Stallion Cornell's Moist Blog

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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Fun Day

I don't have time to blog much, as I'm having a truly fun day at work. Who knew? We're filming a bunch of parodies for - you can see some of the older ones that are already up there. The new batch aren't Mac/PC parodies - I'll show you some of those as soon as they're ready to launch. 

Today's also my 14th wedding anniversary. My wife reminded me of the fact while I was in the shower this morning. How classy is THAT?

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Failed Bailout

I've been in meetings all morning, and I left, returned to my car, and heard the news that the House voted down the bailout. 

The mind reels. 

I can try to pretend I understand the intricacies of this, but I don't. I'm usually skeptical of government solutions, so my default position would be skepticism of the bailout. At the same time, it was government that caused the problem, so I'm not sure it's a good thing that government is walking away from the mess now. 

I listened to Rush Limbaugh as I drove, who's giddy with delight, as he thinks this shows the Democrats' hold on power is more tenuous than previously thought, and that this make Obama vulnerable, blah blah blah. I don't know if he or any other hardcore partisans recognize how petty they sound. If our financial system collapses, who cares about anything else? Do we really have to see this through a nakedly partisan prism? 

I don't know what happens next, and neither does anybody else. All I know is that Washington continues to fail the people they're supposed to serve, and that this is probably going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

I don't really have a rational reaction to this. All I know is that in my gut, I know this is not good. 

Friday, September 26, 2008

Debate Commentary

Settling in... just saw a really controversial KSL editorial telling us to live within our means. Neat.

Now watching NBC...

Ah! A little bias to start off! "40 years after segregation, an African American is now a candidate." My wife wonders why Brian Williams has a job...

Jim Lehrer's intro - I hate Jim Lehrer as a moderator. He was Clinton's hand-picked moderator back in the day...

National security includes the global economic crisis? That's convenient!

"No cheers or applause throughout?" Yeah, that'll happen...

Where do you stand on financial recovery? Obama launches into his stump speech...Stalliondo is tickling me...He's put forward a series of proposals? No, he hasn't! Ah! The first Bush slam...

McCain begins by mentioning Ted Kennedy and now starts to take credit for bipartisan fiscal solution that doesn't exist. Anyone else sick of the "Wall Street/Main Street" meme? Mrs. Cornell wants to know why neither is answering the question. OOH! He went back to Washington! Big frickin' deal. Foreign oil non sequitor.

Jim Lehrer points out that neither has answered the question.

Two years ago Obama warned us about this? Say what? Obama's a Fannie/Freddie pawn for crap's sake! What the hell is a "21st century regulatory framework?"

Now we're hearing about Dwight Eisenhower writing letters. McCain's reminding people that he stupidly called for Chris Cox's resignation. Promises to fire people.

Obama goes "Wall Street/Mains Street" again. He's running against Bush. Good "afraid I couldn't hear him?" line from McCain.

McCain goes "Wall Street/Main Street," too. This would make a great drinking game. If I drank. Which I want to start doing as I listen to this drivel.

Mrs. Cornell says this is boring. She's right.

McCain slams spending and Republicans who went along with it. "Earmarking as a gateway drug." Good line. Three million on bears in Montana? Was that a joke? He's going to veto every spending bill?! That should be interesting.

Obama's trying to outconservative McCain on earmarks. Mrs. Cornell is reading her book. Obama's comparing 18 billion in earmarks to 300 billion in tax cuts, demonstrating the economic stupidity that made me reject this clown. 95% of working families will get a tax cut?! News flash, Obama - 95% of working families don't pay income taxes!

McCain doesn't get it either. He doesn't call Obama on his taxation ignorance and keeps harping on corruption, as if cutting out earmarks is going to be anything but symbolic. Good slam on new spending, though. Yes! Worst thing we can do is raise taxes.

Obama interrupts - wants to raise corporate taxes during a recession like an idiot. He pays for every dime of it? No, punk. He's going to go through the budget line by line? When did he get the line item veto?

Lehrer wants them to talk to each other, and they're not interested in playing along.

Thank you, McCain, for finally demonstrating the economic disincentive of high corporate taxes. Good Ireland example. But he can't help himself - he goes back to earmarks. First time McCain says "my friends." My son Stalliondo is pooping and says "I love poops."Mrs. Cornell cheered when McCain offered a huge tax cut for people with kids.

Obama lies about the 95% thing again. Another lie about corporate tax loopholes. Stalliondo still pooping. Obama takes issue with health credit - McCain smiles smarmily as Obama says McCain wants to tax health benefits.

First time the word "festooned" has ever been used in a presidential debate. McCain can't talk about anything but earmarks. Two tax brackets - generous dividends - I'm OK with that. Obama keeps interrupting.

Oil company profits? Who cares, Obama? Demonizing oil companies makes me ill. Obama just wants to beat up on people rather than solve the problem.

Stepped away to wipe Stalliondo's bum. False alarm.

Obama goes off on alternative energy. Health care and education - Obama plays to his strengths. Giving a laundry list of government freebies.

McCain: Cut spending! Broken record. Some specifics, jacball, please! All right! Elimate ethanol subsidies! Now we're getting somewhere. Good answer.

Lehrer says: what changes? Obama tries to answer without answering. All my kids have descended on us and are jumping on the bed. Stalliondo is screaming. Google for Government? A good idea.

Lehrer mad that the guys won't answer his dumb question. McCain mentions "spending freeze." That's come back to bite him in the butt.Obama goes back to his stupid line-item veto fantasy. Does he realize that he can't go through the budget line-by-line? First mention of Iraq.

McCain mentions offshore drilling and nuclear power. Good deal! "You can't get there from here." 45 new nuclear power plants. Yes. Obama looks smug. Oh, crap, McCain. He wanders into "climate change." Blech.


FDR purchased homes and government made a profit? No way! That's a gaffe. "Spending on $300 billion of tax cuts." Doesn't understand taxes. Neither does McCain. Corbin is whining and wants us to go ride bikes with him. Can't hear McCain's answer. Chloe making horn noises.

McCain makes case for low taxes, sort of. Spending restraint again. McCain's a one-trick pony here. Obama attacks him for being George Bush. McCain gives a laundry list of the stupid things he's done to oppose Bush. He looks like a pedophile when he smiles.

McCain trying to shoehorn his Iraq answer into a surge cheerleading moment. Obama's going to chew him up. My kids can't leave us alone! Obama opposes the war in the first place - so what? But he's launching into stump speech mode, too. First mention of Bin Laden. Slams the Iraq war six ways to Sunday and lies about al Qaeda's resurgence.

Stalliondo screaming like a banshee.

Good answer, McCain - next president doesn't get to decide whether we should have gone into Iraq. But now he's repeating his previous answer. Slams Obama for not traveling to Iraq. Obama defends Biden. Hey, Barack - Biden voted for the war too, bonehead. Obama now trying to pretend the surge doesn't really matter because the war was a mistake. Doesn't help, Barack - you can't go back in time. We WERE greeted as liberators. McCain is annoyed and he looks peevish.

McCain "tactic vs. strategy" stupid line. Obama says it's not true that he refuses to acknowledge that we're winning? Is he now saying we ARE winning in Iraq? These guys hate each other.

Obama comes back to a timetable. BARACK?! We know you opposed it! What are you going to do NOW? al Qaeda is on the ropes, Obama. 16 months and the war is over? Why 16 months? Trying to sound hawkish.

Nobody's winning this.

McCain defending Iraq as central battleground on War on Terror. McCain gets snarly as he gets defensive.

Obama wants more troops in Afghanistan. I'm OK with that, but he's trying to paint a bleaker picture to justify his defeatism in Iraq. Says Secretary Gates think Afghanistan is the "central front?" No.

McCain goes back to the 80's and the Russians in Afghanistan. Not prepared to threaten Pakistan - good! Reminding people that Obama wants Pakistan strikes. "You don't say that out loud... but if you have to do things, you have to do things." Argh. STUPID. He keeps starting out strong and then fumbling at the end.

Obama lies - "Nobody talked about attacking Pakistan." Then talks about attacking Pakistan. Slams McCain for singing about bombing Iran, which was a very dumb thing McCain did.

I can't stand these clowns.

Obama: "20th Century mindset?" That means nothing. Belittles Musharraf, which is stupid.

McCain hits back on Musharraf. Good. Now slams Reagan. Ah, good move! (That's sarcasm.) Why remind us of Lebanon? Lists a bunch of conflicts. Wandering. Telling personal story about Iraq soldier. He's good when he goes here. He's trying to show us the bracelet but can't get his arm up. War stories make McCain look good.

Obama has a bracelet, too. Using it for doveish purposes. Good segue into pacifist, stump speechy crap. "They're still sending out videotapes!" Oh, horror! Obama says McCain said he'd "muddle through" Afghanistan. McCain is bugged.

McCain makes a snide subcommittee slam that nobody understands. Says Obama needs to travel more. McCain is defensive, which means he's losing.

An hour is up. How long is this tedious thing?

Moving on to Iran - McCain strong on anti nukes for Iran. Can't allow a second holocaust. Sounds like a grown-up. League of Democracies? Isn't that NATO?

Obama believes the Republican Guard is a terrorist organization, contrary to how he voted. We shouldn't have gone to war with Iraq, Obama? Really? You've never said THAT before. Obama says "me, too," in a lack of tolerance for a nuclear Iraq. Wants Russia and China as part of this. Wants "tough, direct diplomacy:"" with Iran. Stupid. McCain should jump on that, and he probably won't.

Oh! He IS jumping on it! Good for him! Bringing up Barack's pledge to meet dictator loons without preconditions. Can't pronounce "Ahmidinijad." Obama looks cool; McCain looks like he wants to eat somebody's heart right out of his chest.

Obama slams McCain for not listening to Henry Kissinger. He's so frickin' full of crap on this. Obama sounds like the sheer weight of his own personal genius will make Iran change. McCain needs to STOP SMILING. No one likes a pedophile, Johnny! Obama lies through his teeth on North Korea. Nice sigh, McCain. You're going all Al Gore on this.

Cheap dig from McCain on presidential seal. McCain being defensive when he should be ripping Obama's head off without looking the way he does, which is as if he wants to literally rip Obama's head off. Good slam on North Korea, though. Obama's trying to interrupt. Now he's defensive. Misrepresenting both McCain and Kissinger. STOP SMILING, MCCAIN, YOU FREAKING NAZI! He looks like the sneering guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Shut up, my friend.

Obama dazzles with Russian minutiae. My kids are screaming again. Mrs. Cornell leaves to investigate. All hell breaks loose. I may return, I may not. I have to go put out fire with my kids.

I'm back. McCain slams Obama on Russia and Georgia. McCain sounding like a grown-up again. Corbin wants me to go get ice cream. Cornelius is in time-out, as he won't stop crying. This debate is tedious. Stalliondo comes in the room with a smile and says "I'm not crying! I'm happy!" Cleta is now mad about something. Stalliondo beating up on Fester, our black cat. Cleta is concerned. Obama is saying something about Russia, and I have no idea what it is.

Why is Obama talking about solar energy now? Maybe it makes logical sense, as I've missed a bit here. Stalliondo bumped his head. McCain sneered. Wow! McCain supported Nunn/Lugar! Too bad nobody has any idea what Nunn/Lugar is.

9/11 question. McCain started strong, and now he's championing the Mickey Mouse 9/11 commission. What a friggin' weenie. This was a softball for you, Johnny, and you're whiffing it. The 9/11 commission was a joke. McCain is slamming Bush on the one issue where Bush has been dead on. We DON'T torture prisoners, McCain, you bonehead! Cheering creation of new bureaucracies. How did THIS guy end up as the GOP nominee?

Obama boasts of obnoxious new airport security measures. Offers details that sound official and mean nothing. Obama's in favor of missile defense? Oh, please. What a load. Oh, good. See? He's waffling now. Back to al Qaeda, once again pretending that Iraq hasn't done anything to stop them. Oh, great. Now, Obama's going to make the world like us. Mrs. Cornell thinks Obama looks like a kid.

Lehrer jumps on the restore America's reputation. And McCain goes to SDI and looks goofy. Good on Iraq, though. And good for ignoring Lehrer's lefty, leading, weenie question.

This isn't a two hour debate, is it? End it. End it. END IT!!!

How'd we get back to China? We can't provide health care? Why do libs think that if the Feds don't do it, it won't get done? My TV is making an annoying whining noise. I want this to end. AAAAAAARGH! PLEASE KILL ME.

McCain: "I'm old." Back to the surge again. We're running in very tedious circles. McCain talking veterans is good stuff.

Obama's dad came from Kenya; that's where he gets his name. That made Mrs. Cornell laugh. Corbin is now sitting next to me and chewing on a plastic pirate's mast. He wants me to go get some ice cream. I want to get out of here. SHUT UP, BARACK. Corbin saw me type "SHUT UP" and was aghast.

McCain making closing statement - hopefully.


Bottom line: McCain didn't change the momentum, and therefore lost.

I plan on blogging through tonight's debate.

Care to join me? I'm going to do a running commentary as we watch two awful candidates and decide which sucks slightly less.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Can't talk now! Must save economy!

There are a number of websites I punch up on a fairly regular basis just to read the headlines, the first and foremost being the Drudge Report. So imagine my joy yesterday when the front page of Drudge screamed, in bold rad letters, that JOHN MCCAIN SUSPENDS HIS CAMPAIGN - HEADS BACK TO WASHINGTON TO WORK ON BAILOUT!

Oh, please.

John McCain has absolutely no insight or credibility on this issue with anyone who is actually going to make any decisions about this bailout. This is a brazen, stupid stunt, and it smacks of desperation. I've seen a few people, notably Newt Gingrich, praise his "bold, decisive action," but when pressed, none of these people can tell me what it is that John McCain is actually going to do. He still found time to yap with Katie Couric while his campaign was "suspended;" nothing's changed, and McCain's participation on Capitol Hill won't change anything. It's just McCain's way of saying "Look at me!"

And what's with backing out of the debate? How does that solve the problem? What a colossal bag of wind this man is.

The sad thing now is that Sarah Palin is coagulating into just another McCainiac. She gave a really awful interview to Katie Couric where she struggled through nonsense about "predatory lenders" and other talking points that she clearly didn't understand. Hey, Palin - the problem here is not predatory lenders; it's flimsy lending standards that provided loans to people who couldn't afford them! There's ample reason to blame this mess on well-intentioned lefties who insisted that diversity should trump risk. To start mouthing off about "predatory lenders" is to concede the argument to the Democrats.

Which is what McCain is really good at doing. I suppose it was inevitable that Palin would go down that road, too - she is the number two, after all. The only silver lining in this is that Mitt Romney may still have a political future, as McCain and Palin are going to go down in flames.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Your comments on yesterday's Prologue are greatly appreciated. I think I'm old and crusty enough that I'm not too scared of being mangled by critics. I don't know if I can incorporate all your suggestions, but this gives me a bit of direction. I thank you.

Please, please continue to comment on it, though - I won't post the next chapter until next week.

It's very difficult to write in a vacuum. You have no real idea of what works and what doesn't until someone else reads it. This experience reminds me of one of the last things I did living in St. George, which was rewrite Tuacahn's signature piece, UTAH! (The exclamation mark is what really sells it.)

For those of you who don't know Tuacahn's history, the facility was built to accommodate a live, musical spectacular entitled UTAH!, an outdoor musical which featured all manner of singing, dancing, pyrotechnics, and hoo hah. It told the story of the settlers of Southern Utah, led by Jacob Hamblin, a guy I'd never heard of until I saw UTAH!

The show was nothing if not ambitious - it featured an appearance by Jesus Himself, descending from a massive, wooden, elevated platform up against the 1,500-foot red-rock cliff backdrop. Tuacahn's irreverently named "Jesus Lift" is still there behind the stage, rotting in the sun. We talked about using it for other shows, but the thing is rickety as all crap. I think it's only through divine intervention that UTAH!'s Jesuses never plunged to their deaths.

The centerpiece of UTAH!, however, was the massive outdoor flood that poured across the stage at the end of the show. Thousands of gallons of water were pumped up the side of the mountain and then released to wash over the stage to provide a grand bit of spectacle. When Tuacahn abandoned UTAH! in 1999, they still felt it necessary to incorporate the flood effect into just about everything they did. It knocked out a bridge in 1999's Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; it washed away the village of Anatevka at the end of 2000's Fiddler on the Roof, and I think it did something in 2001's Oklahoma! (notice the exclamation mark!) but I can't be sure what it was. They gave it a rest for awhile, but I tried to bring it back in 2004 when I directed Guys and Dolls. I wanted use it in the sewer scene and have gamblers splashing around in the water for "Luck Be a Lady," until the choreographer pointed out that the audience might feel uncomfortable imagining dancers mucking about in water that, in the context of the show, would presumably be filled with poop.

Anyway, for the fall of 2002, Tuacahn wanted to extend their season into September and decided to relaunch UTAH! as the vehicle to make that happen. Why UTAH!? Well, in the words of one executive, "We own it. So it's cheap."


The problem is that UTAH! had been relaunched before, and it had never generated an audience sizable enough to sustain the place, which is why it had been thrown in the dustbin after 1998. It first appeared in 1995 with music by Kurt Bestor and Sam Cardon, lyrics by Tuacahn founder and Saturday's Warrior auteur Doug Stewart, and a book by Robert Paxton. It was retooled the following year by the same folks, and then retooled even harder the following year by Reed McColm, who was credited in the playbill alongside UTAH!'s original authors with providing "additional material," which understated McColm's contributions significantly. His UTAH!, which added the subtitle "The Peacemaker Saga," rewrote Paxton's book almost entirely and fiddled substantially with Stewart's lyrics. The result was a more cerebral UTAH!, more theatrical and less "pageant-y,"and a version that remains the favorite of many UTAH! veterans who consider it a noble effort to save a flawed concept.

Still, like all UTAH!'s before it, it tanked.

So in 1998, UTAH! returned with an all-new version, dubbed The New UTAH!, scrapping everything that had gone before except the score by Bestor and Cardon. Tim Slover wrote the new story, which abandoned the Jacob Hamblin narrative and focused on the history of the entire state. Marvin Payne wrote new lyrics and songs that were grafted on to the old tunes, and while this new UTAH!, like all the others before it, had its share of admirers, it, too, failed to set the box office on fire.

Tuacahn almost closed its doors after that.

After clawing its way back to life in 1999 and mounting a more traditional Broadway season, Tuacahn found a new lease on life, which everyone believed meant that UTAH! was dead for good. It wasn't until 2002 that the "It's cheap!" mantra became a rationale for reviving the thing yet again.

But which UTAH! would be revived?

See, one of the main problems of UTAH! The Musical is that there are things in Utah the State's history that many would just as soon forget. Polygamy tops that list, yet the practice makes an appearance in all three of the original UTAH!'s, even getting its own featured song in the 1997 version. The other is the gruesome Mountain Meadows Massacre, arguably the darkest chapter in Latter-day Saint history and one that still haunts many Southern Utah families even to this day. Jacob Hamblin wasn't present for the massacre, but it was a seminal moment in the lives of the Southern Utah settlers, and it was part of all three original UTAH!s. (Neither polygamy nor the massacre made their way into 1998's version. In fact, I don't have any idea what was actually in that version. Maybe some pretty birds.)

So, in considering a revival, all this was taken into account. Tuacahn's brain trust decided they wanted to go back to the Jacob Hamblin version, which was still the most beloved of any of them. However, this time it needed to be done right - i.e. completely inoffensively. That meant no polygamy. No Mountain Meadows. No Mormons as bad guys. And no Indians as bad guys, either. (It seems there'd been a number of complaints from both Mormons and Indians. Maybe a few from Indian Mormons. I can't be sure.)

That was the task they gave me when they came and asked me to rewrite the script.

In hindsight, maybe I should have talked them out of it. But the truth is, I wanted to take a shot at this. It was a chance to have something I wrote produced in a professional setting! How could I turn that down? I was leaving Tuacahn at the end of the summer, anyway, so what harm could this do?

I said yes and went to work.

The problem was that I had no story. If nobody's a bad guy, there's no conflict. So what do I have these folks do? Should Jacob Hamblin flit off to the North Pole and visit Santa Claus? Maybe there's an audience out there hungry for Jacob Hamblin Saves Christmas, but I'm not the guy to tell that particular story.

Eventually, after considerable whining on my part, I got a bad guy. He was a Mormon, but a sneaky, duplicitous one who's booted out at the end - and he wasn't named after a real person. (This was a problem with other UTAH!'s, too. Real-life descendants of on-stage villains weren't pleased with how the musical treated the historical record.) This guy, for reasons of his own, engineers a misunderstanding between the Mormons and the Native Americans, which almost leads to war until Jacob Hamblin the Peacemaker sets things right. Unlike previous UTAH!'s, it focused on a very narrow time frame, one presumably before Jacob Hamblin took a second wife and before Mormons started killing folks at Mountain Meadows.

I went back and kept all of Doug Stewart's original lyrics with a few very minor tweaks. I did, however, rewrite one song entirely and used it for my new comic relief subplot, which was my favorite part of the show, due largely to an expert performance by Doug Bilitch in the role. (Unfortunately, that subplot was more interesting to me than the main story, and critics seemed to notice. More on that later.)

I left Tuacahn and moved away from St. George before rehearsals began, but I kept rewriting as necessary. I came down and saw one of the rehearsals, and it was a surreal experience to see everybody on stage actually taking what I had written seriously. Moments were working, which excited me. Yet some moments were not.

The show opened to blistering reviews. I can't find them online anymore, but nobody much liked it. The complaint was that the goofy subplot overshadowed the main action - which was true - and the story just didn't have much heft to it - also true.

I came down with my family to see the show right after it opened, and the thing was rained out. So I came down again and saw exactly what the critics were talking about - and decided they were right. I mentally reshuffled the show and decided that if I'd just been part of the rehearsal process and heard the feedback as it was fresh, I could have fixed it. The criticism stung, but in retrospect, it was a great experience. I got to produce a play on Tuacahn's nickel, and I learned a whole lot at their expense. What could be better than that? I also wrote the thing under the pseudonym Stallion Cornell, which made me laugh and probably had the Tuacahnites pulling their hair out. Every playbill said "Book and Additional Lyrics by Stallion Cornell." That made the whole thing worth it, for me at least.

However, based on the box office performance of my version, I think UTAH! is finally dead for good.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


“The most important decision you can make right now is what you stand for. Goodness...or badness.”

- Judge Smails, Caddyshack


“We need more blood!”

I’ll bet you do, the gaunt nineteen-year-old snarled inwardly. His own pale complexion suggested he could have used a little blood himself. He looked completely untouched by the Southern California sun, which should have added some highlights to the dank, scraggly, jet-black hair partially obscuring his sullen expression. More blood. I’ll give you more blood. It was a dark thought for a Wednesday afternoon.

“I’m serious!” the voice came again. “More blood over here!”

He was sure the director of this tawdry little high school epic had no idea what his name was, and probably only a vague idea of what he looked like. He just knew that he was the one to pour more of this syrupy stuff on the dozen or so cinematic victims, all of whom had been conveniently piled into a makeshift mound of corpses.

At least one of them wasn’t particularly happy about it. “Could we finish this shot soon, please?” she said. “Paul’s hand keeps wandering.”

“It does not!” Paul protested. He was at the bottom of the pile, covered in what looked like whitewash, with a huge gash painted on the side of his left cheek and a false eyeball dangling from a concealed socket. He certainly looked far worse than he felt, but he still wasn’t a happy guy at the moment.

“Oh, doesn’t it?” the equally whitewashed girl snapped back at him, the blade of a plastic axe embedded in her forehead. “You think just because you have a few lines in this thing you can cop a feel whenever you want to?”

“What makes you think I would want to?” Paul snorted.

“What makes you think it’s his hand?” came a muffled voice from somewhere in the middle of the pile.

The klieg lights shone down brightly on the rustic cabin set, which was starkly out of place centered amidst the gray, utilitarian studio walls.

“More blood!” the director barked again, somehow managing to keep the lit cigarette in his mouth from falling out as he spoke. He was in his standard pose, with both his hands buried in his straight, stringy, greasy hair, which the youth judged to be far too long and far too de-grayed for a man of his advancing years. The large sweat stains on his well-tailored, faux-casual shirt were constantly on display. The teenager thought he always looked as if he were in a state of perpetual panic as he flapped his elbows like some frenzied chicken. This was a stark contrast to the young man’s own serene demeanor as he stood there, unmoving, with his hefty blood bucket safely enfolded between his arms.

“Get him off me!” the axe girl shrieked, this time to the zombified, toothless freak on top of her, as Paul used the moment to reach up and slap her behind, chuckling to himself. Another zombie gave him a high five, or, at least, as high a five as possible.

The entire pile shifted queasily.

This was too much for the director, who threw down his cigarette uncomfortably close to Paul’s face, nearly singeing the fake eyeball that was almost touching the ground. He spoke each word with a theatrically precise and measured rage.


The teenage boy sauntered over in the direction of the mayhem, still feigning indifference, even though he suspected what this little stunt would cost him in the end.

“He’s over here!” shouted a gum-chewing girl grasping a clipboard. It was a clipboard that the teenager knew well, because she used it to keep note of everything he did wrong. This struck the young man as a colossal waste of time, because the man who had asked her to keep tabs on him almost certainly never glanced at her reports. No, in his eyes, she just carried the clipboard because she was trying to look important. She wasn’t fooling anyone, least of all, him. He remained decidedly nonplussed as the girl grabbed his bicep and forcibly dragged him over to the director. “Careful, Cathy” the teenager muttered as he was jerked awkwardly toward the would-be deMille. “You don’t want to be too rough and spill blood.”

“This is not appropriate behavior,” she hissed. “You know better than this.”

“And you should know better than to wear that blouse,” he whispered back. “It makes you look like a pilgrim or something.”

Cathy’s reaction was predictably indignant, but it wasn’t her mood that interested him at the moment.

The director didn’t bother to turn his head until the youth had reached the range of his peripheral vision. Was he mad at him? the teenager asked himself. Clearly, he was. But he was more impatient than he was mad. That wouldn’t do. The kid knew a surefire way to bring his anger to the fore.

“Finally!” the director huffed, turning his head back to the zombie dogpile. With an edge of irritation in his voice, he spoke quickly. “Now dump that bucket on the pile. Now.” He said “now” twice. Redundant, the teenager thought. Glib. Not very bright.

“It’s going to get in my eyes!” said Axe Girl. She tried to pull her hands out of the pile, presumably so she could cover her eyes from the soon-to-be-falling blood. Yet her attempt to dislodge her arms had an unsteadying effect on her zombie comrades, who all protested in unison as the integrity of the pile was threatened. Paul used the opportunity to let his right hand wander without fear of reprisal.

And still, the defiant youth stood, unmovable. The director, who seemed to have already mentally moved on to the next shot, was unclear as to why the blood hadn’t already been dumped. It took him several seconds to consciously acknowledge the source of the delay, at which time he finally wheeled around to face the young man who had worked so hard to earn his full attention. The hands came out of the hair, and the impatience was quickly buried beneath an almost uncontainable fury. He didn’t raise his voice as he spoke to his youthful antagonist, but what his voice lacked in volume, it made up for in tension.

“Are you deaf, kid, or are you just stupid?”

The kid in question smiled languidly, as if he had all the time in the world. This was the moment he’d been preparing for, and he was determined to enjoy it for as long as he could.

“I’m not deaf,” the boy smirked, “and I’m certainly not stupid.” Now he had the director’s full attention. Everything was going according to plan.

The director was not amused. “Blood. Pour. Now.” He was almost hissing, his gritted teeth not opening a crack.

The teenager glanced over at Cathy, who was subtly shaking her head, as if to say don’t do this. Please don’t do this. He just gave her a wicked smile, took a deep breath, exhaled, and then got to the point. “I have a name,” he said simply, still clutching the bucket.

Cathy closed her eyes.

The entire set had ground to a halt, except for a few whimperings from the zombies, which everyone ignored. The director’s voice was icy cold as he spit out a single word. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” the teen replied, not sorry at all. “Are you deaf, mister, or are you just stupid?”

No whimpering from the zombies now. The director looked ready to pummel this little snot-nosed punk, but he managed to stop himself just in time. Instead, he grabbed the bucket, dumped it on the pile himself, and buried his hands back in his greasy, non-gray hair. “Cathy,” he said, not raising his voice, “get this kid off the lot.” And all the air in the room seemed to return, as did the predictable pandemonium from the zombie pile.

“My eyes! My eyes!” Axe Girl shrieked. A guy with a trickle of black goo dripping from his mouth complained that he was having a hard time breathing.

“I have a name,” the youth said again, with no one listening. His moment had been lost, and he was frantically trying to drag it back again. But now the crew was moving, the zombies were restless, and his least favorite clipboard lady was yanking him in the other direction. “I have a name!” The teenager was shouting now. “I’m David Chakiris!”

“Real smooth,” Cathy whispered as she made a note on her clipboard.

David had hoped he wouldn’t have to use the Chakiris name this way. It would have carried so much more weight if it had come out at the appointed time, but he was smart enough to know when you have to improvise.

In any case, it worked. The director stopped again, and turned slowly to face him. This wasn’t quite the way I envisioned this, David thought. But it will do.

“David Chakiris,” the director repeated. As if to remind himself, he added “Leo Chakiris’ kid.”

“Figured that out all on your own, did you?” David was in charge now, and he liked the way it felt. His eyes were filled with several months worth of scorn he’d been saving up for just such an occasion.

The director regarded him coolly for but a moment before speaking again. “Cathy,” he said, his voice flat and even and directed at the clipboard lady while his eyes remained frozen on his adolescent nemesis.

“Yes, sir?” Cathy answered. Once more, all eyes were on the director, who was still locked in his stare with David.

Then the director allowed himself a thin smile. He shouldn’t be doing that, David thought. Why is he doing that? Something’s gone wrong.

“Please escort David Chakiris, Leo Chakiris’ kid, off the lot.”

Cathy grabbed David by the arm again, but David wrenched himself free and ran up to the director. “You wait ‘til my father hears about this!” He was yelling again, and he was having a difficult time keeping the panic out of his voice. “You just wait!”

“Oh, he’ll hear about this, all right,” Cathy said, quietly enough so the director couldn’t hear her.
“You’re pretty good at keeping people waiting, aren’t you?” the director quipped, getting a nervous laugh from the crew around him. No, David thought. They think he’s funny. They’re on his side. This is wrong, all wrong.

He had run out of options. He had lost control. All that was left to him was the strength of his fist. But even as he raised his arm with violence on his mind, listening to the frightened gasps of the zombie pile, he felt the steel grip of someone who wasn’t carrying a clipboard. And he heard a deep voice behind him telling him it was time to go. This time, he didn’t put up a struggle. Before he knew it, he was out on the street, midway between the studio gate and the bus stop at the end of the block.

A warm Santa Ana wind was blowing, carrying with it all the oil-soaked smells of the nearby freeway. David stared at the studio gate for a minute or so, but he knew he wouldn’t be heading back inside any time soon. He indulged his wrath for as long as he could, but realizing that nobody else either knew or cared how he was feeling, he moped out toward the street to sit on the graffiti-covered bench right next to the overpass, where he would suffer the ultimate indiginity.

He’d have to sit and wait for the bus.

He reviewed the confrontation over and over again, never once questioning whether it might have been better for everyone if he’d just done his job and dumped the blood on cue. No, that director was too full of himself. He had forgotten his place. He had neglected his people.

Someone had to call him to account.

Wait ‘til my father hears about this.

Yet even as he thought that, he knew it was an empty threat. His father would hear about the whole thing, but from Cathy’s perspective, which would leave out all the important reasons why David wasn’t just a rebel without a cause. Dad would see the whole thing as some kind of character building exercise. It was his father, after all, who just yesterday refused to let him use the car to go to a job he was going to lose anyway. To reinforce the point, he tossed him a silver dollar and told him to take the bus.

My father would use this whole thing as just another object lesson, David realized. He’d want to know why I didn’t just do as I was told. He’d probably be offended that I dropped his name like that. Within thirty seconds, he would have sided with both Cathy and the director, and then I’d get an earful about how much he’d sacrificed for me, how I was lucky to have gotten that job in the first place.

And that was the best-case scenario. David knew how unlikely it was that he could get his old man to sit still long enough to actually talk to him for more than a minute at a time. That was the way it always was. He could only remember one exception to the rule, and he tried not think about that time more than he had to.

So that was it, then. His father would be against him, just like everyone else. Just like all the people in their shiny, stupid cars, all of them stuck on the crowded streets, but none of them forced to take the bus like some shlep, like some toothless, grimy hobo. And that proved to be the final indignity that put him over the edge.

I’m David Chakiris, he thought, the ferocity of his feelings growing exponentially.

I’m David Chakiris, and I have to ride the bus.

As he struck the support of the freeway overpass, he felt his anger well up inside him, all of it channeling its way to the end of his arm as he lashed out in fury at an indifferent world. He felt his hand bulge, swell, and then nearly explode in size as it became a ten-ton, five-fingered sledgehammer, which felled the bridge pylon with a single blow.

David watched in amazement and horror as the overpass support crumbled, and the bridge above him came crashing down to the street in front of him. Piles of cars tumbled down as if dumped from the sky, creating a hideous dogpile of their own, filled with noise, fire, and twisted steel.

Cars were falling from above; cars were screeching below. People were yelling, crying, howling, and still the cars from above kept falling, falling, an endless rain of horror and chaos, punctuated by the sound of metal on metal as it crunched itself into an instant junkyard.

David scurried back toward the studio to avoid the maelstrom. A crowd was gathering, and no one seemed to notice the scrawny young man who had made it happen. The fog of smoke mirrored the fog of bedlam that had enveloped the unraveling scene. What had happened? Why had it happened? Who was responsible for this living nightmare?

Only David knew. And he knew it with perfect clarity. Once he was at a safe distance, he examined his hand, which had deflated back to its normal size. He couldn’t bring himself to pretend it was a dream, or that he had imagined his own culpability. He could still feel his hand engorged with size and strength and the impossible ease with which he had leveled the concrete support. The sensation was delicious. He could almost taste it.

A mother screamed. Maybe it wasn’t a mother. And are those police sirens or fire sirens? Is there a difference? David wondered. He found it odd that he would even consider such questions at a moment like this, and then found it doubly odd that he had the presence of mind to question his own questions.

There was much he didn’t know.

He didn’t know, for instance, how he had transformed his fist into a cudgel of such enormous power. He stared at his hand, flexed his fingers and bugged out his eyes, trying to will the hand to grow again, but nothing seemed to work.

So I don’t know how, but I did this, he said to himself. I made this happen.

That much I know. That much I can never forget.

He wasn’t sure which was more terrifying – the fact that he’d done this, or the fact that he enjoyed doing it, and that he wouldn’t take it back if he tried.

I did it, he thought over and over. I finally struck back. The world deserves this. That’s why I did it.

And I want to do it again.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Novel Ground Rules

Okay, I'm going to do it. So here are the ground rules.

I'm going to post the "prologue" of the novel tomorrow morning. Please feel free to savage it as you will. I'm not, however, going to post a chapter a day, as I want to give people enough time to read and digest the thing, as well as give myself time to digest the comments and incorporate them into the ongoing draft. I'm thinking a chapter a week is a pretty good pace, with regular blog entry stuff plugged in to the other days. However, I want everyone who wants to comment on the book to feel like they can do it any time during that week - it's not just a "one day post, let's move on" kind of thing.

The original title of the book was Jumper, but only about 5% of that book has survived into the new version. The current working title is Jeff Downey Fights Badness, but that's a fairly recent development. Other titles under consideration have been, in no particular order, Jeff Downey Can Fly, Titans Homecoming, The Homecoming Game, and Hero Worship.

I don't really like any of them.

Feel free, prior to reading a single word of the book, to tell me which title sucks the least.

A Plea for Help

Okay, here's the deal. 

I'm writing a novel. Actually, I've been writing a novel, on and off, for well over a decade. I have a draft that stinks that I finished in 1998, and about two years ago, I decided to radically rewrite the whole thing, changing it from first person to third person, and actually constructing a semi-credible plot. 

When I started this blog, my goal was to write at least 1,000 words per day on the book, too. I've been much more faithful to the blog -  I'm now up to about 80,000 words on the novel, so you do the math - but I'm now getting it to the point where I can no longer tell if my story is even remotely interesting. I finally let my wife read the first two chapters, and she was somewhat unimpressed. It turns out, however, that she's bugged that the geek is the hero and that cheerleaders and football players are portrayed in a less than flattering light, as she was one of those cheerleaders and quite popular, and she thinks that GeekFic bashing the Beautiful People is patently unfair. She also didn't like the reference to "copping a feel" that I put in the prologue. I'm not really sure what she did like, but she insists that I shouldn't abandon the project altogether. Now THAT'S encouraging. 

Anyway, I'm wondering if it would be a good idea to start posting pieces of said novel here on the blog and get feedback from you, the Great Unwashed. Truth be told, I know most of you personally, and even those of you I don't know usually have interesting and/or intelligent things to say. I'm not sure what the copyright problems would be in posting chunks of something I want to publish online - I know other authors, notably Orson Scott Card, do it all the time, and nobody runs off and publishes anything without telling them. Any lawyers want to counsel me on the wisdom of this approach?

Anyway, I submit the question to you: would you be interested in reading chunks of my magnum opus and providing feedback? Or should I continue to toil in relative obscurity and post more about my children's bowels?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Conversational French

I did an entry on this last year, as I know several useless French phrases that are either ridiculous or rude, sometimes both. But tonight, I learned a new French verb that I thought you might like.

The English translation is "to wax," as in "to wax a surfboard."

The French verb? "Farter."

It is conjugated thusly in the present tense:

je farte
tu fartes
il/elle farte
nous fartons
vous fartez
ils/elles fartent

Please make a note of it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I've paid my bills!

Seems that the renewal notice for got lost in my hotmail spam folder. Consequently, the site was yanked down all day and replaced by this:

(Click on it for a larger pic.)

That was very disconcerting to see some college chick staring back at me on my own page, but that's what you get for being delinquent. It's nice to know she provided searches for both Stallion and Cornell, but apparently the first one yielded a significant amount of gay porn links, so I apologize for that.

Speaking of gay porn links, Languatron took credit for pulling down my site, but backed off when I informed him that hacking into my site and yanking it down constitutes a felony, something I learned these past few days, as Sarah Palin seems to be experiencing similar problems.

Anyway, welcome back.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Dad and Galactica: Happy Birthday!

Today is my father’s 75th birthday.

He doesn’t read this blog unless I tell him to, so I can let all of you in on a little secret. In the tradition of Ronald Reagan, he offers Jelly Bellies to the folks who happen to visit his office. So my wild-eyed sister got the idea that all of us siblings would chip in and have 75 pounds of Jelly Bellies delivered to his office.

That’s a lot of carbs.

On another anniversarial note, yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the premiere of Battlestar Galactica. This is a big deal, if for no other reason than I own the world’s stupidest Battlestar Galactica bulletin board on the internet. I can’t let that occasion pass without some commentary, so I thought I’d take a moment to commemorate the occasion.

People nowadays deride Battlestar Galactica as nothing but a Star Wars knock-off, ignoring the fact that, as a ten-year-old kid in 1978, that’s exactly what I wanted. So imagine my surprise when I watched the lengthy three-hour premiere and found something quite different – and far more satisfying. Unlike Star Wars, this was an elaborate creation myth – the untold history of humanity as seen from “somewhere beyond the heavens.” What’s more, they were drawing from a creative wellspring hitherto untapped on network television – tenets of Mormon doctrine, put on display for the whole world to see.

This disturbed my mother somewhat, as she wasn’t fond of seeing her church teachings dumbed down, science fictionized and broadcast to the masses. But I found it fascinating, if for no other reason than it validated the fact that there were others who believed what I believed, and it gave the proceedings more heft than they would have had otherwise.

Fans of the cheap bastardization of Galactica that now airs on the SciFi Channel ritually denigrate the original series upon which it is based, yet all of GINO's best moments have been lifted from its source material, which had a vast potential that remains forever unrealized. (GINO=Galactica In Name Only.) Sure, the hairstyles are disco and some of the dramatic conventions seem a little creaky with age, but the central premise remains as vibrant today as it was 30 years ago. My children have all watched the entire series, and the pilot episode, along with “Lost Planet of the Gods,” “Living Legend,” “War of the Gods” and “The Hand of God” hold up surprisingly well. (Stay away from “Greetings from Earth,” though. Hector and Vector make me itch.)

What’s most interesting is how realistic the pre-CGI special effects are. They recycled the same shots over and over and over again through the course of the series, but they’re actually pretty impressive shots. An undertaking of Galactica’s scope has not been seen on network television before or since.

All of my school friends watched the first few episodes of Galactica, but they lost interest halfway through the season. My friend Philip, who I’ve mentioned on this blog, convinced me that I was wasting my time and that I should be listening to Dr. Demento on the radio instead. So I checked out sometime after Hector and Vector, only to be disappointed by hearing “Fishheads” every week instead of getting my Galactica fix. So I returned to the Galactica fold in time to see the glorious final episode, and then to be crushed by the news that the series, which had been once hailed as the sure-fire hit of the season, was being ignominiously cancelled.

The following year, my mom served as the Den Mother for my Cub Scout pack, and she arranged for a group visit to the Universal Studios special effects studio to see them doing work on Galactica creator/Languatron’s bane Glen Larson’s lesser follow-up project, Buck Rogers. We watched disinterestedly as they took a series of photographs of a white sphere in front of a black background to be used in the show’s lousy “space vampire” episode. If you get a chance to watch that episode, don’t. But if somehow you do, know that Stallion Cornell and his Cub Scout buddies were there at the creation thereof.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I remember talking to the guy giving the tour about my love for Battlestar Galactica. So, at some point in the evening, he took us into what I recall as an Indiana Jones-style warehouse, which undoubtedly housed lost television treasures of ages past. He took us to an unassuming wooden crate and then opened it, revealing not the Lost Ark of the Covenant, but the next best thing – the original working model of the Battlestar Galactica, live and in color.

That’s right, sports fans. Stallion Cornell and the Battlestar Galactica have actually met in person.

I remember being impressed with how huge it was. It certainly couldn’t have accommodated a crew of thousands, but it was probably four or five feet long, which was much bigger than the wussy space vampire ship I had seen a few minutes earlier. We didn’t have long to look, and soon he was boxing the thing back up again, but it was a moment I will never forget.

It was on a summer trip to Utah that I caught the first promo for Galactica 1980 on television, complete with Lorne Greene in a goofy beard, and my heart skipped a beat. Galactica was coming back!

Well, no. What came back was a watery retread of Galactica that was almost too painful to watch. But watch it I did, religiously, trying not to make the “demented” mistake I had made before, hoping that some semblance of the original series would shine through. It eventually did with the “Return of Starbuck” episode, but everything else was dreck. I was left waiting for the promise of Galactica to finally be fully realized sometime in the future.

Well, here we are, thirty years later.

I’m still waiting.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Yes, the Moist Board is Down...

... and I don't know why. I'll let you know as soon as I figure it out.

Easy Money

I was a bank teller in Korea Town in Los Angeles way back when, which is where I learned how to say “Na neun se sangh ih suh ka jhang tung tung han salam imnida.” I’m sure the spelling is atrocious, but phonetically, that’s Korean for “I am the fattest man in the world.”

One of the things we tellers did to pass the time was figure out ways to embezzle money. For those of you FBI agents reading this blog, please keep in mind that figuring out ways to embezzle money is markedly different from actually embezzling money, which is not something we did. (Not something I did, anyway. I can’t speak for everyone, especially not Slippery Pete.)

Robbing a bank, for instance, is a pretty crappy way to get ill-gotten gains. In the first place, we were instructed to fully comply with any robber’s demands, whether they had a gun or not. As such, we were only allowed to keep $2,500 in cash in our drawer at any given time, including a dye pack which exploded upon leaving the bank. So anyone who walks up to a teller window and says “Gimme all your cash” isn’t going to get enough to justify the legal headaches and the lengthy prison sentence.

A bank takeover is far more profitable and far more logistically nightmarish. You’ve got to have a lot of people to hold hostages, blow safes, and move mounds of cash. And how are you going to get all the money out of the building with all the people and avoid getting caught? On average, your average Wells Fargo branch back in my day had about $400,000 cash on any given day. If you’ve got a group of, say, eight guys to get all the money, you’re only hauling in fifty grand or so – not bad for a dishonest day’s work, but probably also not worth the subsequent internment and complete and utter ostracization from civilized society.

No, the way to steal money is electronically, and we have to be talking hundreds of millions of dollars before it even begins to get interesting.

The problem there, though, is that electronic transactions are almost always reversible, so the only way to make it work is to hack into the system, get the billion dollars, and then trade it out for cash. But who’s going to cash you out for a billion dollars? Is there even a billion dollars in cash anywhere in the world?

It’s all problematic.

In my estimation, even having a billion dollars that you’ve come by legally ultimately creates problems. It’s pretty hard to have a billion dollars and not have everyone in the world know you have a billion dollars. Certainly the tax man’s gonna hit you up for at least half of it, and then every 501 (c) (3) on earth is going to tell you a sob story to get you to donate. Save the whales! Feed the children! Slaughter cats! Now that’s something I’d pay for.

No, the secret to lifelong happiness is to have an offshore oil rig hidden in the territorial waters of a tax shelter in the Caribbean. You have billions that you can donate anonymously or squander at your leisure, and you can use the rest to screw over the little guy every chance you get. Then I can finally pay someone to fix my toilets and mow my lawn. And cook my meals and do my dishes and fold my clothes. And to exercise for me.

Maybe I should just do hard drugs instead.

I stole the name “Slippery Pete” from Seinfeld.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Making A Statement

I went to the BYU football game this weekend.

You may not understand what a big deal that is. See, I was a USC student who did all his laundry in the dorms during the football games because there was nobody else around. I decided early on in my academic career that I would avoid football games at all costs, because I was Making A Statement.

I wish I could remember what that Statement was.

I used to make a lot of Statements. I used to take a lot of stands. Like the time I refused my nomination as Vice Versa King for the girl’s choice Vice Versa dance during my senior year in high school. The problem was they had already printed the ballots when I Made My Statement. I was the Senior Class President, so my job included distributing the ballots in individual classrooms – ballots that had my name crossed off in see-through ink.

So naturally, everyone wanted to know why my name was scratched off the ballot. I told them I was Making A Statement. (I think, on that occasion, the real Statement was that no girl had asked me to the Vice Versa Dance.)

As Senior Class President, it was also my job to crown the Homecoming Queen. The problem was that I didn’t have a date to the Homecoming Dance. I think I was Making A Statement then, too – I maintained that school dances were for more bourgeoisie folk, and they symbolized some kind of oppression or something. I can’t really remember. I do remember, however, feeling too socially awkward to actually ask a pretty girl to go out with me.

That’s a Statement, all right, but not the one I intended to make.

That was one of the worst nights of my life. I showed up to the dance in a suit and did the honors, crowning our lovely Homecoming Queen with all the requisite pomp and circumstance, and then I ducked out the back door and made a break for it. Some friends of mine told me they had come outside to say hello to me, and they saw me in the distance as I ran toward my car and then pealed out of sight.

I tried to strike a blow against bourgeoisie oppression, but sometimes screeching tires make our Statements for us.

So, anyway, back to the BYU thing. My Statement to avoid college athletics has lasted my entire lifetime, and I’m now 40 years old. This was, in fact, the first college football game I had ever attended. How sad is that? Pretty sad. Not as sad as UCLA’s performance in that game, though – they lost 59 to zip.

That’s a Statement nobody should ever be forced to make.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Jacqui Landrum: 1943-2008

As I wrote on this blog last year, Jacqui Landrum and I weren't friends, due primarily to my own petulance. All the same, I was saddened to hear of her recent passing, and I wish her husband well.

You can read her obituary here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Talk Radio

Saw pieces of the Palin interview on the web both yesterday and today, and I'm more than a little disgusted at how she was treated, and not just by the insufferable Charlie Gibson, who was smug and condescending throughout, but by the whole process. The whole thing was filmed with a single camera that allowed the viewer to see all of Gibson's face but just the side of Palin's head. I can't remember any other interviewee subjected to such an unflattering camera angle. It would have been nice to see the expression on Palin's face as she answered the unnecessarily confrontational questions.

Given how mercilessly ABC had stacked the deck against her, I think she acquitted herself admirably.

It's moments like this that remind me why I don't watch network news and never really have. I remember in high school being disgusted by reporters and anchors who loathed everything about Ronald Reagan and wishing there was someone out there who represented my side. Today, finally, there are such people, and most of them are found on the radio. It's no wonder that Pelosi and the Dems want to resurrect the Constitutionally-contemptuous Fairness Doctrine to shut these people down. But it's also childish for them to think their message isn't being heard.

Tell you what, lefties - you give us ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times and every other major metropolitan newspaper, along with the tenured faculty of every major university in this country, and we'll be happy to forfeit Limbaugh and his ilk. We'll even throw in Fox News, which is far less conservative than its critics would have you believe. (It really is fairly balanced - it just refuses to treat conservatives like nimrods the way other networks do.)

Still, not all right-wing talk radio is created equal. For those who may not have the radio on as often as I do, I thought I'd give you the rundown from best to worst, leaving the worst for last because they're more fun to write about.

1) Rush Limbaugh

There's a reason he's number one. He's really quite good - funny, smart, and idea-based. And contrary to myth, lefties who call his show don't get ridiculed or shouted down. They get defeated with clear, reasonable arguments. He's also far less kooky than the kooks at DailyKos realize - he rips into fringe conspiracy theorists with glee and venom on a regular basis, be they righties of lefties. He's probably the best representation of mainstream conservative thought in the country, and he deserves to be where he is.

2) Phil Hendrie

Sadly, no station in Utah carries this genius host anywhere, which is a real shame. He went off the air a few years ago, but apparently he's back on in some markets. He ran a strictly comedy show for most of the time, but after 9/11 he became a hardcore conservative and even had a blog titled (It's gone now, sadly.) His show is the funniest thing in any medium, as he pretends to be his own callers. So he spends an hour debating with himself over ludicrous issues.

He's been, just to name a few:

Steve Bozell - a constant whiner who wants to sue the National Weather service for not warning him of strange El Nino gusts that blew his mother's ashes up his nose.

Margaret Grey - a snooty, elitist journalist who thinks she has a constitutional right to free gasoline provided by the LAPD

Doug Danger - a "gay man and a gay journalist" who announces his homosexuality on every possible occasion, especially when using his Vons grocery card

Lloyd Bonafide - a very violent Korean War veteran who pounds on teenagers every chance he gets

And the list goes on.

He's very funny, but for those of you with delicate sensibilities, he can be quite filthy, too. Be warned.

3) Dennis Prager

I haven't heard enough of him lately, but he's hands-down the smartest radio host out there. As a practicing orthodox Jew, he places every political issue inside a moral framework, providing a context that can't be found anywhere else. He tends to wander away from the timely to focus on the timeless and the philosophical, which sometimes works and sometimes feels like eating sawdust without butter. But he's almost always worth listening to.

4) Glenn Beck

Yes, he's a Mormon, so that's a plus, but he's also the funniest guy doing a primarily political show. He's lifted some of Phil Hendrie's shtick, which you might not notice if you've never heard the real thing, but it still works. The only problem with him is that he tends to think the world is going to end every other Thursday. He warns of doomsday scenarios on such a regular basis that you sometimes have to take the guy in small doses - or at least hope that he moves beyond his rants to focus on his comedy bits like "Moron Trivia" and "Arguments Against Idiots," which are unfailingly brilliant.

5) Dennis Miller

The guy's funny and conservative, so what's not to like? I'm not sure. I think it's that his in-jokey, relentlessly hip pop culture references grow tiresome after about five minutes. But as a convert to the conservative cause, he often has insights that the Limbaughs of the world might miss, and it's fun to hear him eviscerate opponents even if his argument isn't sufficiently strong enough to keep up with the raw power of his unbridled wit.

5) Laura Ingraham

Her voice takes some getting used to - it's far too nasalized - and she has a tendency to shout down those she disagrees with. I don't know how she gets so many prominent liberals to debate her on her show, because they never get a word in edgewise. But her commentary is solid, mainstream conservatism, except for when she goes off an immigration, in the which case she gets very tedious very quickly.

6) Michael Medved

Sort of a bloodless Dennis Prager, Medved's cerebral approach to the issues of the day is usually in line with my thinking, but the delivery is so unfailingly passionless that it's hard to sit through much of his show at any length. He also has an annoying tendency to only take calls from people who loathe him, which makes him look magnanimous, I suppose, but it also creates an argumentative atmosphere that is more off-putting than open-minded.

7) Sean Hannity

We've now crossed the line, over into talk show hosts I really, really don't like. Hannity gets great guests, but as a host, he's just awful. Like the worst on the left, he thinks ridicule is an effective substitute for argument. He'll shout down opponents with various assaults on their patriotism and variants of "Aw, come on! How can you possibly believe that?" Sean, they just told you what they believe - how about refuting it with facts instead of burying it with high volume contempt?

8) Michael Reagan

It's too bad I have him so far down the list, because my problems with the good Mr. Reagan are less political and more dictional, if that's a word. What do I mean by that? Simply this - the man is incapable of successfully using the English language. To cite the most glaring example, according to Reagan, George W. Bush is the "Prezzint of the Unahed Stayss." He always sounds like he's eating a cheeseburger at the same time he's doing his show. Words are all you have on the radio, Mike! How about learning to pronounce them correctly?

9) Bill O'Reilly

What do you get when you mix arrogance and ignorance and top it off with a cloying "regular guy" shtick? Bill O'Reilly, who manages to combine the worst of Hannity with a poor man's Limbaugh impression. His thinking on the issues is skin deep at best, and his contempt for everyone not as brilliant as he is is the polar opposite of Limbaugh's vaunted conceit. Limbaugh boasts of his "talent on loan from God" and such as part of his shtick, but he manages to remain far more humble than his critics recognize. Whereas O'Reilly feigns a working-class-Joe facade while remaining thin-skinned and self-absorbed. Can't stand him.

10) Michael Savage

No, I take it back. THIS is the guy I really can't stand. I literally can't listen to him for more than thirty seconds without yelling at the radio and changing the dial. He's incapable of humor. He's all bile, all the time. He's incapable of reason. People who accuse Limbaugh of hate speech are really thinking of Michael Savage. He hates everyone who doesn't agree with him and probably a good majority of those who do. I cringe that anyone would think this man a representative of everything or anything I believe. There'd be more truth in advertising if he dropped his stage name - Savage - and used his given name - Weiner. (Seriously. His real name is Michael Weiner. How poetically just is that?)

There are some I've neglected to mention here - Hugh Hewitt, for instance, who's pretty good, Bill Bennett, who's fairly dry, and G. Gordon Liddy, who's a sexually perverted wacko felon who has no business being on the radio. But either these guys are no longer on the air here - thank you, Liddy, for leaving town! - or I don't hear enough of them to be able to cast judgment. Actually, I don't listen to enough Savage crap to say much about it, but the guy is ubiquitous in this market, and I always accidentally hear a second or two of his trademark acidic sneer on my drive home from work.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Twin Towers

My sister and I visited the World Trade Center in the fall of 1993, right after I'd graduated from USC. It cost money to go up to the observation deck, which I thought was a little bit tacky. Even so, I paid the seven bucks - I think it was seven bucks - and went up the elevator to the floor surrounded by glass windows to look out on the world.

You could see the Statue of Liberty from up there, as well as Governor's Island, which I had never heard of until I saw it from near the top of the World Trade Center. The view was focused on the ocean beyond Manhattan, but you could also look out the side of the building and see the other tower staring back at you.

The primary thing I remember about the experience was a feeling of vertigo and instability. I felt so high off the ground that I was afraid to even approach the windows for fear of falling through them. I imagined what it would be like if one of the towers started to sway and hit the one next to it, like a colossal domino. I'm not saying I had a premonition of 9/11 - I doubt anyone at the time could have imagined something that evil - yet the thought of the towers collapsing was very much on my mind. It didn't seem natural that something so massive could stand firm, unaided, without wobbling once in awhile.

I remembered that feeling when I saw the images of people jumping away from the flames and falling to their deaths. The only time I'd been in that building, I wasn't even willing to walk up to a heavily fortified window. What would it take to make me willingly hurl myself out of the tower to plunge to my death? Those images brought the horror of the 9/11 attacks home to me in a way that nothing else could.

We're in the process of forgetting 9/11. We don't show the images on television; our memorials become smaller and less assuming with each passing year. That's inevitable, but it's happening more quickly than I'd supposed. December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy, but fewer people acknowledge it as World War II becomes an increasingly distant memory for those who were there, and simply a matter of history to the majority of us who were not. But had the Pearl Harbor memories faded by 1948 as quickly as the 9/11 memories seem to be slipping from us?

I've heard the excuses. We haven't been attacked since, something that the Bush haters seem to think has happened by accident. That's a tremendous blessing, but it also gives us the illusion of safety. Barack Obama's campaign has a distinctly September 10th feel to it - he's asking us to withdraw, to retreat, to pretend we don't live in a dangerous world.

And we do. We live in a world where some people rejoice when they see an infidel leaping to certain death 110 stories below.

That's a terrifying thought. And it's one that 9/11 should never allow us to forget.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Controversy Round-Up

By now, most of you have heard this clip from the Almighty Obama:

I think it's clear from the context that he's not referring directly to Sarah Palin. I also don't think it matters. Based on the crowd reaction, the true believers took it as a Palin slam, based on her famous "Pit Bull with Lipstick" reference in her acceptance speech. This says more about them than it does about Obama. Still, the whole thing does say something about Obama - not that he's a sexist, but that he's a bit of a dolt. He should have known better. And whether you like it or not, elections are often won and lost on this kind of nonsense. It's too early to tell if this is the moment that cost Obama the election, but it has certainly put him on the defensive.

And in politics, when you're explaining, you're losing.

The most interesting thing about this episode, however, is that the sentence leading directly into the lipstick debacle looks an awful lot like the one that appeared in the Washington Post almost a week ago. Rewatch the Obama video and then read the cartoon:

Sad, isn't it?

The oddest thing about this is that the Democrats spend more time running against Fox News commentator Karl Rove than they do against John McCain. Rove is gone, guys. Every election is about the future. You'd do just as well run against Newt Gingrich.

Another scandal percolating out there is a lefty blog circulating the rumor that Sarah Palin referred to Obama as "Sambo" in private conversation. Yikes! Now I'm not sure when the innocuous "Little Black Sambo" story became the embodiment of all things racist, but it seems to have happened sometime over the past decade or so. This is unfortunate, because I know a little boy named Sam who I often refer to as "Sambo." Sometimes I even call him "Sambo Wambo," or even "The Wambo" for short. Granted, this boy is white, but it's the principle of the thing.

I'm not sure what that principle is, exactly, but as soon as I find out, I'll be sure to put lipstick on Karl Rove.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dramatic Children

Mrs. Cornell blames my children's dramatic proclivities on me, and while I protest that such is not the case, deep down I know she's got my number. All of my children are capable of dramatic overkill, and they come by it so effortlessly that you know that there's some genetic predisposition involved. My kids all look like her and act like me. There's a downside to this, certainly, but overall it's actually a decent trade-off. If they all looked like me, they might end up suing by the time they hit puberty.

What it means, though, is that every setback is a major trauma, accompanied by much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Case in point: last night young Cornelius was called upon to do his chore to clear the table, and a complete meltdown ensued. It continued, on and off, through the weekly Monday night Family Home Evening activities, until he was finally sent to bed before dessert was served. This sent his personal protest volume up to 11, and finally he began screeching that he needed something to eat.

Mrs. Cornell went in to offer him something to keep him from starving, but thought better of it as he started to pour on the histrionics.

"Can't I have something?" he howled. "Anything? A CRUST? Nay, a CRUMB?" (Okay, he didn't say "nay," but everything else is a direct quote.) Mrs. Cornell then realized that he'd probably make it through the night without wasting away, and she refused to relent. Remarkably, he awoke happy and refreshed to start a new dramatic day.

I think it's my theatrical background that has lowered my threshold for real-life drama. Actors so often thrive on the larger-than-life that they have to manufacture some epic circumstances when real life isn't providing an adequate supply. They're quick to take offense and sure that doom is inevitable when the milk spills, but the sun rises the next day, and life continues regardless of whether they've received the requisite amount of attention and/or applause.

I've found that avoiding drama whenever possible is a much healthier way to live.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Language Quirks

Had a great visit from two old mission friends – one a favorite companion I haven’t seen for a while, and the other a beloved former zone leader who I haven’t seen for over twenty years. The occasion was this zone leader’s arrival from across the pond – he’s an Englishman who’s now relocated to Calgary and trekked down with his family to visit Temple Square and its environs. We had a barbecue over at the Cornell pad and relived old times. We remembered the triumphs and the tragedies and the knife fights – talk to my zone leader about that one – and got reacquainted. It was as if we’d seen each other just yesterday. I love it when that happens.

My children very much enjoyed playing with the other children, too, especially when the zone leader’s kids trotted out their English vocabulary. They played in the back garden instead of the backyard; they played football instead of soccer, and they had pudding instead of dessert. Those are some of the more benign variants in the dialects of the English and the Americans, and we remembered some times when the conversational mishaps were less benign.

Indeed, Zone Leader told of a time recently when he was in an American library helping his child with his homework, and he went up to the librarian on duty and asked if she had a rubber he could borrow. He only wanted a small one, he said, which disturbed the librarian even further. It took him a moment to realize that the proper Americanized term was “eraser,” and that Yank libraries weren’t really keen on tiny condom distribution.

We used to play around with this kind of nonsense all the time over in Scotland – we yanks would call him a bloody bugger with his head up his fanny, and he’d call us fags that were all stupid sons of bitches. See, in Scotland, “bloody,” “bugger,” and “fanny” aren’t really words used in polite conversation, whereas a “fag” is just a cigarette, and “bitch” meant female dog and nothing else. Indeed, we American missionaries would go out of our way to compliment people with feminine canine companionship on the quality of their bitches, just because we could.

As Americans in the Old Country, we learned quickly that we could avoid embarrassment by remembering a few simple rules: “pants” were underpants, so say “trousers” instead; “suspenders” were pantyhose, so talk of using “braces” to hold up your pants – I mean trousers – and feel free to eat “faggots” anytime you like, so long as you’re fond of meatballs, which is what the British definition means.

The other story I recounted, which may be apocryphal, is that our very American mission president, upon his arrival in Scotland, held a banquet to host the highest-ranking church leaders in the country so that everyone could get to know each other a bit better. In the course of the evening, he told of how he’d fallen in love with his lovely bride because she was a women with a lot of spunk.

Note to those visiting Britain: “spunk” is not really an appropriate term when describing the qualities of a prospective wife. It is, however, very crude slang for a liquid that a prospective wife is biologically incapable of producing, and thus mention of same made for an awkward silence at the dinner table.

I hope I haven't made you buggers uncomfortable. If there's any part of this post I should delete, I'd be happy to get out my rubber and get to work.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Obama's Gaffes

Crudely done, but I still enjoyed it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Ultimate Palin Scandal

You know, I really liked Sarah Palin.

But then I discovered... THIS!!!

McCain's Speech

I watched pieces of it - as much as I could stomach. Most of it was preempted by Back to School Night and a meeting with my kids' piano teacher. Then there was a discussion with my son about his challenges in school. Apparently, John McCain wants to be a part of that - he's going to "fight for me" on the education front.

Here's the thing - I don't want John McCain to fight for me.

No, that's not true. I want him to make sure that America's military is killing people and breaking things in order to keep the country secure. Beyond that, I want him to leave me the heck alone. I don't want him messing with education or "corruption" - i.e. free speech - or global warming or any other pet project that captures his fancy on any given day. I don't want his compromise judges to "fight for the little guy" by rewriting the Constitution to reflect the latest political fads. Yes, I respect a man who underwent five years of torture on behalf of this country. I'll give him all the accolades he can possibly imagine. But he's demonstrated time and again that he shouldn't be given real responsibility to set policy for the nation.

And here's the thing, John - I don't want to end the partisan rancor in Washington. It should grow louder and louder as long as the other guys insist on being wrong. I don't want everyone to get along. I want my side to win. In order for everyone to get along, someone has to back down. That's what Beavis is going to do in the name of "fighting" for America. I don't want to meet global warming kooks halfway and spend only two trillion on junk science instaed of four trillion. I don't want free speech limited just a little bit less during campaign seasons. I don't want judges who are acceptable to enough lefties that they'll only be slightly less tyrannical.

I want a strong military, good highways, and judges who follow instructions. I want to be taxed at the bare minimum of what it takes to make that happen. Then I want Washington to butt out of my life and let me fight the good fight without their meddling.

That's why I'm going to vote for a dead guy.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin's Polling

The proof of Palin's performance is in the poll numbers, and Rassmussen still has Obama up by 5 in his daily tracking, while Gallup has him up by 7. That's not surprising, as daily tracking polls reflect a rolling average over a period of days, and today's numbers wouldn't reflect reaction to Palin's speech yet.

But there's a fascinating poll recently released by CBS that has Obama and McCain tied at 42% - and it was taken Monday through Wednesday, before the speech. This poll is remarkable for a number of reasons, the main one being that Obama was eight points ahead in the same poll last weekend.

But it gets even better.

Read the fine print at the bottom of the article, which shows how the poll was conducted.

This poll was conducted among a random sample of 835 adults nationwide, including 734 registered voters, interviewed by telephone September 1-3, 2008.

835 adults. Over 10% of these guys aren't even registered to vote! Historically, the best barometer of actual voting behavior is that of likely voters, not just registered ones. (Both the Gallup and Rassmussen polls also reflect the opinions of registered, not likely, voters.)

When the likely voter standard isn't applied, the results tend to skew heavily in the Democrat's favor. Reduce that threshold down to just adults, and the numbers veer left even further.

If Obama is tied with McCain among adults, he's behind. Probably seriously behind.

We live in interesting times.

Inside Scoop

Half of my office is in Minneapolis at the moment, and I spoke to an insider last night after Palin's speech. They wanted to know if it was as big a hit on TV as it was on the floor, and I assured them it was. Apparently, they had also spoken to Karl Rove, the Master of Evil, earlier in the day. Rove had said that Palin was very accomplished with a teleprompter because of her previous life as a sportscaster, and that would make a huge difference. Any Mormon who has endured an anonymous Seventy giving a General Conference speech can tell you how rare good teleprompter readers are.

Rove also said McCain really wanted Lieberman, but the guy who talked him out of it was Lieberman himself. I don't know if that means that Lieberman refused the position outright or if he just convinced McCain otherwise, but it speaks well for Lieberman and says plenty about McCain. If you need to be convinced, watch Palin's speech side-by-side with Lieberman's tortured litany of McCain's lefty tendencies, and realize that McCain, if he had followed his heart, would have picked the latter. Yes, I dig Palin, yet McCain remains loathsome to me.

RobotontheToilet makes the comment in yesterday's post that Palin's speech is bad for Mitt. He's right. Mitt needs to position himself as Reagan '76, but his speech, while sturdy and admirable, didn't share the same we-nominated-the-wrong-dude gravitas that was present when Reagan addressed the '76 convention after his defeat. On the flip side, nobody remembers that, because Palin's tour de force overshadowed everything else.

The future of the GOP, for better or for worse, lies with Sarah Palin, not Mitt Romney.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Palin Speech: A Home Run

I could vote GOP this year if they'd only flip the ticket.

From the National Enquirer re: Palin:

Quoted via The Corner at National Review Online:

Another incredible allegation emerging from the family war is that Palin, a mother of five, had an affair with a former business associate of her fisherman husband, Todd.

“Todd discovered the affair and quickly dissolved his friendship and his business associations with the guy,” charges an enemy. “Many people in Alaska are talking about the rumor and say Todd swept it under the rug.”

No attribution. No solid evidence. Probably crap. Although the N.E. had the goods on John Edwards long before the mainstream press did. They also had photos, which don't seem to be available to prove this sludge this time around.

My question: The mainstream press completely ignored the Edwards story for a very long time, and they justified their decision on the grounds that the Enquirer was not a reputable source. Will they give Palin the same benefit of the doubt?


Lieberman's Post-Partisan Nonsense

First off, I can’t find a single reputable news source reporting on Palin’s reported “Pledge of Allegiance” gaffe. Methinks this bit of nonsense originated with the same great thinkers who decided Palin faked her last pregnancy to take the hit for her daughter. Until I get confirmation from something other than a lefty Olbermannic blog, I’m betting this one’s a hoax.

Let’s get to Lieberman.

I’ve always sort of liked Joe Lieberman, more so in recent years, although he showed in 2000 that he can morph into as partisan a weenie as anyone. Yet it takes some guts to stand up in front of a bunch of Republicans and slam the nominee of your own party. The reasons he cites for doing it, however, make my skin crawl.

I quote:

I have personally seen John, over and over again, bring people together from both parties to tackle our toughest problems we face --to reform our campaign finance, lobbying and ethics laws, to create the 9/11 Commission and pass its critical national security reforms, and to end the partisan paralysis over judicial confirmations.

By “bring people together,” he means “sell out the Republicans.” “Campaign finance reform” guts the First Amendment. The 9/11 Commission was a Clintonian whitewash, and the Gang of 14 sold a huge chunk of Bush’s judicial nominees down the river.

It gets worse.

If John McCain was just another go-along partisan politician, he never would have taken on corrupt Republican lobbyists, or big corporations that were cheating the American people, or powerful colleagues in Congress who were wasting taxpayer money.

But he did!

If John McCain was just another go-along partisan politician, he never would have led the fight to fix our broken immigration system or to do something about global warming.

But he did!

Yes, he did – to most Republicans’ everlasting regret.

Time after time after time, McCain has badgered and belittled those of his own party rather than take the fight to those who should be his ideological opponents. He’s much more comfortable ripping the faces off GOP folks than he is offending his Liebermanic pals across the aisle.

Lieberman’s speech was unintentionally gruesome for a number of reasons. He even got muted applause for his praise of Clinton’s record, the great Dem “who worked with Republicans to get important things done like welfare reform, free trade agreements, and a balanced budget.”

Yeah, right. With the exception of NAFTA, which Clinton admirably championed of his own free will and choice, everything else was rammed down his throat by Newt Gingrich, a man Lieberman went out of his way to demonize when he was the vice presidential nominee. Clinton vetoed welfare reform twice! Until ’94, he never dreamed of a balanced budget. He never “worked with Republicans” the way McCain does – he stuck to his guns until political expediency forced his hand. Contrast that with McCain, who gleefully throws right wingers under the bus at the first opportunity.

Lieberman said some wretched things about partisanship, too. Witness thus:

Our founding fathers foresaw the danger of this kind of senseless partisanship. George Washington himself -- in his Farewell Address to our country -- warned that the "spirit of party" is "the worst enemy" of our democracy and "enfeebles" our government's ability to do its job. George Washington was absolutely right. The sad truth is -- today we are living through his worst nightmare, in the capital city that bears his name.

His worst nightmare? Really? What was the Civil War, then – nightmare #7? All this hokey post-partisan blather ignores the fact that we’re no more divided now than we’ve been in the past. Those who want us to put partisanship aside and “get something done” conveniently overlook that they never want to get done what the other party wants done. Yet this was the drivel that Lieberman unleashed in full force.

Here’s the deal, Joe. I would prefer partisan gridlock to most of what McCain’s gotten done in the name of bipartisanship. Rather than the disembowelment of free speech rights, the creation of trillions of dollars of cap and trade taxes to fight a nonexistent problem, and the advancement of judicial tyranny, I’d rather Congress sat on its hands and did absolutely nothing. (Maybe they could crochet. Or weave baskets.)

“Working together” doesn’t do anyone any good when what you’re working to accomplish is loathsome. After all, the Germans, the Japanese, and the Italians worked together quite well during World War II, and it would have been awfully nice if they hadn’t.

Palin or no Palin, I’m back to Jacques Cousteau ’08.