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. 

Guest Post: Were the Lamanites Werewolves?

Today’s post comes from Siegfried Goodfellow and is reposted with permission. It’s bizarre, wonderful, and kind of brilliant.


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Werewolves, Lamanites, and Grendel : Oh My!

an investigation into possible crosscurrents between

Germanic mythology and Mormon folklore

Germanic mythology provides a comparative perspective from which to take a fresh look at what the Book of Mormon has to say about the Lamanites, a tribe of difficult opponents who act as adversaries to the more virtuous Nephites. In particular, Germanic mythic documents about werewolves attest to a time in the beginning ages of this earth when human beings became corrupted and produced a race of half-men, half-monsters. This becomes our starting point for reexamining the nature of the Lamanites.

In Chapters 121 – 122 of De Origine Actibusque Gothorum, Jordanes tells us that a certain rex Gothorum, “King of the Goths”, repperit in populo suo quasdam magas mulieres, quas patrio sermone “haliurunnas” is ipse cognominat, easque habens suspectas, de medio sui proturbat longeque ab exercitu suo fugatas in solitudinem coegit errare. Quas spiritus immundi per heremum vagantes quum vidissent et earum se complexibus in coitu miscuissent, genus hoc ferocissimum ediderunt, quae fuit primum inter paludes, minutum, taetrum atque exile quasi hominum genus, nec alia voce notum nisi quod humani sermonis imaginem assignabat, “discovered in the midst of his people certain female sorcerors who in the ancestral speech are called “haljurunnas” [death-whisperers (ie., cursers)], and suspecting the presence of evil in them, he drove them out of the community, driving them into exile a long way off from his army, and forcing them to wander in the lonely wilderness. When foul and evil spirits saw them wandering through the wastelands, they mingled with their embraces in sexual intercourse, giving birth to ferocious offspring, who live especially in the swamps, adiminished, foul, offensive, ugly, swarthy, and poor (or emaciatedkind of human being, with different kinds of voices not recognizable unless one assigned it a certain likeness to human speech.” (Translation from my Alda Aldr, a thorough documentation of the “Ages of Men” compiled across Germanic mythic documents.)

The key word here is taetrum, meaning hideous, abominable, ugly, offensive, foul, shocking, loathsome, as well as minutum, meaningdiminished.

The great Norse eschatological poem Voluspa tells the tale of how an evil sorceress brought curses and enchanted men into the forms of monsters, disrupting the Golden Age at the beginning of time. Voluspa 22 : Heiði hana hétu, hvars til húsa kom, völu velspá, vitti hon ganda, seið hon hvars hon kunni, seið hon hugleikin, æ var hon angan illrar brúðar/ þjóðar, “Heid was she called, when she came to houses, that prophetess of fraudulent visions, she bewitched monsters/serpents/wolves, she enchanted whomever she could, she bewitched their minds with strife, ever was she the sweet-savor of ill women/nations”. Note how Jordanes’ account and Voluspa’s account naturally harmonize. In Voluspa, Heid has particularly warped “ill women”, while in Jordanes, there are female sorcerors who become responsible for producing foul offspring. In Voluspa, it speaks of the sorceress Heid enchanting whomever she could and bewitching them into wolves and other sorts of monsters, such that strife and conflict became their only way of life. Volsungasaga has an account of these kinds of werewolves.

Nú er það eitthvert sinn að þeir fara enn á skóginn að afla sér fjár en þeir finna eitt hús og tvo menn sofandi í húsinu með digrum gullhringum. Þeir höfðu orðið fyrir ósköpum því að úlfahamir hengu í húsinu yfir þeim. Hið tíunda hvert dægur máttu þeir komast úr hömunum. Þeir voru konungasynir. Þeir Sigmundur fóru í hamina og máttu eigi úr komast og fylgdi sú náttúra sem áður var. Létu og vargsröddu. (Volsungasaga 8.) “Now it happens that one time they were faring into the forest to win themselves wealth when they found a house and two men sleeping in the house with big golden rings. They had words of unshaping (ill fate : a curse) over them such that wolf-skins hung in the house over them. Every tenth day they were able to come out of the skins. They were the sons of kings. Sigmund and Sinfjotli went into the skins and were not able to come out, and followed that nature they had before, and they let out a wolf’s voice (howl).”

What was that “nature”? finnur Sigmundur sjö menn og lætur úlfsröddu. Og Sinfjötli heyrir það, fer til þegar og drepur alla. …Og er Sinfjötli hefir eigi lengi farið um skóginn, finnur hann ellefu menn og berst við þá og fer svo að hann drepur þá alla. (Ibid.) “Sigmund found seven men and let out the wolfs-howl. And Sinfjotli heard that, and went at once and killed them all … And when Sinfjotli had fared but a short ways into the forest, he found eleven men and fought against them and it fared so that he killed them all.”

They are cursed with wolfskins out of which they cannot escape, which make them ferociously savage and bloodythirsty, able to kill dozens of men.

Now compare the account in the Book of Mormon to these unnatural werewolves, cursed to live in dark, wolfish skins. The Book of Mormon is claimed to be the collected chronicles of an offshoot of the Jewish people who left Jerusalem for America, but it was translated or transliterated or in some special way interpreted by Joseph Smith, a young man who was from a family of cunning men and treasure-seekers. In fact, the means with which he interpreted the gold or brass plates he claimed to have found was with a seer stone. We should therefore see this “translation” as more of a spiritual process akin to a scrying operation, that would have activated the archetypes implicit in his folkloric mind. As his folkloric cultural tradition ultimately came out of Europe, a Europe replete with werewolf tales, we must at least consider the possibility these may have formed unconscious archetypal backdrops to his spiritual interpretation process.

One will note the recurring descriptions of the Lamanites in bold below : they were cursed, they had a skin of blackness come upon them, they had dwindled in size due to unbelief, were considered loathsome, filthy, abominable, ferocious, bloodthirsty, wilderness-wanderers, who were greedy for riches gained through murder, robbery, and plunder, because they did not care to work for themselves to produce such wealth. All of this is due to their iniquity, their hardness of heart, and their evil-doing. However, despite all these characteristics, it was still prophecied that there was a chance for their redemption whereby in time they might lose their skins of blackness and become a blessed people.

It has heretofore been assumed that “skin of blackness” referred to a change in pigmentation and that therefore the Lamanites might be comparable to other races with darker skin, such as Africans or Native Americans. But anyone who has studied werewolf folklore knows that inevitably it is the donning of a wolf skin or pelt that brings about the lycanthropic change, and indeed, the idea of “shifting skins” is a common motif in shamanic journeys involving some form of shapeshifting into animals. A “skin” therefore does not by any means refer to the natural human epidermis, but may refer to a coat, a fur, a pelt, or some other covering, particularly of a charmed or magical variety. This is confirmed not only in explicit mythology, but even in the witch trials, where some persons believed to be werewolves were brought to trial, and they testified to their own beliefs in this regard, and how they felt compelled to go on killing sprees, whether this was of cattle or even human beings. It should be noted that Black Wolves, or Canis lycaon,can have extremely black pelts. When one considers how bloodthirsty and ferocious werewolves were considered to be folklorically, and how bloodthirsty and ferocious the Lamanites were considered to be, serious consideration should be given to the interpretation that the “skin of blackness” was nothing other than a werewolf pelt that deformed these people and their offspring into a cursed, lycanthropic race. Nevertheless, there was a possibility they could be restored to virtue.

Similarly, in the time of Scyld (the great patriarch of the Teutonic folk, so named for that he proved a shield or protection to his people, particularly through his creation of a law code), Saxo Grammaticus reports (in Book One of his Gesta Danorum, History of the Danes) that there were people who had degenerated, becoming morally depraved and wild (perditam), and who had lost their sense of restraint and self-control through idle or luxurious habits, whom he caused to regrasp their virtue and worth through painstaking, industrious working of the land. (Idem perditam et enervam vitam agentes continentiamque luxu labefacere solitos ad capessendam virtutem rerum agitatione sedulus excitabat.) The type of man indicated here is further described when Saxo says in his time there were observed in the land complures … fortitudinis pugiles, “many fighters of great strength”, whom Scyld was forced to meet in single combat. Indeed, Scyld’s career as a young man was inaugurated when he confronted a gigantic bear and was able to wrestle and bind him with his belt, and Saxo tells us this was considered an augury of the course of his entire life. It may very well be that this was no natural bear, but the first encounter with one of these were-animal types bewitched by Heid. The robbers and fighters he meets up with in his career thus fall into this category. What’s significant is that in Saxo’s account, like in the Book of Mormon, there is some kind of hope envisioned for these people. Scyld puts them to work, obviously as thralls — also described as loathsome and ugly and strong in Rigsthula — so that they can “grasp their virtue” through this worthy work, and we can see that the account that they had lost their sense of self-restraint through luxurious or idle habits matches what the Book of Mormon says, which is that the Lamanites turned to robbery and plunder because they had inordinate greed for riches, but were unwilling to work for them. The natural remedy would be to put them to work, to get them back in the habit of being productive individuals. Just as the Lamanites seem to pass their curse onto their children — yet this can be countered and overcome by virtue — so unfortunately the first generation of werewolves were unable to purge themselves of their foul nature, for there continued recidivism. Saxo says Primus rescindendarum manumissionum legem edidit, servi, quem forte libertate donaverat, clandestinis insidiis petitus, “(Scyld) was the first to annul to the law of manumission that he had (originally) spread out, when a thrall, whom he had by chance given his liberty, attacked him in a secret ambush.” In other words, Scyld had provided for these thralls working off their crimes to be eventually freed, but seeing that recidivism made those so freed to continue in their assaults and plots, he had to annul that plan for the time being. However, he did try to heal them of their deformations and injuries. Aegros fomentis prosequi remediaque graviter affectis benignius exhibere solebat, “He was in the habit of bringing solace to the sick and infirm, and to giving medicines to the seriously impaired out of his bounty.” As Saxo also attests that Scyld paid off people’s debts out of the communal treasury, it may be that this included the debts wracked up by fines for criminal behavior, and this could have been part of his original manumission program. Healing was possible, obviously, but it might take more than one generation. Similarly, over time, the Lamanites might be able to be missionized to become more virtuous.

This does not require us to posit that the Lamanites were literally werewolves within the context of the story — although given the presence of Giants and other creatures in the Old Testament, I think we should not dismiss this possibility too quickly — but may have been a wolfish people who might as well have been werewolves, and who therefore could be spoken of in the metaphoric terms of a werewolf, having a pelt of blackness thrown over them. In Old Norse, outlaws were called vargs, wolves. While at one point in the distant past, this may actually have matched folkloric beliefs about lycanthropy, at the time we encounter it in the literature, it certainly had more of a metaphoric content. Similarly, if Norse/Germanic mythology tells us there was a time when people became werewolves, does this require of us to think of this in literal terms? Of course not. It makes a better action adventure story that way, and mythology thrives on translating metaphorical or spiritual truths into action adventures that people can enjoy, particularly because such imagery is more striking and tends to stay in the memory, but the important point about Scyld’s time in the ancient days is that people started acting more greedy, ferocious, and bloodthirsty towards each other, such that they were acting like wolves. (And is it possible that just as Jordanes speaks of the “diminishment” of these corrupted men, and Rigsthula speaks of the thralls as if they were almost humpbacked, and The Book of Mormon describes the Lamanites as “dwindled”, that the word might be an unconscious creative neologism from “the lame man”, ie., men wounded by their sins? I put this forward as creative speculation rather than serious assertion.)

Another theory that had some circulation in Joseph Smith’s day, particularly amongst Baptists, was the so-called “two seed” or “Serpent-seed” theology, an idea that went back to the Gnostics, and is attested in some Kabbalistic writings(The Zohar also propagates this “two seed” or “serpent seed” theology. “On the side of Cain are all the haunts of the evil species; from the side of Abel comes a more merciful class, yet not wholly beneficial – good wine mixed with bad.”), but was championed by Daniel Parker in the early to mid 1800s. Parker was a Primitive Baptist who formed an offshoot sect, the “Two-Seed-In-The-Spirit” Predestinarian Baptists. This theology held that Eve “received the Serpentine nature” in Parker’s words when she gave into his temptation to eat of the fruit. This reception of the “Serpentine nature” actually included “the Serpent’s seed”, the “seed of Satan”, that competed alongside and within her with the “Elect seed”. Parker, in his “Treatise on the Two Seeds”, from which these quotes are taken, compared Eve with Mother Earth. Just as Mother Earth was made by the curse to produce thorns and thistles, poisonous matters, alongside her beautiful green coat of spring, with all her nutrifying grains and fruits, so Eve carried tares or thistles within her seed as well. He posits, basing himself on 1 John 3 : 12, where it says that Cain “was of that wicked one”, that Cain was the offspring of the Serpent seed, whereas Abel was the offspring of Eve’s own nature, and therefore of the Elect. He argues that there is a “manifest enmity between the two seeds”, which is enacted in Cain’s killing of Abel. He calls upon Jesus’ parable of the tares and the wheat as referring to these two different seeds in humankind when Jesus says, “the good seed are the children of the kingdom, but the tares are the children of the wicked one.” Thus, Satan had brought “forth a set of beings” who were “directly from the fountain of iniquity”. Through this, Satan had “engraved his image in their hearts”, an interesting statement, as Adam and Eve had originally been created in God’s image, and thus with God’s image engraved in their hearts, so to speak. But here appears a competing image written right on the heart. Parker argues that these two seeds do not manifest abstractly as two competing qualities, but actually incarnate as two different kinds of people, the Elect and the Non-Elect, and those who have inherited Satan’s seed – for there is a strict dichotomy here separating the two, as one inherits one or the other — are prone to idolatry, whoredom, and the sword, due to “the Serpent’s fury”. He references Genesis 5 : 1-3, where Cain is not listed amongst the “generations of Adam, in the day God created man”, and this list is after a genealogy of Cain is listed, implying that these are two different lines.

Parker insists on this dichotomy to the point that he argues that missionary activity amongst the Non-Elect is useless, as they cannot be turned. He even considers every sect not of the Baptists to be of the Non-Elect Serpent Seed! So in this particular theological twist, Parker is different from either the Book of Mormon, or Scyld’s enthralling of the werewolves, because both of the latter believed in the possibility of redemption. But the condemnation of the multiple sects against the one true sect Parker does share in common with Joseph Smith, who, confused by the multiple denominations, sought out what might be the true teaching. It’s significant to note that in contrast to Parker, in Smith’s material, the “bad seed” are very much redeemable.

But this tradition did not originate with Parker, as it had sunk down such deep folkloric seeds as to find reflection in the Beowulf poem, where Grendel is spoken of as being of Cain’s kindred. Beowulf, 100-114 oð ðæt án ongan / fyrene fremman féond on helle / wæs se grimma gaést Grendel háten /maére mearcstapa sé þe móras héold / fen ond fæsten fífelcynnes* eard /wonsaélí wer weardode hwíle /siþðan him scyppend forscrifen hæfde / in Caines cynne þone cwealm gewræc / éce drihten þæs þe hé Ábel slóg / ne gefeah hé þaére faéhðe ac hé hine feor forwræc / metod for þý máne mancynne fram / þanon untýdras ealle onwócon / eotenas ond ylfe ond orcnéäs / swylce gígantas þá wið gode wunnon/ lange þráge, “Until one began to commit crimes, a fiend from hell, a cruel and fierce enemy called Grendel, a nightmare wanderer in the desolate borderlands, he who held the moors, fen and fortress, dwelling of the monster-kindred, that joyless man guarded for a time, since him fate had cut out dooms, in Cain’s kindred ; that death he avenged, eternal Lord, when he slew Abel, he didn’t exult in their feud, for he banished him far away, fated for his crime from mankind ; from thence terrible offspring all sprung forth, etins and elves and sea-monsters, in other words giants who struggled against God a long time.” Although the official story in the Bible states that all of Cain’s offspring were killed in the flood, oral stories and folklore for a long time alleged that some of them survived, and we can see here especially in this Old English tradition, that the drowned giants of Cain’s kindred were transformed into sea-monsters. Other traditions have Noah’s son Ham inheriting much of this legacy (and therein lies a terrible tale of slavery and seeking justification in old stories), such that Old Irish glosses on the Bible have the Formorians — the monstrous opponents of the fairy-like Tuatha de Danaan — being either the descendants of Ham or of Cain. These represent attempts to graft old heathen lore into a new Christian context. But you see the theme of the “bad seed” of Cain being passed down in the form of these monsters and men-become-monsters.

(*See Voluspa 51 : fara fíflmegir með freka allir, “fare all the sons of the monster/fool with the wolf”, and it is said that Byleist’s brother — Loki — travels with them. In fact, he’s steering the ship. Fiflmegir may here mean “sons of the fool”, the fool being Loki. They are either Loki’s sons or his grandsons, if it means sons of the monstrous wolf ; in any case, they are in Loki’s kin and related to the Wolf. If they are children of Fenris, they are indeed in a Werewolf clan. Fiflmegir in Voluspa and fifelcynnes in Beowulf are thus identical, and all related to Fenris, who by his very name, lurks in the fens and swamps. There is a gloss on fifel that translates to “marine monsters”, which would be a good word for these monsters of the swamps. It would also connect nicely to the subaltern but authentically folkloric tradition that the Sons of Cain who survived the flood had transformed into sea-monsters.)

Grendel lives on nicera mere, “in the sea-monsters’ sea”, in a fenfreoðo, “marshy sanctuary”, wód, “wading”, of móre under misthleoþum, “over the moors under the misty shelters”. Being of the fens and swamps, he in turn connects to the foul, offensive offspring of the Heliurunna witches spawned in the swamps in Jordanes’ account. In fact, Beowulf speaks of “death-whisperers” or “hel-runes” in direct relation to Grendel, attesting to a linguistic continuity, but not a conscious allusion, to the Heliurunnas in the Jordanes’ text. Beowulf 161 – 165 : seomade ond syrede sinnihte héold / mistige móras men ne cunnon / hwyder helrúnan hwyrftum scríþað. / Swá fela fyrena féond mancynnes / atol ángengea oft gefremede, “He [Grendel] hung about and plotted, and in perpetual night held the misty moors ; men do not know whither death-whisperers (helrunan) go when they wander. So many crimes that foe of mankind, the terrible lone-walker, oft committed.” Here we have the swamps, the runes of hel, the predatory relationship. Fens or swamplands have specific implications in Germanic myth, because that is where the Great Wolf, or the Werewolf of Werewolves, the Fenris Wolf, gotten on Loki by Angrboda-Gullveig (Heid) comes from, and for which he is named. His name might be translated “Wolf of the Swamp”. This in turns connects to folkloric werewolf activity, because people accused of being werewolves in the witch trials, who openly admitted to a self-belief in this regard, spoke of having to pass through some kind of wetland to go down into hell on their ecstatic journeys. That wetland might be a swamp or a river or even a sea, but the idea of there being a wet place that must be passed through in a journey between worlds is common to many of these testimonies. Grendel’s mother is spoken of in the Beowulf poem in ways very reminiscent of Heid, and probably represents either the same figure in a different guise, or a very similar cognate figure, and thus Grendel by association is drawn into the circle of beings around Fenris, and thus takes part, at least by proxy, in the werewolf phenomenon.

And like a wolf, Grendel is extremely bloodthirsty and violent. He’s a mánscaða manna cynnes, “terrible scather of mankind”, grim ond graédig, “grim and greedy”, réoc ond réþe, “savage and terrible”, capable of seizing and preying upon thirty men at a time — just as the werewolves in Volsungasagahave the ability to take out dozens of opponents at once. He is wælfylle, “full with the abundance of slaughter”, and skilled in gúðcræft, “war-craft”. Hegefremede / morðbeala máre ond nó mearn fore, “committed disastrous murder, and never regretted it”, for faéhðe ond fyrene wæs tó fæst on þám,“feud and crime was too strong with him”. Beowulf 151 – 156 : Grendel wan / hwíle wið Hróþgár heteníðas wæg / fyrene ond faéhðe fela misséra, / singále sæce sibbe ne wolde / wið manna hwone mægenes Deniga, / feorhbealo feorran, féa þingian, “Grendel contended a long while against Hrothgar, inflicting enmity, crimes and feuds for many years [in fact, over ten years!], continuously fighting, he willed no kindness with any man of Danish kin, nor withdrew from life-harm, nor settled with payment.”

Grendel fits hand in glove with Jordanes’, Saxo’s, Voluspa’s, and Volsungasaga’s traditions, the bloodthirsty savage from the wolfish fens who partakes of a corrupted lineage. This folkloric strata continued at the peasant level through European history, as the witch trials concerning werewolves continued to attest. Often invoking the wolf pelt, such men who believed themselves werewolves saw themselves as subject to this transformation for various lengths of time, which subjected them, whether good or not — because some werewolves claimed to be on the side of good (which might connect them in archaic days to Odin’s wolves rather than Heid’s wolves) — to various ferocious behaviors, particularly attacking cattle and other domestic animals. All of this forms a matrix out of which it is possible Smith unconsciously drew upon when he was interpreting the material that eventually became The Book of Mormon.

It may be that these two strands of mythic tradition, the Germanic and the Mormonic, may have no inherent relation to each other, although again attention should be given to the connective tissue of folklore as inherited by a cunning-man family such as the Smiths in the possible unconscious and archetypal interpretation of the plates Joseph Smith was working with ; but in any case, even if there is no inherent relation, it may still very well be that at an archetypal level, these two strands illuminate each other and fill each other out. Instead of being seen in racial terms, the Lamanites ought more constructively to be seen as a lineage of men who gave themselves over to the monstrous, and suffered from terrible deformities, but whom, in time, hold a promise of redemption. Similarly, the thralls in Norse tradition represent the remnant of a group of people transformed to werewolves who became predators upon their fellow tribespeople, and who the great archetypal lawgiver Scyld made to work off their crimes, and who may, someday, be finally redeemed of the inner traces of their original curse. The themes of corruption, recidivism, and eventual hopes of restoration run throughout the long arc of these stories.

Here are the attestations in the Book of Mormon :

1 Nephi 12:23: “And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full ofidleness and all manner of abominations.”

2 Nephi 5:24: “And because of their cursing . . . they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.”

Enos 1:20 : “And I bear record that the people of Nephi did seek diligently to restore the Lamanites unto the true faith in God. But our labors were vain; their hatred was fixed, and they were led by their evil nature that they became wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, full of idolatry and filthiness; feeding upon beasts of prey; dwelling in tents, and wandering about in the wilderness with a short skin girdle about their loins and their heads shaven; and their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax. And many of them did eat nothing save it was raw meat; and they were continually seeking to destroy us.”

Mosiah 10:12: “They were a wild, and ferocious, and a blood-thirsty people, believing in the tradition of their fathers. . . .”

Alma 17:13–14: “And it came to pass when they had arrived in the borders of the land of the Lamanites, that they separated themselves and departed one from another, trusting in the Lord that they should meet again at the close of their harvest; for they supposed that great was the work which they had undertaken. And assuredly it was great, for they had undertaken to preach the word of God to a wild and a hardened and a ferocious people; a people who delighted in murdering the Nephites, and robbing and plundering them; and their hearts were set upon riches, or upon gold and silver, and precious stones; yet they sought to obtain these things by murdering and plundering, that they might not labor for them with their own hands.”

Helaman 3:16: “And they have been handed down from one generation to another by the Nephites, even until they have fallen into transgression and have been murdered, plundered, and hunted, and driven forth, and slain, and scattered upon the face of the earth, and mixed with the Lamanites until they are no more called the Nephites, becoming wicked, and wild, and ferocious, yea, even becoming Lamanites.”

Mormon 5:15: “And also that the seed of this people may more fully believe his gospel, which shall go forth unto them from the Gentiles; for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people, beyond the description of that which ever hath been amongst us, yea, even that which hath been among the Lamanites, and this because of their unbelief and idolatry.”

2 Nephi 5 : “20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence.

21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.

22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.

23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

24 And because of their cursing which was upon them they did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.

25 And the Lord God said unto me: They shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in remembrance of me; and inasmuch as they will not remember me, and hearken unto my words, they shall scourge them even unto destruction.”

1 Nephi 12:23: “And I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people.”

2 Nephi 30 : “6 And then shall they rejoice; for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.”

Jarom 1 :6 : “And they were scattered upon much of the face of the land, and the Lamanites also. And they were exceedingly more numerous than were they of the Nephites; and they loved murder and would drink the blood of beasts.”

Jacob 3 : “5 Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.

6 And now, this commandment they observe to keep; wherefore, because of this observance, in keeping this commandment, the Lord God will not destroy them, but will be merciful unto them; and one day they shall become a blessed people.

7 Behold, their husbands love their wives, and their wives love their husbands; and their husbands and their wives love their children; and their unbelief and their hatred towards you is because of the iniquity of their fathers; wherefore, how much better are you than they, in the sight of your great Creator?

8 O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.

9 Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness; but ye shall remember your own filthiness, and remember that their filthiness came because of their fathers.”

Alma 26 : “ 23 Now do ye remember, my brethren, that we said unto our brethren in the land of Zarahemla, we go up to the land of Nephi, to preach unto our brethren, the Lamanites, and they laughed us to scorn?

24 For they said unto us: Do ye suppose that ye can bring the Lamanites to the knowledge of the truth? Do ye suppose that ye can convince the Lamanites of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers, as stiffnecked a people as they are; whose hearts delight in the shedding of blood; whose days have been spent in the grossest iniquity; whose ways have been the ways of a transgressor from the beginning? Now my brethren, ye remember that this was their language.

25 And moreover they did say: Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.”

 

all translations by me

Post 9/11 Pettiness

Two days before 9/11/11, I posted the following Facebook status update:

“As 9/11’s 10th anniversary approaches, I find I’m one of maybe six total Americans who misses George W. Bush.”

I received a number of responses. Some sounded like this:
“I hope I’m at least #7…”
“I’m one of the 4 that love him.”
“Loved him.”
“I miss him – I could always feel his strength.”

Yet such comments were balanced by the following:

“try therapy”
“Ew.”
“I’m going to be sick.”
“worst. president. ever.”
And, my favorite:
“George W. Douche”

I got the message. People either love or hate him. That was true when he was in office, and it’s true now. If anything, opinions about Bush have become more polarized since he left office. I doubt that will change much, at least in my lifetime. I do believe, perhaps naively, that history will make a Truman out of him, and his tenacity in the face of public opprobrium will be vindicated. But that probably won’t happen for decades, long after he’s dead.

What bothers me is the attempt to use 9/11 commemorations to excoriate him.

This was not the case in every or even most instances. In an earlier 9/11 blog entry, I lamented that we seemed to be forgetting 9/11. The tenth anniversary of that event proved me wrong. For the most part, I was impressed and deeply moved by the outpouring of love and unity we saw two days ago, along with the renewed, steely resolve to never forget.

For the most part.

Then I flipped open the Salt Lake Tribune and saw this Pat Bagley cartoon:


The whole thing is a snarling indictment of Bush, with a Vader-esque Dick Cheney head in the center, positioned over the caption “torture” and “lies.” It covers all the standard anti-Bush tropes (the “Mission Accomplished” banner, etc.), but for good measure, it tosses in reference to the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Enron, which, as far as I can tell, have nothing at all to do with 9/11, but have plenty to do with people who blame George W. Bush for everything that has ever gone wrong in the world.

And then I read the vile Paul Krugman piece that prompted Donald Rumsfeld to cancel his New York Times subscription. I quote in part:

Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons…The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

I smell a really putrid trend.

Please understand my point here. I have no desire to re-argue the Iraq War or Guantanamo or “tax cuts for the rich” in the comments section. My positions on all those subjects are here on this blog, and you can reread them if you like. The fact remains that I believe George W. Bush was a fine president and a great man. Such a belief may enrage, embarrass, or even sicken you. So be it. I’ve given a lot of thought to this, and, despite what arguments you may offer, neither your nor my position is likely to change as a result. In any case, I’m not concerned with the vindication of Bush so much as protecting 9/11 from the corrupting bile of partisan politics.

Those who saw the anniversary as an opportunity to bash Bush for supposedly using 9/11 to further an unrelated agenda were the first in line to do precisely that themselves. Krugman, Bagley, and their ilk are eager to co-opt the grieving of a nation to further a blatantly political narrative. Is that the best way to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11? Do we really want to replace “Never Forget” with “It’s all Bush’s fault?”

To use 9/11 as a political football is to diminish the sacrifice of the thousands who lost their lives, including those who gave their lives willingly to rescue others. 9/11 was a watershed for millions, a stark, vivid reminder that all of us are in this together, and what unites us not just as Americans but as people is far greater than what divides us.

If partisan bashing is more important to you than that is, then I think your personal worldview is far smaller and pettier than it ought to be.

First Post of the New Year!

Yippee skippy.

I don’t really get into New Year celebrations, and I try to be in bed by the time the clock turns to midnight. But this year, the kids wanted to stay up, so we watched Prince Caspian, which is better than the book but still not very good. (I loved the Narnia stories as a kid, but having reread them as an adult, I have to say that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle are the only ones worth reading. The Silver Chair has its moments, but The Horse and His Boy is kind of pointless, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is busy without going anywhere, and Prince Caspian is completely empty – the worst of the lot.)

Corbin fell asleep three minutes before midnight. Very sad. We also watched Dick Clark struggle to ring in the New Year with his stroke-addled speech. That, too, was very sad. I had heard people discuss this in year’s past, but this is the first time I’d seen him try to ring in the New Year post stroke. Growing up, he was immortal, the “the world’s oldest teenager.” Now he’s exactly the opposite – a symbol of everyone’s mortality. Very depressing, indeed.

I also want to kick off the New Year with a comment I received on a very old post. In an entry titled The Order of the Arrow, I lamented all things that have to do with the Boy Scouts of America, which I’ve always considered to be an embassy of pure evil in the midst of the LDS Church. On New Year’s Day, I received the following comment on that ancient essay from a buffoon who styles himself “Proud Arrowman:”

wow I really think that you got your underware in a twist and you need to pick it out. If you don’t like it than don’t talk about it. Everything in the ordeal has a pourpose and it really soulds like your just a wuss cause if you wine about ants in your sleeping try going to philmont but you wouldn’t do that because once again you are a wuss

Do people realize that when they write insulting nonsense, it hurts their case when they spell like monkeys with typewriters? I guess if they were smart enough to realize that, they wouldn’t write such flagrant hooey. They also probably wouldn’t still be associated with the Order of the Arrow, which would admittedly be a lot more fun if everyone in it had their own porpoise.

I noticed another guy commented in the intervening years, a guy named “SGT Baker- Eagle Scout and Brotherhood member,” who said:

… or you could just pretend to be a man and quit your b—hing, you little girl! How about you come out and try the U.S. Army Special Forces selection, sally!

This one, at least, is spelled correctly, except Sally should probably be capitalized.

Lieberman’s Post-Partisan Nonsense

First off, I can’t find a single reputable news source reporting on Palin’s reported “Pledge of Allegiance” gaffe. Methinks this bit of nonsense originated with the same great thinkers who decided Palin faked her last pregnancy to take the hit for her daughter. Until I get confirmation from something other than a lefty Olbermannic blog, I’m betting this one’s a hoax.

Let’s get to Lieberman.

I’ve always sort of liked Joe Lieberman, more so in recent years, although he showed in 2000 that he can morph into as partisan a weenie as anyone. Yet it takes some guts to stand up in front of a bunch of Republicans and slam the nominee of your own party. The reasons he cites for doing it, however, make my skin crawl.

I quote:

I have personally seen John, over and over again, bring people together from both parties to tackle our toughest problems we face –to reform our campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws, to create the 9/11 Commission and pass its critical national security reforms, and to end the partisan paralysis over judicial confirmations.

By “bring people together,” he means “sell out the Republicans.” “Campaign finance reform” guts the First Amendment. The 9/11 Commission was a Clintonian whitewash, and the Gang of 14 sold a huge chunk of Bush’s judicial nominees down the river.

It gets worse.

If John McCain was just another go-along partisan politician, he never would have taken on corrupt Republican lobbyists, or big corporations that were cheating the American people, or powerful colleagues in Congress who were wasting taxpayer money.

But he did!

If John McCain was just another go-along partisan politician, he never would have led the fight to fix our broken immigration system or to do something about global warming.

But he did!

Yes, he did – to most Republicans’ everlasting regret.

Time after time after time, McCain has badgered and belittled those of his own party rather than take the fight to those who should be his ideological opponents. He’s much more comfortable ripping the faces off GOP folks than he is offending his Liebermanic pals across the aisle.

Lieberman’s speech was unintentionally gruesome for a number of reasons. He even got muted applause for his praise of Clinton’s record, the great Dem “who worked with Republicans to get important things done like welfare reform, free trade agreements, and a balanced budget.”

Yeah, right. With the exception of NAFTA, which Clinton admirably championed of his own free will and choice, everything else was rammed down his throat by Newt Gingrich, a man Lieberman went out of his way to demonize when he was the vice presidential nominee. Clinton vetoed welfare reform twice! Until ’94, he never dreamed of a balanced budget. He never “worked with Republicans” the way McCain does – he stuck to his guns until political expediency forced his hand. Contrast that with McCain, who gleefully throws right wingers under the bus at the first opportunity.

Lieberman said some wretched things about partisanship, too. Witness thus:

Our founding fathers foresaw the danger of this kind of senseless partisanship. George Washington himself — in his Farewell Address to our country — warned that the “spirit of party” is “the worst enemy” of our democracy and “enfeebles” our government’s ability to do its job. George Washington was absolutely right. The sad truth is — today we are living through his worst nightmare, in the capital city that bears his name.

His worst nightmare? Really? What was the Civil War, then – nightmare #7? All this hokey post-partisan blather ignores the fact that we’re no more divided now than we’ve been in the past. Those who want us to put partisanship aside and “get something done” conveniently overlook that they never want to get done what the other party wants done. Yet this was the drivel that Lieberman unleashed in full force.

Here’s the deal, Joe. I would prefer partisan gridlock to most of what McCain’s gotten done in the name of bipartisanship. Rather than the disembowelment of free speech rights, the creation of trillions of dollars of cap and trade taxes to fight a nonexistent problem, and the advancement of judicial tyranny, I’d rather Congress sat on its hands and did absolutely nothing. (Maybe they could crochet. Or weave baskets.)

“Working together” doesn’t do anyone any good when what you’re working to accomplish is loathsome. After all, the Germans, the Japanese, and the Italians worked together quite well during World War II, and it would have been awfully nice if they hadn’t.

Palin or no Palin, I’m back to Jacques Cousteau ’08.

Various and Sundry

I’m now writing a lot more than I ever have, but not much of it is posted here. I’m sorry this blog is being neglected, but, since nobody pays me to write it, I’ve been forced to shift my focus to wordsmithing in ways that produce income.

That said, there’s a bunch of stuff I’ve written that I haven’t linked to anywhere, so I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by shamelessly plugging some of my stuff and reviving this moribund blog at the same time.

Here’s a piece I did on the National Endowment for the Arts that echoes an earlier blog post I wrote about my experience as a musical theatre panelist for the NEA.

Here’s one where I review the Netflix movie “The Most Hated Woman in America”, which I doubt anyone else but me has actually seen. I think Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a fascinating figure, despite the fact that I disagree with her profoundly.

It looks like Disney isn’t going to put Carrie Fisher into Episode IX at all, so this article about repurposed footage is probably irrelevant now. But here it is anyway.

I turned a Facebook status update game into a column! Behold the Jim Bennett Guide to Broadway Musicals.

This is NOT a review, but it is a nice little piece about my experience in The Will Rogers Follies.

Incidentally, every time I do a show for Pioneer Theatre Company, I feel a need to take a picture of myself in costume next to the portrait of my great-grandfather that hangs in the lobby of the theatre, like so:


The eyepatch is cool but problematic, as I have to sit in the audience and watch the whole show without any depth perception.

The show is getting some great reviews, and I’m even mentioned in a couple of them.

Here’s the Deseret News review, which includes the following line:

Wiley Post, Rogers’ fellow aviator (played by Deseret News columnist Jim Bennett) delighted the audience as an agitator who would occasionally stand up and holler at Rogers.

Nice to get a mention, although I’m hardly an “agitator.” Pretty much all I say is “Let’s go flying, Will!” Glad to know that’s all it takes to “delight the audience.”

I’m mentioned in this review, too –

Wiley Post (Jim Bennet (sic)) has some of the funniest lines–but I grew to dislike him–the character, not the actor. If I tell you why, it’s a spoiler if you don’t read the Wikipedia link I added. Bennet (sic) has great timing and it was fun that he did his entire performance from a seat in the audience.

It’s nice to be disliked for the right reasons, so I won’t dislike the reviewer for spelling Bennett with only one T. And, really, I should be nice to her, because the reality is that I don’t have any funny lines at all. Unless, again, you think “Let’s go flying, Will!” is funny.

Moving on…

In this piece, I slam the new Alec Baldwin Match Game.

And in this piece, I praise Mystery Science Theatre 3000, because it’s awesome.

That’s all I’ve got. Come see me at Pioneer Theatre! Show runs until May 20. If you get a seat on the third row, you can even sit next to me.

The True Magnitude of the Trump Train Wreck

“It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters,” writes/shrieks the LA Times editorial board. “The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a ‘catastrophe.’ Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck.”

As I read this overwrought and irresponsible slice of hysterical nonsense, I couldn’t help but wonder what actual magnitude of train wreck the Times had been prepared for. Given that most of the media insisted that we’d just given Hitler the keys to the White House, one would expect a train wreck much bigger than the one we’ve actually gotten. Where are the concentration camps and mass executions of dissidents? Trump’s closest flirtation with fascism – his travel ban that excluded legal residents of the United States from returning to their homes – has twice been struck down by the courts, and other than a few snarky and stupid tweets, he has taken no steps to Hitlerically dismantle the judiciary and has grumpily accepted and abided by both rulings.

Other train wreck elements that the Left warned us about have failed to materialize. Remember when Trump was going to wipe out all rights and protections for LGBT citizens? He’s since quietly renewed Obama’s executive orders prohibiting discrimination against LGBT federal workers, and he’s stated his acceptance of gay marriage as the law of the land. Remember when he was going to blow up Obamacare completely and leave millions uninsured? He couldn’t even persuade his own party to pass a symbolic repeal of the Affordable Care Act that would include a replacement that was not that far removed from the law it was designed to replace. Now observers insist that a good deal of his proposed agenda is in doubt, which ought to be pleasing to the LA Times, as the problem seems to be that Trump is trying to wreck a lot of trains and doesn’t seem to be able to get the job done.

As Scott Adams has pointed out – and you really ought to be reading his blog – the narrative has largely shifted from “Trump is Hitler” to “Trump is incompetent.” Given Hitler’s ruthless efficiency in executing his planned genocide, it should be obvious Trump cannot be both Hitler and incompetent at the same time. Yet the Times editorial and other critical pieces ignore that logical inconsistency and simply apply any and all epithets to The Donald in the hopes that one of them will stick. Critics do not demand that their criticisms be either consistent or coherent, and it tends to diminish the impact of each new paroxysm when they flail for ways to turn the volume up higher than eleven.

But okay, fine. What is it that has gotten the LA Times so exercised? To further quote from their editorial:

In a matter of weeks, President Trump has taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will rip families apart, foul rivers and pollute the air, intensify the calamitous effects of climate change and profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.

“Ripping families apart” is the first complaint right out of the gate, so I assume that it’s the editorial board’s biggest beef. What’s curious is that they never flesh out this accusation, so we’re left to deduce on our own how Trump will supposedly accomplish the family-ripping. Is this a reference to the blocked travel ban(s), which aren’t actually doing anything? To Trump’s extremist immigration rhetoric, which so far has yet to translate into implemented policy? Specifics would be helpful. Without them, this is just hyperbolic nonsense.

Trump’s scheme to “foul rivers” seems to have reference to Trump’s rollback of the controversial 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which was immediately blocked by the courts upon its issuance. So the Trump policy is to stop a brand-new rule that has never gone into effect from going into effect. If the Times were consistent, it would equally indict the Obama administration, and, indeed, every previous presidential administration, for fouling the rivers because they were not abiding by the 2015 rule, which is more about federal bureaucratic overreach than actual protection of rivers.

As for Trump’s plan to “pollute the air,” the editorial seems to be conflating air pollution with climate change, despite the fact that CO2 is not a pollutant in the traditional sense that inhaling it can make you sick. CO2 does not present any health hazard whatsoever, and it’s quite good for plants. In fact, you’re exhaling it right now, you polluter, you!

As for climate change, i.e. the Times’s contention that Trump will “intensify [its] calamitous effects,” I am exhausted by the massive amount of ignorance on display whenever this subject is discussed, and I am under no illusions that anything I say here will move the needle in any direction. Please note that the Times, and every other observer, can cite no actual example of how Trump’s policies will do this. Yes, he is rolling back Obama era regs on the subject – regs that, like the Waters of the US rule, were blocked by the courts and never implemented – but even the proponents of those regs have conceded, under oath, that the Obama regs would have no impact on climate.

From a WSJ piece entitled “The Climate Yawns”:

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s EPA administrator, admitted as much when confronted, during a 2015 House hearing, with the fact that, by the agency’s own climate models, the effect would be only 1/100th of a degree Celsius. Instead, she said success should be measured in terms of “positioning the U.S. for leadership in an international discussion.”

Even so, many climate activists felt the need to walk back Ms. McCarthy’s concession by insisting Obama policies would have a measurable effect—on the amount of CO 2 released. Yes, the relative decrease would be tiny but measurable, though the climate effect would be zip. This is akin to medical researchers claiming a drug a success because it’s detectable in the bloodstream, not because it improves health.

Trump doing nothing on climate change, therefore, will have the same effect on global temperatures that Obama’s regulations would have had – i.e. none whatsoever. (1/100th of a degree is a measurement too small to be discerned from statistical noise.)   Surely, then, Trump’s inaction will do nothing to intensify climate change’s “calamitous effects,” which, whatever they may be, will not be at all mitigated by anything currently being proposed by world governments to avoid them.

Trump’s do-nothing plan does have the benefit, however, of not being a massive regressive tax on the poor, who shoulder a disproportionate share of the financial burden when energy prices skyrocket to pay for a symbolic gesture that accomplishes nothing with regard to the climate.

That leaves us with the charge that Trump will “profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.” And how will Trump do this, given that education is almost entirely a state function, not a federal one? Betsy DeVos, the much-maligned Secretary of Education who is supposedly the harbinger of national ignorance, simply does not have the capacity to profoundly weaken the public education system. The Federal Department of Education, a fairly recent invention that does little but provide block grants to states, is usually only noticed when it’s acting as a nuisance, as it did when states were compelled to labor under the burdens of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, which has since been repealed. DeVos is currently engaged in regulatory tinkering to make school choice more palatable, but absent a drastic act of Congress, there is little or nothing she can do to keep public education from publicly educating.

The Times editorial continues with examples of Trump’s dishonesty, stupidity, and irresponsibility, all of which are more or less accurate. But in reiterating the extent of his profound foolishness, the piece merely restates the obvious and adds nothing to the conversation.

For my part, I maintain, as I have from the beginning, that Trump is an awful person and, so far, a lousy president. I am encouraged that the system of checks and balances, which was designed to prevent lousy presidents from destroying the Republic, seems to be working as designed. My best-case scenario was that Trump would merely be an incompetent buffoon, and that seems to be how this is playing out. As such, this train wreck has far fewer casualties than I, personally, had anticipated.

Don’t Be Diluted

When I keep telling you that Scott Adams’s blog is required reading, it’s not because I necessarily agree with him. It’s because he has been the only observer that has accurately predicted the rise of Trump – and done so with eerie specificity. If you love Trump, or especially if you hate Trump, Adams is the only reliable source if you want to understand Trump.

His latest post as of this writing is one titled “Outrage Dilution,” and he once again makes a point that nobody else seems to have noticed.

I quote from him at length:

At the moment there are so many [Trump] outrages, executive orders, protests, and controversies that none of them can get enough oxygen in our brains. I can’t obsess about problem X because the rest of the alphabet is coming at me at the same time…

Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time, so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don’t know where to aim your outrage. He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public?

He sure got a lot done. [Emphasis in original]

Initially, I read this and decided the conclusion was accurate but incomplete. Yes, the public will conclude, eventually, that Trump did a whole lot in his first few days, but while they may believe Trump has accomplished something commensurate with the noise he has generated, the actual changes to our national life won’t be nearly as remarkable as they think. I then imagined writing a clever post about how Trump is all bluster and no real beef.

And then, today, Trump tried to deport Muslims with green cards.

Permanent residents of the United States – people who have been vetted to every extreme possible and have been given permission to live in this country indefinitely – were told at airports that they couldn’t go home and would have to return to their countries of origin. As a guy who has tried very hard to talk people off the ledge and convince them that Adolf Hitler has not been reincarnated with an orange-ish hue, I find myself seeing a path from kicking out permanent residents because of their religion that leads to fascistic destinations where I insisted we would never, ever go.

Thankfully, the courts stepped in to temper some of Trump’s latest Kristillnachtian impulses, so maybe I was right the first time, and all this will just be noise that won’t amount to much. But increasingly, I find myself feeling like the dog in this cartoon:

So I got to thinking about Scott Adams and his so-called “outrage dilution,” and I came to realize that he’s on to something even bigger than he initially realized.

Let me step back and recall an article written during the campaign titled “How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible.” I recommend you read the whole thing, but by way of quick summary, the piece maintains that the full-volume hysteria of the Left about every Republican candidate made it impossible for them to have any remaining credibility when someone as reprehensible as Trump came down the pike. It doesn’t mean much to say Donald Trump is Hitler if you said Mitt Romney was Hitler, too.

The brilliant Camille Paglia long ago pointed out that this was part of the problem the Right had during Obama’s first week. I’ve quoted this before, but her wisdom bears repeating:

Talk radio has been seething with such intensity since Barack Obama’s first week in office that I am finding it very hard to listen to it. How many times do we have to be told the sky is falling? The major talk show hosts, in my opinion, made a strategic error in failing to reset at lower volume after Obama’s election. When the default mode is feverish crisis pitch, there’s nowhere to go, and monotony sets in.

That’s true, but it, too, misses the salient point. Non-stop shrieking isn’t just monotonous – it leaves you powerless if the sky actually begins to fall.

The attempted deportation of permanent residents because of their faith is so egregiously beyond the pale of anything that any president in my lifetime has ever tried to do, or even thought of doing, that I find myself unable to find words to adequately express my revulsion to it. It’s several orders of magnitude worse than anything else Trump has actually done, but since every bit of Trumpism has been greeted with the outrage volume turned up to eleven, there’s no way to differentiate between faux-fascism and the real thing.

So this past week, I’ve seen hyperventilating Facebook posts that Trump has already repealed the Affordable Care Act (he hasn’t), and that he’s already slapped a 20% tariff on Mexican goods (empty rhetoric unless Congress complies), and that the wall has started construction (yes – much of it was already built before Trump took office), that he’s banned overseas abortions (no, he’s only revived a Reagan-era piece of pro-life window dressing that accomplishes nothing), and even that, according to the orgasmically overwrought Keith Olbermann, Trump’s fixation on his inaugural crowd sizes will lead inevitably to nuclear war. (Apologies to those who think “orgasmically overwrought” is too indelicate a phrase, but you have to concede that it’s Olbermannically descriptive.)

This outrage dilution has done more than just make it difficult to respond to every one of them; it’s given the illusion that each of these outrages deserves dollops of outrage in equal measure. Trump’s stupid obsession with his inaugural crowd sizes and his refusal to acknowledge hard data is maddening, yes, but it pales in comparison to the outrage of taking concrete steps to remove legal Americans from their homes because of how they worship. One is stupid; the other is fascist. Fascism deserves exponentially more outrage than run-of-the-mill stupidity.

So now, of course, I have to be concerned that my newfound willingness to drop the F word – i.e. “fascist” – in describing Trump means I’m joining the chorus of wolf-criers. It’s imperative, then, that as the outrages keep coming with relentless fury as Trump continues to tornado through the traditions that have been at the core of this Republic for over two hundred years, we learn to separate what’s truly worthy of outrage and what’s just eye-rollingly dippy.

TL/DR: Trump’s using mud to dilute poison. Don’t let yourself be diluted.

Alternative facts can feel like justice

Kellyanne Conway has blessedly introduced the phrase “alternative facts” into the national lexicon, and she has been roundly and rightly excoriated for her claims that hard data is actually a matter of opinion. I mean, yes, the sky is blue, but I offer the assertion that the sky is green as an alternative fact. Others have offered any number of examples of this brave new subjective world, and most of them are funnier than mine has been. Here’s my favorite, provided by my Sanders-supporting daughter:

(Disclaimer: I love Ringo. Please note, however, that Paul is objectively the best Beatle. That’s beyond dispute.)

All this mockery is well-deserved, but there’s another lesson here that many Trump haters have overlooked.

I take you back to the halcyon days of the mid 1990s, when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty and large numbers of African-Americans erupted in applause. I remember seeing television footage of black people cheering when the verdict was announced, and I was dumbfounded. All the contemporaneous polls indicated a stark racial divide in how the verdict was interpreted, with a majority of whites overwhelmingly convinced that Simpson got away with murder, while a majority of blacks were celebrating because one of their own finally beat a corrupt and racist system.

For me, personally, it was jarring to see all this happening in my hometown. I grew up in LA. I attended many a family dinner in my cousin’s Brentwood home that was within walking distance of where Ron and Nicole were killed. How was it possible that so many people from the same place could interpret those facts so differently?

It wasn’t too long after that I was watching an interview with actor LaVar Burton, who put the whole thing into perspective for me. I can’t remember his exact words, and I can’t find them online, but his premise was that for many of his fellow African-Americans, it was almost secondary as to whether or not O.J. had actually stabbed and nearly beheaded his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman. So many of them had seen so many of their friends and family suffer at the hands of racist law enforcement that they assumed, from the outset, that there was no way O.J. could get a fair shake. To many, O.J. symbolized all victims of America’s collective racial sins. The actual facts, and even the alternative ones, weren’t nearly as important.

Or, as LeVar Burton summed it up – and these words I remember verbatim:

“In a warped way, it felt like justice.”

Seeing so many Trump opponents recoil in horror and astonishment at the victory of our new Cheeto-in-Chief reminds me of me watching the O.J. Verdict. For many of them, this may have been the first time that they were confronted with the reality that roughly half of the country is interpreting reality in a very different way. Because even Republicans who know full well that a good chunk of what comes out of Trump’s mouth isn’t worth the spittle that accompanies it also see him as a symbol of a Republican willing to fight back. In a warped way, even the alternative facts Trump serves up can feel like justice.

Again, I have to reiterate that I’m not a Trump supporter. I remain a conservative and a supporter of free markets, and many of the things at the top of the Trump agenda are anathema to my political point of view. In some very crucial ways, Trump is not a conservative, and because Trump has corrupted the party, I’m no longer a Republican. But I know full well what it’s like to be a Republican in a country where all the culture at large feels stacked against you.

I don’t think many Democrats know how it feels to watch a movie or TV show and have all the good guys making fun of everything they believe. I think many get offended when Republicans complain of bias in the news media because they’re not used to ABC, CBS, NBC, and every major metropolitan newspaper in the country taking editorial positions telling them their ideology is not only wrong, but evil.

(A tangent, but if you feel the need to comment on this post with an argument about how conservatives are wrong to complain about media bias, or who want to use this as a vehicle to launch into a tirade against Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, I respectfully suggest that you’re missing my point, which is that conservatives feel like elite opinion is stacked against them, and they respond accordingly. Whether or not these feelings are justified is a separate – and probably unproductive – discussion.)

So, okay, fade out, fade in. Along comes Trump. And for the first time in living memory, a Republican is fighting back. A Republican is telling the press that they’re biased; they’re liars; they’re hacks. And he wins by beating up on the biased, lying hacks, who have never before been defeated as soundly as they were on Election Night. Does that feel like justice to many? You bet it does.

So, yes, of course there were fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than were at Obama’s in 2009. (Why Trump keeps hammering on this point is beyond me. 2017 inaugural attendance was entirely in line with previous presidents, and a POTUS’s power and authority does not in any way correlate with the number of people who stand outside on a cold January morning to hear him speak live.) But please know that your mockery of Kellyanne and her “alternative facts” is likely to galvanize the Trumpers, not shame them into submission. The angrier you get, the happier they get. To them, your rage feels like justice.

The saddest part about all of this is that justice isn’t about feelings. It’s about facts, and not alternative ones. And if we’re ever going to live in a country where we all acknowledge the same set of facts, we have to be willing to walk a mile in the other side’s shoes. (Just make sure that if you’re going to walk in rare Bruno Magli shoes, don’t allow photographs of you wearing them surface after bloody size 13 Bruno Magli footprints have been identified at a murder scene.)

Now THAT’S a bad speech

This past summer, I was at a wedding reception talking to a guy who was terrified about the trade deficit.

“Did you KNOW,” he said, speaking in capital letters, “that the TRADE DEFICIT last year was 700 BILLION DOLLARS?!!” (That’s him verbatim. You could absolutely hear the extra exclamation points after the question mark.)

I told him I didn’t know – I still don’t, as that number sounds like it was a number pulled out of his butt – but even if that were true, I told him I couldn’t care less.

He was aghast. “But WHERE is AMERICA going to come up with THAT kind of money?!”

It was then I realized that the word “deficit” had convinced him that a “trade deficit” is exactly the same thing as a “budget deficit.” That’s about as stupid as someone who thinks salad dressing should only be stored in dressing rooms. The words are the same, yes, but the meaning is different enough that no one really needs to worry about spilling Thousand Island on their Hamlet tights.

When the government has a budget deficit, they have a shortfall between the amount of money they spend and the amount of money they take in. We buy, say, two or three trillion dollars worth of stuff, but we don’t have enough cash to cover that extra $500 billion or so. So we stick the rest on the credit card and hope that the bill arrives in the mail when the American people aren’t looking.

A trade deficit, however, is the difference between the amount of stuff we buy as opposed to the amount of stuff we sell. So if I sell you my old comic book collection for fifty bucks, you have just racked up a staggering $50 trade deficit with me. WHERE  are YOU going to come up with THAT kind of money?!

As you can see, the question makes no sense at all. You don’t owe me anything, since you were already stupid enough to blow fifty bucks on a piles of rotting newsprint with pictures of Green Lantern drawn on them.  But you’re okay with it, too, because you decided that you wanted those dog-eared comics more than you wanted the fifty bucks. And thus, through the magic of capitalism,  both of us walked away happy.

Last May, Donald Trump, ostensibly a savvy capitalist himself, proved that when it comes to this fundamental tenet of economics, he doesn’t know salad dressing from comic books. Speaking to a rally of true believers, then-Candidate Trump mocked the people who were worried that his proposed tariffs and taxes would start a trade war.

“Trade war?!” he sniffed, the extra exclamation point dripping from his scowling smirk. “We’re losing $500 billion in trade with China. Who the hell cares if there’s a trade war?!”

(Wait, it’s $500 BILLION, not $700 BILLION?!!  Why didn’t TRUMP tell the GUY at the WEDDING RECEPTION ?!)

Kindly consider the depth of ignorance found in Trump’s statement. We’re “losing” $500 billion in trade with China. So when we trade with China, we hand them $500 billion, and they hand us… nothing, apparently, because that money is lost. LOST! We’re losing it. So WHO the HELL cares?

Of course, that money is not lost. We handed them half a trillion bucks; they handed us all kinds of crap – shoes and umbrellas and refrigerators and iPhones and Trump-brand neckties, all made in China. (Yes, before he inflicted himself on the American electorate, Trump was making America great again by exploiting cheap Chinese labor.) That $500 billion isn’t “lost.” It’s been traded. And it wouldn’t have been traded if we didn’t prefer having iPhones to having the money we paid for them. The trades were voluntary – both parties are satisfied. No bill for $500 billion is going to arrive in the White House mailbox unless Melania decides to surprise Barron by buying Guam for him as a birthday present.

All this is prelude to how terrible President Trump’s inaugural speech was. I’m not talking about its moments of breathtaking stupidity, like his line about how kids are stuck in a school system which “leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Really? Deprived of ALL knowledge? Do they become zombies? Or game show hosts? Well, at least they’re young and beautiful. Maybe they could hook up with some creepy billionaire who likes to grab young and beautiful people by the…

But I digress. (Although it’s hysterical that the word “all” before knowledge has been dropped from the official transcript. Trust me; it was there. I’d suggest that you rewatch the thing if you don’t believe me, but I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.)

Trump got most passionate as he was describing “American carnage” caused by the horrors of other countries “making our products.” Other countries making OUR products?! No more!  It’s time to rebuild the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”  It’s going to be “America First.” Two rules: “Buy American and Hire American.” And that, my friends, is how we’re going to make America great again.

Or, at the very least, make America as great as North Korea.

North Korea, you see, has a philosophy called “Juche!” It’s a word that roughly translates into “self-reliance,” but in practical terms, it means that North Korea follows two simple rules: Buy North Korean and Hire North Korean. International trade is considered a betrayal of the Hermit Kingdom’s revolutionary principles.

That text either translates as “Self-Reliance” or “Deprived of all knowledge.”

And the result? Widespread poverty, massive repression, and famines so bad that vast swaths of populace have had to survive by eating grass.

Trade is good. It creates wealth. And, like it or not, we live in a global economy. Pretending we don’t won’t return us to the 1920s, when we didn’t.

Back then, the now-rusted-out factories were rust-free and churning out Model Ts built by 100% American labor. But now Ford can churn out sedans and SUVs that are exponentially more sophisticated than the Model T, and they can do it with a tiny fraction of the labor force. Why? Automation. Those assembly line jobs have been made obsolete by technology, and, Trump’s populist, protectionist rhetoric aside, they’re not coming back.

I’ve said many times that the entirety of the MBA I earned can be summed up in three words – markets are efficient. If labor is going overseas, it’s because the market has found a more efficient use of capital. If government jumps in and tries to stop it, it’s a bit like tearing up all the modern car-building machinery and forcing Toyota to make all its Priuses by hand, complete with hordes of seamstresses sewing up the leather seats. Will that create jobs? Well, yes, but it will also destroy other jobs, destroy a great deal of wealth, and ultimately make Toyota so non-competitive that they’ll go out of business, thereby destroying the short-term Prius-leather-seat-sewing jobs that made Trump look like a hero when he created them.

This is the real danger of Trump, folks. He’s going to mandate that the economy operate like it did fifty years ago, and if he gets his way, we’ll ALL be eating GRASS!!

Hopefully, we’ll still have some SALAD DRESSING.