The Trump Diaries

September 2, 2015

[Authenticity has not been verified–Ed.]

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Slept in a little today but had enough time to look at the polls over something called a Western Omelet. I never had one until I was in that greasy spoon in Colorado. So good I had my personal chef get the recipe.

Polls looking good: I’m ahead in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida (against their loser ex-governor and senator). I tell ya, something’s happening out there. It’s big. It’s huge.

M. left for QVC at 9:00, but not before complaining again that I haven’t nailed down our vacation plans for this year. Like I keep telling her, specifics are coming. Just not yet. Noticed some of the gold has flaked off the breakfast table. Need to get the gilders in.

Got stuck in traffic on the way to the office. I tell ya, that’s not going to happen anymore once I’m in. Traffic stops for me, not for you. Traffic jams are for losers.

Met with this guy from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. What the hell does that even mean? Since when do murderers and rapists have their own chamber of commerce? But Corey and Mike said I had to talk to this guy, Pedro or Jose something like that, because some people are upset that I’m taking a stand against illegal immigration. Yeah, like that prick from Telemexico or whatever it’s called. I put that guy in his smug little Mexican place.

So I had Juan or Pablo or whoever over to talk, you know, mano y mano. Guy looked like Cesar Romero, swear to God. He starts in on me about how building a border wall is racist. I said I didn’t hear him whining about the Great Wall of China. The Chinese built a wall 5,000 miles long, and mine’s not even going to be half that long. Who does he think we’re gonna get to build the damn thing? Exactly. Legal immigrants and people who deserve to be in this country. He said he didn’t like my plan to get rid of all the illegals. I think maybe he’s afraid I’m gonna deport him. Do we even know his immigration status? I’ll have one of the interns check.

But I decided to play nice, give him a healthy dose of the old Trump charm. Didn’t even interrupt him once, but then I wasn’t paying too much attention. Guy had the nerve to say that deporting illegals would hurt our construction, agriculture, and hospitality industries. Yeah, like we can’t get any real Americans to do that kind of work. I told him that everyone who works for The Trump Organization works for us legally, even the ones that originally came to this country illegally.

After 90 minutes of that nonsense, I told him I had important business to do, but I was hoping for his vote. He said he’d consider it, though I swear he said something in Spanish under his breath, something like Hee-Oh de pooter. I’ll get one of the maids to tell me what it means.

Lunch with Ann Coulter. My kind of woman: tough and smart and blonde. She’d be a real looker if she dropped 20 pounds and had a little work done. Still, she’s a sweet gal, and those shoulder blades! Asked her what she meant when she said she’d be OK with me performing abortions in the White House. She assured me she wasn’t talking about herself, specifically.

Spent an hour or so turning down millions of dollars people keep offering me. I told ’em to donate to the PACs. Lots of PACs starting up to support me. I don’t know any of these people, but if I don’t have to pay for it, I’m good.

Corey said it was time to start talking about our campaign platform. I hate to nail myself down to so many specifics, but maybe he’s right. So, here are our detailed policy positions:

1. Build a freaking wall to keep out the rapists and murderers.
2. Illegal immigrants are gonna be gone so fast.
3. Solve gun violence by focusing on the mentally ill. Find out who they are and do something about it.
4. Rebuild our infrastructure by not giving weapons to countries who don’t like us.
5. Veterans are going to be taken care of.
6. My tax plan: Who knows more about taxes than me? Lower taxes, hedge-fund guys gotta pay their fair share.
7. No one cares more about women’s health than me.
8. Be a champion and a winner. People wanna see victory. They’re gonna see so many victories they’ll get tired of them.
9. Leave Tom Brady alone!

And that’s just in my first 100 days!

M. is asleep, and I’m about to turn in. One of the butlers just came in to take away the dishes, and I swear to God he looked just like that guy from the Mexican chamber of commerce, only better hair.


Dr. Steven Merrill

August 24, 2015

Today’s Provo Daily Herald has an interesting article about Dr. Steven Merrill, an internal medicine physician who was drafted as a young man to serve in the Vietnam War.

Lindon doctor tells of miracles and mayhem during his service in Vietnam

He tells some interesting stories, such as an account of two drunk soldiers who ingested vodka and C-4 explosive putty, but that’s not the reason I’m writing about him.

About four years ago, I was in the best shape of my life. I was running three days a week and swimming three days a week, and lifting weights six days a week. I was at my goal weight, I had built up some muscles, and I was in very good cardiovascular condition. But sometime over Christmas break, I developed a pain in my lower right abdomen. Most days I could go to work, but I would come home and lie down immediately; other days the pain was bad enough that I just stayed in bed. I went to my regular doctor several times, but he couldn’t find any problems. The pain was in the same general area of a hernia I had repaired some ten years previously, but x-rays and scans showed the mesh panel in there was holding up just fine.

A few times the pain was so bad that I went to the ER. Each time, they would do an x-ray or a CT scan and find nothing, so I would go home frustrated and discouraged. My wife encouraged me to get a second opinion and then a third and then a fourth. No one could find anything, so the doctors’ consensus was that I would have to see a pain-management specialist and learn to live with it. I was discouraged and ended up getting a TENS unit to manage the pain, but life was pretty miserable. My wife, however, refused to give up and insisted I see another doctor.

That’s how I ended up in Dr. Merrill’s office some nine months after the pain had started. He walked in the door, and I immediately wondered if I was wasting my time. He was elderly and had a lot of hair growing out of his ears, and as I recall, he was wearing cowboy boots. He opened the folder full of my previous scans and x-rays and said, “You know you have a hernia, right?” No, I did not. He then poked his finger up through the pelvic opening and said, “Does this hurt?” Why, yes, it did. “You need surgery,” he said, giving me the name of a surgeon who he said was “the best in Utah County.” My wife and I were almost in tears because we finally had an answer.

When we saw the surgeon, he asked us why we had waited so long to go to the doctor. I told him I was just grateful that Dr. Merrill had figured out what was wrong with me. He told us Dr. Merrill was one of the good ones. I heartily agreed. Immediately after the surgery, I felt better than I had before, and after a few days’ recovery, I was back to normal.

It was a good lesson to me never to judge someone by their appearance and, especially, never to give up until you have an answer.


The Spectacles and the Stone

August 21, 2015

Great piece from my good friend Christopher Smith.

How the Book of Mormon Translation Story Changed over Time

Growing up in the LDS church, I was taught that Joseph Smith used the Urim and Thummim to translate the Book of Mormon, as described his 1838 history:

Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

As Chris notes, however, the official illustrations of the translation process almost never showed Joseph using the Urim and Thummim. For example, this compilation shows the Urim and Thummim in only one of the illustrations, and it’s one I did not see until I was well into adulthood.

Now, before someone gets upset, I am not suggesting some nefarious attempt to cover up church history. This version of the translation process is just what I was presented with growing up.

As the church has recently acknowledged, the other instrument used to translate was a seer stone that Joseph Smith had borrowed from Willard Chase. I was completely unaware of the seer stone until my mission president mentioned it in a devotional meeting in our office.

As Chris says, the church’s increased openness in discussing the translation process is a very positive sign that the church has decided to “peel back many of the layers of historical revisionism that have accumulated around the translation process.”


New Web Site

August 11, 2015

I’ve just been made aware of a new web site, MormonSpectrum.org , which basically aggregates links to a lot of resources across the spectrum of LDS belief and lack thereof. I think it can be a valuable resource.

Enjoy.

ETA: Based on a cursory reading of the site’s content, I erroneously judged it to be skewed towards the ex-Mormon perspective. I was wrong, and I apologize for my premature judgment.


Why the Seer Stone Matters

August 7, 2015

Most of my readers will already have read that, earlier this week, the LDS church released photographs of one of Joseph Smith’s “seer stones.”

peep stone0

Here’s the church’s statement about the seer stone:

An accompanying article on the history of the Book of Mormon translation will appear in the October 2015 issue of the Church’s Ensign magazine, and is now available online. Both the introduction to the new volume and the magazine article discuss the instruments Joseph Smith used to translate, and both include never-before-seen photographs of a seer stone Joseph Smith likely used in the translation of the Book of Mormon.

The stone he used in the translation was often referred to as a chocolate-colored stone with an oval shape. The stone was passed from Joseph Smith to scribe Oliver Cowdery and then from Cowdery’s widow, Elizabeth Whitmer Cowdery, to Phineas Young. Young then passed it on to his brother, Brigham Young, the second president of the Church. After President Young died, one of his wives, Zina D. H. Young, donated it to the Church. In addition to this seer stone, historical records indicate that Joseph Smith owned other seer stones during his lifetime.

The Ensign article gives a lot more information about what a seer stone is and how it was used in Joseph Smith’s day, but in my view, it seems to avoid some of the trickier questions about the stone and its history.

So, what is the big deal with the seer stone? Richard Bushman writes that modern Mormons aren’t comfortable with the early church’s connection to folk religion:

Why then does the picture of a brown, striated stone trouble us? I think because it crosses a boundary we had held on to between religion and superstition. We have known about the gold plates and the angel and the Urim and Thummim long enough to assimilate them into respectable religion. Those are the ways of God. On the other side of the boundary are witchcraft and spells and tarot cards. Those are silly superstitions that the benighted believe in. We want none of that.

The seerstone, sitting there like it had just been dug up, drags across the line into the realm of the superstitious. Do we really want to be part of a religion that dredges up objects and symbols from folk magic? In doing so we join a battle that has waged for four centuries or more between magic and religion. In the seventeenth century lots of religious people believed in seerstones and various kinds of magical apparatus. They were instruments for reaching the divine. In the eighteenth century all such things were discredited by the Enlightenment, and Protestants (more than Catholics) sloughed them off. That process began at the top of society and only worked its way down gradually. In Joseph Smith’s time ordinary people were divided. Many of his neighbors believed in seerstones; others ridiculed them. He made them part of his religion.

There are echoes of this sentiment in the Ensign article, which notes correctly that Joseph Smith himself downplayed his use of seer stones as such activities became more disreputable with time:

For those without an understanding of how 19th-century people in Joseph’s region lived their religion, seer stones can be unfamiliar, and scholars have long debated this period of his life. Partly as a result of the Enlightenment or Age of Reason, a period that emphasized science and the observable world over spiritual matters, many in Joseph’s day came to feel that the use of physical objects such as stones or rods was superstitious or inappropriate for religious purposes.

In later years, as Joseph told his remarkable story, he emphasized his visions and other spiritual experiences.9Some of his former associates focused on his early use of seer stones in an effort to destroy his reputation in a world that increasingly rejected such practices. In their proselyting efforts, Joseph and other early members chose not to focus on the influence of folk culture, as many prospective converts were experiencing a transformation in how they understood religion in the Age of Reason. In what became canonized revelations, however, Joseph continued to teach that seer stones and other seeric devices, as well as the ability to work with them, were important and sacred gifts from God.

But both of these statements assume that using seer stones for hire was, at one time, an acceptable and honorable profession, so it’s just “presentism” that makes us modern folks recoil at the thought. In fact, scrying, or “juggling” as it was sometimes called, for money was potentially grounds for a criminal charge of being a “disorderly person,”  and it was an activity acceptable only to the credulous. A legal document from 1819 includes in its definition of a disorderly person “All Jugglers; All who pretend to have skill in physiognomy, palmistry, or like crafty science, or pretend to tell fortunes, or to discover where lost goods may be found.” This explains why, in 1826, Joseph Smith was tried on a charge of being a disorderly person and impostor. Leaving aside whether or not he was convicted (he seems to have been let off with a warning not to continue the practice), he is known to have hired out to Josiah Stowell and others to locate hidden treasures through the use of the seer stone.

The problem, then, is not only that modern Mormons do not believe one can find lost or hidden items using a seer stone, but they recognize, as did people in Joseph Smith’s day, that people who pretend to have that ability are being dishonest. At best, finding items this way is a sort of parlor trick, but at worst, it’s a conscious fraud. That Joseph Smith may or may not have made very much money in his endeavors is beside the point. That he used a seer stone at all in exchange for money is troubling to a lot of people. Thus, it’s not so much the connection to folk magic but the connection to possible fraud that is troubling to people, especially since most are hearing of this for the first time.

But I’m just showing my modern prejudice, some might say. Perhaps, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that Joseph really did have a gift for finding hidden treasures. Why downplay it if it was so honorable? Wouldn’t evidence of his success as a treasure hunter bolster his later claims as a prophet? Indeed, if he had such a gift, why wasn’t he successful with it? If anything, Joseph seems to have been a little embarrassed by his career using the seer stone. In his official history, he writes:

In the month of October, 1825, I hired with an old gentleman by the name of Josiah Stoal, who lived in Chenango county, State of New York. He had heard something of a silver mine having been opened by the Spaniards in Harmony, Susquehanna county, State of Pennsylvania; and had, previous to my hiring to him, been digging, in order, if possible, to discover the mine. After I went to live with him, he took me, with the rest of his hands, to dig for the silver mine, at which I continued to work for nearly a month, without success in our undertaking, and finally I prevailed with the old gentleman to cease digging after it. Hence arose the very prevalent story of my having been a money-digger.

There’s no mention of the scrying activities, and Joseph tells us he was just a hired hand doing manual labor for Stowell, leaving the impression that the “very prevalent story of [his] having been a money-digger” was merely a distortion of the truth.

Of course, now the church acknowledges that he was digging for money using the stone, and the church confirms that he used the same stone and method to translate the Book of Mormon. For as long as I can remember, the church has always taught that the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God through the means of the Urim and Thummim, which were the interpreters deposited with the golden plates, not by looking at a stone that had been found in a well when Joseph was a teenager. An LDS friend reminded me that the story of the seer stone in the hat was mentioned in official LDS sources exactly twice in the last 40 years, the last time in 1993. So, it’s no wonder that this information might be a bit of a surprise to most members of the LDS church, and no one can blame some people for feeling that the church should have been more open with this information.

At this point, some people will say I’m accusing the LDS church of “covering up” its history, but I don’t think that’s what happened. As the Ensign article mentioned, seer stones fell into disrepute, even within Joseph Smith’s lifetime, and the stories were presented in a way that distanced the early church from these “folk magic” practices. In time, the standard narrative was accepted without question, such that many, if not most, church leaders probably had no idea the seer stone was involved or where it came from. And if they were unaware of these things, I don’t imagine that curriculum writers knew about them, either. So, the church published a sort of “sanitized” version of its history, perhaps without even knowing it.

But now we know the fuller history, and it is upsetting to a lot of people. I am dismayed–though not surprised–that many Mormons I know are blaming those who were blindsided by this revelation for being upset about it. The church, they say, has always been open about these issues, and people should take responsibility for learning about the history of their church instead of expecting the church to spoon-feed it to them. In short, too many people want to blame the unsuspecting members and absolve the church (and vice versa, for that matter). But such an approach helps no one.

What is called for is an open discussion of what we know, and then we can discuss the reasons people are upset or feel they have been misled. I don’t see why leaders and members can’t acknowledge that the church was a little squeamish about the history of the seer stones. Insisting that the church has always been perfectly transparent when we know otherwise just reinforces the feeling that many have that the church has broken its trust.


A Note on Akish

July 24, 2015

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve found the exchanges between Philip Jenkins and William Hamblin to be highly entertaining. All along, Jenkins has consistently requested that Hamblin provide evidence that the peoples described in the Book of Mormon actually lived in Precolumbian America. Dr. Jenkins has already responded to Dr. Hamblin’s suggestion that the similar-sounding 7th-century AD Maya inscription (U-Kix) and roughly 1500-2000 BC Jaredite Akish are “as good [a connection] as we can expect to find.  It represents the existence in a Mesoamerican inscription of a Book of Mormon king with broad parallels in name, date, title and function.” (See Hamblin 25: U-Kix/Akish)

Hamblin goes on to explain these “broad parallels”:

1- Chronology: Akish was a Jaredite.  Although there is insufficient data to precisely establish Jaredite chronology, it is clear he lived in the early Preclassic/Formative period (1800 BCE – 400 BCE)

2- Name: Akish is broadly homophonous with U-Kix Kan (phonetically wa-kish, oo-kish, or uh-kish).  (The Kan/Chan suffix means “serpent” and is probably a title.  Maya kings frequently took titles of Kan/Chan/serpent, Balam/jaguar or predatory birds.)  Given the well known phenomena of the change of pronunciation of proper names through time and between cultures, the Maya U-Kish is a close homophonic match to the Book of Mormon Akish some 1500 years earlier. 

3- Title: both men were kings.  

4- Function: both men were founders of a new dynastic line (Ether 9:6).

Dr. Jenkins has already dealt with 1-3, but 4 is just plain wrong. As I’ll explain, in no way can Akish be said to be the founder of a new dynastic line.

Let’s look at what the Book of Mormon tells us. The story is typically convoluted, like the rest of the Book of Mormon, but it goes something like this:

  1. Omer is a righteous king, but his unrighteous son, Jared, overthrows Omer and imprisons him. (Ether 8:2-4)
  2. Jared is then defeated by his brothers, and Omer regains the throne, but spares Jared’s life. (Ether 8:6)
  3. Jared’s daughter is angry, so she “dances before [Jared] that she pleased him” and Jared promises Akish his daughter’s hand in marriage in exchange for Akish bringing him the head of King Omer (sound vaguely familiar?).
  4. Omer, warned in a dream, flees with his supporters, and Jared becomes the king. (Ether 8:9-14;9:1-4)
  5. Akish then murders Jared and takes the kingdom for himself. (Ether 9:5-6)
  6. Akish’s sons then try to overthrow him, and they fight it out for many years, until there are only 30 people left, plus those who fled with Omer. (Ether 9:7-12)
  7. Omer is then returned to his throne, and in his old age, he passes the kingdom to his son, Emer, who is first in a succession of righteous kings. (Ether 9:13ff)

So, in short, Akish’s dynastic line consists of only Akish himself, and the original (Omeric, we might say) dynastic line is restored. Thus, not only is Hamblin playing fast and loose with real archaeology, but he’s misleading Jenkins and other readers about what the text of the Book of Mormon actually says. He probably thinks he can get away with this because Jenkins won’t read a damn thing!


Vintage Runtu: FARMS and Fast Food

July 24, 2015

The increasingly hilarious exchange between Baylor History Professor Philip Jenkins and BYU Professor William Hamblin reminded me of something I wrote a number of years ago. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I was able to find it. Hope you enjoy it.

FARMS and Fast Food

Although Daniel Midgley-Welch is well-known in apologetic circles, most people are unaware of his prior career as cashier/fry cook in a local Burger King. Our researchers have transcribed the audio from a surviving security video to give an exciting glimpse of his young mind at work.

DMW: Welcome to Burger King. May I help you?

Patron: Uh, I’m not sure what I want. I’ve never been here before.

DMW: Just take your time. Look over the menu, study it out, and perhaps pray for guidance.

Patron: What?

DMW: Oh, never mind. We have a lot to choose from.

Patron: What’s this Big King sandwich?

DMW: It’s two beef patties, our secret sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun.

Patron: Sounds just like a Big Mac.

DMW: Clearly you’re not familiar with the work of Corey Pants, who showed in his survey that the Big King cannot be derived from a Big Mac. No, it has its roots in an ancient Sumerian sandwich, which not coincidentally used the same sort of wrapper we use. Of course, it was made of papyrus. Really, you should keep up with the research.

Patron: What about the BK Fish Sandwich? Is that like a filet o’ fish?

DMW: Look, you don’t need to get belligerent. That question was answered in the 1960s by our respected ichthyologist, Drew Squibley. Don’t even bring up the filet o’ fish until you’ve read Squibley. It makes you look foolish.

Patron: Look, I just want something to eat. What do you recommend?

DMW: I’m not going to do your research for you. If you want me to give you a list of articles, fine. But I don’t have time to bring you up to speed if you’re not willing to put in minimal effort.

Patron: Are your fries any good? I heard you changed your recipe back in the 90s.

DMW: That’s an anti-Burger King lie. They have never changed. Our fries are unlike any others in the world.

Patron: They’re just fried potatoes, like everyone else’s.

DMW: Silly boy. We invented fries.

Patron: That’s ridiculous. If Burger King invented fries, I’d like to see some conclusive evidence for that.

DMW: What kind of evidence are you looking for?

Patron: I don’t know. Wrappers, something in print, anything that mentions Burger King as inventing the fry.

DMW: You are so ignorant, aren’t you? Why would you expect that kind of evidence?

Patron: Well, if a large corporation had developed such a product a long time ago, you’d expect it to leave some trace of its actual occurrence.

DMW: Obviously, you’ve never heard of the Limited Potato Theory. Burger King in those days did not start within a vacuum. There were thousands of other fast-food businesses surrounding it, and it was merely absorbed into the larger economy. In fact, Burger King was so good at hiding its impact, that we really have no evidence that it even existed, but we know it did; otherwise, how do you explain the existence of french fries? Did Burger King just make a good guess?

Patron: Can’t I just get something to eat? I just want to know what you have that’s good.

DMW: Jeez, you’re a real fundamentalist. Really, how do you expect anyone to take you seriously if you use such outdated Enlightenment terminology, such as “good”? You’re never going to survive unless you take a more postmodern approach to the world.

Patron: I think I’m going to go over to In-N-Out instead.

DMW: Oh, sure. Ignore the evidence. Just stick your head in the sand and cling to your predetermined beliefs.

Manager: Did we lose another customer?

DMW: Yeah, boss. For some reason, people don’t seem to be interested in the truth.

Manager: Losers.


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