Saturday, October 28, 2006

Reel To Reel: The Prestige

The illusion of revenge.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Violence, Intense Magical Content

We learn a magic trick has three acts, the climax named "The Prestige," when the audience oohs and ahhs and applauds after somebody has disappeared, reappeared or escaped from certain death. The film of the same name is one gigantic magic trick, with plot manipulations and editing slight of hand building up to a big finish that maybe we should have seen coming, or maybe not. It plays the audience ruthlessly for two hours, and it requires your undivided attention. This is not a two-soda film where you can get up, drop back in and miss only half a beat.

The Prestige darts between two up-and-coming illusionists in late 1800's London, Robert Angier (Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Bale). They work together as shills -- planted volunteers in an audience called upon to pull off a trick -- until a disasterous accident turns them against each other. Bale is anxious to develop new and exciting magic, but he has trouble exciting his audience. Angier is the showman, one who knows how to sell an illusion for maximum impact. He hooks up with Cutter (Caine), an engineer who introduces him to new technology for making things disappear.

The professional rivalry turns increasingly obscessive as Angier tries to discover the secret to Borden's showcase illusion: a teleportation trick where the magician walks into one cabinet and then -- ta-da -- out another several feet away. Angier and Cutter think it can be done better, if Angier just learns how to do it. Borden is playing to half-empty halls and trying to fend off his rival, who has cost him bookings and part of one hand.

Explaining any more than this is detrimental and confounding. I got lost in the picture at several points, but then again, misdirection is an essential part of magic, and I'm sure director Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins) wants it that way. With so much misdirection though, it's hard to care about any of the people on the screen save for Caine's character, who has that old-school charm.

The Prestige is not as good as The Illusionist, released a couple of months ago, which had better focus and more emotional core. And maybe that's the real reason I like it better. I want magic to dazzle me, not bamboozle me. Yet look at the success of Penn & Teller, who made bamboozlement their hook. You can only do the same old tricks so many times.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Lightning Round:
French Kiss-Off

This week we begin with a travelers' advisory, especially to those who value their joie de vivre.

FORGET PARIS. You think the French are nasty towards Americans? Hear what they're doing to the Japanese. About one dozen Japanese tourists need psychological treatment every year for the so-called "Paris Syndrome."

From Reuters:
Already this year, Japan's embassy in Paris has had to repatriate at least four visitors -- including two women who believed their hotel room was being bugged and there was a plot against them.

Previous cases include a man convinced he was the French "Sun King", Louis XIV, and a woman who believed she was being attacked with microwaves, the paper [Journal du Dimanche] cited Japanese embassy official Yoshikatsu Aoyagi as saying.
The problem seems to be a clash of perception versus reality, the idyllic vision of France versus the on-the-street experience. Darn those travel guides!
"Fragile travelers can lose their bearings. When the idea they have of the country meets the reality of what they discover it can provoke a crisis," psychologist Herve Benhamou told the paper.
I know a lot of people in America going through that... and they're not travelers.

RUSH TO JUDGMENT. Rush Limbaugh, who I used to listen to regularly before his show became a partisan amen corner, suggested actor Michael J. Fox was faking the effects of Parkinson's disease when he trembled in a serious of ads supporting stem-cell research. Fox defended himself in a sit-down with Katie Couric.

He also disputed Rush's implication that Democrats use victims of diseases to advance their political agenda.
"I'm not a victim. I'm someone who’s in this situation. I'm in this situation with millions of other Americans, whether it’s like I said, for Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s, or ALS, or diabetes or spinal cord injury or what have you. And we have a right, if there’s answers out there, to pursue those answers with the full support of our politicians. And so I don't need anyone’s permission to do that."
Rush says he never said Fox was "faking it." True, he never said those two words. But the implication was there, and it's close enough. As Rush has said himself, "Words mean things."

As for Fox, watching him shake from the combination of disease and medication sinks my soul. He's a decade older than me, but he easily looks my age. I still remember him from Family Ties and Back To The Future. Judging for myself, he's no act. Maybe Rush is, but he isn't.

DOLLARS AND SCENTS. That smell from the coins in your wallet is not dirty money, but dirty hands, according to LiveScience.
A new study finds that the smell of iron is, ironically, a type of human body odor, created by the breakdown of oils in skin after touching objects that contain the element.
So how come my piggy bank isn't a Level 3 Biohazard?

I'D WALK A BLOCK FOR A STARBUCKS. I remember a gag in Shrek 2, where people ran from one Starbucks to another across the street. Now the fiction is turning fact.

From the AP:
The coffee chain’s aggressive growth also hinges on what the company calls “infill” — adding stores in cities where its mermaid logo is already commonplace. In some cases, that means putting a Starbucks within a block of an existing store, if not closer.
Part of the rationale is long lines. Another part: market forces.
Sitting in Starbucks’ Seattle headquarters a day after the company announced that it had increased its projected store count by a third, to 40,000 stores, company Chairman Howard Schultz said he thought the company had been vastly underestimating the worldwide demand for its coffees, teas, CDs, coffee mugs and other items.
I tell you, it's the caffeine, for crying out loud. Starbucks is addicting us in its plot to control the universe! Run for detox!

RADIO, RADIO. Clear Channel, regarded by many of my broadcast brethren as the Axis of Evil, is up for sale. I agree with Jeff Jarvis, who says CC ran out of stations to gobble up. Now it's collapsing under the weight of carbon-copy formats and bad karma, even though the company took the radical step of reducing commercial breaks.

People love to think of radio and TV stations as cash cows. Well, yes, but that cow eats a lot of feed -- electricity for the transmitter, programming costs, maintenance, and huge salaries for top talent. Even a station like KCDX in Florence, AZ, with no DJ's and no sales staff (because there's no commercials) still burns through about $200,000 a year. I'm amazed station "guru" Ted Tucker willingly hemorrhages such money.

I'm betting whoever buys CC will start piecing its 1,200 stations out, unloading them onto whoever thinks they have a shot of making money in the broadcast business. And then those buyers can see how much milk they get from CC's cattle.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pride Goeth Before A Ball

A We Make History celebration recounted by Mr. C. Francis with photos by Mr. Michael C.
(and with apologies and tribute to Jane Austen)

(As always, click any picture for a larger view!)

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man who desires a memorable evening with fine ladies must put forth an impression in both manner and style.

“So are you going to be prideful or prejudiced?” a colleague of the television producer inquired of him in jest.

“Prideful,” the producer returned with a grin which concealed the truth.

A man of four and thirty years, he knew not what role he should play in this approaching evening of elegant dance and diversion. A review of the literature and photoplay revealed no congruent characters. He fancied himself neither the prideful and disagreeable Mr. Darcy nor the comically inappropriate Mr. Collins. Perhaps the solution could be found somewhere between their two personalities, but the problem did not alarm him greatly, and especially not in comparison to the dilemma of style.

An entire day was spent perusing the various shoppes that, for a modest fee, might lend him quality Regency attire. It was a dismaying exercise, a search which planted thoughts of an entire period of history overlooked, a timeline skipping decades after Colonial America and before Victorian England. However, the search did not end without a satisfactory result: a regimental coat of red, white and blue, although the regiment it belonged to would give him pause. He completed his outfit with garments of his own, attempting to bring himself as close to the edge of fashion.

* * *

As his carriage rolled near the designated hall, the eager guest noticed a veil of white smoke pouring from a nearby house. An instant of observation revealed it not as fire but fog, perhaps a product of an overzealous neighbour enthralled with the October season of supernatural festivities. He had not seen anything like it, and he wondered for a moment, if it might be some sign, some signal beyond the obvious. But no, he concluded.

Once inside, he spent an hour acquainting himself with friends and newcomers, and admiring the splendour of the ladies as they arrived in colourful frocks. Being among the first in the room was more than a device of punctuality.

The host, Lord Scott, circulated among them with words of welcome in a soft voice and many bows, his hat more in his hand than on his head as the room filled with eager guests.

The man in the regimental coat spotted a sign required by the authorities as to the maximum capacity of the establishment.

“Anything more will not be tolerated by the fire department,” he quipped to the young man beside him whom he had engaged in conversation. “Anything less will not be tolerated by the host.”

At one point in the many sentences, a man asked him who was he portraying.

“A Frenchman lent me this coat,” came the answer, a product of labourious thought and necessary invention. “Although I fear he might have been playing a cruel joke on me.”

His costume consternation found roots in reality as the ball commenced with announcements from the host noting “that scoundrel Napoleon” had added to his conquests.

The man in the red, white, and blue uniform knew he could no longer deny the obvious danger in a room full of English ladies and gentlemen. The coat cast him as a French regimental, and a resemblance to the scoundrel himself required little exertion of mind. He had known this from the minute he came across the garment, but the need for suitable period dress had outweighed matters of war and peace.

During the opening promenade, as the couples circled the room to the virtuoso musicians on piano, violin, and flute following the notes of a bagpiper, the lady who had accepted his invitation to dance inquired further.

“So how long have you been with the military?”

“Several months,” replied the regimental. “I am still learning the various formations.”

“What do you think of Napoleon?”

“A scoundrel,” he replied, satisfied he would end any speculations as to his loyalty.

Her next question dissolved in the music. He thought he had answered it correctly but immediately felt the need to amplify it.

“I shall die with my sword in my hand for England,” he declared with resolution, hoping the question settled at last.

Indeed it was, as the dancing progressed through a mixer where he shared turns with half the ladies in the room, greeting them with a courteous nod and a “hello,” especially to the hostess, Lady Scott, who expressed excitement that he had made a long journey in fine form. No allegiances were questioned or rank flaunted. First impressions glistened with warmth among the guests.

Uneasiness gave way to comfort. A woman nudged a girl towards the regimental, the young lady smiling yet shy, obviously unsure how to indicate her desire for a dance. He bowed to her and they quickly found a place in the set for a round of “Christ Church’s Bells.”

“This is one of my favourite dances,” he said to her.

Yet their chance to learn and practice their footwork required patience, as they found themselves at the end of the set, the place where the logistics of English Country Dance temporarily marooned them while the other couples progressed through the steps.

“We’re sorry,” smiled the couple next to them upon noting the predicament.

“Do not fret,” reassured the girl’s dancing partner.

The opportunity to rejoin them would come. When it did, his partner did her best, and he did his best to encourage her with a smile and a word or two of motivation, ignoring mistakes, including his own as he concentrated on making the whole affair joyous. He ended by honoring her with a bow befitting a monarch.

Patience and nerves would be tested mere moments later, when technology failed to carry the dance caller’s voice across the room with clarity, leaving instructions on a new dance mired in confusion. The regimental, his new partner, and the others in the set on the other side of the room puzzled relentlessly. When the dance started, they moved about one another in an uncertain happiness, worried about the steps they were making, whether they were wrong or right. At times, the regimental and his partner would stand silently and smile in their positions, not wanting to plunge into disaster and disrupt others who might have actually known what they were doing as they listened to the caller, not even remarking about the size of the room or the number of couples.

Other couples improvised their own steps, even substituting a few anachronistic motions, focused on enjoying company and salvaging some grace. But by the time the regimental and his partner agreed upon this course, the number had ended.

The trouble had not gone undetected. The host and a detachment of volunteers urgently sought out substitutes for the apparatuses of amplification. After a break and some adjustments in volume, the quality of the caller’s voice improved.

The dancing recommenced through some old favorites of the regimental: “Come, Let’s Be Merry,” and “The Willow Tree,” and he added a new dance to that list, “The Queen’s Jig,” one which ironically required little or no jigging.

Several, however, would come upon that opportunity later in the prize drawing, where those who could not entertain the guests with the presentation of an historical fact or brief dramatic interpretation would humor them with a solo dance for ten seconds. One young prize winner went so far as to share the dance with her father, a moment of comic beauty sure to be cherished for years to come, along with other moments of great significance announced by the host: two birthdays; and to everyone’s joy, an engagement among one of the attended couples.

The beloved Pumpkin Dance returned, known to others as the Fan Dance or Pinapple Dance, but the result remained the same -- multiple lines of laughing, sashaying couples in the heights of happiness.

"Encore, encore!" the host cried with the backing of the crowd, and the musicians granted the request with nary a hesitation.

And once again, the regimental let fly with the word he gathered was becoming a trademark outburst.


One couple had traveled from Utah for the express purpose of attending the ball on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary. Neither one had partaken in such a night of merriment before, and the scene bedazzled the wife with its costume and spectacle. Her husband, who fancied history, had talked her into attending, but for both of them, the night became unforgettable. Before they left, they promised they would return for another evening.

And before the evening ended, the regimental shared one final waltz with a charming young lady, as was his personal hope and the tradition of many balls before.

“You danced with my sister,” she complimented.

“I have danced with a lot of people’s sisters tonight,” he observed with a smile of gratitude as he led her in simple steps. Their eyes met for many moments, but they could not resist noticing the fine pairings of young ladies and gentlemen sharing the floor with them.

With so many diversions vying for their attention, the regimental thought, they had chosen this one. They had chosen the classical versus the contemporary, the elegant versus the commonplace, and the mannered versus the informal. They were the young people no one noticed enough, he lamented, through the strife and stories of rebellious youth and lives gone wrong. Part of himself wished he were their age again, wanting to have journeyed down the path of the gentleman much earlier.

But age mattered not, he reminded himself, as long as he was on that path now.

* * *

The evening over, the regimental turned his attention to some new garments for sale: shirts, deep blue and regally embroidered with the symbol of We Make History.

He observed the placement of the symbol, the lions representing courage, integrity and steadfastness; the crown and cross representing honour, responsibility, dignity, and greatness through service; and the pineapple, representing hospitality, generosity and kindness.

“Over the heart,” he said. “How appropriate.”

Pride, the regimental thought, was indeed a virtue, if it was a pride in serving others. Let no one be prejudiced towards that.

More words and happy memories from Lord Scott and the many guests!
More LIFE & TIMELINES -- The continuing story of my uplifting journeys into the past.

NEXT MONTH: Standing for Liberty as a Patriot Volunteer at the American Heritage Festival.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Liberty vs. Terrorism

I despise terrorism and the people who perpetrate it. But I cherish my liberty with equal measure, as I'm sure most of us do.

As a patriot who remembers what those first American soldiers fought and died for, what true tyranny really is, and how lucky we are to live in a land of freedom, Keith Olbermann mirrors my thoughts exactly on President Bush's latest incursion on the principles of the Constitution.

The Lightning Round:
Tight-Fitting Genes

Excuse the banality, but we sense humanity is headed for calamity.

INTELLIGENT DESIGN. Evolutionary theorist Dr. Oliver Curry says the human race could split in two: an intelligent, healthy upper class and a dumb, troll-like genetic basement.

From the BBC:
Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws... Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds.
So far, so good.
Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people.
How's that for affirmative action? But we still need physical action.
However, Dr. Curry warns, in 10,000 years time humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology. Spoiled by gadgets designed to meet their every need, they could come to resemble domesticated animals.
Remember that song by Porno for Pyros? "We'll make great pets..."
Social skills, such as communicating and interacting with others, could be lost, along with emotions such as love, sympathy, trust and respect.
Take a look at the Internet. The future just happened.

IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD. If we're facing technological addiction, might as well go all the way. Toshiba is out with a black space helmet that lets you experience 360-degree television, provided you sit right in front of the screen.

Behold, a whole new way to watch too much television.

FREEZE TAG. As for staying active, it's a little harder at Willett Elementary School in Attleboro, Massachusetts, now that the principal has banned tag, touch football and so-called "chasing" games.

From the Sun-Chronicle:
Reasons cited by school administrators largely focused on safety; kids would get too rough or run into each other, giving rise to parent complaints and threats of lawsuits.
Two decades ago, in my middle-school gym class, the coach told us why we all went through warm-up exercises.

"What does that protect us from?" he asked us.

I raised my hand.


"Lawsuits," I replied. Everybody laughed. Not with me -- at me.

Coach said the school needed protection from "cream puffs" -- wimpy kids nurtured by helicopter parents scared of a little rough play. Looks like I was right after all.

But anyway, parents don't like the no-tag rule.
"I think that it's unfortunate that kids' lives are micromanaged and there are social skills they'll never develop on their own," said Debbie Laferriere, who has two children at Willett.
Not only that, dodgeball's out too. Looks like the kids will have to play in the adult leagues when they grow up.

SHOW AND TELL. If the kids can't play tag, they can still play with fire. An elementary school student in Chandler, Arizona ignited himself in class this week during a fire prevention lesson.

From the Arizona Daily Star:
The student's teacher was reading a book on fire safety when the student put a cigarette lighter behind his back and lit it, igniting his shirt. The school principal says the teacher saw smoke coming from behind the boy who was sitting on the floor with other students.
The boy's back is burned, but he'll be all right. Guess he just needed a "smoke break." (rim shot)

DUMBING DOWN. Lots of people are gnashing their teeth here in Arizona because a survey by Morgan Quitno Press ranks it as the least smartest state in the union. Look at some of the people we've elected to office in Phoenix, and one has reason to believe that.

However, your Lightning Round calls attention to the wording. The survey did not say Arizona was dumbest. It simply said least smart, meaning not as smart as other states. Arizona education czar Tom Horne says test scores bear that out.

From The Arizona Republic:
"Arizona students perform above the national average on TerraNova, which is the principal measure by which we compare ourselves to other states," Horne said.

Arizona test scores are generally about average, but the state historically ranks at the bottom in terms of money spent per student.
So now we're getting to the real crux of the survey -- education speding. Even the surveyor admits this is more than about intelligence:
Morgan Quitno Press, which compiles state- and city-ranking publications, used a variety of measurements to create their list, including money spent on students, standardized test scores, graduation rates, teacher salaries and teacher/student ratios.
So we have an survey on smarts which makes the flawed assumption more money spent on education produces smarter people. How do you like hearing that, homeschooling families? Guess this smart survey isn't that smart after all.

MAKE YOUR MOVE. MAYA-II, a DNA-powered computer, can play tic-tac-toe using a set of wells that correspond to squares on the board.

From NewScientistTech:
Each well contains between 14 and 18 DNA logic gates. After a human player makes their move, MAYA-II responds through a DNA reaction. The strand outputted feeds into a series of other DNA logic gates that link the different wells. This results in a chemical reaction that generates a green fluorescent glow in the square MAYA-II selects as its next move. The strand also interacts with the remaining wells, priming them to respond appropriately to future moves.
Fun, but I'd like to see MAYA go on to the bonus round and beat the dragon.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

A Scholarly Review

Proving you can B.S. your way through almost anything, the Internet Essay Generator whipped together this when I typed in "FrancisPage" as the subject.
An essay on francispage

I shall now enrich your life by sharing with you about francispage. The constantly changing fashionable take on francispage demonstrates the depth of the subject. Until recently considered taboo amongst polite society, it is yet to receive proper recognition for laying the foundations of democracy. The juxtapositioning of francispage with fundamental economic, social and political strategic conflict draws criticism from socialists, who just don't like that sort of thing. At the heart of the subject are a number of key factors. I plan to examine each of these factors in detail and and asses their importance.

Social Factors

Comparisons between Roman Society and Medieval Society give a clear picture of the importance of francispage to developments in social conduct. I will not insult the readers inteligence by explaining this obvious comparison any further. Back when Vealinger reamarked �the power struggle will continue while the great tale of humanity remains untold� [1] he failed to understand that if one seriously intends to 'not judge a book by its cover', then one must read a lot of books. No symbol is more potent than francispage in society today. It bravely illustrates what we are most afraid of, what we all know deep down in our hearts.

Status, Security, Fame - francispage, all revolve around this 'golden fleece'. It is intrinsically linked to adolescent inner acclimatisation.

Economic Factors

Our world is driven by supply and demand. We will begin by looking at the Simple-Many-Pies model, as is standard in this case.



How do we explain these clear trends? It goes with out saying that the annual military budget will continue to follow francispage for the foreseeable future. The economic policy spectrum is seeing a period of unprecedented growth.

Political Factors

Politics, we all agree, is a fact of life. Comparing the ideals of the young with the reality felt by their elders is like contrasting francispageism and post-francispageism.

Take a moment to consider the words of nobel prize winner Achilles H. Amster 'I don't believe in ghosts, but I do believe in democracy.' [2] I couldn't have put it better my self. When it comes to francispage this is clearly true. Both spectacular failure and unequaled political accomplishment may be accredited to francispage.

The question which we must each ask ourselves is, will we allow francispage to win our vote?


We can conclude that the francispage has a special place in the heart of mankind. It collaborates successfully, brings glamour to an unglamorous time and statistically it's great.

Let's finish with a thought from star Britney Astaire: 'It's been nice educating you.' [3]

[1] Vealinger - Turtle Power - 2003 ICJ

[2] Amster - The Popular Vote - 2002 Worldwide Publishing

[3] Everything you always wanted to know about francispage, but were afraid to ask. - Issue 287 - QKS Publishing

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Reel To Reel: Man Of The Year

Politics is no laughing matter -- unless you're the electorate.

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Christopher Walken
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Mild Language, Sex Jokes

A survey raises the alarming possibility more young people get their news from The Daily Show than the networks. Jon Stewart goes on Crossfire, says it's hurting America, and the CNN political shoutfest fades away. Somebody suggests Stewart should even appear as a network commentator. Stewart has to remind people, hey, I'm a comedian.

Man Of The Year opens in a political climate ripe for caustic parody, yet it fails to cut deep. Robin Williams, playing Stewart-esque jokester Tom Dobbs, delivers plenty of stand-up barbs at lobbyist-driven politics and Washington hypocrisy, but only some of them seem fresh or topical. At times, it comes off like a litany for the perpetually angry voter or third-party candidate, shaking things up a little but failing to move out of its comfort zone. It's as if political consultants, the same ones Dobbs attacks, are writing the picture.

Dobbs announces he's running for president as an independent on his rendition of the Daily Show. We're not really sure why -- is it the publicity, or does Dobbs truly want to reform politics? Whatever the reason, Dobbs takes his candidacy seriously, crisscrossing the country giving stump speeches. His manager Jack (Walken), more Obi-Wan Kenobe than Karl Rove, frets about the whole thing. Candidate Dobbs is too serious, not the Dobbs people laugh at on television -- until he's invited to participate in the final presidential debate, moderated by real-life TV anchor Faith Daniels. Dobbs gets rolling, and rips apart a stodgy debate.

During these final miles on the road to the White House, democracy is about to hit a major pothole. Several states have implemented touch-screen voting machines which contain a serious software flaw (sound familiar?) spotted by company technician Eleanor Green (Linney), but her warnings go ignored by company brass more concerned about their stock price than integrity. On election night, that flaw powers Dobbs into the winner's circle.

Here is where the movie should go into overdrive and show us the impact on America. I expect to see backrooms of Republicans and Democrats gasping and sweating, shots of TV commentators moaning about the future of the nation in a post-9/11 world, man-on-the-street interviews of people saying everything from "cool" to "when's the next flight to Canada?" I want to see Dobbs pick a cabinet, negotiate trade agreements, and deliver a State of the Union address. I wonder what Osama bin Laden would say in his next tape. I wonder what the world community would say. I want to see him talk about the War on Terror, and I want to see him being told about "the football" -- the missile launch codes.

His election should send an 8.5 earthquake through Washington, but it barely moves the seismograph. Even Dobbs making a speech to Congress dressed as Thomas Jefferson -- in an 18th-Century powdered wig and breeches (where's the tricorn?) -- doesn't generate any noticeable fallout, anybody nervous we're about to inaugurate this guy. And we haven't even touched the ultimate whopper -- the fact Dobbs' election was a fraud in the first place.

Instead, Man Of The Year goes down the route of political thriller, with Green trying to tell Dobbs the truth and her bosses trying to stop her. One scene where Green confronts the bigwigs is memorable for both their response and the scene's incongruity with the rest of the picture. The film almost wants to morph into The Manchurian Candidate or The Pelican Brief, and that only undercuts it more.

Man Of The Year misses so many opportunities, you want to write about it like a political obituary, the story of a candidate who ran and lost. Williams' performance is no loser, saving the picture from collapse. But the rest of it isn't trying to win, or even shock us. I wonder what director Oliver Stone (or post-humously, Stanley Kubrick) would have done with this material instead of Barry Levinson. You have all the elements here for a classic nightmare black comedy in the vein of Dr. Strangelove, and the picture refuses to go there, staying "on message," just like the handlers advise.

Here's To You, Freddy

Country/Mexican-American music legend Freddy Fender has passed away.

I met him in the late 1990's, when I worked for KRGV in Weslaco, Texas, not far from his hometown of San Benito. He was a guest on "Tim's Terrace," a segment during the Friday 6:00 news with weatherman Tim Smith. Tim did the weather and cooked something on the station's patio grill, while the guest -- usually a member of a community group -- talked about some event they were holding that weekend. I forget what Freddy was there for, but he kindly parodied his own "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" into "Cloudy Days And Cloudy Nights."

Afterward, Tim led him around the newsroom, introducing the anchorpeople... and the producer. Freddy took one look at my pale complexion and realized he stood in front of a yankee.

"I can tell you're not from around here," he said.

"Yes," I replied. "Actually, I'm from another country."

"Oh," he said with anticipation, expecting some exotic location to pierce my lips.

"Missouri," I added with a smile.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Lightning Round:
For The Children

Holy Mother of God, what are we doing to our offspring? Hug your kids a little closer tonight, kiss them a few extra times, and pray for those parents who have no business reproducing -- but do anyway.

HOME CONFINEMENT. A father in Jacksonville, Florida is charged with imprisoning his 9-year-old son by keeping him locked in his room and using cameras to watch his every move -- even in the bathroom.

From the Miami Herald:
"He was just wide-eyed, and so excited we were there," Jacksonville Sheriff's Lt. Annie Smith said. "We told him to put his shoes and socks on to go outside. He said, `Go outside?'"

The boy quickly ran around in his front yard where the swing set had stood unused. He turned on the lights of the police cars sent to rescue him and pinched himself in the arm.

"`Why are you pinching yourself?'" Smith asked him. "He said, `Just to make sure this is real. Days like this only come along once in a lifetime.'"
Investigators say the boy didn't go to school and had no friends.

He is now in foster care. The father, Randall Piercy, is in jail and claiming his inlaws are out to get them. He told WJXT-TV: "This is totally unfair. I'm a very, very, very loving father.

His wife Michelle claims the boy is hyperactive and the cameras were there for his protection.

From First Coast News:
"Maybe some things we were doing weren't right, were overprotective, certainly not abuse at all, no," she said.
Unfortunately, cluelessness is not a criminal offense.

KNUCKLEBALLS AND KNUCKLEHEADS. Youth baseball coach Mark Downs of Uniontown, Pennsylvania is going inside for one to six years after offering an 8-year-old player $25 to bean a 9-year-old autistic boy so he wouldn't be able to play.

From the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review:
The president of the Autism Society of Pittsburgh said a prison term is appropriate for a coach who showed a "win-at-all-costs" attitude.

"More appropriate would be for him to be subjected to the same pain and embarrassment that he arranged to be given to this autistic boy," said Daniel Torisky, who helped create the local chapter in 1968.
You read our minds, Mr. Torisky. We think the targeted player is more than entitled to a free throw at this pitiful excuse for a coach. For maxium impact, this pitch should aim low and outside.

BETTER OFF ORPHANED. Marcy Gant of Davenport, Iowa is charged with selling her 4-year-old son to pay off a wedding dress.

A friend of Gant's says Gant's ex set her up. ''He's mad because she backed outta the marriage."
If only the child could have backed out, too.

KIDS AREN'T UNBREAKABLE. In Pennsylvania, police say Chyrotia Graham started beating her child's father... with his 4-week-old son.

From the AP:
Graham said she "snapped" and began grabbing things and throwing them at Deangelo Troop, 20, not realizing she had picked up her 4-week-old son, Jarron Troop, telling police she held the child by his legs and swung him at his father. Police had said they believed the woman held the baby by the midsection when she hit the man.
The poor infant -- born on September 11, of all days -- has a fractured skull and bleeding in the brain.

The baby's father is shrugging it off:
"People are trying to make a big deal about it, but she did not do it on purpose. ... It was just a mistake," he said.
Sorta like your having kids in the first place, we gather.

ANGRY YOUNG MAN. Adam Gadahn, a.k.a. "Azzam the American," is now Adam the Indicted on counts of treason and aiding terrorists. Rebellion and angst of youth is normal, psychologists tell us, but this takes it.

We will probably never know the exact reason he abandoned his teenage heavy-metal fetish, choosing Muhammed over Megadeath and Al-Qaida over Anthrax. But the AP clues us in:
Gadahn's conversion came after he began attending the Islamic Center of Orange County, where he is believed to have come under the influence of two foreign-born Islamic radicals, Khalil Deek and Hisham Diab. The Los Angeles Times cited family members of Deek and Diab as saying they were disciples of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who is now serving a life sentence for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Gadahn should be the poster boy for Imams everywhere, especially those who don't realize radicalization could be festering right under their noses.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

And The Anchor Is... Heather!

Finally, one anchor change I can talk about.

Heather Rowe is stepping into Kris Pickel's spot on the 6 and 10pm editions of KOLD News 13. She had my vote, and I'm so happy to see somebody we already know and love take the main reins.

When management announced the selection to us Monday, a cloud over me lifted. Callers and comment-posters called us every dirty name in the book over the past week... and then they found a new book of names.

Emotional collateral damage is not a wussie affliction. When I read people ragging on the station, they're ragging on all of us here for things they know so little about.

So let's put it behind us.

So, What's Randy Up To?

Even though I can't talk about the Randy Garsee situation, he can -- and he does, as he looks for his next job.

Monday, October 9, 2006

Good Golly Miss Lolly!

On a whim, I searched YouTube for clips from the 1970's kidvid classic The Electric Company. Here's one I actually remember from my childhood -- and as an grown-up, it's funny as heck. The Tootsie Pop commercial has nothing on this...

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Reel To Reel: The Departed

Good cop. Bad cop.

How It Rates: ****
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson
Rated: R
Red Flags: Strong Language, Graphic Bloody Violence, Brief Sex

Nobody makes a mob movie like Martin Scorsese. Nobody makes them better, either. Francis Ford Coppola jumped the shark after The Godfather Part II. Scorsese has shown consistency in this genre since Mean Streets, even though Gangs Of New York didn't hit the bullseye. His latest returns to the profanely blood-soaked underworld of GoodFellas and Casino, with sudden outbursts of violence set to a classic rock and pop soundtrack.

The Departed is the parallel tale of two elite Massachusetts State Police officers -- one infiltrating Boston's Irish mob, the other tipping them off -- in a dance of cryptic cell phone conversations, text messaging and lies. An undercover unit recruits street cop Billy Costigan (DiCaprio) to slither into the empire of gangland boss Frank Costello (Nicholson). Costigan's got plenty of goombah connections to make his cover stick. Costello's got his own mole: the slick, sharp-dressed Colin Sullivan (Damon), an elite investigator groomed to do Frank's bidding. While Sullivan makes token progress against Costello, Costigan entrenches himself into hoodlum graces. But soon enough, both cops and mobsters find they've got a rat problem.

The film, adapted from the Hong Kong action thriller Infernal Affairs, propels us through a highly entertaining labyrinth of plot twists. We know somewhere along the line, one guy's going to make the other, but getting there is the fun. So is Scorsese's direction, with breezy editing and dark humor.

Jack Nicholson's performance sends the needle off the scale. He evokes more fear with a look of his twisted face than any armbreaker with a gun. Just hearing him talk drops the temperature in the room ten degrees. DiCaprio's Costigan is a solid sell, driven to prescription anti-depressants by this undercover tightrope act. Unlike Scorsese's earlier gangster flicks, we hear no narrative track. Costigan supplies one of sorts, in desperate conversations with a psychologist (Vera Farmiga) who also happens to be -- ta-da -- Sullivan's girlfriend. Damon carries on as the smooth operator, the man with the I'll-handle-it attitude.

One performance steals the show: Mark Wahlberg as a foul-mouthed punk cop in charge of the undercover unit, an officer so demeaning and vile it's a wonder he's not shot by his own agents. Martin Sheen turns in a memorable performance as a soft-spoken superior who only enhances Wahlberg's obscenity.

The Departed does not get too procedural nor too emotional. It's a two-hour long chess game with cops and capos as the pieces and the audience in the center of the board. We can see all the sides but not how the game will end.

Friday, October 6, 2006

No Comment

No, I can't talk about that.

Really, I can't dish about Randy Garsee. I'm contractually obligated not to.

Read the Rules Of Engagement on the right side.

This blog has never been an outlet for newsroom gossip. Many other sites do this already.

Understand? Carry on...

The Lightning Round:
A Real Page-Turner

I shoulda been a Capitol Hill page. Just imagine all the dirty rumors -- and dirty dresses -- I could've picked up. Of course, Your Humble Blogmaster's adolescence dates back before the Internet hit prime time, when gossip still crawled via telephone and corner conversations on the Q.T... very hush-hush.

THE FOLEY FOLLIES. Disgraced former Florida congressman Mark Foley unloaded a triple whammy on us this week through his attorney: he's alcoholic, he's gay, and he's a sex abuse victim -- at the hands of a clergyman. Note how he left himself multiple escape routes for his lewd online conversations with a congressional page. Sure, Mark, whatever sticks to the wall.

While Foley rehabs himself, the focus now turns to his Republican cronies, and what they knew. A former aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert claims he told fellow GOP'ers -- including the speaker -- about Foley's conduct years ago. The Ethics Committee is digging into it. Hastert says he's staying put. After all, resigning right now would be to cut and run, and then wouldn't the pedophiles win?

Hastert ally Rep. Ray LaHood wants the congressional page program suspended, at least until reforms are in place. From the AP:
"Some members betray their trust by taking advantage of them. We should not subject young men and women to this kind of activity, this kind of vulnerability," LaHood said in a CNN interview.
George Washington University law professor Johnathan Turley says shutting the program down is not an option. From ABC News:
"If Congress abolishes it, they're saying they can't be trusted with children," Turley said.

"The solution is not to remove the temptation from Congress, but to force it to comply with criminal laws and moral tenets."
Asking Congress to follow the laws they make and act decent -- what a concept!

If that doesn't work, we can always change the official page uniform to a burqa.

YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK. Meanwhile, in another branch of the government, Department of Interior employees -- with no pages to chat up -- are wasting time on Internet gambling and sex.

Network World reports findings by the department's Inspector General:
• Computer-use logs revealed more than 4,732 entries relating to sexually explicit Web sites and gambling sites. Some computers accessed sex sites for 30 to 60 minutes during the test period.

• This activity accounted for more than 24 hours of Internet use during the sample period, which did not include a review of e-mail or other means of transferring prohibited material.

• More than 1 million log entries were discovered indicating 7,763 Department computer users spent 2,004-plus hours accessing game and auction sites. Extrapolated over the year, that could account for 100,000 lost work hours. Put another way, this would equal 50 full-time employees doing nothing but surfing online game and auction sites.
"Hey there cutie keys," the office drone types, "I've got this place in Rocky Mountain National Park..."

NAMING NAMES. Victims' groups say ex-congressman Foley needs to name the clergyman he accuses of sexual abuse.

From the AP:
"To simply say, `I can't tell you the name,' in my judgment, that's despicable," said William Brooks, a former Roman Catholic priest at Cardinal Newman High School in Lake Worth where Foley was briefly a student in 1969. "It casts a dark cloud of suspicion over all the clergy who worked during those days. I just think it's wrong."
And covering things up is our job, anyway.

IN GOD WE TRUST -- ALL OTHERS WEAR KEVLAR. Brian Rohrbough, who lost a son in the Columbine shootings, told the CBS Evening News audience gunmen are getting into schools because The Almighty isn't there anymore.

From his "freeSpeech" segment:
For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences and life has no inherent value.

We teach there are no absolutes, no right or wrong. And I assure you the murder of innocent children is always wrong, including by abortion. Abortion has diminished the value of children.
This argument ranks with the Rev. Jerry Falwell's infamous assertion that God removed the veil of protection over the U.S. prior to the 9/11 attacks because of abortion, feminists, homosexuals, pagans and liberals. It's also not much of a stretch from the contentions of the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members picket the funerals of U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq, claiming its the price America pays for tolerating homosexuality.

One Georgia woman even blames school shootings on Harry Potter.

So what do these folks make of an outsider going into a schoolhouse and killing five Amish girls -- five girls with God in their hearts, in a community devoted to God?

Westboro Baptist says it won't picket the girls' funerals. Even their twisted logic snaps on this one.

LEARNING, LOCKED AND LOADED. If you can't put God back in school, maybe Smith and Wesson will do. Wisconsin state representative Frank Lasee, says the answer to school shootings is letting teachers carry guns.

From the AP:
"To make our schools safe for our students to learn, all options should be on the table," he said. "Israel and Thailand have well-trained teachers carrying weapons and keeping their children safe from harm. It can work in Wisconsin."
Given the borderline insanity of some classrooms, aggravated by swollen class sizes and apathetic pupils, your Lightning Round observes a fatal confrontation in the making.

"Put that iPod away Billy, or I'll give you an iOut!"

Tough lesson, indeed.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Lamentations For Lancaster

If Truman Capote had been born fifty years later than he was, if he had not yet penned In Cold Blood, I wonder if he would've chosen the shooting rampage in Pennsylvania Amish country for his non-fiction novel instead of a mass murder in rural Kansas.

On its face, the story has the foundation of a gothic horror novel -- a disturbed, heavily-armed stranger walking into the peace of an Amish schoolroom, shattering the picturesque scene of boys and girls in black pants and long dresses with the evil of unknown revenge. He lets the boys go. He barricades the door. He lines the girls up at the chalkboard. He ties their feet with wire and plastic. And then he opens fire, ending the bloodshed with suicide.

The television pictures show the clash of two worlds: horse-drawn buggies parked next to police cruisers, helicopters flying above the crowds of traditionally-dressed Amish in their straw hats and bonnets. We see the women hug and cry from above, tapping into the strength of the community. A few Amish, amazingly, even give television interviews despite the traditional aversion to cameras.

Despite their lack of telephones, computers, and cars the Amish consistently rank high in surveys of happiness. It is not the bliss of ignorance, I believe, but the contentment of living in a society which values humanity and community over possesions and wealth. I am sure they consider themselves wealthy in ways we don't think of. Celebrities may pursue Kabbalah or Trancendental Meditation or Scientology or whatever the hip religion is nowadays, but the Amish stick to what has worked for them for more than a century. The children are always given the choice -- "Rumspringa" -- to venture into the outside world before deciding whether to join the Amish for life. Most do.

Looking at the footage coming into the newsroom from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, part of my heart breaks as the least deserving suffer unthinkable loss. "This is a horrendous, horrific incident for the Amish community. They're solid citizens in the community. They're good people. They don't deserve ... no one deserves this," State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller told the Associated Press.

I wonder what the Amish community of Nickel Mines thinks of the rest of the world now. It could draw them deeper into isolation, but it could also draw them closer together. I wonder how the surviving children will cope once they leave the modern-day hospitals and try to resume life as they knew it. I wonder how future generations will hear this story, or if they will hear it at all, the survivors burying their blood-soaked memories with the dead.

I wonder how the Amish of Nickel Mines will talk of "the English" after this. Will this tragedy sparked by an outsider become an angry justification for the way they live, the abandonment of modern life and its ills? I think not. But within them, they know they have chosen the simple life, communal and humble, for a reason. This burst of violence confirms that choice.

Sunday, October 1, 2006


Arizona Daily Star Cartoonist David Fitzimmons called him "Live, Local, Electable."

Tucson Weekly calls him a "smart-ass."

We at KOLD News 13 call him Randy Garsee, and the Weekly lavishes him with a profile.