What It Doesn’t Mean

So Kate Kelly, leader of Ordain Women, has been excommunicated.  If my Facebook newsfeed is any indication, this is a critical turning point in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It apparently represents the stifling of all future dissent, the permanent second-class citizenship of all Mormon women, and very possibly the collapse of the creaky, falling-apart-at-the seams Mormon patriarchy, which resembles the old Soviet Union before the Berlin Wall fell.

But here’s the thing. My Facebook feed isn’t representative of anything, because this doesn’t mean any of those things. Indeed, other than its impact on Kate Kelly herself and her family and friends, it doesn’t mean much of anything at all.

That may be very difficult for some to believe, but this episode is hardly a watershed moment. It has been preceded by similar supposedly watershed moments that most have forgotten. The history of the church is replete with examples of members with a grievance who insisted the church needed to change, and the members were excommunicated, and the church continued unchanged. If Oliver Cowdery didn’t derail the church by leaving, then neither will Kate Kelly.

Please understand my purpose here. I am not rearguing – or even initially arguing – for or against what happened with regard to Kelly’s disciplinary council. There are plenty of other blogs where you can find passionate essays on both sides. I am saying that those who think the church can’t possibly survive this need to take several steps back.

For my part, my steps back were taken as I drove from my home in Sandy, Utah, up to the Pacific Northwest where my in-laws live. I am writing this post safely ensconced in Port Angeles, Washington, far removed from the Wasatch Front echo chamber. When news of Kelly’s fate came online, I said aloud, “So it looks like Kate Kelly has been excommunicated.”

My mother-in-law then asked, “Who’s Kate Kelly?”

As I filled her in, she recalled hearing in passing about Ordain Women’s march on the Conference Center and their attempt to gain admission to the priesthood session. But she had no real opinion on the matter, and she shrugged off the news without a second thought.

Now I recognize I’m being anecdotal here, and it’s silly of me to suggest that somehow my Facebook friends are entirely unrepresentative where my mother-in-law is somehow emblematic of the church at large. But the reality is that most members don’t comb the Bloggernacle on a daily basis and don’t weigh in on Salt Lake Tribune comment threads. (And thank goodness! Trib comment threads on Mormon subjects contain more bile per byte than any other form of online communication.)  Yes, this has gotten some national media attention, but Mitt Romney isn’t running for president anymore, and the news cycle will quickly move on to something else.

This will frustrate and disappoint many, but likely far fewer than Kelly and her closest allies would have you believe. And the vast majority of church members will take little or no notice, and the work will progress. And persecutions may rage, a few mobs may combine, and maybe even some armies may assemble, and more calumny may defame, but the truth of God will still go forth boldly, nobly, and independently until it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear and the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.

I paraphrased that last bit.

But the fact is you either believe that or you don’t. And if you believe that, you’re not going to panic when the expected mobs arrive and the predicted calumny does its defaming. You may be bent out of shape by the fact that fallible people have been tasked with doing the work of the Lord, and that this fallibility comes into focus at times like these. But this work is bigger than you, me, or Kate Kelly. And it will continue with or without us.

Carry on.

Ordain Women: A Royalist’s Perspective

As the Mormon Bloggernacle continues to ponder the fate of Kate Kelly and Ordain Women, I am pleased to report that I am more important than other Mormons commenting this subject.

For you see, I am Mormon royalty.

“What?” I hear you virtually scoff. “Mormon royalty? Just who does this guy think he is?”

First of all, it’s not wise to scoff at royalty, even virtually. And secondly, my regal status has been affirmed by no less an authority than Kate Kelly herself.

It all began over at timesandseasons.org, one of the more prominent Mormon group blogs that opines on all LDS subjects without fear of reprisal and even, at one point, had its own Languatron infestation. My brother-in-law Nate Oman is a contributor to that particular blog and so happened to have the occasion to write a brilliant piece with a rather provocative title:

“Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of the Ordain Women Movement”

Even if you are the most ardent of OW supporters, Nate’s piece is worth your time, as most of Nate’s pieces are. He does not take issue with anyone in OW personally or belittle their objectives, but rather details why lobbying efforts directed at the church tend to be counterproductive. (I said essentially the same thing in my last post, only not as well and without all the messy research.)

Nate’s post generated 166 comments and a direct response from Kate Kelly over at feministmormonhousewives.org. Titled “Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of Male Mormon Privilege,” Kelly’s post cleverly mimics the structure of Nate’s initial essay to provide a lengthy ad hominem attack on Nate himself for being too frickin’ male to be allowed to have an opinion on the subject.

The considerable substance of Nate’s piece was not addressed at all. Instead, Kelly reveals that Nate Oman is “oblivious and pejorative,” “insulting,” and “dismissive,” and he is quick to “spout unemotional, scorched-earth critiques while somehow ironically and simultaneously being completely blind to and fueled by [his] own male privilege.” He also rides a “high horse of unearned authority,” which, when ridden during what Kelly describes as a “a hazed-out binge of [his] own male privilege,” is likely to cause considerable chafing.

The first wave of responses are largely sycophantic, but down the line, one commenter refuses to pile on:

Rosalynde Welch writes:

Just wanted to put in a word for Nate, who can certainly defend himself without my help. But I think you’ve pegged him very wrongly, and done it in an unnecessarily nasty way. Nate is *exactly* the kind of Mormon man who is most likely to materially aid your efforts in the future, and I regret that you’ve reacted in this way to his piece. I think it reflects poorly on your efforts, and it certainly has alienated me.

But Kate Kelly is having none of it.

Kate Kelly writes:

Rosalynde, I would have to respectfully disagree that a man who writes a post entitled “Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of the Ordain Women Movement” is “most likely to materially aid [our] efforts in the future.”

But then another Oman supporter chimes in:

RMM (Random Mormon Mommy) writes:

I agree with Rosalynde. If you see Nate as the enemy, you might not be familiar enough with the influential members of the online Mormon community, and you may want to remedy that ASAP.

Which allows Nate Oman himself to finally jump into the fray:

Nate Oman writes:

I deny that I am an influential member of ANY community.

“Oh, dear,” then writes someone named hkobeal. And the game is on.

Nate Oman writes:

Regardless, I have to admit, that “hazed-out binge of their own male privilege” is a great turn of phrase.

For what it’s worth, I am not sure exactly which of the claims that I made in the post you believe to be mistaken or wrong. I’m willing to concede that the title and first and last sentence were meant to be a bit flippant and provocative. I certainly seemed to have succeeded on the provoking front.

Kate Kelly writes:

Nate, it’s actually not your intentionally titillating and “provocative” title to which I am responding, it’s the fact that, apparently, you can’t see that the fact you have the luxury to be so flippant as to intentionally provoke for sport is direct evidence of your hurtful use of male privilege.

Nate Oman writes:

Got it. So it’s not that I said false things, but that I said perhaps true things or perhaps false things but I said them flippantly without apologizing or noting the luxury of speaking flippantly in the first place.

Kate Kelly writes:

As many have, successfully in my opinion, argued in the comments section of your OP, Nate, history and contemporary happenings (see in re: http://www.mormonsandgays.org) do not support your “it’s only well after the media storm has passed that the Brethren can ever feel ok inside about making any changes” type argument.

However, you have also completely (willfully?) misinterpreted our goals and dreams.

Is it possible for you to see that the success of our movement is not measured by what the Brethren do or don’t do?

We trust in the Lord that our prayers will be answered, and women will be one day ordained… But if not… we have been transformed in the process.

Nate Oman writes:

Kate: I am not sure that it’s entirely unreasonable to think that success for an organization called “Ordain Women” might consist in…well…the ordination of women.


Others jump in here, including some defending Nate, and one who says that Kelly has pegged Nate wrongly, and that he is precisely the kind of person who could build bridges between OW and priesthood leaders. But Kelly is not at all convinced.

Kate Kelly writes:

Men should start groups for men about how to not be sexist and how to purge themselves of harmful paradigms and behaviors that being raised in a patriarchy has imbued them with. I live 2 hours and 22 minutes from Nate & would be happy to be an in-person guest speaker at his newly formed “Mormon Male Allies” group, should he choose to form one.

Nate responds to this in the only reasonable way possible:

Nate Oman writes:

I find it slightly bizarre and perhaps just a little creepy that you know within minutes exactly how long it would take you to drive to my home.

That pretty much ends the exchange between Kelly and Oman. But then comes the Coronation!

Kate Kelly writes:

I don’t give a rat’s rump if Oman is well-connected, married to Mormon royalty or a generally swell chap.

And there it is!

Nate Oman, you see, is married to my sister. And my sister, according to Kate Kelly, is Mormon royalty. And if she’s a royal, then I, her older brother, am ahead of her in the Mormon royalty succession.

Here’s my sister’s royal response:

Heather O. writes:

SWEET! I’m Mormon royalty!?!! YES! I expect some minions to order about and some drinks with little umbrellas in them IMMEDIATELY, as befitting my Mormon Royalty Status!

(On a more serious note, Kate Kelly–did you seriously just call me that? I don’t…I can’t…I just…wow.)

Wow indeed.

Kneel before Stallion, Mormon peasants!

That is all. Dismissed.

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.


“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.


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.