Mitt’s Mormon Speech: The Conclusion

This was such a big hit yesterday that I thought I’d provide the conclusion. (Actually, I’m travelling to Kauai all day today, so I don’t have time to write anything else.)

Mitt’s speech, continued:
______________

With that said, let me share the Twelfth Article of Faith with you.

We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

This is a principle of far-reaching significance. When my father ran for president, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had fewer than three million members in total. Today, there are more than twelve million members all across the world, and, in the past decade, the Church reached a significant milestone: the majority of Latter-day Saints now live outside of the United States. As the Church expands, it finds itself in the enviable position of having to deal with the challenges associated with its phenomenal growth. That means adapting to whole host of different cultures, governments, and societal mores. In every instance, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encourages its members to be good citizens and work within the boundaries of the law.

As the church has grown here in the United States, more and more people find themselves with friends, neighbors, business associates, or acquaintances that are Mormons. No matter what they may or may not know about specific church doctrines, they do know that Mormons, on the whole, are decent, law-abiding patriots who love their country. This isn’t a coincidence. From a very early age, members of my faith are taught to respect and uphold the law of the land.

I should also note that the Church maintains a strict policy of political neutrality. Church leaders do not endorse political candidates, and church buildings are not permitted to be used for any political purpose. However, the Church does encourage its members to be involved in the political process and elect people who best represent their ideas of good government. What those ideas are can vary widely from Mormon to Mormon.

If you doubt that, you need only look to the current reality in Washington DC. Arguably the most powerful elected Mormon official currently in office is Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader. He is an active, committed Latter-day Saint. We are members of the same church. Yet we are not members of the same political party, and we most assuredly do not have the same ideas of what constitutes good government. Senator Reid is a living example of the fact that Latter-day Saints do not adhere to a single political ideology.

The Thirteenth Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is fairly lengthy when compared to the previous twelve, but it summarizes the practical aspects of my faith in relatively few words. It says:

We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.

Whatever your religious doctrines may be, I think the Thirteenth Article of Faith encompasses the efforts of all people of goodwill. The United States of America respects those who are honest and benevolent. This is a country that believes in doing good to all of its citizens, and in seeking after that which is virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. If you look to find what aspects of my faith will influence how I will govern, you need look no further than the 13th Article of Faith.

There may be some within the sound of my voice who remain skeptical. After all, there is still much about the Mormons you don’t know, and there may be something about the Mormons that you do know that makes you skittish about casting your vote for me to serve as your president.

If that describes you, I would submit that you are not unlike the early Latter-day Saints, who were so distrustful of those outside of their faith that they wouldn’t be willing to vote for anyone but one of their own. After what those early Mormons suffered, I cannot say that their distrust was unjustified. Joseph Smith’s presidential candidacy allowed them to have a voice in the process. Yet both the candidate and his supporters recognized that defeat was inevitable.

Well, that was over 150 years ago. Both the church and the country as a whole have a come a long way since then. And even as our population has grown exponentially, the country has gotten smaller in practical terms. We now recognize how foolish it is to live in isolation from those who may look or think differently than we do. I’m not running for president to represent my church. I’m running to represent my country, and if my faith has done anything, it has reinforced the idea that what we have in common is far more powerful than those matters where we may disagree.

There’s something else my faith has taught me. After Joseph Smith died, many assumed that his church would die with him. A prominent newspaper led with the headline “Thus Endeth Mormonism.” Well, it hasn’t ended. But it might have, if Latter-day Saints had decided to give in to despair.

I began this speech with stories of atrocities committed against the early Mormons. There are far more of them that I could cite, and some early Latter-day Saints weren’t willing to let go of them. Smith’s assassination brought the Church to a crossroads. There were cries for revenge and retribution. Some wanted open war. I believe that all of them wanted justice.

Smith’s successor was a very practical man by the name of Brigham Young. And Brigham Young made a decision that essentially ensured that the headline of that newspaper would never come true. He decided to look forward instead of backward. He led his people West, and he left the vengeance to God. As the early Mormon pioneers set out to find a new land where they could rebuild and renew their faith, they penned a hymn that is still sung in Latter-day Saint churches today.

“Come, come, ye saints, no toil nor labor fear;

But with joy, wend your way.

Though hard to you this journey may appear,

Grace shall be as your day.
’

Tis better far for us to strive

Our useless cares from us to drive;

Do this, and joy your hearts will swell

All is well! All is well!”

They had every reason to mourn. So they rejoiced. They should have had heavy hearts. So their hearts were glad. They looked to the future, and not to the past. And the prospects for the future were eternally bright.

I believe that same spirit can help to renew our country as we go forward together. We face tremendous challenges, but like the pioneers before us, we can wend our way with joy. No matter what your faith, I invite you to join me on this journey. Thank you.

Mitt’s Mormon Speech

I think Mitt Romney needs me.

In an attempt to get hired by the Romney campaign, I drafted my own version of the big “Mormon speech” that everyone expects Mitt to eventually give. Many recall JFK’s speech to the Baptists where he allayed fears about a Catholic, in the White House, and most pundits assume that Mitt needs to follow suit with a speech of his own.

Well, two things have happened since I wrote this. First, Mitt is saying that he probably isn’t going to give a big Mormon speech after all. And secondly, it’s increasingly unlikely that Mitt’s going to hire me. Which means my lengthy speech will languish on the shelf unless I do something about it.

So, without further ado, I give you Part One of The Mormon Speech Mitt Should Give, as interpreted by yours truly. Imagine the following being spoken by someone much wealthier than I am.

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Many people have mistakenly labeled me as the first Mormon to ever run for president. That honor does not belong to me. It does not even belong to my father, who was a candidate for president in 1968. No, the first Mormon to run for president was the Church’s founder, Joseph Smith, Jr., who was a candidate in the presidential election of 1844.

Back then, membership in my church was not the colossal political asset that it is today. Mormons were feared, hated, and vilified, due in large measure to their formidable force as a political voting bloc. At the time of his candidacy, Joseph Smith was the mayor of the second largest city in the state of Illinois. We’ll never know how successful a politician he could have been, as he was brutally murdered by a bloodthirsty mob just months before the presidential election.

Those who have studied the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have viewed Joseph Smith’s candidacy for president as something of a cultural oddity. He had no real chance of winning, and he was under no illusions that his candidacy would be anything but a futile one. Why, then, did he bother to run?

The answer to that question may lie in Smith’s visit to the White House several years earlier, when he took a group of church members to visit then-President Martin van Buren. He had hoped to receive redress for the persecutions that the Latter-day Saints had suffered in the state of Missouri. They had had their property confiscated and their homes burned to the ground, solely because of their religious beliefs. Many had seen their wives raped and their children murdered before their eyes. Things were so bad that Lilliburn Boggs, the Governor of Missouri, issued an infamous Extermination Order, which read, in part, that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace.” This Order was the law of the land until it was repealed – in 1976.

With that as history, Joseph Smith traveled to Washington and pleaded with the government to take action. Martin van Buren responded with a political calculation. “Your cause is just,” he said, “but I can do nothing for you.” Helping the Mormons was political suicide, and any candidate willing to stand with the Mormons faced certain defeat at the polls.

I believe that Joseph Smith ran for President because the political climate at the time ensured that Mormons wouldn’t have felt comfortable voting for anyone but him.

And today, I’m running for president at a time when my faith means that some people would be comfortable voting for anyone but me.

Now, that’s not particularly surprising. Many people associate my faith with some fairly bizarre ideas, notably the practice of polygamy, which has been grounds for excommunication from my church for the past century. Believe me, no one in this race finds polygamy more abhorrent than I do. And, as president, no one will defend traditional marriage with more ferocity than I will.

I’m well aware that there is much about my faith that seems to breed misunderstanding and suspicion. In my political career, I’ve been asked to defend my church’s stand on just about every controversial issue of the day. I believe I’m also the first candidate since Bill Clinton’s “boxers or briefs” moment to be asked about my underwear. Still, most of the queries are well-intended, and the vast majority of them boil down to one simple question at the root of it all:

Can I really trust a Mormon to be President of the United States?

The answer is yes. And here’s why.

Voters are not going to be electing a Pastor-in-Chief next November. Hopefully, they’re going to be electing a President who shares their values and their vision of the future. I can’t speak for every Mormon or even most Mormons, but I can speak for Mitt Romney. It’s my name that’s going to be on the ballot, not the name of my church. And I will be the one who will be making decisions on the governance of this country, not my church.

That’s why I have no intention of discussing theological issues on the campaign trail. If you want to discuss lower taxes or a secure border or the life-and-death challenge we face from international jihadists, I’m ready and willing to join the battle. If you want to know about Mormon concepts of baptism or family home evenings, I’m not the guy you want. A presidential campaign is not the place to hash out doctrinal differences. If you’re truly anxious to learn more about my church, I’m sure you’ll be able to find two nicely dressed young men on bicycles who will be happy to visit you to have those discussions.

Still, some may still be uneasy because they are unsure about how my faith will color how I will govern. It is to them that I wish to address the remainder of my remarks.

Joseph Smith, near the end of his life, was asked by newspaper editor John Wentworth to condense the beliefs of the church into a single document that could be understood by the average reader. He did so in what is now known as the Wentworth Letter, which recounts the early history and many of the central tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The letter concludes with thirteen short statements that my church has adopted as its official Articles of Faith. Young children are taught to memorize these statements in Sunday School; they give as concise and simple recitation of my faith as can be found anywhere. The first ten are theological in nature and are not germane to this campaign. However, I would like to share the final three of them with you.

The Eleventh Article of Faith reads as follows:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

This will be the lodestar of a Romney Administration with regard to religion in the United States. At no time will anyone’s religious faith call into question their ability to serve their country. And at no time will a Romney Administration make any attempt to alter, dismiss, or belittle any American’s religious faith.

I have had the opportunity to visit with good people of faith throughout the country. I want them, and the rest of America, to know, that I will fight to defend your ability to practice your faith, no matter how different it may be from my own. The freedom to worship according to the dictates of your own conscience is enshrined in the United States Constitution. I believe it is one of the unalienable rights with which we have been endowed by our Creator. It is also one of the central tenets of my faith.

Many who disagree with me theologically recognize that my political positions are entirely in harmony with their own values. David French, an evangelical Christian and one of the contributors to the website EvangelicalsforMitt.com, said the following about what a Mormon president might mean:

“From a policy perspective, I think we should view the Governor’s religion not as something to be concerned about but, actually, as an asset. When the Governor speaks about the culture of life or about the traditional family or about any of the social issues we care about, he is not pandering but instead speaking from his own personal, moral convictions…If you look at the Governor’s record, you will see that he has never used his public prominence to boost the Mormon church…he simply does his job, and does it well.”

Now, perhaps not everyone would agree with Mr. French’s glowing assessment of my job performance, but even my most vocal critics would be forced to acknowledge that I have never compromised the public trust by using my position to proselytize. Many said that a Mormon was unelectable in a state that was predominantly Catholic, yet my religion did not prevent me in Massachusetts from working with people of good will, regardless of their faith.

To be continued…

Preserving a Teacher’s Right to Suck

The Utah Education Association has already spent more than 1.5 million dollars to fight a ballot initiative authorizing school vouchers.

That’s reason enough to vote for it.

Despite the breathless TV and radio ads warning of public education’s impending collapse, the actual voucher proposal itself is pretty tame. Utah parents who decide to send their kids to private schools will get a voucher of between $500 and $3000 to help defray tuition costs. That amount will be determined by family income, which means that only the poorest families will get the full amount. Since $500 is barely enough money to pay for school uniforms at a swanky private school, the voucher initiative’s actual impact on public education will be negligible at best.

In other words, school vouchers on such a small scale won’t do a dang thing. Which, again, is a great reason to vote for it.

Why? Because the teacher’s unions fight any changes to the current system, no matter how small. Merit pay? Never! Charter schools? Perish the thought? Vouchers? The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

No, it isn’t. And once the public sees that, it will be harder for the UEA to cry wolf the next time and have anyone believe them. I’m somewhat disgusted that anyone believes them now.

The proposal actually improves the bottom line of public schools. Since Utah currently spends about $7500 per pupil, even the most generous voucher leaves $4500 in the current system, all the while lowering the class sizes. So what’s the problem?

The problem is control.

The thing that terrifies the teacher’s unions is the idea that their members might actually be held accountable for their teaching performance. Currently, teachers are completely insulated from the market pressures of the real world. Lousy teachers with tenure are impossible to fire. This has nothing to do with the quality of the education your children are getting. It has everything to do with preserving the right of teachers to remain mediocre.

This tepid voucher proposal isn’t going to change that. But it’s just one more chink in the union’s armor. If things continue down that road, crappy teachers may end up having to find another line of work.

The thing in their ads that I find most laughable is their breathless assertion that private schools will have “no accountability” because teachers “will be uncredentialed!” Heaven forbid! Except studies have demonstrated that a teaching credential has absolutely no bearing on the quality of the teacher. It’s little more than a bureaucratic barrier to entry set up to prevent quality professionals from entering the classroom. Bill Gates can never teach a computer course. Stephen Hawking can’t teach high school physics. Michael Jordan can’t teach high school P.E.

Credentials don’t correlate with excellence; they’re just one more hurdle the teachers unions have put in place to keep a lot of good people from teaching. I ran into this firsthand when I tried to find a job teaching high school theatre. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and years of real-world experience as a teacher, a director, and performer. What I didn’t have was two and a half years worth of vapid education classes, so I was out of luck.

If the idea of uncredentialed teachers actually frightens you, then call the union’s bluff. Create a credential system based on teacher testing, where teachers have to actually demonstrate their abilities in the classroon. That way, qualified professionals who want to make a difference in their local schools could get into the mix. Teachers unions will fight that kind of reform with everything they have. Just like merit pay. And charter schools. And school vouchers.

The union, which is always complaining about the lack of funding for its programs, is now spending money like water. 1.5 million dollars could pay for a lot of new teachers. It could improve a lot of classrooms. It could raise a lot of salaries. It could even help produce a better education for our kids.

Or it could be squandered on scare tactics designed to preserve a teacher’s right to suck.

So what does the Utah Education Association really want? Follow the money.

Four Signs and Seven Years Ago

Quelquefois, il neige dans la sale de bain.

That’s one of the few phrases I remember from my high school French class. It means “Sometimes, it snows in the bathroom.” I’ve never had occasion to use the phrase in an actual conversation, but it’s nice to have it in the arsenal in case I ever need it. I’ve also got “Je voudrais batissent un grenouille rouge,” which translates as “I’d like to build a red frog,” and “je mange beacoup d’oeuf,” or, in other words, “I eat a lot of eggs.” I don’t really eat a lot of eggs, but if I did, I could tell a Frenchman without any assistance.

Another French phrase my cousin taught me is “Puis-je cracher dans ton visage?” That translates into English as “May I spit in your face?” Apparently, it’s a very, very polite way of asking the question. That may soften the blow when you get to the heart of the matter.

I know several very useful Spanish phrases as well. “La vaca da leche.” The cow gives milk. “El trein esta en la iglesia.” The train is in the church. “Es ese tu pulpo?” Is this your octopus?

And then there’s my favorite: “Soy el hombre mas gordo del mundo.” I am the fattest man in the world.

I learned how to say this phrase in several different languages. Ami prethibir sobchey mota loc. That’s the fattest man in the world in Hindi. Na neun se sangh e suh kajhang tung tung han salaam imnida. That’s the Korean fat guy. I’m sure my spelling is atrocious, as I can just barely spell in English. Give me break. I am the fattest man in the world, after all.

Fortunately, the Internet has made all of my translation skills obsolete. AltaVista’s Babel Fish provides instant conversion from English to any number of languages. I do question just how accurate the translation is. Witness the following paragraph, which is Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address translated into Italian and then re-translated back into English. I haven’t altered a word.

Four signs and seven years ago our fathers caused on this continent, one new nation, conceived in the freedom and dedicate you to the proposal that all the men equal are generated. Hour we are couples to you in great a civil war, difficult if that nation, or any nation so as to conceived and therefore dedicated, he can long resist to we have come to contact of on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a part of that field, like space of final pause for those who has given their screw here that that nation could living. Altogether he is adapted and adapted that we would have to make this. But, in a greater sense, we cannot dedicate them — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this earth. The men, the good life and breakdowns, that they have fought here, consecrated it, far away over our poor feeding to add or detrarre give.

The will of the world little famous one, neither long is remembered of that what we say here, but can not be forgotten never that what Is for we the life here, rather, to be dedicated here to the job not ended that that they have fought here up to now they have advanced therefore noble. It is more rather affinchè we is dedicated to the great operation remaining before we — than from these dead men honored we take to increased devozione to that cause for which they have given the last complete measure of devozione — that one here highly we resolve here that these dead men will not be died in useless — that this nation, under the God, will have one new birth of the freedom — and that the government of people, from people, for people, will not perish from the earth.

It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? Still, it’s a fun exercise. And when you do this with anything Languatron writes, it actually makes more sense than the original.

The Order of the Arrow

As a Latter-day Saint, I’ve been taught all my life that you don’t refuse an opportunity to serve. Consequently, I’ve held many teaching and leadership positions in the Church throughout my life, and I anticipate several more before I’m through. Some of them have been more fun than others, and some of highlighted my strengths, while others have demonstrated just how much I have to learn.

Yet there’s only one assignment that would cause me to run screaming into the night:

Scoutmaster.

Yikes. I shudder just thinking about it.

Quite frankly, I loathe Scouting. Every traumatic experience of my childhood can somehow be traced back to the Boy Scouts of America. And since Scouting is the official boy’s youth program for the LDS Church, all three of my sons will likely be wearing those tacky khaki shirts and learning the Scout Law. And, sooner or later, someone’s going to ask me to get involved in their “Be Prepared” preparation. At which point I will vomit.

From whence cometh my Scoutaphobia? It wasn’t just the kid who put a dead fish in my tent at scout camp, which invited a colony of ants to take up residence in my sleeping bag. Or the time I was sent from campsite to campsite in search of bear repellent, which doesn’t exist. Or the Patrol Leader who enforced discipline by clocking me in the jaw. All of these helped, certainly, but I think it was the Order of the Arrow that put me over the top.

The Order of the Arrow is a secret society within Scouting, one with secrets so secret that I can never reveal them, mainly because I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember is the three-day nightmare induction ceremony which was called, appropriately, The Ordeal.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

The Ordeal begins at a Scouting Camporee, at the “tap-out.” That’s where some scrawny kid with a loincloth and a faux Indian headdress hit me on the shoulder with a tomahawk while I was sitting around a campfire. At that point, I became a “candidate” for the Order of the Arrow, and I was under a vow of silence until I performed an act of service for my parents the next day. So, the next morning, I dutifully, silently emptied the dishwasher. After that, the vow was lifted, and I could talk freely about how much the previous night sucked.

So a few weeks after the “tap-out,” I headed off to Camp Whitsett, a scout camp up in the hinterlands of nowhere, where I was put back under a vow of silence and told to go sleep in the woods, alone. No tent. No foam cushion. No pillow. Just me, a sleeping bag, and plenty of rocks. In the middle of the night, my ears began to freeze, and I buried my head inside the sleeping bag, which was covered with ice the next morning when I awoke.

That’s when the party began.

For breakfast, I was given a plastic Dixie cup, a raw egg, and a match. I think I succeeded in boiling the egg somehow, but I can’t remember being too happy about it. Lunch was half a slice of white bread with half a piece of baloney. Dinner was a carrot and a gumdrop. The intervening hours were spent in slave labor clearing brush and digging ditches, all in complete silence, because of the stupid silence vow, which I broke repeatedly. Our only respite came in the form of a one-hour pseudo-therapy session where the vow was temporarily lifted and we could confess our sins to grown men in Scout uniforms, and they proceeded to break beads on our little Order of the Arrow badges for each of our transgressions. I only got one of my beads broken, I think. Perhaps I should have broken more. Maybe I would have felt better. I certainly was in the perfect mood for breaking things.

After we’d finished our carrots and our gumdrops, we were led around by ropes in total darkness, still under the vow of silence, only now, we were being forced to keep our eyes closed. Scout Nazi enforcement squads walked up and down the line and whacked you in the back of the head if you tried to peek. After what seemed like an hour, I was allowed to open my eyes to see some weird, creepy Indian ceremony in front of a campfire, which would last a couple of minutes or so, and then you were led to the next station, where you did the same thing. It’s here that I think the Order’s deepest secrets were revealed. I’m sure they were very important. I had to go the bathroom.

I realize I’m being somewhat negative here, and that’s unfortunate. There were the good times, too. It was in Scouting where I learned how to ignite my farts with a Bic lighter without singeing my anus. I also learned the value of teamwork when my fellow Scouts and I would urinate together on campfires to put them out. I learned the meaning of the word “smegma.”

What a wonderful Scoutmaster I will make.

Bourne Free

Saw The Bourne Ultimatum last night with the missus. The movie’s gotten stellar reviews across the board, and its easy to see why. It was always engaging, and you really didn’t know what was going to happen next. This is in contrast with, say Live Free or Die Hard, which was always engaging, partially because you always knew what was going to happen next. Die Hard has become a cartoon; Bourne has become something far more substantial. Both are fun in their own way, but I have to give the tip of the hat to what the Bourneians have accomplished.

Much of the movie’s success has to be laid at Matt Damon’s feet. He manages to remain vulnerable and likeable, even though he has about five lines and he spends all of his time kicking the living crap out of everybody. He’s invincible and insecure at the same time. How many other actors can pull that off?

The supporting cast was just as good. Joan Allen and David Straitharn are two of the most underrated character actors in the biz, and it was fun to see Scott Glenn back in action, although he looks 500 years older than he did the last time I saw him. When was the last time I saw him? What has he done since Silence of the Lambs? I could check imdb, but I’m too lazy.

Of course, none of this would matter if the movie hadn’t been so tightly plotted. The movie always felt plausible, even though its central premise of a Manchurtain-style assasin with amnesia really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Kudos all around – with the following caveats.

Caveat #1: Is it possible to make a thriller where the bad guys aren’t U.S. government operatives? I know I’m a broken record on this, but I get tired of the America bashing. It wasn’t nearly as overt in this flick as it is in most Hollywood crap, and Joan Allen’s character served as a check on most of the excesses, yet I can’t be the only one who finds this tedious. The plot didn’t try to bash Bush overtly or presume that everyone who works for the government was a melodramatic, mustachio-twirling evil Republican, so it didn’t make we want to throw up. But it did make me wistful for a movie where maybe someone outside the U.S. had nefarious plans for once.

Caveat #2: What did make me want to throw up was the omnipresent hand-held camera shots. I understand the rationale here – the whole thing has a “gritty, you-are-there” feel to it, but would heavens to Betsy, would it kill you to use a tripod once in awhile? During the major set pieces, it’s hard to follow the action without getting a little nauseous. The only consolation was that they learned a few things from The Bourne Supremacy, which is all but unwatchable because of super shaky cam stuff.

Overall, though, I can’t really complain. I wish I could, though. It’s much more fun to write a review of a bad movie than a good one.

Wilson on Political Women

Last year, I ran for the Utah State Senate. I worked as hard as I knew how, and I thought I acquitted myself well. And at the Salt Lake County Convention, I came up short.

I lost by six votes.

Believe me, that’s no fun. For the next 24 hours or so, I wanted to crawl into a hole. I kept coming up with all the “coulda woulda shouldas” that would have gotten me those extra six votes. Then my wife and I left the kids with a sitter, took off to Park City for a night, and came back with a fresh perspective. My campaign was a great experience, and I learned things I could not have learned any other way than by putting my name on a ballot. But in the end, I lost. And life goes on. That’s just the way it is.

I thought about that my own experience today as I picked up the Deseret Morning News and read the front page headline:

“Loss bodes ill for women in politics, Wilson says.”

That makes it look like Jenny Wilson, who for a very long time was the front runner to replace the reprehensible Rocky Anderson as Salt Lake City’s mayor, blames sexism for her defeat at the polls three days ago. That’s certainly what I thought when I read the headline. So I was prepared to write a lengthy rant about how blaming sexism/racism/ any-ism for your defeat is increasing the whole victimization culture, and how great Margaret Thatcher was, and how Wilson lost fair and square, and while that sucks for her, she should stop whining and take it like a man, so to speak.

Except the article is more complicated than that. And Wilson actually raises an interesting point.

Some background: Rocky Anderson, who is, in my mind, the foulest elected official in the state of Utah, wrote an op-ed about how Wilson would have a hard time serving as mayor because she has small children at home, which would demand too much of her time and attention. Here’s what Wilson had to say about that:

“Rocky’s charges and all of the discussions out there, I think, if anything, are going to suppress women from having an interest in running for office,” Wilson said. “Now I feel like there will be some sense of, ‘Oh great, I’ve got kids. Look what happened to Jenny.’ And that’s too bad.”

Wilson, I think, has stumbled over an important idea while arriving at the wrong conclusion. In the first place, Rocky was trying to take down Wilson in order to secure a victory for his hand-picked successor, Keith Christensen, who came in a distant fourth behind Wilson, garnering roughly a third of Wilson’s vote total. So to say that Rocky’s op-ed shifted public opinion in any significant way is self-delusional on Wilson’s part.

Yet the question remains – could Rocky Anderson be right for the first time in his life?

Should we not consider the family commitments of a candidate running for office? Politics is a jealous mistress, no matter what your gender. When young children have to compete with the public for their parents’ attention, then something’s has to give. If it’s the public, then the elected official probably may not be giving the office the attention if it deserves. If it’s the child, then that says something about the public official’s character that could make her – or him – less attractive as a candidate.

Unlike Wilson, I don’t think this is just a female problem. Fred Thompson is running for president, and he has two very young children at home. They’re not going to be seeing very much of their father, both during the campaign and if he wins the presidency. Now Wilson would say that’s between Fred and his family, and its unfair to judge him based on something that personal. Except politics is inherently unfair. And voters make judgments on the whole person, and some would likely be turned off to learn that Thompson is more interested in being president than being a devoted father.

There’s some hypocrisy here on my part, too. When I ran for office, I had – and still have – five young children, with one still in diapers. I was confident that, had I won, I would have been able to juggle my time appropriately and still be a devoted father. Certainly Wilson believes she could have been both mayor and mother and done well on both counts. And maybe she could have. In her mind, the voters should have left that decision to her. But, in politics, the voters always have the last word.

I really don’t know how many votes she lost because folks thought she ought to be home with her kids instead of running city government. I think it’s fewer than she thinks. I also think that Rocky, who is single and has no young children at home and could therefore devote 100% of his time to screwing up Salt Lake City, is hardly the poster child for Excellence in Mayoralism.

Yet I think that a candidate’s family life will always be a factor in the voters’ minds. And, unlike Wilson, I don’t necessarily think it “bodes ill” for anything. It is what it is. And it’s certainly worth thinking about.

You still lost, though, Jenny. I know. It sucks. Take it like a man.

Spamalot

The touring company of Spamalot is now in Salt Lake City, and, last night, my wife and I went to see it as part of a night out on the town.

She loved it. I’m far more ambivalent.

I certainly had a good time, and there were plenty of laughs to be had. It was also fun to take in some live theatre. I don’t think I’ve seen an actual musical since I left Tuacahn in 2004. And I was a theatre major! How pathetic is that?

Still, I can’t get over the feeling that the show, in my considered opinion, just doesn’t work.

Part of the problem was that the actor playing King Arthur was awful. Simply awful. He mumbled and smirked his way through the whole thing like some kind of warped Medieval Elvis, and you could only understand about every third word. Thankfully, I’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail over three billion times, so I already knew most of his lines.

Which, of course, was another part of the problem.

Huge chunks of this show are transplanted directly from the original movie, and these actors just can’t hold a candle to Cleese, Palin, Jones, Idle, and even Gilliam. But the actor who you miss most of all is Graham Chapman – and not just because he’s dead.

For the first time, I realized that the primary reason the Holy Grail movie is so funny is that Graham Chapman is such a perfect straight man. He takes his role as Arthur absolutely seriously. He’s regal; he’s commanding; he’s always in complete earnest. Playing Arthur that way is a completely thankless task, because everyone else gets all the funny lines. But without him, the movie falls apart. The French Taunter is hysterical, yes, but only because he’s such a perfect contrast to Arthur and his fellow stuffed shirts. Same with the communist peasant and the Black Knight and the Knights Who Say Ni. (Especially the Knights Who Say Ni. In the movie, they’re bizarre and strange, but only because Arthur provides a touchstone for normalcy. In the stage adaptation, they’re just stupid – and not the good, funny kind of stupid. They’re truly painful to watch.)

Spamalot’s Arthur is just as jokey and silly as his antagonists, so all of the comic tension that made the movie so delightful is entirely absent. A better actor playing Arthur might have helped, but the whole tone of the musical is the antithesis of the original film. The movie takes place in a stark, cold, forbidding world infested with an inexplicable lunacy. The musical is none of those things. It’s a Vegas lounge act. It has replaced stark with smarmy.

And smarmy just isn’t funny.

Much of the difference is necessitated by the practical limitations of the stage vs. the freedom of film. When, in the movie, the French Taunter is standing on a castle a hundred feet above King Arthur, you know he’s in a real castle. On stage, when the same taunter is about five feet above the knights on a wall on wheels, it’s much harder to suspend disbelief, especially since it’s clear that none of the actors believe in it, either. Worse, they seem to be satirizing their already silly source material, which just broadens the humor to the point of irrelevance.

Spamalot is at its best, then, when it leaves the movie behind and satirizes the conventions of musical theatre. The two best songs in the show are “The Song That Goes Like This,” which mocks obligatory Andrew Lloyd Webber-style power ballads, and “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews,” whose satirical target is self-explanatory. Neither of these songs has any connection to the film, but both produced belly laughs, and they were, ironically, the elements of the show most reflective of the original Python sensibility. I also quite enjoyed “I’m All Alone,” where Arthur laments his solitude while standing next to his increasingly frustrated servant, who resents being ignored.

The show, to its credit, does a fairly decent job of cobbling together a plot from the disjointed set pieces of the film. The primary device they use to do this is the addition of a new character – the Lady of the Lake. Unfortunately, in this production, the actress playing the Lady was a flat-footed comedienne. She had a beautiful, legit soprano voice, but she didn’t have the chops for all the soulful comic asides she was supposed to execute. Her silly number in the second act should have brought down the house – instead, it just brought the momentum of the show to a screeching halt. She would have made a great straight woman, though – a pity her part didn’t call for that.

I’m not really complaining. On the whole, I enjoyed myself. And my wife loved it. But next time I want to revisit Monty Python’s Knights of the Round Table, I’ll watch the movie instead.

My Brushes with Greatness

Milton Berle flipped me off once.


I was singing with a children’s choir outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and our group was getting our picture taken. Milton Berle thought it would be funny to flip us off. Maybe it was to get us to smile. Maybe it was because he was a deeply disturbed, strange man.

Maybe it was a little from Column A, a little from Column B.

______________

I had my picture taken with Conrad Bain.


I don’t remember why or where. I just remember he was short, and he called me the “basketball player.” Except I don’t play basketball.

So he couldn’t have been more wrong.
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I had lunch with Gordon Jump a couple of times.

Once it was at a Souplantation in Pasadena, and once it was at a restaurant in the Beverly Center. I tried to hire him to come to Jackson Hole, except he wanted too much money.

Which wasn’t hard to do, because I didn’t have much money.

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I bumped into Harrison Ford at the Jackson Hole Airport.


Literally. And it was his fault. He said “Excuse me.” I’m not sure what I said.

He was shorter than I imagined, but more physically fit.

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I danced with Kim Fields – Tootie from The Facts of Life.

She came to see a show I was in, and I spoke to her backstage, and then I grabbed her arm and twirled her around. (It was OK – it wasn’t violent or anything. She laughed.) That was a “thing” I did. Sometimes I polka’d with people unexpectedly. I think we may have polka’d, but I can’t be sure.

I didn’t know who she was – I just thought she was cute.

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The lead singer of Shivaree, Ambrosia Parsley, used to live with a girl I was dating.


She always hung out with us, which made smooching sessions awkward. I never smooched Ambrosia, though. Probably should have.

She went by “Amber” in those days. Maybe that was the problem.

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Ricky Schroeder, as I said before, went to high school with me.

I doubt he would know who I am today – he was two grades younger than me, although we were in the same theatre class. All I remember was that he had zits – which clearly have left him a bunch of acne scars.

Re-watch Season 6 of 24 if you don’t believe me.

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I met Christopher Reeve three weeks before his paralyzing accident.

I was responsible for taking him to another office in the U.S. Capitol. A friend of mine who had met Reeve told me that his two pet peeves were being called Christopher Reeves, with an S, and being remembered solely as Superman. I told the rest of the office this, and within two minutes of his arrival, someone called him Mr. Reeves, and Mr. Reeve promptly corrected him. Then, as we were walking in the hallway, someone yelled out “Hey, Superman!” And Mr. Reeve rolled his eyes. So it proves my friend was right.

I was taller than Superman Reeves, too.

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I took a six-week acting class from Maximillian Schell.


He told me to call him Max, which I did. I got him to say “Wazoo city, babe!” I also made him admit that he had starred in the movie The Black Hole. He said it was the worst film he’d ever made. At the time, it was the only one of his movies I’d ever seen. I’ve since seen Deep Impact.

I liked The Black Hole better.

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I had lunch with Jason Hervey on the Sunset Strip – by accident.

We were randomly seated at the bar next to each other. He was very friendly, and he wore a Rolex. I thought I knew him and that his name was Fred, and he thought that was funny. I didn’t even connect it to the whole Wonder Years thing.

He looked familiar, and that’s why I struck up a conversation with him, but I didn’t realize he was a big star until afterwards.

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As a kid, I was in a carpool with Jerry Sharrell, the star of Kids Incorporated.

He thought I was kind of a nerd. He was right. My Esteemed Colleague who used to help me crank call joined me in mocking him mercilessly.

He always had good hair, though.

______________

John Travolta likes my work.

I was in the musical Annie playing Rooster opposite John Travolta’s niece, who played Lily. I can’t remember her real name. John Travolta came to the show, shook my hand, and said – and I quote – “good show.”

That was about it.

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Michael Jackson used to go to the Kingdom Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses on Ventura Boulevard, only a few miles from my house.


I never saw him, though, so this one doesn’t count. A friend of mine swears that he came to his door with another Jehovah’s Witness, and that Michael was wearing a beard as a disguise. This friend of mine also had the nickname “Pus-wad.”

You be the judge.

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I’ve met just about every Osmond there is to meet, as well as Steve Young and every other famous Mormon.

But it’s a small world, Mormonly speaking. They all eventually come to Salt Lake City to go to General Conference. I’ve also worked in D.C. and met a bunch of politicos, but politicos don’t count. I do, however, have a picture of myself with both George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole. I thought Bob Dole was going to be president.

I’m an idiot.

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I was part of a singing group that sang “Bless The Beasts and the Children” alongside The Fifth Dimension at the Coconut Grove.


It was at a benefit for abused children, and because we were the last act on a very long bill that played late into the night. We had all fallen asleep, and they woke us up to go onstage. We were tired, and our hair was all messed up. So everyone thought we were a children’s choir of abused children.

We got a standing ovation.

______________

I was Arthur Kane’s home teacher.

Being a home teacher is a Mormon thing where you go and visit someone once a month to minister to them and make sure everything was OK. Arthur Kane was the bass player for the New York Dolls and, at the time, a newly baptized Mormon. They made a great movie about him called New York Doll that won a bunch of awards at Sundance last year.

He thought I was just some dumb, naïve kid, and he was probably right.

______________

I wrote to Ron Pallillo as a kid.

He sent me autographed picture that said “Oh! Oh! Ron Palillo.” He played Arnold Horshack, you know. On Welcome Back, Kotter. He said that Horshack is a very honorable name. It means “the cattle are dying.”

I’ve never forgotten that.

The Healing Field: Connecting the Dots

On September 11, 2002, I was the Communications Director for the city of Sandy, Utah. A few days earlier, I had gotten a phone call from a guy named Paul Swenson, who ran a business called Colonial Flag, which had its offices only a few blocks away from Sandy City Hall. He had, what seemed to me, a really nutty idea – he wanted to put up over 3,000 flags right outside of City Hall, one for each victim of the previous year’s terrorist attacks.

Being the visionary that I am, I told him that time was too short, and I didn’t think we’d be able to do it.

Then I told Mayor Tom Dolan about the idea, and he wisely overruled me.

That led to the first Healing Field, a beautiful and solemn presentation of American flags in rows on a plot of ground that is almost identical to the size of the site of the World Trade Center. I can’t imagine a more graceful and beautiful tribute to the lives lost on that fateful day, as well as a finer expression of unity and purpose. It allows us to honor the dead and also look forward to the national challenges ahead.

The field attracted extensive local attention, and hordes of visitors tramped up to the Mayor’s office to get a bird’s-eye view of the field from the office windows. Then CNN did a story on it. Two days later, I received a phone call from someone in Governor Jeb Bush’s office, asking how they could duplicate the Healing Field in Florida. It has become an annual tradition in Sandy, and a number of other locations across the country have adopted the idea. According to the HealingField.org website, a new Healing Field is now up on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

It’s hard to know how to mark the occasion of September 11. It shouldn’t be a day of celebration – too many lives were lost. But should it be a day of mourning? Yes, but that’s not enough. It should be a day of new resolve and determination. We should honor those who died by doing all we can to ensure our enemies never catch us off guard again.

As we get farther and farther away from that horrible day, we lose the resolve we all shared in the aftermath of the attacks. Our success in prosecuting the War on Terror has produced what was, on September 11, an unthinkable result – we’ve had no major new terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Consequently, our success proves to a mixed blessing – it has produced security, yes, but also complacency. As 9/11 fades into memory, it becomes harder and harder for many people to understand what all the fuss is about.

So John Edwards can call the War on Terror a “bumper sticker slogan” and Michael Moore can snidely assert that “there is no terrorist threat.” If the Bush Administration had only been a little less vigilant on the terrorist front, he might, ironically, be more popular in the eyes of those who see radical Islam as a conservative shibboleth, a figment of a fevered Neocon imagination.

It’s especially ironic that this year’s 9/11 anniversary comes on the heels of General Petraeus’ report to Congress on the progress of the troop surge in the Iraq War. Democrats are already calling him a liar, just as they call Bush a liar for initiating the Iraqi conflict. Whenever anyone tries to make any connection to this war and 9/11, critics shriek “Saddam didn’t attack us on 9/11! How dare you presume there’s a connection?”

Well, if I may be so bold, here’s how I dare. If you’re one of those naysayers who insists that everything Bush does is a lie, please read slowly and carefully, because you’re probably too busy seething with rage to follow my logic.

Immediately after 9/11, the same critics who berate Bush now were lambasting Bush then for not “connecting the dots.” The signs were all there, they insisted. We had the information; we just didn’t put it together and act fast enough. If only Bush had connected the dots, 9/11 could have been avoided.

Maybe so. Hindsight is 20/20, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. But Bush wasn’t interested in blame. Being unable to go back in time, he couldn’t reconnect those dots.

But he could connect the dots he had.

The new dots said that Iraq was a belligerent nation who had already proven its willingness to wage wars of aggression with its neighbors and to deploy weapons of mass destruction, which it had already used – against its own people, no less. After the Gulf War of ’91, Iraq had agreed to disarm completely and verify its disarmament to the United Nations. Everyone – the U.S., the U.N., even France – agreed that Iraq was not in compliance with the terms of its surrender in 1991.

Bush-haters, look closely, because here’s the connection to 9/11: Bush didn’t connect the dots before September 11. But he did connect the dots prior to the Iraq War. In a post 9/11 world, he knew the United States did not have the luxury of letting a madman with weapons of mass destruction hold the world hostage.

Keep in mind that no one is saying that Saddam had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. Certainly George Bush never said that. Those who scream that he lied about this connection have yet to produce an actual statement of his to back up their slander. On the contrary, both Bush and even Darth Vader Cheney himself have both repeatedly said Saddam did not attack us on September 11, 2001. So the critics are left sputtering about “insinuations” and “misleading” and blah blah blah, all the while unable to come up with concrete facts.

I remember calling Tom Barberi, a failed Utah radio talk-show host, not long after someone in the administration admitted that Iraq did not pose an “imminent” threat to us at the time we invaded. Barberi was brimming with righteous indignation as he accused Bush of lying to the American people. I reminded him that Bush had never said the Iraqi threat was imminent. In fact, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, he said exactly the opposite.

I quote:

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

We didn’t react on 9/11 until after the threat was imminent, and we all see the horrific consequences. 9/11 taught us we need to connect the dots. That’s why Congress, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote that included the support of both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, voted to authorize the war. That’s why the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted for Resolution 1446, which warned Hussein of “serious consequences” if he didn’t disarm immediately.

Then, when things got difficult, everyone went wobbly. Everyone, that is, except George W. Bush.

The old saying is that success has a million fathers, but failure is an orphan. People who see failure in Iraq want to pretend that it’s all Bush’s fault; that he lied all along, and that Iraq is a distraction from the “real War on Terror.” They couldn’t be more wrong.

(As for the “no-weapons-of-mass-destruction” issue, I always ask Bush-haters why Bush didn’t plant the weapons once he got there. Surely if he were dishonest enough to willingly deceive America into believing in imaginary weapons, he’d be slimy enough to fabricate the evidence, or get Cheney’s Halliburton buddies to do it for him.)

The fact is that the War in Iraq is critical to the future security of our nation. If we pull out, al Qaeda has a safe haven from which to plot new and more brutal attacks on America. The Islamists who hate us because of who we are become emboldened. America, which has never been beloved by Islamic nations, would now no longer be feared by them, either.

And then what happens next? Connect the dots.