A random act of bread

Yesterday, my life was blessed by a random act of bread.

I was in rehearsal, giving a few final notes before we began our run-through, when Andi Pitcher Davis walked into the theater, carrying a large warm loaf of Mormon whitebread. It was round and brown and smelled delicious; later, as my cast and I dug in, it tasted even better than it smelled.  Burnt into the top crust was this: Fountain Bread. This, I recognized as a sly and witty comment on my recent post on Ayn Rand.  The Fountainhead, Fountain Bread?  I got the joke, and loved it, both the bread and the witticism burned in its crust.

I had never previously in my life met Andi.  She’s a charming and delightful woman, who enjoys performing random acts of bread for people in our community she likes, or admires, or anyway thinks would appreciate it.

And driving home from the rehearsal, I saw a homeless family waiting outside a grocery store.  I pulled over, emptied my wallet.  Paying it forward.

The loaf was huge.  My cast and I all ate our fill, and then I took the rest home with me, and my wife and daughter and I had huge chunks of it, spread with butter and jam and peanut butter.  This morning I had some more for breakfast, and we’re still less than half-way finished. Talking about it my wife thought it would go well with our family recipe for Basque Soup.  She’s at the store now, buying sausage for the soup, and we’ll have it tonight for dinner with the bread.

In a Facebook chat with Andi, she wrote:  “That’s what I do. I make bread — hot Mormon Whitebread — and take it to people who inspire — over 300 of them so far. It’s the performance art of Feeding a Culture.”  Andi has a video about her bread which is as lovely as the bread itself.

I think this is the way of the Buddha; performing random acts of kindness, breaking bread with a stranger, connecting through a yeasty, crusted joke.  Google ‘Dalai Lama’ and ‘kindness’ and see the quotations from a man whose religion was kindness.

But bread, man, bread’s special, bread’s the staff of life.  We break bread as an act of community and friendship–once a week, in Church, we break bread together in fellowship.  Bread nourishes.

When I was a missionary, slogging through the snow and ice of northern Norway, we taught a very elderly gentleman who had been a Pentecostal minister prior to investigating Mormonism.  Two other elders in my district had tracted him up, and as they approached his home, he saw them through the window, and charged to his door full of righteous indignation, ready to give them what for.  He opened the door, and was shocked to find he’d been struck dumb.  Asked if he’d like a copy of the Book of Mormon, he signaled that he would.  By their next visit, two days later, he’d read it cover to cover four times over, and had become cross-referencing it to his Bible. And he’d recovered his voice.

President Hinckley used to say, to good people of other faiths, that it was never the intention of Mormonism to rob them of anything, merely to add to their own spirituality and witness.  Our elderly investigator illustrated the point. He was beside himself with joy, to discover that Jesus, who he loved, had provided the world more words we could read. We asked him once, if the Spirit he felt when he read the Book of Mormon was the same spirit he felt when he read his deeply beloved Bible.  And he said “yes, but richer.  When I read both books now, the Spirit is richer.”

At one of our visits, his deeply concerned pastor showed up.  We had a nice visit. The pastor was baffled at this strange interest in Mormonism taken by a man he’d previously regarded as a mentor.  And in frustration, he picked up the Book of Mormon, held it up, and shook it, shouting “what is this?  What is this?”  And our elderly friend said this–I’ll never forget it.  He said “You know, the Children of Israel asked Moses that very question once.  They woke up one morning, and this manna stuff was laying around everywhere. And they picked it up, and in confusion they showed it to Moses and said, “‘what is this?’”  And what he said to them, I say to you.  It is the bread God has given you to eat.”

The bread God has given you to eat.  The bread of scripture, the bread of all scriptures from all faiths, as Nephi prophesied:

Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words. . . For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the bookswhich shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

 

All words, all books, all cultures and societies. The Quran and Bhagavad Gita, the wisdom of Confucius and Lao Tzu, Kant and Hegel, Luther and Zwingli, Calvin and Hobbes, Darwin and Einstein, Dr. King and Malcolm X.  Is it possible that they all are bread God has given us to eat?

Meanwhile, I have half a loaf in my kitchen.  I was blessed by a random act of bread.  My life is richer for it.

The NFL referees, and organized Labor

So now that the NFL referees lockout is over, I decide to write about it.  Can’t beat that for timing.

Thing is, I’m not much into football.  I love sports, and I used to love football, especially as played in our back yard with my brothers and our friends.  Tackle football on a narrow back yard liberally festooned with dog poop; it just doesn’t get better than that.  I used to love BYU football, and still follow it, some.  Still root for the 49ers.  Kind of.  But the greatest player in BYU football history, Jim McMahon was just featured in Sports Illustrated.  He’s my age, and he can remember the names of his children about half the time.  So I’m conflicted.Still watch. Wonder if I should.

But then the guys who referee NFL games got locked out by the league in a labor dispute, and much high comedy ensued. The ineffable Bill Simmons had a lot of fun with it.  The replacement refs were really bad.  One, apparently, told one of the players that he (the player) was on his (the refs) fantasy football league.  Another had once reffed in the Lingerie Football league (yes, that’s a real thing, football played by models in lingerie), and had been let go! He wasn’t a good enough ref to work games played by pretty girls in high heels and skimpy undies. Last Monday, on the final play of the Seahawks Packers game, a Hail Mary pass from Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was caught in the end zone by Packers safety MD Jennings, with Seahawks receiver Golden Tate kinda trying to get a hand on it, having previously committed an egregious offensive pass interference infraction.  Somehow the replacement ref called it a game winning touchdown for Tate.  The game was in Seattle, and the ref in question made 60,000 instant highly vocal best friends with his ridiculous call.  One hallmark of a good ref, of course, is a willingness to piss off the home crowd.

After the Monday Night game, ESPN blew up.  SportsCenter, which ESPN airs 17 times a day as mandated by federal law, devoted 53 of its 60 minutes to that one play (authorial estimate), achieving absolute unanimity of opinion: the league needed to back down, scab reffing was a disaster.  The comic highlight came when Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, previously known for his efforts to bust public employee unions in his fine state, found himself weighing in on a national labor dispute on the side of . . . labor.  President Obama chimed in.  So did Governor Romney, and Congressman Ryan opined that the replacement refs offered a similar lack of competence to that shown by the Obama administration.

So the League folded. Tossed in their cards, raised the white flag. The main issue at stake had to do with pensions.  The league had switched all its employees to a 401(k) based system, and the refs didn’t want to switch.  Thought they’d lose retirement benefits.  Turns out, they would have. Not anymore. So now the League gets the good refs back, and Scott Walker can go back to his scorched earth anti-union tactics, and Roger Goodell (NFL commissioner) may want to stay away from Green Bay Wisconsin for awhile.  It’s done.  And last night, Thursday night football, the refs got a standing ovation.

But see here’s the thing.  I have two brothers who are businessmen; in most labor/management disputes, they tend to favor management.  I favor unions.  All the time, without fail, that’s how my knee jerks.  I’m not talking about policy issues, or do unions hurt or help America, or gosh, those greedy public service unions are destroying California and will consume our entire nation if we’re not careful.  I’m not talking economics.  I’m talking viscerally, emotionally, what happens in your gut.  If I hear labor v. management, I’m always taking the side of labor. Probably some time later, I’ll occasionally back down a little, when I’ve been presented with cogent, reasonable, evidence-based arguments.  Not often.

But one of the most (if not THE most) inspiring stories in American history is the story of American labor. The most powerful stories, the most tragic and awful events, the magnificent larger-than-life characters.  It still shocks me that TV hasn’t done something with it.  Ken Burns did such a wonderful job with The Civil War, and Baseball, and Jazz; why hasn’t he done Labor?  What about a major TV mini-series?  History network just did a terrific show about the Hatfields and McCoys.  Watched the whole thing, thought it was great.  Why not Labor?

The characters: Samuel Gompers and Eugene Debs, Cesar Chavez and Wild Bill Haywood.  The Pullman Strike, and the Coal Strike of 1902 and Haywood’s murder trial in Idaho and the rise of the IWW.  These are incredible stories!  There have already been these great movies: Norma Rae and Silkwood and Matewan. Made in Dagenham and Billy Elliot and North Country and heck, even The Grapes of Wrath! I mean, even Disney got into the act, with I still think one of their greatest movies, Newsies!

The story of the NFL refs is sort of silly in comparison.  But unions have never been weaker than right now, and anti-union sentiment fires up the Republican base, while pro-union feeling doesn’t animate the Democratic party to anywhere near the degree it used to.  And at a time when income inequality has never been greater, the rich getting richer and the poor hanging on and the middle class slowly losing ground, unions are considered anachronistic, and still not favored as a viable part of a solution. There’s not talk anymore about organizing, you know, Walmart and McDonalds and Target and Wendys and Subway and convenience store workers and call center employees.  Or all of them; the United Federation of Service Employees. We should.  It would be good for America. But it won’t happen in my lifetime.  So that’s depressing.

A video surfaced recently, Obama talking about the redistribution of wealth.  He was for it, back in 1998.  And Fox News and the Romney campaign pounced, with cries of ‘socialism!’  But government always redistributes wealth.  Always shows favoritism, through tax policy and subsidies and loan guarantees and laws favoring certain companies.  So government welfare is bad?  We should boot out the free-loaders, make them take personal responsibility for their lives?  Yes!  We should.  And let’s start with Archer-Daniels-Midland and Exxon and GE and IBM.

And then unionize K-Mart.

That’s not going to happen.  But hey, at least the refs thing worked out.  It’s nice to see the good guys win every once in awhile.

The Book of Mormon: A biography

One of my favorite books of Bible scholarship, and a terrific dip-your-toes-in-the-water first book for people interested in the subject is Karen Armstrong’s The Bible: A Biography.  It was part of a series called Books That Changed the World, and led me to a livelong fascination with that area of scholarship.  Now comes a similar book: Paul Gutjahr’s The Book of Mormon: a Biography.  It’s a slim volume, 280 pages in a quarto hardback edition, and a very easy read for a scholarly work.

Okay, look, I don’t want to compare Gutjahr to Karen Armstrong.  She’s one of the most important figures in religious scholarship working today; she’s amazing. He’s good, too, is what I’m saying.  Just that The Book of Mormon has to be way easier to write about than the Bible.  We know who wrote/translated The Book of Mormon, and when.  We know exactly when and how and where it was canonized.  We may believe that Alma and Mormon and Moroni and Nephi, the principle authors of the Book, were real people who really lived in an actual ancient world, but we have only one source of information about any of them; it really does all come back to Joseph Smith in Palmyra in 1830. The Bible: heck, for every one of its 66 books, you run into massive issues of transmission and authorship and editorial interpolation and translation and canonization.  Sorting those out is a massive task, which Armstrong is sort of miraculously up to.  Gutjahr’s task is comparatively easy.

There are lots of books about the Book of Mormon, from E.B. Howe to Terryl Givens.  What sets Gutjahr’s book apart, I think, is its even-handedness, its sure-footed reasonableness. I mean it as a compliment to say that at the end of the book, I had no idea whether Paul Gutjahr was LDS or not.  His intent is accurately to describe the current state of both Mormon apologetics, and attacks on the veracity of the Book of Mormon, but not to contribute to either side.  He describes what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has, past and present, understood the Book of Mormon to mean, but also how the Community of Christ understands it, and atheists, and evangelicals; folks for us, against us, and on the fence. (Positing an ‘us’ consisting of believing Mormons, which I consider myself to be, however idiosyncratically).

So when discussing the Book of Mormon‘s origin story–the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, the translation process–Gutjahr just tells it.  Straight-forward narrative, no editorializing or commentary.  Mormonism Unveiled, E. B. Howe, the Spaulding theory?  Same thing.  Just straightforward, here’s what Howe wrote, plus some folks who agreed with him.  I respect that tremendously, and also learned a lot; I didn’t know much about the many variants on the ‘fraudulent Book’ theory, nor the history of the Strangites (boy is there a play there!) or Rigdonites.  A book like this one should introduce you to ten other books you want to read–I’m working my way now through Gutjahr’s bibliography.

The guy’s prose style is clear, jargon-free, smart, calm, dispassionate.  Makes for an easy read.  And while he doesn’t really get into any one issue of Book of Mormon scholarship in much depth, I don’t think that was his intent.  I think his project is to write more a short, one-volume reference book than an exhaustive treatment of any one subject.  So, for example, he talks about FARMS and the Maxwell Institute; he offers a short history of Book of Mormon studies since Hugh Nibley.  That happens to be a history I know pretty well; Jack Welch is a friend of mine, I worked at BYU Studies for awhile, and Boyd Peterson, author of the definitive Hugh Nibley biography is a very close friend indeed. I’m barely orbiting on the periphery of that world, but hey, even Pluto’s a planet. Gutjahr’s discussion of FARMS and Nibley and Welch isn’t long or extensive, but I didn’t catch any mistakes either.  And he at least touches on all the major figures, on John Sorenson and Royal Skousen, on Orson Pratt and Ezra Taft Benson, on John Welch and Terryl Givens.

He includes a final chapter on the Book of Mormon in theatre, film, and other media, which I found disappointingly sparse.  He does touch on some high points: Lester Parks Corianton movie, but does not so much as mention the Orestes Bean play that it’s based on, for example.  He spends more time on the Book of Mormon: The Journey movie than it probably deserves, but not a word about the Living Scriptures animated series, which in my opinion was immensely significant in introducing children to Mormon scripture.  The Book of Mormon Broadway musical is adequately covered, I suppose, but not other plays and musicals based on our sacred Book. Nothing on Leroy Robertson and his Book of Mormon oratorio?  For shame!  He does discuss the Hill Cumorah pageant in some detail, but not the other Church pageants, and he seems to think that pageants themselves are an outdated and vanishing art form, which is hardly the case: the Institute of Outdoor Drama website–http://outdoordrama.unc.edu/–lists hundreds of them performed annually in the US alone.

Still, it’s a darn good book, and a needed one.  If you wanted a one volume introduction of our scripture for someone whose interest was primarily academic, you could hardly do better.

Plus Gutjahr’s a Hoosier.  He teaches at Indiana University, lives in my old home town of Bloomington.  He gets a few hundred coolness points just for that.

 

Ayn Rand

I’m in rehearsal right now, directing Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (which opens at the Covey Center for the Arts Oct. 4; tickets on sale now!).  The cast is very young, with actors playing characters many years older than they are, but they’re enthusiastic and talented and I’m enjoying working with them.  Anyway, we were on break last night, and for some reason the conversation turned to books we read in high school English classes.  And I was amazed/appalled/astonished to hear that basically all of them had read (had been required to read) Ayn Rand.  Anthem, to be specific, though some of them had also read The Fountainhead.  A couple of the kids had read Atlas Shrugged, but on their own, not as required class reading.

Ayn Rand.

I do not intend to be critical of high school English teachers in the state of Utah.  In ancient times, when I was in high school, after we hitched our horses to the schoolhouse rail, we read, I don’t know, all kinds of stuff. Most of the books assigned I’d already read–I was a major lit nerd.  But we read Catcher in the Rye, assigned by my super cool favorite English teacher ever, Kenny Mann, and it felt like I’d been hit by lightning, I loved it so much. It shocked me, how much I loved that book.

But, seriously, Ayn Rand?

It just seems to me that perhaps high school English teachers could read something, maybe, a little, you know, better written. Well written, interesting story, characters, ideas.   Like, I don’t know, maybe To Kill a Mockingbird, or Of Mice and Men, or I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, or Night, or Whirligig, or 1984, or Animal Farm or Farenheit 451, or Brave New World or The Old Man and the Sea, or Into the Wild or The Joy Luck Club or Beloved, or Lord of the Flies or The Pigman, or I Am The Cheese, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or Things Fall Apart, or A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, or Life of Pi or Watership Down, or Huck Finn (which my daughter hated when it was assigned in her high school English class, but still, Huck Finn) or The Chosen, or House on Mango Street, or, I don’t know, something.  (I did that off the top of my head, a few good books high school kids might like that I love; took me three minutes).

Plus, you know, Ayn Rand.

Because this is Utah, and yes, I absolutely support the separation of Church and State, and yes, we can’t be proselytizing for or against any particular religious or non-religious ideology, and certainly novels have ideas and we should be open to all ideas, maybe even especially ideas we disagree with and we should teach kids that important principle, that of reading stuff we may find wrong-headed or repugnant or vile, but this is Ayn Rand, and she really is anti-Christ, right?  As in, opposing Christ?

Christ, in terms of the Christian philosophy, is the human ideal.  He personifies that which men should strive to emulate.  Yet, according to the Christian mythology, he died on the cross not for his own sins, but for the sins of the nonideal people.  In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected to or supposed to accept that sacrifice.  If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal for the nonideal.

That’s Ayn Rand.  The virtue of the self-realized I over the socialist we.  Human progress advanced only by a few ‘ideal men’, strong men, who pursue their own rugged self-interest for purely selfish reasons, but who incidentally thereby advance all of mankind.

Okay, I’m a liberal Democrat, I think government has an obligation to care for the poor.  I know a lot of conservative Republicans disagree, and think caring for the poor is best handled in the private sector, government screws it up, we should act altruistically on our own, personally.  Fine, that’s a political argument worth having.  Ayn Rand, on the other hand, would not have agreed with either position.  She thought welfare, charity, altruism were the definition of evil.  Her villains are altruists: most prominently, the altruistic Ellsworth Toohey in the Fountainhead. Should we perform acts of private charity? If it makes you feel good, sure, as long as it’s understood that you are not under any moral obligation to do anything for anyone, and that doing them is generally a bad idea, as it advances the interests of the ‘non-ideal.’

.    All that which proceeds from man’s independent ego is good.  All which proceeds from man’s dependence upon men is evil. . . . The moral purpose of a man’s life is the achievement of his own happiness. . . This does not mean that he is indifferent to all men, that human life is of no value to him, and that he has no reason to help others in an emergency.  But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others . . . that the relief of their suffering is not his primary concern, that any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty, that it is marginal and incidental.

It might also be worth pointing out that this elevation of human selfishness has a sexual component.  One key plot point in The Fountainhead is Howard Roark’s rape of Dominique Francon.  Roark is, let’s not forget, Rand’s “ideal man”.  But of course, rape, in the wacky ethical world of Ayn Rand, is perfectly justified.  Dominique really wanted it, you see. Oh, and Hank Rearden basically rapes Dagny Taggart, early in Atlas Shrugged. Women like it rough, you see.

You may have noticed at this point that I’m not a big fan of Ayn Rand.  In part, I harbor some resentment over having to slog my way through hundreds of pages of her turgid, purple prose. I mean, she can write an occasional paragraph felicitously enough, but she’s always building to some huge effect, and just the writing, just the prose becomes comical. But it’s prose in the service of Big Ideas, and her Big Ideas are just warmed-over Korihor, I not We, the virtue of selfishness and contempt for the weak and unsuccessful.  Her writing embodies the attitudes of the Evil Space Alien leader in every bad 50′s sci-fi movie every made: “You puny Earthlings!  Bow down to your Masters!” Or, to quote Paul Krugman quoting John Rogers: “There are two books that can change a bookish fourteen-year-old’s life: The Lord of the Rings, and Atlas Shrugged.  One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a life-long obsession, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world.  The other, of course, involves orcs.”

Give me the Book of Mormon’s King Benjamin instead:

Ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain. . .Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just— But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God. Are we not all beggars?  Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God?

And one last thought: does it bother anyone else that one of the two major party vice-Presidential candidates in this election has said that his favorite book ever is Atlas Shrugged? Or that the favorite book of that same party’s Presidential candidate is Battlefield Earth?  By, yep, L. Ron Hubbard. That was Mitt Romney’s answer to the ‘your favorite book’ question.

At least he didn’t say The Fountainhead.

 

 

 

 

Creating a community

Sunday, my wife and I had a nice drive from Provo to Heber.  Provo Canyon’s beautiful this time of year, and the highway was colorfully festooned with orange cones, creating a challenging and fun obstacle course to test my wife’s driving skills.  And Heber has such a nice small-town feel.  We were heading up to the home of Debora Threedy, for a staged reading of my new play, now titled Clearing Bombs.

The play is about a moment in 1942, when two economists spent the night on the roof of a building.  The two economists were John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayak, the current darlings of the respectively Left and Right in our present political climate, and they were on the roof to protect King’s College Chapel, in Cambridge, from German incendiary bombs.

That actually happened, but what’s not known is what they talked about.  I figured it would probably be economics, and I added a third character, Mr. Bowles, a fire warden up from London, so there’d be someone there they could explain things to.  Writing this play required that I read massive amounts of economic theory, basically everything I could find in print from those two Nobel laureates.  Economics uses lots and lots of numbers and numbers are not my friends, but I plowed through, got my head around enough economics to write a play about it, and Sunday we read its latest iteration.

At the reading were three marvelous actors: Jay Perry, Mark Fossen, and Kirt Bateman, playing, from left to right, Hayek, Keynes, and Mr. Bowles.  Before the reading, all three professed discomfort at having to use German, upper-class British and lower-class British accents.  All three promptly killed it.  They were, quite unremarkably, remarkable.  Brilliant actors, it turns out, act brilliantly, even holding scripts in hand and without rehearsal.

Also in the room; my wife, Jerry Rapier, artistic director of Plan B Theatre in Salt Lake (which has expressed interest in the play), and other playwrights, including Julie Jensen, Jenifer Nii, Elaine Jarvik, Matthew Bennett, and our hostess for the afternoon, Debora Threedy.

These are all wonderful writers. Just wonderful.  I’ve seen plays by all of them, and I’m in awe at their eloquence and humanity and talent.  Is this a Who’s Who of terrific Utah playwrights?  I’d add Tim Slover and Scott Bronson and Melissa Leilani Larson, but yes. This is at least a terrific cross-section.  I was honored to be in that room.

How do you create a community?  These writers are all people I admire, all people I have met and chatted with at times, but we don’t hang out much.  For one thing, I live in Provo.  Debora lives in Heber, a much cooler town.  The rest of them live in Salt Lake City, an exponentially cooler city.  But out of pure friendship, or maybe just a desire to have playwriting be good in this state, out of love of the art form itself, they offered their generously shared expertise.

Plan B is a miraculous place anyway. The business model for small local Equity theatres tends to be to do well established plays, maybe once in a blue moon doing new work by local authors, if it seems commercial enough.  Plan B does, almost exclusively, new plays, political theatre, plays not only by local playwrights but about Utah history, or issues relating to our community.  What makes Plan B great is its audience, which is passionate and informed and smart and amazing.  Jerry Rapier knows his audience, and they’ve come to trust (as they should) his theatrical insight and taste.

Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the LDS Church, and everyone knows Mormons are politically and culturally conservative.  But Salt Lake is neither.  There’s a huge liberal, progressive community in Salt Lake, plus a large LGBT community.  It’s one of the most gay friendly cities in the US.  And the Church’s Presiding Bishopric has worked with the city’s political leadership and the LGBT community to support anti-discrimination legislation in housing and employment.  Read that last sentence, and tell me the apocalypse isn’t nigh.  But it’s completely (and wonderfully) true.

Utah’s still Utah, and the state legislature does annually pass-or at least try to pass- amazingly silly social legislation, but meanwhile, for a socially and politically liberal Mormon like myself, Salt Lake is my refuge.  And Plan B is my second home.

And we read the play, and who knows what will happen with it.  Even if Plan B produces it, I completely suck at marketing my plays elsewhere.  I just don’t know how to do it.  And I tend to have this weird psychological quirk, wherein, once a play has been produced, and I’ve seen it on its feet, scratched that itch, I’m sort of . . . done.  I’ve got one, about Columbus and Amerigo Vespucci that I think could work anywhere, but I don’t know how to sell it.  But I’m old and fat and sick, and still working.  And meanwhile I have found this community.  I cannot adequately express my gratitude.

 

 

 

This week with Snuffleupagus

A weekly habit of mine is watching This Week with George Stephanapolos on ABC.  My sons and I used to watch it when they were living at home, and we always snarkily referred to it as Snuffleupagus, all the funnier because Snuffleupagus was Big Bird’s kinda dim huge hairy elephant friend, and George Stephanapolous is short and smart and dapper. It airs while I’m in Church, but I figure that’s why the Good Lord invented the DVR, so I can watch This Week at my leisure. And also baseball.

It used to be This Week with David Brinkley; it was a marvelous show back then.  A TV show reflects the personality and personality of its host, and Brinkley was a cynical, sardonic American treasure, endlessly amused with the vagaries of American politics, and always ready with some wry comment thereupon.  It was his show until 1996, when he retired, at which point I stopped watching for awhile.  Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts co-hosted, and the show lost its distinctive voice and perspective; became just another Sunday morning political talk show.

Stephanapolous became the host in 2002, and the show got good again, took on his personality.  He was Bill Clinton’s communications director during his Presidential run in 1992, and subsequently in Clinton’s first term; the West Wing character, Toby Ziegler, was based on him; the communications director with an interest in policy.  Stephanapolous then moved to ABC News.  He’s a co-host on Good Morning America, and he’s their chief political correspondent.

Although he was a visible and important Clinton staffer, he’s clearly a political junky’s political junky; he loves the horse race, and he’s lost interest in policy, and he’s a great interviewer,sort of.  What I mean by that is this: he’s there to be lied to.  The guests on his show are there to spin.  They’re on his show to put the best face on their candidate’s prospects and performance.  And Snuffleupagus is there to let them.  He asks tough questions, kind of; he’ll look at them skeptically and say things like “you really think this was a good week for Governor Romney?”, but then when the guest says, preposterously, “this was the best week of our campaign,” The Snufs will sort of shrug, like, “all right, then.”  Jon Stewart’s a much better interviewer, of course, because he’s not a professional, he’s an amateur, a comedian who cares about about policy, and he wants to engage in a conversation about policy; he’ll even debate his guests, offer his own opinions.  Snuffles would consider that unprofessional.  His pose is relentlessly neutral, non-partisan, the ultimate objective observer.

Which means that This Week is really more a game show than anything.  The guests are there to spin, the host is there to challenge them to spin more effectively, and then a round-table discussion follows, which is there to keep score.  Here’s the difference: the Romney budget plan is clearly preposterous, with massive tax cuts, no specifics on how to pay for them, and absolutely nothing in the plan that will have any stimulative effect, or that will to any degree whatsoever promote job growth.  Rachel Maddow’s show’s approach is to just rip it apart, but in an aggressively partisan way.  Jon Stewart’s approach is to mock the budget humorously.  This Week, however, wants to evaluate whether that budget proposal will or will not help Romney win the election. The central question becomes, ‘is Romney selling it?’

It’s Beltway wisdom distilled into a single, very entertaining hour, as completely divorced from reality as it’s possible for politics to get.  But I’m the sort of political junky that digs this kind of nonsense.

For about a year, when The Snuff-meister got the GMA gig, it was This Week with Christiane Amanpour.  She’s one of the great international reporters, way too good at her actual job to host This Week.  She’d do a piece about, I don’t know, prospects for peace in the Middle East, and she’d want to talk about Palestine and Israel and a two state solution, and her guests would be all about ‘how will this affect the Presidential election?’ and she’d nod politely, but she clearly thought that the most trivial and unimportant angle the story could possibly have.  Which, of course, it is.  So after a year, ABC gave the show back to Snuffleupagus, who is, thankfully, exactly the right kind of shallow.

So this week on This Week, the interview subjects were Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, and David Axelrod, who was Obama’s campaign manager in ’08.  The big story of the week was this leaked video of a Mitt Romney talk at a fundraiser, in which he said that 47% of the electorate wouldn’t vote for him anyway, because they didn’t pay federal income tax, which meant they were moochers and deadbeats who could never be persuaded to take responsibility for their own lives and would therefore never accept the Republican message of self-reliance and rugged individuality–they’d all vote Obama, because they just want handouts from government.  (I’m paraphrasing a bit).  Horrible horrible week for Romney–his ‘Dukakis in a tank’ moment, possibly.  So Reince Priebus (and has there ever been a better Bond villain name, like smushing together ‘rancid’ and ‘prince’ and ‘writhe’ and other horrible words) was spinning this as a really good week for Romney, a week of message-focusing, and then David Axelrod, who looks like the new manager for Crosby Stills and Nash, sort of humbly crowed about how Romney’s horrible terrible no good very bad week put the Senate back in play for Dems.  It was all very entertaining. Then came the Roundtable.

The Roundtable is, like twenty five minutes in which five or six guests, usually evenly divided between Republicans, Democrats, and Independent Journalists, spar, spin the spinners.  Usually George Will is on, and gets the first question.  George Will is a Republican icon, quick with an obscure and irrelevant bit of historical erudition, followed by some vintage Republican harrumphing. (When Paul Krugman is on, which isn’t often, you can tell how much Will doesn’t like it, because Will likes to think he knows a lot about economics, while Krugman actually does.  And there’s nothing Will hates more than looking foolish.)  I do sort of like Will, though, because he’s a massive baseball fan.  And he’s usually balanced by Donna Brazile, who I adore, for her compassion, good humor, and homespun charm.

This last week, though, neither Will nor Donna were on.  Instead the guests were Robert Reich, former Clinton cabinet member turned editorialist, Republican strategist Nicole Wallace, former Obama staff member Melody Barnes, Jorge Ramos, a journalist from Univision, and vampire Ann Coulter, representing the undead.

Wallace and Barnes were both terrific guests, smart, articulate sensible women who I enjoyed listening to.  Ramos was great too; he’d had a week where he’d interviewed both President Obama and Governor Romney, and had a lot of interesting things to say about Hispanic voters, and their concerns and issues.  Reich always has this world-weary, saddened-by-the-perfidy-of-Republicans demeanor that plays well on camera–I like his column, and he’s another guy who actually does know something about economics.  And then there was Ann Coulter.

It’s interesting, I’m a Democrat, but Nicole Wallace, on the show as a Republican strategist had a great perspective on events, and I enjoyed listening to her.  I even found myself persuaded by her a couple of times when I didn’t think I would be.  She seemed reasonable, thoughtful, smart.  But Ann Coulter, every time she opened her mouth, I wanted to throw something heavy at my TV set.  (I know, like it’s the TV’s fault).  She was there to promote her latest ‘liberals torture kittens’ book, and she kept grinning madly at the camera.

She didn’t come across as angry. She does sometimes, but not this time.  She seemed, as always, crazy–something about her eyes.  But she just, I don’t know, epitomizes everything awful about American politics nowadays.  So relentlessly partisan and mean-spirited and vile.

She’s sort of authoress of a meme; the Republican Fox News blonde hottie meme.  With Gretchen Carlson and Jill Dobson and Ainsley Earheart and Courtney Friel and . . .  All short skirts and low cut tops and furiously anti-Obama views.  There’s a reason Fox News has high ratings among elderly white men.  And I sort of think Ann Coulter started it all.  She’s the Fox News version of Paris Hilton, I think.

Usually, I tune her out.  Literally, hit the mute button when she speaks.  But this week’s This Week, I listened as respectfully as its possible to listen to Ann Coulter.  Wondering about her huge head-bobbing grin, and if she’d taken her meds before the show, or was going to wait ’til it was over.

Anyway, This Week is the best answer to the question: ‘What’s wrong with American politics.’ It’s the most entertaining weekly visit to the Sixth Ring of Hell that I know.  Really smart people, talking pure politics, with only the most passing reference to, you know, governance and policy, and fixing our nation’s problems. Pure horse race, pure ‘who’s up in the polls and what does that ad buy mean for Ohio and Florida.’  It’s like these really smart people who may be aware that Americans hate Congress and are turned off by political ads, but find it sort of baffling.  It’s a show about people who look at your average political TV ad like movie critics look at a movie–hmm, nice imagery, interesting graphics–not noticing that the content of the ad is awful, it’s moronic, it’s insulting.  Judging political effectiveness, not noticing that most Americans hate all those ads, from either party, like we hate getting shingles.

Toby Ziegler would be appalled.

Magic numbers

I am a San Francisco Giants fan.  The Giants play in the National League’s West Division, and are currently in first place in that division, ten games ahead of the Dodgers.  There are eleven games left to go in the season.  Which means our Magic Number is 2.

Magic Number, in this case, means that any combination of Giants’ wins and Dodger losses adding up to 2 will mathematically eliminate the Dodgers from contention.  The Giants play the Padres tonight; the Dodgers are currently playing the Reds.  If the Reds win (and they’re ahead) and the Giants win, the race is over.  We will have won the division.

You may have noticed several odd things about that previous paragraph.  For one thing, I said that “we” will win.  But I didn’t play a single inning.  The team I root for–the laundry for which I cheer–will have won.  But I call them ‘we’ even though I don’t actually know them at all, and if I ran into them at the airport and introduced myself, they’d probably be fairly polite and all, but I would just be some random guy.  Apparently the other day the guys were kidding around with Pablo Sandoval, the Kung-fu Panda, because he hadn’t hit a home run in awhile.  Madison Bumgarner, who, as a pitcher, isn’t exactly paid to hit home runs, teased Sandoval about how he–Madbum–had hit two this season.  And Panda got ticked, and that night golfed an ankle high slider 400 feet down the right field line, then hit three more the next two nights, and it was all jock-friendly ribbing and horseplay, and I only read about it in a blog.  I wasn’t there.  I don’t play baseball. Except in my dreams.  There, I’m awesome.

‘Cause, see, here’s the thing.  Two months ago, Melky Cabrera was the Melk Man, and fans were showing up to the park in milk man costumes, and cheering like mad for the guy.  Now he’s off the team, in disgrace, having pleaded guilty to steroid use, plus creating a fake website to hide his guilt.  We didn’t know him.  We just liked our image of him; we liked what we imagined him to be like.  Panda’s one of the most popular guys on the team; Panda hats sell like crazy and grown men wear these silly looking things in the stands, with a ‘I like Sandoval, you wanna make something of it?’ glower on their faces.  Early this season, Panda was accused of sexual assault.  We all assumed he wasn’t guilty, and in fact, charges were dropped. But also maybe we don’t know him all that well after all?

But dang do I like baseball, even knowing liking it is ridiculous.  And buy Giants’ hats and pennants and baseballs and bumper stickers.  And a Panda hat. I’m a fan; that’s what we do.

Back to Magic Numbers, though; baseball is all about numbers.  It’s a long season, 162 games, and winning the division (which we’ll likely do tonight,and certainly will do soon) is both the point of the season and sort of unimportant.  Because all it does is qualify you for the playoffs, along with two other division winners and two wild card teams.  Then come these brutal short series, two of them, just until you get into the World Series, which is tense and scary all by itself.

And some numbers become iconic.  660.  3283. 2062, 1903. .302.  Meaningless, right?  Except for Giants’ fans.  Those are Willie Mays career statistics: 660 home runs, 3283 hits, 2062 runs scored, 1903 runs batted in.  Most great hitters have more RBIs than runs scored; that’s the nature of the game.  But Willie Mays was not just a great hitter, he was probably the greatest baserunner of his generation.

This year, we got some new ones.  One of my favorites is Angel Pagan: 15.  That’s 15 triples this season, the all-time record for a San Francisco Giant.  It’s a  huge number, honestly; triples are hard and rare, requiring both power and speed.  You have to hit the ball a long ways, and run really fast, in other words.  Angel’s a wonderful player, and, I’m reliably told by those in my household of the female persuasion, a very good looking man.  And the record he broke, most season triples, was previously held by Willie Mays.  But it’s not the Giants’ record; just the San Francisco Giants record.  The team moved from New York in 1957, and the New York Giants record is–this blows my mind–25.  By Laughing Larry Doyle, in 1911. Called that, apparently, without a trace of irony; one of the friendliest and nicest guys in baseball back in those pre-WWI days.

Angel Pagan, after struggling in the Mets’ system for years, had his best season this year, in part because he had his happiest season.  He’s talked about it, how much he enjoys this team, this group of guys, this fan base.  He would agree with the sentiment once expressed by an Giants’ old-timer, who is famous for the line: “Gee, it’s great to be young and a Giant.”  Spoken by none other than Laughing Larry Doyle.  Another guy I think I would have liked.  In my dreams.

Abortion and politics

I love the editorial page of the Deseret News, especially the on-line comments page responding to letters to the editor.  A few days ago, a woman wrote an op-ed piece about how, as a Mormon, she could also be a Democrat, and then described her experience as a delegate to the national Democratic convention.  And the comments page exploded.  Mormons can’t be Democrats, because Democrats believe in . . . .

Well, all sorts of absurd things.  I’m a Democrat; I didn’t recognize myself in any of the descriptions people came up with.  But, yeah, abortion.  We favor abortion.  And that means liberal Democrats cannot be LDS. Or, if we are Mormons, we can’t be good Mormons.

Because Republicans are anti-abortion, and Democrats are pro-choice, it opens the door to suggest that we’re, well, pro-abortion.  That’s the nicer way to put it, really: given the current state of political discourse in this country, we’re baby-killers.  We salivate at the prospect of murdering babies. We’re contributors to a Holocaust: we’re Nazis.

So how do I defend myself?  I can’t think of a single issue about which I personally feel more ambivalence, or more pain.  The only argument I’ve heard on this issue that made my head bob up and down was the one articulated by the late David Foster Wallace, a genuinely great writer who is one of my philosophical heros. Said Wallace, as “a private citizen and an autonomous agent” that he was “both pro-life and pro-choice.”  He then says this:

Given our best present medical and philosophical understandings of what makes something not just a living organism but a person, there is no way to establish at just what point during gestation a fertilized ovum becomes a human being. This conundrum, together with the basically inarguable soundness of the principle “When in irresolvable doubt about whether something is a human being or not, it is better not to kill it,” appears to me to require any reasonable American to be Pro-Life.

And I agree with that.  He then continues:

At the same time, however, the principle “When in irresolvable doubt about something, I have neither the legal nor the moral right to tell another person what to do about it, especially if that person feels that s/he is not in doubt” is an unassailable part of the Democratic pact we Americans all make with one another, a pact in which each adult citizen gets to be an autonomous moral agent; and this principle appears to me to require any reasonable American to be Pro-Choice.

And I agree with that too. In fact, I think it’s kind of brilliant. Like I say, I’m torn.

Maybe here’s another way into it.  To some extent, I think a difference between Republicans (conservatives) and Democrats (liberals) is this: Republicans want to define and uphold an ideal, and Democrats want to deal with uglier realities.  Conservatives believe (and I respect this belief) that making accommodations to bad behaviors makes those behaviors more likely, and that’s bad for society. Right? Nowhere is this more evident than in the abortion debate.  Republicans think all babies should be wanted, should be born into loving, supportive relationships, families in which a pregnancy is welcomed. A lot of research shows that children do better when they’re raised in a solid, two-parent family.  A pregnancy announcement is something wonderful, something to celebrate and rejoice in. So that’s the ideal we need to stand up for.  And single young people shouldn’t be having sex anyway.

But young people do have unprotected sex, and pregnancies do result.  Some families are supportive and strong, but many are massively dysfunctional, and many children are raised under less-than-ideal circumstances, or even, completely horrific circumstances.  Don’t we need to provide a helping hand for those children, and those families, and those less-than-desirable outcomes?  And the reality is that many many women who discover that they are pregnant are not excited about it, don’t want to be, and many are desperate not to be.  Women will terminate unwanted pregnancies.  This has always been true, forever, in every time and in every culture, ever.  Women who are desperate to end a pregnancy will resort to dangerous and unhealthy measures.  This has always been true as well.

So what do we do about that?  The Church’s position is that there are exceptional circumstances under which abortion is permitted, which is to say circumstances under which it is a moral choice, and for which it should be legal.  One such exception is when ‘the health of the mother’ is at risk. A ectopic pregnancy would be an obvious exception.  What about mental health? What about women for whom the prospect of carrying a pregnancy to term fills them with, not just dread, but suicidal thoughts and urges? If that exception were codified into law, wouldn’t that open a loophole under which many abortions could legally be performed?  And who gets to make that judgment? A government bureaucrat?

The only real answer is that the person making that judgment has to be the woman who is pregnant.  I can’t think of any other way to look at it.  That’s why I am, as a liberal and Democrat and Mormon and Christian, reluctantly and painfully and contradictorily pro-choice.

But aren’t abortions performed for morally frivolous reasons? Don’t women have abortions because a pregnancy is inconvenient, because it would interrupt an education or job prospects?  Don’t some women have abortions routinely, as part of their birth control?

Sure, I think all that’s possible.  But do we really get to judge?  Should we cede to government the right to interrogate people requesting a surgical procedure?  Isn’t that a  threatening and undemocratic power for government to yield?

Are late-term abortions awful?  Yes, they are.  And really rare, and almost always due to desperate circumstances.  (Which is why Roe v. Wade differentiated between first trimester abortions and those performed later in the pregnancy).

I believe abortion to be immoral, because I am a Latter-day Saint.  In a religiously pluralistic society, can I appropriately impose my religious beliefs on a legal system that serves people who do not share those beliefs?  Is this really a political issue?  Is this the kind of issue to which political debate or compromise could contribute helpfully?  Doesn’t it instead lend itself to a ‘baby-killers vs. women-oppressors’ polarization?

If Roe v. Wade (which I have read, and which I believe to have been correctly decided) were overturned and abortion was made illegal, all other things being equal, it would likely have very little effect on the numbers of abortions performed.  A massive black market of abortion providers would spring up, and many of the resulting abortions would be unsafe and dangerous.  Many more young women would die from complications of botched abortions.  Do we really want to criminalize a medical procedure?  Do we really want to throw doctors in jail?  Do we really want to throw women in jail who have just made the most terrible, frightening, difficult decision of their lives?

It’s a moral issue. An exceptionally important one.  And yes, we need to do more to encourage adoption, and yes, we should provide pre-natal counseling and love and support.  Certainly, if we’re going to require single moms to get jobs, we have to recognize the difficulty of finding child care.  That’s a government-provided service I support creating.  But if you require me to declare myself, to define myself in one word, up or down, pro-life or pro-choice, I cannot find it in my heart to say anything but this: it’s the woman’s decision.  Hers entirely. Religiously and philosophically and personally, I’m opposed to abortion.  Politically, I’m pro-choice.

 

A wonderful Separation

The Iranian film, A Separation, is hardly obscure; I mean, it won the Oscar for best Foreign Language film, and it’s been lauded by critics all over the country. (100% Rotten Tomatoes score!)  Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, it was approved by Iranian cultural authorities, and received distribution after winning its Oscar.  It was finally delivered to my home by the flying elves employed by Netflix (or, mundanely, the US Postal Service), and my daughter and I finally sat down to see it.

What a remarkable film.  It begins in a shabby looking office: two people, Nader (Payman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami), face the camera, making their case to an unseen magistrate.  Simin has, after years of dealing with red tape and hassle, gotten the paperwork together enabling her family to leave Iran; the visa will expire soon, and she wants to use it. Either Nader comes with her, or she’ll go on her own, taking their daughter with her, and filing for divorce. Her husband, she says, is a good man, a decent, caring man, and she loves him, but she cannot, cannot stay in Iran.  Nader says he can’t go.  His elderly father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi), lost in the mists of Alzheimer’s, requires constant care.  He can’t leave him.  And Simin won’t go without her eleven-year-old daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi), who won’t go without her father.

It’s an impossible situation.  We can see both sides, we can sympathize with both of these decent, good people, as they struggle with a dilemma without a solution.  And it gets more complicated, morally and personally complex and difficult and awful.

The film covers about a week in the lives of these people.  Nader has to hire a caregiver for his father, his wife having moved out to live with parents.  He hired Razieh (Sareh Bayat), a conservatively religious woman who Simin sort of knows. She’s hardly ideal; she faces a two hour daily commute, and has a small daughter, an eight year old, who has to come with her, and she doesn’t dare even tell her husband Hojjat (Shahab Hosseini) about the job; caring for a single man, however elderly and infirm, is against his understanding of sharia law.  At one point, the elderly father soils his pants.  Razieh is at a loss.  She has to call her imam and ask if it would be a sin for her to clean him up.

Razieh is also pregnant, though she goes about dressed in full hijaab, and it doesn’t show. She’s a caring woman, but out of her depth with a Alzheimer’s patient.  At one point, the old man leaves the apartment; panicked, she looks everywhere, and finally sees him across the street at a news stand.  Completely lost, he starts across the street, and is nearly hit by a car.

She knows she can’t do the job for long, when Hojjat (who has been out of work for a long time and is repeatedly jailed by his creditors), applies for it, she begs Nader not to tell him she’s been the one providing care.  But then, one day, Nader comes home to find his father laying on the floor, one hand tied to the bed post, and Razieh nowhere to be found.  His father is bruised from his uncomfortable position, and Nader is furious.  Razieh shows up, and will only say that she had to leave, and that she tied the father to the post so he couldn’t run away again.  She offers no further explanation, and Nader fires her, but she won’t leave without her pay.  He then discovers money missing, the same amount he owes her; he accuses her of theft, and shoves her out the door.  Does he push her?  Does she fall down the stairs?  On those questions, the rest of the film rests.

Because, next we learn, she has fallen, and miscarried.  And she accuses Nader of shoving her down the stairs.  Which means, according to Iranian law, Nader may be tried for murder.

Much of the rest of the film takes place in a courtroom; not a formal Western court, with attorneys and juries and a judge in robes, but a seedy little office, where a frustrated, overworked judge sits behind a desk and tries to sort everything out.  The film doesn’t come across as any kind of indictment of Iranian jurisprudence; the judge is just a bureaucrat, sorting out the technicalities of a tough case.  At one point, as Nader and Hojjat yell at each other, the judge pours sugar into his tea, looking harried.

As Westerners, we tend to see Iran as a nightmarish theocracy, and our initial sympathies are with Simin, who wears a scarf on her head, and who just wants out.  Nader seems like a good guy with a tough family situation, not terribly religious but trying to be a good person.  We know these folks.  But a much more complex and interesting view of everyday Iranian life emerges as the film progresses.  It’s one of the things I love best about it, though this jailing people ’cause they owe you money stuff amazed me.  Seriously?

Anyway, the court case comes down to a few simple questions.  Did Nader know Razieh was pregnant?  How hard did he push her?  Did she fall down the stairs, and did that fall cause her miscarriage?  It turns out, everyone in the case lies about their role in it, and for what they consider valid reasons.  And finally, which of her parents will Termeh choose to live with?

Nobody behaves well, and nobody behaves all that badly.  Nothing works out very well, and nobody ends up terribly happy.  It’s such a lovely film, so intelligent and compassionate and thoughtful.  I love films full of this kind of humanity, this level of moral complexity.

It’s a dialogue-heavy film, with subtitles.  It takes some effort to watch.  But it’s worth every second.

Psbbbbttttt to Google Blogger

So here I am, in my new location on Word Press.  Or WordPress; not sure about the spelling.  You know how it is when you move into a new neighborhood–the neighbors all are strangers, and you’re sure they’re staring at your lawn, judging you, and then one of them brings over a plate of brownies and it turns out there’s actually one other Democrat down the street.  So anyway.  Here I am!  Yay, me!

See, here’s the thing.  I was on Google Blogger, fat and happy and blogging merrily away.  And then one fine day, not a cloud in the sky, I thought I’d check out my stats, because, you know, that’s what we veteran bloggers do.  And Blogger wouldn’t let me.  I’m there, on the dashboard, and all I got was this error message: BXiaPQt2O2.  Or Beexputquattwo, to pronounce in proper Klingon.

And so I went through heck–I’m not kidding, actual heck– for four days, trying to figure out what I’d done wrong and how to fix it.  Forever.  And it turns out Google/Blogger had no interest in helping me.  I did get this automatically generated email, explaining why you can’t call someone for help.  Like, on a telephone.

This email is a work of art.  It starts off by sneering at you: “Many bloggers believe that their personal problems with Blogger are urgent/unique, and that discussing their problems with a Google trained representative, by telephone, is the only way that their problems can be resolved.”  Stupid me, with my urgent/unique problem!  How foolish to want to talk to a human being about it!

See, though: “Before the Internet existed, any company wishing to provide support to its customers had to rely on verbal communication using real time voice service (“telephone”), or written communication using virtual time postal service (“mail”).”  Don’t you love the quotation marks around ‘telephone’ and ‘mail’.  I can actually see the guy, making those air quotation marks as he dictated the email to the fourth of his nine slaves.

Also yes, as a matter of fact, I remember such things as ‘mail’ and ‘telephones.’  Also ‘gramophone’ and ‘motorcar.’  But that was in the old days, back when mail was delivered by horseback and dinosaurs roamed the earth. This ‘phone’ stuff never worked all that well, and couldn’t possibly work today.

“With the coming of the Internet, and globalisation of products like Blogger, a single language, one on one strategy became unworkable.  If Blogger is to serve all citizens of the world, and support all problems, equally for everybody, they simply can’t provide real time, one on one support.”

The email then elaborates:

“If you were to contact a Blogger representative by telephone, you would reach a single person, who would speak a limited number of languages, and who would be familiar with a limited number of Blogger issues.  And, you’d be subject to a constant “Please hold, while I transfer you to a different specialist.”, or “Please call back during business hours”, as you repeatedly explained your problem.”

Well, gosh, been there, done that.  And yes, it’s frustrating and annoying and it takes forever.  It also works.  Every time.  Now comes the sales pitch:

“By using peer based support, such as the Blogger Help Forum, you can benefit from virtual contact with an infinite number of individuals worldwide, each with different backgrounds and available at different times of the day.”

Translation: You’re on your own.

Second translation: Lotsa nerds out there: maybe one of them can help you.

Third translation: Even though we’re Google, the richest and most successful company on earth, providing tech support would cut into our already ginormous profits.  So we’re not gonna do it.

“Peer support is the way of the future.  It’s far better than one on one, limited support.”

Uh, no.  Not true.  Because here’s the thing, when you call someone employed by the company, the person who you talk to owns the problem.  It’s their job to help you.  Your problem becomes their problem.  Peer Support, nobody owns your problem except little old you.  And you don’t know nuttin’ from ‘nuttin’, unless and only if, some nice person who is better at computers than you are (in my case, any nine-year-old) condescends to help you.

Well, turns out, I have a friend, a wonderful guy, who helped me out.  By showing me how to register my own domain name and switch to WordPress and transfer everything over.  I am so terribly grateful.  Not going to tell you his name, because I don’t want him inundated with everyone’s problems, but I am thrilled with my new home.

As for Blogger and Google, I have just one, heartfelt thing to say:

Sayonara!