Can forgiveness win, too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hate now has to be punished.

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

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

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

If love wins, can forgiveness win, too?

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Today is Family Fun Day, which means I  participate in an annual ritual wherein the Rockamatics let me embarrass myself by singing a couple of Stones tunes in front of a crowd of (mostly) Mormons.

I always post these on Facebook, but I don’t think I’ve ever put one up on the blog before. So that ends NOW!

Jenner Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-American Possibilities

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

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

Ask and ye shall receive, sir.

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

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

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

That time is coming faster than most people realize.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commerce, for instance, has already outgrown provincial governments. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clinton Discount


It took me two years at Brigham Young University to earn an MBA, but I can boil down that whole experience into three words that summarize everything I learned during that time. So, after reading this post, you can consider yourself a Master of Business Administration, too. Heck, if you’re a Clinton, you can probably put that on your resume.

Ready for your three-word Master’s Degree?

Here it is:


That’s it. That’s the summum bonum of all business wisdom in three little words. Please feel free to send me your tuition payments.

The idea is that the market operates efficiently based on all available information. If there is a known demand, the market swings into action to create the supply. And if a stock is selling at a certain price on the NYSE, the market has incorporated everything that is known about that stock into the price. So when people who tell you they are smarter than an efficient market and can get you a return better than the market as a whole, they’re generally full of crap.

This info is also helpful in understanding the concept of “discounts.” Suppose, for instance, that you’re a publicly-traded company teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and you’re going to miss your earnings targets for the next quarter by a wide margin. Surely that means your stock price is going to collapse, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, your stock prices are going to collapse if the public doesn’t already know your company is collapsing. But, as is more likely, all your travails and woes have played out online and in the press and at your competitor’s water cooler, then that misery has already been discounted and is reflected in your current stock price. The earnings reports confirming what everyone already knows won’t have any additional impact, because the discount has already been applied. In fact, if your next earnings report shows you missing your targets by a smaller margin than the market expected, you will likely see your stock price rise even as your company is collapsing.

Which brings me to Hillary Clinton, who is all but assured to be the next President of the United States.

I don’t say that because I want her to be president. I don’t. Good gravy, I really, really don’t. I think Bill and Hillary Clinton are the two most despicable human beings to ever live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And, here’s the irony – a clear majority of the public agrees with me, and they’re still willing to vote for her.

From the New York Post:

A majority of US voters — 54 percent — say Hillary Clinton is not honest or trustworthy according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. Only 38 percent said they trust the Democratic frontrunner. …

And she beat every Democratic and Republican rival in head-to-head match-ups.

This is why I have no patience for those who think this latest round of Clinton scandals – the deleted emails, the multi-million-dollar slush fund known as the Clinton Foundation, the transparent bribes from foreign governments – are going to somehow do her in. Remember, this is the wife of a man who perjured himself before a grand jury while he was the sitting president, who spent the final two years of his office telling people that felonies committed to cover up sexual dalliances are no big deal, who has been credibly accused of both rape and sexual assault and dismissed the charges by calling his accusers trailer park trash, who sold the Lincoln Bedroom to the highest bidder, who bilked seniors out of their life savings in Whitewater, who collected FBI dossiers on his political opponents and unleashed the IRS on his enemies…

Need I go on? Because I could. (The Travel Office firings based on false accusations. Rose Law Firm billing records. Foreign campaign donors. Stealing tens of thousands of dollars of White House property on their way out…)

You get the idea. And so does everybody else.

So remember that the next time you hear a news report with some breathless anchor saying, “This just in! The Clintons may have taken bribes!” Consider that it’s a bit like the lousy earnings report of the company everyone already knows is a complete mess. There’s nothing in an accusation of bribery that isn’t already factored into the Clinton Discount. What, a bribe to the Clintons? You mean like Marc Rich’s wife buying a pardon? Or Hillary making a 1000% return in the commodities market from a broker buying influence? Tell me something I don’t know. Tell me something an efficient electoral market hasn’t already discounted into the Clinton stock price.

This, incidentally, is why the Clinton defenders lean so heavily on the idea that “this is old news” every time another tiresome scandal rears its head. These pundits are applying the Clinton Discount. They’re saying, “Remember, Joe Q. Public, these are the Clintons were talking about. You know them, and you know what to expect.” A Romney taking bribes? Well, that’s outrageous! A Clinton taking bribes? Well, that’s usually just twice before breakfast.

Keep in mind, too, that the Clintons earned this discount by actively degrading expectations while in office. People forget that when the Lewinsky news broke, nobody thought that Bubba could possibly survive if the allegations were, in fact, true. Even Hillary Clinton admitted as much.

Anyone remember this little exchange with Matt Lauer on the Today Show?

MATT LAUER: If an American president had an adulterous liaison in the White House and lied to cover it up, should the American people ask for his resignation?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, they should certainly be concerned about it.
LAUER: Should they ask for his resignation?
CLINTON: Well, I think that—if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.

Yeah, okay. But by the time it was proven true, the Clintons had subjected the nation to months on end of relentless apologetics designed to discount the initial outrage. When Bill was finally in front of a grand jury dancing around what the meaning of the word “is” is, the nation had been deliberately exhausted into acceptance. “OK, fine, he lied, blah blah blah. But the economy’s good, and this is all old news.” This discount applied to every aspect of Clintonism. In 1991, when Clarence Thomas allegedly suggested to Anita Hill that there was a pubic hair on his soda can, it was an outrage. But in 1998, in the midst of Clinton tirelessly grinding away at the nation’s patience, Juanita Broaddrick showed up with a credible charge of rape and nobody even noticed.

So once the country looks at that squarely in the eye and just shrugs its shoulders, what could the Clintons possibly do to go beyond the boundaries of decency that they spent their entire administration obliterating?

Well, there are some things they could do, certainly. Perhaps they could campaign for the return of slavery. Maybe Bill could kill somebody, although that probably wouldn’t shock anyone. (“What? You mean he’s a rapist and a murderer? Well, who isn’t? And wasn’t his victim a Republican?”) Or, worst of all, perhaps they could become conservatives.

None of those things are going to happen. Which means that the American voters already know everything awful about these awful people, and they’re still prepared to let them back to defile the country regardless.

Markets are efficient. Sadly, so are elections. Which is why Hillary Clinton will put her hand on a Bible in January of 2017 and take an oath that nobody in the country will expect her to keep.