Goldberg: "Of Angels and Bats"


Haven’t seen the film yet but Jonah Goldberg’s (spoiler-free) review of Dark Knight Rises is interesting and worthwhile. He points out the movie’s strong anti-Occupy Movement message. This is an aspect that most reviewers are either blind to (slaves to the narrative) or simply refuse to acknowledge.

An excerpt:

In a society of ordered liberty the physically powerful cannot compel the physically weak for their own ends (at least in theory). Strength and the will to do evil do not grant the license of arbitrary power over others. The rule of law may seem more constraining than anarchy (or even pure democracy which, after all, can be just as tyrannical as any other system), but it’s more just and ultimately more liberating as well. If men were angels, then anarchy would be the only just system of governance, for we could all govern ourselves.

But men are not angels, and that raises the dark irony and appeal of Batman. The old saw goes that Marvel comics are about flawed humans grappling with superpowers while DC comics are about gods who fight other gods. While I think this distinction is a bit overstated, Batman was always the most notable exception. Batman believes that the rule of law, which is so vital for preserving society, can become its own worst enemy when it gives too much freedom to evil men. He is the bully who keeps the bullies at bay. He is the man of will who declares that we will not live in a society ruled by men of will.

(emphasis mine)

Slaves to the Narrative


So . . . as soon at ABC News’ Brian Ross and his peeps learned the name of the Denver movie theater shooter, their first impulse was to check the name against the rolls of the Aurora Tea Party. And when he found a similar name, he went immediately onto to national television to announce it.

It became clear almost immediately that Ross had made a egregious, inexcusable mistake. The shooter was a twenty-something. The innocent Tea Party member was a Hispanic gentleman in his fifties.

It’s a telling incident. The postmodern liberals who staff the mainstream news organizations as well as write today’s television dramas and sitcoms are abject slaves to their preferred narratives. By that I mean, they’ve adopted a preferred, self-flattering view of the world and no avalanch or facts or reality will move them out of it.

In that view, the “occupy” protesters are noble, peace-loving, principled altruists.  While the Tea Party activists are dangerous, angry, selfish and ill-informed. Psychological projection, anyone?

Brian Ross and his staff live and work in a comfortable echo chamber in which all the right people “know” all the same things. They “know” that Sarah Palin is a dunce. All evidence that supports that narrative is noted and filed. All evidence that refutes it is ignored. All ambiguous evidence is spun and interpreted to support the narrative.

They “know” that conservatives are mindless, uninformed drones tuning in to Rush Limbaugh daily to find out what they’re supposed to think. They also “know” that they and their fellow postmod libs only tune into the Jon Stewart and Bill Maher for erudite, enlightened observations.

Conservatives aren’t immune from cognitive biases that lead to selective filtering of information. But as I mentioned in a previous post, conservatives don’t have the luxury if living in a media culture that is constantly reinforcing their preferred narrative.

It’s no surprise to any intellectually honest person paying attention that the major mainstream news organizations are slaves to the liberal narrative. But in the last few days Brian Ross and ABC News made that strikingly, unforgivably undeniable.

Book Review: Stephen Mansfield's "The Mormonizing of America"


In the spirit of full disclosure let me lay my biases on the table. Stephen Mansfield is a dear friend, colleague and kindred spirit. What’s more, as my self-aggrandizing little banner ads to the right make clear, it’s been my privilege to be his sidekick on a couple of books in the past.

Yet if none of the above were the case, I’d still tell you that anything Stephen writes is worth reading–irrespective of topic.  For me, he’s among a very small group of favorite writers who are simply a pleasure to read.

Another is the blogger/columnist James Lileks. I’ve been following Lileks’ personal blog daily since right after 9/11. And most days it’s more gratifying to read James’ dashed-off account of his trip to Target earlier in the day than the work of most mainstream “journalists.”

Similarly, Stephen crafts such wonderful prose . . . delivers insights with such grace and musicality . . . that I’m always happy to pull up a chair when he’s telling a story–whether it’s a story about Churchill, the Guinness beer family, Oprah or the American fighting man in uniform.

In this case, the protagonist of the story he’s telling is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Colloquially, the Mormons.

Ironically, one of the key virtues of Stephen’s writing is also a reason he doesn’t sell even more books than he does (although he sells plenty.)

As you may have noticed, most of the mega-top-seller books in the realms of politics and culture are designed to inflame, not enlighten. Their success feeds on the reality that in our increasingly balkanized cultural landscape, what most people crave is the gratification that comes from having one’s existing beliefs and biases validated.

That appetite is especially understandable for conservatives and Christians who, unlike liberals, aren’t constantly being told how enlightened and virtuous and cool they are by movie plots, TV drama plots, stand up comics, sketch comics, popular songs, actors and pop tartlets. (I wrote about this at length here.)

Stephen has never shown much interest in writing that kind of book–even though he is a passionate Christian and thoroughly conservative by ideology. It’s not that he doesn’t have a viewpoint or is free from agendas. It’s just that he clearly trusts us as readers to consider the facts he has unearthed and come to our own conclusions. His prose doesn’t pry our jaws open to jam doctrines down our throats . . . he gently offers ideas for our consideration and invites us to embrace them.

In other words, Stephen doesn’t write to massage the converted. He writes to feed the intellectually hungry, to enlighten the confused, to persuade the skeptic, and to say to the antagonist, “Come let us reason together.”

Indeed one of my favorite and revealing stories about Stephen springs from a time he was a guest on Dan Rather’s HDNET TV news magazine “Dan Rather Reports.”

Naturally, Dan Rather being, you know, Dan Rather, the program’s editorial viewpoint is well left of center. And since being relegated to the icy Siberian backwaters of cable television after the “fake but true” scandal swirling around the falsified George W. Bush military service memo at 60 Minutes, Rather is fully free from the need to even pretend to be non-partisan or objective.

After taping the interview, many fellow conservatives I know might have been tempted to take the opportunity to give Rather a piece of their minds. Or at minimum, they would have been cooly polite and gotten out of there as quickly as possible. Stephen, being Stephen, instead invited Rather to join him and his bride for a steak dinner. On Stephen.

This is how he rolls.  Like another person I admire, he displays an annoying pattern of being seen breaking break with tax gatherers and sinners. A historian by hard-wiring and an evangelist by heavenly calling, Mansfield saw Rather not as an enemy to be confronted but as a potential friend to be won. His instinctive goal wasn’t a cathartic “telling off” of the man, but rather future influence in his life.

It is no accident that it was through Stephen’s keyboard that I first encountered Plato’s quote, “Be kind, for every man you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Indeed, our joint effort on the life and faith of Sarah Palin reflects this ethic. It sold quite well. But there is little doubt that we could have sold even more books if we’d written the fawning paean that Sarah’s passionate fans clearly wanted. Or perhaps a thunderous, screedy condemnation of her petty and vicious critics–and they are legion.

But that is not the literary endeavor Stephen graciously invited me to join. Our premise was simply this:

Sarah Palin is a fascinating and unique person of deep faith who is rising in prominence and influence. Let’s examine her faith journey, explore her influences and discern her worldview. Let’s report the good, the bad, and even the ugly as honestly as we can in the service of any reader interested in learning more about her.

A reviewer for the Pajamas Media group called our book “remarkably detached.” He meant it as a compliment and that’s precisely how we took it.

Enter Stephen’s latest offering: The Mormonizing of America: How the Mormon Religion Became Became a Dominant Force in Politics, Entertainment, and Pop Culture. The quasi-alarmist title, not withstanding, this book perfectly reflects the tone and tenor I described above.

For spending a little time with Mansfield here you will be rewarded with a richer, deeper understanding of the LDS story in America–the movement’s history. And you’ll come away with a pretty comprehensive survey of the religion’s beliefs. And as he makes clear here, there are some mighty odd ones.

Nevertheless, Stephen’s handling of these is simultaneously frank, Christian and charitable.

In other words, if someone is a kook, it’s possible to point the kookiness out without being ugly or mean about it. It’s possible to examine a person’s flaws and failings without denying his or her value as a human being. And this is precisely Stephen’s way–on the street and on the page.

But accessible history and theology are just tasty bonuses here. The chewy, meaty center of the book is Stephen’s quest to discover the how and why of Mormon success in America. He asks why so many Mormons seem to do so well. And then he leads us on a journey for answers.

It’s a journey worth taking.

I have three hopes for Stephen’s new book.

1. I hope The Mormonizing of America finds a wide readership. It deserves it. It’s a lovely, illuminating and thought-provoking piece of writing.

2. If my first wish is granted, I hope it’s success does not translate into dampened enthusiasm for the Republican nominee. As I tried to explain in a previous blog post titled “About the Mormon Thing,” I don’t think Mitt Romney’s faith should deter any evangelical from the vital work of retiring Mr. Obama. Indeed, I’m not concerned that people who read the book will be less likely to vote for Romney. But I do wonder if some who just glance at the title might be.

3. Finally, I would love to see this book “provoke to jealousy” my fellow evangelicals. As I read it, I found myself realizing there is much that has contributed to the creation of what Mansfield calls “the engine of Mormon advance in American society” that used to be true of we evangelical Christians.

Put another way, many of the cultural tools Mormons are currently using to grow in influence and impact are those we left lying on the ground rusting. We should own the concepts of community, family, missional focus, discipline and achievement. But we don’t. Today the divorce rate among evangelicals is virtually indistinguishable from that of raw pagans. We’re insular. Self-absorbed. Comfort-seeking. Complacent. Defeatist.

For some Stephen’s new book can and should serve as a wake-up call. For others, it’s a sensitive, perceptive and fascinating window into a mystery-shrouded cultural phenomenon. I recommend it.

On Being Asked for My Daughter's Hand

Twenty-five years ago last night, I proposed to Mrs. Blather. And as I layed out in horrifying detail in this blog post my beautifully planned, romantic proposal turned into an epic train wreck.

Inexplicably, she said, “yes.” Which immediately made me wonder about her. I, being like Groucho Marx, who once famously said, “I’m not sure I want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

Of course, she turned out to be a wonderful person to travel through life with–more than a wife–a best friend. Over the last two-and-a-half decades we’ve managed to live in three states; buy, fix up and sell a half dozen houses; and raise three daughters.


Those daughters are 23, 20 and 18 today. The eldest, previously known on these pages as Female Offspring Unit #1 (FOU#1), had a boyfriend. And a few months ago he called and asked if I was available for morning coffee in the next few days. They had been in a serious courtship for months. He had also been a regular and welcome fixture at our dinner table.

So although I can be a little slow, I’m not that slow. I knew what was up. This handsome, flat-bellied whippersnapper was about to muster the unmitigated gall to ask if he could have my firstborn daughter.

Nevertheless I set the coffee appointment and feigned cluelessness.

There was no question as to what my answer would be. Mrs. Blather and I had agreed on numerous occasions that we really, really liked this guy. He clearly loved God. He clearly loved her. And we agreed that should their relationship progress to the point at which marriage was considered, they would have our whole-hearted blessing.

And now it seemed that day was upon me. That blessing was about to be called for.

He asked. But I didn’t put him out of his misery immediately.

I began by describing what it’s like to be the father of a daughter. To hold that baby in your arms and feel for the first time the full weight of the stewardship responsibility.

I described how on numerous occasions when she’s small and vulnerable and dependent . . . you suddenly realize a day will come in which you hand her off to another man. And how unthinkable and strange a concept that seems . . .

How as the baby becomes the little girl, you love being her hero. Her Solomon whose vast brain holds all the answers to her questions . . . questions about where birds go when it rains  . . . or how something cold can burn your skin . . . and other mysteries of the universe. To be her Samson with the strength to lift any burden and fix all things broken . . .

To be the one she flys to when you walk in the door at the end of the day. To look into little brown eyes set in a face shaped just like yours and see nothing but trust and admiration.

To be her first dance partner . . .


I described what it’s like to think about the young man she would one day choose. To know that he was out there, somewhere, right now. To wonder how on earth there could possibly be a worthy boy who could make it to adulthood unscathed and undefiled in this nihilistic, porn-soaked, divorce-ravaged culture.

Will the one she chooses treat her as I’ve endeavored, imperfectly, to treat her mother? With gentleness and faithfulness and selflessness and honor?

“You wonder about these things,” I told him. So you pray. You pray into your daughter’s future. And you lift up that nameless boy to heaven and pray with all your strength that God will place His hand of kindness upon him. That He will draw that boy to Him with relentless, tenacious cords of mercy. And hold him by the scruff of the neck when necessary.

“In other words,” I told him, “Your hope is that when it comes time to choose, that she will choose well.”

The young man nodded, swallowed hard and waited for the verdict.

“Her mother and I believe she has chosen well,” I said. “We love you. We believe in you. Of course, you have our blessing.”

Indeed on numerous occasions Mrs. Blather and I have remarked that this young man has become in many ways the son we never had and the brother our other girls never knew they wanted. A faithful God has answered our prayers.

And as the wedding approaches, we take some solace in knowing that Jesus’ “leave and cleave” mandate falls to the husband, not the wife. (For a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife . . .”) And that this phenomenon is at the root of the old Jewish saying, “A son is a son ’til he’s married, but a daughter’s a daughter for life.”

So yes, my blessing was extended. And then a few months later on a cold late winter night, this happened . . .


This was offered and accepted.


Today preparations are well underway. Both budget and preference are making this a very small, intimate ceremony.

And so it goes. She’s still officially mine for a short while longer. But a handoff of this magnitude doesn’t happen in a day. A heart doesn’t change stewards in an evening. It moves in increments and by degrees. And whether I’m ready or not, this once-and-for-all transfer of residence of one wonderful girl’s heart has already begun. So . . .


Love her well and true, young man.  I have.  I do.

This Could Change Everything


There is no shortage of water on Planet Earth. We’re literally two-thirds covered in the stuff.

There is, however, an acute shortage of fresh, drinkable water in many places. Up til now, desalinization of sea water has been a prohibitively expensive and complex technological exercise. But that may be about to change . . .

. . . thanks to Man’s new best friend “Graphene.”

Graphene is basically a chicken wire-like lattice of plain old Carbon atoms. It’s a substance that is proving to have amazing properties and a myriad of applications.

According to this report, one of them might be filtering sea water. A Graphene water filter promises to be anywhere from 100 to 1000 times more efficient than the current state-of-the-art reverse osmosis plants currently in wide use by the Saudis. (The desert oil emiriates of the Middle East demonstrate that desalinization isn’t a problem if you have unlimited funds.)

But drought happens. Always has. Always will. So for the rest of the world, this technological breakthrough holds out the promise of a radically improved quality of life for billions.