Sometimes Langy’s Right

As much as it pains me to say this, Languatron is dead right.

One of Languatron’s central arguments is that Universal Studios has contempt for the public at large, and they refuse to give audiences what they want. Or, in his own inimitable style, he states:

To my knowledge, Universal Studios has never given a flying ant farm about anything that the public would like to see on movie or television screens.

Overlooking the bit about the ant farm, Languatron hits the nail on the head here. And the problem isn’t limited to Universal Studios, either. Hollywood defends the reprehensible rubbish they produce by appealing to free market principles. As they dump an unending stream of offensive garbage on the public, they insist they are only giving people what they want.

Yet the facts say otherwise.

The Dove Foundation, a non-profit organization from Michigan, released a study two years ago that demonstrates that G-rated movies are, on average, 11 times more profitable than their R-rated counterparts. Yet during the five-year period being studied, 53% of the films Hollywood released were R-rated. Only 4% were G-rated movies.

The principle here holds up throughout the entire rating system. PG-rated movies are significantly less profitable than G-rated films, but they are more profitable than PG-13 and R-rated movies. The PG-13 rated films are just slightly less profitable than PG-rated films, but they are, on average, three times more profitable than the R-rated films. Yet Hollywood continues to produce more R-rated movies than all of its other movies combined. Shareholders in the Hollywood studios should be going ballistic over this. I can think of no other industry that so studiously avoids making money.

So if they’re not giving the public what they want, what are the doing? They’re reinforcing their own insular view of the world and patting themselves on the back for their ingenuity. They’re not giving us anything – they’re giving themselves what they want, and they’re willing to alienate a majority of Americans to do it.

If you’ve got four hours to kill and you’ve got something you can use to prop your eyelids open, try to sit through an Academy Awards broadcast. When politics creep into an acceptance speech, as they inevitably do, when was the last time you heard someone say something consistent with conservative principles? Ask yourself this question: when was the last time you saw someone on that stage that could have possibly voted for George W. Bush? Charlton Heston hasn’t won an Oscar since “Ben-Hur,” almost fifty years ago.

Speaking of “Ben-Hur,” how likely are we to see a religious epic of that scope and power coming out of the studio system any time soon? “The Passion of the Christ” demonstrated that there is a clear hunger for religion in cinema, yet Hollywood ignores the demand and refuses to create the supply. The public wants stories that speak to their faith and reflect their values. Hollywood delivers bilge that insults tradition and mocks the sacred. They’re willing to sacrifice profitability to be provocative. And they do so at the cost of our culture – and, surprisingly, at the cost of their own bottom line.

Langy is still a jerk, though. We can all agree on that.

Legislating Morality with Vampire Ladies

Anne Rice, who rose to prominence as the author of lots of creepy vampire novels, is now a devout Christian who, in an August 10, 2007 missive to the Rice faithful that is no longer online, announced that she is:

A) Fiercely pro-life on the issue of abortion, and
B) A Democrat endorsing Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.

Come again? Pro-life Hillary supporters aren’t exactly thick on the ground. How does she reconcile these two seemingly irreconcilable positions? She begins by saying “…the Democratic Party best reflects the values I hold based on the Gospels… Those values involve feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, and above all, loving one’s neighbors and loving one’s enemies.”

I’ve heard more than one Democrat make similar arguments, saying, in essence, that since Democrats support the redistribution of wealth to ameliorate economic inequality, they have more compassion for the poor than the capitalist pigs in the Republican Party, who only care about moneybags and yachts and the bald fat guy with the monocle on the front of the Monopoly game box.

(Her statement about “loving one’s enemies” would also suggest that she’s a pacifist, but I want to set that aside for the moment.)

On the issue of abortion, she says the following: “I want to add here that I am Pro-Life. I believe in the sanctity of the life of the unborn.”

If you only read that far, you might assume, as I did, that she merely tolerates the pro-choice position of her fellow Democrats because she’s deeply committed to the party’s other principles, and she hopes to change the party from within. There are many pro-life Democrats who think this way; indeed, there are likely far more of them than the party itself is willing to acknowledge.

But this is not her position.

“Deeply respecting those who disagree with me,” she says, which makes me feel deeply respected, “I feel that if we are to find a solution to the horror of abortion, it will be through the Democratic Party.”

Uhhhh… hello?

See, it turns out that all pro-lifers, with the exception of Anne, are insincere jerks. “I have heard many anti-abortion statements made by people who are not Democrats,” she says, “but many of these statements do not strike me as constructive or convincing… I am also not convinced that all of those advocating anti-abortion positions in the public sphere are necessarily practical or sincere.”

So, okay. Only Democrats are constructive, convincing, practical and sincere. What, then, should these constructive, convincing, practical and sincere folks do about the problem?

Well, apparently, nothing, according to Rice. “I feel we can stop the horror of abortion,” she says. “But I do not feel it can be done by rolling back Roe vs. Wade, or packing the Supreme Court with judges committed to doing this… I am not sure – as a student of history – that Americans should give up the right to abortion… I have not heard convincing arguments put forth by anti-abortion politicians as to how Americans could be forced to give birth to children that Americans do not want to bear. And more to the point, I have not heard convincing arguments from these anti-abortion politicians as to how we can prevent the horror of abortion right now, given the social situations we have.”

So she personally believes abortion is immoral and a “horror,” but no political steps should be taken to end it. This, Ms. Rice, is the same position of held by many of your fellow Democrats, including John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and likely Hillary Rodham Clinton herself. It can be summed up thus: abortion sucks, but it should be legal.

That, Ms. Rice, is the pro-choice position.

You simply can’t say that you’re “pro-life” but choice comes first. By definition, what you are “pro” is where your priorities are. A pro-life position presumes that the life of the unborn baby takes precedence over the mother’s individual choices, even if you “deeply respect” the freedom of a woman to make almost all other choices. The converse is also true – pro-choicers presume that the woman’s choice in the matter is paramount, no matter how deeply you respect the right of the unborn child to live.

However, all this is prelude to my real point, which is that the abortion debate illustrates how profoundly much of the electorate – and, indeed, how many elected officials – fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between law and morality.

Consider this. Ms. Rice would have the government come and, through taxation, confiscate your wealth involuntarily in order to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and fulfill the teachings of Jesus. At the same time, she insists abortion, which she considers “a morally abhorrent option,” should remain legal because she has no right to inflict her moral sensibilities on the electorate as a whole. Or, to frame it in clichéd terms, you can’t legislate morality.

Except, in the previous instance, that’s exactly what she’s doing.

In fact, she cites the legislation of morality as the primary reason she’s a Democrat. She wants the full power of government enlisted in efforts to create a society that reflects her moral framework. Yet many Christians, like me, insist that government redistribution of wealth exacerbates the problems it pretends to solve and abrogates personal freedom in the process. Sadly, I am unable to be “pro-choice” on the wealth redistribution issue, because if I refuse to pay the taxes necessary to fund all the well-intended social programs, I get tossed in the slammer.

How can Democrats – or the bleeding heart Republicans who get sucked into this nonsense – justify subverting my choices on how I use my wealth while decrying any attempt to subvert choice on abortion?

I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer to that question.

The fact is that we legislate morality every time we pass a law. We, as a society, unanimously agree that cold-blooded murder is morally wrong, so we made it illegal. There is a clear moral consensus against theft and fraud and child abuse and most of the things we legislate to prevent. Where the legislative process becomes more difficult is in areas where the moral consensus is far from unanimous. And that includes the issue of abortion.

Ms. Rice has “hopes and dreams and prayers” that “better education will help men and women make responsible reproductive choices, and that abortion will become a morally abhorrent option from which informed Americans will turn away.” Fair enough. I share those hopes, dreams, and prayers. But once the country reaches a clear consensus that abortion is deeply immoral in almost all cases, the polity has a duty to enact legislation to condemn it.

Except, unfortunately, the judiciary has made it impossible for anyone to take legislative action against abortion. And that sucks. More on that later.

Languatron Reviews My Review

Languatron has posted an online response to my recent review of his book. I invite you to read it here, slightly edited for taste and anonymity with additional commentary from yours truly. Languatron’s words are in bold text, which is only fitting. My lowly response is in italics.

Did I mention that my book is still growing? This is going to be the next chapter to be added shortly. Cut and pasted from my manuscript.


Chapter Sixteen

[Stallion Cornell] Reviews My Book

Arrogance begat naivete, and naivete begat [Stallion Cornell] .

Ah. That’s me. The grandson of Arrogance.

NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel wasted no time in dispatching their prime dolt in reviewing my book, and what truly amazes me about this former Utah Senator who moonlights as a short order cook, in a gay homeless shelter in between drawing a paycheck from Universal Studios while sitting on his [tuckus], is how truly naïve and predictable he is.

Where to begin? I am not now, and never have been, a senator or a cook. I doubt that homeless shelters discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. I eagerly await my first paycheck from Universal Studios, which has yet to arrive. But at the moment, I am, in fact, sitting on my tuckus.

Reviewing my book would be too kind an assertion as to exactly what [Stallion Cornell] babbled about in his on-line blog.

I’m flattered by the fact that he loosely structures his response around my original review. Where I wrote “to call it a ‘book’ is to be generous, both in terms of quality and quantity,” Languatron responds with the fact that my calling it a review “would be too kind an assertion.” Languatron often attempts to adopt his opponent’s sentence structure as a template for his own missives, but he’s not very skilled at logical responses. Instead, he goes straight for the insults. I deliberately attempted to avoid insulting Languatron ad hominem, yet Languatron seems unable to respond in kind.

Instead of bringing attention to the facts in my book which could quite frankly end careers at NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel, [Stallion Cornell] engaged in naïve attacks on the structure of my book.

The only naiveté here stems from the idea that anyone at Universal could possibly care what Languatron has written. It can hardly be said that I “attacked” his structure, naively or otherwise. My complaint was with the contention that his pamphlet-length diatribe could be labeled a “book.” It’s far too short.

He states that the first three pages are blank, not realizing that two pages in the copy he downloaded (and in a manuscript) is equal to one page in a paperback book. The naivete and obliviousness in remedial paperback book construction being the first strike against [Stallion Cornell].

Strike one, indeed. It seems that every reviewer, to establish credibility, must take a course in Remedial Paperback Book Construction, lest ye fall into obliviousness. Make a note, critics everywhere. (In contrast, sentence fragments, apparently, are now considered good form.)

The third blank page is the other side of where the book begins. This is a grown man reviewing my book? Really?

No. I’m a mutant. I have three stubby arms and I have to stand on my elbows to ride the bus. And someone tell Langy and Sean Hannity that sarcasm and incredulity do not an argument make.

He never addresses the subject of the book,

Except when I do. I talk about the “shadow mechanism” and the conspiracy and the whole ball of wax.

Again, to cite Monty Python again, this is Black Knight-style arguing. “Your arm’s off! – No it isn’t!” How do you argue with someone who pretends that when his limbs are hacked off, it’s only a flesh wound?

instead he attacks my margins (margins?) claiming that the width of my margins is some sinister attempt on my part to draw out the length of my book. OK, where is the ambulance and the straight jacket for this guy?

I made no inference of sinister implications. I simply stated the book was too short to be termed a book. And I would never attack a margin that couldn’t defend itself.

My ambulance and straitjacket are in Cleveland.

Like his employer (NBC-Universal),

Lest we forget!

[Stallion Cornell] dodges, evades, avoids, denies, sweeps under the rug, and arrogantly tries to back his way out of, the truth of my book.

I also cavort, amble, fly under the radar, mince, and callously saunter my way out of the truth that his comma use makes me chuckle.

Yet he chose to somehow comment on my book and try to pass it off as a review. What [Stallion Cornell] calls his personal blog, is a steaming pile of horse [poop].

Hence the smell.

[Stallion Cornell] takes it upon himself to make it his business that I wrote a book about Universal Studios in the first place, despite his eight year long claims that he has nothing to do with Universal Studios politically, emotionally, or in terms of employment.

I like their candles, though.

He decides to review my book, and then he actually doesn’t review it. What he didn’t review he dismisses, just like anything else in life that gets in the way of [Stallion Cornell]’s ego, he dismisses.

I dismiss this.

Reading in between the lines of his blog fart that really wasn’t a review,

Lest we forget!

[Stallion Cornell] is as intimidated and as frightened about what I said about NBC-Universal as he always was.

Undeniably true, which is to say, not at all.

He saw to it that those who read his blog will never get from him what I actually said about NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel.

Except where I quote him at length.

I thank him for indirectly corralling his hoodlum squad into having to purchase the book to find out exactly what I said. As this will only help the sales that I am already happy about.

What about the sales he is unhappy about?

[Stallion Cornell] is like an elderly driver on the road, on the brink of death as he approaches a green light at an intersection.

And with bowel trouble besides!

He didn’t have the energy to review my book, he didn’t have the energy to confront the issues in the book, he just made a half [arse] mention of it on his blog, drowning out what should have been a review, with his adolescent meanderings into how many pages are in my book, the length of my margins, etc.

Notice that Languatron has spent at least three times as much space talking about his margins as I did in my initial review. And it’s the width of the margins that count. The length was just fine.

After eight years o fighting me on the Internet, [Stallion Cornell] is mentally old, tired, washed up, and ever irrelevant to those who don’t have the patience for his ego.

He’s also aged, weary, decrepit, over the hill, and mean to puppies. But he loves Fresca!

[Stallion Cornell] increasingly exists to be his own audience, a 39 year old adolescent in some ways, a 65 year old cantankerous old man in others.

On Tuesdays, he’s a frisky co-ed named Sheila.

What is remarkable about [Stallion Cornell]is his mental inability to review my book in any adult manner.

As opposed to my physical inability? And haven’t we already established that? Am I a grown man? Really?

Drowned out and mesmerized by his own prejudices, bias, and outrageous perceptions of the world,

How is one simultaneously “drowned out” and “mesmerized?” Does it involve acupuncture?

And he forgot about my bigotry, predispositions, foregone conclusions, and blatant assessments of Planet Earth.

[Stallion Cornell]
took what could have been an opportunity in reviewing my book as an objective analysis of what clearly exists within NBC-Universal/Sci-Fi Channel, and turned it into nothing more than the meanderings of a 39 year old teenager on his own personal blog.

Plus bowel jokes.

Languatron’s Book: A Review

It seems that my Internet arch-enemy, the Lex Luthor to my Superman, the Newman to my Seinfeld, the indefatigable, indomitable and incomprehensible Languatron, has written a book: “Universal Studios vs. Battlestar Galactica: How Universal Studios Mismanaged This Property To Utter Oblivion.”

Actually, to call it a “book” is to be generous, both in terms of quality and quantity. It’s less than 30,000 words in total, and while the author boasts of its formidable 100-page length, he achieves triple-digit page numbering by squeezing his margins by an extra inch and leaving the first three pages blank. As for the content, it’s essentially a “Greatest Hits” collection of everything he’s posted on the Internet for the past eight years, which is succinctly summarized by the book’s unwieldy title. The other 29,987 words of the pamphlet are spent repeating the thesis ad nauseum and disparaging anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with it.

Now there may be a few lost souls reading this who wonder who this Languatron fellow is. The answer is that he’s Andrew Fullen, a short order cook from Chicago who has also written a few other self-published works in his own name. I actually blew the $2.50 necessary to buy one of those, too – “Netherworld,” a collection of short stories, which reads like pedestrian Encyclopedia Brown fan fiction translated verbatim from its original Flemish.

Languatron first appeared on the scene circa 1999 on a few Battlestar Galactica bulletin boards, most notably the official SciFi board devoted to the original series rather than the dismal remake which debuted in 2003. He even had an article posted at under his own name, which, sadly, is no longer online.

Yet somewhere around Thanksgiving 2000, Langy began to publicly pray for divine justice to be heaped out on his enemies, calling down fire and brimstone to destroy Sci-Fi channel’s upper management. It was also about this time where he began identifying those who disagreed with him, even innocuously, as lackeys of Universal Studios. It then became impossible to have a discussion with him. He dismissed even those who were sympathetic to his general thesis as corporate shills secretly hired to destroy him.

All of these traits are on display in this book, which bemoans Universal Studios’ role in destroying Battlestar Galactica for inscrutable reasons. According to Languatron, this movie studio has devoted all of its considerable resources not to film and television production, but rather to “hating” the original Galactica TV series, which has been out of production since 1979. Lest you think I exaggerate, I offer this brief excerpt, with my own emphasis added:

Universal Studios is extremely proficient at hating the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series. The very infrastructure of their entire corporation has been built upon this sad fact. They also have infinite satellite components revolving around their corporation to assist them in hating this series. This includes gullible journalists, industry insiders, studio peers, above the line producing personnel, and actors.

Not to mention caterers, gaffers, botanists, bee wranglers, Farsi instructors, lithographers, trumpeters, carnival barkers, liposuctionists, and vending machines.

This strikes me as a ridiculous assertion, as I always assumed “hating” is an activity that does not require corporate governance. Languatron provides no concrete explanation as to how this works, but he does offer a theory. Apparently, George Lucas’ failed lawsuit against Galactica in its initial run forced Universal to create a “shadow mechanism” that would derail any attempt to revive Galactica faithfully.

What is the exact form of this shadow mechanism? How does it work? Well, I must start off by stating that it does indeed exist, is in operation in full force as it always has… It is a mechanism that slowly creeps over the day to day operations of Universal Studios and makes it’s presence known when historically, attempts to revive the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series have reached a certain point. There is a comfort zone where this mechanism will allow revival attempts to chug along. When revival attempts get beyond the comfort zone, that’s when the mechanism moves in and shuts everything down.

The reader searches in vain for an intricate mechanical description of this ruthlessly efficient shadow mechanism, which one assumes is some sort of elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption with lots of gears and pulleys. Sadly, one is left to wonder how Languatron has the confidence to make such brash assertions with absolutely no supporting evidence. “How does it work?” he asks himself, and then answers by saying “it exists,” and that’s answer enough.

All is not lost, however. We do get an elaborate description of a second, more sinister “sister” shadow mechanism:

This brings us to another shadow mechanism that Universal Studios oversees. Sort of the “sister mechanism” to the one that operates within the studio itself. This one exercises mass censorship and control over the Internet of any information which casts Universal Studios and their handling of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica series in a bad light. It’s a shadow mechanism that exercises absolute authority over certain Internet bulletin boards (,, and absolute authority over journalists who post on-line articles.

Languatron has an interesting choice of enemies. Of the three boards Languatron cites as exercising Stalinistic control over the entire World Wide Web, two of them are decidedly pro-1978 Galactica and vigorously opposed to the recent remake, which both boards, along with Languatron, refer to as GINO, or Galactica In Name Only. Yet Languatron cannot seem to fathom the possibility that one can loathe GINO and still think Languatron is a jerk.

To read this diatribe is to enter a parallel world where the rules of logic are identical to those in the “Burn the Witch” skit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In that film, a group of villagers bring a woman dressed as witch before Sir Bedevere, who then proceeds to lead them through a series of deranged logical syllogisms to determine whether or not the woman is guilty of witchcraft. The logic he employs is as follows:

1. Witches burn. Wood burns. Therefore, witches are made of wood.
2. Wood floats in water. Ducks float in water. Therefore, wood weighs the same as a duck.
3. If the woman weighs the same as a duck, she’s made of wood, and therefore, she’s a witch.

Witness, then, Languatron’s similar reasoning.

1. Universal Studios hates Battlestar Galactica. I, Languatron, love Battlestar Galactica. Therefore, Universal Studios is my enemy.
2. Dozens of people on the Internet are my enemies. Universal Studios is my enemy. Therefore, all of my Internet enemies work for Universal Studios.
3. Everyone I meet on the Internet hates me. Therefore, Universal Studios must be in complete control of the Internet.

And thus we see that Languatron spends all of his time on the Internet burning witches made of wood.

Nothing in this book steps off from the treadmill Lang has been running on for the past decade or so on sundry Internet billboards. The same wild-eyed theories with no evidence are recycled along with a liberal dose of personal invective. (I admit to taking sick pleasure in Languatron’s promise, in his final chapter, to “kick [my] ass to the Moon” if he ever meets me. One struggles to recall Woodward and Bernstein making similar threats to their journalistic subjects.) For the newcomer to the whole Lang experience, there may be some goofy fun in encountering a truly warped perspective for the first time. For me, a battle-hardened Lang veteran, I found the experience tedious. The only relief to be found was in his brazen contempt for the English language, as evidenced by these unvarnished excerpts, along with my editorial comments in brackets:

“Way to go Universal, you dolt!!”

[I think he meant “way to go, Universal Studios, you dolts!!” but his original sentence is open to so many more interpretations. Can a dolt truly go universal?]

“You can get the Toys-R-Us wind up version of Richard Hatch by the way, by sending in three box tops from specially marked boxes of Fruity & Cocoa Pebbles breakfast cereal.”

[One could probably, by the way, go to Toys-R-Us and just buy Richard Hatch in person.]

“The Bermuda Triangle of Death houses the existence of Ronald D. Moore’s GINO series in the most sinister way.”

[It presumably rents the existence of other television shows in semi-serious ways.]

“No form of art is being expressed by Edward James Olmos’s bad acting, and no profound subliminal statement is being uttered. ”

[I choose to believe that uttering subliminal statements is a form of art.]

“Ronald D. Moore is a man, an unremarkable man. Like all other television producers who go through it, Ronald D. Moore has made a television series that flopped.”

[Go through what? Maybe “it” was unremarkable, too.]

“Ronald D. Moore fit’s the bill quite nicely, doesn’t he?”

[“Fit’s?” Meaning what? “Fit is?” Something that belongs to Fit?]

“How is that for an effective cult, huh?”


You get the idea.

Anyway, the book is available for download here. Languatron is reportedly using the proceeds of his book sales to frequent strip clubs. What he doesn’t know is that we Universal executives have already planted our agents in all of the clubs he frequents.

How’s that for a con’spiracy, huh?


So I wrote a musical.

Not many people do that these days. That’s because new musical is expensive to produce and exceedingly likely to flop. Once upon a time, show tunes were hit records, and musical adaptations swept the Academy Awards. Nowadays, a musical comes along every decade or so that captures the public imagination, but most of the time, nobody pays attention.

When I was working at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts, I decided that Tuacahn ought to devote its time to producing new musicals. So I wrote one that I thought they could use. And, for a variety of reasons, they didn’t. I still think they should, though, since the musical is actually pretty good.

PeterPan2The show is called “Neverland,” and it’s a sequel of sorts to the classic story of Peter Pan. I chose Peter Pan as a subject because:

A) It was a concept that would have built-in name recognition and mass appeal, and:

B) The characters in Peter Pan are now in the public domain, so there’s no sticky copyright issues to worry about.

I’d rather not summarize the story, as I still hold out hope that the thing well actually get produced someday, but I thought you folks might be interested in the four songs from a demo CD we recorded. An old friend of mine who now teaches at BYU hired the singers and musicans and orchestrated the arrangements, and I wasn’t present for the recording session – I wrote all the songs, but I don’t know any of the people who are singing them.

In many ways, this is the weakest recording of the four, only because the soprano’s got a really hooty voice that makes it hard to understand the words. I like the arrangement, though, with its groovy Celtic feel and the beautful use of the tin whistle. When the harmony kicks in, I really dig it. This song opens the show.

Hook of the Jolly Roger
Goofy fun, and it includes some transitional dialogue from the show. That’s my old friend, the guy who orchestrated this whole thing, playing Smee. Only drawback: Both this song and the fourth song, Dead, rhyme “dinner” with “innards.” What’s my problem, I wonder?

A Princess Bride
Originally written for an aborted stage adaptation of the movie The Princess Bride – there’s that sticky copyright issue again – the song was altered to fit Princess Tiger Lily’s dilemma, as she has to choose between a prince and Peter.

Dead (The Lost Boys Funeral Song)
I’ve sung this song in public many times. This version needs percussion, but otherwise, it works pretty well. Dead demonstrates that no one really dies in Neverland – a lost boy who is killed at the end of Act I is the one who sings the last verse. It also has the word “stallion” in it.

So whaddya think?

Evolution Poisons Everything

Could some atheist out there explain, when you profess to acknowledge no divine authority, why the Theory of Evolution is sacrosanct? Anyone? Maybe one of these guys?consequences-of-evolution-631I ask this question because Christopher Hitchens, a man I quite admire despite his fiery crusade against all things religious, recently wrote an article about his book tour in support of “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.” In it, he tossed in this snarky aside with regard to the bumpkin-like nature of religious morons like me:

“People seem to be lying to the opinion polls, as well. They claim to go to church in much larger numbers than they actually do (there aren’t enough churches in the country to hold the hordes who boast of attending), and they sometimes seem to believe more in Satan and in the Virgin Birth than in the theory of evolution.”

The first claim, if true, is a legitimate observation of hypocrisy. I fail to understand, though, why it’s so important to Hitchens that evolution be an article of faith among nonbelievers, or why anyone who believes in Satan and the Virgin Birth could not possibly believe in evolution, too.

Hitchens is suggesting that all religious people are incapable of reason, which is an extraordinarily naïve position. It’s as sweeping as the condemnation contained in the title of his book: religion poisons everything. I’ve heard him defend this gross generalization in interviews. For example, a couple of months ago, radio talk show host and practicing Jew Dennis Prager asked him an illuminating question, which I paraphrase here:

“If you were walking in a bad neighborhood in an American inner city late at night and you saw a group of young people walking toward you, would you or would you not be relieved to learn that they had just come from a Bible study class?”

Hitchens didn’t answer right away. How could he? The reasonable answer, no matter what your religious affiliation, would have to be, “Yes, of course. How many gangbangers and hoodlums go to Bible class, after all?” But to so answer would be to concede that religion hadn’t poisoned these young people and had probably improved them. Hitchens tried to change the subject and pretend that the example falls apart if it’s applied to radical Islamists leaving an Iraqi mosque. Prager reminded him that this example focused on an American and not an Iraqi city and a Bible study, not a Koran study.

Remember, to win this argument, Prager doesn’t have to prove that religion doesn’t poison anything; he just has to demonstrate that religion doesn’t poison everything. When pressed to answer, Hitchens said that he would neither be relieved or nor “unrelieved,” and that he hoped they would be coming from a Thomas Paine class instead. (Lots of Thomas Paine outreaches going on in the inner cities these days, I guess.) His answer calls to mind the response of another group of reasoned men, who, when asked by Jesus if the baptism of John was of heaven or of men, answered “we cannot tell.” Sure. Because if either the Pharisees or Hitchens answered honestly, their arguments would utterly collapse.

This kind of nonsense is what makes the atheistic defense of evolution so deeply silly.

Understand this: I’m not advocating teaching the Book of Genesis in science classes. The Theory of Evolution is the best guess that science has been able to assemble to explain life on earth, and, as such, it has a place in the classroom. At the same time, scientists ought to treat it the way they treat every other scientific theory and admit that it’s still a work in progress.

Case in point: recently, two German physicists have claimed to have broken the speed of light, an event which would shatter the fundamental tenets of one of the most respected scientific theories in the world, namely Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The announcement has been greeted with skepticism, as all new scientific discoveries should be, but will it also be savaged with the kind of fury reserved for those who dare question any of evolution’s principles?

“Oh, you think Einstein was wrong, do you? What, then, you think the Earth was created in six days?”

“Faster than light? Oh, right. You’re one of those religious loons. Maybe Noah has some more room for you on the Ark.”

“So you’re smarter than Albert Einstein. You probably believe in Satan and the Virgin Birth, too.”

Hopefully, this announcement will be subjected to scientific scrutiny and not scorn. (As for me, I feel the same way about this as I did about the two Utah scientists who claimed to have achieved fusion at room temperature: I’ll believe it when I see it.) But the fact is that the theory of evolution is pretty good at explaining intraspecies adaptation but woefully inept at explaining how one species evolves into another, or how complex systems like eyes develop out of a series of random mutations. Start asking questions about this stuff, however, and you’re likely to get called all sorts of names, and if Chris Hitchens is anywhere nearby, the Virgin Birth is going to enter into the equation somehow.

Honest scientists, when confronted with legitimate inquiries about evolution, will answer “we don’t know” or “we’ll still working on it.” Hitchensites, however, will call your motives into question, because otherwise they have to admit that they’re either ignoring the theory’s internal contradictions or exercising faith in a future satisfying explanation. The hard fact is that evolutionary principles that don’t stand up to reason have to be accepted on religious grounds.

For Mr. Hitchens, for whom religion poisons everything, that has to be a bitter pill to swallow.


My parents picked up my ten-year-old daughter this morning on the way to the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah. My family has been going to the festival for as long as I can remember, although my wife and I haven’t been there in about three years or so. But last year, my parents decided to take my oldest daughter with them, and the experience proved to be the highlight of her year. She’s now old enough to understand and appreciate something I’ve loved ever since my own childhood. Such events make me wistful, or, as my wife puts it, “filled with wist.” She’s far less nostalgic and far more practical than I am. In short, she’s not a big “wist” fan. She’d rather I spent lest time wisting and more time doing the dishes.

Still, wist has been ever present with me since my 39th birthday last week. (No, I really am 39. You can get on my case next year when I’m 39 for a second time.) My practical wife is much, much, MUCH older than me – she turns 40 in October. We have five children in total, and much of our time is devoted to keeping the bills paid and the household running. My advancing years bring with them added portions of wist, and I start wondering what kind of legacy I’m going to end up leaving behind. I’m reminded of the immortal words of Bonnie Raitt, who sang that “life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”

I sometimes imagine meeting my 16-year-old self and listening to him berate me for how boring I’ve become. Back then, I was going to be a rock-star/movie-star/mad-tortured-genius guy. Old boring dudes like me were the bane of my adolescent existence. 16-year-old me would have hated 39-year-old me. My only solace is that when I was 16, I was an idiot.

Still, it’s not like I didn’t give my 16-year-old dreams a shot. I spent 10 years in the world of the theatre as a manager, a director, and a performer. I thought that was what I always wanted, but I was never quite suited for it. And actors really started to bug me. The offstage drama became increasingly tedious, and I eventually lost patience with an actor’s need for constant reassurance and approval, especially when I saw that need in myself. I discovered that anyone who has to depend on the applause of the crowd to validate their very existence ends up lonely and desperate, and that’s not the person I wanted to be. And, ultimately, with my five kids and my grown-up life, that’s not the person I am. I’m very grateful for that.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Charles Macaualay, one of my professors at USC.  He was a wise old sage of the theatre who was a little perturbed when I recognized him as a the guy who played Landru in the original Star Trek episode “Return of the Archons.”

“I’ve appeared in every play in the Shakespeare canon,” he once said ruefully, “but they’re still going to write ‘Landru’ on my tombstone.” (That made me laugh then, but it’s bittersweet to recall now, since he passed away just a few years ago.)

Anyway, he told me I could have a career in the arts if that’s what I really wanted, but I had to make it my top priority. I had to sacrifice everything else in my life on the altar of the theatre, and if I didn’t, I would never succeed. I spent over a decade trying to prove Landru wrong. And, ultimately, I came to the conclusion that he was absolutely right. It’s just that I wanted a family and a home more than I wanted to be a mad tortured genius. I’m pretty sure I got the better end of the deal.

Yet here I am, sending my daughter to Cedar City, and she is growing to love Shakespeare as much as I do. My daughter also loves the Beatles like I do, and she can now tell which Beatle is singing lead on any given song without me telling her. She even recognized Ringo Starr singing “It Don’t Come Easy” over the radio at a crowded restaurant. How fun is that?

My other children are also starting to love the things I love, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that they’re the legacy I’m going to be leaving behind, or at least the only legacy that really matters.

Still, with my daughter on the road to Cedar City, I get that old familiar itch that says, “Why aren’t you the one on that stage? You could have been, you know. Who knows? Maybe someday, you can be again.”

And maybe I can. Maybe if I wanted it more, I’d be there now. But in the meantime, I’m here, watching my daughter walk out the door, leaving me alone with my wist.

I should probably go do the dishes.

A Religious Treatise

A Sunday blog entry requires some deep religious treatise, which calls to mind my Mormon missionary days in the land of Scotland lo these many years ago. I was training a new missionary in the paradise known as Drumchapel, a Glasgow slum where a guy sold drugs out of his sweetie van and the nighttime sky was aglow with flames from burning cars in the middle of the street. Needless to say, it was a pretty rough area, and the church building was right in the worst part of town. Missionaries dreaded being assigned to “The Drum,” and the office had even changed the name of the area to “Milngavie” to soften the blow of being condemned to the gulag of the Scotland Edinburgh Mission. It turned out to be no worse than any other place in Scotland. Now matter where I was, the omnipresent rain always soaked me to the bone as I knocked on doors for ten to twelve hours a day. It wasn’t really that cold, but I was always wet, so there was no way to truly keep warm.

One day, my companion and I were invited in to the home of a church member after a long day of slogging through the streets, and he let us sit next to his freshly-lit coal fire in the living room. It was fairly late in the day, and the stifling warmth of the room was intoxicating. It also made it next to impossible for me to keep my eyes open.

We sat and listened patiently as he rambled on and on about something or other, and my mind started to wander. He wasn’t expecting either of us to speak, which was a welcome relief, but I also started to panic as my eyelids started to droop, and once the drooping begins, there’s no way to snap back into full consciousness. There are some techniques that produce some positive results, like tightening your sphincter as hard as you can, but their effects are only temporary. I struggled valiantly to stay alert, but I knew it was a lost cause. I’m not sure if I nodded off completely, but at some point in the middle of the conversation, I felt it necessary to make the following announcement:

“I have a cousin with Down Syndrome.”

I said this apropos of nothing, interrupting the church member in mid-ramble. Everyone in the room stopped and looked at me, which startled me back into the real world. My companion was aghast. I was aghast. It was an entirely inappropriate thing to say, and I wasn’t, at the time, even sure if it was true.

But, on the plus side, at least I was wide awake.

For he IS the Frumious Bandersnatch!

The end of Harry Potter left me looking for something else to read, and, to ease my withdrawal pangs, I needed a new series I could love just as much as the Hogwarts chronicles. None of the new stuff on the shelves at Barnes and Noble was turning my crank, and I desperately needed a book to take on vacation. So, on a whim, I picked out the 40th Anniversary edition of Frank Herbert’s “Dune.”

I’d always thought that I’d read the novel “Dune” prior to this year, but I don’t know when or where, and I certainly couldn’t have told you anything about it. The only scene I could recall prior to rereading it this summer was when the Duke dumped a glass of water on the ground and made everyone else follow suit. A few of the moments in the book had a familiar ring to them, but, for all intents and purposes, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I was reading this masterpiece for what seemed like the very first time.

Which is not to say the book is easy to read. Like Harry Potter, “Dune” creates a fully realized fictional universe, which, in detail and scope, is far more expansive than Rowling’s wizarding world. The fundamental difference is that Rowling goes out of her way to make her world accessible to the average Muggle, while Herbert does exactly the opposite. His book is loaded with jargon that requires constant reference to the glossary in the back. I kept asking things like “What’s a ‘gom jabbar’? What does he mean he’s a ‘mentat?’ And what the Sam Hill is a ‘Kwisatz Haderach?’” Reading the first few pages was extremely tedious, and it made me wonder if I had actually read the book before or if I had just given up when I realized I neither knew nor cared about Kwisatz Haberdashers.

Jargon, in my mind, is an elitist storytelling device. It’s designed to be exclusive, and it usually indicates a condescension on the part of the author –  i.e. if you were only as smart as the guy writing the story, you’d know what was going on. At worst, it’s just plain silly, as in the case with “Battlestar Galactica,” when people use words like “centons” and “yahrens” to describe seconds and years. We’re suspending disbelief long enough to pretend these offworlders are speaking English, so why clutter the language with incomprehensible nonsense? Centons and yahrens are typical of what James Blish used to call “shmerps.” He pointed out that some writers will describe a fluffy, hopping animal with long floppy ears, soft white fur, and a cotton ball tail as a “shmerp” instead of a rabbit, just to make it sound more alien. To me, a rabbit by any other name is a pretty stupid idea.

There are a fair number of shmerps in “Dune,” but they’re fully developed, well-thought-out shmerps. Herbert has created a world much in the same way Tolkien has – it’s clear the world came first, and the story is almost an afterthought. I don’t think Herbert was being silly or elitist in his use of jargon. I think the “Dune” universe existed so clearly in his mind that by the time he started crafting this story, he had almost forgotten how little the rest of the world knew about sietches and such. I’ve never seen a more intricate tale of science and religion, woven together seamlessly like this. Once you get acclimated to the bizarre language and enter Herbert’s “Dune,” the book becomes a very rewarding experience.

Upon completion of the novel, I had a strong desire to see the movie that everyone seems to loathe. I steered clear of it back in ’84 during the summer of “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters,” and the impression my friends gave me was that I wasn’t missing much. After reading the novel, I understood very clearly why the movie was reviled, even without having seen it. I came away from the book with the impression that this story was entirely unadaptable to the big screen. So much depends on what’s going on in everyone’s head, particularly Paul’s, that I can’t imagine how you could put it on the screen at all.

Which is why David Lynch’s “Dune” movie is so singularly remarkable.

I say that without irony. I loved it. It’s an amazing achievement, and I will likely watch it several more times. But that’s not to say it’s a good movie. It isn’t. But it’s not really a movie, per se. It’s like an illustrated storybook, with moving pictures accompanying the written text.

Characters stand still as chunks of the novel are voiced over to explain their thoughts. The entire movie is nothing but exposition, and I can’t imagine anyone who hasn’t read the book being anything but baffled unless they stopped the show every few frames to consult the glossary in the back of the book. Still, it’s faithful to the novel to a fault, which shows that Lynch had tremendous respect for his source material. As one who has just completed the book, it’s fun to see Lynch’s cinematic illustrations.

From a design standpoint, the film is almost note perfect, from the sumptuous emperor’s chambers to the House of Atreides to the rugged stillsuits of the Fremen. (“The House A-who-ides? Stillsuits? Fremen?” Read the book.) True, they made the Baron Harkonnen a bit too foul for my taste, what with the pustules and the spittle and the heart plugs and all. And what’s with the bug drinking and the cat milking? Geesh. And, yes, the effects are spotty in places, and the mounting of the worm is ridiculous, particularly with the Toto guitar power chord we get at the top. But the miniature work is strikingly effective, even today. I’m glad this movie was made pre-CGI. It’s extraordinarily inventive, and, visually, it holds up pretty well.

The cast is outstanding, and it was delightful to see a pre-Picard Patrick Stewart in a heroic role. The only thing I’d ever seen Brad Dourif in before “Dune” was “Lord of the Rings,” and I’m curious now to see if he performs every role with his right hand at his face and his left hand holding his right elbow, like some demonic Jack Benny. The sore-thumb exception to the great cast rule is Sting, who stinks. He’s a high-school actor in a professional film, and it’s painful to watch him bug out his eyes occasionally to feign menace. I’ve occasionally wondered why his film career never really went anywhere. Now I know. Still, given the high jargon quotient this film carries, it’s amazing how much gravitas this cast is able to milk from lines like “The spice IS the worm! The worm IS the spice!” And the chick who plays Lady Jessica is hot, even when she’s bald. The creepy kid who ends the movie weirded me out, though.

In the final analysis, the real reason to love the film Dune is that Michael Bolton bangs a drum in it. I saw him and did a double take. Take a look and tell me that’s not him.


Why? Because I’m a (D-word)!

So I told a friend of mine that I have a new blog up and running, and his first question was “why?”

And I didn’t have an answer, yet I continue to blog.

I still haven’t been able to explain the Moist Board to anyone, including myself, so it’s hard to say why I find writing this stuff interesting, let alone the arrogance to assume that anyone else would.

Part of it is that I make my living writing crap.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s GOOD crap; I write ad and web copy and whatever else anyone will pay me to do, and I’m proud of most of it. But none of it is stuff I want to write. I dabble in trying to finish long neglected novellas and plays begun in the days before poopy diapers, but most of that requires an intense focus that I can’t sustain. (I hear lots of men have that problem.) So my dabblings on the web are a release – a way to write what I want to write, when I want to write it.

That’s not to say that none of my writing gigs are any fun. The first time I was actually paid to write stuff, I was working for a newsletter called the “Entertainment Research Report,” which reviewed movies on behalf of prudish families who wanted to know the content of these films before taking their kids to see them, especially the R-rated films that they shouldn’t even be considering in the first place. So I got twenty dollars a flick to go in and count the swear words, chronicle the acts of sex and violence, and write it all up in a clinical report suitable for filing. Witness my “review” of “Indecent Proposal,” the utterly forgettable Robert Redford/Demi Moore/Woody Harrelson sleazefest:

What I failed to mention when I turned this thing in was that I got there about five minutes late and missed the big makeout scene at the beginning. So there may have been more groping, fondling, and ogling that went unreported.

In many ways, I find this review more titillating than the actual movie. Reading about “passionate kissing, petting, and graphic sexual motions” is more arousing than having to suffer through Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson going through said graphic sexual motions.

This movie was pretty mild compared to some of the refuse I had to endure. The record for F-words was 273 in Reservoir Dogs. That’s right – 273. In an hour and a half. That’s just over three F-words per minute. Quentin Tarantino only knows about six words, so he has to reuse them with offensive frequency. (Everyone thinks “Goodfellas” has more F-bombs than any other flick, but that only had 254. “Dogs” is the true F-bomb champ.)

So here’s a trick of the trade.

In order to track the number of F, A, and silent Q words in a movie, you have to write them all down at the moment they’re spoken. You can’t just write the word once and put a tally mark next to it every time an F-bomb explodes. I was carrying a Franklin Day Planner at the time, and I was using extra paper in the back to keep track of my reviews. At the time I had this job, I was dating the lovely woman who is now my wife, and one fine day she started thumbing through my planner just to be nosy, and her eyes bugged out when she got to the pages filled with profanities. It took her awhile to believe that Tourette’s Syndrome was strictly a verbal condition.

To sum up: Languatron is an A-word.

Spewing stuff since 2007

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