Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Removed Ads

I put ads on this blog about a month ago, just to see what would happen.  It turns out that I only made about $10 in a month's time, and I didn't like the ads.  So I've removed them.

Thought you'd like to know.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Presidential Adulteries

Another woman has surfaced in connection with Herman Cain, this time having claimed to have had a 13 year affair with the Presidential candidate. By now, it's getting a little obvious, don't you think. Cain appears to have sexual appetites that he has had a hard time keeping satisfied within his marriage.

But in this matter, he is in good company among the great American leaders of the past.


JFK's Mistress, Marilyn Monroe
 Thomas Jefferson had his Sally Hemmings, his slave and his mistress, by whom he had perhaps as many as six children at Monticello.

Warren G. Harding had his Carrie and his Nan. "She was the wife of a longtime friend. During Harding's presidential campaign in 1920, Carrie demanded that Harding divorce his wife and marry her. Carrie threatened to release the many love to the press -- although Harding had already given her a Cadillac and offered her $5,000 a year. To avoid the campaign distraction, Harding’s campaign managers paid Carrie more than $20,000. In addition, he sent Carrie and her husband on a trip around the world."

Franklin Roosevelt had his Lucy Mercer, who was with him when he died in Warm Springs, Georgia, and of course, long before that as well.  Eleanor Roosevelt apparently knew that, as William Manchester put it in The Glory and The Dream, "she could have neither romance nor a close relationship with Franklin."  In the end, "wounded by her mother, her father, her mother-in-law, and her husband, she now embraced all humanity."

Dwight Eisenhower had his Kay, his vivacious military chauffeur while he was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII.

John F. Kennedy--well, how long a post can this be?  JFK had his Marilyn Monroe, his Angie Dickinson, his Jayne Mansfield, his Judith Exner, his Mary Pinchot Meyer, etc.  It's not clear how much, if any, of this Jackie knew, but I suspect she knew alot and may have been in psychological denial.  Of all these affairs, possibly the most significant one, for reasons easy to see, was with Mary Meyer.  "Born to wealth she attended upper-crust private schools, through which young Mary met both her future husband (Cord Meyers) and future lover (JFK). Mary was the wife of a top-level CIA official and one of JFK’s lovers during his Presidency. She was also a reporter for Mademoiselle. When free-spirited Mary decided to try LSD, she turned to Timothy Leary. Mary was murdered on a Georgetown towpath beside a canal in October 1964."

Lyndon Johnson had his Madeleine Brown and possibly others as well.  Madeleine Brown did an interview years later that connected LBJ with the assassination of JFK.

Ronald Reagan probably had affairs in Hollywood before he became President, for he was divorced and, well, you know how Hollywood is.  But he was old enough in the White House to stay faithful to his ferocious Nancy.

Bill Clinton was truly a protégé of JFK in the realm of adulterous affairs. The first woman, who almost derailed his Presidential campaign was Jennifer Flowers. The second woman, who almost got him thrown out of office, was Monica Lewinsky. And there were many others, it appears.

Newt Gingrich, while not a President, is running for President, and he is on his third marriage. According to Wikipedia, he had extramarital affairs with both his second and third wives, while still married to his previous wife.

So...isn't the male sex drive of powerful men a marvelous thing to behold? 

Since this above list contains a bipartisan list of Presidents (past and prospective), some of whom are widely revered by the American people and acknowledged to have been successful as Presidents, perhaps we should learn to give this issue a wide berth.

But don't hold your breath....

Monday, November 28, 2011

Economically, We Are Clueless

As we've all been finding out since 2008, the last 30 years have largely been a time of economic illusion and deception in the Western world.  John Lanchester comes to the following conclusions about how this could have happened, in his review of Michael Lewis' new book Boomerang.
Many of the people who did stupid things...did so because everyone around them was doing them too, and because loud voices were telling them to carry on. The Icelanders who bought cars with foreign currency loans were sold them by financiers who promised that it was a good idea; the Irish who bought now-unsellable houses on empty estates were told, by builders and bankers and the state, that this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity; the Greeks who are, at the time of writing, furiously rebelling against austerity measures were falsely told that the state could afford to look after them, and arranged their lives accordingly.

The collective momentum of a culture is, for more or less everybody more or less all of the time, overwhelming. This is especially true for anything to do with economics. The evidence is clear: it is easy to mislead people about money, and easy to lead members of the public astray both individually and en masse, because when it comes to money, most of us, most of the time, don’t know what we’re doing. The corollary is also clear: the whole Western world misled itself over debt, and the road back from where we are goes only uphill.
This makes sense to me. We all want scapegoats, of course. Depending on our ideology/politics, we want to blame Freddie Mac, or the poor saps who took out the subprime loans, or the bankers who got bloated on profits, or Barney Frank, or Alan Greenspan, or a thousand other candidates.

And every one of the above persons or institutions had a hand in the debacle.  Indeed, we all, you and I, had a hand in this.  Yet once this economic machine was put into gear and got rolling, almost nothing was going to stop it.  "Collective momentum of a culture" indeed.

And nothing is going to stop the unraveling either, it seems. Or at least not anything I can think of.  Or is it possible that we could all have a hand in the solution and the resolution?  Work together, for God's sake? 

That, my friend, will definitely take the work of a God in heaven.  A miracle, in other words.  Everyone, to your knees!

JFK and the New Camelot

Frank Rich has written an article for New York magazine analyzing the presidency of John F. Kennedy and the hatred it inspired, a loathing on the part of the Right that eventually engulfed and doomed the young, charismatic President.  And then he makes some interesting comparisons with our current young and (sometimes) charismatic President, Barack Obama.

But this much is certain: Both presidents were centrists in the Democratic parties of their respective eras. Neither could be remotely described as radical, let alone “socialist,” as critics of both have contended. Both are ardent capitalists largely content to leave corporate America to its own devices. Both are wary of the institutional left. Both are hawkish by their party’s standards. But for all this moderation, they, like the similarly centrist Bill Clinton, who was accused of enabling drug running and murder on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, have inspired a hatred so nightmarishly disproportionate to their actual beliefs, actions, and policies that it’s worthy of Stephen King’s fiction....

...read [William] Manchester['s The Death of a President] or [Stephen King's] 11/22/63 or any other account of that time, and the vitriol that was aimed at Kennedy in life seems as immediate as today. It’s as startling as that “You lie!” piercing the solemnity of a presidential address like a gunshot—or the actual gunshots fired at the White House last week by another wretched waif. In the end, that political backdrop is what our 44th and 35th presidents may have most in common. The tragedy of the Kennedy cult is that even as it fades, the hothouse brand of American malice that stalked its hero stalks our country still.
You almost get the feeling from Frank Rich that he would like Obama to be able to finish Kennedy's unfinished term, and then go on and have a second term in which to fulfill Kennedy's  interrupted destiny of greatness. 

Read the full article for a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Return of Newt Gingrich

Some thoughts on Newt Gingrich.

At least he is ready to be President.  Having been Speaker of the House (and thus third in line to be President), and years more in the internecine battles of Washington politics, Gingrich is the most experienced of the Republicans running for President, in both economic and foreign policy arenas.  (Granted, he's never been a businessman or a general.)

He's also probably the most intelligent of the candidates, with only the two Mormon candidates coming close (and Ron Paul also approaching that level, I suppose).  One of my peeves with Palin, Bachmann, Perry, and Cain is that they just don't seem to have the necessary level of intelligence (and intellectual preparation) to possibly be President. 

As a self-styled 'futurist', Newt occasionally comes across as very 'unconservative' in his willingness to consider innovative and bold solutions to problems.

The problem is that Gingrich is very unself-disciplined in both his words and his actions, in a very unPresidential way.  His three marriages are a basic symptom of that trait, as is the fact that he also only lasted four years as Speaker of the House of Representatives, before resigning in a the face of a rebellion in his own party against his leadership.

And Newt is like a volcano spewing molten lava when it comes to saying strange, outrageous, even crazy things.  He loves to put things in a way that startles and provokes his listeners.  And he often comes across as extremely arrogant and condescending, in a very unlikable way.

Consider some of his remarks over the last number of years:

(1) “I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time [my grandchildren are] my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.” [Address to Cornerstone Church in Texas, March 2011]

(2) “The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry or private sources is essentially a socialist argument.” [To Mother Jones magazine, October 1989]

(3) “All I would say is, why did it take so long? The whole thing is strange.” [Speaking to TPM about the recent release of President Obama’s long-form birth certificate, April 2011]

(4) “What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.” [To the National Review, September 2010]

(5) “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.” – [Newt’s explanation for why his multiple affairs won’t damage his political fortunes, as told to his jilted wife.]

(6) “The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” [In his book To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, May 2010.]

(7) “This is one of the great tragedies of the Bush administration. The more successful they’ve been at intercepting and stopping bad guys, the less proof there is that we’re in danger…. It’s almost like they should every once in a while have allowed an attack to get through just to remind us.” [At a book talk in Huntington, NY, April 2008]

(8) "A mere 40 years ago, beach volleyball was just beginning. No bureaucrat would have invented it, and that's what freedom is all about.” [At the Republican National Convention, August 1996]

(9) “I want to say to the elite of this country—the elite news media, the liberal academic elite, the liberal political elite: I accuse you in Littleton… of being afraid to talk about the mess you have made, and being afraid to take responsibility for things you have done, and instead foisting upon the rest of us pathetic banalities because you don’t have the courage to look at the world you have created.” [Speaking about the Columbine shootings, May 1999]

(10) “How can you have the mess we have in New Orleans, and not have had deep investigations of the federal government, the state government, the city government, and the failure of citizenship in the Ninth Ward, where 22,000 people were so uneducated and so unprepared, they literally couldn't get out of the way of a hurricane.” [Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, March 2007]
Number four above--about Obama's "Kenyan anti-colonial behavior"--is my personal favorite for sheer zaniness.

And then, of course, in the most recent debate, speaking about the Occupy movement, Gingrich scornfully said they should first get a bath, then get a job.  Which is of course a very 'Newtonian' thing to say.

Newt Gingrich, in his normal modus operandi, is very unPresidential.  While he is smart enough and politically experienced enough to be President, it all seems very unlikely, given that he is, well, Newt Gingrich.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Astounding Reach of the Internet

These were yesterday's hits on my blog.  I never ceased to be amazed by the global reach of the internet.

United States 52
Philippines 16
India 13
Brazil 5
France 4
Nepal 3
United Arab Emirates 2
Canada 2
Germany 2
Singapore 2

Friday, November 25, 2011

Freedom + Prosperity = Fat?

Sometimes smart economists can be SO dumb!
Fat Capitalists
We don’t need overconsumption at Thanksgiving to remind us that America is the home of the fat. That fact can be confirmed by standing on any street corner in any city of the country and watching Americans waddle by. Yet what many don’t understand is that one of the overriding causes of our weight problem has been our good fortune, which has been founded on the country remaining the land of the free.

Official statistics confirm casual observations. Since 1960, American adults have gained on average 26 pounds, which equal the weight of the largest turkey most families will have this Thanksgiving. This means that American adults now weigh nearly 3 million tons more than they would have weighed had they held to the average weight of 1960 adults.

Why has the country gotten so fat? The easy explanation—Americans eat too much and exercise too little—adds nothing that is not widely known. Embedded in the many explanations for the country’s weight gain is one surprising theme: in no small way, our weight problem is the reflection of our growing economic freedoms and a mirror image of our growing prosperity over the decades, which has, in turn, mirrored the spread of free-market economics and policies....
So says free-market economist Richard McKenzie.

So prosperity + freedom = fat?  What kind of important observation is that?

Not-Fat Non-Capitalists
No.  The people who make the most money and eat the best food are NOT fat.  Instead they look like this.

It's the poorer people (or stupid middle-class people) who have to make do with McDonalds french fries for supper and video games for entertainment who are fat.  If free-market economists want to give laissez-faire capitalism the credit for that, go ahead, I guess.  But it sounds kind of dumb to me.

Free Market Economics is in crisis. The prevailing economic model in America for the last 30 years is increasingly being seen as having failed. The above quote is just a somewhat bizarre example of this.

A better example is the esteem (or lack thereof)in which Alan Greenspan is now held. He was our Federal Reserve Chairman for 19 years and was the economic guru for the Washington Establishment, through three administrations of both political parties. Until 2008, that is. When suddenly, everyone realized that Alan Greenspan didn't have a clue as to what was happening or what he was talking about. His whole free-market, Randian, libertarian worldview--and his reputation with it--collapsed overnight, with the financial crisis of 3 years ago.

No one seems to know the way forward now when it comes to economics. But what we've been doing the last 30 years ain't it.

Romney or Gingrich? Pick Your Poison

Michael Gerson, a fine conservative writer, gives a pitch-perfect description of Romney and Gingrich.

Following guilty flings with Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, the GOP is finally contemplating marriage, which concentrates the mind.

The two current Republican front-runners, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, come from the same political territory — the land of at least minimal presidential credibility. Both are economic conservatives without being demolition-derby libertarians. Both are Reagan-inspired internationalists. Both have interesting records of ideological deviance — Romney on health care, Gingrich on the environment. Both display a knowledge of history and current events and the capacity to reason in public — attributes that can’t be assumed of all of the Republican field.

But for all these similarities, Romney and Gingrich are a study in contrasts. Seldom has a political choice been less ideological or more dramatic.

Romney is a politician of moderate virtues and moderate vices. He is steady, disciplined and capable — important, but not Churchillian, leadership qualities. Romney’s eagerness to please has left a trail of discarded policy positions — managing to displease true believers on all sides. While lacking scandalous personal vulnerabilities, he can also lack a human connection. This week Romney publicly confessed that he had “tasted a beer and tried a cigarette once, as a wayward teenager, and never did it again.” Americans might identify with Romney more if he had taken that second sip.

Gingrich possesses larger strengths and larger weaknesses — both of which have been on recent display. In debates and forums, he shines. Sometimes he also preens. His sense of historical urgency can be exhausting. Every political moment, it seems, is the most decisive since the Battle of El Alamein, or the rise of Kemal Ataturk, or the Lincoln-Douglas debates. It is not enough, for example, for the Congressional Budget Office to be wrong. Its bland, nonpartisan economists, according to Gingrich, are part of a “reactionary socialist institution.” He has perfected an unusual rhetorical method: provocation through exaggeration.

Successful presidential campaigns are exercises in endurance and discipline, which makes Gingrich unlikely to beat Romney in the end. But Gingrich unplugged can be impressive.

No Man Knows My First Name

Moderator Wolf Blitzer opened Tuesday’s Republican debate by introducing himself and adding, for some reason, “Yes, that’s my real name.” A few moments later, the party’s most plausible nominee for president said the following: “I’m Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name.”

But it’s not.  Mitt is the candidate’s middle name. His first name is Willard.
So wrote Gene Robinson of the Wa Po.

I don't get it. Why would Romney say something so obviously wrong? He clearly knows his first name (named after the Romney family friend and Mormon hotel magnate Willard Marriott). And he surely knows that others know that, since Al Sharpton on his MSNBC show constantly calls him Willard instead of Mitt.

There seem to be only two options here: one, that Mitt Romney was trying to make a lame joke, or two, that he is a pathological liar. (I say 'pathological' because I don't see this as a moral issue--since Mitt is nothing but moral, at least in the Mormon way--but as a psychological one).

Trying to make a joke--which doesn't work--makes the most sense at this point.  (And the joke only works if he's assuming that 'Mitt' is his 'functioning' first name, as it were.)  But if that's what he did, why doesn't he just come out and admit it.  If he doesn't explain such an obvious gaffe, he leaves himself open to the other explanation, which is a whole lot less acceptable.

The other option--pathological liar--would tie into his Mormon roots, of course. And I'll explain that in a future post about the deception that has become almost normative for the whole Mormon enterprise, in terms of their beliefs and their history.

But I still don't want to believe that is the case for Romney here. So, giving Mitt the benefit of the doubt here, I'm going with the lame joke.

Ps. I appreciate the attempt to 'humanize' yourself, Mitt, but you're going to have to do better than this. Perhaps going on the Sunday talk shows and admitting you've changed some positions would help. You've shown you're intellectually up to the job of the President. Now show you're not a robot.

The Wisdom of China, the Foolishness of the West

Matt Miller, columnist for the WaPO, writes:
The Chinese official was perplexed. “It seems clear that taxes have to go up as a share of GDP and spending has to go down. When is that going to happen?”

We were in a seminar room at the Chinese Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai. It’s kind of an executive MBA center where rising Communist Party leaders come for training. I was there two weeks ago speaking about the future of capitalism. Since China holds more than $1.1 trillion of U.S. debt, the group was keen to learn when they could expect the United States to get its fiscal house in order.

I gave them the answer I generally give these days when asked that same question at home. Given Republicans’ denial about the need for taxes to rise as we double the number of seniors on Social Security and Medicare, and Democrats’ denial about the need to slow the growth of these huge programs as part of an overall fix, I explained, “We probably won’t get serious about taking these steps until our Chinese creditors tell us we have to.”

They laughed. But after the laugh you could tell my hosts also felt empowered. They have reason to feel that way. Yet from the American point of view, it’s not only not funny, it’s surreal.

According to the IMF, China’s GDP per capita is about $8,400. The United States’ is about $48,000. How can it be that a country nearly six times richer is relying on a country so poor to help finance its current consumption?...

The Chinese long believed that, however suspect we American capitalists might be, we certainly knew how to run a productive economy. Now, while they still admire much about our innovative energy and dynamism, they’ve become convinced since the 2008 meltdown that we plainly don’t know how to run a sound financial or banking system. And now it appears we can’t manage a budget, either.

China’s leaders, for all their flaws, are out to reclaim a great civilization’s place as a cultural and economic pacesetter. The way they see it, the Chinese were waylaid on a 200-year detour as the West surged ahead, but they’re coming back to their rightful place.

China’s governing class has its eye on history. Ours has its eye on the next election and next quarter’s earnings. If the time horizons remain this different, and the stewardship gap this huge, who’s a better bet to come out stronger in the decades ahead?
Think of it this way. A very frugal, lower-middle class lady, making about $50,000 or less, lives in a plain but comfortable house in a not-at-all fancy neighborhood. She raises a garden, doesn't buy fancy clothes, and drives used American cars. She lives a comfortable if somewhat simple life. She has networks of family and friends whom she loves and who love her. Yet she banks enough surplus to end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank at her death.

On the other hand, a wealthy yuppie couple makes $250,000 a year, but spends every penny of that on BMWs, a McMansion, country club memberships, expensive vacations, etc., etc. Not unexpectedly, they have very little in savings and huge debt levels.

This is my mother and some hypothetical yuppie couple. This is China and the U.S.  This is perennial wisdom versus foolishness.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks For Our Many Blessings

Thanksgiving is a good day to just shut out the bad news of the world and only focus on positive things.  So this article by Fareed Zakaria is an appropiate read today.

This might seem a tough time to celebrate Thanksgiving. The national mood is pessimistic. The economy continues to limp along. The failure of the supercommittee has come to symbolize the breakdown of not just governance but democratic politics. Yet there are reasons to be cheerful about the United States this week.

The United States continues to have the most dynamic economy in the developed world. We are enamored of Germany for having maintained its manufacturing base through timely reforms. That’s good, and we could learn a lot from other countries. But let’s note that Germany’s great companies are products of the second industrial revolution — from the early 20th century — clustering around cars, chemicals and machine tools. Germany has one notable company in the information economy, SAP. The post-industrial, information economy is dominated by the United States. The industries of the future, from biotechnology to nanotechnology, are dominated by the United States. The best research centers, universities and companies remain American.

We also have the most dynamic society in the developed world. While Japan has entered and Italy and Germany are approaching a demographic death spiral, the United States remains young, vibrant and active. Demographics is not destiny, but it helps mightily to have a growing society, with a healthy share of young workers — who are also taxpayers. This country still attracts the most immigrants and most investment in the world.

The United States has gone through a big bust, which has cast a long shadow on its economy. But to put it in perspective, it is not nearly as bad as the one that crippled Japan almost two decades ago....

What about our political dysfunctions? These are real, but things are changing. Over the past two years we’ve seen political leadership from both parties at the state and local level. Governors such as Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie and Jerry Brown are tackling deeply entrenched problems, such as pension shortfalls, that threaten to destroy state budgets. A groundswell for deeper political reform has also begun to grow....

Structural reform is crucial. We need sensible solutions to the problems of growth and deficits. But these exist. Simpson-Bowles and other commissions have already shown the way to lower deficits. The larger challenge is structural reforms to stop small minorities from blocking reform. We need to highlight the corrupt ways that Washington works — with Senate filibusters, secret and arbitrary holds and a broken budget process — and create a much more streamlined structure of governance for the 21st century.

The United States has problems. But unlike many other countries, it also has solutions. And since politicians won’t, citizens are increasingly finding ways to propose these solutions. That’s something to be thankful for — and hopeful about.
Thanks, Fareed.  Happy Thanksgiving!!

Ten Commandments of Being a Good Husband

On this Thanksgiving Day, when I am so thankful for my family, I want to post some advice for being a good husband.  After 38 years of marriage to one woman, I think I know what I'm talking about.

TEN COMMANDMENTS OF BEING A GOOD HUSBAND

1.  Always remember to the put the toilet seat down after doing your business.

2.  Make coffee for your wife in the morning (or whatever she likes to drink).

3.  Buy flowers for your wife at least once a year.

4.  Offer a comforting and loving hug and kiss at the end of the day, but without other intentions.

5.  Don't always rent violent movies on the weekend.

6.  Occasionally plan a 'date night' out with your wife, doing something that she'll enjoy.

7.  Apply your wife's favorite cologne regularly.

8.  Compliment--and never criticize--your wife in public to friends.

9.  When arguing, avoid saying, "you always...." or "you never...."  That doesn't accomplish anything.  And don't yell either.

10.  The best way to love your children is to love their mother.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Dark Side of Early Mormonism: Assassination of Apostates & Gentiles

One of the more disturbing aspects of early Mormonism that I have encountered in my recent reading is the existence of a team of Mormon thugs, who were willing to assassinate/murder whoever the Prophet (Joseph Smith or Brigham Young) wanted eliminated. At first, this simply seemed like vicious anti-Mormon propaganda, but after reading a number of first-hand accounts by Mormons and even by the 'Danites' themselves (as the assassins were sometimes known), it becomes clear to me that this was a part of early Mormonism's 'dark side' that needs to better understood.

Danite Bill Hickman
 One of the better known Mormon 'destroying angels' was Bill Hickman.  After he lost favor with Mormon Prophet Brigham Young in the 1860s, with 25 years of hitman service to Smith and Young,  wrote a memoir that spelled out his murderous activities pretty clearly.  The following story comes from that online memoir and gives you the flavor of what the Danites did for the Mormon hierarchy.
When we had got across what was known as the Big Mountain, and into East Cañon, some three or four miles, one Mr. Hartley came to us from Provo City. This Hartley was a young lawyer who had come to Salt Lake from Oregon the fall before, and had married a Miss Bullock, of Provo, a respectable lady of a good family. But word had come to Salt Lake (so said, I never knew whether it did or not), that he had been engaged in some counterfeiting affair. He was a fine-looking, intelligent young man. He told me he had never worked any in his life, and was going to Fort Bridger or Green River to see if he could not get a job of clerking, or something that he could do. But previous to this, at the April Conference, Brigham Young, before the congregation, gave him a tremendous blowing up, calling him all sorts of bad names, and saying he ought to have his throat cut, which made him feel very bad. He declared he was not guilty of the charges.

I saw [Mormon Apostle] Orson Hyde looking very sour at him, and after he had been in camp an hour or two, Hyde told me that he had orders from Brigham Young, if he came to Fort Supply to have him used up. "Now," said he, "I want you and George Boyd to do it." I saw him, and Boyd talking together; then Boyd came to me and said: "It's all right, Bill; I will help you to kill that fellow." One of our teams was two or three miles behind, and

Orson Hyde wished me to go back and see if anything had happened to it. Boyd saddled his horse to go with me, but Hartley stepped up and said he would go if Boyd would let him have his horse. Orson Hyde said: "Let him have your horse," which Boyd did. Orson Hyde then whispered to me: "Now is your time; don't let him come back." We started, and about half a mile on had to cross the cañon stream, which was midsides to our horses. While crossing, Hartley got a shot and fell dead in the creek. His horse took fright and ran back to camp.
A more contemporary Mormon insider, Martin Wishnatsky, writes about the chilling Mormon practice of 'holy murder':
Numerous firsthand accounts of the early days of Mormonism amply documented the truth that "holy murder" had indeed been practiced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These executions, carried out by a private police force known as the "High Police," took various forms in keeping with the temple oaths. Slitting the throat is the one most commonly mentioned. Presumably once this one has been inflicted, the others are no longer necessary. These ceremonial killings were described euphemistically as "saving" the victim, as in "Where is so and so? We haven't seen him lately." "Oh, didn't you hear? He got 'saved' the other night." "Fed him to the catfish" had its place as did the phrases "used him up," "slipped his breath," "put him out of the way," and "sent him over the rim." After the migration to Utah, the term "salt him down in the lake" came into vogue.

Just as the French have a great variety of terms for describing foods that are lacking in English, the early Mormons had many words for murder, reflecting their peculiar involvement with this craft. Invoking vengeance on the disloyal was known as "praying for our enemies." Killing them secretly was known as "not letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing."

Joseph Smith taught his followers that to kill those who violated their covenants was praiseworthy in the eyes of God. The first endowment ceremony, he explained, took place on the Mount of Transfiguration, where Christ instructed Peter, James and John in the secret handshakes and then bound them with oaths of blood should they ever forsake their loyalty to Him. This doctrine appears frequently in Church writings, and is cited in the work Doctrines of Salvation written by Joseph Fielding Smith, Prophet of the Church in the years 1970-72. After coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration, the Apostles bound the other members of the twelve to loyalty on penalty of death as well. When Judas betrayed Christ, they killed him in fulfillment of their endowment oaths. An eyewitness reports that Joseph Smith "talked of dissenters and cited us to the case of Judas, saying that Peter told him in a conversation a few days ago that he himself hung Judas for betraying Christ . . . ." The Reed Peck Manuscript (1839).

Danite Assassin
The idea that Christ taught His apostles to kill His enemies continued in the Church after Joseph Smith's death in 1844. In a Sunday sermon given in Salt Lake City in the late 1850's, Heber C. Kimball, grandfather of the current Mormon prophet, explained again that the apostles killed Judas in keeping with their endowment oaths. "It is said in the Bible," related Kimball, "that Judas' bowels gushed out, but they actually kicked him until his bowels came out." He declared his determination to enforce in Utah the same penalties that Peter and John had inflicted in Jerusalem. "I know the day is right at hand," he said, "when men will forfeit their priesthood and turn against us and against the covenants they have made, and they will be destroyed as Judas was." (Journal of Discourses 6:125-126).

The traditional Christian doctrine of "love thy enemies" in Mormon hands after passing through the blood rituals became "kill thy enemies." In Missouri in the 1830's, wrote Benjamin F. Johnson, a friend of Joseph Smith, "we were taught to 'pray for our enemies' that God would damn them and give us power to kill them."

That the death orders came right from the top and that the practice originated with Joseph Smith is well documented. "I have heard the Prophet say," recorded Thomas B. Marsh, "that he would yet tread down his enemies and walk over their dead bodies." (Affidavit, Richmond, Mo., October 24, 1838) One of the original Mormons, John Whitmer, in his memoir of the Church records the following incident: "Smith called a council of the leaders together in which he stated that any person who said a word against the heads of the church should be driven over these prairies as a chased deer by a pack of hounds."

John D. Lee, a member of Joseph Smith's bodyguard, reports:

"I knew of many men being killed in Nauvoo by the Danites (the assassination squad). It was then the rule that all the enemies of Joseph Smith should be killed, and I know of many a man who was quietly put out of the way by the orders of Joseph and his Apostles while the Church was there.

It has always been a well understood doctrine of the church that it was right and praiseworthy to kill every person who spoke evil of the Prophet."

John D. Lee, Mormonism Unveiled, 1891.
Shades of an Islamic fatwah against Salmon Rushdie, or the Catholic Inquisition.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Modern Diversity Within Mormonism

I have been continuing my reading on Mormonism, and as part of my occasional series here on that interesting religion, I want to share an extended quote from an article by the important scholar Jan Shipps on the diversity within Mormonism ('Beyond the Stereotypes: Mormon and Non-Mormon Communities in Twentieth-Century Mormondom', in New Views of Mormon History, Ed. David Bitton and Maureen Beecher, 1987).

Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Salt Lake City
This excerpt, although almost 25 years old now, gets at the question of just how monolithic Mormonism is, and whether it poses any threat to the other 98% of America if a Mormon president is elected.  (My answer, given all I'm reading, is almost surely not.)

(I hope you appreciate the fact that I'm having to type in the text below manually!)
...a useful means of examining the variegated and catholic nature of the world of modern Mormonism is noting how Latter-day Saints are situated along an orthodoxy continuum, on the one hand, and, on the other, a dimension along which is measured levels of church activity and attitudes toward it....

1.  At one extreme are those persons who regard themselves as the only true Mormons, but who are not recognized as Mormons by most Latter-day Saints, i.e. the Mormon "fundamentalists."  In a sense, their beliefs are more than orthodox, in that they accept the Book of Mormon as a historical document...; they accept the LDS doctrinal formulations that were established during the lifetimes of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, but reject the 1890 Manifesto proscribing plural marriage on the basis of its having been promulgated outside a "Thus saith the Lord" context, and they "live the gospel" as fully as they can by joining with like-minded Saints in isolated communities.  In other words, at one of the continuum's extremities one finds...the truest of true believers--the Saints who continue to practice plural marriage.

2.  A second, less extreme category next to this "fundamentalist" one is the one in which is found active, almost superorthodox [LDS] Saints.  These are the persons who seem to be certain that the Book of Mormon is historically accurate and who do not question the versions of LDS history long since canonized by the church.  Saints in this category exhibit a very high level of church activity, not only in attendance at worship, but also in fulfilling church callings.

3.  In a third category...are found Latter-day Saints who accept the truth of the LDS gospel, but concede that it might be held in "earthen vessels."  These are persons who are not very worried about whether the Book of Mormon is history in the ordinary understanding of that term, as long as the book's narrative captures and represents truth in some abstract sense....They are generally active, not only in worship and in carrying out church callings, but they also tend to be active in quasi-official LDS organizations such as the Mormon History Association or the various Sunstone symposia.

4.  Then there is a Mormon group that fits in the central category in this classification scheme.  Their thought patterns were formed by their immersion in Mormon doctrine, but for one reason or another they do not themselves take much of a role in church activities, althought they may send their children to Sunday School and sacrament meeting.  They are not hostile to the institution or to other Saints.  This category includes "cultural" and/or "ethnic" Mormons, large numbers of whom do not reside in Utah.

5.  Moving further from the center is a category that might be described as mildly anti-Mormon.  Popularly known as "Jack-Mormons", such Saints are located between the category that includes "cultural" or "ethnic" Mormons and a category that includes Saints hostile to the LDS Church and contemptuous toward its active members.  This is a fairly heavily populated category that embraces inactive Mormons of many stripes, including those who are more amused than threatened by the actions of the members of the LDS ecclesiastical hierarchy.

6.  A second "Jack-Mormon" category includes Latter-day Saints whose level of hostility toward the church as an institution is fairly high, who deny that in LDS scriptures might be repositories of truth, and whose attitude toward active and committed Mormons is generally one of contempt.  This category often includes persons who have been disfellowshipped or even excommunicated, but who have not rejected their Mormon ethnicity.

7.   Finally, at the opposite extreme from the Mormon fundamentalists is a category in which are found the ex-Mormons who are extremely antagonistic not only toward the LDS Church hierarchy, but toward anything Mormon.  Truly anti-Mormon, the persons in this category believe that Mormonism is so dangerous that they expend an enormous amount of energy denigrating Mormon theology and opposing the LDS Church and its authority in the community.
Based on what I have observed, I would place Mitt Romney in the second category above, of the 'superorthodox' Mormons, whereas Jon Huntsman seems to fit better into the fourth category of 'ethnic' Mormon. The thought has occurred to me that Romney, having grown up and lived most of his life (except for college and a brief stint before the 2002 Winter Olympics) outside of Utah, might find it easier to adhere more closely to the church, whereas Huntsman, having grown up in the more culturally stifling Mormon environment of Utah, would naturally find himself more of the renegade.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What To Look For In A President

A thoughtul short essay by former Senator Gary Hart on the intelligence needed for the modern Presidency:
Thomas Jefferson, Third President and writer of the
Declaration of Independence
For obvious reasons, there is considerable discussion going on about how much a candidate should know in order to be a credible candidate for the presidency. The Constitution imposes no I.Q. test. But it was written at a time when many Founders read and sometimes even spoke classical Greek and Latin, were products of the Enlightenment, and knew history and, in the case of Jefferson and others, science and a whole range of things. There was an unwritten and unspoken assumption of intelligence.

Holding national office these days is way more complicated. Economics, including fiscal and monetary policies, is global and interwoven. Unlike the simpler, black and white Cold War days, foreign policy is multi-layered and gray and plaid. Security is about a lot more than counting missiles, planes, and tanks and increasing military spending.

No individual can know all these things, the argument goes, so let's look for a leader who has good judgment and picks the right people to listen to. There is much to be said for this. But we all know it takes a pretty keen mind, honed by study, travel, experience, and exposure to competing ideas, to form good judgment and to know whom to trust on complex substantive issues. Neither Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, nor John Kennedy were intellectual giants. But the keenness of their respective minds was revealed every day. And they were not threatened by smart people around them.

A leader must be able to see farther ahead than most others, must generate creative new ideas and policies for new challenges and times, and must be able to convince the rest of us to try those ideas. A leader must have an inquisitive and inquiring mind. National leaders are rarely those who force a complex world into a simple orthodox box and refuse to look outside it.

Most of all it is the combination of commitment to historic principles and ideals, those at the core of Western civilization and our Constitution and Bill or Rights, and openness to consideration of innovative solutions to emerging new challenges and realities within the framework of those principles that marks the great leader. It is for each of us to decide which of the candidates comes closest to meeting this standard.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jeb Bush Backs Jon Huntsman

[Update: Someone brought to my attention that this was actually Jeb Bush, Jr., the son of the Florida governor.  Oops.  Gonna change the picture.]

Jeb Bush Jr.
Now this is interesting.  Just got it via email.
There are just under 12 months left before we wrap up the one and ONLY term of President Barack Obama! I am proud to support Jon Huntsman, a proven job creator who offers leadership and solutions we can trust. I am doing all I can here in Florida and across the nation to help him win. I’ve already donated to his campaign, and I ask that you match my donation with one of your own. Jon’s campaign is pushing hard to finish November strong financially.

Please consider helping today by matching my donation with one of your own today.

To do so, simply visit Jon’s website at www.jon2012.com. It’s secure and will only take a minute of your time. You can also help by sending this email to 5 of your friends or your entire email list with a personal note asking your friends to support Jon as well. I would be so grateful if you would go that extra step to help Jon and our campaign finish November strongly!

He’s been campaigning hard across New Hampshire and just yesterday held his 100th event there. A remarkable contribution that you should support today with your most generous donation to Governor Huntsman's campaign.

Less than one year from now, Americans must once again choose which direction our country will take. We need to make certain Governor Jon Huntsman is the Republican we have in place to defeat President Obama.

Standing proudly with Jon Huntsman,

Jeb Bush, Jr.

Same Old Newt

So how else do you think he could afford all that jewelry from Tiffany's?  Such a scuzzball.

The Udalls Break the Mormon Stereotype

In connection with my series of posts on Mormonism, the following information seems relevant. From today's news:

One of the Mormon Udalls, Senator Mark Udall of Colorado

A bipartisan group of senators is calling on President Obama to accelerate the United States' withdrawal from Afghanistan, arguing that the timetable the administration has laid out is not rapid enough as the nation grapples with its own economic problems at home.

The resolution says Obama should "expedite the transition of the responsibility for military and security operations to the Government of Afghanistan," in addition to "expediting the drawdown of United States combat troops in Afghanistan and accelerating the transfer of security authority to Afghan authorities prior to December 2014."

The amendment has bipartisan support; it's backed by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
Something sounded familiar here, so I looked up Tom Udall on Wikipedia and found this:
Tom Udall's family can be traced to territorial New Mexico, and he was born in Tucson, Arizona. He attended Prescott College, graduating with a pre-law degree in 1970. In 1975, he graduated from Cambridge University in England with a Bachelor of Law degree....He is the son of Stewart Udall, who was Secretary of the Interior from 1961 to 1969, nephew of Arizona Congressman Morris Udall, and first cousin of Colorado Senator Mark Udall, double second cousin of former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, and second cousin of Utah Senator Mike Lee. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
So, talk about diversity. Here you have three Democratic and two Republican Senators calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Religiously, two are Lutherans (Brown and Merkley), one is Presbyterian (Paul), and two are Mormons (Udall and Lee, who are, as it says above, second cousins).

Another blow to the stereotype of Mormons being mindless, knee-jerk, super-hawkish conservatives.

However, they do clearly own the West!  (Tom Udall's cousin Mark Udall is the Senator from next-door Colorado--geesh!)  I say, let's just turn the country over the Westerners. They seem to have their bipartisan act together.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Earning His Peace Prize

Elizabeth Economy, Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in the Atlantic today along the lines of my two recent posts on Obama's new Asia policy:

For many observers, President Obama's trip represents a "return to Asia." The truth is that the United States never left Asia; it was just focused elsewhere in the region. Mostly, Washington was busy banging its head against the wall trying to find ways to work constructively with China (translation: get the Chinese to change their economic, political, and security policies) and to persuade North Korea to step back from the nuclear brink. Suffice it to say that neither effort yielded a significant return. The president and his team have now realized that it is much more substantively productive and politically profitable to spend time with people whose overall political values, economic practices, and strategic interests are generally aligned with those of the United States--namely all the important players in the region except for China.

Beijing's reaction to President Obama's initiatives in the region, unsurprisingly, has been one of deep unhappiness. In conversations I had with Chinese officials last week in Beijing, it was clear that they believed the United States was 1) done with the Middle East and now turning its focus to the Asia Pacific in an effort to contain China, 2) stirring up trouble for China among otherwise friendly countries in the region, and 3) developing the "mysterious" TPP as an anti-China economic strategy. There was no official recognition that at the outset it was China's assertive behavior that created the circumstances in which the United States could play such an enhanced role in the region. Forgotten or ignored were Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's comments at the 2010 ASEAN Regional Forum that "China is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that's just a fact"; the continued sparring between Chinese vessels and those of its neighbors in the East and South China Sea; and the general unattractive nationalist rhetoric of Beijing's official newspapers warning that if countries in Asia "don't want to change their ways" they will need to "prepare for the sound of cannons."

In some respects, Washington has done little more than to take advantage of Beijing's missteps.
The beautiful thing about this is that Obama hasn't had to do any hawkish posturing or 'tough talk' or neo-con style China bashing.   All he has to do is start working cooperatively and proactively with all the American allies in the region, and China suddenly feels threatened.

I think we're beginning to see a President who is looking more confident about and comfortable in his international role.  You know, maybe Obama is finally beginning to earn that Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded a few years ago.

I just hope that our pathetic--and possibly worsening--economy doesn't ruin all of this.

China and the United States

In a discussion about the respective merits of Obama and Romney's foreign policy, Andrew Sullivan writes:
[Secretary of Defense Leon]Panetta keeps talking about a much reduced military presence in the world as if that were a bad thing. But why should the US with no serious state enemy in the world like the USSR be spending almost as much on "defense" as we did in the Cold War? What on earth are we doing adding a military base in Australia to piss off China? Why shouldn't China have a sphere of influence in the Pacific? Nowhere has Obama challenged these neo-imperial assumptions, buttressed by what Eisenhower warned us about. We'd still have a permanent presence in Iraq if the Pentagon had its way. And why on earth do we have so many troops in Europe? It's absurd. Absurd.

Chinese Aircraft Carrier
Normally, I would agree with Sullivan on this, because I do think we spend too much on our global military machine and that we need to go on a diet in terms of our military-industrial complex.

Yet....short of complete retrenchment and repudiation of our post-WWII global commitments, we remain a major global power, with allies who depend upon us.

This is particularly true in Asia, I think. Australia is of course a long-time, English-speaking friend within the Anglo-American alliance, so I don't see a problem at all with having a few hundred or thousand Marines based there for use in the South Pacific.  Americans and Aussies have fought and died together for over a century now in a variety of wars, so why stop working together now?

But then you have relationships with friendly countries going back decades if not centuries, who are relying on the United States to 'have their back' with regard to the growing economic and military power of China.  These include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia (where Obama lived as a child), Malaysia, Thailand, even Vietnam, with whom we have quite friendly relations now. If we were to completely abandon this area militarily, then these countries could easily get in a situation with regard to China where they would capitulate much more quickly to overwhelming Chinese power, than if they knew the U.S. Navy was just over the horizon.

Furthermore, this kind of subtle military commitment helps us to be an economic player as well with all these countries. And it is East Asia that will be the economic powerhouse of the coming century.

Having said all this, this doesn't mean we have to have a great power confrontation with China. Being nuclear powers mean that neither the U.S. and China will rush to military engagement that could lead to a nuclear exchange.

Frankly, I think we are more likely to keep China as a basically friendly economic power, if we show them that we will do our best to keep them honest in the area of international relations.  And as Obama well knows, that's a very Niebuhrian way to look at it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why America Didn't Like the Mormons In the Beginning

So, what's not to like about Mormons?  They are polite, generous, thoughtful, family-oriented, well-educated, articulate, loyal, devout, patriotic, self-reliant, industrious, frugal, self-disciplined, sober, neat, well-dressed, and, sometimes, quite wealthy.

Case in point: Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman.  Look at them, and you will see Mormonism at its best.  Just put aside your (or their) political or religious orientation for a second, and simply look at them as individuals and American citizens, and I think you'll agree.

(Now occasionally someone goes off the reservation, so to speak.  Case in point: Glenn Beck.  But perhaps you can chalk that up to the fact that he's an adult convert and not a cradle Mormon.)

Mormon boys at Worship
 This is the amazing image that Mormons have sought to convey over the last century or so, and they have largely succeeded.  And it's the reason Mormons are one of the fastest growing religions in the world.  They seem to have something that a lot of people admire and want.

Yet, it's not always been that way.

As I stated in my last post on Mormonism, the original Mormon movement--involving thousands of people even in the early years--moved en masse four times in 17 years between 1830 and 1847.  Why?  Primarily because they were so disliked by their neighbors, to the point where their Mormon way of life, and sometimes even their very lives, were in danger if they stayed where they were.

What was it about those early Mormons that upset their neighbors so much?  It's not always clear why that was the case, but there are several reasons that stick out when you study the matter closely.

First of all, wherever Mormons went, they stood apart from the rest of the society around them in their religious views.  They read from a sacred text other than the Bible--the Book of Mormon--which they thought of as scripture.  Furthermore, they considered all other Christians in the world as corrupted and apostate, and only themselves as the true church of Jesus Christ  They treated their leader, Joseph Smith, as a prophet like unto Moses and Elijah, and eventually, like unto Jesus Christ himself, which tended to be offensive and almost blasphemous to your more 'run-of-the-mill' Christians.  Indeed, their prophet was constantly delivering new revelations and prophecies, which superseded both the Bible and the Book of Mormon.  (These revelations eventually became a part of Mormon scripture, in what is known as the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.)

These purely religious differences, by themselves, wouldn't necessarily have gotten the Mormons into trouble, however.  People on the American frontier were used to religious diversity, as well as new, enthusiastic religious groups (of which there were many in those days of the Second Great Awakening) so that alone wouldn't likely have done it.

Lieutenant General Joseph Smith in Nauvoo
 The second reason Mormons got into trouble was that they tended to use their growing political power to get their way and to take political control.  Whenever thousands of Mormons moved into a new community, especially like those on the frontier that weren't that large to begin with, they would very shortly be seen as a political threat to those who were already there.  And in the case of the Mormons, they normally voted in a block, as determined by their leaders.

This was particularly true in Missouri and Illinois.  In those Mormon settlements, there was a distinct theocratic interest on the part of Joseph Smith and the other Mormon leaders.  In other words, they wished to set up a political Kingdom of God, (what Smith called a 'theodemocracy') in preparation for the coming millenium of Jesus Christ, which they expected in the very near future.  We see an extreme case of this in Nauvoo, Illinois, where Joseph Smith successfully secured a charter for the Mormon city from the Illinois legislature, which essentially allowed him to establish an independent city-state, with himself as the civil, ecclesiastical, and military leader, all rolled into one.

It is no accident that Joseph Smith actually ran for President of the United States in 1844 from Nauvoo, believing that he could establish a Mormon theocracy in the entire United States.  His drive for political power was no doubt a part of what led to his death at the hand of a mob in June of that year.

The third reason the early Mormons got into trouble with their non-Mormon neighbors is the issue of Joseph Smith's adulterous sexual behavior, which he termed 'plural marriage' and which eventually became the standard and accepted 19th century Mormon polygamous lifestyle in Utah and other Mormon-dominated communities.  Quite early on, Joseph Smith began to seek out sexual relationships with women other than his wife Emma.  These were sometimes young teenage girls, and sometimes they were the wives of his Mormon followers.  He tried to keep it hidden, both from his wife and most other Mormons, yet that is obviously easier said than done.

So as time went on, more and more of his own followers became outraged with Smith's sexual mores and would let the word out that some really immoral things were going on.  Most Mormons didn't believe that their prophet would do such a thing, and he in turn denied it publicly.  Yet, simultaneously within his inner circle of male followers, he began to push the idea of 'plural marriage' as a Mormon 'privilege', along with the theological justification for it. 

Eventually, this unacceptable sexual behavior was the immediate cause that led to Joseph Smith's death.  It was the intense disagreement over this issue of polygamy that generated severe internal dissension among Mormons in Nauvoo, which led to the formation of an opposition newspaper, which led to Smith's attack on and destruction of the newspaper, which led to his arrest and imprisonment, and which finally led to his assassination by an anti-Mormon mob.

In some ways, it is almost a miracle that Mormonism survived the death of Joseph Smith (and I assume that Mormons do indeed consider it a miracle).  And perhaps it wouldn't have survived in any significant way, except that Brigham Young, Smith's replacement as 'prophet', decided to take whatever Mormons would go across the Great Plains on a 1,300 mile 'great trek' to somewhere they could live free and apart from non-Mormons and the United States government, which they considered their enemy. 

So the Mormon faithful left Nauvoo by wagon train in 1846, and over the next year or two, some 20,000 Mormons emigrated from the state of Illinois into the unsettled, frontier lands beyond the Rockies, then belonging to Mexico.  They immediately established what they called the State of Deseret, and began to colonize the entire region in order to make it into their very own Mormon Kingdom of God.

And they largely succeeded for the next several decades.  What became the Territory of Utah was the Mormon Church's and Brigham Young's own little theopolitical Kingdom, and he ran it with an iron hand.  The Mormon religion was the effective established religion, and the Church dominated the political system, the economy, and the culture.  Polygamy became the public order of the day and the normative way to structure marriages and families. 

Non-Mormons were persona non grata in Utah, sometimes leading to such infamous atrocities such as the Mountain Meadow Massacre.  Dissenting Mormons were shunned, and sometimes even murdered by the Mormon thugs called Danites, under the Brigham Young doctrine of 'blood atonement'.

I think it is possible to say that, for the first two decades of its existence at least, Mormon Utah was, for all intents and purposes, a near-totalitarian, theocratic, patriarchal society, under the total control of the Mormon hierarchy (15 men) and their leader, Brigham Young.  Not all that unlike Saudi Arabia, perhaps, just without the oil and robes and camels.

As word got out to the rest of the country throughout the middle of the 19th century, of the strange goings on in Mormonland, alarm bells rang out and the federal government became more and more concerned.  They attempted to exert control over the terrriory through non-Mormon governors and U.S. marshalls, and finally, in the late 1880s, laws were passed in Congress that outlawed polygamy, and when this wasn't sufficient, laws that outlawed the Mormon Church itself.  Mormon Church properties were seized and its polygamous leaders imprisoned (or they went underground, such as in the case of the Third President, John Taylor, who died on the run from the law).

Mormon polygamists in Utah jail, 1888
 And that did it.  Beginning in 1890 with the famous Manifesto, and certainly by the onset of World War I, the Mormon Church accepted the fact that it had to begin to accomodate itself to the federal government and to American culture.  Polygamy went underground, practiced mostly by renegade fundamentalist Mormons, and the bulk of the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, went mainstream.  Meanwhile, many more non-Mormons had moved to Utah, reducing the Mormon majority and creating a more diverse community and state.

Mormonism had started down the path to becoming what it is today, a perfectly normal, very successful and rich American religion.

Occupy 2.0

It's actually a blessing in disguise that the Occupy camps are being broken up and disbanded.  This incarnation of Occupy has run its course and has done what it was meant to do.  Recently it was just degenerating into a standoff with the city officials and the police.  And that isn't at all what it's about.

Now, Occupy needs to take the original intention and energy and morph into some new and improved.

Obama in Asia

News that will be overlooked by many is that President Obama is in Australia, signing a new basing agreement with the Aussies.
President Obama and Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia announced plans on Wednesday for the first sustained American military presence in Australia, a relatively small deployment that is still a major symbol of American intentions to use regional alliances to counterbalance a rising China.

Since World War II, the United States has had military bases and much larger forces in Japan and South Korea, in the north Pacific, but the arrangement with Australia will put an American footprint closer to the southern reaches of the South China Sea. The sea, a major commercial route — including for American exports — has been roiled by China’s aggressive claims of control.

Like Australia, China’s neighbors in Southeast Asia have looked to the United States to increase its military presence as a counterweight to Beijing. Mr. Obama has sought to provide that assurance, but the Asia-Pacific allies are well aware of the intense pressure for budget-cutting in Washington, and fear that squeezed military spending and other factors may inhibit Mr. Obama’s ability to follow through.

The United States and other Pacific Rim nations are also negotiating for a free-trade bloc that does not include China, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The tentative trade agreement was a topic over the weekend in Honolulu, where Mr. Obama hosted the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, and it will be discussed again later this week when he becomes the first American president to participate in the East Asia Summit, on Indonesia’s island of Bali.

For China, the week’s developments could suggest both an economic and military encirclement. For the United States and its Pacific Rim allies, they suggest a growing concern over China’s muscle.

But Mr. Obama said, “The notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken.”
This may not look very important, but it is a small piece in a much larger strategic mosaic being crafted by this Nixonian president of ours.  Forty years ago, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger laid the foundation for a detente with our Cold War enemies, the Soviet Union and Red China, mostly behind the scenes and in a very stealthy way.

In a similar fashion, beneath the radar of the American public, Obama is quietly but carefully laying the foundation for a new strategy to counter the growing global influence of China.

This is at least in part what was going on in Libya.  China had been working with Gaddafi to develop their oil fields, and most of those Chinese left when the Libyan rebellion started.  Likewise, our increasingly involvement recently in Africa is in great part an attempt to block or match Chinese involvement in that continent.

Now with the Asia-Pacific region, Obama is reassuring our Asian allies--the Japanese, the Koreans, the Taiwanese, the Philippines, etc.--that we aren't going anywhere, and that while China may be a growing regional power, they aren't going to totally dominate Asia anytime soon, if we have anything to say about it.

This is Obama the practitioner of Realpolitik, the successor to Franklin Roosevelt, JFK, and Richard Nixon. I believe this is what Obama likes best. He doesn't much care for the economics stuff, he really dislikes the political aspect of the job, and, truth be told, there is very little of the populist in him.

But moving the pieces around the global chessboard, and doing it for real aboard Air Force One in his leather flight jacket?  Now that is fun, and makes the rest of his job worth doing.

Unfortunately, it may not be enough to get him reelected, since most Americans don't give a rat's behind about foreign policy.  All they want are jobs, jobs, jobs.

Move West, Always West: Mormonism As a Frontier Religion

So when you hear the word 'Mormon', what do you think of?

Utah and Salt Lake City.  Genealogy.  Polygamy.  Joseph Smith.  Brigham Young University.  Two young, smiling male missionaries in white shirts and ties with backpacks, trying to convince you that the Book of Mormon is true.  Huge temples in strategic places where secret rituals take place.

Brigham Young University
When you look at this list of descriptive words/phrases, the word I bet you don't think of is 'Christian'.  Nothing in this list of Mormon images comes across as what we normally think of as Christian. But whether Mormonism, in the final analysis, is Christian or not, it certainly is an American religious phenomenon like no other.

The Mormon Church originated here in America over 180 years ago, and it has now grown to become larger than many mainline Protestant churches, including the Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians.  The Catholics, Baptists, and some other evangelical churches are, of course, still much bigger than the Latter Day Saints church, but there are as many Mormons as there are Jews in the U.S (somewhere around 6 million each or 1.7% of the population).    So it looks like the Mormons are taking their place as one of the many brightly-colored flowers which make up the religious landscape of America.  They are here to stay, so we might as well get to know each other.

It wasn't always that way.  There were any number of times in the first 60 years of their existence when they almost shriveled up and died.  After their birth as a church and religious movement in 1830 near Rochester, New York, Joseph Smith and his small band of followers moved within two years to Kirtland, Ohio (near Cleveland).  After six years in Kirtland, where they were almost destroyed by internal dissent and external opposition, they picked up and moved again to western Missouri, where they believed was going to come and establish his millennial kingdom.  After a year or so there, the Missourians rose up and went to war with Mormons, and arrested Joseph Smith.  Yet they moved once again to Commerce, Illinois (which they called Nauvoo), where they built a city and became a true civil, military, and ecclesiastical force to be reckoned with.

Four locations in 14 years.  (It sounds like my life as a itinerant Methodist preacher!)  Each time they moved, some of the Latter Day Saints fell away out of disenchantment or disgust with Joseph Smith, yet more were added at the next place.  So, as they moved, they always kept growing.

Then in 1844, at the ripe old age of 39, Joseph Smith, founder and prophet, was assassinated by a anti-Mormon mob in a jail in Carthage, Illinois.  It seems like the Mormon movement should have fallen apart right then and there.  And they probably would have except for an extraordinary Mormon named Brigham Young, who had been one of Smith's most able followers from the beginning.  Young took over the leadership of the barely 15 year old movement, then led them across the Great Plains to then unpopulated Great Intermountain Basin of the Salt Lake Valley.  There, they built a Mormon empire that has survived intact to this very day. 

The name of this 'Mormon St. Peter' has been immortalized in the Mormon university bearing his name, located in Provo, Utah, which is now the largest religious university in the United States (34,000 students).  Did you know that every student at Brigham Young University takes a vow to not drink alcohol or coffee, smoke, or have sexual relations outside of marriage?  And if they violate those personal rules, they're out.  Imagine that, if you can, in 21st century America.

One important thing to remember about Mormonism is that it was always a frontier religion.  It was born on the American frontier in early Western New York, and it kept moving west, always west.  Whenever it was no longer welcome because of its strange beliefs or lifestyle, it would pull up stakes and move further west.  New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, and finally, Utah.

Virtually every other religion in America has been imported from outside this land.  Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregationalism, Lutheran, Baptist, and Methodist traditions all came from Europe and were already hundreds of years old when they arrived (Methodism was the youngest, having been founded by John Wesley in 1738).  Judaism was the oldest of all. 

All of these older faith traditions had already gone through a process of maturation and evolution; they had developed their theological and moral traditions and were, in a way, 'civilized' before they arrived on these rough and rugged shores of this new world.  Mormonism, on the other hand, had to accomplish those essential tasks here in this rather uncivilized place, right before the very eyes of everyone else.  And that, I think, accounts for much of its apparent strangeness.

Which leads me to the final point of this post.  One of the lessons I have learned from my research on Mormonism is that, for conceptual purposes, its history can bisected into halves, which roughly span its life in the 19th century and then in the 20th.  More precisely, each half consists of 90 years: 1830-1920 and 1920-2010.

And it is hard to conceive of two more different histories than the first half and the second half of this movement called Mormonism. Reconciling these differences is the key to understanding Mormonism and its role in American life today.

More to come.

Mormonism: An American Original

In the mudwrestling contest called the Republican Nomination Process, it's looking more and more like, when it's all said and done, there will be two guys left standing . Two guys who don't have some major, disqualifying flaw and who, when you hear them talk and see them on the TV screen, look and sound like they could be President.

And, oddly enough, those two guys are both Mormons.

Which brings me to my major point in this post:  Mormonism is as American as mom and apple pie.

Believe me, I wouldn't have put it this way two weeks ago, when I started my intensive research project into the Mormon religion. Given that it's a live possibility that we could for the first time wind up as of November, 2012, with a Mormon as President of the United States, I thought that I would, once and for all, figure out what makes Mormonism 'tick'.

As a professional clergyman of the Methodist persuasion, I have studied and analyzed religious issues with deep interest and curiosity for over 40 years now, including nine years of formal undergraduate and graduate school.  And yet, Mormonism was not one of those topics that I could say that I adequately understood (to the extent that you can say that about anything you are not personally involved with).

A pile of books and hundreds of internet pages later, now I do.

To understand the origins of Mormonism is to understand 19th century America.  And to understand Mormonism as it currently exists is to understand 20th century America.  They are us. 

I know that sounds strange, given how alien and strange the Mormon faith seem to so many of us, with its sacred undergarments, its polygamy, etc., but it's true.  I'll try to demonstrate that here--as well as try to convey the essence of Mormonism--over the course of future posts on the Mormon faith.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Excuses, Excuses

If you don't read Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast, you don't know what you're missing.  Anyway, here's another of his contributions on the Penn State scandal.
A resident of State College writes:

"About Mike McQueary ... people outside Happy Valley should understand that Sandusky was not just a former coach of his at Penn State. McQueary grew up in town here, and his parents and the Sandusky family are long-time friends. And so when he walked into that shower scene, he was not just seeing some "random guy" or even a former coach. He was seeing someone he's known since he was a boy, and we don't know if there was even perhaps some 'history' between the two, or with some of McQueary's other friends who were in the same environment. At the least, it would have been like seeing his own uncle in there, and talking to his father first doesn't seem so strange when you think about it that way."

Yes it f**king does [stars are mine]. If you see anyone - even your own father - raping a ten year old in the showers, the first thing you do is stop it yourself. You don't even call the cops right away. You clock the rapist in the head or drag the boy out of his clutches. I'm so sick of these excuses for the inexcusable. McQueary is as depraved as all the others who stood by and did nothing.

Heaven Aboard the USS Carl Vinson

The UNC-Michigan State basketball game aboard the USS Carl Vinson was a classic melding of two greatly beloved American institutions: sports and the military. Add the automobile to it and you have the real American Trinity, the three gods before which we bow on a regular basis.

Sports, Military, and Cars.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

These three deities (and actually, I could have chosen a different set of three, like alcohol, sex, and gambling, but they're not as 'respectable') provide us Americans all the grace we need, at least for now. They keep us joyful when we've got the blues. They give us pride when we're being dissed by others. They provide us fellowship when we gather for worship. And when the stock market has had a bad day, we can turn on a worship service on ESPN or FOX and go to the Lord in prayer.

Few of us (except Mormons and some Southern Baptists) actually tithe our income to our church, but tithing to these American gods is no problem at all. We're happy to spend ten percent or more of our income on their upkeep. Think about it. Can you even imagine how much money it cost to stage that basketball game the other day? It boggles the mind. Just getting the Commander in Chief and his wife there on Air Force One probably cost more than I've paid in taxes my entire life. But fortunately, when it comes to our true religion, we will spare no expense.

Of course, the 'Holy of Holies' of our American religion is the annual Super Bowl. The football teams are the best America can produce, the F16s that fly overhead and the latest celebrity rendition of the National Anthem are awesome. And of course, the majority of the ads between plays are for the latest cars, virtually none of which I'll ever be able to afford. Americans gather in little congregations called 'Super Bowl Parties' to worship and have communion. And God forbid if any Christian church schedules an event that competes with the Super Bowl. Fahget about it! (Or instead, just do a Souper Bowl Party!)

The fact of the matter is that we're not going to cut the Defense budget, because it has become a part of our national religion. Just as the 'bridges and highways' for our cars are the things we'll spend tax money on to provide 'jobs, jobs, jobs', so too we need every single aircraft carrier we've got, even if it's only to provide a mobile floor on which to conduct our athletic worship. There is no doubt about it, aircraft carriers are cool and necessary.

And in closing, just to buttress my case here, I'm going to mention one of the great denominations of our national religion: the Penn State football program.  Let's just leave it at that.

It shouldn't need saying that things like sports, military, and cars have their proper place in life.  They certainly do.  But there is a point where they cross the line from normal to something more (or less).  And I think we've crossed that line.

Yes, truly, we Americans are a very religious people. It's just that we left behind those traditional religions like Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism a long time ago. This new American religion is just a whole lot more fun.