Four Stories; One Salient Point

Allow me to string four disparate life experiences into what is, I hope, a single, coherent and salient point.

1. Yesterday on Facebook, I announced that it was snowing right before June, which means, and I quote, “global warming can bite me.” Over 70 comments ensued, most of which followed a familiar pattern – global warming cap trade consensus climate inconvenient change hoax denier Al Gore bibbitty-bobbitty-boo-fill-in-the-blanks. One of the arguments, of course, was that the “scientific consensus” is that climate change is a big frickin’ deal, so I ought to stand up and take notice. That’s nothing you haven’t heard before, I know, but it provides an important point of reference that will make that coherent and salient point that I will make at the conclusion of this post extra salient.

2. As I have chronicled extensively on this blog, I have wasted a good decade of my life battling Languatron, an Internet simpleton who believes I am Glen A. Larson, creator of Battlestar Galactica. Early in our battles, I actually tried to engage him in substantive debate to prove, using reason, that I am not, in fact, the good Mr. Larson, but when it became clear that Langy was naught but a clod, latter skirmishes simply involved mocking him both subtly and openly in an attempt to draw laughter at the expense of his inexhaustible fount of foolishness.

3. Tonight, whilst I was supposed to be doing dishes, I hung out at YouTube and listened to several choice selections from the smash hit musical The Book of Mormon. They were, as advertised, shockingly juvenile and crude, and, yes, often startlingly funny in the way that all jokes that involve the violent expulsion of poop are funny. I will have more to say on the subject, although much of what I might say was said better by columnist David Brooks of the New York Times, so maybe you ought to read his bit and then come back and let me finish mine. (It’s OK. I’ll wait.)

4. Shortly after my daughter Cleta injured her spinal chord in a skiing accident, members of my local congregation – our “ward” in Mormonspeak – went wildly out of their way to make our lives easier. One organized a massive, successful fundraiser that covered most of our more-than-significant medical expenses, and another assembled a team of thirty-or-so people who came into our house and scrubbed it from top to bottom. They also fixed broken cabinets, replaced damaged electrical wiring, and installed a new kitchen sink, three new toilets, an entire handicapped-accessible bathroom, and double railings on two stairwells and in our front and back entrances. Their main focus, however, was completely redecorating Cleta’s bedroom, which now includes an entirely new bedframe and bedding, new furniture, a fresh coat of paint, and a beautiful mural of a flowering tree just above her bed. And just to make sure that my other daughter, Chloe, didn’t feel left out, they entirely redid her room just for good measure, installing a built-in new window seat at the base of her bed.

There. Those are the four stories. I had hoped to do it in three, which would have felt cleaner, but, alas, all four are necessary to make my point. My salient point. Again, David Brooks already made it, kinda, but I thought I’d give an insider’s perspective to add a dash of ultra-salience.

So here we go.

If Global Warming – or, rather, “Climate Change,” the new, hip moniker that takes into account the fact that the globe’s temperature hasn’t risen significantly in over a decade – represents the “consensus” of the scientific community re: the state of the earth, then surely The Book of Mormon – the musical, not the book – represents the consensus of the secular world with regard to my faith. Once again, I find myself outside the consensus looking in, and I’m clearly not in sync with what the cool people think.

They don’t see us as evil; they see us as well-meaning, ultra-polite imbeciles – cheerful little Bizarro Languatrons who, while lacking Languatronic bile, are not deserving of serious intellectual or spiritual engagement. This became crystal clear when one of the pseudo-missionaries sings “I Believe” and passionately proclaims his absolute faith that Thomas Monson speaks to God face-to-face on a daily basis, that God lives on a “planet called ‘Kallub (sp)’ and that said God “changed his mind about black people in 1978,” which will ultimately result in the day that “I get my own planet.” (As a side note, is there any Latter-Day Saint who recalls a single lesson in a single church setting where personalized planets, and the ownership thereof, has ever been discussed?)

In my previous post on this subject, I stated that it’s probably better to be mocked than hated. After listening to the specific mockery in question, I’m far less sure. At least the people who hate us take us seriously. The people behind The Book of Mormon – again, the musical, not the book – simply condescend to us. We’re just too silly to hate. To use a Mormon metaphor that you non-Mormons probably shan’t get, they’re the ones jeering and laughing as they point fingers at us from their Great and Spacious Building, which, eight times a week with two performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays, can now be found running indefinitely at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 West 49th Street, New York, NY 10038.

It’s no use taking offense, really, and I’m rather proud of the fact that most in my church haven’t bothered to do so. But it’s worth noting that very few other faiths go in for this specific brand of dismissive, pithy ridicule. As I listened to these tunes that involved, among other things, Joseph Smith casually raping infants and frogs and the Savior himself insulting missionaries with crude epithets, I tried to imagine what a Jewish or Catholic version of this musical would look like. Unquestionably, over the centuries these religions have produced far more than their fair share of hateful, mocking bile, but I’m betting that most of it took the idea of Judaism or Catholicism seriously enough to really, truly hate it. To illustrate: Nazi propaganda would depict Jews as snarling, demonic Shylocks, but it would never have thought of producing a musical where a chirpy, cheerfully diarrheic Moses sings a song about how “[poop] comes out the butt,” enhanced by a live demonstration of same.

Still, I told my fourth story because I know, from firsthand experience, what my church does. On the whole, it makes bad people good and good people better. And it does this not with the kind of Stepford-style “niceness” that The Book of Mormon – once again, the execrable musical and NOT the inspired book of scripture – paints in garish colors. This church is transformative because people have had a genuine, powerful experience with Jesus Christ through the Book of Mormon – the book, not the musical – that is anything but silly. That book hasn’t turned them into department store mannequins with smiles pasted on their faces. It has inspired them to pattern their lives after Christ. It has taught them that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God.” (Non-Musical Book of Mormon, Mosiah 2:17) And I have seen, firsthand, what the power of Christ can do, what miracles it can work, and anyone else who has seen the same could not possibly conceive of such a flippant, gaudy parody that doesn’t even have the courtesy to look us in the eye as it spits at us.

Still, I hear they’ve fixed Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark. That might be fun to see.

Rapturous Presidential Thoughts

This is my last chance to write anything before the Rapture tomorrow, so I thought I’d better get cracking.

My question re: this stupid prediction that May 21, 2011 is the appointed time for the Second Coming is right in line with Doonesbury’s. Check out below.

Pretty explicit, no? The angels in heaven are, as Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “usually a pretty well-informed group.” If they don’t know when Jesus will return, I’m thinking it’s a pretty safe bet that Harold Camping doesn’t know, either.

That said, I’m feeling like the Second Coming can’t come soon enough, as it will spare us from the embarrassment of the 2012 election. As candidates continue to inflict themselves on the national conversation, I find myself wavering in my complete avoidance of all thing political in an attempt to register my compete and utter disgust with the crop of candidates here presented. As a wavering Romneyite, I’ve found Mitt’s newfound love for all things Tea Party rather goofy, and with this latest “remaking” of himself, it makes me think there’s no real there there. You have an extremely competent manager with some vaguely conservative ideological instincts, but, increasingly, it becomes harder to recognize whether he has anything but raw, naked ambition.

Still, competence is something, and given that our budget problems aren’t truly partisan in nature, it might be nice to get a nonideological perspective. Party politics provides a very tribal lens through which to view the world, and it would be delightful if everyone could recognize that demographic pressures, not the evil machinations of donkeys or elephants, are to blame for our current woes. That requires a dispassionate solution, precisely the kind of thing politics is designed to avoid. Romney could provide that dispassion, and perhaps he will, but his present partisan flailings don’t inspire confidence.

As for the rest of the field, who else has the GOP got? Gingrich? Really? I think he’s extraordinarily bright, but surely he has to realize that the nation isn’t interested in carrying his extensive personal and political baggage.

And Palin? Oy. She gave an amazing speech at the 2008 GOP convention that made me a transient fan. Everything she’s done since then, however, has been alternately goofy or painful. It is partisan boilerplate for the Left to dismiss each and every Republican as an imbecile, yet our Mrs. Palin seems to be the rule that proves the exception. When she inadvertently compared her plight to that of the Jews killed in the Holocaust with her sloppy “blood libel” comments, she confirmed that she is, to quote Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, a “nincompoop.”

Thankfully, Satan’s brother Mike Huckabee and King Combover Donald Trump are out of the running, so that leaves all the also-rans, some of whom might prove to be interesting, provided I discover anything at all about them. George Will insists it will be either Tim Pawlenty – who? – or Mitch Daniels – who again? – and there are some cool dudes like this guy Herman Cain who used to run a pizza empire. Yes, there’s always Ron Paul, who thinks the Federal Reserve is owned by the Queen, the Rothschilds, and Colonel Sanders.

But last and least, there’s Utah’s erstwhile governor and former Obama employee Jon Huntsman, Jr., a man who can’t decide whether or not he’s still a Mormon and thinks that the GOP is eager to embrace a pro-civil union, pro-Cap-and-Trade “spiritual” nebbish who thinks his foreign policy experience under the thumb of Hillary Clinton qualifies him for the White House. Folks, especially those outside of Utah that don’t realize how relentlessly disingenuous this clown is, trust me that he ain’t the way to go.

Then there’s the incumbent. I confess that I don’t hate him. But I do feel we can do so much better. So, yes, folks, I’m afraid it’s time to trot out the dead guy again.

That’s right!

Jacques Cousteau 2012!*

*I should note that I actually voted for Cousteau in 2008, but not for president. I didn’t have the guts to do that, sadly. Instead, I wrote in “Jacques Cousteau, famed undersea explorer” as my choice for governor. The Demo was a sloppy hippie, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to cast a ballot for Jon Huntsman.

Facebook Economics

My Esteemed Colleague posted some of Gore Vidal’s economic musings on Facebook, and I responded. I wasted so much time writing up my response that I thought it might be valuable to use it here, too. Here’s what he said first:

Gore Vidal : “In actual fact, close to 90% of the disbursements of the federal government go for what is laughingly known as “defense”. In 1986, the gross revenue of the government was …$500 billion.  Of the $500 billion, $286 billion went to defense ; $12 billion in foreign arms to our client states ; $8 billion to 9 billion for energy, which means, largely, nuclear weapons, $27 billion for veteran’s benefits, the sad and constant reminder of the ongoing empire’s recklessness ; and finally, $142 billion for interest on loans that were spent, over the past forty years, to keep the national security state at war, hot or cold. So of 1986’s $500 billion in revenue, $475 billion was spent on national security business.” In other words, almost NINETY PER CENT OF ALL FEDERAL INCOME GOES TO DEFENSE. Want to restore the economy? STOP THE WARS ; BRING THE TROOPS HOME ; END EMPIRE.

And here’s how I responded.

The problem with this is that it’s factually, provably incorrect. Reviewing the Congressional Budget Office numbers for fiscal year 2010, we spent $689 billion, which constitutes 20% of our total budget on defense.

Source:[1].pdf See table E-7.

Given that we had a federal deficit of over $1.5 trillion last year, i.e. $1,500 billion, eliminating the defense department entirely wouldn’t even cut the deficit in half, let alone balance the budget.

He then went on to say this, which he wrote before my response above:

There is ABSOLUTELY NO BUDGET CRISIS. Period. The ENTIRE “recession” is a SCAM. In 1950, 28% of the Federal Revenue came from corporate taxes ; in 1991, 8%. That tells you everything you need to know. Increase that 8% back up to 28%, and you’ll see that there’s plenty of money. Cut the Defense Budget by 2/3, and you’ll see that we’re all bathing in cash. It’s that simple. SHARE THIS POST.

Now, in 2011, the revenue from corporations is 6.6%. This is outrageous. Give us another 22 percentage points, and there will be no problem funding education, art, and all social programs.

And my response:

This strikes me as an exceptionally misleading and useless statistic. “Corporate taxes as a percentage of federal revenue” tells me nothing at all about how much we’re collecting in corporate taxes. Instead, it tells me how much we’re collecting in relationship to other revenue sources. How much were we collecting, for instance, in Medicare taxes in 1950? The answer is that we were collecting zero dollars, or “bupkus,” in Medicare taxes, since the program didn’t yet exist.

So once we did start collecting Medicare taxes, the amount of actual dollars in corporate taxes paid could have gone up and still been a smaller percentage of federal revenues. Today, we pay far more in Social Security taxes as a percentage of federal revenue than we did in 1950, a time when people died younger and we paid far fewer Social Security benefits. In addition, in 1950, the tax rate for Social Security was about 2%. In 2011, it’s now 6.5%, or, for self-employed people like me, 14%. That’ll reduce the ratio right there. Certainly we pay more than bupkus in Medicare taxes.

So how do we measure corporate taxes, then? Are they slacking off?

For the answer, you have to review the boring numbers again. According to CBO tables –[1].pdf – see table E2 – corporations paid $26.8 billion in taxes in 1971. Almost forty years later, in 2007, they paid $370.2 billion, well over ten times what they paid four decades earlier. Of course, that number’s vastly misleading, too. Not only does inflation monkey with how much those dollars are actually worth, but there are a buttload of new corporations that exist in 2007 that didn’t exist in 1971, so, of course, the figure is higher.

So what statistic isn’t misleading?

I think the answer is on table E-4. That tells us how much corporations are paying as a percentage of the total gross domestic product. In other words, we have a fixed point of comparison that allows us to compare apples to apples. In 1971, corporate tax revenues constituted 2.5% of GDP. In 2007, they constituted 2.7%. The numbers fluctuate according to the health of the economy, but overall, corporate tax income to the federal treasury has been remarkably stable.

So what if we apply your prescription? Let’s wave a magic wand and make sure that corporations provide 28% of all federal revenues in a balanced budget.

We spent $3,455 billion in 2010. (See Table E-5.) For corporations to fund 28% of that, they’d have to cough up almost a trillion dollars, whereas they only paid $191.4 billion in 2010. So they’d have to see their taxes rise by a whopping 500% in order to meet their quota.

Except that won’t work, because two things inevitably happen when you increase an American corporation’s tax burden by 500%. One is that, with such a heavy tax burden, they will produce a whole lot less, and so even if their tax rate is quintupled, you’re not going to get anywhere near quintuple the revenue. But number two is the more likely scenario – they will stop being an American corporation. They will either shut their doors or go overseas. In all likelihood, if you multiplied the American tax burden by five, the federal government would get far less revenue than it’s getting now.

It’s also interesting to note that your evidence that the “ENTIRE ‘recession’ is a scam” presupposes that the federal budget and the recession are the same thing. They are not. At all. You can balance the budget and even pay off the entire debt and still have a recession. The economy is not a product of the federal government, something that Washington can turn on or off with the flick of a switch.

That is all.

Thor Thoughts

So the movie Thor posits that these immortal aliens from Asgard visited Norway a little over a thousand years ago to wipe out the Frost Giants of Jodenheim. They were consequently viewed as gods by the ignorant mortals, thereby passing into the Norse legends we know today.

But the film also claims that both Thor and Loki were babies at the time of the big battle, so how is it that they have earned reps among the Edith Hamilton types as the gods of thunder and mischief, respectively? They even point out that Thursday is named after Thor – Thor’s Day – but there’s no way the world would know of Baby Thor’s exploits and celebrate them with one day out of seven, is there?

Plus, if Wikipedia already knows Loki is the god of mischief, why haven’t the Asgardians figured it out?

And what’s with constantly referring to Thor as a kid, a boy, a wayward youth? The guy’s at least 1,000 years old! How long does puberty last on Asgard?

And why is Odin abdicating his throne if all he needs to do is get his body replenished by napping in some kind of force field called the “Odinsleep?”

And if these guys are immortal and everything can be healed in Asgard’s “healing rooms,” why is Odin walking around with a big ol’ hole where his right eye used to be?

These were some of my passing thought that make absolutely no difference in how much you’ll enjoy Thor, the latest prequel to the upcoming Avengers movie. I was pretty sure this would be the film that would sink the whole onscreen Marvel universe, and darned if it isn’t the best of the lot, or at least tied with the first Iron Man flick. (No, come to think of it, it’s not as good as the first Iron Man flick. But it’s a good sign that I had to think about it.)

The Marvel movies have tried very hard to make their world similar enough to our own that their heroes seem grounded in reality, and I didn’t think it was possible to do that with a Norse thunder god who has a big magic hammer and speaks in King James English. In the end, I can’t be sure that they did, exactly, but they came closer than anyone could hope to expect. As it is, I can now imagine Robert Downey’s Tony Stark and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor hanging out together, which means the Avengers movie might not suck.

What Marvel is trying to pull off here is really pretty amazing, if you think about it. Each of these stand-alone hero movies is really little more than a setup for the shared universe movies they’re starting to make, and there are a lot of moving parts involved in something like this. So many actors, directors, egos! So much backstory, fanboy baggage, shared plotlines, and continuity crap! One dud, and the whole thing could spiral out of control. (Actually, they’ve had one dud – the Hulk movie was pretty lame, all things considered – but it wasn’t a bad enough dud to derail the whole enterprise. And Iron Man 2 kinda stunk out loud, too, but there’s enough good will left over from the first movie that I don’t think anyone’s gonna hold a grudge.)

It makes me sad that DC isn’t following suit. The upcoming Green Lantern movie, which may succeed despite having a woefully miscast lead, will have no relationship to The Dark Knight Rises or the Superman flicks on the horizon. That’s fine, all things considered, but in the shadow of what Marvel is attempting, it seems timid. That’s especially true when you consider that they’re planning on making a Justic League movie that will exist in its own universe, with its own Superman and Green Lantern and Batman that will have no connection to the heroes in the standalone stories, and that doesn’t fill me with confidence.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.  I’m just waiting for the day when someone is drunk enough to greenlight a Flaming Carrot movie.

A Night Devoid of Stars

A Facebook friend asked me to produce Stallionic Axiom #3 as promised long ago with after the creation of Stallionic Axioms 1 and 2. I would be happy to do so if I could remember what it was. I’m actually remaining purposely and blissfully ignorant of partisan politics, and I’m quite enjoying it. That makes for fewer blog entries, but it’s also necessary in light of many personal upheavals our family has undergone behind the scenes.

As my Facebook friends already know, my oldest daughter, code name Cleta, suffered a severe spinal chord injury on Valentine’s Day in a skiing accident. She is now walking again with the use of crutches, and she continues to improve. Still, any prayers and/or good vibes you could send our way would be greatly appreciated.

What has prodded me out of my blogging stupor is my intense visceral reaction to the fake MLK Jr. quote that had made its way around the interwebs.  For point of reference, here’s the quote in question:

I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.

Most of the quote is, in fact, Dr. King’s, but the first sentence, the one that seems eerily prophetic in light of bin Laden’s death at the hands of our armed forces, is the product of Jessica Dovey, an unknown grad student living in Japan. A celebrity saw the quote, loved it, and then reposted it to his 1.6 million Facebook followers, accidentally including Dovey’s introductory observation with the King excerpt.

The quote spread like wildfire. I personally saw it on no less than a dozen status updates, so I took issue with it before I realized it was bogus.  Being an unrepentant curmudgeon, I have since called attention to the quote’s bogusness (bogusosity?) whenever possible to demonstrate that Dr. King was not speaking prophetically about the deserved death of the al Qaeda leader, but the quote keeps spreading. In one instance, a friend saw that I had debunked it, but she then said it doesn’t matter who wrote it, because it’s such a great sentiment. Then she proceeded to repost it as her own status update – still attributing the whole thing to Dr. King! I don’t know why this bugs me so much, but it does. Attributing the quote to a respected source gives it more weight than it deserves, but my intense reaction is fueled by much more than that.

The fact is that the quote sounds lovable but is actually loathsome.

If it were actually applied in real-life situations, the world would be a much fouler place.

Dr. King said everything but the first sentence of the Facebook mantra on multiple occasions, but with one slight variation. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate” is the version that made its way into the bogus quote, but elsewhere he stated instead that “returning violence for violence multiplies violence,” and therefore must be avoided in all circumstances, because it adds “deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

Imagine, then, the following scene:

“Hey, President Lincoln! Yeah, you! Abraham Lincoln! It seems the southern states are seceding from the union! Should we take up arms to make sure America remains united, and the scourge of slavery is removed from our land forever?”

“No way. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

“Oh. That’s deep, Abe. Deep. Thank you for sharing your status. I like. But what should we do instead?”

“War is not the answer. There has to be a better way.”

By golly, how many times have you heard that kind of crap?

“War! Huh! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Say it again!”

–       Martin Luther King, Jr.

(Actually, it was Edwin Starr who said that in a song later covered by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. But it’s OK to attribute deep, profound thoughts to Dr. King, because that makes them even deeper.)

War! What is it good for? Quite a bit more than absolutely nothing. For instance, I think a war that ended slavery was a pretty darn good idea, so that’s one point in its favor. Certainly war is not always the answer, but sometimes it’s the only answer, and there is no better way.

You may disagree with other wars, or specific wars, or whether war is the answer to a specific problem, but if you adopt Dr. King’s idea wholesale and reject violence in every circumstance, then you’re complicit in slavery, fascism, and every other vile scourge that could only be removed from the face of the earth at the end of a gun. You’re also a silent accomplice in every rape, theft, and murder that is prevented or punished by the use of violence.

“Officer, please stop this man from hitting me with that brick!”

“No way, lady! Violence multiplies violence. You don’t want a night devoid of stars, do you?”

You can rewrite that scenes above over and over again, maybe with Churchill and FDR decrying the night devoid of stars and letting the Axis powers run wild and enslave the world.  In that case, violence didn’t multiply violence; it multiplied dead Nazis, liberated Europe, and saved the Jews from genocide.

That’s why this quote drives me crazy. Unlike Dr. King, I think a world where pacifists stand by and tacitly approve wholesale slaughter has oodles of nights devoid of stars.

Note: If you quote any part of this blog in any other forum, please attribute my remarks to Gandhi, John Lennon, or Languatron. Thank you.