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!

The Police

Saw The Police in concert on Saturday night at the Usana Amphitheatre outside of Salt Lake City. I’ve been a fan since way back when, and I never thought I’d have the opportunity to see them live. I almost got a chance to see them in Vegas, but that fell through, so I wrote them off. And then, suddenly, SLC gets added to the itinerary, so Mrs. Cornell and I jumped at the chance.

The Usana Amphitheatre is an odd place to see a show. It’s out in the middle of friggin’ nowhere, in the dumpiest part of town next to a Frito Lay factory. (We passed a loading dock that said “Potato Deliveries Here.”) The stage faces west, so the performers end up staring into the sun until it goes down around 8:30 or so. Elvis Costello opened the show, and everyone on stage had to wear sunglasses. I think E.C. might have done so to look cool, but I’m not sure if everyone else was going for the same motif. Only the drummer was sunglasses free, and he was squinting the whole time. A huge high-def TV screen is mounted in the back of the stage, yet it did no good during the opening act – Elvis Costello and the Imposters – because the intense glare made it impossible to see it.

It didn’t matter, though, because the opening act was rather uninteresting.

I’ve always kind of respected Elvis Costello, but never enough to actually buy anything he’s recorded. So I caught snatches of songs I recognized, but he also performed several songs from his new album, which no one in the audience recognized, either. A huge arena is not the place to be introduced to music you don’t know. Elvis Costello sings more understandably than most, but the high volume and the thumping drums that you can feel in your chest as they come throbbing through the speakers make it hard to concentrate on the subtleties of the lyrics, of which you only catch every third word or so. He played for nigh unto an hour, but it felt like two, so we definitely got our money’s worth on the Costello front. And Sting came out unannounced and sang backup on “Allison,” even taking the lead on the second verse. That was fun. I kept thinking I could see members of The Police skirting around backstage, but it turned out to be bald, sweaty roadies.

Between acts, I went and took a leak and tried to buy some ice cream, and some rude chick came and cut in front of me with such sheer brazenness that I was too taken aback to cause a scene. Then, as I ran into the arena with a waffle cone filled with pineapple sherbet, The Police started with the unmistakable opening chords to “Message in a Bottle.” Great opener, great show.

One of the things about seeing The Police live is that they had no ancillary musicians or singers – it was just Sting on bass, Andy Summers on guitar, and Stewart Copeland on percussion. That worried me, as several of their songs have distinctive keyboard riffs, notably “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” and I thought I’d be disappointed in hearing the stripped down versions. In addition, just about every song has some harmony vocals, and I wasn’t sure if Andy and Stewart were up for it.

Turns out that neither of those things mattered. Everyone was singing along to every song, so you didn’t miss any harmonies – although Andy gamely tried to add a few vocals here and there. (To my knowledge, Copeland didn’t sing at all.) I missed the keyboard stuff on “Every Little Thing,” but not much. And Stewart Copeland had a massive percussion setup that added xylophonic licks on “Wrapped Around Your Finger” and “King of Pain” that made both of those songs sound approximately like the studio recordings. Stewart was really, really amazing – he was flailing like a wild man, looking inches away from a heart attack the whole time. He was more than a drummer – he was an athlete. He was also in pretty good shape, my wife pointed out. She was too busy lusting after Sting, however, who was in even better shape. Andy Summers, not so much. Of course, Summers is ten years older than the other two, and he carries his age well. But when the high-def screen got close-ups on his age-spotted, wrinkled hands, you could see he was clearly eligible for Social Security.

They didn’t play a single song I didn’t recognize, although “Voices Inside My Head” and “Driven To Tears” make for lousy arena rockers. I also didn’t quite get why “Invisible Sun” featured a slide show of poor, starving children. I mean, I got it in the abstract, but it seemed like a pretty weak “statement.” I DID , however, get it when “Roxanne” featured a lot of red lights. Because, see, she doesn’t have to put on the red light, so The Police did it for her.

The only song I really missed that they didn’t play was “Synchronicity II,” which they apparently played earlier in the tour but have now replaced with “King of Pain,” which I would have missed if it hadn’t been included. Would have liked to have heard “Canary in a Coal Mine,” too, but that wasn’t on the set list, either.

Sting seemed to be having fun, if slightly bored. He made very little attempt to tell stories or explain his songs – his patter was all “Are you ready to rock, Salt Lake City?” type stuff, which was well-received, if uninspired. He also needlessly dropped the F-bomb a couple of times, which seemed wildly inappropriate. Of course, that kept the concert at a PG-13 level. One more F and you have a hard R on your hands.

Sting seemed tired every once in awhile, and he was vocally pretty lazy. He rarely hit the high notes and often sang the harmony line instead of the melody if it was lower and easier. He would often grimace if he fumbled a note on the bass, and I couldn’t decide if he was uninterested or just relaxing and having a good time. I eventually chose “just having a good time,” because then I had a good time. And it was a great time. Lots and lots of fun.

Yet the Police are spent. There was nothing in the tour to suggest that they anticipate being a going concern in the years to come. All the merchandise – including the T-shirt I bought, which makes me a way cool kid – had pictures and logos from 30 years ago. Stewart Copeland was wearing a Ghost in the Machine shirt, Sting was sporting a large police badge, and Andy Summers, for some inexplicable reason, was wearing a South Park guitar strap. These guys are done; this was just their way of saying goodbye. Thankfully, there was nothing sentimental or mawkish about it – it was just a fun night of nostalgia, with the assurance that everyone would soon be moving on.

Everyone except us, that is. We got back to the car and discovered we had had a flat tire. We changed it to the spare, which was even flatter than the original tire, and, thankfully, plenty of good Samaritans came out of the woodwork to help us, including one with an electric tire pump. It took forever for everyone to get out of the lot anyway. Several cars tried to mount a dirt hill in the corner to escape as onlookers cheered them on. (Only the four-wheel-drive models were successful.)

Are you ready to rock, Moist Blog?!!

Ramblings

My wife wants me to tell potty training stories, but, alas, I’m not sure how to make those interesting. There was the time that our oldest used her crap to draw on the walls of my parent’s house, or the time just recently when our youngest came home from vacation and celebrated by taking a dump out in the driveway. The bottom line is that gross things come out of kid’s bottoms, and there are only so many ways to describe a rogue bowel movement. If Mrs. Cornell wants to make a guest post on the subject, she’s welcome to do it. All I can say is she’s far more tolerant of my children’s bowels than she is of mine.

She’s started a new yoga class and brought home the literature therefrom, which maintains that yoga clears out your colon and cures AIDS. Neither one of us has AIDS, so that’s lost on us. However, that colon thing seems promising. I’m still in my personal trainer hell, and I almost fainted on Wednesday in my first workout since my return. Exercise just blows. There’s no way around it.

I’m reminded of one of my old acting professors who smoked incessantly and mocked the people who talked about smoking ten years off of your life. “Folks,” he’d say, “it’s the last ten! What am I missing, a chance to drool into my soup?” I feel that way about exercise. So what if I live longer? If I subtract the time exercising from my extended life, I come out just about even, don’t I? Actually, no, because the quality of life improves. I have to admit I feel better and have more energy to do stuff. And smoking, I’ve decided, doesn’t just lop off ten years – it accelerates those years, so that you get to drool into your soup ten years earlier. I remember the guy we hired to move us from St. George to Sandy had the worst emphysema you’ve ever seen. We called him Gollum, because he had to painfully slurp in each breath and only seemed comfortable when he had a cigarette, and he smoked a pile of them. I’d bet a whole lot of money that the dude is dead by now.

Forgive me if I don’t shed any tears. This dude was scum. He’d hire black assistants to help him pack his truck, and he’d spend all day hurling racial epithets at them until they quit, so he wouldn’t have to pay them. He ran out of boxes while he was packing us and asked us to go to the dumpster behind the mall to get some more. And to top it off, when it was all over, we found out he’d stolen our television set. I’ve forgotten his name and the name of the company, so I can’t warn you away from using him. But as I say, he’s probably dead, so it doesn’t matter.

Tony Snow is dead, too, and that makes me sad. He was a classy, funny guy – easily the best press secretary of any president I’ve seen in my lifetime. I was listening to Condoleeza Rice praising him, and she said that Tony Snow will never be forgotten. And it dawned on me that she’s absolutely wrong. Everybody is eventually forgotten. Seriously. How many people’s names and accomplishments outlast their lifetime by more than a couple of decades or so? Even historical figures like kings and presidents get forgotten relatively quickly. All the great artists and writers like Shakespeare and DaVinci – they’ve only been dead for a few hundred years. They’ve beaten the odds, but will they still be remembered in another thousand years? Can you think of any artists from 1008 or earlier whose names ring a bell today?

The only exception to this rule that I can think of is religious figures. Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha – these dudes have stuck around for a mighty long time. That’s why L. Ron Hubbard founded a religion – he wanted to carve his name into history forever. He’s succeeded in lingering for an extra couple of decades, but I’d bet a million dollars that he’ll be completely forgotten in less than a century. (If I’m wrong, I’ll be dead before it can be proven, so no one will be around to collect.)

I think there might have once been a point to this post, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it is.

Leap of Faith

I just finished reading an advance copy of Leap of Faith: Confronting the Origins of the Book of Mormon. It’s a new book that takes a fresh approach to Book of Mormon apologetics, written by a former executive in the Howard Hughes organization. That’s significant, because he compares the claims that The Book of Mormon is a clumsy forgery with the actual, real-life forgeries that plagued Howard Hughes’ world – the Clifford Irving’s “autobiography” of Hughes featured in the recent Richard Gere movie Hoax, and the Howard Hughes will reportedly “found” by service station attendant Melvin Dummar, which inspired its own movie, Melvin and Howard.

This is an interesting angle to take, because nobody who approaches The Book of Mormon does so from neutral ground. To even consider that it could possibly be an ancient record of people living in the Americas requires the reader to accept Joseph Smith’s supernatural claims with regard to the book’s origins. So believers embrace and defend it, overlooking any evidence that it might be a fraud, while skeptics dismiss it out of hand, highlighting the portions they believe expose the book as a product of the nineteenth century and ignoring everything that is not easily explained away.

This is the first book I’ve read that tries to confront the issue objectively, although the author concedes that he himself is a believer and not altogether free from bias. He does so by applying tests for forgery to The Book of Mormon that eventually exposed the Hughes hoaxes. He divides the tests into four categories:

First: Internal issues – is the work consistent with itself?

Second: External issues – is there any evidence in the real world that supports or contradicts the book’s claims?

Third: Motive – What would a forger have to gain?

And finally: Relevance: Does the Book of Mormon represent something God would find necessary to reveal to the world? The final test doesn’t apply to the Hughes stuff, but it’s critical in a consideration of the Book of Mormon, especially since the Christian world believes its message proclaiming Jesus as the Christ has been sufficiently delivered by the Bible.

Internal issues are what eventually discredited Dummar’s clumsily forged Howard Hughes will. There are misspellings throughout, including the name of one of Hughes’ cousins. The will makes former Hughes exec Noah Dietrich the executor of the will, yet Dietrich and Hughes had had a massive falling out years before, and it would be unthinkable that he would be the one the billionaire would have named to oversee his estate. Finally, the forger’s Hughes refers in the will to the “spruce goose,” the name for Hughes’ massive World War II project, the HK-1 or Flying Boat. Hughes despised that name and refused to allow anyone in his employ to use it in his presence. He would never have used it himself in his own will.

Clifford Irving’s fraudulent biography doesn’t have as many of these problems, because much of it was poached from an authentic, unpublished memoir about Hughes from someone who actually knew him. Indeed, it was the internal issues that initially gave Irving credibility, because those who reviewed the manuscript found details that only a Hughes insider could have known. Leap of Faith’s author points out that this is consistent with the work of the best forgers, who include details that the critics would expect to find there. He points out that this was the M.O. of Mark Hoffman, the famed forger of early Mormon documents, who was able to hoodwink the world by producing documents that fit their expectations perfectly.

So with regard to internal issues, how does the Book of Mormon fare?

Remarkably well. If this is a forgery, it’s a good one. The work is consistent with itself, with several remarkably complex stories intertwined throughout without any logical blunders or loose ends. It employs literary devices like chiasmus, an ancient Middle Eastern form of poetry that was essentially unknown to Joseph Smith or his contemporaries. It uses authentic Hebrew and Egyptian names that are consistent with its purported origins and time frame, and it reflects authentic ancient cultural practices that no one in the nineteenth century would have been able to fabricate.

But it does not fare perfectly. For instance, how could the book include an almost verbatim quotation from First Corinthians that is purportedly written by someone on the American continent in the 4th century with no access to Paul’s writings? Believers have explanations – perhaps both writers were quoting from a common source now lost, for instance – but they stretch credulity.

Still, the bulk of the text itself is difficult to explain away, which is why most criticism of the Book of Mormon focuses on external issues. It was external evidences that eventually destroyed Irving’s claims of having met with Howard Hughes clandestinely, which was impossible, given that Hughes had a team of executives, doctors, and hangers-on who were with him twenty-four seven. It all collapsed when Hughes himself resurfaced via telephone to denounce Irving in a bizarre press conference, forcing the forger to concede that the jig was up.

According to its critics, The Book of Mormon has similar problems, as no objectively verifiable evidences of a Christian civilization in the New World have appeared in any archeological digs. And recent DNA evidence suggests that the Native Americans are Asiatic, not Semitic, which they believe destroys the story that the Indians are part of the House of Israel. I believe critics sustain these accusations by ascribing claims to The Book of Mormon that it does not make for itself, but that’s somewhat beside the point. The fact is that with regard to American archeology and DNA, current discoveries lean against the book’s authenticity, not toward it. (Although the DNA premise is flawed for a number of reasons. Sorry. I know I’m biased. But I’m still right.)

So external evidence proves the Book of Mormon is a hoax, too, right?

Not so fast.

The Book of Mormon begins with the story of Lehi, a prosperous man in Jerusalem who also taught his children “in the language of the Egyptians” before taking them on a journey to the sea just prior to the city’s destruction circa 600 BC. Along the way, they come across a large tree-filled valley and a river, and later to a place called Nahom, where one of their company dies and is buried. They eventually reach a land on the shores of the ocean they call Bountiful, because it’s lush with trees and vegetation in the shadow of a large mountain. Here they build a boat and sail to the Americas.

For years, every piece of this story was considered ludicrous. Arabia, where Lehi’s family would have traveled, purportedly had no rivers or green valleys. Nahom didn’t exist. And lush oceanfront property in the Middle East? How stupid could this forger be?

It turns out that the story is verifiable almost down to the slightest detail. Along a newly discovered ancient trade route known as the “Incense Trail,” there is such a river and a valley, both of which were entirely unknown in Joseph Smith’s time. There’s even a place called NHM, a word written without its vowels, as was customary at the time. NHM is a burial ground. If a forger came up with this, he was one lucky forger.

Lehi’s son, Nephi, describes the direction of their travels as southeast, and then they turn eastward after several years. In his lifetime, Joseph Smith reportedly claimed that the eastward turn took place at the nineteenth parallel. That would have led them directly to the Qara mountains in Oman, which were first seen by Westerners in 1928, a century after the book was published. If Qara isn’t Bountiful, then the two places are exactly alike. It’s even home to one of the Middle East’s only supplies of iron ore, which is what Nephi claimed to have used to build the ship that carried his family to the Americas.

The idea of using iron anciently was once considered silly and a strike against the book’s authenticity. So was the idea of anyone writing hidden records on golden plates. Since the discovery of the Darius Plates in Iran, hidden up in a stone box identical to the one Joseph Smith describes as the holding place for The Book of Mormon, the concept of hidden records on plates has to be moved from the “evidence against” to the “evidence for” column. That seems to be happening a lot as the years go by, which is perhaps one reason why believers don’t fall out of bed when critics come up with new ways to scoff. Time always works against a forger, as the details of their hoax become more ludicrous when new information comes to light. Exactly the opposite is true of The Book of Mormon, which is more plausibly authentic today than it was the day it was published.

As for motive, it was clearly money for Irving and Dummar, but it’s somewhat murkier for Joseph Smith. He made no money off The Book of Mormon, and he was imprisoned, tarred and feathered, and eventually murdered for defending it. What motive could David Whitmer have had, for instance, to reaffirm his testimony that he had seen the angel who delivered the plates to Smith, along with the plates themselves? He issued this statement near the time after his death, long after he’d left Smith’s church and had had a falling out with Smith personally. None of the witnesses of the plates every denied their testimony.

I’ve rambled on long enough, and I’m being more didactic than Leap of Faith is. It’s written clearly and persuasively, but it makes no attempt to hide the legitimate questions that still exist with regard to The Book of Mormon. For me, the book comes with its own spiritual witness of its authenticity, which is the primary reason I’m still a member of the LDS church. If you haven’t had a similar witness and would like one, I suggest getting your own copy of The Book of Mormon. I know two young men on bicycles who’d be happy to give you one, free of charge.

In the meantime, pick up a copy of Leap of Faith. I’ll let you know when it comes out.