Friday, June 30, 2006

The Lightning Round:
Old Glory Be!

As we approach the Fourth Of July, your patriot producer wishes to declare independence from several disturbing and silly legislative actions surrounding our Grand Old Flag.

DOWN IN FLAMES. A constitutional amendment banning flag desecration -- burning it, stomping on it, and other ghastly acts we've heard about but won't mention -- failed in the Senate by one vote.

The proposed alteration: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."

Letters to USA Today illustrate the problems with such a vaguely worded amendment. Who defines what desecration is, and how far do they go? Do we punish people for flags that get hung up on poles, torn up by the wind, or wet in the rain? If I wear a flag t-shirt and spill mustard on it, is that a crime now? Especially if it's French's?

Here's the worst part: if the amendment was ratified, the Supreme Court couldn't throw it out. You can't declare a constitutional amendment unconstitutional.

Add some irony: the U.S. flag code clearly states burning is considered an appropriate way to destroy a worn or soiled flag.

Stir in some teapot tempests: flag burning rarely happens in this country. The Citizens Flag Alliance points to only four known acts so far in 2006, and 12 in 2005. Compare that to the thousands of violent crimes in this country every year, and flag burning is less than a pockmark on society. Further, the people burning flags are not walking away unpunished when they're caught. They're being charged with arson, destruction of property, criminal mischief and vandalism, according to CFA's own web site. We already have laws to deal with the problem.

And still, some people think it's necessary to amend the Constitution -- and the First Amendment -- over this.

STARS AND STRIPES FOR EVERY ROOM. Here in Arizona, Governor Janet Napolitano just signed a bill requiring the flag be displayed -- along with the Constitution and Bill of Rights -- in all public classrooms. That includes charter schools and universities.

No money is provided for this mandate. KOLD News 13's J.D. Wallace quotes Arizona Representive Russell Pearce, the new law's sponsor, as saying private businesses will help pick up the cost. But curiously, no discretion is given to the use of each classroom, meaning a flag, Constitution, and Bill Of Rights might have to appear next to the Periodic Table Of The Elements in your child's science lab.

"Students, what did our framers say about splitting atoms?"

However, things should get interesting in Biology I, especially when talking about reproduction.

NATIONAL PRIDE. Both the Arizona and federal measures seem predicated on the notion we're not patriotic enough, which a new study proves is hogwash. The University of Chicago found Americans are the most patriotic of any nation on earth.

Venezuela was number two, although saying Marxist regimes are patriotic is like saying blood is red. Be proud or we'll shoot you.

FLUFFY STUFF. Apparently, marshmallow fluff is just as American as apple pie, especially in its birthplace of Massachusetts. So when a Massachusetts lawmaker proposed curtailing fluff from school lunches, he felt the fury of fluff loyalists.

And you thought your lawmakers wasted time on fluffy subjects... (rim shot).

IT AIN'T CHEATING WHEN YOU SIT AT THE BIG DESK. Teachers frown upon students who buy research papers over the Internet. But now we hear teachers are selling lectures, course outlines and study guides to each other on an eBay-like site.

We at The Lightning Round realize the difference between cheating -- an avoidance of learning -- and selling techniques for learning. We also realize how much educational toiling goes unappreciated and ridiculously undercompensated.

But I can still hear the complaints from students: "Miss Betty, did you copy this homework assignment from somebody else? I'm gonna tell Mom!"

LYING DOWN ON THE JOB. Motivational reading, massages and bed rest actually qualify as work under some states' welfare-to-work programs. But not for much longer as the Bush Administration tightens welfare rules.

What? No more paid nap times?

DRUNKEN DIALING. A new cell phone with a built-in breath analyzer hits shelves later this year. Not only will it tell you if you're too loaded to drive, it can prevent you from dialing certain numbers in the address book if you're legally skunk-drunk -- handy for preventing embarassing calls to your mom, boss, girlfriend, etc.

The Lightning Round is still waiting for the phone smart enough to keep you from dialing in restaurants.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Pirates Of Prescott

Raising the Jolly Roger and getting “jiggy” with We Make History!

Log of the “Wayward Star”
Capt. Bartholomew Burgundy
June 24, 1699

Ah… such wonder rattles me brain. Never in this life of mine 'ave I witnessed such merriment 'an revelry! Word came to me via reliable courier that I was invited to a large get-together of seafaring folk.

Mind you, I had me suspicions. The location, for starters: not a navigable drop of water in sight, at least according to the charts of the Wayward Star. And what dangers might be lurking for me? Ye never know who's after you nowadays, with all sorts of scoundrels out to plunder ye best privateering efforts. Used to be th' business was honorable... well... honorable to the best degree possible in these things, but I digress.

So now I gotta think like a landlubber. I arranged suitable transport by carriage, which saved me the unpleasantries of confronting somebody at the point of me cutlass for a lift like yer common amateur highwayman.

The hall of this fair shindig quickly be fillin’ with a stew of pirates and their wee ones, and a few landlubber ladies and gentlemen are joinin’ in. I spot a few familiar mates. I think, is that Cap’n Hook over there? And over there be that pirate star Cap’n Jack Sparrow, always the life of the party!

“We declare a truce!” say Dread Cap’n Scott, our gracious host in the red coat, a big red rose decorating ‘is hat. He immediately pushes all rivalries aside. This is to be a night of song ‘n dance and no pullin’ knives out of ye pants. No swordplay, no lootin’. Good fer me, as I come unarmed anyhow.

I be goin’ in style, as they say. For many pieces of eight, I’m dressed to th’ nines. Although I do get to thinkin’ about me cocked hat. Tis’ hard finding what I consider a suitable cockade, so I decide to improvise with a lil’ something I found in me trunk. Blimey, that bow is as big as the bow of me ship, but ya gotta look good to charm th’ ladies.

It’s been a long time since we las’ did this, declares Cap’n Scott. Too long, almost. “Maybe some of you have been dancin’ a jig in the mirror!”

Well enough waitin’. Time to get down to th’ business of pleasure. The good cap’n suddenly asks me for a lil’ help.

“Give us a cheer!”

“HUZZAH!” shout I at the top of me lungs, me hand in the air as if I was about to storm a Spanish warship full o’ galleons.

Photo by Michael Cynecki
The fest begins wit’ a promenade, and here’s me problem. Not only do I be unarmed, I be unaccompanied. Never fear! I spot a young lady standin’ in the middle of the floor, flanked by two of her fine friends. I kinda get this feelin’ they be looking for a partner, but ‘tis hard for me to pick from one from three and disappoint the other two.

Fortunately fer me, that decision resolves itself quite swiftly when one of the ladies nudges her compatriot forward. She be volunteered!

I could sense she was a lil’ nervous as we paraded ‘round the hall, but I made sure she got me best words of encouragement: “Yer doin’ just fine!” say I with a smile, and she returns it. I must a’mit I still be a little rusty with showin’ a lady a good time, but I’m learnin’.

Me pirate papa once told me, “No matter what ye do, son, when ye go out into the world, always be a gentleman!”

As for the rest of the evenin’, it flies by faster than the swiftest current I ever seen! If time were the ocean, I could’ve sailed from the West Indies back to me home port in England in just one night!

We dance all manner of sets an’ circles like the landlubbers do, and granted not all of us know th’ steps called out by the gracious Bahama Becky with the Plankwalkers at her command. But we keep on dancin’, makin’ things simpler for ourselves if need be.

At one point, we get to jiggin’ out there on th’ floor with the ladies, cuttin’ in nice and polite like. I see an opportunity to cut in, an’ great gusts! Several of the fair ones take turns cuttin’ in to share a dance wit’ me. Nearly lost me hat as it flew off during a few steps. I wound up finishin’ the caper wit’ a young lass who had quite the fancy footwork.

Now I said some of th’ dancin’ was tricky like. So we do this one number that involves us mixin’ things up so we pass hand to hand through seven partners so tha’ we all end up with new ones, see? Only some of me mates I’m thinkin’ are countin’ off pieces of eight and when some of ye do the math like that, a fella’s gonna end up marooned. So pirates ‘is runnin’ trying to find new partners on the other side of the hall.

It happens to me, too. I get caught without me partner, and here I am, runnin’ into the middle of the ring like we’ve been told to do, wavin’ about like me ship is sinkin’ as I try to signal a lady in the same boat. It takes a bit longer than I bargain for, but I find me new partner, and by stroke of luck she be the same lass I originally asked to start the dance with!

Photo by Michael Cynecki
Our hearty host Cap’n Scott announces somethin’ to raise all our ears: booty! We’ve all agreed on a drawin’ to share the wealth, but the Dread Cap’n adds a twist: recite a historical fact relatin’ to the year number on ye ticket, or ye dancin’ the jig alone in front of ye mates if they gives the thumbs down!

Well, some hearties ‘ave boned up on their history between voyages. But a few hadn’t, and we take great delight in orderin’ them jig for ten ticks of th’ watch to the fiddle to earn their share. One mate in particular impresses us with his high jumps! Might he actually be one of those Cossacks I hear ‘bout?

All this dancin’ puts all our feet to quite th’ test, a perfect time to take a few breaks, raise a glass of tropical ale or two, enjoy th’ pleasantness of the evening and sing a few shanties, one praisin’ tha’ old sailor Noah. Gotta honor any captain who has t’ work with a crew of such animals.

Photo by Michael Cynecki

Many times these shindigs woul’ end with a final pirate waltz. But ‘tis not over yet, for after th’ last dance, a few scores of us set a course for the local alehouse. Feasting with friends provides a wonderful diversion from th’ usual seafaring fare.

I must say, we might not ‘ave looted an enemy ship this night, but all of us surely found treasure!

Arrr... Click ye here for more on the festivities!

A Meeting Of Chance?

Several hours before the ball, I’m walking the streets of Prescott, peering in the windows of the antique and western shops and enjoying the hint of rain to come from the bubbling grey skies above. Bluegrass music floats over from the square in front of the town’s historic courthouse, a beautiful stone building I regretfully can’t enter. Families dot the lush green grass, children dancing and chasing each other about. Heads nod to the rhythm of the banjo as the musical moments sink in with nary a distraction.

Everyone is hitting life’s pause button. They sit on benches for blocks, sipping on coffee or latte or just staring into the street or in the windows of some store, silent and almost contemplative, as if they were in church.

Butterflies fill my stomach this afternoon, and I have no idea why. I’m walking it off as best I can, occupying my mind and feet before the time comes to slide into my privateer persona. Maybe it’s the effect of the long journey from Tucson, the mileage catching up with me. I can’t allow it to happen, not now. Captain Bartholomew Burgundy is inside of me, with his cockney working-class British accent, waiting to come out.

I’m walking up Gurley Street near the old library when I exchange nods and smiles with a stranger. We pass each other. But then I meet up with him again a few moments later, and to my amazement… he knows me and he greets me.

Turns out he attended the 1861 Remembrance Ball two months ago, and somehow he’s recognized me without the CSA uniform, kepi, and that wide yellow sash. Many times I can't remember faces and names to save my life. Turns out he knows a lot of faces and smiles -- he’s a dentist.

He’s waiting for his Buccaneer Ball companion to arrive in town. She’s driving in from Salt Lake City, but she needs a little guidance to link up with him and he doesn’t have a cell phone on him.

Fortunately, I do. And what’s more, I don’t usually carry one on me when I’m strolling around. I offer it to him without hesitation.

“Do you have long distance?”

“Yeah. I’ve got plenty of free minutes. Don’t worry about anything.”

He makes the call and we stand around small talking until his companion rolls up.

“Gimme a hug,” he says in a most friendly manner, and we do so before parting.

We would meet again on the dance floor in full piratical attire, and then again at the feast afterwards up the street. He and his companion generously offer me a seat next to him.

Through salads and sandwiches, we pick up where we left off, talking about We Make History, our other lives and times and future balls and adventures in the past to come. The Highland Ball approaches. So does the American Heritage Festival, where I plan to march with the Continental Line, I explain. We talk about past balls. And then the conversation drifts back where I know it’s going to go… to my first ball. That wonderful first ball. The ball that changed my life for the better.

I’m trying to resist the inclination to wear my heart on my sleeve, but it’s impossible to talk about it without relating how much it uplifted me.

“I was awake for hours,” I said. “I was so happy.”

I have to state my conclusion. “In every life there’s a turning point, and this one was mine. I made the decision I wanted to be a different person.”

Inside, part of me groans. What am I saying? What am I doing? Why do I have this urgency to relate this? Here? Now?

“Thank you for sharing that,” my friend across the table says with a warm grin.

I chow down and finish up, sharing a few more conversations with a some new friendly faces before everything wraps for the night.

And in the darkness of the motel room, I find myself with another old friend: afterglow.

My mind keeps darting between the ball and that chance encounter on the street. Only it seems too good to be the work of chance. I’d call it Providence.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Lightning Round:
More Proof Real Minutemen Wear Tricorns

THE JOBS AMERICANS WON'T TAKE. The Minutemen Project is turning to an outside contractor to finish building a U.S.-Mexico border fence on private ranchland near Bisbee, Arizona. The Project cites two reasons for the outsourcing: 1) quality control 2) lack of volunteers to finish the fence.

From the Douglas, AZ Daily Dispatch:
Cecile Lumer of the local humanitarian aid group Citizens for Border Solutions said she had seen no more than four people working at the site during her trips to fill migrant water stations in the nearby desert. She thought the arrival of the contractor suggested that the group had bit off more than it could chew. "The Minutemen have always been good at promoting themselves to the media," she said. "And from the beginning the numbers they have projected have always fallen very short of the reality."
Mind you, this makeshift border fence project -- one comprised largely of wires and stakes -- was more about symbolism than security, a message to Washington that if you don't build it, we will. And if you build it, others can cut through it... and by golly, somebody did.

The contractor hired by the Project pledges only to hire legal help. But I'm sure one of the Minutemen will now be training their binoculars on the local Home Depot, just in case.

WE OWN YOU. AT&T is making it clear that if you sign up for any of their services -- long distance, Internet or otherwise -- they have the right to disclose your account information to the government if need be. It can also be disclosed to protect "legitimate business interests."

From AP:
AT&T said the account information, including the customer's name, address, phone number and e-mail address as well as information about the customer's services, is owned by AT&T. The company said account information doesn't include usage information, such as how a person uses the Web or what TV programs a person watches.
But wait, it might, according to Reuters:
In the policy update, which applied to AT&T’s more than 7 million Internet and video customers, the company said it could collect usage information from subscribers, including the Web pages they view, the programs they record, and the games they play.
Lenny Bruce once said, "Communism is like one big phone company." Now we can scratch out the word "like."

BLESSED BE THE QUEER. The Episcopal Church, trying to heal thyself, passed a resolution discouraging the consecration of more openly gay bishops. You'll recall the church -- the American arm of the Anglican church -- upset Anglican leaders when it consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, in 2003.

From Reuters:
The non-binding resolution adopted at the convention calls on those in authority "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate (for bishop) whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."
By that wording, half the world would probably be disqualified.

More interesting, though, are the comments of the Reverend Cathy George, who said, in a paraphrased AP report:
The Reverend Cathy George believes homosexuality is a God-given trait that shouldn't prevent gays and lesbians from serving in every aspect of church life.
"God-given" -- we're not sure if we can translate that as a blessing, but you gotta admit, saying The Man Upstairs created gays does tend to short-circuit debate. It's sort of like claiming God created Evolution.

In a related matter, the Episcopals are also seeking to pass another resolution defining "gay" once again as "happy, lively and vivacious."

WE HAVE WAYS OF MAKING YOU TALK SENSE. A judge in Salt Lake City says accused Elizabeth Smart co-kidnapper Wanda Barzee can be forced to take antipsychotic medication against her will to make her competent for trial. KTVX-TV reports, "Doctors have diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia and a delusional disorder."

One of the drugs that might be forced into her is Zyprexia. According to the drug's official website, common side effects include drowsiness, increased appetite, and weight gain. The Lightning Round wonders if Barzee does stand trial, will she sleep through it or continuously beg the court for Lay's potato chips?

BLUE STATE BLUES. Doug Duncan, one of the candidates for governor of Maryland, says he's dropping out of the race after being diagnosed with depression.

From WRC-TV, Washington, D.C.:
"At first, I attributed this to the stress of the campaign," Duncan said. "But over the past couple months, it became clear to me; my wife, Barbara; our family; our closest supporters that this was more than the usual wear and tear of the campaign trail."
Not to mock those who suffer from depression, but consider this: he's a Democrat -- a member of the party which twice lost the White House to George W. Bush and actually believed Howard Dean was an electable candidate. Yeah, I'd be depressed too.

SADDAM'S STRIKE. Saddam Hussein is going on a hunger strike, along with his seven co-defendants. This comes after another of his thankless defense lawyers bought the bullet.

Sources tell us Saddam recently ranted in the courtroom, "American troops get Burger King! We want Burger King! I am Iraqi President! I want it my way!"

UPDATE: Turns out the hunger strike lasted only one meal. Wimp.

SO NICE, THEY NAMED IT TWICE. New York, New York is at the top of the Reader's Digest list for most polite people in the world. The magazine went undercover to 36 cities around the world looking for courtesy.

From Reuters:
Reporters for the magazine conducted a "door test," to see who would hold open a door, a "document drop" to see who would help pick up dropped papers and a "service test" to measure if salesclerks said thank you for a purchase.

Four out of five New Yorkers passed the courtesy tests, the magazine reported.
Having recently met many of New York City's friendliest, I don't doubt the findings for a moment.

I was advised on one of the tour buses to always wave back to the locals who wave to you -- otherwise you might get pelted with something.

"Hey, youse, get ya hand up! This is New Yahk! We gots a reputation to protect!"

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Acting Rather Strange

An Open Letter To The Management Of CBS News:

Congratulations, folks. You won't have Dan Rather to kick around anymore. Not that any of you really wanted to be seen with him, anyway. After 44 years with the network, a long and distinguished career, he morphed into something as attractive to you as quills on a porcupine -- something nobody wanted to get stuck with. It used to be four decades of service at a network meant you were the seasoned veteran, someone to be respected and consulted like the wise guru on the mountaintop. But silly me, this is television. Forty years means you're too old.

I won't rehash the Memogate mess. But I'll ask you this -- if you really wanted him gone, why didn't you just request him to leave? Instead, you put on this charade of valuing his reporting skills while slowly pulling the rug out from under him. You took 60 Minutes II off the air while he still had a gig there. You squeezed him into the Sunday night broadcast and then squeezed him out when you needed to make room for your newfound savior Katie Couric. So much for thoughts of a deeper bench. Apparently there's just not enough room at the Sunday evening newsroom dinner table.

Mr. Rather is far from blameless in this sad, sorry state of affairs. He fronted a flawed story instead of tearing it up. That's the risk you take when you put too much faith in a producer to do the heavy lifting. How can Mary Mapes live with herself knowing she helped bring down a giant? And I have to give you some props for not cowtowing to conservatives carping for Rather's crucifixion. As Dan would say, "Courage." Still, that doesn't justify treating him like a human stain.

Poor Dan. He should've seen this coming the moment he stepped off the anchor desk following his final Evening News broadcast, when he was surrounded by crew and colleagues cheering and applauding him. Even that landmark moment was soiled by a Wal-Mart ad between his final words and the newsroom's display of affection. You think the world would've ended if you told the big-boxer "no way" for just one night, so this expression of gratitude could be shown without commercial interruption.

But anchors are anchors and business is business. Just days before Les Moonves kissed Dan goodbye he was crowing about how much ad money Katie was raking in. She's already paid for herself, he says. I'm withholding judgment on whether Couric can cut it at Dan's old desk. I hope I'm surprised. I hope she makes a long, productive and valuable contribution to the network. I hope she earns respect. And I hope she earns a better exit, when the time comes, whether she sails or sinks.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The King And I

My father has this aura of persistence, one surely passed down to him from Grandpa Francis, World War II veteran and cryptographic specialist who helped us defeat the Axis in ways he took to his grave.

It is the persistence of battle, the press for the next victory. Dad's always fighting something.

Inept supervisors. Broken promises. Glitches with his PC. High cholesterol. High blood pressure. Stress. Crummy cable TV service. Greying hair. This is after thirty years in management at four different corporations and one business handed down through family ties. His tour of duty in Vietnam is a distant skirmish now.

We'll not even talk about the past three years, a series of heartwrenching difficulties and shattered expectations, except to say they are over and the Kingdom of Francis stands intact.

The Queen may fret, but His Majesty refuses to surrender -- even in the darkest hours.

I got a call from Dad on the morning of September 11, 2001, when an surreal, gigantic tragedy dominated America's thoughts. We talked about the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and what we were doing at the TV station. But he was on the road, not glued to the TV. And he had other things on his mind.

"I think we're going to do that deal with McKesson," he said. Life goes on. Business goes on. The fight is not over.

Some of his management genes passed into my brother and I. Michael's overseeing theatre production at UCSD. I'm overseeing a TV news broadcast. We both became bosses to varying degrees and got tangled in our own top-down tussles.

"I want to say I'm proud of both my boys," Dad said more than once at the dinner table, although I forget the occasions. But the message still resonates after all these years, surviving the angst of teenage rebellion and the bickering that goes with it. So many of those arguments were just plain silly, like the one over finding reel caps for a old tape deck. That one had me wanting to end my Christmas break early and head back to the University of Missouri. We made up and I stayed.

We talk on the phone every weekend. Many times I'm his tech support representative, having put together his customized PC with parts we picked out at a computer fair. Dell would connect him to India. Every visit home now involves some degree of debugging. While some fathers and sons bond over sports or fishing or camping, we bonded over personal computers, going way back to a Radio Shack TRS-80, and then a malfunctioning Sanyo, a behemoth Sanyo, a Timex-Sinclair 1000, two flavors of Mac, various IBM clones and an Apple //c. The Queen has often rolled her eyes at such geek indulgences.

The Queen also watches The King's weight, even if he doesn't. We're all watching it for him.

"I don't eat that many sweets," he once said.

Mom and I burst out laughing. "Who's the one who always says, 'What's for dessert?'" Mother jibed.

Size matters. Exercise matters, but I don't worry about that. I swear he's the only person on our street who's mowing his own lawn instead of following the Southern California trend of hiring the nearest convenient minority. The Royal Grounds have never looked better. The battles continue, but the castle stands strong.

Long live The King... my father. And later, let's go to Fry's.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Reel To Reel: Nacho Libre

Vote For Nacho

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Jack Black, Ana de la Reguera, Hector Jimenez
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Wrestling Violence, Mild Language, One Manure Joke

Pro wrestling is fake. We know it's fake. I hope we know it's fake. WWE admits it's fake. Still, that doesn't lessen its drawing power for the faithful, and south of the border, wrestling -- known as "lucha libre" (free fight) -- holds deep roots and a colorful history of masks, heroes and villians.

Enter director Jared Hess (Napoleon Dynamite) and Jack Black. Nacho Libre is their colorful tribute to lucha, filmed entirely on location in Mexico. Black plays Ignacio, aka "Nacho," a monk cook at an orphanage so impoverished the friars can only afford meals of leftover tortilla chips tossed out on some back porch. Black longs for a better life and the love of a beautiful new nun, Sister Encarnacion (Reguera), with her long flowing hair which mysteriously some Mother Superior has allowed her to keep. Nacho is a fat oaf, riding around in a moped cart which looks like a reject from "Monster Garage." His cooking impresses no one. But when he sees the respect heaped upon some luchadors, he fashions a plan to win pesos and admiration by getting into the ring.

Nacho Libre works because of characterization and not plot, which is why Napoleon Dynamite worked as well. Essentially, Hess has transfused the formula into a different picture while retaining Napoleon's trademarks: wide static shots, goofy closeups, picturesque locations, and comical composition. Just the way Hess frames and arranges some shots is funny. Take nothing away from Black, though. His "mow-there," "sees-ter" accent is better than some of the actual lines coming out of his mouth.

To say Nacho will get what he's after is not giving anything away. This recycled triumphant sports plot has been recycled too many times to count, and any fresh variation immediately wins points. But the film gets tedious at points where the locations are funnier than the characters in them, and it tries to milk some scenes too hard for laughs. Jack Black doesn't need to milk scenes. Just let him wrestle.

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Lightning Round:
Getting Right With God

It's back again... with something for body, mind and soul.

AND THE WORD WAS... Roman Catholic bishops have approved a new English translation of Mass aimed at coming closer to the Latin version. What this means for you, faithful parisoner, is some subtle changes in the standard refrains:

OLD -- "The Lord be with you" / "And also with you"
NEW -- "The Lord be with you" / "And with your spirit."

Before Communion:
OLD -- "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you."
NEW -- "Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof."
(Besides, it leaks.)

And my favorite change, according to the AP:
"The Act of Penitence, in which parishioners now confess aloud that they have sinned "through my own fault" would include the lines "through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault."
I'm waiting for the refrain of "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!" from Wayne's World.

Disclaimer: I'm not Catholic, nor do I attempt to be. But I do remember crossing myself the other night after I accidentally ran over that bunny darting across the road in front of the Wal-Mart.

STILL BILL. Microsoft founder, bazillionarie, humanitarian, nerd genius and secret lord of the universe Bill Gates is easing out of his day job at Microsoft so he can spend more time on his stunningly solvent $29 billion Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.

However, this will take two years, and Gates keeps his title of Chairman of the Board. He also will continue to make key decisions. And let us not forget Gates has already stepped down as CEO.

So The Lightning Round is now taking bets on if any, all or none of the following events will happen BEFORE Bill completes his transition to... uh... whatever.

1) Microsoft Windows Vista ships
2) Microsoft Windows Vista is fully debugged
3) Google Buys Microsoft, immediately changing Google's credo from "Do No Evil" to "Dude, We Own It All!"
4) Bill sells Microsoft On eBay to finance upstart company in Uganda
5) Bill converts his Seattle-area mansion into shelter for those who escape The Matrix
6) Donald Trump buys Microsoft, hosts new show: "The Geek"

BATON DEATH MARCH. Organizers of a Fourth Of July parade in Redwood City, California have banned a team of baton-twirling children because they move too slow.

From AP:
Parade organizers say the Redwood City Twirlers have held up the parade the past five years and created a three-minute gap last year that prompted spectators to leave, thinking the show was over.
Before you start writing hate mail, please note that the twirlers will perform at a parade in Corte Madera -- one hour away.

So let freedom ring, but quick now... we've got cookouts.

I SEE LONDON, I SEE FRANCE... Administrators at Phillipsburg High School in New Jersey, sensing a Janet Jackson moment, hastily ripped out page 224 of the 2006 yearbook when they spotted a picture of a student sitting at a desk which appeared to reveal a bit of her underwear. The page will be replaced with a stick-on substitute.

I recall a similar incident in my hometown school district in the 1980s. During an elementary class photo, one of my brother's girl friends sat in the front row wearing a high-cut skirt. We don't know if the cameraman was a sicko or simply forgot to have her strategically adjust her legs, but the lens revealed a distinctive floral pattern between her loins.

"I'm gonna sue that photographer!" she cried, after the picture went to the printers unretouched and into the hands of every parent in the class.

I GOT YOU COVERED, BABE. Cher went to Washington to attend a congressional subcommittee meeting on the safety of soldiers' helmets. She did not speak, but obviously impressed congressmen.

According to AP, "committee chairman Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said that Cher has given "well over $100,000" to the cause."

We note the irony of Cher's interest in seeing soldiers well armored when she was so scantily clad in the video for "If I Could Turn Back Time," filmed on board a Navy vessel with scores of hooting sailors behind her.

TREE HUGGERS. The silly saga of L.A's South Central Urban Farm entered the next chapter this week when police moved in to move out protestors who don't want the new owner to turn it into a warehouse. The ordeal has attracted celebrites to perch in a tree, including Joan Baez and Daryl Hannah.

The owner of the land, Ralph Horowitz, says he's not selling despite a belated $16 million offer. According to the L.A. Times, it's "partly because of anti-Semitic remarks allegedly made about him by people linked to [the protestors'] cause."

Horowitz told the paper: "If they want to stand on the corner for the next five years, chanting slogans like they did in front of my house, they're welcome to. But it hasn't worked."

So lefties, you've done it to yourself again. Instead of chanting and chaining yourselves to anything on the farm and recruiting Hollywood sympathizers, why didn't you just go quietly raise more money when you were outbid for the land?

Now all hope is on your hero, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, to save you from the idiots in your ranks.

From the Times:
"We're still hopeful that the mayor can step in and close this deal, even if it's with hurt feelings," said environmental activist John Quigley...
And Mayor Tony, I would get reacquainted with the Serenity Prayer, for your patience will likely suffer more tests than an Arizona high school senior.

But life is a test, is it not? Otherwise you wouldn't be surrounded by these folks...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Reel To Reel: Cars

Life Is A Highway...

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry The Cable Guy
Rated: G
Red Flags: NONE!

The flyspeck town of Wikieup sits on Highway 93, between Phoenix and Kingman, Arizona. I have passed through it several times on the six-hour drive from Tucson to Las Vegas. The center of town includes two gas stations, one Subway, and one motel with rooms shaped like teepees. The motel vanished during my last trip. Use the restrooms at one of the gas stations, and you will spot a small wooden box on the wall asking you politely to donate ten cents or more towards the cost of maintenance in a "desolate area." The town is surrounded by joshua trees, red rocks, awesome views, a whimsical rocket statue showing Snoopy blasting off into space, and an almost desperate desire to exist.

I am reminded of Wikieup as I watch Cars, Pixar's latest animated family film, set in a parallel universe where car and driver are one, and where roadside Americana is roadside history. Adorably cute cars and trucks whiz along roads, smiling and talking, making the horn almost unnecessary. Curvy muscle cars rev up sporty sedans. Tricked up hot rods and neon racers are the street thugs. Imports and European sub-compacts speak with an accent, oil-swigging RV's hoot and holler, and burly big-rigs keep on trucking. It will remind you of those animated Chevron ads with the talking cars, but those claymation figures don't have this film's CGI showroom shine.

Cars opens with the race for the Piston Cup, and in a world full of cars, it's more popular than the Indy 500 and the Winston Cup races combined. Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is a rookie car looking for his first big win, and ultimately, the lifestyle of a star car and spokesengine for Dinoco Oil. Curiously, nobody ever talks about high gas prices or oil wars in the middle east.

Lightning pushes his truck driver Mack (John Ratzenburger) to make an all-night haul to California so the young hot-rodder can get in a few extra laps before the last big race. Mack falls asleep, things shift out of whack, and Lightning gets stranded in the Route 66 town of Radiator Falls after tearing up the main drag. Radiator Falls is a lonely place with a rundown diner, ancient neon lights, and a motel with traffic-cone shaped rooms. Its car citizens lead an idling life, waiting for the next customer, anybody, to stop by.

The film carjacks a plot device from Doc Hollywood, where Lightning is forced by the town's judge, Doc Hudson (Newman) to repave the town's street before taking off for California. Lightning is burning to get out of town, but he befriends Mater (Larry The Cable Guy), a rusty tow truck, and develops a crush on Sally Carrera (Hunt), a sexy muscle car. Other colorful car characters could star in their own pictures: Flo, a 50's classic roadster and diner owner; Luigi, an Italian compact tire salesman with a mania for Ferraris; and Ramone, a low-rider and body shop owner. One of the film's most memorable sequences features Sally and Lightning out on a drive to what we would call the Grand Canyon -- only this one has rock formations resembling front ends and tail fins. Lightning learns there's more to his life than spinning his wheels.

It is clear Pixar's animators developed a deep love for northern Arizona and Route 66. The film pays beautiful tribute to them, right down to the cheesy neon signs and 50's-retro architecture. It finds character in everything with wheels, and that makes up for the plot's lack of originality compared with Pixar's earlier efforts. Adults will like it as much as the kids for the memories, if not the message.

Friday, June 9, 2006

The Lightning Round:
Don't Cough On Me -- I Might Run You Off The Road

DRIVE ME CRAZY. A University of Chicago study suggests road rage is rooted in a disease known as Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Do the acronym, and you come up with IED -- the same shorthand for "improvised explosive device," a thing that's killing our troops in Iraq.

I see other parallels. Just as minds poisoned by hate build the roadside bombs, minds poisoned by rage run us down in the lanes. And as some justify terrorist acts as the cleansing of infidels, others will excuse ragers for wiping idiot drivers off the roads.

Now that road rage is a disease, can we treat it with drug therapy? Heavy sedation? Happy pills? Do we substitute DUI for IED?

From the AP, quoting Dr. David Fassler, psychiatry professor at the University of Vermont:
"The findings also confirm that for most people, the difficulties associated with the disorder begin during childhood or adolescence, and they often have a profound and ongoing impact on the person's life."
So be kind to your children. You'll share a freeway with them someday.

THE BEATING IS WORSE THAN THE BITE. For Paris Hilton, a Chihuahua is a fashion accessory. For a Missouri woman, it's a weapon.

Police report a woman had bought a new puppy only to see it die. According to police, she went back to the breeder and whacked the puppy seller over the head with the dead dog. The breeder was not badly hurt.

As Tucson radio man John C. Scott observed: "Guns don't kill people, dead Chihuahuas kill people."

SNAPSHOT SHAKEDOWN. Want a wedding photo in front of the Statue Of Liberty or the Grand Canyon? Bring extra cash. The National Park Service is now charging groups with professional photographers up to $250, depending on the size of the group.

From the AP:
Officials said the fees are in response to a 2000 federal law that requires various agencies to come up with ways to recoup the costs of maintenance, security and other expenses stemming from commercial filming and photography on federal land.
Hmm, "other expenses." For an extra $100, does Smokey Bear do a cameo?

HOLIER THAN THOU. The Christian-themed film "Facing The Giants" earned a PG rating from the MPAA because of strong "thematic elements" -- in other words, too much evangelism.

From Scripps-Howard News Service:
In this case, [the film company's vice-president for marketing] was told that [the MPAA] "decided that the movie was heavily laden with messages from one religion and that this might offend people from other religions."
The ratings board expects the film to do boffo in Tehran.

I'LL GET YOU, MY PRETTY! Ann Coulter, the leggy Wicked Witch of the Right, is targeting is a group of 9/11 widows who demanded an investigation into intelligence failures before the attack. Coulter charges, "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

To the contrary, I've never seen somebody enjoy their own venom so much. Coulter could drink enough rattlesnake juice to kill ten people. And as the worn-out maxim goes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Of course she's getting help from the cable nets. Wingnuts make great TV. Thus her outrageous oratory is amped up even more.

Maybe if Fox News ignores her, she'll melt.

IN THE STRIKE ZONE. And finally, we end the Lightning Round with, well, lightning. A pair of Tucson sisters nearly missed a direct hit from a bolt this week. Their couch, however, took a direct hit. So did a palm tree in the yard, along with a TV and an electrical outlet.

As KOLD News 13's Som Lisaius reported, Ana Hernandez asked her sister to get off the couch, placing her out of harm's way seconds before the electric mayhem.

SOM: "What made you tell her, sit over here?"
ANA: "I don't know, I don't like sitting by myself--so I told her come over here, sit by me."
Luck -- or Providence -- strikes again.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Reel To Reel: The Proposition

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Tom Budge, Guy Pearce, Emily Watson, Ray Winstone, John Hurt
Rated: R (nearly NC-17!)
Red Flags: Intense Graphic Bloody Violence, Strong Language

"Are we misanthropes?"

"Lord no, we're family."

Those two lines are spoken by members of the Burns Gang, a notorious band of outlaws who seem to kill and rob because it's the only thing they know how to do, overriding what humanity still bubbles inside of them. Can you name a wild west gang who kept a stack of books in their hideout?

Combine Deadwood with Unforgiven, multiply it by the Sam Peckinpah films, move it all to the 1800's Australian outback, and you have Francis' Movie Equation for The Proposition, a stunning exploration of violence and justice and how one does not always bring about the other.

The film opens with a barrage of bullets on a hideout, resulting in the capture of Charlie Burns (Danny Huston) and his younger brother Mikey (Richard Wilson). But Captain Stanley (Winstone) is after a bigger prize: Arthur Burns, a man wanted for killing a family of three, including a pregnant mother. Charlie is so deranged, Arthur and Mikey have parted ways with him.

So Stanley makes Charlie a deal. "Suppose I gave you a horse and a gun," the captain says. "Suppose, Mr. Burns, I was to give both you and your young brother Mikey, here, a pardon. Suppose I said that I could give you the chance to expunge the guilt beneath which you so clearly labour."

"You want me to kill me brother," Charlie says. Otherwise, Mikey will hang on Christmas Day. Charlie sets out on the mission, leaving Mikey behind to quiver in a jail cell, wounded.

Captain Stanley, who would be wearing a sheriff's star if this were a typical western, is quivering inside as well, beset by headaches and a gnawing aversion to bloodletting. His beautiful wife Martha (Watson) longs to know why a young boy is locked up. A superior wants to know why the boy has not been beaten. Stanley's own men and the townspeople read the captain's actions as weakness.

"I will civilize this land," Staney says, firm if a little uncertain. He knows his purpose, but the preferred means clearly trouble him.

Violence -- graphic, bloodsoaked and explosive -- is a trademark of the picture, along with ubiquitous flies. Flies buzz in so many scenes, around the living and the dead, one wonders if they were trucked in for each shot. These two stylistic devices come together in one heartbreaking scene, where young Mikey is beaten. As lashes whip the boy's back, flies gather on the backs of the townspeople eager to see justice dispensed. This potent visual suggests those who those who yearn for corporal punishment are poisoned by blood lust. As flies feast on rotting flesh, it seems that they are rotting, too, but from the inside.

Eventually, the confrontation between the Burns brothers takes place in a Christmas Day showdown memorable most for what the camera doesn't focus on, reminding us again that outlaws are still families, even if they do kill other families for a living.

Friday, June 2, 2006

The Lightning Round:
School Of Hard Knocks, Pat's Pushing It

Okay, new idea. I have a new name for The Rundown.

It's a common TV news producing technique: throw some quick stories from the wires or feeds together and wrap them under the banner Across America. That's what we do on the 5pm and the Noon. These can be big stories, little stories, weird stories... or a hybrid of all three genres. But whatever they are, I call it "The Lightning Round." And in the 2pm editorial meeting, when I'm going over a rundown, it's a chance for me to throw in some acerbic, Daily Show-esque asides.

So make sure you're properly grounded. Here we go.

Mr. 2000. Pat Robertson claims he leg pressed 2,000 pounds. Experts doubt it. The claim reminded me of Oral Roberts' vision of a 900-foot Jesus standing behind his City of Faith complex in Tulsa.

According to CBN's web site, he got help from his age-defying protein shake. It contains -- among other things -- soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, flaxseed oil and apple cider vinegar. No mention of Andro.

Hammer Time. A Capitol office building was locked down last week because a congressman heard what he thought were gunshots. It turned out to be a workman hammering on a broken elevator.

Actually, it was the FBI preparing for its next office raid.

I'm Learning About Stress. A study by Public Opinion finds Black and Hispanic children are more likely to face a hostile environment in public schools, one characterized by profanity, truancy, fighting, weapons and drug abuse.

From the AP:
30 Percent of Black students say teachers spend more time trying to keep order in class than teaching. That's twice the percentage of white students who say that... On the plus side, most children say they're learning a lot.
Yeah, learning about profanity, truancy, fighting, weapons and drug abuse. All the dirty words I needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten.

Shooting Your Mouth Off. New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi has apologized profusely for making a murderous metaphor involving President Bush at a commencement speech. He was describing fellow commencement speaker Chuck Schumer's courage when he said Schumer was "capable of putting a bullet between the president's eyes."

Says Hevesi to the AP: "It was a remarkably stupid, inappropriate and offensive comment." He says it came from, "the overflow from my stupid gland."

Pituitary? Thymus? We're not sure. But we've just heard from the White House. They say bullets are the VP's department.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Sure... Unsure... BOOM!

I was going to save this for Friday's Lightning Round but this is just too good to resist:

A teenager in the UK accidentally blew up his house with... wait for it... a can of deodorant.

A friend of mine says something similar happened when he was in high school. Somebody left a Right Guard can in a gym bag sitting in the heat of the sun pouring through a window. BLAM! Fortunately, only the gym bag was shredded.