordain Women in a later post.) Instead, I want to demonstrate that Dahlin’s defenders seem to be missing the point altogether.

Reread Dehlin’s statement where he rejects the church’s priesthood authority and denounces The Book of Mormon as a fraud. Why, then, would he be upset that this church he calls fraudulent no longer wants to associate with him? And why would he want to continue being recognized as a member of a fraudulent church?

Dehlin’s defenders cite President Uchtdorf’s masterful conference talk “Come Join With Us,” where he calls for inclusion for people who struggle with doubts. “To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here,” President Uchtdorf said. “It’s natural to have questions… There are few members of the Church who, at one time or another, have not wrestled with serious or sensitive questions…If you are tempted to give up: Stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here.”

So, in light of that, how could anyone say there may not be room for John Dehlin?

The answer, I think, is that doubts are different from decisions. Genuine doubt is rarely a permanent condition, since it usually resolves itself on one side of the question or the other. It is one thing to stay in the church if you doubt whether or not The Book of Mormon is true. It is quite another to decide that it isn’t true, actively and publicly preach against it, and then expect the church to accommodate your antagonistic efforts.

Dehlin, therefore, is no longer a “doubter,” because he’s pretty well made up his mind.

There is plenty of room for the people who haven’t figured out which way they’re going to land. But those who choose to come down on the other side of church teachings ought to be intellectually honest enough to voluntarily disassociate themselves from the church they reject. At the very least, they ought not be surprised or upset when the church ratifies a decision they’ve already made.

Again, I recognize many disagree and insist that the Church ought to be inclusive of all points of view, even if it means retaining members that are openly hostile to church doctrine. But ultimately, that means the church ceases to be much of anything at all. How can the church continue to preach The Book of Mormon if it accommodates those who actively preach that Joseph Smith made it up out of whole cloth? How could the Catholic Church survive if it gave people like me equal time at Mass to tell congregants that Thomas S. Monson, not Pope Francis, is the true heir of St. Peter?

I also recognize there are plenty of caveats to consider. I don’t know John Dehlin personally, and I don’t know his heart. I also don’t know what his local leaders are considering, and the confidentiality of church disciplinary proceedings prohibits them from telling their side of the story. As of this writing, Dehlin has not yet been disciplined, and it is possible that he will remain in the church. Regardless of what happens, I wish him and his family well, and I hope the church will not cease its efforts to minister to him and work for the welfare of his soul.

The larger principle here is that a church that permits everything ultimately stands for nothing. Granted, there are churches like that – the Unitarians come to mind – but, thankfully, neither the Roman Catholic Church or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fit that description.

I hope they never do.

Obama’s $500 Billion Dollar Tax on the Poor

During the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama made it clear that taxing the rich required the rich to pay not just more money than the poor, but to pay at a higher rate, too. When Charlie Gibson, of all people, pointed out that a lower capital gains rate actually brought in more government revenue than a higher one, Barack was having none of it.

“I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness,” Obama said. “[T]hose who are able to work the stock market and amass huge fortunes on capital gains are paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That’s not fair.”

So, to sum up, even if a lower tax rate generates more money, “fairness” trumps all. In practical terms, this means soaking the rich was more important than funding programs that help the poor.

Given that position, it’s stunning that he is now bypassing Congress to unilaterally implement the most regressive tax in the history of the country, and left-wingers, by and large, are cheering him on. “[This regressive tax] re-establishes the moral authority on the part of the United State of America in leading the world community,” bloviated former veep and current hypocrite Al Gore. His sentiments are echoed by lefties throughout the blogosphere, and none of them seem to notice that what they’re applauding is a $50 billion-per-year tax that will be borne largely by the poorest of the poor.

Of course, that’s not what they’re calling it. No, this tax is disguised as new EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants designed to combat global warming.

Oh, here we go. Now your eyes have rolled up into the back of your head. “I really don’t understand your obsession with climate change denial, Jim,” a friend of mine recently wrote on Facebook. “I find your position on this subject very strange and counterproductive.”

Well, fine. Strange and counterproductive is the story of my life. And, yes, I often feel like the guy in the loony bin who screams at the walls and thinks everyone else is crazy except him. But it’s just staggering to me that people who would never accept an annual $50 billion regressive tax on the poorest of the poor when it is framed as such will applaud the same thing when it’s wrapped up in a pretty “Stop Global Warming” label.

I didn’t lead off here by mentioning global warming because that always veers the discussion away from the point I’m trying to make. This is not an article about “climate change denial.” This is an article about how global warming alarmists are oblivious to how their actions are exacerbating poverty and death right now, not in some distant polar-ice-capless future.

It’s very simple. The president is unilaterally forcing coal plants to cut their emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by the year 2030. A study conducted by the United States Chamber of Commerce has determined that this will cost the economy $50 billion per year. That’s a whopping $500 billion over ten years, and by the time we reach 2030 and hit those emissions targets, the cost will be close to a trillion bucks.

Who’s paying that trillion bucks? Only people who use electricity. Or, in other words, everybody. And the rate of payment isn’t even remotely progressive.  99% of this expense will be shouldered by the 99%. This is as regressive a tax on the poor as anything that has ever been done in the history of the nation. Bill Gates and the 1% can afford a 15-20% increase in their heating bills. The 85-year-old widow whose only source of income is her Social Security checks cannot. It’s the poor who are getting soaked.

And for what?

Well, if you pay attention to Al Gore, we’re getting our moral authority back, so, you know, there’s that. But $50 billion a year is a steep subscription rate for moral authority, and I don’t see how that’s worth further impoverishing 85-year-old shut-ins. If we’re going to grind the faces of the poor into the dirt, shouldn’t our climate change tax actually have a positive impact on the climate?

Because it won’t. And before you start waving the “Denier!” flags around, my source on this isn’t Fox News or Glenn Beck. It’s the Obama administration. It’s the United Nations. Using the numbers and projections that form the backbone of the oft-touted consensus, we discover that shutting down all coal-fired plants in America would reduce the projected rate of global temperature increase by…

(Drum roll please…)

a whopping .05 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100! 

That’s it.  Now reduce those temperature savings by 70% to account for the fact that we’re not shutting down all the plants but only reducing the emissions by 30%. Suddenly, you’ve managed to slow the earth’s temperature increase by only .015 F. But you have to reduce those savings by another 70% to account for the difference between 2100 and the 2030 target date.

That means that Obama is asking poor families to choose between heating their homes and putting food on their tables to achieve a projected reduction in the temperature increase of .0045 degrees Fahrenheit. $50 billion collected from the poor to prevent warming of less than 5 thousandths of a degree.

That’s not just science – it’s math.

So, please, spare me the pointless discussions about the 97% and the whole “denier” nonsense. Because even if Al Gore’s worst case scenario of boiling oceans happens to come true, this onerous new tax, which one Democratic senator has admitted will mean that a “lot of people on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum are going to die,” will do nothing to prevent climate armageddon. No, I stand corrected – it will lessen the impact of that meltdown by .0045 degrees.

You want unfair, Mr. Obama? That’s unfair.

So if you still find this obsession with the biggest assault on the poor I’ve seen in my lifetime “strange and counterproductive,” then I don’t know what I have to do to convince you that this is a big deal.

Maybe I’ll just scream at the loony bin walls for awhile longer.

Bergdahl: Obama’s Katrina?

“Bergdahl is Obama’s Katrina.”

That was my father’s assessment as I discussed this latest Obama debacle with him this morning. He reminded me that even George W. Bush’s enemies grudgingly admitted that he was a strong leader until his administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina shattered that image forever. His administration never recovered, and, for all practical purposes, the Bush presidency ended in 2005.

Dad thinks, then, that Obama’s veneer of confidence and intelligence has been stripped away by the blithering idiocy of swapping five key Taliban commanders for an alleged America-hating deserter whose betrayal cost the lives of six other soldiers who went to look for him.

Maybe my father is right. Maybe now America notices that their president, however well-meaning he might be, is utterly incompetent.

But I doubt it.

Remember that in his first term we had the failed stimulus.  We had a vastly unpopular healthcare law. And, of course, there was the staggering and unprecedented levels of debt and long-term unemployment.

And then in 2012, a solid majority of Americans went to their voting booths and said “More, please!”

Since then, we’ve had the Benghazi fallout, the botched Obamacare rollout, the IRS scandal, and now the VA mess. The economy shrank by 1% last quarter, which means we’re on the edge of yet another recession. And, finally, on top of all this, we’ve got this Bergdahl debacle. And somehow, Bergdahl is the tipping point that will convince America at large that this president is a colossal failure.

But why? If they didn’t notice this man’s incompetence before, why should they notice it now?

Granted, this is such a boneheaded move that it defies rational explanation. Who on earth could have reviewed the facts in this case and presumed this would be a good idea? Who thought America would cheer the trade of a guy who abandoned his post for five high-level terrorists ready and eager to go back into action? I could have run this whole scenario past my nine-year-old son, and he’d have been able to point out that this was probably the wrong move. So how on earth did Barack Obama, supposedly the smartest president we’ve ever had, blunder into something so transparently dumb as this?

But I get tired of asking that question. It’s a question that could have been – and should have been – asked by the press when it was clear that the Obama White House was lying about the protests at the Benghazi embassy, or when the president repeatedly told Americans they could keep their plans and their doctors when he knew that wasn’t true. And yes, those questions were asked, but the askers were and are dismissed as right-wing cranks at best and racists at worst. And the process has already begun to do the same to those who dare to find fault with this Bergdahl mess.

Witness Michael Tomasky of the Daily Beast, who distills the entirety of the Berghdal story down to “right-wing crack.” He also makes the ludicrous assertion that “if a Republican president had swapped five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, all the people howling today would be spinning it positively.” First of all, no Republican president would be imbecilic enough to do something like this. And before you say “George W. Bush,” remember that W. once wore the uniform himself, which means he would have spoken to some of the soldiers who knew Bergdahl’s history and have a far more realistic sense of what the military reaction would be to something this wrong.

Secondly, if George W. Bush had brazenly defied the law by bypassing Congress in releasing five high-level Taliban operatives for one guy that walked out on his unit and got several guys killed, would any spin for right-wing defenders prevent W. from being strung up by his thumbs? The press would be relentless in shredding him to bits, and those talking impeachment wouldn’t be dismissed as crackheads.

But this is Obama, and the Obama administration has two things that Bush’s didn’t have: 1) widespread incompetence, and 2) a free pass for said widespread incompetence.

Bergdahl won’t change #1, but maybe it will change #2. And then maybe Mitt Romney will be appointed president and monkeys will fly out of my butt.

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.