Friday, December 28, 2007

Just One More Before The Clock Strikes Midnight

An end-of-the-year recap? Really. We at your Lightning Round don't believe in them. On the contrary, we think our humble readers deserve better than to hear our staff reminisce about the twisted scattershot material dug up during the last twelve months. Get the champagne ready already; one more in the can and we start with a new calendar and clean slate.

ROCK OF AGES. Old white guys still rock, and they roll in the dough. As Variety reports:
The Police topped the chart by taking in $131.9 million from 54 North American shows, far outdistancing No. 2 seller Kenny Chesney, who made $71.1 million on the same number of shows, according to Pollstar, which tracks the concert business. The Police and Chesney were the only acts to sell more than 1 million tickets in 2007; four acts, one of which was Chesney, did it in 2006.
Reuniting never felt so good -- or paid so well, especially for your Lightning Round editor's favorite band, Genesis:
The David Lee Roth-led edition of Van Halen pulled in $56.7 million from 39 dates to land in fifth place; Phil Collins and his mates scored $47.6 million from 25 shows.
Oh, and what about Hanna Montana?
The tour that caused the biggest ruckus in terms of ticket demand, the “Hannah Montana”/Miley Cyrus tour, grossed $36 million from 49 gigs.
But hey, when she's grey, she'll be topping the charts.

WORK IT OFF. Throwing a tea party isn't feasible, so seniors are working part-time for the city of Greenburgh, NY to pay off sky-high property taxes.

From the AP:
People shouldn't have to sell their house, move away to a place with less taxes, leave behind their family and friends," said Town Supervisor Paul Feiner.

He envisions retired doctors mentoring schoolchildren, retired accountants helping with the town's finances, retired lawyers offering their services for a discount. But there are plenty of less-skilled jobs that need doing, he said.

"It's not like we're going to see grandma running the snowplow," he said. "There are lots of things people can do for the town and it wouldn't cost us that much to pay them."
Other cities have tried similar programs with success. But we note, this still doesn't do anything about the taxes:
[Audrey] Davison, who suffers from arthritis and sciatica and needs a walker to get around on her bad days, said she pays about $12,000 a year in property taxes - perhaps $2,000 to the town - and has already taken out a reverse mortgage to pay her bills.

Talking to Feiner last week at the town senior center, she said, "I would work as long as it was a job where I could sit."

"You could be a receptionist!" Feiner said. "You could greet people right here, when they come in."
And tell them: "Hello. I'm eager to serve you, just as long as the tax man gets his piece of my flesh. Otherwise, they're going to throw me in debtor's prison."

THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THEY USED TO. Good old Sudafed -- reliable and drowsiness-free. Not anymore. When meth heads started using it for their own evil purposes, its maker was pressured into reformulating it with an active ingredient that Jeffrey Tucker of Mises.org argues "might as well be a placebo." And he has a theory:
The reason you can't get Mucinex and Sudafed that work without jumping through hoops isn't really about stopping basement meth users. It is really about the racket going on in Washington in which the law is used to benefit influential producers in cahoots with the political class at the expense of less influential producers and the American people, who should have the freedom to choose.
In other words, you can thank lobbyists and lawmakers for your stuffed-up nose. You can send them a Kleenex at re-election time. What you do to it before you mail it off is up to you.

BIC: THE NEW WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION. The Harvard School of Public Health finds no evidence to support X-raying of luggage prevents hijackings or attacks, although we do admit it makes us feel safer anyway. But more telling, the same study also found no evidence to support taking your shoes off helps either. Tell that one to the people who flew with Richard Reid.

From ABC News:
"Even without clear evidence of the accuracy of testing, the Transportation Security Administration defended its measures by reporting that more than 13 million prohibited items were intercepted in one year," the researchers added. "Most of these illegal items were lighters."
Just think of all the money the "gub-mint" could raise by selling them in the gift shop!

HIGH INFIDELITY. CD's -- provided you're still buying them anymore -- have been getting louder and louder, and you're actually hearing less. Rolling Stone turns up the volume on the casualties in "the loudness war:"
The idea that engineers make albums louder might seem strange: Isn't volume controlled by that knob on the stereo? Yes, but every setting on that dial delivers a range of loudness, from a hushed vocal to a kick drum — and pushing sounds toward the top of that range makes music seem louder. It's the same technique used to make television commercials stand out from shows. And it does grab listeners' attention — but at a price. Last year, Bob Dylan told Rolling Stone that modern albums "have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like — static."
Of course, Bob Dylan's vocal range had us adjusting the pitch on the turntable.

Now hear this: we're signing off until next year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Miracles

Stefanie, a friend and colleague of mine, recently told me about the experience that changed her life... and almost ended it. This is her story.

If you ever doubted Heaven existed, she should erase all doubt.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Instant Messaging In The 1700's

Slashdot pointed me to this fascinating article on the optical telegraph system in late 18th century/early 19th century Europe. It consisted of a series of towers spaced a few miles apart, each equipped with two wooden semaphore arms and two telescopes.

From the article:
Every tower had a telegrapher, looking through the telescope at the previous tower in the chain. If the semaphore on that tower was put into a certain position, the telegrapher copied that symbol on his own tower. Next he used the telescope to look at the succeeding tower in the chain, to control if the next telegrapher had copied the symbol correctly. In this way, messages were signed through symbol by symbol from tower to tower. The semaphore was operated by two levers. A telegrapher could reach a speed of 1 to 3 symbols per minute.
Pretty slow, but a lot faster than a post rider, provided nobody was dallying at the controls.
The very first message – a military victory over the Austrians – was transmitted in less than half an hour. The transmission of 1 symbol from Paris to Lille could happen in ten minutes, which comes down to a speed of 1,380 kilometres an hour. Faster than a modern passenger plane – this was invented only one and a half centuries later.
Of course, the electrical telegraph arrived in the mid 1800's, and all of those semaphore towers faded into history. As Paul Harvey would say, "and now you know the rrrrrrrrrest of the story!"

Reel To Reel: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

Music and lyrics that go for the throat.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Throat-Slashing And Bloody Violence, A Few Uses Of The "S" and "P" Words

Director Tim Burton has made film history: the first slasher musical. Actually Stehpen Sondheim created it, but not like this. The curtain went up on Sweeney Todd long before Phantom Of The Opera and no doubt influenced it by proving Gothic horror and haunting melodies could work together. Phantom plays up the romance while Sweeney piles up the bodies, accompanied by gleeful singing of revenge and opportunity.

As the title character, Depp embodies a loathing insanity, controlled and skillful yet mad as a hatter with a white slash through his dark hair. The first scenes show him returning to London after spending 15 years in Australia for a crime he didn't commit, framed by the corrupt and jealous Judge Turpin (Rickman, still in Servus Snape mode), who had designs on his beautiful wife. She is now dead, and their infant daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener) is now a pretty young girl under Turpin's care. Todd returns to his former home -- where he lived as Benjamin Barker -- still occupied downstairs by struggling pie-maker Mrs. Lovett (Carter). She sings of her "worst pies in London" and high price of meat, which leaves us to imagine what's going under the crust.

Mrs. Lovett quickly reunites Todd with his old razor blades, the ones he will use to carry out his revenge and win back Johanna by luring Turpin in and cutting his throat. First he needs customers. He drums up business in a shaving showdown with the self-proclaimed "King Of Barbers", Signor Adolfo Pirelli, played by Sacha Baron Cohen as an Italian riff on his Borat character. When the stubbled masses start coming in, and as Todd grows madder, he hatches a scheme with Mrs. Lovett to revamp her business while carrying out his murderous impulses. Guess what's in the pies now?

Tim Burton spares us no gore. He does not camouflage the slashing with a polite cutaway or reverse angle. One sequence murders over and over again, with Todd dispatching his victims in merry melody as a duet with gargling blood. It's not pleasant to watch, and I can only see a man's throat cut so many times -- which isn't much at all. Better to just close my eyes and concentrate on Depp's capable singing, as is everybody else's. Wisener gets an extra tip of the hat for her angelic voice. It provides some lift from the horror alongside her romance with Anthony (Jamie Campbell Bower), the young man who has accompanied Todd back to London.

Otherwise, Sweeney Todd is constantly brooding, dark and impoverished. It's the Victorian London of Dickens, but Dickens at least had some optimism. Burton bathes us in the grit and filth of the lower classes with the corruption of the upper crust hanging over them. You don't have to suspend much disbelief to enjoy the movie, and that's saying a lot for how well this musical is staged. But it's still hard for me to watch horror films of any variety, and even though the Stephen Sondheim score makes it all go down easier, it's still a bleedin' mess.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reel To Reel: No Country For Old Men

Drugs, dollars, and death deep in Texas.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Woody Harrelson, Kelly MacDonald
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Bloody Violence, Language

I didn't figure out No Country For Old Men was set in the late 1970's or early 80's until about one-third of the way through the film, where we see a shot of a Bell System telephone bill in glorious computer type. A drive from McAllen, Texas to Tucson in 1999 revealed parts of dusty West Texas fail to age at the same rate as everything else. Even the law doesn't keep up with the changing times, as revealed in the Coen brothers' latest suspense thriller that intertwines drug running, serial killing, greed and lone-wolf survivalism.

Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss, a hunter who stumbles across the bloody aftermath of a Mexican drug buy gone bad near the Rio Grande. Decaying, bullet-pierced bodies lay around him, along with a load of heroin and a satchel with more than $2 million in cash. He takes the money, a silver pistol, and a semi-automatic rifle and leaves, only to be gnawed by a guilty conscience for one of the banditos barely alive. When he returns with water, he finds more smugglers coming to check out the scene, and the chase is on. Moss is in a messa' trouble, as they say in Texas.

His trouble is an assassin named Anton Chigurh (Bardem), a creepy angel of death with a pale complexion who could scare Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with just his philosophical tongue alone. One of the film's most riveting scenes features Chigurh discussing a coin toss with a gas station owner, where it's clear more is on the line than heads or tails:
Anton Chigurh: What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss?

Gas Station Proprietor: Sir?

Anton Chigurh: The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss.

Gas Station Proprietor: I don't know. I couldn't say.

[Chigurh flips a quarter from the change on the counter and covers it with his hand]

Anton Chigurh: Call it.

Gas Station Proprietor: Call it?

Anton Chigurh: Yes.

Gas Station Proprietor: For what?

Anton Chigurh: Just call it.

Gas Station Proprietor: Well, we need to know what we're calling it for here.

Anton Chigurh: You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair.

Gas Station Proprietor: I didn't put nothin' up.

Anton Chigurh: Yes, you did. You've been putting it up your whole life you just didn't know it.
Quotes courtesy imdb.com
Chigurh's weapons of choice are a silenced shotgun and an air gun used to slaughter cattle -- which is also handy for busting open locks. Most of the film is a fox-and-hound hunt between Moss and Chigurh, with Moss figuring out how to stay a step ahead of his potential killer while protecting his wife Carla Jean (MacDonald).

That would be enough to fill the movie, but Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Jones) is also looking for Moss, a man he's familiar with in the small-town Texas kind of way. Bell knows the ways of border bandits, and he knows Moss is in grave danger, but Carla Jean is the only link to him, and Moss isn't the kind of person to ask for help. Bell can do little but investigate and worry while mentoring a greenhorn deputy Wendell (Dillahunt). Yet he knows how it's all going to end from the moment he learns of Moss' involvement. Sheriff Bell has a reluctance to delve deeper into the case, especially with retirement nearing, as he realizes drug violence is infiltrating what used to be just quiet Lone Star country.

No Country For Old Men is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy, but it reminds me of the Coens' first picture, Blood Simple. It also weaved a dark and intricate tale of murder with white-knuckle tension. But while that one built to a huge finish, the Coens decided to let this one coast down the hill. Maybe you will find it Hitchcockian and understandable, or maybe you'll echo what a woman behind me said as she was leaving the theater: "That was a stupid ending!" Ethan and Joel are clearly capable of better.

Friday, December 21, 2007

You Can't Please Everyone

An interesting lesson in tolerance gone wild is coming to your Lightning Round from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

SEASON'S BLEATINGS. It all started when the city approved a Nativity scene in a public park, thumbing its nose at a threat by an aethist organization. Then, in the name of diversity, they allowed a Wiccan pentacle. But the mayor is drawing the line at a Festivus pole.

From All Headline News:
In Green Bay's case, after criticism of its Nativity scene reached a peak, an area man who attends a mainstream church suggested putting up a Festivus pole as a tongue-in-cheek response to the conflict that the mayor didn't appreciate.

As far as the pole is concerned, according to the Festivus web site, although it has no set rituals, many who observe Festivus use an unadorned metal pole of any size, displayed in any manner to symbolize nothing.

Sean Ryan of Allouez, a practicing Catholic, said he made the request to highlight how deciding what a religious group gets to display on public property can become an exercise in absurdity.
We don't need a Festivus pole to tell us that.

THE REAL SANTA CLAUSE. Toys with lead? Small swallowable parts? Choking hazards? Nope, nope, nope. Your biggest liability threat this Christmas is those cookies you're leaving out for Santa. Your Lightning Round recently came across this press release from the Center For Consumer Freedom, a self-described "nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies, and consumers, working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices."
With Christmas quickly approaching, millions of Americans are preparing to celebrate time-honored traditions like caroling, tree-trimming, and leaving cookies and milk out for Santa. But in todays era of trans fat bans and frivolous lawsuits, serving baked goods to the jolly old fat man could put you on the receiving end of a very un-merry obesity lawsuit.

Before he wolfs down the cookies, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) suggests demanding that Kris Kringle sign a "Christmas Cookie Liability and Indemnification Agreement."

With this waiver, which comes in carbon copy triplicate, families can spend Christmas morning opening presents, instead of retaining the services of a lawyer. They can also protect themselves from humbug lawsuits filed by Scrooge-like attorneys who threaten to sue restaurants, food companies, school boards, doctors, and even parents for the nation's extra pounds.
You can download a PDF of the waiver here. Leave it next to the plate. And remember, Santa only eats the cookies; lawyers will eat you alive.

GIFT OF HEALTH. Medical gift cards are a hot stocking-stuffer this Christmas. WCBS-TV reports they can be used for just about any health expense:
The card is issued by Visa, so it can be used anywhere Visa is accepted for health-related services. They are not sold in stores and need to be purchased online or over the phone for up to $5,000.

"The peak audience we believe though is women 35-50, the famous sandwich generation," [Kim] Bellard of [givewell.com] said. "So, they've got parents that have health needs, and they've got a spouse that has health needs, and older children going off to college or living on their own that have health needs."
And it's the gift that keeps on giving.
How does the card impact medical deductions? The person who uses it gets any eligible write-off.

"Be sure to record how much you spent on that card because that is a legitimate medical expense that you can use when you fill out your taxes," said Jack Gillis of the Consumer Federation of America.
Can you claim you're sick of paying taxes, too?

SURVIVAL OF THE LEAFIEST. A British scientist theorizes woolly mammoths were killed off by trees, as Environmental Graffiti reports:
It all comes down to food. Mammoths thrived most in large areas of frozen grassland. Around 10,000 years ago, temperatures started to rise. The frozen grasslands where the animals lived and fed started to be replaced by forests expanding from the warmer climates. No more frozen grasslands meant no more food.
If the trees grew over Starbucks, would humans fade into extinction, too?

PEACE ON EARTH? A fight broke out at an elementary school in High Point, North Carolina... involving parents... during a Christmas program (for cryin' out loud).

Fox affiliates WTVT & WGHP show the fracas caught on tape:



Oak Hill Elementary Principal Sara Roberts told WGHP:
According to witnesses, the argument started by a father who approached another student about pushing his daughter while on stage. The one parent (not of the student who pushed) told the father to not talk to a child about that but to take it up with the principal. At that point, two other parents (twin sisters) began yelling and shouting. I had to stop the program and remind everyone to be respectful to the children on stage. However, the yelling escalated further and thus the fight began.

The police were called to help by multiple members of the audience as well as a staff member who was directed to call by me. Once the police arrived, only a few people who were actually involved were questioned. However the twin sisters had left the school property by then.
Police didn't make any arrests. But Santa was there taking names.

SPLITSVILLE. The tribe of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse is no longer part of the United States. Lakota Indians say they're seceding from the union. As AFP reports:
Lakota country includes parts of the states of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

The new country would issue its own passports and driving licences, and living there would be tax-free -- provided residents renounce their US citizenship, Means said.

The treaties signed with the United States are merely "worthless words on worthless paper," the Lakota freedom activists say on their website.

The treaties have been "repeatedly violated in order to steal our culture, our land and our ability to maintain our way of life," the reborn freedom movement says.
Funny, they didn't think they were stealing anything in 1776 when they defeated the Cheyenne and took over their land... while the rest of us were fighting to keep ours.

FOLLOW THE STAR. A University of Notre Dame professor says he's figured out the science behind that beloved Christmas symbol announcing the birth of the King Of Kings. Grant Mathews says it was an alignment of the planets, as the AP reports:
He said there are three likely times for this:

--Feb. 20, 6 B.C., when Mars, Jupiter and Saturn aligned in the constellation Pisces.

--April 17, 6 B.C., when the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn aligned in the constellation Aries while Venus and Mars were in neighboring constellations.

--June 17, 2 B.C., when Jupiter and Venus were closely aligned in Leo.

Mathews believes the April 17, 6 B.C., alignment is the most likely candidate. It makes sense because he believes the wise men were Zoroastrian astrologers who would have recognized the planetary alignment in Aries as a sign a powerful leader was born.
Mathews isn't completely convinced though, and he needs more historical documentation to back up his theory. But the rest of us -- including your Lightning Round editor -- already have plenty of facts behind our faith, and we Praise God For That.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Aye, That's Slick Laddie!

Before I'm gone, I'd love to try this: Scottish dancing in a kilt -- on ice. Chulpan Khamatova and Roman Kostomarov did it:

Friday, December 14, 2007

Six And Thirty

Once again, my birthday has me thinking about who I am and what I'm here to do. To be sure, I got my answer many months before this day.

In March, five ladies and one gentleman of KOLD gave me a makeover. They took me to a hair stylist and then to Kohl's for new duds. I got bags full of beauty aids and a new watch. I got a facial from one of our assignment editors who's a trained skin specialist. Everybody thought I looked better than ever, and with a new look, they took me out on the town.

We went to The Shanty, a moderately quiet bar, one I knew would be free of riffraff. Nobody stated any explicit goal. They didn't need to. People wanted to see me hooked up, therefore completing the transformation of an eccentric, geeky 10:00 news producer into a stylish ladies' man.

While we were at a table, enjoying brews, one of my colleagues tried to push me towards some girl at another table, one who looked like she was in no mood to mingle.

"She's angry and texting," he said, and somehow that made her approachable. What was he thinking? He kept pushing.

Finally, I got frustrated. "Then why don't you go over there?" I said.

That got some laughs. He couldn't. He was already taken. And true to my suspicions, she was too when her man or somebody else came over. Muscling into that situation would have led to certain disaster.

The others ordered more drinks, soaking themselves and laughing while I sat in near silence, stopping after my usual one bottle of Mike's Hard Lemonade. It wasn't happening. I knew it wouldn't.

I spotted other people wearing goofy St. Patrick's Day hats and couldn't help thinking of the smiles I would've gotten had I worn my tricorn that night -- anachronistic, out of style, weird, yet effective. The ladies love my three-cornered colonial hats. They always want to wear it or at least pose with it.

A few weeks later, I got what really needed. Again, I was out with friends. But instead of looking for love, they were looking to make sure I knew love. With prayers and encouragement, they gave me the makeover I really needed... a makeover for my soul.

I thank God for another year on this Earth, for all my friends and family, for all the Miracle Moments He has brought me. I ask forgiveness for the sins I commit as a member of the "media," a word people pronounce nowadays with a self-righteous spit. I ask for help. I still need it, but I know where to find it.

And if you see a person wearing a gold-trimmed tricorn hat today... that's me.

Warning: A Lack Of Respect Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

This past summer in Tucson, gunfire rang out in a mall after somebody said hello to the wrong person. We wonder what this world is coming to when friendliness is interpreted as hostility. However, with gangbangers, the norms are upside-down.

DISS ME AND YOU'RE DEAD. Your Lightning Round knows life is cheap. But the San Francisco Chronicle offers a discouraging reminder from the streets of Oakland, where an average of 100 people are murdered every year, and a lack of respect is a motive.
Increasingly, the young murder suspects coming to the station for questioning seem to lack basic morality, said Sgt. Tim Nolan, who has been investigating Oakland homicides for 17 years.

"There are more and more families where there's less and less structure," he said. "Talking to these suspects day in and out, there's a higher percentage today with no sense of right and wrong. It's frightening, but we are creating super-criminals."

All it takes is a look, a put-down or a lost fight, and bullets fly. Disrespect has become the No. 1 reason to kill.

Killings have been concentrated in these neighborhoods for so long that revenge killings continue for decades. There's a six-degrees-of-separation phenomenon that happens after each death: The killers and their victims can typically trace a relationship through family, friends, schools or prison stints.
What can we say... except "Help!" On the other hand, presidential candidate Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas has a lot to say. In fact, he already said it in 1998.

YOU VOULDN'T VANT TO SEE OUR BACKHAND, NYET? John McEnroe thinks the Russian mafia is infiltrating tennis. This comes after several match-fixing allegations, one of them involving fourth-ranked Russian Nikolay Davydenko.

McEnroe told the London Daily Telegraph, quoted by AFP:
"I think this issue has to be closely looked at, because it's very conceivable that it's happening. There are guys out there who are 100 in the world, 200 in the world, and they're making 50,000 pounds a year.

"And if someone says that they'll give you 50,000 pounds, so your entire year's money, I think there's a strong possibility that they have taken the money, without a doubt," McEnroe said.

"There is definitely temptation for people. It's becoming more of a drama because there's more money in sports."
Oh John, you cannot be serious! What happens if somebody refuses to throw a match? Exploding rackets? Suicide ball boys?

HEY BIG SPENDER. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent $16,000 on flowers last year, presumably to make nice with visiting dignitaries, according to Roll Call. She should've linked up with the left-leaning former owner of Tucson's Roses & More, who probably could've taken care of her for free.

Roll Call also notes some other eye-raising expenses:
• A $10,000 contract to former Clinton White House speechwriter Heather Hurlburt to write the speech Pelosi delivered to the Israeli Knesset.
She's House Speaker and can't even speak with her own words?
• Nearly $20,000 to Washington attorney Richard Meltzer to help with Pelosi’s transition. “Just like a presidential transition, Richard Meltzer was hired to oversee the historic changeover of Congress,” [Pelosi spokesman Nadeam] Elshami said.
Uhhh, that sounds a little like outsourcing to us.
• More than $2,400 to hire a makeup artist for the week of her swearing in. Pelosi later reimbursed the entire cost from her personal funds.
What's wrong with Estee Lauder?

WRONG NUMBER. The Secret Service is trying to figure out how a 16-year-old boy from Iceland got a private number to the White House. As ABC News reports:
Introducing himself as Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the actual president of Iceland, Atlason found President George W. Bush's allegedly secret telephone number and phoned, requesting a private meeting with him.

"I just wanted to talk to him, have a chat, invite him to Iceland and see what he'd say," Vífill told ABC News.
And he was convincing...
Vífill claims he was passed on to several people, each of them quizzing him on President Grímsson's date of birth, where he grew up, who his parents were and the date he entered office.

"It was like passing through checkpoints," he said. "But I had Wikipedia and a few other sites open, so it was not so difficult really."

When he finally got through to President Bush's secretary, Vífill alleges he was told to expect a call back from Bush.

"She told me the president was not available at the time, but that she would mark it in his schedule to call me back on Monday evening," he said.

Instead, the police showed up at his home in Akranes, a fishing town about 48 kilometers from Reykjavik, and took him to the local police station, where they questioned the 16-year-old for several hours.
Next time, he says he'll call as Karl Rove.

THAT SHOULD SPEED THINGS UP. From our backyard: a passport printing company is coming to Tucson and moving into some cool headquarters.

From KOLD News 13:
Stanley Incorporated has a printing facility in Hot Springs, Ark., and is due to open the Tucson facility in the former Gateway Ice Center on Tucson's East Side near Speedway Blvd. and Kolb Road.
Hopefully the wait for passport times will thaw just like the ice.

RETURN TO SENDER. If you want to wish one of our troops a Merry Christmas, you better know who you're writing to. The Pentagon is no longer delivering mail to "Any Wounded Soldier" for fear of terrorist booby-traps or nasty-grams.

From the AP:
"Are we going to forget our soldiers because we are running in fear?" Fena D'Ottavio asked. The suburban Chicago woman was using her blog to encourage friends to send mail to unspecified soldiers until she learned of the ban, which she called a sad commentary on society.

Last season, despite the rule, officials say as many as 450,000 pieces of mail not addressed to anyone in particular managed to reach Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. But they were returned or, if they had no return address, were thrown out altogether, because the hospital lacked the manpower to open and screen all the mail, spokesman Terry Goodman said.
Your Lightning Round finds it sad that the worst of us on the planet set the agenda for the best of us.

But don't despair. Simply log on to www.letssaythanks.com and send a card to any member of our armed forces. You pick a design from one contributed by children and add a message on the inside. If you're in a hurry, you can pick from one of several pre-worded greetings. All messages are screened before they go out.

All of this, by the way, doesn't cost you a dime. The folks at Xerox are picking up the tab. In the wake of the PODS debacle involving a member of the Air Force, we're anxious to salute a company going beyond the call of duty to support our troops.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Randy Garsee: Disarmed

Those of you wondering if former KOLD anchor Randy Garsee has changed any since his move to KTEN in Denison, Texas/Ardmore, Oklahoma, you'll be relieved to know he hasn't changed a bit.

His unscripted response to this "kicker" story should prove it.



Huhhh boy, Randy, sometimes I think you're just beggin' for a pink slip...

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Reel To Reel: American Gangster

O.G. before there was O.G.

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Josh Brolin
Rated: R
Red Flags: Language, Pervasive Drug Content, Nudity, Some Sexuality

Denzel Washington has such charisma, it's hard to imagine him as the villain. That's why he's absolutely perfect for the role of Frank Lucas, the true-life Harlem drug kingpin who gets rich in the late 60's and early 70's by selling high-grade heroin at a low price. He does for smack what Wal-Mart does for just about everything else. Lucas peddles dope with a corporate air, buying directly from a supplier in Thailand, shipping it out in the caskets of American soldiers killed in Vietnam, and branding it under the name "Blue Magic." One scene shows him berating a dealer for cutting the product, thereby diluting the brand. One wonders what Lucas could have done in legitimate corporate America, but what does it matter? He thinks he is legitimate corporate America because he's offering a product people want for a reasonable amount of money and sticking it to The Man.

"See, ya are what ya are in this world," he says. "That's either one of two things: Either you're somebody, or you ain't nobody."

Dope-dealing in New York City operates with partial permission of the cops, who are either corrupt or corruptible, except for Detective Richie Roberts (Crowe). He's going through law school while busting dopers, trying to stay clean in a filthy profession, and yet his incessant womanizing is breaking up his marriage. Roberts turns in a trunkload of money other cops would have instantly pocketed, making him a huge pariah in the department. However, he's just who the feds are looking for to bring in drug lords. He gets carte blanche to build a team and go for it.

Lucas, meanwhile, is building both his wealth and his family's comfort level. He moves them out of North Carolina and into New York City, helping them get set up in all sorts of front operations for his drug running and taking his mother to church on Sundays. Lucas conducts himself like a good corporate citizen, doling out 'gangsta' justice in controlled bursts.

He cautions his relatives against too much style. "That's a clown suit," he says to one brother. "That's a costume, with a big sign on it that says "Arrest me". You understand? You're too loud, you're making too much noise. Listen to me, the loudest one in the room is the weakest one in the room."

Despite every precaution, Lucas is making too much money and selling too much dope to fly under the radar. Detective Roberts, relentless at finding who's behind Blue Magic continues to build his case. But he soon finds putting Lucas away will require working around tainted narcotics detectives who are collecting their share.

American Gangster is about people operating outside the law -- Lucas in the narcotics trade, Roberts as the prototypical "good cop." Lucas is cashing in, while Roberts only wishes he could. A memorable scene shows Lucas' family saying grace at Thanksgiving intercut with people suffering and dying from the product they sell. Another scene shows Roberts with the stash of cash he gave up by turning it in. Both men think they live legitimate lives, but their legitimacy has been stepped on over and over again like street-corner dope.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Red, White, and Blue Ink

As many of you max out your MasterCards and Visas this holiday season, make sure you leave about $30,000 in reserve somewhere. Ditto for your kids. It's your share of a humongous financial time bomb most of us don't care about... but should.

TICK, TICK, TICK... KA-CHING! The AP's Tom Raum lays out the inconvenient fiscal truth about our national debt, which is growing at nearly $1 million a minute:
Even if you've escaped the recent housing and credit crunches and are coping with rising fuel prices, you may still be headed for economic misery, along with the rest of the country. That's because the government is fast straining resources needed to meet interest payments on the national debt, which stands at a mind-numbing $9.13 trillion.

And like homeowners who took out adjustable-rate mortgages, the government faces the prospect of seeing this debt — now at relatively low interest rates — rolling over to higher rates, multiplying the financial pain.

So long as somebody is willing to keep loaning the U.S. government money, the debt is largely out of sight, out of mind.

But the interest payments keep compounding, and could in time squeeze out most other government spending — leading to sharply higher taxes or a cut in basic services like Social Security and other government benefit programs. Or all of the above.
Raum points out much of this debt is held in savings bonds, widely popular and considered safe investments. But he also reminds us other countries are on our IOU list.
Foreign governments and investors now hold some $2.23 trillion — or about 44 percent — of all publicly held U.S. debt. That's up 9.5 percent from a year earlier.

Japan is first with $586 billion, followed by China ($400 billion) and Britain ($244 billion). Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries account for $123 billion, according to the Treasury.

"Borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars from China and OPEC puts not only our future economy, but also our national security, at risk. It is critical that we ensure that countries that control our debt do not control our future," said Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican budget hawk.
Of course, both parties blame each other for this albatross. D's point to R's for running it up. R's chastise D's for failing to cut spending on entitlements. But if this keeps up, neither side will be spending anything.

NEVER MIND. A Salt Lake City judge threw out a contempt charge against a TV reporter, thus nullifying his order for her to do a public-interest story.

From The Deseret News:
During Monday's hearing, [Judge James] Shumate found that [reporter Kelly] Baker had complied with his order after seeing a story that aired Nov. 19 on KUTV. Jeffs, who was convicted of two counts of rape as an accomplice, was sentenced on Nov. 20 to two consecutive terms of five years to life in prison.

"He said he was watching the news and saw Katie's story on a homeless program in the Salt Lake Valley," said Baker's attorney, Jeff Hunt, who also represented the Utah Society of Professional Journalists in the case. "He thought that the story served the court's purpose, and he dismissed the contempt proceeding."

Although Baker hadn't produced that news story to satisfy the judge's order, Hunt said she was pleased with the hearing's outcome.
Baker, you might recall, interviewed a potential juror in the Warren Jeffs rape-by-accomplice case, violating a decorum order. KUTV has always maintained the order didn't say anything about potential jurors. And your Lightning Round has maintained judicial compulsion of news content violates the First Amendment.

INSIDE THE CANDIDATES. An L.A. Times editorial says presidential candidates should have brain scans. Clearly the press gives them a proctoscopy every election cycle.

Writes neuropsychiatrist and brain-imaging expert Daniel Amen:
Three of the last four presidents have shown clear brain pathology. President Reagan's Alzheimer's disease was evident during his second term in office. Nonelected people were covering up his forgetfulness and directing the country's business. Few people knew it, but we had a national crisis. Brain studies have been shown to predict Alzheimer's five to nine years before people have their first symptoms.

President Clinton's moral lapses and problems with bad judgment and excitement-seeking behavior -- indicative of problems in the prefrontal cortex -- eventually led to his impeachment and a poisonous political divisiveness in the U.S. The prefrontal cortex houses the brain's supervisor, involved with conscience, forethought, planning, attention span and judgment.

One could argue that our current president's struggles with language and emotional rigidity are symptoms of temporal lobe pathology. The temporal lobes, underneath your temples and behind your eyes, are involved with language, mood stability, reading social cues and emotional flexibility.
Our Lightning Round political correspondents have been talking to the various campaigns about this. They've agreed to be scanned, on the condition somebody scans the brains of Ron Paul's supporters.

CHAMPION CHIMPS. A Japanese study says five-year-old chimps did better on a short-term memory test than adult humans.

The AP outlines the test, and pay particular attention to the last sentence.
One memory test included three 5-year-old chimps who'd been taught the order of Arabic numerals 1 through 9, and a dozen human volunteers.

They saw nine numbers displayed on a computer screen. When they touched the first number, the other eight turned into white squares. The test was to touch all these squares in the order of the numbers that used to be there.

Results showed that the chimps, while no more accurate than the people, could do this faster.
Aha! Chimps may be faster, but they're not more accurate when it comes to memory. Some of our Lightning Round staffers are shaking their heads and saying, "Well, yeah, of course chimps are faster! They don't have as much on their minds!" By golly, they may be right:
[The lead researcher] believes human ancestors gave up much of this skill over evolutionary time to make room in the brain for gaining language abilities.
Unfortunately, some people give up that skill too.

TYPE IT OFF. ABC News relates the story of a woman who dropped more than 500 pounds by perceivably trading food addiction for online addiction. Nancy Makin says it started when her sister gave her a computer:
"Internet provided anonymity. And people who would have rejected me out of hand, based on appearance, got to see my insides."

Before she knew it, the political junkie was surfing through chat rooms and making friends, beginning to find value in herself again. "I was being loved and nurtured by faceless strangers. … Friends accepted who I was based on my mind and soul."

"I was so busy and happy to get up every morning that I like to say I lost weight in my fingers first."

Makin said the psychological transformation was so complete that she lost all that weight without diet pills, exercise or even a diet. She just stopped gorging.

"I achieved this on my own, in a natural way, with no surgical procedures having been performed. No particular 'diet' plan was followed; no pills, potions or ab-crunching exercises played a part in my recovery," she wrote in a congratulatory letter to herself.
We can believe it, given Jared's experience with Subway. File it under the "questionable diets that work" category. But we ask, how many hours a day is she spending on the computer?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Servants In The Cause

Stories and snapshots of the American Heritage Festival in Queen Creek, as told by a soldier of two different wars.

Adapted from the battlefield journal of Private Christopher Francis of the Continental Line and 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry

Photographs Copyright © 2007 By Michael Cynecki and Rosemary Woods


The first children gather outside the camp, at least 50 or more standing in front of Gen. Washington and our Redcoat commander, eager to explore this new world of tents and tepees, teased by the scent of morning fires warming breakfast. Two hundred years stretch over two hundred yards -- British regulars, American patriots, French allies, mountain men, Native Americans and frontiersmen. Union soldiers camp near Confederates and 1800's schoolteachers. And down the way, World War II G.I.'s, Chinese allies, and Vietnam fighters establish their base. The young eyes swim over the settings during the opening remarks.

Our French commander recognizes me at first sight, offering an enthusiastic "Christophe!" A buckshot of French greetings sail past my ears.

"Good morning, monsieur," I muster with what little of his native tongue I know.

I knock the clouds of drowsiness from my head, the restless night stew of anticipation fringed with anxiety, and force myself into the patriot I'm portraying. Without a doubt, the children are drawn toward this figure in the red, white, and blue uniform with the long musket standing next to the French officer in his purple and white, a gorget catching a ray of sun. His wife and child sit by his side. Yet as far as I can tell, I am the only Continental in sight.

The children spill out into the camp. I smile and clutch my musket, hoping I know enough history to answer their questions.

He draws them in with an accented greeting, and a question: Is anybody wondering just what is a Frenchman doing in the American Revolutionary War?

"We want revenge," the officer explains in accented English. "The British beat us badly in the French and Indian wars. We almost bankrupted France to help the colonists."

I get my opportunity to jump in. "In fact, this is a French musket." I hold it out for them. Their eyes gravitate to the 1777 flintlock weapon as I explain the process of loading and firing it. I am in my zone of confidence. I can talk about firing a musket a thousand times and not tire of it as I point to the pan holding the powder charge and how the flint strike on the frizzen sets off a chain reaction that will ignite what's in the barrel, pushing the musket ball out for an effective range of about 60 yards, give or take.

Hands shoot up in front of me, and I try to answer questions quickly enough to get to the next child without anybody starting to do the dance of impatience.

A few ask about my bayonet. I can only ask them to imagine it, because it's laying out there somewhere in the fields, probably knocked off my haversack strap in the rush to stow equipment from two different eras in a matter of minutes. I later find it by my modern-day carriage, safe, undisturbed, but not ready for combat.

"Is that your real accent?" a child inquires of the officer.

"If I am from France," he challenges, "wouldn't I sound like this?"

"Greetings and salutations," I chirp as the curious students pass by, almost begging them to hit me with questions, which they do without fail.

"Why did you join the Army?"

"The redcoats shut down my newspaper," I tell them. "They didn't like what I was saying about King George the Third. I have to defend my God-given liberties. This is why we have a First Amendment, which says Congress shall make no law abridging our Freedom of Speech or of the press, or of the right of people to petition the government for redress of their grievances." I need to put that last phrase into 2007 English: "The freedom to protest."

Christopher the Soldier is morphing into Christopher the Statesman. I don't see myself as a fiery orator, but I cannot suppress the urge. If I can persuade these children to care about their freedoms, light a match of passion within them, albeit in my amateur, extemporaneous fashion, they will be better for it.

Two Redcoat commanders approach. One of them holds out some paper cartridges. "I believe you dropped these."

"That's the last time I accept anything from a redcoat," I tease as the young ones observe. "You know I will be returning them to you."

We jibe each other, the wretched Brits threatening me with beatings and a prison ship.

"Not if I can help it!" I sneer. "I'd rather die first!"

One boy thinks he's qualified to join the patriot cause. "For liberty," he says, as I put him to the test.

"Louder, so I know you mean it!" I challenge.

"For liberty!"

"Louder than that!"

"FOR LIBERTY!"

He shall do, even if my firelock is a bit heavy for him. Several children want to touch it, and I carefully let them feel its weight while I hold one end. "Imagine marching all day with that on your arm."

"Are you really going to shoot people?" another lad asks.

"We're going to try to," I respond.

The continuous teaching moments accelerate the clock, and soon we head for the battlefield with the children marching by our sides, inspired by the beat of the drum and the colorful uniforms.

Two other Continentals stand beside me now, along with our Catalonian guard, who have traveled great distance from that enclave yet to be known as Tucson. The redcoats form up across the field -- two of them anyway -- with their rag-tag loyalists and turncoats in tow. No wonder they insist on talking first.

The meeting of commanders in the center of the field proves fruitless, as expected.

"Silly English," our sergeant says. "They never listen."

General Washington prepares us for the skirmish. "What we cannot accomplish with our words, we will accomplish with our muskets."

Gunfire crackles from the enemy line. No time to panic. We shall answer in an orderly fashion, as disciplined conscripts.

"Load!"

The routine of ripping off a power cartridge with my teeth, priming the pan, and dumping it down the barrel is devoid of any uncertainty, save for a couple. I have cut each load from 90 grains to 60 to conserve my supply. Will 60 be enough? And... ugghh... how did this hammer get so blasted stiff?

"Come to the ready!"

I raise the musket to my shoulder.

"Fire!"

THOOOF! Success is a white smoke trail. But a fellow private takes a ball -- virtual, but still painful.

"My leg!" he cries as he writhes on the ground, screaming in agony.

"You'll pay for that!" I cry out to the bloody lobsterbacks.

It doesn't take long. The British wilt before us as we advance on them, taking out one of their commanders.

"Charge!"

The sergeant and myself chase what's left of the enemy into the woods.

"Back to England!" my comrade cries.

"I'll chase you all the way across the Atlantic!" I bellow.

He tries to hit us with a parting shot. It misses.

Victory is ours. The redcoats are vanquished, and the hundreds of children watching behind the safety lines celebrate with cheers and applause. We Continentals return the appreciation, marching off the field with high-fives for the children at the front of the crowds.

"Huzzah! Huzzah!" I cry as I pass them, slapping palms in hearty celebration with the smiling kids.


- - -

"We are doing Pickett's Charge!"

I move 100 years forward on the timeline, hastily changing from Continental to Rebel and standing in formation with the 1st Virgina. With the reality of the numbers, we will take on the Federal lines and artillery in battalions, each one with a commander. But the firepower of the cannons will doom us.

"When you go down, yell and scream," our Captain advises. "The kids love it!"

Just out of his sight, a curious group of youngsters absorbs the inside information. The Captain quickly adds a postscript in their direction: "That's what you want, right?"

Only one volley from my small battalion, and we will go down with a cannonball. "Get ready! Get ready!" our 1st Sergeant advises, anticipating the blast.

The boom instantly reduces us to screaming, moaning creatures of the earth.

"Aaaagh!"

"Ohhhhh!"

"Aaah!"

"Aarrr!"

The living hobble back to General Lee, leaving him to declare, "It's all my fault."

We have time to answer questions, but first we have to clear our loads. One by one we fire off a cap without loading to clear any powder. I pull the trigger and a sting pelts my left eye. A fragment of a musket cap has split off and hit me. It doesn't wound me, but others catch on to my ailment as I rub my eye. The 1st Sergeant notices what I'm priming with and he makes a point of announcing the dangers: "This is why we don't use six-wing musket caps!"

Our Captain looks me over, and I feel my heart sink again. Please, I don't want a repeat of Picacho Peak. But fortunately, the cap fragment has hit just below my eye, and it hasn't left a mark. Others check on me, making sure my eye is all right.

- - -

Classes slowly file off, leaving us with the camp to ourselves once again. As day fades into late afternoon, we come together for a potluck dinner.

A Native American friend, one strangely familiar from a dancing engagement, parades a turkey to the front of the tables, announcing the slaying of "The Beast!" A true Thanksgiving feast this will be.

We have much to give thanks for. The children had been wonderful, our leader points out, and we had been wonderful teachers.


"When I came through the camp, everybody was interacting with the children," he observes. "Not one person was out back trying to hide."

We had made a difference in these young lives, he assures us, each and every one of us. I feel relieved. I still consider myself an amateur re-enactor, learning as I go sometimes, always worrying about the impression I'm making on young minds and whether I'm living up to the standards of historical accuracy.

Sinking my teeth into the delicious turkey, I know I am blessed. After at least a dozen years of eating Thanksgiving dinner on the job or some restaurant because of the demands of my other life and time, I help myself to turkey and corn and savor the company of my re-enacting family... those I love... those I pray to God to watch over every day.


At twilight, the young 1st Virginia Cadets scamper into the after-dinner conversation with a prisoner on a rope. They've captured the Yankee known for bellowing, "Roll a Civil War Cartridge!" As he explains it, the young Virginians caught him with his pants down and tied his hands. Looks like the Federals are going to be running short on munitions.

- - -

The numbers lean in our favor for a morning victory as I stand with the Continentals once again. Those Brits have one cannon, but we have two. No need to talk before firing.

"Show them we are here in earnest!"

"I don't know if we're here in earnest," a compatriot snickers, "but we're here in America!"

Cannon fire gives us confidence and we advance forward, thinking a victory is mere moments away. But the Royal Irish Artillery hits us with a devastating charge, wiping out all but one of our lines.

I collapse with my comrades, the blast burning through my insides. Just enough life remains for me to see the lone remaining Continental firing his musket with the blue skies of Heaven above him, blue as the field of the so-called "Pine Tree" flag leading us into battle.

The cause of liberty is not lost, and with the cry of "Resurrect!" we are all on our feet again, healed, happy and eager to answer questions. We shall put things right in the next battle, General Washington assures the crowd.

The redcoats, however, remain unconvinced. They still think they can talk the patriotism out of us as the commanders parlay before the second battle. As usual, it ends with disparagements for both sides.

From General Washington: "Arrogant fellow."

From the redcoat commander: "Cheeky fellow."

We face another fight. Yet this time we are laying a trap for those Brits. Our militia will lure them forward, and then the Continentals, French and Spanish allies will devastate them -- just like in the Battle Of Cowpens.

We need a quick and decisive victory. My musket tires of the fight, refusing to fire on more than one occasion, perhaps the result of an over-fouled pan or clogged touchhole.

"Ohh....," I groan as a cartridge tube mistakenly goes down the barrel. The powder blasts it into a shower of smoking paper.

Among my comrades, one attempted volley results in three of us pulling our triggers with only clicks and no smoke. When we finally charge the remnants of the enemy, a load of powder remains in my barrel with an empty pan after two attempts to set it off fail.

"You need a wire brush," a fellow soldier advises, indicating the one hanging around his balderic -- I need one of those, too. Looks like I'll have to smuggle them from the French.

You would think the lobsterbacks would learn. However, another victory would follow the next day, in the same manner, leaving Redcoats and Tories lying all about us near the heavy artillery that was supposed to deliver the patriots into their hands.

A redcoat commander hangs lifeless next to a cannon, and General Washington cannot resist the visual spoil of war. Producing a modern image-taking device from his coat, he discreetly captures the moment before anyone can notice.

- - -


General Lee leads us in prayer on the battlefield, calling on God to help us send those Yanks back to where they came from. Ohio would be nice. Antarctica, even better.

"C'mon, you Yankee scum!" taunted recruits with the 1st Texas. "Advance on us!"

The cycle soon begins of loading, priming, firing and advancing. With so few of them compared to our numbers and steadfastness, we defeat them in mere minutes, trading earth-shaking cannon fire. Minutes later, we are shaking the cannons as privates climb up on to them in victory, hollering their best rebel yells, no doubt in honor of the Virginia women who watch from a safe distance in relief.

As they celebrate the beautiful sight of victory, beauty is blooming across the camp, where ladies in hoopskirts gather outside the school established by the kindly Miss Kay. Their colorful attire blooms from the earth like wildflowers in spring as they share an afternoon tea and dignified conversation, perhaps about the future of the nation or the war dividing it.


The future is not out of their sight, for the 20th Century soldiers camp mere yards away: the Marines of Vietnam, and the Allies of World War II -- including the Chinese resistance to the Axis. They electrify and amaze, carrying all the flavor of the battle-hardened elite in their green and khaki uniforms. They march with snap-shoe precision, carrying a menagerie of exotic firearms as their commander spits orders in the native tongue. Many of them have flown halfway around the world to be here in Queen Creek, an impressive accomplishment in itself. And from their determination and authenticity, one could envision them parachuting onto the battlefield.

- - -

Laughter and applause float over from the center of the camp, where the officers share a meal illuminated by the dancing lights from silver candelabras. Smoke from campfires wafts among the tents. And one truth is self-evident: the Catalonians know how to cook.

They share a pot of parea with me, a stew I had never tasted until now. In the twilight, I could hardly see what I was shoveling into my bowl, but it didn't matter because the taste was spectacular.

"When are you going to join us?" one asks. A fair question, undoubtedly, seeing as we all hail from Tucson. Yet I am still a Patriot soldier at heart, one used to traveling great distances from home to stand for the cause of freedom.

The officers, merry from their social, would later visit the individual camps. For the Catalonians, they offer a pie... and a song:

"Feliz Navidad! Feliz Navidad!"

The Catalonians could have sung it better, but we are not ones to quibble. They move on, laughing and celebrating life under the stars as the young ones sneak out to the parking lot and procure a car with a CD player for an impromptu swing dance, one rivaling the impromptu victory parties of VE and VJ day.

The ladies of the First Virginia invite me to this soirée, even though I admit the steps are unfamiliar. "But I've never been one to turn down a challenge from a lady," I add with a smile.

Before the festivities begin, however, I get an invitation to tackle another challenge: two filthy muskets from two days of battles. A fellow Confederate generously offers to help clean them for me, and he sets about scrubbing and swabbing the barrels as I hold on to one end, occasionally pulling with all my might when the cleaning rod sticks. An hour later, most of the fouling is dissolved, and my weapons are again ready for battle.

- - -


"Good morning, Arizona," KTVK weather forecaster April Warnecke announces off camera as soldiers and civilians march past the lens to the skirl of bagpipes. "Yes, we are still at Schnepf Farms, we're just on the other side of the farm for a very different event. I have George Washington with me this morning. Tell us, what's going on?"

"Well good morning, April," His Excellency answers as viewers continue to watch history file past. "This is my first time on television."

"I believe that!"

"We're having a fantastic day out here at Schnepf Farms with the American Heritage Festival. It's Arizona's, and in fact, the Southwest's largest living history event, representing all of American History, from Colonial times, westward expansion, the Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, with battle re-enactments! We have southern belles, we have mountain men, we have colonists, we have pilgrims. It's exciting!"

"You've got just about all of it here. This has been going on for awhile, but today is the very last day?"

"It is. This is our fifth year doing this event, and this is our very last day, so come on out to Schnepf Farms. It's educational, it's family friendly, it's inspiring, it's patriotic, and you can find us at americanheritagefestival.com."

The camera hastily pans back to a two-shot of the reporter and the general.

"Thanks so much," April offers. "What a neat parade to look at here, as we see them coming around the battlefield. They do battle out here, too, correct?"

"We will have re-enactments of Revolutionary War battles, Civil War battles, and World War II battles today. So come on out and learn and be inspired by American history!"

"Absolutely. If you're not going to listen to George Washington, who are you going to listen to? Thank you very much."

She transitions into the weather report as the parade continues and signs off, returning to the air 15 minutes later to give a recap. Viewers in most of Arizona see a camera panning across three centuries of soldiers drilling in formation, rifles raised and lowered and shouldered and lowered again.


- - -

The powerful words of the Reverend George Whitefield inspire hope for anyone within earshot as he speaks to several dozen gathered around him from all periods of time. He speaks with an animated and confident air, as he pulls history forward into the present.

"I ask you, what is the meaning and power of a name?" he queries aloud. "We know in the times in which the scriptures were written, it was very common among the Hebrew people for them to name their children according to their hopes and aspirations for those children. They named their children very literally."

"Do we have anyone assembled here today by the name of Matthew?" he asks at one point. "Yes, we have a Matthew. The name Matthew means 'Gift Of The Lord.' Do we have a Michael among us? Michael, sir, means 'Who Is Like Unto The Lord.' It is a term of glorification of God."

The Puritans would pick up on the convention, naming their children "Loves The Lord," and so forth, so that even the simple act of calling them would amount to a prayer. Come to me, Gift of God, they would say. Some would have their names altered, adding "the Conqueror" or "the Great" after their given names. But of course, one name ranks above all others, the Reverend points out -- Jesus: One Who Saves.

The words are familiar. I heard them one year ago and reflected on my own name: Christopher -- Bearer Of Christ. I do so again.

A 18th Century friend of mine, a Christian sister, later tells me how meaningful she found the message. I can only imagine how many people the Reverend has uplifted and brought to God.

- - -

The widowed woman looks upon the assembled line of the 1st Virginia with a pained fortitude, still deep in mourning but determined to churn inspiration from her grief.

"To the comrades, brothers of my late husband," she begins in a voice a hair from cracking, "I want to make a request of you. Captain Scott has given me his permission to break protocol and share my heart before you march off to battle.

"The reason I speak to you, not with any eloquent words of course, is because you all understand that to protect our right to secede, as guaranteed by our Constitution, we must sacrifice now. Many of you joined the 1st Virginia after first taking leave of wives and children, mothers, father, sisters and brothers, because of your sense of duty and honor. I am deeply grateful for your sacrifice, and I am praying that my children will always know that their daddy lives by these same principles. I want them to always remember the honor that was his to fight courageously for the freedoms of his countrymen in order to protect our new Union, the Confederate States of America. He felt led to do so, and he could only do this through his faith in the Lord Jesus."

She walks along the formation, eyes piercing every recruit. "To those of you who personally knew my husband, would you please be like a father to this oldest son of mine? He so bravely desires to be the man of the family now, but he is only 14. I encourage you with what has also held me up in these uncertain, frightening times. I quote now from Isaiah: 'Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of His understanding. He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might He increaseth strength.'"

The war widow looks upon them and issues her call to battle: "God be with you all, and bring us victory!"

Her words concluded, the 1st Virginia right-faces with the urgent shuffling of feet and the hush of reverence. No playful remarks of whipping Yanks escape the recruits' as they march to combat with a fresh perspective and a rekindled fire.

- - -

All that cleaning, all that torment, and not one shot fired after two caps. The federals crack off shot after shot and I have nothing to return to them. I hastily borrow an offered nipple pick from a comrade and stab at the nipple of my Springfield, hoping to break through whatever blocks the powder from igniting.

I load once again, but a third cap pops off without a response from the barrel.

"Take a hit on this next volley," a fellow recruit advises, sensing futility.

Another federal squeezes off a round, and I take the powder with an orderly, only slightly dramatic tumble. A brother on the line pulls my kepi over my head and leaves me to absorb the call and response of musket and cannon fire.

Eventually a field doctor and nurse come around to me.

"Let's have a look at him. Eww, face blown off."

"Yeah, he's dead."

Not quite, but my gun is. Nevertheless, my fellow recruits press on to victory, and after I rise back to life I urgently seek to restore my firepower. It takes two attempts, both involving the removal of a side nut and much swabbing. The exact cause of the malfunction remains a mystery, but relief seeps into me as the 1st Sergeant raises the rifle high, shouts "Fire in the hole!" and revives the weapon with a thundering crackle and burst of smoke.

All is right with the musket, but the next battle ends with a staggering defeat. Confederates fall throughout the grassy field, save for a young one who refuses to surrender, screaming and struggling and firing as his recruit father pulls him back.

I see it all as I lay dying, cap beside me, leaving me vulnerable to insult from the victorious.

"This one's alive," one says as they walk among the fallen. Several of them stomp on me, searing my broken body once again as they laugh.


"Yankee scum!" I groan in agony.

The crowd loves it all, applauding us as we bring ourselves back to life. Even our federal foes are impressed with the Oscar-worthy performance of the defiant Confederate. It's not Hollywood; it's history, but anything that captures the flavor of war commands respect.

- - -

Weary but happy, we gather around President Lincoln with the assembled spectators, who shares his thoughts of war and sacrifice in the close of the afternoon, reciting the Gettysburg Address as Federals and Confederates listen in reverence.

"We can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."

He continues on, as the war did, into the speech he made at his 1865 Inauguration.

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

As he speaks, I note a familiar feeling, and familiar tears... derived from the insignificance of myself in the world blended with awareness of how past and present are unified in their divisions. President Lincoln's words of 1865 fit 2007 with staggering germaneness. Again a nation is fractured by war, searching its soul for an elusive remedy some fear might never be found. Again we pray for guidance. Again, we try to heal.

"Each side fought for what they firmly believed in," President Lincoln reminds us. "There can be no criticism. There can be no hatred, no animosity. We are one family. We are all Americans."

All of us.

Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.


For more pictures and memories of this historic event, visit www.americanheritagefestival.com.

See you next year!

Passionate "Price"

The responses on my Price Is Right appearance have been running about 50-50 for and against me, and now that the dust has settled, I can see the aftermath of this whole mess.

1) I should have disclosed my relationship with a CBS affiliate up front, semantical loophole or not. It doesn't matter to many of you that I disclosed it in the end and forfeited $2500 over what is arguably an honest difference of interpretation in the rules.

2) I do not believe I deprived somebody of a chance to win or "took their spot." What about the dozens of people who aren't chosen every day? What about the people who win their way onto stage and lose because they don't understand the pricing games or can't play them very well? You can argue THEY robbed a better player of a chance. Do we need a contestant exam for "Price" now? I'm sure none of you want that.

3) The level of vitriol directed at me over this has been astounding. People have taken a nit and blown it into a gadfly. The fashion police also have a warrant for my arrest because I wore shorts. One person on another message board who described himself as a former newsroom manager said, "with that outfit the guy had on, he looked more like he'd be a cameraman than middle-management! Tack-AY!" (Actually my legs look better in stockings and knee breeches... or a kilt... but that's another story.)

To those who offered supportive and constructive words, thank you. Let us keep some perspective. This is a GAME SHOW here, and just one show out of thousands of tapings. Passion is wonderful, but lets be passionate about the right kinds of things. War, the environment, diminishing liberties, rising violence, incivility and a host of other things are worth our passion, but I doubt a game show contestant -- who ultimately got nothing whether he deserved it or not -- is worth it.

FrancisPage has gotten more than 1,000 hits in the past week because of my game-show antics, much more so than the story of MSgt. Bradley Behling and his battle with PODS to get just compensation for the sale of all his stuff while he was serving in Iraq, a story few others knew or cared about.

Now, if MSgt. Behling had been on Price...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Check Your Head

People tease your Lightning Round editor about his long hair, which he is attempting to style into an 18th Century-appropriate ponytail without a wig. It's a minor distraction, however, compared to the taunting some ladies are in for now.

DUMBING DOWN. A French study finds merely looking at blondes drive down intelligence in men... and women, too.

As Cox News Service reports:
Thierry Meyer, joint author of the study and professor of social psychology at the University of Paris X-Nanterre, said that the study proves a general phenomenon.

"There's a decrease in performance after an unobtrusive exposure to a stereotype about people who have the reputation to be cognitively impaired," he said.

In plainer language, blonds might make people act in a less intelligent manner because the people believe -- whether they want to admit it or not -- that they are in the presence of someone who's not very smart.
Our crack Lightning Round researchers have another term for it: adaptation to habitat. Theories aside however, we recently uncovered strong evidence to back up the French theory, and it comes from a news broadcast on WESH in Orlando, Florida:



Listen children and you shall hear the sounds of remotes clicking.

CONQUER YOUR IGNORANCE! Read/WriteWeb offers "A Big List of Sites That Teach You How To Do Stuff." Throw this one in your bookmark closet. In case of stupidity, click.

THAT WASN'T IN THE SCRIPT... OH, MAYBE IT WAS. TMZ.com, that tabloid site which is more reliable than many would like to admit, claims Marie Osmond's much-gawked-about faint on "Dancing With The Stars" was planned and scripted. But here's what raised our eyes:
Our moles say Marie has a writer on set at all times, prompting her with witty conversation. One on-set source says he was in position when Marie went down -- and didn't miss a beat.
Marie's handler denies this, of course, but we all know the long tradition of entertainers using outside writers. The late great Bob Hope had a staff of joke writers on retainer. Marie, if this is true, cut the chain. You didn't need a writer to become famous, and you certainly don't need one to dance. Besides, there's a strike going on... you wouldn't be employing a scab, now, would you?

THANK YOU AND GOODBYE. Is this the job an American wouldn't take? An illegal immigrant is lauded for helping a 9-year-old boy after a car accident near Nogales, Arizona. He couldn't save his mother, but he did help keep the boy warm until help arrived. Authorities praised him, but they still deported him.

From the AP:
"I am a father of four children. For that, I stayed," Manuel de Jesus Córdova Soberanes said in Spanish from his home in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora. "I never could have left him. Never."

Authorities said Cordova may have saved the life of 9-year-old Christopher Buchleitner, whose mother was killed when their van ran off a cliff in a remote area north of the Mexico-Arizona border on Thanksgiving Day.

Accosted by the media in the past few days, Córdova has become a bit of a hometown celebrity. Contacted Wednesday, Córdova asked about the whereabouts of the boy. "I'd like to know how he is, how he feels," Córdova said.
The Mexican Consulate's office in Nogales is trying to get Córdova a visa so he can come back across the border legally for some measure of formal appreciation. The Minuteman Project plans to give Córdova the "Git Yer Butt Back To Mexico" award.

THE BIG FALLDOWN. With people discussing your Lightning Round editor's recent game-show exploits, our closing moment of mirth comes from an episode of that 70's game show "The Big Showdown" where host Jim Peck got the slip.