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. 

America’s Referees: Their Emanations and Penumbras

My youngest son played in a youth basketball league this year, and his team’s track record was 0-10. Or maybe it was 0-12. I’m not sure about the second number, but I’m 100% positive about the first. 

This was a particularly difficult experience both for him and for his parents, who had to come up with ways to buoy his spirits every time he lost – and he lost every time. Given how much my son hates to lose, his anger and frustration built exponentially throughout the season, as did his fury at those he considered to be the true villains in this scenario and the architects of his every defeat:

Those stinkin’ refs.

To hear my son tell it, all the referees were engaged in a grand conspiracy against his team, rigging every game to ensure a victory for the other guy. I can’t really blame him. They were an easy scapegoat, and they provided the only way to work around the fact that our team was just deeply and fundamentally lousy.

Still, picking on refs is a national pastime. Refs get cheered when the call benefits the home team and booed when it does not. Hardcore fans rarely, if ever, give a ref credit for a good call that hurts their team. Even so, it’s the referee’s duty to try to be as objective as possible and show no favoritism to one side or the other. A ref is there to make sure everyone’s playing by the rules, not to help one side or the other to win.

What I’ve outlined above, in crude terms, is the way I view the judicial branch of government.

The ideological battle in Washington has calcified into one team versus another. (I wish that were not the case, but that’s another discussion.) I believe that the nine justices of the Supreme Court ought to function not as as players on either ideological team, but as the referees. And a good justice should be willing to uphold laws they personally dislike as long as they abide by the constitutional rules of the game.

As Justice Kennedy retires, the apoplexy on the left demonstrates that this is not how the majority of people see the role of the High Court. Most view it as a sort of above-the-fray superlegislature, where smarter people than the hoi polloi can save us from our own idiotic laws. This is the case not just with leftists, who want the Court to override any legislative attempt to change abortion laws, but with those on the Right who were disappointed that the Court didn’t nullify Obamacare. Everyone wants the ref to make calls that help their team win.

From my perspective, the policy outcome of a judicial decision is largely irrelevant. It is not the Court’s responsibility to make sure the laws do what the justices personally want; it is the Court’s responsibility to call fouls when the laws go out of constitutional bounds.

The late and much-missed Justice Antonin Scalia summarized his philosophy this way in an interview with

[I]f a state enacted a law permitting flogging, it is immensely stupid, but it is not unconstitutional. A lot of stuff that’s stupid is not unconstitutional. I gave a talk once where I said they ought to pass out to all federal judges a stamp, and the stamp says—Whack! [Pounds his fist.]—STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL. Whack! [Pounds again.] STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL! Whack! ­STUPID BUT ­CONSTITUTIONAL … [Laughs.] And then somebody sent me one.

Scalia has a reputation for being a right-wing firebrand, but to his immense credit, he repeatedly upheld laws that he personally believed were stupid and constitutional, the most prominent being his opinion upholding the right to burn the US flag as a form of protest.

“If I were king,” he once said, “I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged. … Burning the flag is a form of expression. Speech doesn’t just mean written words or oral words. … Burning a flag is a symbol that expresses an idea.”

In other words, Scalia thought flag burning was “stupid but constitutional,” and, as the ref, made the right call.

This will often result in painful losses for both teams, but the alternative to this approach, in my mind, is much worse. It’s a nine-person oligarchy with lifetime appointments making laws with no accountability. Essentially, it’s a system rigged by refs who get to pick the winners and losers of every game.

This, incidentally, is the main reason I want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. It is not because I’m particularly eager to make abortion illegal, but because that decision is the worst modern precedent of judicial referees making a call solely to benefit their favorite team.

Roe v. Wade decided that there is a constitutional right for a woman to have an abortion in the first two trimesters of her pregnancy. The problem is that the Constitution says nothing whatsoever about abortion, let alone which trimesters are sacrosanct. In order to manufacture a constitutional right to abortion, the justices came up with a bizarre legal rationale that defies any semblance of common sense.

As I understand it, the analogy is one of a lightbulb, pictured below:

(I apologize for not using a more eco-friendly bulb. These are easier to edit in Photoshop.)

This bulb represents rights clearly delineated in the Constitution, like so:

This may be only partially accurate, but the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision established a “right to marital privacy” ensuring the ability to legally obtain contraception. The majority opinion in that case references Amendment 4 protections against unreasonable search and seizure and Amendment 5 protections against self-incrimination, so, while there may be other rights in other precedents, these are the ones I’m putting in my lightbulb.

Anyway, here’s your handy-dandy Constitutional Right lightbulb, which throws off “emanations,” or rays of light, like so:

It just so happens that those emanations constitute rights in and of themselves. One of those rights, it seems, is the Right to Privacy, like so:

Not sure what rights the other emanations are. Given that a lightbulb throws off innumerable emanations, it’s best not to place any heavy objects on this particular analogy, as it’s likely to collapse, even though it was thought up by people far smarter than you are.

Now it turns out that the Right to an Abortion is not, like the Right to Privacy, a direct emanation from the lightbulb. (That would be too easy, apparently.) No, the Right to an Abortion can only be found in the “penumbra” of the emanation.

What’s a penumbra, you ask? Google tells me it’s “the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object.” Now I’m not sure how an emanation is an opaque object – this analogy really doesn’t hold water  – but the penumbra can be defined as sort of the fuzzy edges of the light as it starts to fade. Or, if you will, the shadowy emanations of the emanations. In any case, with our drawing, if you zoom in, you can find the penumbra’s soft, gentle glow, like so:

And there, if you look hard enough, you can see the constitutional Right to an Abortion, clear as day, hidden in the penumbra of the emanation of the Right to Privacy.

Of course, it’s only a right to an abortion in the first two trimesters and a whole host of technical issues that the Constitution never dreamed of mentioning but which are clear enough if you analyze the emanations of the penumbras and the penumbras of the subsequent emanations down to the microscopic level and anyway this is the outcome we wanted so shut up.

So let’s take a step back and look at the whole picture, with the irrefutable constitutional Right to an Abortion in trimesters 1 and 2 highlighted by the red arrow seen below.

Ta da!

Hopefully, that looks as silly to you as it does to me. Even if it doesn’t, it should scare you into imagining what a judge from the other team could find in any number of emanations or penumbras. What’s to prevent a judge with Trump-like prejudice from finding a new right to shut down critical news outlets, beat up immigrants, or deport all Muslims in some other convoluted emanation and penumbra scenario?

Roe v. Wade is essentially the refs calling the abortion game before it begins.

Most abortion rights supporters have never considered the convoluted legal reasoning behind Roe, but even those that have generally don’t care. This is the policy outcome they wanted, so who cares if the refs had to cheat to get it?  But there are plenty of examples of the Court producing truly terrible outcomes when they decide to become players instead of refs. Dred Scott. Forced sterilization. Japanese internment camps. Separate but equal. Yes, unprincipled refs with unlimited power can get you what you want, but they can do an awful lot of damage, too.

Notice, too, that I’ve said nothing about my own personal position about abortion. I’m merely saying that if you want a constitutional right to an abortion, you should have to amend the Constitution to get it.  Of course, amending the Constitution was deliberately designed to be a difficult process, requiring a supermajority in Congress and the approval of 3/4 of state legislatures. It’s much, much easier to find justices who manufacture rights out of the ether to subvert that process with a literal handful of votes. They do so in the name of a “living Constitution” that can ignore the plain language of the document and be twisted and tortured into meaning whatever a majority on the Court wants it to mean.

“Saying that the Constitution is a living document is the same as saying we don’t have a Constitution,” said economist Walter Williams. “For rules to mean anything, they must be fixed. How many people would like to play me poker and have the rules be ‘living’? Depending on ‘evolving standards,’ maybe my two pair could beat your flush.”

Likewise, my son would have liked “living” rules in all the basketball games he lost, but that would have been far worse in the long run. Whether on the basketball court or the Supreme Court, when the refs cheat, everybody loses. 

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.


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”
“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.

Articles of My Personal Faith

The LDS Church has 13 official Articles of Faith that have been canonized as scripture, and I believe all of them. Over time, I have come to a more comprehensive understanding of my own personal faith, and I have compiled a list of additional things I, personally, believe.

This list is in no way comprehensive and is certainly not infallible. It is also subject to revision, addition, and subtraction as circumstances may warrant. I have resisted the temptation to number them, because they are listed not in order of importance but in the order in which I thought of them.

I believe the Book of Mormon is exactly what it purports to be – not a fraud or “inspired fiction,” but an ancient religious record translated by the gift and power of God. It is the anchor of my testimony and the primary reason that, despite all my frustrations with the LDS Church, I will remain an active and faithful member. 

I believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the theologically truest church on the earth. If I discover a truer church, I will join it, although I don’t anticipate such a church existing. 

I believe other churches teach a great deal of truth, and that a great deal of truth can also be found in schools, in nature, in science, in entertainment, and, really, just about anywhere you look.  

I believe that “whether by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same” means that the Lord honors the things he says through his servants, not that everything his servants say is the word of the Lord. 

I believe that Latter-day Saints have an unhealthy aversion to the concept of Christ’s grace, and that has resulted in many Mormons believing that they earn the majority of their salvation, which is wildly incorrect.

I believe the fifteen men who serve in the highest offices of the Church are good and righteous men. I also believe there is a vast overabundance of members qualified to be apostles, and that there are at least fifteen men and women in my own ward alone who are as good and righteous as the fifteen men who serve in the highest offices of the Church. 

I believe I have as much direct access to heaven as Russell M. Nelson does. 

I believe that temples need not be nearly as ornate as they are and that we should spend far less money on them. 

I do not believe that the U.S. Constitution is or will be hanging by a thread, or that the Mormons will be called upon to save it. 

I believe that agency and infallibility are incompatible, which means prophets can make mistakes, sometimes very big ones. 

I believe that the denial of the priesthood and temple blessings to people of African descent was, indeed, a mistake, perhaps the biggest mistake the modern Church has ever made.

I believe the November 2015 policy punishing innocent children of gay parents is the biggest mistake that is currently on the books. 

I believe that there is a great deal of further light and knowledge the Church needs to receive with regard to our LGBT brothers and sisters, and that we are not actively seeking that knowledge with the vigor commensurate with the love we should have for our fellow children of God.

I believe that no question should ever be feared or blithely dismissed, and that it is possible to directly confront the thornier elements of Church history and doctrine and come out with a strengthened testimony on the other side. 

I believe the possibility of the ordination of women ought to receive more careful and prayerful consideration than it has gotten thus far. 

I believe that mixtures of religion and politics are toxic by default. 

I believe the BSA has never had a mandate from heaven and that nearly all of my childhood traumas can somehow be traced back to the Boy Scouts of America. I’m immensely grateful to the Church for finally severing that connection. 

I believe militant atheism is intellectually ridiculous. It’s one thing to doubt the existence of God; it’s another, much dumber thing to be certain no God exists. 

I believe that religion has nothing to fear from science, and that the Old Testament makes no effort to distinguish the literal from the figurative and is therefore useless as any sort of scientific treatise.

I believe that truth exists independent of human interpretation thereof. That includes truth of all kinds – scientific, moral, ethical, spiritual, and musical. 

I believe D&C 121 provides the template for how all authority should be wielded, regardless of whether that authority is sacred or secular.

I believe that “Mormon Doctrine” by Bruce R. McConkie, “The Miracle of Forgiveness” by Spencer W. Kimball, and “For Young Men Only” by Boyd K. Packer were all well-intentioned works that ended up doing far more harm than good. In particular, Elder Packer’s pamphlet, given to me when I was twelve years old and had no earthly clue what he was talking about, severely warped my adolescence by making me afraid of my own body. 

I believe every temple sealing should be directly preceded by a non-temple wedding ceremony that anyone can be invited to attend, because no parent should be denied the right to see their children get married, and alienating an existing family is a terrible way to mark the creation of a new one. 

I believe “Us vs Them” is a terrible way to live your life, regardless of who is “Us” and who is “Them.” 

I believe most sports analogies are directly inspired by Satan. 

I believe people who believe all manner of nonsense should be welcome in the Church, provided they are not actively seeking to tear down the faith of other members.

I believe it is in the best interests of both priesthood leaders and children to have parents present during interviews. 

I believe kindness is a mandatory prerequisite for all of our interactions with other human beings.

I believe that’s all I have for now, but I reserve the right to revise and extend these articles as occasion permits. 

Primo Supremo Primer

My last post was all about my philosophy re: Supreme Court justices, but I’m getting a lot of questions about the practical consequences of Justice Kennedy’s retirement.

What does this mean? Who’s going to replace him? What’s going to change? Is this the beginning of the apocalypse?

The TL/DR answers are:

  1. Not as much as you think.
  2. Not Mike Lee.
  3. Not a whole lot.
    and finally,
  4. Not even a little bit.

If you’re satisfied with that four-part summary, look no further. If you want more, then read on…

1. Not as much as you think.
For all the talk about how Kennedy is a huge swing vote, he really isn’t. He votes reliably with the conservative bloc far more often than not, and his blistering Obamacare dissent was as hard right as anything Antonin Scalia ever wrote.  On economic issues, he’s a model of judicial restraint in ways that aren’t likely to make Democrats happy. Kennedy also wrote the majority opinion for Citizens United, which the Left universally despises, and, just recently, he sided with the conservatives upholding Trump’s fascistic travel ban.

True, Kennedy has broken with the conservatives on the two major social issues of our time, notably abortion and gay rights, which is why he’s the one Republican appointee beloved by the Left. But he’s not even particularly reliable on those two issues, either. He wrote the opinion telling the Colorado baker that he didn’t have to bake the damn cake, and he voted with the conservative majority in a recent abortion rights case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, which found that pregnancy centers don’t have to tell their patients about options for terminating their pregnancies.

But, yes, it’s likely that Roe v. Wade will see a fresh challenge under the new justice, and for most of the general public, which doesn’t know a penumbra from a porcupine, that’s the only issue that matters. I will address that under item 3. First, I want to point out who the new justice will be, or, more specifically, who it will not be.

2. Not Mike Lee. 
I’ve had several people approach me with concerned looks on their faces asking how I will respond if Trump picks Sen. Mike Lee for the High Court. Lee won his seat by defeating my father, and, while I’m certainly not the most objective observer on the subject, I still think he’s been an embarrassment to the state of Utah as a lousy senator more devoted to ideological purity than constituent service.

That said, I really don’t harbor any personal animus toward the man, and I haven’t pulled out my Mike Lee voodoo doll in years. I think his obsession with the Constitution as a magical talisman is much better suited for the Supreme Court than it is for the U.S. Senate. All told, he’d probably be an entirely adequate justice. There are a number of reasons, however, why he will never get the chance to prove it.

The buzz around Lee is that Trump thinks that since he’s already a senator, the Senate is more likely to confirm one of their own with less contention than they would in confirming someone they don’t know. This is exactly backward. The fact that he’s a politician, not a judge, means he has a 100% political track record, complete with plenty of fodder for advocacy groups to use in attack ads. It also means that moderate Republicans – notably Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – have enough familiarity with Lee to breed an appropriate amount of contempt. The wafer-thin Republican majority in the Senate can’t afford any defectors, and Lee has a remarkably Cruz-esque knack for alienating his colleagues.

In addition, Lee has never been a judge, When non-judge Harriet Meyers was nominated by W., her nomination was eventually pulled after Republicans revolted en masse, in part due to her lack of judicial credentials. Lee is also a Mormon and a graduate of BYU Law School, which, although a solid school, is not a member of the rarefied fraternity of Ivy League-level institutions that serve as the bullpen for the judicial big leagues.

And while Lee has proven to be a reliable Trump toadie for the past two years, he had scathing things to say about Candidate Trump, and he refused to endorse The Donald even after he’d won the nomination. Trump is like an elephant in many respects, most of them physical, but the one thing he never forgets is disloyalty.

I don’t know who the pick will be, but it’s going to be the choice of the Federal Society, not Donald Trump, and the Federalist Society is not going to nominate Mike Lee. It won’t matter all that much, because of what is likely to change, namely:

3. Not a whole lot.
A friend of mine on Facebook, after Kennedy announced his retirement, said “You promised me that Roe v. Wade would never be overruled!” That’s not a promise I’m equipped to keep, but I’d still be willing to lay money on that being true. Roe has been repeatedly challenged and even eroded by subsequent decisions, but the core idea that government is constitutionally prohibited from making abortion illegal has endured for 45 years and is likely to endure for at least 45 more and beyond. The longer a precedent is allowed to stand, the more reluctant the Court is to pull it out by the roots.

The other factor in this is Chief Justice John Roberts, who has repeatedly demonstrated his squeamishness at presiding over seismic shifts against stare decisis. His Obamacare dissent was his first salvo in establishing himself as the future Kennedyian swing vote, but he’s fired several since then, including the recent Carpenter v. United States decision requiring law enforcement to get a warrant to pull cell phone records. Roberts sided against Kennedy and the three other conservatives and aligned with the RBG wing. Should Thomas et al try to burn Roe to the ground, it’s likely that Roberts will attempt to broker a less-drastic compromise or oppose such a move altogether.

And while this may be a tangent, it’s important to note that overturning Roe, as unlikely as that outcome is, would not suddenly make abortion illegal. Many states have already passed laws that go way beyond Roe’s protections of abortion rights, and those laws would still stand in the wake of a Roe reversal. States that outlaw abortion entirely would be subject to boycotts a la South Carolina’s bathroom bill, which was eventually repealed in the face of public outrage.

Yes, things may get heated and messy for awhile, but the legislative process is the one designated to deal with that kind of messiness. I firmly believe that one of the reasons this issue remains such a tinder box is that the High Court has denied Americans the right to hammer out appropriate compromises. Eventually, the legal landscape for abortion will more accurately reflect the will of the people than Roe currently does, which would ultimately mean less contention and violence.

Of course, all that presupposes that Roe will be overturned, which, as I say, is an unlikely outcome.

As for gay rights, the idea that gay marriage will become illegal is even less likely than a Roe reversal. I outlined why in a previous post, so allow me to quote myself:

[Obergefell v. Hodges] overturned only part of the Defense of Marriage Act. The other part – the section that states can ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states – is blatantly unconstitutional, since it violates the Full Faith and Credit Clause, which reads as follows:

“Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.”

So if one state makes gay marriage legal, every state has to recognize those marriages.

Congress knew this part of DOMA was illegal when they passed it, and President Clinton knew it when he signed it. It was a cynical, craven pandering to an electorate which, at the time, was solidly opposed to gay marriage. (Yes, times have changed.) Clinton even publicly stated that he looked forward to the day when the High Court overturned the unconstitutional law he had signed.

So that’s out there like a Sword of Damocles waiting to fall on anyone who tries to overturn Obergefell. But even if it weren’t, the Court would now be in a position of not just preventing new same-sex marriages, but of nullifying thousands of existing marriages, something even the most conservative members of the Court would be reluctant to do.

All this should reassure those who think this is the beginning of the apocalypse, when in fact, it’s:

4. Not even a little bit.
This is not just because not much is likely to change, but because even if things do change and every decision you like is reversed, all that does is throw contentious issues back into the legislative arena, which is precisely where they belong. And in that unlikely event, the discussion will shift to what the proper role of the SCOTUS ought to be rather than whether or not a decision produces the policies your team likes.

To sum up – social media should spend less time worrying about the Supreme Court and more time complaining about how much Star Wars now sucks.

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.