Why Christopher Hitchens Was Wrong About Mitt Romney

...up to a point.

A couple of years back the late, great Hitch appeared on FOX and made some rather pointed comments concerning Mitt Romney and the painful history of the Mormon/LDS church on the subject of race (in the video below up to about 1 minute in -- I'd appreciate a better link if one exists, without the extra passage from Richard Dawkins).

...which can seem pretty damaging, especially when paired with quotes like this one from Brigham Young himself in 1855: "You must not think, from what I say, that I am opposed to slavery. No! The negro is damned, and is to serve his master till God chooses to remove the curse of Ham..."

These issues are not a new political weapon -- they were a rather large factor in the political fizzling of the non-Romneyesque Mormon presidential candidate Mo Udall, who was narrowly passed-over for the Democratic nomination of favor of Jimmy Carter. Shortly after that election, a new revelation was received by the church that re-instated black people into the full range of the faith (closer to the original teachings of Joseph Smith, who had ordained blacks himself).

Yet Hitchens provocatively reminds us: Romney was already a grown man and a major figure in the then-officially-racist church by that time. Shouldn't Romney still be held accountable? A few journalists took up Hitchens's challenge, as you can see here on Meet the Press:

I'm willing to give Romney the benefit of any doubt and say that his response is 100% genuine. That his father supported Dr. King is easy to verify (though he never 'marched' with King), that the change in church dogma moved him to tears of thanks, and that Mitt (and Udall) opposed this church policy -- it doesn't surprise me and frankly it's about the most human moment for Romney on television that I can recall.

But does that mean Romney is out of the ethical woods? Sorry, no.

Besides not being a racist, it means: Romney has a moral sense that is not guided by church dogma or senior church authorities. That is consistent with most people -- a self-managed internal moral sense, separate from "teachings," is why everyday American Christians (and allied faithful) don't, say, stone adulterers at Club Med or burn witches hanging out (conveniently) at Burning Man.

And there's the rub: If Romney says his choices are guided by faith, and not open to discussion, then... shouldn't Romney himself be held to the same criteria? Because clearly he, and his father, and the Udalls, and many many other politicians, are clearly answering an internal moral voice that's not guided by the scriptures or elders of their churches.

And here's where Hitchens shows up again on an end-run from 2007.

A black candidate with ties to Louis Farrakhan could expect questions about his faith in the existence of the mad scientist Yakub, creator of the white race, or in the orbiting mother ship visited by the head of the Nation of Islam. What gives Romney an exemption?

The answer should be: nothing. I'm appalled at recent statements by his political opponents that the sources of Romney's views (and actions, should he managed to be elected) would be off-limits for discussion. You should be, too -- especially when other devout believers of the same stripe have such strongly-opposing views, like the laudable Senator Tom Udall, nephew of Mo, who is determined to overturn the Citizens United ruling.

WWJD? Can a corporation be ordained, or not?

Posted April 09, 2012 | Comments (0)


This morning I decided to go for a bike ride. Dragged out a map, looked at some of my favorite recent destinations for riding that were at about what I felt was an appropriate distance for the amount of time I had; then drew a circle roughly around my location to fit their range. I noticed that they all tended to cluster to the north and west, to Palo Alto, Los Altos, and the hills near them.

There's an old photographer's maxim: if the view is interesting in a particular direction, there's a good chance that the view will be interesting in the opposite direction, too. This is one of those little guidelines that encourage the thing I most like about the process of photography, and that I like most about cycling: it demands that you pay attention.

So I chose a different route, and a path less traveled, which has made all the difference.

The photograph at right was made along a path that I hesitated before -- gravel, long, no easy turning back. Little sign of popularity, not even a guarantee that I'd not get to the far side and reach some impasse that would send me back the way I'd come.

Five minutes along, and the path was now just a dry berm, rising from water on both sides. No one about, no sound but the roll of tires on dry mud. To my left, a gull came alongside, and another, and then more to the right, and all around, at eye level and skimming the still, sky-colored water below, criss-crossing alongside of me before taking a group arc off towards better fishing.

I'd never felt more like a cycle ride is a kind of flying.

Five minutes on, I was startled by a flight of swifts that whooshed perpendicularly across my front wheel, the beat of their wings the only sound followed quickly by my own amazed intake of breath as they shot off to the east.

Five minutes more and I was pacing alongside a great egret for nearly a block, able to study the strokes of his wings, to hear his call and watch how he seemed to gently communicate his presence to the other birds along the path, before he accelerated ahead, then landed on the trail, watching me until I had caught up, at which point he departed back the way he'd come.

During this I'd seen only three other people, though I was within sight of the homes and offices of tens of thousands. I passed one more, an older lady gently cranking along on a mountain bike, and as I started to loop back to shore I was following another bird, a crow I thought -- after a while he pinioned 180 degrres and shot past me, again at eye level -- a red-tailed hawk.

Five minutes more and I was in traffic, negotiating my way over highway 237, dodging pickup trucks and VTA trains. It was all good riding, but only one part of it touched the sky.

Posted April 07, 2012 | Comments (0)

A Momentary Stay

See See Lo @ Jenner, CaliforniaWhen you're busy, your peripheral senses dim; it might be weeks before you notice that the house-guest sleeping on your sofa has installed himself as a permanent resident - still asleep in the morning as you rush out to the office, mostly out of sight when you return late. And so it has been as the weeks and more have slipped by without an entry here on Botzilla, as the digital cruft starts to collect around the DNS entries and the CSS stylings begin to look a little bit too 2009.

I could make a host of plausible excuses: that we were busy launching Rift; that there was another new baby in the extended family; that much of my time has been consumed by my rediscovered love of cycling; all possible, all overlapping, but ultimately I think that the real culprit is the great mass ADHD of our era, Facebook.

And it's Facebook that's brought me back here, in an attempt to carve out something more coherent than a string of redirected tweets or ideas limited to a half-dozen lines of narrow text, swept away into the great churn of daily gossip.

Now, I have a certain respect for gossip, as a driving force for culture and civilization as far back as either could be meaningfully describe. Robert Frost called it one of the three great things mankind have wrought in the world (the other, slightly-lesser great things were science and religion).

Yet Frost isn't known as a gossip, but as the author of something both more solid and more ephemeral : his poems. He said that to write -- to complete a new bundle of ideas -- is a momentary stay against confusion.

I hope he was right.

Posted April 06, 2012 | Comments (0)


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