My Other Grandfather

When I started writing yesterday’s post, I intended to share memories about all four of my grandparents. But as I got into it, I realized I was focusing on the end of their lives, and that gets a bit maudlin after awhile. My intention was to illustrate how all of their funerals were really positive events. They were a chance to gather with family and celebrate a great life. At my paternal grandfather’s funeral, my aunt expressed the sentiment perfectly in her eulogy when she said, “He was tired and in pain, so we wouldn’t wish him back. But we do miss him.”

I can tell you plenty of stories about him. Unlike my mother’s father, he was ridiculously healthy in his later years. Every day he would walk from his condominium at the mouth of Emigration Canyon to his office downtown and back again. The trek was at least a 10 mile round trip or more. But after he turned 90, he fell down, and he never really recovered. He slowed down considerably and got a bit dingy. One of my cousins, a cardiologist who essentially became Grandpa’s personal, on-call physician, recalls once asking him if he wanted a glass of water, and Grandpa replied, “We Japanese don’t drink water.” Make of that what you will.

Still, up until the end, he had moments of lucidity, and he never lost his sense of humor. He was especially fond of limericks and clever poems, of which he had an endless supply for every occasion. This is the one that was repeated at his funeral:

Little Willy, in bows and sashes,
Fell in the fire and burned to ashes.
By and by the room grew chilly
No one wanted to poke up Willy.

When I was but a lad of three years old, he and my grandmother celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and it was my job to participate in the program by singing a verse Grandpa had passed on to my father, who passed on to me:

James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree
Took great care of his Mother, though he was only three.
James James said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down to the end of the town
if you don’t go down with me.”

I got up on stage and, staring out at what seemed like an endless sea of people, burst into tears. That’s one of my earliest memories – choking in front of Grandpa. I’m now trying to teach the same song to Stalliondo, who has the requisite age and moniker, but Grandpa isn’t around to hear him atone for my mistakes.

He was a man of considerable accomplishment – a businessman and a civic leader, as well as the guy who invented the first “Colorizer” paint. Every time you buy a bucket of white paint and get the Home Depot guys to inject some color into it, you can thank my Grandpa for that idea. In fact, you should probably pay me a royalty, which I’ll be happy to collect on his behalf.

I am his youngest grandson, so I have no real memories of him as a captain of industry or a leader of men. To me, he was just Grandpa, the guy who asked me to sneak him a piece of candy after Gram had put it away before dinner and then let me take the fall when Gram caught me in the act. He was the host of a weekly Family Gathering every Sunday evening, when any cousin in town had an open invitation to drop by unannounced and visit. He was a man who had life in perspective and, even amid the accolades he collected over the course of his career, never took himself too seriously.

My favorite story in that regard was recounted by my cousin at the funeral. Robert Redford once approached him at some official function to introduce himself. They shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, and my cousin, eyes wide, said, “Grandpa, do you know who that was?”

Grandpa shrugged. “No,” he said, “but people do that all the time, and you have to be polite.”

My Grandfather

My wife attended the funeral of her aunt yesterday, who died after a prolonged illness. I wasn’t able to attend, but I got a report that the funeral was uplifting and beautiful, marked more by joy in remembrance of a life well lived than sadness at her loss. The degenerative disease she suffered from had made the past several years part of a long, painful goodbye, and by the time she finally passed, it allowed the family to recall her life in its entirety, and not just the agonizing difficulties surrounding its end.

This led me to reminisce about the funerals of my own grandparents, all four of whom lived into their nineties. Three out of four of them passed away within two months of each other, beginning in October of 1993. My paternal grandmother followed about a year later at the age of 95. For the most part, each of them enjoyed good health throughout most of their lives, but getting out of this world wasn’t particularly easy for them.

Case in point: My maternal grandfather had a remarkable case of Parkinson’s Disease, causing one doctor to remark that he had never seen a similar case, because people usually died before the condition advanced that far. Throughout his career, he was a prominent Salt Lake attorney and a leader in the LDS Church, but at the end of his life, it became harder and harder for him just to get up out of his chair. He was taciturn by nature in the best of health, so when Parkinson’s robbed him of his faculties, he virtually stopped speaking altogether. Every now and then, you looked at his stiff, moribund frame and had to wonder if there was any part of him left.

It was delightful and bittersweet when he showed flashes of wit that let you know he was still in there.

On one occasion, he was trying to dress himself, a slow and tedious process for a man forced to move at a snail’s pace. His body and his wardrobe weren’t cooperating, yet his face remained placid and expressionless, until, after several failed attempts to make progress, a single, monotone word, barely audible, escaped from his lips.

“Dammit,” he said.

Keep in mind that this may very well have been the first profanity ever to issue forth from this man in his entire lifetime. He was a patient, kind, soft-spoken man, virtually incapable of anger, the most Christlike man I’ve ever met. He was a lifelong Latter-day Saint and a leader in the church on almost every level. My mother insists that she never had heard him swear at any point previous. (My father once said the same thing about his father, too, prompting my other Grandpa to say, “Now that’s a damn shame.”)

Needless to say, everyone in the room was aghast, especially my maternal grandmother, who had, shall we say, a rather well-developed sense of propriety. Never at a loss for words herself, she did what she could to cover for her husband’s faux pas with this excuse:

“It’s not really swearing unless you say ‘dammit to hell,’” she explained.

Silence fell. Nobody breathed a word until, after a lengthy pause, my grandfather spoke yet again.

“Dammit to hell,” he said.

Everyone burst out laughing, and Grandpa cracked as broad a smile as he was capable of producing there at the end.

Nobody told this story at his funeral.

Are Bad Guys Better Presidents?

When he was president, I loathed Bill Clinton.

I cannot express this passionately enough. The man was so clearly, fundamentally dishonest, so patently corrupt, that I was ashamed for my nation every time the weasel opened his mouth. The Lewinsky scandal was particularly disgusting, because it has now forever lowered the standards of conduct we can expect from those in public life. Suddenly, lying under oath if it’s “just about sex” isn’t that big a deal, and even feminists like Gloria Steinem said Clinton’s botched fondling of Kathleen Willey’s breast was acceptable because he stopped after she said no. So now everyone is entitled to one free grope.

It’s easy to focus on the sexual stuff – it’s salacious and easy to understand – but Clinton’s corruption ran far deeper and was far more devastating on other fronts. Selling nuclear secrets to the Chinese for campaign cash is essentially treason, and it dwarfs what malfeasance he committed in the Lewinsky mess. Yet that is Bill Clinton’s legacy, along with kicking the can of Islamic terrorism down the road until it finally blew up on September 11, 2001. The guy is human garbage, and I’m optimistic that with his wife’s defeat, we’re finally rid of him.

So here’s the problem: in terms of actual, practical policy, the guy wasn’t really all that bad.

I’m setting aside the tyrannical judges he appointed, which are going to be the byproduct of any Democrat’s administration. I’m talking fiscal and economic policy, which he essentially abandoned in 1994 when Newt and the boys took the Hill. That’s when he suddenly decided to sign a welfare bill he had previously vetoed twice, which has been more successful than even its proponents dared hope. Now Clinton boasts of Newt’s bill as his own crowning achievement, despite having bitterly opposed it and then promising to “fix” it after he’d signed it into law.

Newt pushed through capital gains tax cuts and the child credit. Clinton signed them into law and took credit for them. The economy hummed along without incident, because Clinton did nothing to get in the way. In his 1996 campaign, he triangulated a la Dick Morris and focused on piddly issues like V-chips and school uniforms. The guy did nothing and got out of the way. Which, in terms of the nation’s economy, is not a bad thing to do. I wish George Bush could figure that out.

The irony is that it was Clinton’s mendacity and complete lack of any guiding principles that allowed him to abandon his party’s ideology and “govern” without screwing things up too badly. Had Clinton been a decent man, he would have been a far more destructive president in terms of policy. (Although we might have avoided the scandals.) To quote and/or paraphrase George Will, Clinton was not our worst president, but he was the worst man ever to serve as president. 

Why do I bring all this up? Because Barack is turning out to be less decent than I previously believed. Certainly he’s more decent than Clinton, although that’s a ridiculously low threshold, but he seems willing to throw his old positions under the bus if they get in the way of his electability. If he keeps doing that, then he might end up betraying his lunatic base and doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Where does that leave me?

I doubt I’ll get another Reagan in my lifetime –a Pres who does the right thing for the right reasons – so maybe I have to be satisfied when dopes like Barack do the right thing by accident. That’s probably the best I can hope for this time around.

I’m still not going to vote for him, though, although I can’t vote Beavis McCain, either. My wife has broken down and said she’s casting her ballot for McCain, only because Barack is so patently awful on every issue. If I lived in a different state, maybe I would lose my resolve, too. Fortunately, I’m in Utah, where the electoral votes are assigned to the Republican long before any ballots are cast. So I can comfortably write in the French guy and know that no matter what happens, we’re all screwed.

Cousteau ’08, baby!

The Dark Knight

I finally saw The Dark Knight, and I have to say that I liked it a whole lot more than Mrs. Cornell did. Her mantra was that it should have been rated R, and she was probably right, although the violence alone wasn’t the problem. Heath Ledger’s Joker was just so dang creepy that it was hard to justify seeing that kind of a performance in a PG-13 film. This was Hannibal Lecter-style stuff, and just like The Silence of the Lambs, the gore and the violence isn’t nearly as disturbing as the character moments. “Do you want to know how I got these scars” ranks right up there with “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” I love both moments, because the anticipation is always more dreadful than the payoff. This is a remarkable film, certainly, but none of my kids will be allowed to see it – hopefully until they reach adulthood.

In any case, it’s a comic book movie that respects its source material, so of course I loved it. Reviewing the film blow by blow is kind of pointless now, as all of you probably have or will see it, if the box office grosses are any indication. Ledger really is that good, although playing a villain is probably the easiest thing for a decadent, self-indulgent actor-type to do. Much harder is bringing the kind of dignity and gravitas to lesser roles like Alfred and Lucius Fox, something that Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman do brilliantly. So does Gary Oldman, for that matter. And Christian Bale has the thankless task of holding all of it together, and he does an admirable job on that score.

The best performance in this film, though, came from BYU grad Aaron Eckhart. Harvey Dent’s fall from grace is pure tragedy, mainly because Eckhart succeeds in creating a character that you like enough to dread what you know is coming.

Of course, focusing on performances ignores the fact that they had such magnificent material to play with. Although I didn’t buy the stand-off on the ferry – I doubt anyone would have put the matter to a vote, and nobody would even consider pulling the trigger – and I found it eye-rollingly silly that Lucius would have no problem with letting his boss break people’s legs and destroy cars and property according to his whims, but the moment he engages in – gasp! – illegal wiretapping, that crosses the line. I guess director Christopher Nolan had to toss in a token anti-Bush bon mot into his subversively conservative movie. 

And make no mistake – this is a fundamentally conservative film. The critics are amazed at how it supposedly blurs the line between good and evil, but I thought it did exactly the opposite. The price Batman pays to preserve decency only matters because decency survives as an inherent value. The Joker preaches moral relativism and is ultimately proved wrong. Anyway, a guy in the Wall Street Journal makes this argument better than I can – read his piece if you don’t believe me.

I’m going to wander into spoiler territory here, so skip to the next two paragraphs if you don’t want to know who lives and who dies and how the thing ends. Still here? Don’t blame me. I’m not convinced that Two-Face is dead. You see him unconscious, but you never see them haul off the body. What if he’s been quietly locked up in Arkham, only to escape, and in a murderous rampage, inadvertently end up clearing Batman’s name? The Joker’s survival indicates that the filmmakers were probably not done with him, although recasting the role would be like making Rebel Without a Cause II. So the question is, who is the villain for the next film going to be? Batman’s rogue’s gallery is massive, but none of the villains in it can hold a candle to the Joker, especially after Ledger’s tragic star turn.

So who will it be? Nolan has already pooh-poohed the idea of Catwoman or the Penguin, and I say good for him. If it were up to me, I’d go with Bane, the guy who break’s Batman’s back in the comics. (Although a wretchedly dumbed-down, monosyllabic version of Bane appeared in Batman and Robin, which can’t be good for his chances.) Bane – at least the comic book Bane –is a wrongfully convicted Brazilian genius who systematically sets out to destroy Batman, and ends up leaving him paralyzed and broken, both body and spirit. He’s also a drug addict and a muscleman, and he could fit quite well into this version of Batman’s real world milieu. Just my two cents.

Bottom line: good, violent flick. Don’t take the kids.

I Beat my Wife!

And that’s the good news!

That title probably came out wrong. What I mean is that I finished about 45 seconds before she did in yesterday’s 10K. My time was 1:04:13. That put me in 96th place out of 103 in the category of 35-39 year-olds. I think my time was better last year, although I was more consistent this year. Although next year I move into the geezer 40-44 category, so I should be smokin’ then.

The Cornells spent most of yesterday at the Draper Pool, and I sprayed lots and lots of that aerosol sunscreen all over myself and still got broiled. At least I was able to contribute to expanding the ozone layer. That’s something positive. I also dove off the high dive, too. Am I impressive or what?

I’d go with “or what.”

We spent the evening lighting off fireworks, and the only fireworks that are legal in Utah are the ones that emit showers of sparks. Anything that flies into the sky can get you slapped with a $500 fine. So we watched all the different ways that sparks can be emitted. Sometimes the sparks are blue. Sometimes they are green. Often they make loud snapping noises. The important thing is that they’re emitted. Hopefully, I warmed our globe somewhat – it’s getting dangerously cool, you know.

A comment on yesterday’s blog rips Mitt Romney for his flipflops, most of which are vastly overstated. Does it surprise anyone that a Republican running for Governor or Massachusetts didn’t campaign on a pro-gun, pro-life platform? And of course he’s a fiscal conservative -he managed to cut taxes in a state with a veto-proof Democrat majority. And to fault him for Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage is absolutely ludicrous. He fought that awful court decision tooth and nail – there has been no greater proponent of traditional marriage than Mitt Romney.

The only point that the guy makes that I agree with is that it’s somewhat disturbing that Mormons broke 98% in favor of the guy, and as one of those Mormons, I can’t deny that his faith wasn’t an overall plus. But unlike Satan’s brother Mike Huckabee, who is not a conservative on any issue besides abortion, Romney never tried to wield religion as a weapon. He’d be a great president, although a stint as McCain’s running mate will guarantee that he’ll never get that chance.

Seeing The Dark Knight tonight – finally! Wish me luck!

Pioneer Day, 10K, and Mitt the Veep

By the way, yesterday’s post failed to mention one of my favorite things about Dr. Horrible: there’s a supervillain in it named Moist! His power is apparently making people feel uncomfortable in damp clothes. I’m pretty sure Joss Whedon got that idea from reading this blog and the Moist Board, though. He owes me a whole lot of royalty money.

Today is the 24th of July, which in most of the world means absolutely nothing, but here in Utah, it’s Pioneer Day, a state holiday complete with tacky parades in 100-degree heat. It’s the day when, back in 1847, Brigham Young arrived in the Salt Lake Valley and said “This is the right place.” They’ve since shortened it to “this is the place,” which sounds vaguely more prophetic. We celebrate by setting off all the fireworks left over from Independence Day, and, in the case of Mrs. Cornell and myself, by running a 10K through downtown Salt Lake City.

This is our second year running this 10K. Last year, when the thing began, I tore off with all the big boys and kept pace running like a madman for about three, maybe three and a half miles. Then I collapsed and started walking, waiting for Mrs. Cornell to catch up with. It took her forever, as her legs are about half as long as mine, and I kept having to start running again so as to keep my male ego from feeling stupid because this tiny lass was faster than I was. This year, I decided to go easy at the beginning so I could survive until the finish line. It was actually pretty nice… until Mrs. Cornell caught up with me again, somewhere between the third and fourth mile. That set me off running hard – and then she caught up with me again, a mile or so before the end. She’s feisty, that one! I finished about a minute or so ahead of her, although we won’t know the final results until the Deseret News publishes them this Sunday. Last year I came in 85th! Of course, that was out of 95 men in my age category. I hope to finish 84th or higher this time around. That would be a tremendous moral victory for me.

We came home to find the Boy Scouts, as is their purview on all major holidays, put up an American flag on our lawn. That’s a nice sentiment, until you consider that the Mormons came to Utah to escape the Federal Government and found themselves at war with them within a decade or tow after their arrival. Ah, well. All is forgiven. We are all citizens of the world, right, Barack?

Ick.

On that note, Orson Scott Card has a great column out now urging John McCain NOT to pick Mitt Romney as his running mate. Why? Because Mitt’s a Mormon, and the South hates Mormons. Keep in mind that OSC is a devoted Latter-day Saint himself, so he’s not speaking as a bigot – he’s just warning McCain that the bigot vote is bigger than he can afford to lose. He’s probably right, but I don’t want McCain to pick Romney for different reasons, which are:

1. McCain is going to lose regardless of what happens, and he’ll pull down his veep along with him. Romney thinks being on the ticket will help him in 2012. I wonder if he still has his Jack Kemp 2000 bumper stickers.

2. The biggest swipe against Mitt other than his Mormonosity is his flip-flopperism. As veep, he’d have to subordinate his common sense views to follow McCain’s nutty lead on no drilling in ANWR and cap and trade, among other monstrosities. It will prove to be one flip flop too many.

3. I loathe John McCain, and I might have to vote for him if Mitt is on the ticket, and I have my heart set on casting my ballot for a dead French undersea explorer.

Jacques Cousteau 2008!

The Horribleness of Dr. Horrible


WARNING: The following post has spoilers with regard to both Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and the Firefly movie Serenity. They’re slightly nebulous spoilers, but spoilers nonetheless. You ought to watch both of those things before reading this post, unless you haven’t seen the Firefly series, which makes you a loser. GO WATCH FIREFLY NOW! It’s only the best TV series ever made, that’s all. And you really think it’s a good idea to watch Serenity before you see the series? It can be done, but the series is better anyway, and it gives you all the background you need to appreciate the continuation movie. If you’re wasting time reading this blog without having wasted sufficient time watching Firefly, I pity you. No, I mock you. You don’t deserve to be able to read.

There. I got that out of the way.

I got a Facebook message recommending this Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog thing, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. It seemed like an odd idea – a superhero musical on the Internet? – but it was my kind of odd idea. Joss Whedon was involved, which is a good thing, as Firefly, as mentioned above, is perhaps the best TV show in history, and Nathan Fillion, Firefly’s star, has a prominent role in this dealie. So I settled in and watched – and I was startled and amazed.

Let’s start with startled. I was startled because this thing actually existed, and I legally got to see it for free. (It’s no longer free, but it will only cost about six bucks to download it from iTunes if you want to catch up.) It’s a wacky concept all the way around – a budding supervillain is trying to impress the Evil League of Evil with his membership application, yet he finds himself falling for a sweet homeless advocate – only to have his arch nemesis, Captain Hammer, muscle in on his action.

I was amazed by how good it was, at least at first. It’s essentially a three-character piece, and it’s well played on all sides. Neil Patrick Harris is perfect as the titular Dr. Horrible, as is Felicity Day as the object of his affection. And Nathan Fillion makes a great stuffed shirt. The thing is funny and goofy in all the right places, and the songs are eminently hummable. I’ve been singing “A Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do” for days. As I watched it, the whole thing felt like a revelation, and I was thrilled to have a new Joss Whedon masterpiece to add to my Firefly collection.

And then we get to Act III.

I wouldn’t have minded so much if you didn’t really care about these goofy characters. You really shouldn’t care about them – they live in a silly world with freeze rays and superheroes who frequent laundromats. But it’s so well written that you ache for Dr. Horrible’s unrequited love and look forward to seeing Captain Hammer deflated. Which is why the thing’s total betrayal in the end just sucks out loud.

As is Whedon’s custom, tragedy gets inserted into this piece entirely needlessly. Indeed, they couldn’t have made this more tragic if they’d tried. It reminds me – spoiler alert again – of Serenity, when a beloved character gets killed for absolutely no reason at all. Why? This thing was so much fun! From whence cometh the compulsion to sink the whole enterprise with a lead weight?

Yes, I know tragic things happen in the real world. Whedon is very fond of killing of characters unexpectedly, because it keeps the audience on their toes and approximates reality more closely. But that’s such a miserable excuse. It reminds me of the actors back at USC who always chose foul, profane, depressing material to perform because it was “real.” Well, what’s so great about being real? I take a dump or two every day, yet nobody wants to pay money to see that. Why is it entertaining to bask in gloom and doom? I watch television and movies and, uh, sing-along blogs to escape reality. I don’t need to be reminded that life is capable of sucking.

In addition, Dr. Horrible is decidedly NOT the real world. People burst into song. Superheroes and villains abound. Horses lead fraternal organizations of supervillains. This is a terrible, terrible vehicle for tragedy, and yet that’s exactly where Whedon takes it. I’m not saying musicals should only be light and fluffy, but tonally, this isn’t Sweeney Todd or even West Side Story. It’s fun and goofy and silly – and then Whedon suddenly paints the whole thing dark black.

If you’re a musical theatre buff, though, you probably ought to see it. Maybe stop watching after Act II. But go see Firefly, dammit! See it now!