Overlooking Sleaze

I’ve been thinking I should write something about the John Edwards scandal, but I can’t think of a less interesting, more predictable, or less surprising denouement for a truly pathetic human being. Of course he’s a liar. And he’s still lying. If the affair ended in 2006, why is he showing up in the middle of the night to visit his kid at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last month? And is anyone really aghast that the media militantly ignored this story for as long as they could? You really think that Mitt Romney wouldn’t have been on the front page of the New York Times for weeks on end if he had done the same thing?

But what part of that story is news? The media tilts left? Yawn. Edwards is a sleaze? I mean, come on. This is a guy who bilked the health care industry out of hundreds of millions of dollars by putting massive numbers of OB/GYNs out of business on the premise that dead children used him as a vessel to demand C-sections to avoid cerebral palsy. Well, guess what! The amount of C-sections has skyrocketed, OB/GYN malpractice insurance rates are through the roof, and the frequency of cerebral palsy remains unchanged. But at least Edwards had enough cash to keep paying his mistress hush money!

I guess the only thing that still surprises me about such a tired, worthless story like this is that so many Americans either cannot or will not recognize sleaze when they see it. My father-in-law, a very good, decent, and intelligent man, was startled when he heard the news about Edwards. “He was the one I wanted in the primaries!” he said. It never occurred to him that his populist hero was human garbage. I think, in his case, that speaks well for him – he’s willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. I wish that were the reasons so many others are taken in by the Edwardian offal.

Alas, many people see people who get away with reprehensibly egregious assaults on decency and praise them for their ingenuity. Is there anyone in the country – besides imbecile Dan Rather, of course – who can say with a straight face that the Clintons are honest people? Yet Hillary was able to marshal the support of millions of folks with selective amnesia who followed blindly as she appealed to every crass instinct, every racial bias, and every irrational fear she could to keep Obama from winning the nomination. Hillary was- and is – nothing but ambition and appetite, and so many failed to notice. How is that possible?

At least with my candidate, famed decomposing undersea adventurer Jacques Cousteau, everyone can smell him from miles away.

Mamma Mia!

At the risk of opening up the whole “he’s gay” thing again, I admit, at the outset, that I went to see Mamma Mia of my own free will and choice, and I’d do it again. I saw it with my wife, my three sisters, and My Fiancée, and a good time was had by all.

I liked it. A lot.

Glenn Beck has said that seeing Mamma Mia more than once will make your testicles fall off, but I think he’s speaking solely on his own behalf. I’m one of a handful of heterosexual men who digs good musical theatre, and my libido has been surprisingly unaffected. Still, I can’t imagine anyone not having a good time at this flick. It’s genuinely cheerful, devoid of sneering irony or saccharine cynicism. It’s impossible to walk out of this movie without having a smile on your face.

That’s not to say it makes a lick of sense. The plot is wafer thin, and the whole thing is paced like a musical revue. Snippets of dialogue serve only to move the thing from one song to another, and if you think about anything for more than three seconds, it all falls apart.

Consider: Meryl Streep plays Donna, a single mother who got pregnant one summer twenty years ago and remains shaky on her child’s paternity. Apparently, Donna’s mother was so upset with her that he kicked her out of the house when she found out.

Meryl Streep is 59 years old.

If I were her mom two decades ago, I’d have kicked her out of the house, too. Pregnant or no, if you’re pushing forty, it’s time to spread your wings and fly. (Andrew Fullen, take note.) All of the potential fathers are the same age as Streep, and they sing about how they dated her in the time “of the flower power,” which would have been back around the time Meryl would have been the right age to play this role. It would have been simple to set the thing as a period piece back in the 80s, but they mention the Internet and other 21st Century staples and throw off the entire chronology.

Then get to the issue of the men themselves. Each of them has achieved a significant amount of worldly success, yet they all drop everything when they get a bogus invite from Donna to come to her daughter’s wedding on a remote Greek island. Two of them only had one-night stands with this woman. It’s hard to believe that Donna could be so memorable as to derail three lives with the mere memory of her good lovin’, but that’s what you have to accept to make this movie fly. Then, when they show up, Donna’s daughter tells them she wrote the letters, but please don’t let her mom know. Incredibly, they all agree. So Donna just accepts that three of her old flames have all shown up at the island at the same time coincidentally.

It strains credulity, I tells ya!

And you don’t care. About any of that. That’s because the music is so much fun and everyone’s having such a great time. I was never really an ABBA devotee back in the day, but I thoroughly enjoyed these songs. They’re very theatrical, and they feel as if they were written in support of this story, not strung together haphazardly. They’re actually more consistent than the flimsy dialogue. And they’re always fun to watch.

I should note that much has been made of the fact that Pierce Brosnan can’t sing. That’s not entirely true – he can carry a tune well enough, but vocally, he’s amateurish. He’s straining the whole time, as if he’s trying to sing during a bowel movement. Yet he’s so committed to the enterprise that his lack of talent is endearing. He doesn’t shy away from what should be an embarrassing performance, and he ends up giving one of the most memorable performances in the whole flick. I don’t think I’d buy a Pierce Brosnan CD, but I certainly enjoyed him in this flick.

I also enjoyed Orson Scott Card’s recent review of this movie, which argued that Mamma Mia is great entertainment but a reprehensible social artifact. That is to say, the movie depends on the audience’s respect and admiration for the traditional family while, at the same time, rejecting the necessity of marriage and fidelity. And he’s right, although I think he overstates his case somewhat. True, the young girl who was planning to get married suddenly doesn’t go through with it for completely arbitrary plot reasons – she has to get out of the way so that Donna can have the stage with her one true love – but there is a marriage, and Donna’s family is more traditional at the end of the film than at the beginning. Card also laments the fact that one character’s homosexuality is treated solely as a punchline, yet having read Card’s review prior to seeing the film, I found this less disconcerting than I had anticipated. So I recommend reading his review prior to seeing the film so you can feel righteously indignant in advance.

I’m not gay.

The Ammon Song: Live!

As promised, here is a video of last week’s live performance of The Ammon Song. Mrs. Cornell is doing the camera work while five kids crawl all over her, so the cinematography may not win any awards. I also forgot the words in the third verse, and the “everybody sing along” section was shoddy, but other than that, I think it’s kind of fun.



As promised, here is a video of last week’s live performance of The Ammon Song. Mrs. Cornell is doing the camera work while five kids crawl all over her, so the cinematography may not win any awards. I also forgot the words in the third verse, and the “everybody sing along” section was shoddy, but other than that, I think it’s kind of fun.


Aspen Grove Report

I have returned! And I’m sick and exhausted.

This year’s Aspen Grove jaunt was far more difficult than many in year’s past, because at one time or another, every single member of the family was ill. Three-year-old Stalliondo also decided he was incapable of mobility on his own, and insisted on riding on my shoulders everywhere he went. That was fun at first, but it ended up doing interesting things to my back. The family still hasn’t really recovered, and I, myself, am now struggling with the effects of a nasty, nasty cold. I could whine more if you like, complete with mucous descriptions. Let me know.

Still, I kept my word to my wife, and I didn’t touch the computer the entire week we were gone. It was startlingly easy, really. The world is a much more cheerful place when you don’t read screeching headlines on a daily basis.

What to say about the vacation itself? Well, Aspen Grove is becoming more and more like a traditional resort getaway, which is a bad thing. In my childhood, it was exceedingly rustic, and now they’ve built a massive new abomination called the Beckham Lodge to replace a lot of the funky old A-frame cabins that we’ve grown to love. The lodge sits directly in front of the mountain view from the center of the camp, and it’s not nearly as nice to look at. The lights from the thing stay on 24 hours a day, which results in unnecessary light pollution when the sun goes down. This monstrosity even has an elevator and a garage.

It’s civilized! Blech.

We still stayed in the cabins, but the writing is on the wall that said cabins are not long for this world. Nobody’s seriously considering abandoning the annual Aspen Grove retreat, but if the cabins disappear altogether, the rumblings of discontent might start getting louder.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t fun. It’s always a blast to see all my siblings, cousins, and extended family from hither and yon. I also read a good book – Ilium by Dan Simmons – and snuck out of camp and saw a fun movie – Mamma Mia, which was much better than I expected. I’ll review both in forthcoming blog posts. I also hiked and swam and unsuccessfully fished. I tried to play paintball, but we got to the paintball site five minutes late and the Nazi running the thing refused to let us participate. I told him “Up your nose with a rubber hose.” It felt good. I also sang my Ammon Song live for the first time at the talent show, accompanying myself on both guitar and harmonica. Siblings have threatened to put it up on YouTube. If that happens, I’ll embed the thing here on the blog.

Perhaps the most fun were the nightly games of Time’s Up, held in My Fiancee’s cabin. I discovered that my brother-in-law thinks Pierce Brosnan is the lead singer of The Who, and that my sister thinks Squanto had bowel issues. The women always bested the men in the competition, despite our feeble efforts to cheat.

All in all, a good time. But I really need a vacation to recuperate from the effects of my last vacation.

Announcing the Aspen Grove Hiatus

I’ll be at Aspen Grove Family Camp for an entire week beginning tomorrow afternoon, along with about two thirds of the people who comment on this blog. I believe I may make a post or two from my mountain encampment, unless my wife has anything to say about it. She’s none too pleased to see me on a computer on a vacation. Come to think of it, she’s not all that thrilled when I’m on the computer at any time.  (Don’t tell her I’m writing this.)

Aspen Grove is a family tradition on my mother’s side, stretching back over 35 years. All my cousins and their families gather in the mountains and spend a week letting someone else take care of our kids. I got Chicken Pox at Aspen Grove when I was three years old. (I’ve since recovered.) We Cornells went dutifully until the the eighties when we took about a decade-long hiatus, but then we picked it up again in 1992 and have gone every year since. 
The place is steeped with tradition – we perform “Javelin Man” live at the talent show every year, we always lose Aspen Follies, and we play as much Pirate Rook as possible. (Pirate Rook is kind of a modified version of Bridge without face cards. There’s nothing piratey about it.) Sadly, three of the most active Pirate Rookists – Rob, Bret, and Norm – will not be there for the duration, or, in Bret or Norm’s case, not there at all. So I may have to actually do something else. Perhaps I could blog! I’m sure Mrs. Cornell wouldn’t mind. 
Just the same, don’t bet on any new posts for the coming week. Enjoy “Javelin Man” in the meantime and savor what you’ll be missing.