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“Life with Stewart” – Our New Play NOW AVAILABLE!

I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my latest dramatic collaboration – LIFE WITH STEWART!

Life with Stewart takes a critical look at our media saturated, Hollywood driven pop-culture.  It asks big questions about fame, vanity, the pursuit of money, and the enduring power of forgiveness. Here is the synopsis:

Nick Baxter is a bachelor who lives with his grandmother – his only living relative.  On the day of his grandmother’s death, Nick discovers that his grandfather is none other than Nicholas Stewart – a Hollywood film legend.  This revelation coupled with a devious plot hatched by his famous grandfather and an ambitious, young TV journalist leads to a series of hilarious and poignant scenarios as Nick has to wrestle with the truth which has shattered his entire world.

Artwork by Jennifer Park

“Turn the Screw”: Big Business & the Robber Barons

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac got nothing on these guys.  The manipulators of the banking system and real estate market which helped crash our economy in 2008 might actually seem a little tame when pitted head to head with the original Robber Barons.  What do you know about these guys?  Jay Gould, Joseph Huntington, Jay Cooke, JD Rockefeller.  Check them out!

Only a mild examination of the Gilded Age gives many vivid illustrations of how the Robber Barons rightfully earned such a disreputable distinction.  The expansion of the railroad led to numerous opportunities for the quick manipulator and the well connected to promptly abscond with millions of dollars worth of public property and Congress-awarded capital.  In total, over one hundred and fifty million acres of land including all mineral rights were granted to railroad industrialists who split the Wild West with new train routes which connected newly settled California with the east (Josephson 79).  One of the most clever railroad tycoons was Jay Cooke.  He not only was granted public land to build the Union Pacific Railroad, but he also used government loaned capital which enabled him to build railroads while risking any of his own wealth.  As work ensued on the Cooke inspired railroad, the price per mile was eventually raised to such exorbitant heights that when the golden spike was pounded in at Promontory Point there was over fifty million dollars of public funds unaccounted for (Josephson 92).  Another of the railroad barons, Joseph Huntington, would force local towns to pay for the privilege of having their town connected to the railroad while threatening that their refusal would mean another town would prosper (Josephson 84-85).  Jay Gould, perhaps the most talented devious mind of the bunch, illegally printed millions of dollars worth of Erie Railroad stock in order to thwart a take-over by rival Vanderbilt (Josephson 133).

As the railroad changed the way business operated by enabling companies to become regional and then eventually national forces, the great industrial giants brokered shady deals with the railroads in order to gain an inch of advantage over their competitors. J. D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil became a monolith which sought to crush all competition, and he knew that controlling the railroads was a huge part of that.  He forced railroads to agree to offer illegal rebates on freight charges to make his oil the most competitive (Porter 72-73). Once the railroads were in his back pocket, he could as he would say “turn the screw” on competitors either forcing them to sell, to join his syndicate or to be run out of business.  Such tactics produced the giant Standard Oil Trust which boasted control of nearly 90% of the nation’s refined oil by the end of the 1870s (Porter 73). The market was cornered and the government took little notice.

Rockefeller and associates wanted to do away with the speculative nature of oil by controlling output and putting competitors out of business so they could dictate world prices (Josephson 116). The barons of the Standard Oil Trust sat and discussed their business dealings in the same manner as the government’s executive branch would map out the country’s future and set goals for development.  The difference being, in theory, that government officials would be building economic systems which ultimately encourage investment and growth which benefit the entire nation in increased production, wealth-building, and tax revenue.  In contrast, the oligopoly of Rockefeller planned out their attack to benefit their own competitive edge by ruthlessly driving competitors out of business through strong-armed tactics and shrewd closed-door business deals.  Complete control of the market had become the mindset of the day, and the wealthy elite seemed to be able to control it at will – often times illegally.  It was an unsavory business that would create serious doubts in the minds of Americans concerning the nature of big business in America.

Take Two – Romantic/Comedy/Musical on sale NOW!

Join the whacky film crew from the “other world” as they  are sent to film the life of Aubrey Culpepper who has serious guy problems.  As Aubrey leaves another man at the altar, things get really wild behind the scenes as the egotistical director Floomenberg keeps changing screenwriter Sneergarble’s script much to the chagrin of the mysterious film producer Zelderphen.  Will Aubrey ever find her true love or is she just a pawn being controlled by the “other world”? With catchy songs and crazy antics, Take Two is a comedic joy ride that is hard to resist.

Take Two: Comedy-Musical Available in Print!

Take Two: Who Directs Your Life – the wild and crazy musical-comedy is finally coming to print.

In this scene, Aubrey (middle right) is getting ready to lose her job as she will shortly lose control and attack her former fiance Humphries (middle left).  Rebecca (LEFT) and Beth (RITE) are the two stereo speakers who provide the soundtrack to Aubrey’s life.

Photo by J. Steffan

Location:  Wawasan Open University Theater, 2010Photo by J. Steffan

Finally, lower prices for paperback!

I’m pleased to announce that the price point for two of my previous plays has been reduced.  Please pass this information along to any drama directors or lovers of drama that you know.

Spy Blue: A Drama in Two Acts and Romans on the Couch are now available in paperback for $6.50 each.

Also, Spy Blue: A Novella is now in paperback for only $4.99.  Of course, you can get it on the Kindle for only $.99.


Computers – Worst Financial Investment Ever

I bought my first computer in June 1995.  It was a Toshiba laptop – MONOCHROME – several inches thick.  It cost me $1600 and ran Windows 3.1.  I could have upgraded to a color screen for another $200, but I couldn’t imagine why I would ever need color when all I would ever need a computer for was dial-up email and light & easy documents.  I sold it two years later for $200, so basically I spent $700 a year for the capability of having dial-up Internet.  What a great investment!

I replaced that clunker with a new Toshiba (with color) top-of-the-line model.  It ran Windows 98, had an amazing 300 MB hard drive, and the other specs basically knocked the socks off of every tech friend I had.  It was an amazing machine.  It should have been for the $2500 I paid for it.  Within the first couple months of purchasing it, the screen went blank.  It had a warranty, but I was living in Vietnam where there were no warranty centers.  So I had to fly to Bangkok, drop it off at a warranty center and wait for it to be fixed.  My flight and accommodations in Bangkok cost me about $500.  After I got it fixed, I worked that one hard and it served us well for about 5 years until it officially turned itself into “clunker” status as well.  I sold it at a garage sale in 2006 for $20.

I bought a top of the line Dell desktop in the fall of 2004 that cost me $1500.  It had a sweet LCD display, two DVD drives, a massive 60GB harddrive, firewire, Windows XP – all the bells and whistles.  Within a month, the whole thing didn’t work.  Luckily it was still under warranty and a guy showed up and replaced basically every important part of the CPU.  That machine lasted us 6 years until I finally gave it away to a charity.

I bought a new laptop in summer 2005 – a Gateway – for around $1000.  It seemed really cheap compared to my last one, but had amazing features like a 40 GB hard-drive and it ran Windows XP.  About three years in, the internal connection to the power cord broke.  Of course, no warranty.  I had someone rip it apart and attempt to solder through the problem.  It worked for another two weeks and then died permanently.  It’s still sitting in my closet.

I bought a Dell Netbook in 2009 for about $350.  Everybody loved it at first, but now all my kids complain that it’s two slow and it just sits there.

I bought an all-in-one Dell touch-screen desktop for about $1200 in January 2011.  It’s still a nice machine.  It’s got a very fast processor that can crank out anything including heavy video editing, 1 TB hard-drive and some other very cool features.  We shall see how long it will last.

Luckily, my work provides me with a laptop now which is upgraded every two years, so I don’t plan on buying another personal one for a while.  I did, however, purchase 2 iPADs for our family – each one at $500.

So for my entire life, I have given these tech companies over $9200.  What do I currently have to show for it?

A net financial loss of $8980.

One broken laptop.

A Netbook nobody uses.

Two functioning iPADs which the kids (mostly) use for games.

One desktop that we use for homework and playing music.

Hmmmm.  I don’t know.  Are computers the worst financial investment ever?

Thoughts anyone?

“Life with Stewart” goes into production

My latest collaborative play “Life with Stewart” heads into production next week with three performances scheduled at the Penang Performing Arts Centre in May.

This coming Monday, I have a 4 hour audition marathon and then Thursday we’ll start rehearsing right away.  I also have eleven talented individuals who make up my production crew in chart of set design and promotion.

Plot?  “Life with Stewart” has the following premise:  Nick Baxter is a bachelor who lives with his grandmother – his only living relative.  On the day of his grandmother’s death, Nick discovers that his grandfather is none other than Nicholas Stewart – a Hollywood film legend.  This revelation coupled with a devious plot hatched by his famous grandfather and  an ambitious, young TV journalist leads to a series of hilarious and poignant scenes as Nick has to wrestle the truth which has shattered his entire world.

“Life with Stewart” takes a critical look at our media saturated, Hollywood driven pop-culture.  It asks big questions about fame, vanity, the pursuit of money, and the enduring power of forgiveness.

From a production stand-point, “Life with Stewart” will certainly have its challenges – especially the sit-com, black and white scene.  I’ll describe this more later.

Set aside these dates on your calendar now:  May 23 – May 26.

Aggression and Primitive Tribes

Resources.  Every country needs them and throughout history, wars have been fought and new lands conquered in the search of resources to power nations.  It’s an issue of great importance in today’s world as one casual glance around the globe will attest. China-Vietnam and the Spratley Islands – the US and its dependence on the Middle East – etc…  Here’s a short excerpt from an essay I wrote about how it all started.

Andrew Schmookler in his treatise on social evolution The Parable of the Tribes describes how early societies expanded their boundaries and extended their sphere of influence in order to overcome a lack of resources which threatened their very existence. As this happened, societies began to be limited by other cultures which were developing in a likewise manner.  As one group armed themselves as a means of protecting their interests, the other groups had no choice but to do the same or suffer the consequences of being destroyed or put under the yolk of another which makes peace an illusion and power a necessity.

The Yanamomo tribes of southern Venezuela have learned this lesson well.  They know the violent consequences of living too close to a neighboring tribe which is why they settled in small villages apart from each other as a means of limiting contact.  They have created a culture which values aggression and teaches every young boy how to be an aggressive warrior in order to earn marks of bravery on their elaborate point system.  This aggressive Yanamomo culture is taught to every subsequent generation in order to protect themselves from outside threats.

To read more about it, see:

John G. Kennedy. “Ritual and Intergroup Murder: Comments on War, Primitive and        Modern”.

Andrew B. Schmookler, Andrew B. “The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution”.