Monthly Archives: April 2017

Jason Chaffetz

Jason Chaffetz is my congressman. That is to say, he represents the Utah Third Congressional District, which happens to be the one I live in. I’m not proud of that fact. I have never voted for him, and can’t imagine a circumstance in which I would.

I think he’s kind of a weasel. I mean, look at him; he looks like a rodent. I fully admit, though, that my reasons for disliking him are entirely political and partisan. I am a liberal Democrat. If he were a Democrat, I would undoubtedly find him quite good looking.

Other reasons for me to like him. He’s a former BYU football player; I mean, a kicker, but still. He and I both graduated from BYU. His wife works with women with breast cancer, an admirable avocation. We’re both LDS. When he was elected to Congress, he decided to save money by sleeping in a cot in his office, Washington apartments being insanely expensive. When Stephen Colbert did his ‘Better Know a District’ routine (on his old show), Chaffetz not only agreed to be featured, but even leg wrestled Colbert. Chaffetz even agreed to appear on the Rachel Maddow show. Oh, he opposed Donald Trump’s candidacy. For about ten minutes. Then fell in line. And that about does it for positives.

Other than that, he’s pretty awful. For one thing, he’s a climate change denier. He’s an anti-vaxxer; wants to hold hearings on whether vaccinations cause autism. (Not really necessary, Jason, on account of this thing called peer reviewed, double blind scientific research). He opposed the Affordable Care Act, opposes net neutrality, hates Planned Parenthood, opposed marriage equality. As chair of the House Oversight committee, he wasted hundreds of hours and millions of dollars in a long, pointless, endless investigation of Hillary Clinton and Benghazi.

He’s an ambitious guy. He toyed with the idea of running for Speaker of the House, when John Boehner stepped down. He backed down when Paul Ryan threw his hat in the ring. (Or, more accurately, when Paul Ryan’s hat was ripped off his head and thrown in the ring for him).

Which is why it was such a shocker when Chaffetz announced that he would not run for re-election in 2018. And then, the next day, announced that he might even quit now, and not serve out the rest of his term.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled. I don’t like him, don’t like being represented by him, and am delighted to be quit of him.

On the other hand: what? Why? I mean, my gosh. What on earth?

I love real-life mysteries. Most people do, I think. And this is a corker. What’s going on? What’s the scoop? Why would this reasonably young, extremely ambitious politician just up and quit? In his statement, he offered the usual malarkey about wanting to spend more time with his family, which no one believes. He also tweeted, which didn’t help at all. It was a link to a puff-piece article about his wife, and how wonderful she is. My first reaction to that is to think that he must have done something really bad.

Anyway, the inter-tubes have been full of speculation about the whole thing, to which I thought I’d toss in my two cents. So here are the leading rumors.

He’s planning to run for governor of Utah, in 2020. Our governor, Gary Herbert, has already announced he won’t run for re-election. Chaffetz may be angling for the job, maybe as a prelude for a run for President in 2024. Could be, though why quit? He could run for governor while still a Congressman.

He really, genuinely, wants to make some serious dough. He’s got a lobbyist job lined up, and this is his chance to cash in big-time. That makes some sense.

He likes the investigative power of his House chairmanship. He was really looking forward to spending the next four years going after Hillary. But she lost, and suddenly he’s being pressured (by constituents, no less), to go after Trump’s many and varied conflicts of interest. That doesn’t sound like it’d be any fun at all. So he wants out.

He’s done something really really naughty. Woman troubles, or Russian blackmail, or something equally egregious, and he’s trying to get out from under it. The ‘my wife’s so wonderful’ tweet would suggest this. Maybe he thinks investigators won’t go after him so hard if he’s out of Congress.

He’s got a gig waiting for him at Faux News. That one seems kind of nuts, but the timing works. After all, it felt like Christmas in April when both Bill O’Reilly AND Jason Chaffetz left on the same day. O’Reilly’s replacement is Tucker Carlson, but he already had a Fox show. Chaffetz would be replacing the guy who replaces O’Reilly. A lot more money, and exposure, for a possible Presidential run.

Or (and I’m going to feel terrible if this turns out to be it), there really is some serious problem with his family. He genuinely needs to be home, to help deal with his son/daughter/wife. If so, I’m completely wrong about the guy. Which isn’t at all unlikely.

What I do not believe is that he just decided to quit. There’s something going on. There’s more to this story. Can’t wait to see what it is.



Multi-level marketing (scams)

You know that thing where you’re talking to someone about something, and it’s a thing you have a strong feeling about, and you express that strong opinion, strongly? And it turns out you probably expressed yourself more strongly than you should have? I did that recently.

Utah is home to many many multi-level marketing companies. Just in Utah County, I can think of several. NuSkin sells, like, dietary supplements. DōTERRA sells essential oils; I think they call their salespeople ‘wellness advocates.’  Morinda sells various products derived from a morinda citrafolia, a Tahitian tree that produces the noni plant, juice from which is supposed to be good for you. There’s also Neways; they also sell nutritional supplements. There’s Young Living–they sell essential oils–and Nature’s Sunshine–natural health supplements. There are many others.

And they all work the same way. Ordinary folks sign up for this stuff, and sell the product, but are also trying to get their friends involved in selling it too. You make your money via a pyramid. You get a cut out of your sales, but you also get a cut from the sales of the people beneath you on the pyramid. The basic model is Amway. Also Bernie Madoff.

Here’s the strong opinion I expressed that got me in trouble. I think multi-level marketing companies are all crooks. I think they should all be illegal. I think they’re scams, ripoffs, hoaxes, frauds. I think their CEOs should be in jail. I think the normalization of con artists is a bad idea, and that businesses built on a pyramid model are nothing but Ponzi schemes, pure and simple. And I tend to think their products are all, without exception, worthless crap.

I come by these views honestly. I have family members who have been ripped off in Ponzi schemes. I have seen how devastating they can be. I know people whose lives were ruined by Amway. I think the world would be a happier place if Amway was shut down, and its business leaders thrown in the slammer. And that would include Dick DeVos, former Amway CEO and husband of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education. And that includes Jason Chaffetz, my Congressman, a former NuSkin exec.

In China, MLMs are illegal. Good for them. If you want to know why they’re not illegal in the US, check the previous paragraph: they’re well-connected. The Federal Trade Commission has been trying to shut down Herbalife for years. Herbalife has responded in the usual way; by buying Congressmen, and by spending hundreds of millions of dollars on high-powered legal representation. So does Amway; so does Mary Kay. These are rich, powerful companies. They aren’t going to be easy to stop.

And they’re big in Utah. And that bothers me. Why are Utah Mormons susceptible to these kinds of scams? Because we’re naive, gullible, trusting? That’s surely part of it. But it’s also Church connections. Our lives tend to center around wards. And our fellow ward members are also our friends. If a person you think of as a friend comes to you and says, ‘hey, I know about this great opportunity, a way for you to make a little extra money, and also enjoy better health. It’s worked for me, and it can work for you.’ Well, that’s a powerful inducement.

It’s also why these things are so insidious. A friendship shouldn’t be about some outside agenda. We’re friends because we genuinely like each other. We’re friends because we decided to make a commitment to someone, to maintain and nurture a relationship with another person, for its own sake, not because you can make something from it. MLMs take the idea of friendship, that personal connection we feel towards other people, and profane it. It’s fundamentally sociopathic. It’s like doing your home teaching solely to get good numbers, without making any effort to actually make friends.

Pyramid scams take basic, honest human feelings and turn them into sales opportunities. I want to believe that my friends like me because they like me. Not because they think they can sell me some kind of weirdo goop. Frankly, I think MLMs are worse than Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Madoff ran an investment firm; his clients may have thought of him as a friend, but that friendship began as a business relationship.

I remember when my wife and I moved to Utah. I was a new BYU faculty member, and we hardly knew a soul. Some old friends of my parents, BYU veterans, invited us over for dinner, and we were thrilled. We knew these people a little, and it was nice to think that they wanted to be friends, maybe introduce us around to this new university subculture.

And then they pulled out their selling materials, and told us all about what a great deal Amway was.

We weren’t just offended. We were hurt. We were angry. We hid it pretty well, and are still able to greet these folks, when we run into them, with polite cordiality. But what an opportunity wasted! Of course, any possibility of actual friendship was completely gone. And that’s a shame.

So, sorry, but it’s time for these rip-offs to end. China got this one right. MLMs serve no legitimate role in any healthy economy. Or in any health-promoting friendship.


Beauty and the Beast: Movie Review

It’s fairly easy to dismiss the new Disney Beauty and the Beast as the conscience-less money grab it frankly kind of is. I mean, it’s a remake of a ‘beloved Disney classic,’ which is to say, one of the good animated Disney musicals. I loved the original movie, despite having to see it (or parts of it) many many times, and was wary of this one. But the value in cultivating a both/and aesthetic is realizing there are many ways to understand any cultural phenomenon. My wife and I went to Applebee’s for dinner before the movie, and our waiter waxed rhapsodic when we told him what movie we were going to see. He’d seen B&B twice, was considering taking his girls to see it again. Loved loved loved it. Which helped put us in a receptive state of mind.

My initial response to this Beauty and the Beast was to think that the weak link in the cast was Emma Watson. This really bothered me, because I like Emma Watson. My wife loved her in this; she thought the weakest cast member was Dan Stevens, who played the Beast, who I thought was one of the movie’s strengths.

Emma Watson strikes me as an exemplary young woman, courageous and intrepid and bright as hell. Hermione Granger is all that too, plus aces at magic, but I really don’t think I’m conflating the actress with her best known character, except to the extent that they’re actually similar. Hermione is a bookworm; Emma has a degree from Brown in English literature. Hermione is an activist for the ethical treatment of magical creatures; Emma is a UN Goodwill Ambassador, and a fervent feminist. They seem alike because they are alike.

Not to go all sexist, but what Emma Watson is not is a great beauty. She’s certainly an conventionally attractive young woman, and she has a modeling contract. But in Beauty and the Beast, she’s nothing special, and she flat isn’t the prettiest girl in the village. We see a trio of prettier village girls. So why is Gaston so besotted?

Because she’s all the rest of it; bright and intrepid and level-headed. He’s none of those things; he’s a spectacular narcissist. But as played by Luke Evans, he may be half-witted, but no one else in the village is even half. He has a tiny, pin-headed inkling that she’s special, that she’s unusual. And he wants to possess her. She’s a challenge. She dares turn him down. He’s a soldier and he’s strong and he’s so very good-looking; why she would turn him down?

Evans’ Gaston is a spectacular comic creation. He’s so good, it threw me off. Obviously, this insatiable mirror-gazer wants a shiny object on his arm; I was led to think that ‘beauty’ should be more beautiful. But Gaston wants to dominate. He wants to be adored, by more than his not-all-that-closeted friend LeFou (Josh Gad). I wanted a more movie-star-charismatic Belle. Emma Watson wasn’t interested. She got it, and I didn’t, initially. What distinguishes Belle from the rest of the village is precisely her independence and intelligence. That’s what constitutes her beauty, much more than an accident of bone structure.

And so, when she’s confined to Beast’s castle, what attracts her is not the Beast’s library, but the fact that he’s read all the books in it. They argue about Shakespeare. He is a former Gaston, a reformed Gaston; a spoiled rich brat who everyone adored, until cursed by a witch. He’s had to read, study, think, meditate. And at times, the Beast part of him takes over, and he rages. But the servant/furniture pieces all understand him better. They know he’s capable of kindness and gentleness. So when he orders them not to feed her, they respond by throwing her a feast. (And are so excited about it, she doesn’t get a bite to eat). And Belle comes to see it too, his essential goodness.

Granted, it’s still the Disney musical. We know all the songs; half the fun was anticipating what they’d do with them. (Hey, “Be our Guest” is coming up!) I’ve heard complaints about Watson’s singing voice. I thought she was fine. (Bear in mind, I also liked Russell Crowe’s singing in Les Mis). I wouldn’t want them to dub her voice; her singing fit her approach to the role. This is a more nuanced Belle, a quieter, smarter Belle. She didn’t need to be a Broadway diva anymore than she needed to be a movie star icon. She’s an actress; she thought her way through this character. And it works.

Of course, the movie looks great. The Disney Cinderella and Jungle Book both looked great. They’ve got the money to make these things look terrific. (If this is a corporate money grab, at least they make sure we get our money’s worth). And a who’s who of great British actors provide the voice work for the servants: Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor.

There aren’t any details to point to and say ‘see, they got that wrong, that isn’t as good as the animated film.’ It is forty-five minutes longer than the cartoon, and I didn’t think the extra time was padding. They used it to explore Belle’s family history; the death of her mother, and her close relationship to her father (a wonderful Kevin Kline). I liked that extra detail.

Ultimately, I thought the movie gave good value. One of my favorite actresses gives a fine, nuanced performance in a classic role. What’s not like about that?