Friday, March 30, 2007

Let's Talk To The Animals

Your humble staffers at Lightning Round headquarters usually steer as clear as we can from animal stories. We have regular shots to protect us from Skiing Squirrel Virus, that irresistible urge to lump in a cuddly tidbit from the kingdom of snouts and fur. But this week, several stories zinged down our wire that go beyond back page grinners, for they reveal much about ourselves if you read between the paws.

FRANKENMUTTON. First they cloned a sheep. Now scientists have come up with a sheep that's 15 percent human. The hope is that they'll soon grow organs human enough to be used for transplants, alleviating a shortage.

From the London Daily Mail:
Animal rights activists fear that if the cells get mixed together, they could end up with cellular fusion, creating a hybrid which would have the features and characteristics of both man and sheep.
We already have such a species. They're called Scientologists.

DEATH IN BLACK AND WHITE. The Berlin Zoo is denying allegations its beloved panda Yan Yan died because of crowds and stress related to her celebrity neighbor, polar bear cub "Cuddly Knut."

Knut, you may recall, was abandoned by his mother despite his infectious cuteness. But he didn't become a superstar until an animal activist said he was better off dead than being raised by humans -- to which millions said, "Oh yeah?"

Apparently Yan Yan thought she was the one deserving of mortality with the overflow visitors spilling her way.

From Reuters:
"Lots of people gave up on seeing Knut because of the long queues, so they went to see Yan Yan instead. She seemed intimidated and anxious," wrote the paper [Bild], suggesting Yan Yan could have had a heart attack.
The final chapter in Yan Yan's life ends with a cipherous tragicness, according to a zoo spokesman.
"Our keepers were stunned. The sad thing is that because of the excitement around Knut, she died alone and no one immediately noticed that she had passed away."
A necropsy -- that's an animal version of an autopsy -- is planned.

RUFFLING FEATHERS. An animal shelter in Seattle has found new homes for 110 parakeets rescued from a one-bedroom apartment. Their owner had been collecting them for five years, according to police.

From the AP:
The owner told the officers he previously tried to give the small birds to another shelter, but said he had been told only five would be kept and the rest would be euthanized.
We sense echoes of Monty Python... "These parakeets are no more! They have ceased to be! If ye hadn'ta gassed them they would be pushin' up the daisies!"

By the way, the bird-loving apartment dweller won't face charges because he cooperated with authorities. Given the alternative, can you really blame him for creating his own sanctuary?

DOGGONE AMAZING. Debbie Parkhurst of Calvert, Maryland says she owes her life to her golden retriever Toby, who knocked her over and jumped up and down on her chest when she was choking on an apple.

From the AP:
That's when the apple dislodged and Toby started licking her face to keep her from passing out, she said.

"I literally have pawprint-shaped bruises on my chest. I'm still a little hoarse, but otherwise, I'm OK," Parkhurst said.
I'd like to see a cat do that.

BURNING LOVE. We turn from animals now to animalistic behavior. A housewife in Brazil faces a 19-year prison sentence for killing her husband, chopping him up into more than 100 pieces, and frying him. The remains of Jose Raimundo Soares dos Santos turned up in plastic bags beneath a staircase in his home.

From the AP:
[A police spokesman] said the killing was either part of a black magic ritual or an attempt by the wife to collect life insurance worth about $34,000.
Only in Brazil, you may think. Well, no. Ask people living in Houston's Red Oak apartments about that strange smell coming from the unit of Timothy Wayne Shepherd. He had a hot girlfriend. Police say he was cooking her on his balcony grills.

From the AP:
A leasing agent at the apartment complex also noticed the thick dark smoke and the intense flames and asked Shepherd what he was doing, Evans said. Another neighbor, 18-year-old James Hebert, told The Houston Chronicle that he often cooked out with Shepherd, and even left his grill at Shepherd's apartment. When he wasn't invited over, he asked his neighbor what was going on. Shepherd replied that he was cooking for a wedding, the newspaper said.
No mention of fava beans or a nice chianti. Supp, supp, supp.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

And Now... "The News!"

The guys at strike again with this biting statement about TV news channels. Play, laugh, and hopefully -- if you're an aspiring producer -- learn. (Rated PG for some mild adult humor.)

Friday, March 23, 2007

Dead Air

To die in the sky -- the image is poetic and heavenly. It rhymes, too. But some flights nowadays are barely fit for the living, which makes our lead story all the more ironic.

THE LAST UPGRADE. A crew on a British Airways flight moved a passenger from coach to first class after she died on the flight. Her family was moved with her to give them some privacy to grieve.

But the real shock came for a sleeping first-class passenger who woke up with the deceased next to him.

From the AP:
"I didn't have a clue what was going on. The stewards just plonked the body down without saying a thing. I remember looking at this frail, sparrow-like woman and thinking she was very ill," the newspaper quoted [Paul] Trinder as saying. "When I asked what was going on, I was shocked to hear she was dead."
And likely still earning frequent-flyer miles, too.

LOADED BEHIND THE WHEEL. Bernadette Houghton Headd of Detroit faces road-rage related charges after she shot out the tires on a truck tailgating her. She was licensed to carry a concealed weapon and a crack shot.

From the Detroit Free Press:
When she was arrested, she told police, "I'm tired of people tailgating me."

But her mother said Headd was fearful during a trying and turbulent time in her life. She had been caring for her mother, who had a kidney transplant in December, and for her 18-year-old son, who had surgery in January for scoliosis, Del-Marie Headd said Saturday.
Your Lightning Round thinks Headd could've saved herself a lot of trouble with a carefully worded bumper sticker: "I'm stressed. I'm packing. Need I say more?"

RADIOACTIVE. Debbie Bird of Bowden, England, is so sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, she can break out in a rash when somebody answers their cell phone.

She tells the Daily Mail:
'I don't own a microwave. I don't use mobile phones at all. I can't even use a cordless phone. We have a plasma screen TV because the old style one gave out gamma rays, which brought on my reaction.

'I can't even get in my friend's BMW. If I do I immediately start getting a headache and my head starts tingling.

'Even shopping is a problem. I can't go in places like Starbucks where there is Wi-Fi broadband and always have to be aware of my environment.'
Mrs. Bird and her husband had to electrically shield their home.
The house was completely re-wired, had clear protective film put on the windows and every wall was painted with black carbon paint, which cost £250 per tin, to deflect the harmful rays.

All the couple's bedroom curtains are also silver-plated and they sleep under a silver-plated mosquito net, which also protects against radiation.
Given the FBI's recent transgressions involving electronic surveillance, some of us may want to do the same.

UNHAND THAT BALLOON... WAIT... NO! In our continuing search for Totally Unnecessary Legislation, your Lightning Round stumbled across a bill in New Hampshire that makes it a crime to release a balloon. Get caught and you get slapped with a $250 fine.

From the Concord Union-Leader:
Those who favored the bill said the balloon materials, including the attached strings and ribbons, pose a serious threat to wildlife. Whales, turtles and seabirds that live along New Hampshire's coastline mistakenly eat floating balloons thinking they are food, and then are unable to eat real food.

"Do we now get balloon police?" Rep. Randolph Holden, R-Goffstown, asked.
My grandfather's dog used to eat anything that wasn't nailed down. Where's the law to protect him?

TALE OF THE TAPE. A new study finds duct tape, contrary to an earlier study, doesn't cure warts.

From the AP:
[The finding] does not surprise Dr. Amy Paller, chairman of the dermatology department at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new study.

"I have plenty of patients come in having tried duct tape. That's why they come in, because it didn't work," Paller said.
And while we're at it, our staffers remind you it's no substitute for Nair, either. Don't ask.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Reel To Reel: 300

Come back with your shield or on it!

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Gerard Butler
Rated: R
Red Flags: Ye Olde Graphic Bloody Battle Violence, Two Sex Scenes, Nudity

300 is the perfect example of making a CGI movie without letting CGI become the star of the show. It is here to transport us back to ancient Greece, fill in the deathy beautiful backgrounds of massive armies and cloud the skies with swarms of arrows. But all the CGI in this picture is no match for the charisma of King Leonidas (Butler) and his 300 battle-hungry Spartan warriors, greatly outnumbered by the Persian army of King Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. Challenges to the film's historic accuracy have emerged, and Iran has charged it with insulting Persian culture, but we'll leave those arguments aside. As a film, 300 is as exciting as it is visually dazzling and brutally bloody. It's the same sort of demented excitement I got from 2005's Sin City, which like this film is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller.

The picture works because it instantly gives us an underdog to root for with patriotic overtones. Think of the bedrocks of democracy in B.C.-Greece and many will think of the Athenians, of Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. Those Athenians could philosophize and write great drama, but the Spartans were the real fighters, the film argues, the true defenders of liberty in their red cloaks and battle-dinged shields. Spartans live to fight and fight to live. They feast on pain. Death be not in peace, but in the height of war, going out in a glorious stand. Can you imagine anybody willing to die with such anticipation and vigor? Yaaaaaaaah!

That sort of dedication is what makes the Spartans so mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Strategically, they're no slouches either, as Leonidas comes up with a plan to even the odds, forcing Xerxes' army into trap after trap. When strategy fails, that Spartan warrior culture takes over -- and look out. At times, it's like Clash Of The Titans merged with The Matrix, as scene after scene of slowed-down, sped-up battles plays out, if you don't mind the blood.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hey, Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone!

Going away to some boarding school shouldn't feel like incarceration.

THIS IS A SCHOOL, RIGHT? Oprah Winfrey's Leadership Academy For Girls in South Africa is so strict, parents can only visit their children once a month, according to Gavin Prins of

From the article:
Cellphones and e-mail correspondence are out of bounds during the week, and girls are only allowed to phone their parents at weekends.

The maximum number of visitors per pupil is four, and visits have to be approved by the school at least two weeks in advance.
And watch what you eat, says one parent:
"The poor children are not even allowed to have any treats. Their diet is fruit, yogurt and sandwiches. When they go on holiday for a month in April they'll be stuffing themselves with sweets and chocolates in any case."
Who's running this school -- Oprah or Sheriff Joe Arpaio? At least Miss O's kids don't have to wear pink underwear and stripes.

Oprah, naturally, says people have it all wrong. A statement posted on says:
"Our goal is to protect the health, welfare and well-being of the students at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy. As with other boarding schools, we provide a structured, safe and nurturing environment in which the girls can learn and develop."
Jail can be pretty safe and nurturing, too, depending on your perspective.

THEY'RE BACK. That was fast. Sen. Hillary Clinton is once again playing the "vast right-wing conspiracy" card long before the first GOP attack ad hits. Clinton bases her conspiracy theory on accusations of anti-voter actions, including phone jamming by Republican operatives in 2002.

From the AP:
She also said the government should do more to end unusually long lines at certain polling places.

"It just so happens that many of those places where people are waiting for hours are places where people of color are voting or young people are voting. That is un-American, and we're going to end it," Clinton said.
We only hope she means ending the lines and not the voting.

BAD HAIR DAY. When police in Memphis booked Anna Clifford for DUI, they nearly had to use a wide-angle lens on the mugshot. Her ghastly-large spiky hair took up most of the frame.

From a police spokesman quoted in the London Daily Mail:
"When we pulled her over she had been driving with her sunroof open to allow room for her hair. I don’t know what she'd do if it rained."
Perhaps flatten it down into an umbrella?

BAD KID. A 13-year-old Ohio boy is charged with more than 100 felonies. The rap sheet against Andrew Riley includes burglary, theft, vandalism and intimidation.

From ONN:
His stepfather said Riley had a rough childhood.

"He's our oldest, you know. He's our first born and he's been through a lot," said [James] Blake.
The stepdad doesn't elaborate on what "a lot" means, but we're guessing it's nothing compared to what the boy has put others through.

TOO MANY SECRETS. You have no excuse to stash a key under your doormat anymore, not when so many other alternatives exist. We're especially fond of the "lettuce safe."

THRILL OF THE FEET. We have seen the rollercoaster of the future, and you pedal it. But where are all the loops?

CAT-ASTROPHE. Authorities in North Platte, Nebraska put down two stray cats and checked them for rabies after they got into a house and attacked three people.

From the AP:
When investigator John Stadler arrived and opened the bedroom door, "he saw a gray and white cat baring its teeth in attack mode," Gutschenritter said. "He shut the bedroom door and returned to his car for a dart gun."

Both cats were shot, tranquilized and taken to the animal shelter, where they were euthanized.
And to think you laughed when it happened to WJW's Kathleen Cochrane.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Civil War In The Southwest -- The Video

KOLD News 13 covered this past weekend's re-enactment at Picacho Peak featuring the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry among hundreds of other historical volunteers.

Here's the story, as reported by Mark Stine. No, your humble servant is not in it, at my insistence to avoid a conflict of interest.

Embedding Windows Media Player isn't working very well on this page so please click the link below:

Cat Handcuffs, Anyone?

From WJW in Cleveland comes this painful live shot. When a cat doesn't want to be held, it will not be held, as Kathleen Cochrane found out.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Voted Out

Your vote is your voice, but too many people have suddenly gotten laryngitis at the ballot box. The new technology hailed as the savior from dangling chads has created a new set of problems.

UNPLUGGED. Diebold appears ready to ditch its electronic voting machines, riddled with problems and bad karma which could end up hurting sales of the company's mainstay products in the financial world -- including ATMs.

From the AP:
Diebold indicated it still is "vulnerable to these types of challenges because the electronic elections systems industry is emerging." The report also mentioned inconsistency in the way state and local governments are adapting to federal requirements for upgrades in voting technology.
Pencil, paper and a lock on a box sound better all the time.

IN THE RED. One hundred million dollars in marketing and Bono do not a successful charity campaign make, as evidence suggests from the Red efforts. The AIDS-fighting project designed to let people give while they buy red cell phones and trendy fashions has only raised $18 million so far.

From AdAge:
Trent Stamp, president of Charity Navigator, which rates the spending practices of 5,000 nonprofits, said he's concerned about the campaign's impact on the next generation. "The Red campaign can be a good start or it can be a colossal waste of money, and it all depends on whether this edgy, innovative campaign inspires young people to be better citizens or just gives them an excuse to feel good about themselves while they buy an overpriced item they don't really need."
One critic nails it:
"The Red campaign proposes consumption as the cure to the world's evils," said Ben Davis, creative director at Word Pictures Ideas, co-creator of [a Red parody] site. "Can't we just focus on the real solution -- giving money?"
We would, if we hadn't spent it on our Red American Express card already.

WITCH HUNT. Lauren Berrios is a former Catholic who converted to Judaism. But to the Hampton Bays school district in New York City, she's wicked, and she's suing them for $2 million. Berrios says she was fired for using literature to entice people into witchcraft.

What literature, you ask? Oh, the usual suspects -- the Harry Potter and Goosebumps books. Great corruptors of youth they are.

From WCBS-TV, New York:
She believes books that didn't mesh with principal's religious values, even including African-American literature, were taken out of her curriculum.

[Her lawyer] admits that Berrios' appearance didn't help her cause either, especially when she was teaching her students about the Salem witch trials. "Mrs. Berrios has long fingernails, wears dark make-up, wears black," he said.
At least the school didn't throw her in the harbor to see if she floated.

RECORD NO EVIL. If a man beats you to a pulp in the street, and a reporter wasn't there to photograph it, did it happen? France is banning the filming or broadcasting of violent acts unless you're a "professional journalist."

From IDG via MacWorld:
During parliamentary debate of the law, government representatives said the offense of filming or distributing films of acts of violence targets the practice of “happy slapping,” in which a violent attack is filmed by an accomplice, typically with a camera phone, for the amusement of the attacker’s friends.
The law was approved exactly 16 years after a home video camera captured the LAPD beating of Rodney King. Remember, France does not have a First Amendment. But even without the letter of the law, the spirit of the law is infectious.
The journalists’ organization Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories.
If you love your freedom, thank a veteran. And then go enlighten a Frenchman.

NEXT TIME, WE'LL JUST LET IT BURN. Mexico is upset with U.S. Border Patrol agents in Arizona for crossing south of the line to put out a brush fire after it crossed the line, too.

From the AP's account of a Mexican government news release:
"While the department recognizes that the incursion may have been a response to an attempt to deal with an emergency, as the U.S. Embassy states, it has reiterated ... that even during emergency situations, it is required, without exception, to immediately notify the Mexican authorities."
You work the hose, I gotta make a phone call.

Where the heck are the Minutemen when you need 'em? Their fences have problems, but they oughta be at least capable of a bucket brigade. As for Mexico, why get all bent out of shape over a good deed?

The Golden Rule model for handling such incidents goes to Liechtenstein, which recently dealt with an accidental incursion by members of the Swiss Army who got lost.

From the AP:
Officials in Liechtenstein also played down the incident.

Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. "It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something," he said.
Yeah, but those knives they carry are something else.

One commenter on Newsvine still sees a diabolical plot:
This was the first phase of their plan to conquer the world. In 10 years we will all be armed, building clocks, eating swiss cheese and chocolate.

Nut tu menshun ve-a veell ell be-a speekeeng leeke-a thees. Feer zee Sveess. Zeey ere-a cumeeng tu teke-a oofer zee vurld. Meesteke-a my heeeny. Furst Leeechtenstein, zeen vurld. Merk my vurds. Bork Bork Bork!

Friday, March 2, 2007

More Power To You

Our nation's voracious appetite for energy has the former veep urging all of us to diet. Yet in the quest to go electrically lean and clean, some pay to play.

BEST NON-ACTOR IN A NON-SUPPORTING ROLE. Al Gore could set a better example for himself, according to the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

From the TCPR's press release:
Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh-guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore's average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore's energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.
But hold on. The Tennessean has the proverbial rest of the story, which shows Gore is trying to make amends through the wallet.
Electric bills obtained by The Tennessean, however, showed that Gore is paying a premium on his bills to be part of the “green power” program. Gore purchased 108 blocks of “green power” for at least each of the last three months, according to a summary of bills from Nashville Electric Service.

That’s a total of $432 a month spent to pay extra for solar or other renewable energy sources. NES power – outside this program -- is derived largely from coal, which emits carbon, a green house gas.
We're glad Gore can afford to be green. Does he desire the rest of us to cough up more, too?

IT'S NOT NICE TO FOOL WITH MOTHER NATURE! Petmedsonline, of all places, lists several examples of man messing around with nature, including Killer Bees:
Thirty five years after it was introduced into Brazil and escaped from a breeding experiment, the killer bee arrived in Texas, and was spreading north. During its migration the bee has killed hundreds of people and has caused a falloff in honey production.
But it did help Killer Bee Guy Reed Booth of Bisbee.

FORGET PARIS. In mid-February the Associated Press declared a press blackout on Paris Hilton, according to the New York Observer:
“Next week,” entertainment editor Jesse Washington wrote in an e-mail memo obtained by The Transom, “the print team is planning an unconventional experiment: We are NOT going to cover Paris Hilton.

“Barring any major, major news, we are not going to put a single word about Paris on the wire,” the memo continued. “If something does come up, big or small, we encourage discussions on whether we should write about it.”

The results of the experiment, naturally, will be fodder for a future A.P. story. “Hopefully we will be able to discuss what ‘news’ we missed,” read the memo, which could have used some stern copy-editing, “the repercussions of our blackout for AP both editorially and business-wise, and most importantly the force that cause the world to be fixated on this person who, despite her shallow frivolity, represents an epochal development in our culture.”
The Lightning Round has adopted a similar policy towards Britney Spears, and we encourage others to do the same.

IN-TERROR-GATION. Fort Huachuca, located not far south of your Lightning Round's home base, is where many military interrogators hone their craft. Others are learning from the anything-goes style of Jack Bauer on Fox's 24, according to Newsweek:
The Pentagon told NEWSWEEK last week that it didn't know anything about the tactics used on "24," nor had it heard the allegations of their impact. "Humane treatment of detainees is and always has been the [U.S. Department of Defense] standard," said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros. But former U.S. Army specialist Tony Lagouranis, who left the military with an honorable discharge in 2005 and has since spoken out about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners there, says the use of tactics like those featured on TV was common during his 2004-2005 Iraqi tour. According to Lagouranis, his unit tried out similar tactics after watching torture scenes on television and DVD. He has since teamed up with Human Rights First, and recently met with the producers of "24" as part of an effort to have them be more "responsible" in their portrayal of torture scenes.
How does one torture responsibly? We sure as heck wouldn't leave it to Fox.

NOTES ON A SCANDAL. The husband of celebrated late classical pianist Joyce Hatto revealed he played listeners by releasing CD's which contained slices of other keyboardists' work.

From the AP:
"It is self-evident that I have acted stupidly, dishonestly and unlawfully," William Barrington-Coupe wrote in a letter acknowledging the fraudulent recordings, which he said he produced without his wife's knowledge while she was dying of ovarian cancer.
Barrington-Coupe says he inserted the other bits to mask the grunts of his wife, who was suffering from ovarian cancer at the time she made the recordings. The fraud fell apart when a listener with iTunes noticed one recording by Hatto was misidentified as another's. Turns out, the computer was telling the truth.

A record company executive who oversees one of the lifted recordings plans no legal action against Barrington-Coupe:
"The guy is 76, he has a heart condition -- well, he says he has a heart condition -- and I can't see what, apart from revenge, it would give anyone," he said.
We recall what it did to Milli Vanilli.

SHE'S CURED! In our last episode, we detailed the hiccup histrionics of Jennifer Mee -- the larger problem being the media attention, not the hiccups itself. We're pleased to report the hiccups have stopped. And so, we hope, have the calls from talk show bookers.

One of our colleagues suggested Mee was faking it. C'mon... she's no Meg Ryan.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Ready For Battle

We have seen the enemy, and they are ours.

We await their advance, to dispatch them with all speed and necessary force.

And you shall know it is us by our tartans and sabers. Bring a sword to a gunfight? That's the way the heroes clash -- ho, ho, ho!

Even when all hope is lost, the numbers lopsided, victory dissolving like tears in rain, we refuse to surrender, submit, yield to those who shall shackle and diminish us, minimalize and render us irrelevant.

For we are warriors in a just and noble cause, and we have only begun to fight.

Fetch my armor and pass the haggis.

(Above photo from the Mesa Highland Games, February 24, 2007. Thank you, Rosemary!)