Friday, April 27, 2007

Save The Cheerleader

Analysis of the criminal mind produces much insight and fascination. It's also good for a few cheap laughs.

GIMME AN "H," GIMME AN "E," GIMME AN "L," GIMME A "P!" The FBI is trying to track down who sent threatening letters concerning TV coverage of cheerleaders and female athletes to several colleges across the country, including the University of Arizona in your Lightning Round's backyard.

The letters claim coverage and camera angles of the peppy crowd pleasers is less than fair and balanced, according to excerpts released by the FBI:
"We are fed up with networks exploiting women in sports coverage. ABC/ESPN exploit collegiate and professional cheer squads in their coverage of football and basketball... Compare coverage of cheer and dance squads based on their outfits they wear. Compare quality of shots, length of shots and number of shots Pigs park their cameras on us close up, front view, dozens of times each game, yet rarely ever show on TV in this manner, unless squads are wearing sweaters, jackets, under shirts, etc... Watch how they always zoom in on WNBA players shooting free throws then leave at the last second as she starts to shoot, disrupting the flow. Watch on ESPN how they will show women serve, close up, from every angle (side, back) EXCEPT when they zoom in close front, they will leave as she starts to serve, disrupting the flow. We have asked nicely for them to respect us and all women, yet they refuse. They exploit innocent people, so we will too. When they start respecting us, we stop mailing these out."
Somebody stop them before they mail again!

Another excerpt:
"For the past 6-7 years, ESPN and its nationwide networks have exploited cheer/dance teams all across the country. They do this by parking their TV cameras on these women for their own personal entertainment, but only give TV time to squads that wear long sleeved shirts, jackets, sweaters, etc. The squads that don't wear these types of outfits? They get EXPLOITED. For a long time we have warned ESPN the networks and several schools what would happen if this did not change. For the last 6 years, Ohio State cheerleaders have received more TV time than any other Division 1A cheer squad on ESPN, because they wear long sleeved red/white outfits. If they wore sleeveless outfits, they would not get ANY TV time. So, we are fed up with this constant exploitation."
So our sideline watchdog claims exploitation, and then complains that we don't see enough skin. The Lightning Round sluths have a suspect in mind: Larry Flynt.

SHE'S THE BOSS. China is creating a town where the men are men, the women are women, and the women rule the men.

Reports Reuters:
When tour groups enter the town, female tourists would play the dominant role when shopping or choosing a place to stay, and a disobedient man would be punished by "kneeling on an uneven board" or washing dishes in restaurant, media reports said.
Get those disgusting fantasies out of your head. Really...

...AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Your vote is... oh, you know the rest by now, don't you? A Florida lawmaker wants to put "I choose not to vote" on the ballot as an option for people who want to exercise their right but cringe at the choices. In essence, Republican Mike Bennett is reviving the "None Of The Above" option. The idea has surfaced before only to dissolve for two main reasons: 1) No politician wants to get beat by a "nobody." 2) The people who stay home from the polls are already voting, in a way, for none of the above.

The idea, untested and unproven, is to force candidates to earn a mandate by broadening their appeal and shame those who don't with the stigma of a victorious null contender. Some winners would end up losers in the big picture. We could call this the "I hate politicians" option, for that's what it's all about: a ventilation device for the angry voter. But in the absence of mandatory, coerced voting, your Lightning Round staff sees no need for a state-sponsored temper tantrum.

Besides, you already have a "none of the above" option. It's called voting for Ralph Nader.

ELECTORAL IDOL. Or, you could vote for whoever Mark Burnett offers up. He's teaming up with MySpace to shop a show which would search for an independent presidential candidate for 2008.

From the AP:
The political reality show "Independent" comes with a $1 million cash prize and a catch: the winner can't keep the money.

The prize can be used to finance a run for the White House or can be given to a political action committee or political cause.

Contestants in the show, set to launch in early 2008, will meet the public and interact with supporters, protesters and others. An interactive "town hall" will give MySpace users and TV viewers a chance to rate their performance.
No network has picked up the show yet. They're already convinced the winner will be Sanjaya.

HALF ENOUGH? U.S. Army Sgt. Jim Wilt wonders why flags are lowered to half-staff at his base in Afghanistan for the victims of the Virginia Tech shootings and not for service members killed in action.

From FOX News:
"I think it is sad that we do not raise the bases' flag to half-staff when a member of our own task force dies," Wilt wrote. "I can understand not lowering flags across the country for the death of a single service member. But shouldn't the service member's state lower the flag to show their respect to the fallen trooper, if only for one day? Some states do, but not all of them."
A point worth considering for every state in the union. Sadly, a few states might not be raising their flags to full staff for awhile.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Suffering In Silence

The New York Times recounts the mysterious, withdrawn and troubled life of Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho, who grew from laconic boy into angry young man.

Writes N.R. Kleinfield:
From the beginning, he did not talk. Not to other children, not to his own family. Everyone saw this. In Seoul, South Korea, where Seung-Hui Cho grew up, his mother agonized over his sullen, brooding behavior and empty face. Talk, she just wanted him to talk.
But he lived in silence until the bloody end, off the grid of college life except where absolutely necessary. He seethed and raged in a couple of violent plays for creative writing classes. He lashed out against everyone in his video epitaph mailed to NBC and broadcast to the world. However, he also suffered deeply, and his life as told by Kleinfield is a sad parable of missed opportunities for healing.

Let me be clear: Cho had absolutely no justification for his deadly outburst. He is not a martyr. He should not be mourned as one. His troubled life does not outweigh nor diminish the value of the lives he took in a shower of bullets. But examining the little we know about Cho's shadowy existence, his vision of himself and the world, you find a ghost -- a soul lost on Earth with nobody to show him the way.

Kleinfield does not report on what drew Cho into his shell. I will not offer theories or point incriminating fingers, so let us suppose he was born that way.

From the Times article:
[Cho] was well behaved, all right, but his pronounced bashfulness deeply worried his parents. Relatives thought he might be a mute. Or mentally ill. “The kid didn’t say much and didn’t mix with other children,” his uncle said. “ ‘Yes sir’ was about all you could get from him.”
We are not told whether Cho's parents sought professional help for him at this point, although his mother "prayed for God to transform her son." Whatever action his family took didn't work: the silence festered as he grew into young adulthood.
High school did not help Seung-Hui Cho surmount his miseries. He went to Westfield High School, one of the largest schools in Fairfax County. He was scrawny and looked younger than his age. He was unresponsive in class, and unwilling to speak.

And that haunted face.

Classmates recall some teasing and bullying over his taciturn nature. The few times he was required to speak for a class assignment, students mocked his poor English and deep-throated voice.

And so he chose invisibility. Neighbors would spot him shooting baskets by himself. When they said hello, he ignored them, as if he were not there. “Like he had a broken heart,” said Abdul Shash, a next-door neighbor.
We don't know what broke Cho's heart. Perhaps he rejected offers of friendship because he considered them ingenuine or patronizing after taunts from peers. So he let his sadness consume and cover him like a security blanket.

He grew into a socially barren college student at VT. The only way he related to women was photographing them with a cell phone camera or pulling them out of his imagination.
In his junior year, Mr. Cho told his then-roommates that he had a girlfriend. Her name was Jelly. She was a supermodel who lived in outer space and traveled by spaceship, and she existed only in the dimension of his imagination.

When Andy Koch, one of his roommates, returned to their suite one day, Mr. Cho shooed him away. He told him Jelly was there. He said she called him Spanky. SpankyJelly became his instant-message screen name.
Invisible friends are a normal phase of little children, not college students. Or did somebody just excuse it as college weirdness, the catch-all excuse that embraces absurdity as diversity?

When police told Cho to stop stalking two women, he sent an instant message to his roommate threatening to kill himself. The roommate contacted police, and finally Cho got the mental health care he should've had a decade ago.
After a counselor recommended involuntary commitment, a judge signed an order deeming him a danger and he was sent for evaluation to Carilion St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital in Radford, Va. A doctor there declared him mentally ill but not an imminent threat. Rather than commit him, the judge allowed him to undergo outpatient treatment. Officials say they do not know whether he did.
Here lies the court's big mistake. The authorities allowed Cho to deny he had a problem by walking away from help. "Officials" might not know whether he did, but the lack of a paper trail, the absence of any one-on-one recollections of therapy, and the lack of change in his disposition prove it.
His junior-year roommates mostly ignored him because he was so withdrawn. If he said something, it was weird. During Thanksgiving break, Mr. Koch recalled, Mr. Cho called him to report that he was vacationing in North Carolina with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president; Mr. Cho said he had grown up with him in Moscow.

In class, some students thought he might be a deaf-mute. A classmate once offered him $10 just to say hello but got nothing. He hunched there in sunglasses, a baseball cap yanked tight over his head. Sometimes Mr. Cho introduced himself as “Question Mark,” saying it was the persona of a man who lived on Mars and journeyed to Jupiter. On the sign-in sheet of a literature class, he simply scribbled a question mark instead of his name.
Examine what Cho was trying to say in his few words and deeds: the "vacation" with Putin, the question mark for a name. Here is somebody in search of value to his existence, so starved for meaning that he will invent a retreat with a world leader just as easily as a relationship with a supermodel. He needed to feel important. Yet in a simple query for a name, a situation where he could not make things up, he offered reality as he knew it. He did not know who he was.

Others surely thought he wasn't an "imminent threat." That was true only if they discounted Cho's threat to himself. In a society constantly wrestling with how much to protect people from themselves, our leaders drew the line in the wrong place. They did not consider a threat to oneself left uncorrected would ferment into a threat to others. We will never know if Cho's rage-soaked drama assignments and cryptic utterances were intentional cries for help or simply reflections of his hopeless existence. But with Cho seeing his own life devoid of value, it was not hard for him to see all other lives devoid of it too. This would explain his final recorded rants against the rich, people he saw as having artificial value.

What Cho needed was an intervention, not a prescription. His roommates, family, and whoever knew him enough to understand the problem needed to confront him just like an alcoholic or drug addict and force him into treatment. Cho had an addiction to alienation. To be sure, Cho was so withdrawn, it's hard to think of anybody who knew him well enough to care. Still, he needed to know somebody did.

Nobody gave Cho a reason to live, leaving him to plod in a private purgatory with no clue how to get out. The Times article mentions Cho often played the song "Shine" by Collective Soul over and over. Consider the lyrics:
Give me a word
Give me a sign
Show me where to look
Tell what will I find ( will I find )
Lay me on the ground
Fly me in the sky
Show me where to look
Tell me what will I find ( will I find )

Oh, heaven let your light shine down

Love is in the water
Love is in the air
Show me where to go
Tell me will love be there ( love be there )
Teach me how to speak
Teach me how to share
Teach me where to go
Tell me will love be there ( love be there )

Oh, heaven let your light shine down

I'm going to let it shine
Heavens little light gonna shine on me
Yea yea heavens little light gonna shine on me
Its gonna shine, shine on me
Its gonna shine, come on in shine
This is the wake-up call: loneliness can be just as destructive as substance abuse if left untreated. If one does not feel loved by God, by friends, by family, by anybody, and if this is coupled with the lack of mission in life -- a reason to get up in the morning -- then one is dead already. Some will bottle this living mortality inside of them, like Cho did for many years, or they will lash out, angry at their worthless life and resentful of those enjoying the happiness unknown to them. Because we cannot predict with absolute certainty who will react violently and who will not, it behooves us to intervene.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Reel To Reel: Fracture

Hello, Clarice... uh, Willy.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Ryan Gosling, David Strathairn
Rated: R
Red Flags: Violence, Language

So Hannibal Rising disappointed you. No Anthony Hopkins, no way. Fortunately, he's back -- sort of. Imagine Hannibal sans cannibal and you have Hopkins' character in Fracture, a smooth legal psychodrama. Hopkins plays Ted Crawford, a devilishly clever aerospace engineer who can spot hairline cracks (hence the title) as well as commit the perfect crime. He shoots his wife after catching her in an affair, takes a few steps to get rid of the evidence, but then confesses to it when the cops move in.

The case is practically closed for outgoing assistant district attorney Willy Beachum (Gosling), a litigator with a 97 percent conviction rate and a cushy high-paying corporate lawyer job waiting for him. He's got a confession, a weapon, and Crawford acting as his own attorney. But before you can say "guilty, guilty, guilty," the case falls apart. The gun used in the shooting has never been shot, and that's just the start of the technicalities that cool off a hot-shot litigator.

Beachum talks with a slurry drawl, leaving no doubt he's the kind of guy who'll go to a mat to put somebody away even though he sounds like a walking DWI case. His forthcoming dream job bewilders him, something he wants but can't quite relate to. Defending white-collar criminals just doesn't carry the same rush as locking them up. With his case in crisis and his new firm expecting a self-starter, Beachum must decide between working as a DA or a fat-cat hired gun. Hopkins, as Crawford, may not eat his victims, but he's still the creepy psychopath we love so much as we watch him call Beachum "old sport" and taunt his inability to get a conviction.

Fracture works not as a who-dunit but a how-dunit as both Crawford and Beachum play the system and try to stay a step ahead of each other.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Learning Under Fire

It is small comfort, but as we mourn the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, remember that things can always be worse. The vast majority of students -- elementary, secondary and collegiate -- attend classes in peace, unlike in some parts of the world.

READING, WRITING, AND RAMPAGES. In Iraq, shooting up colleges is almost part of the curriculum.

From IraqSlogger:
On Monday, the same day as the Virginia Tech mass shooting, two separate shooting incidents struck Mosul University, one killing Dr. Talal Younis al-Jelili, the dean of the college of Political Science as he walked through the university gate, and another killing Dr. Jaafar Hassan Sadeq, a professor from the Faculty of Arts at the school, who was targeted in front of his home in the al-Kifaat area, according to Aswat al-Iraq.
The numbers get your attention:
Earlier this month, the Dr. Qais Jawad al-Azzawi, head of the Geneva-based Committee International Committee of Solidarity with Iraqi Professors said that 232 university professors were killed and 56 were reported missing in Iraq, while more than 3,000 others had left the country after the 2003 invasion.
Baghdad University's attendance has slipped to six percent, according to the 'Slogger.

Your editors will not offer a caustic punchline -- just a reflection on the numbers. Not only are lives in danger, but livelihoods. How can Iraq move forward towards stability when higher education is a dangerous undertaking?

THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! The empire formerly known as the Soviet Union plans to tunnel under the Bering Strait to Alaska. On the way: oil, gas, and electricity from Siberia. A mixture of Russian government agencies and private companies will fund the $12 billion project. As always, skeptics raise questions.

From Reuters:
"The project is a monster,'' Yevgeny Nadorshin, chief economist with Trust Investment Bank in Moscow, said in an interview. "The Chinese are crying out for our commodities and willing to finance the transport links, and we're sending oil to Alaska. What, Alaska doesn't have oil?''
If the environmentalists won't let you drill for it, no.

BURNING FAT. In the battle to save hefty lives, ambulances got bigger. Now crematory furnaces are expanding, too.

From the London Daily Mail:
No funeral has yet been halted by an embarrassing blockage after the curtains swing back, thanks to the vigilance of funeral companies and their checks on what will fit into crematoria. But the Local Government Association, the umbrella body for local councils, said some funerals were having to be switched to venues miles from the home of the family of the deceased in order to find a crematorium that could cope.
We wonder, might a pre-crematory liposuction help?

PRIME CUT. John Edwards' campaign reveals he paid $400 for a haircut in California and $248 for salon services in Dubuque, Iowa. Barbers in the Quad City area agree the Democratic presidential hopeful got stiffed.

From the Quad-City Times:
Jay Ledford, who runs Cut Rite, Moline, with his dad, Jay Sr., insists that a number of years ago, President Clinton had his hair cut in Davenport. “I can’t remember the barber, but he only charged him $150,” Ledford said.
First Democrats were tarred as the party of "tax and spend." Then it became "cut and run." Could it now be "cut and spend?"

DRESSED TO ILL. Your Lightning Round has heard many fables of horrid bridesmaid dresses. So we weren't surprised to see a few brides in ghastly gowns. Where are the fashion police when you need them?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Our Massacres, Ourselves

The minute I heard about the shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus, I could see the end of the story. As journalists, we know the school mass-shooting drill. Dig up everything you can from the cops. Find survivors, find witnesses, find family of the living and the dead. Look at the security. Look at other schools' security. Ask what could've been done differently. Mention Columbine somewhere. If you're a thousand miles away, find the local connections -- the people who have been there and have children there. Get the prayer services and the spontaneous memorials. Surf the net for photos you need -- everybody's on MySpace now. Days and days of coverage are before us, a remake of the same tragic story with a different cast and locations.

Before the Virginia Tech tragedy, we had Columbine. Before Columbine, we had Luby's. Before Luby's, we had the UT-Austin gunman. We had discussions about gun control and security. We had wake-up calls on bullying. We installed metal detectors, counselors, and early-warning systems. We encouraged kids to rat out their scheming classmates and save lives, which many have done, sparing us more bloodshed.

But it happened again. It will happen once more. And then it will happen yet again because this is the world we live in.

Legitimate questions are on the table about the way Virginia Tech police handled the first wave of violence and why the campus wasn't locked down before the gunman sprayed a classroom. I have yet to hear what evidence led officers to believe the shooting of two people at the residence hall was not worthy of clear and immediate emergency notification instead of an e-mail. We will have plenty of time to point fingers and say "mistakes were made." Undoubtedly, jobs will change hands and procedures will change with them. But we'll have another mass shooting, and we'll ask the same questions again -- about gun control, about warning signs, about policies and procedures and counteractive measures. Yet we will never submit to fear, locking ourselves out or wearing flak jackets and packing heat to even the odds.

We will, however, hug our children and pray the world they inherit spares them from such menace. But it's up to us. No matter who the gunman is, we'll find a person lacking the proper emotional stability and coping mechanisms. Those were not taken away from him. He did not "blow a fuse," as the metaphor goes. The equipment was never installed, because nobody installed it or nobody noticed it missing.

It doesn't matter whether or not you believe in God or family values. You must at least believe in life. Your young ones must learn they have no right to take that gift away -- from anybody. Times will come for self-defense, but sheer malice does not equate. Gun control, incarceration and three-strikes laws don't cure a mind ignorant of humanity. We are fully capable of dismissing our murderous impulses if only someone shows us the way. Most of us have learned these lessons. But our lives are at the mercy of those who have not.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Let The Good Times Roll!

A pictorial essay captured by Viscount Christopher Francis
(Click any image for a close-up.)

A clear sky, a beautiful day, and the greenery of Prescott's Granite Creek Park in the prime of Spring! 'Tis the perfect venue for an 18th Century picnic and lawn bowling, the sport of kings, and Miss Alia is the queen -- undefeated. It's going to take a tournament to handle all the enthusiastic challengers of We Make History. And so it shall be.

The object, sports fans, is to roll your team's balls closest to the "jack" -- that white sphere reminiscent of a billiard cue ball. Score one point for each ball closer than your competitor's, and two if you touch the jack. Seven ends the match.

Let the games begin.

To no one's surprise, Miss Alia and Josh enter the championship match against Lord and Lady Scott. Who shall emerge victorious?

The Belle of the Lawn Ball demonstrates her impeccable skill. Nearly every roll lands in a scoring position, often knocking away competitors or maneuvering around them as if she were piloting the ball with her mind.

Lord and Lady Scott, however, are fit competitors, rallying to stay in the game.

It is a dramatic showdown. Every point is crucial. Too close to call? Let's go to the tape.

The final round arrives with both sides in reach of the match point. And the winners are...

...Lord and Lady Scott! Green, the colour of victory, the results undisputed.

The winners, of course, are gracious and thankful for such worthy competition.

Your humble viscount, for those who wonder, found himself eliminated in the first round -- putting him in empathy with the Arizona Wildcats' NCAA performance.

Now, are you ready for some football?

I have no pictorial assistance for this passage, but I shall merely say that defense meant everything. After a 35-7 blowout in the first game, both sides reshuffled competitors, producing two bowl-worthy defensive squads, as pass after pass found merely air or ground and turnovers added up. The final score: 0-0, with a pledge to continue the game in June, and your viscount glad he did not rip his beautiful new coat and breeches, a fine labour of Madame Rodriguez.

But ah me, the camera does not lie. My stockings did sag afterwards.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Czary State Of Affairs

Employment numbers show a strong U.S. job market. The Help Wanted sign is even out at the White House.

SUPPOSE THEY HELD A WAR... President Bush is having trouble finding a "czar" to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the Washington Post:
At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.
Has Bush tried listing the job on Our advisers in the Lightning Round classified department came up with this sample listing, submitted for the chief's approval.

JOB OPENING: High-level executive to manage open-ended stabilization projects in our overseas divisions. The ideal candidate will have excellent command and conquer abilities, flexibility and creative problem-solving skills, yet still be a team player. If you're not with us, you're against us! Fax your resume and kevlar requirements to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. The Office of the Executive is an Equal Opportunity Employer (except for liberals and peace pansies).

A PLACE WHERE YOU'RE WANTED. Pennsylvania has 1.4 million unserved warrants, including at least 100 for homicide, according to a new computer system and an audit by the Associated Press.

The AP article doesn't mention how much time Pennsylvania authorities spend trying to serve these warrants, but some of the wanted are busted while they're paying fines for other offenses:
The Armstrong County clerk of courts, Brenda George, said she has learned not to overreact when someone paying a fine at her counter triggers the computer system's yellow "WO" alert, indicating a warrant is pending. She quietly summons a deputy.

"We've had some circumstances where we've said 'Hold on, you have a warrant, we need to get the sheriff,' and they've run down the hall," she said.
Your Lightning Round wonders what would happen if we linked the system with grocery store and quick-mart cash registers. Paper, plastic, or handcuffs? Hey, wait, don't run off! Now we've got another problem -- shoplifting.

WALKING THE LINE. Arizona's governor just made it legal to cross the street. Truth be told, she closed a legal loophole regarding internationally-flavored crossing lights, the ones with the blue man and the red hand. Some enterprising jaywalkers in Phoenix were getting tickets dismissed because nothing in the books said a red hand meant "don't walk."

Now if we can just get Tucson drivers to understand a red light means stop.

WHEN YOU GOTTA GO. Two airliners circled for 18 minutes above Manchester, New Hampshire airport because the only person in the control tower needed to make a waste dump. A plane carrying human lungs for a transplant also waited on the runway.

From CNN:
"There should never be one person in the tower, because it's not safe," said Doug Church, spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. "It's just added proof that the system is stretched to its limits, and these are the type of things that are happening."
The FAA says the controller acted professionally, waiting for a lull in airport traffic before relieving himself. But what about installing a port-a-privy in the tower?

TEN STUPID THINGS PEOPLE DO TO MESS UP THEIR GRAMMAR. Our staff of rewrite editors, chained to their Webster's, Roget's and Strunk and White's like Marley's ghost, recommended this helpful guide to help people rectify homophone problems. Teaching your teenager to start using real words again instead of text-message English -- that may take immersion therapy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is One Minute Of Originality Too Much To Ask?

CBS News just canned a producer who plagiarized material from the Washington Post's Jeffrey Zaslow and used it for "Katie Couric's Notebook" -- a one-minute editorial series that runs weekdays on and some CBS TV and radio stations.

From the Post's Howard Kurtz:
Much of the rest of the script was stolen from the Journal. Couric said: "For kids today, the library is more removed from their lives. It's a last-ditch place to go if they need to find something out."

Zaslow wrote in March: "The library is more removed from their lives. It's a last-ditch place to go if they need to find something out."

Couric said: "Sure, children still like libraries, but books aren't the draw."

Zaslow wrote: "Sure, there are still library-loving children, but books aren't necessarily the draw."
From the CBS News "PublicEye" Blog:
Couric has significant involvement in the Notebooks, though she does not write all of them. Every week, she meets with producers to go over ideas and discuss possible themes. Sometimes, she then writes the pieces herself; in other cases, a producer writes them, after which Couric edits and tapes them. In the case of the April 4 piece, Couric was involved in choosing the topic, though she did not write the piece herself... Couric was on vacation last week, and the April 4 Notebook was pre-taped to run while she was away.
Plagiarism is unacceptable, but that's not the only thing that bothers me. Katie let someone put thoughts into her mouth, even if she did choose the topic. As Kurtz notes:
What made the ripoff especially striking was the personal flavor of a video -- now removed from the CBS Web site -- that began, "I still remember when I got my first library card, browsing through the stacks for my favorite books."
"I" who? That producer or Katie?

For $15 million a year, every page in Katie's notebook ought to be hers, not her producers'. At one minute each, these spots barely fill the page. With a cadre of staffers helping her, don't tell me she can't get enough time to pen such meager copy by herself -- and with time to think about it, too.

Otherwise, we need a disclaimer: "The opinions expressed by this newscaster are not necessarily the ones found in her own head."

Monday, April 9, 2007

I'm Applying For The Village Idiot Position

If you want to work at ESPN, you don't need to know television. But you do need to know sports -- a lot about sports. Eric Gershon of The Hartford Courant shows us how much. Every entry-level applicant must past a sports quiz that can border on Trivial Pursuit Nightmare Edition. I know I wouldn't make it beyond question one, and the mini-test with the article proves it.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Reel To Reel: Meet The Robinsons (3-D)

The future, remixed.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Voices of Angela Bassett, Adam West, Tom Selleck
Rated: G
Red Flags: NONE!

Many famous inventors didn't really invent the products they are famous for. They merely appropriated ideas from others and had more leverage to get them patented, marketed and sold. Thomas Edison didn't create the light bulb, but he improved on the idea. Italian Antonio Mucci created a prototype telephone years before Alexander Graham Bell. Meet The Robinsons embodies that spirit in its CGI-animated yarn about a boy inventor. The film becomes a giant guessing game of "Where Have I Seen This Before?" -- albeit an entertaining one. I counted ideas borrowed or modified from Dudley Do-Right, Star Trek, Robots, Flushed Away, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, and Back To The Future.

Lewis (voices of Daniel Hansen and Jordan Fry) is a 13-year-old aspiring inventor living in an orphanage. He's brainy beyond belief, but his inventions gone haywire are scaring off adoptive parents -- more than a hundred of them. Lewis finally decides that the only mother right for him is the one who abandoned him on the orphanage doorstep as a baby. So he puts together a brain scanner which looks like a colorful erector set of old TV parts, kitchen utensils and a few knobs and flywheels. He shows it off at the school Science Fair, only to see his hope dashed again by a sinister, shadowy, handlebar-mustached villain known only as the Bowler Hat Guy -- who looks suspiciously like Snidely Whiplash. Jay Ward's estate ought to sue for copyright infringement.

Snidely-- uh, Hat Guy, however, is more like his arch nemesis Dudley Do-Right in that he lacks enough brain cells to pull off a decent evil plot. No worries. He's got his hat Doris, something that looks like it flew in from Spiderman 2 to do the grunt work.

But also lurking is Wilbur, a self-described time-cop from the future who's after the Bowler Hat Guy, and who needs to give Lewis a healthy pep talk to save himself and the world of tomorrow. Deals are made, and Wilbur agrees to take Lewis into the future in his time-travel aircraft (with a cloaking device that surely infringes on a Klingon patent) in exchange for Lewis fixing his memory scanner. Lewis sees the future and more in Wilbur's eccentric family, featuring a frog orchestra and a super-hero pizza-delivery guy (Adam West's voice), among other things. They're fun to watch, but it's so over-the-top bizarre it overloads the picture. Here ends the synopsis, because explaining any more plot points will give away a few twists.

I enjoyed the film, especially in digital 3-D. This is not the old red-blue headache of the past, but a transparent polarized system that works beautifully. The film does not exploit the format -- no arrows into the camera -- but it does take on more depth. I only wish the story did. It does have a message about dreams and family, something kids will benefit from, but it's not at the level of a Pixar effort, which also finds something for the grown-ups.

Make sure you arrive in time to catch the pre-show feature "Working For Peanuts," a Donald Duck cartoon made for 3-D that hasn't been seen since the 1950's. It's a treat!

Friday, April 6, 2007

Tick... Tick... Tsk

Here in Arizona, we are spared the biannual ritual of springing forward and falling back. Our notoriously hot summers need not be any hotter. So we sympathize with those thrown into this ritual earlier with little reward.

WASTED TIME. Starting Daylight Savings Time earlier was supposed to save energy and money. But it just isn't happening.

From Reuters:
"We haven't seen any measurable impact," said Jason Cuevas, spokesman for Southern Co., one of the nation's largest power companies, echoing comments from several large utilities.

That may come as no surprise to the Energy Department, which last year predicted only modest energy savings because the benefits of the later daylight hour would be offset.
We remind you this was preceded by Y2K-ish nightmares of computers failing to adjust their clocks properly. We don't think a good scare qualifies as conservation.

UNHOLY ALLIANCE? Several churches in Phoenix may revive the Sanctuary Movement. The effort originally involved congregations taking in illegal immigrants fleeing persecution and killing in Central America during the 1980's. Now it may shield Mexican illegal immigrants fleeing the INS.

From the Arizona Republic:
"We are diminishing ourselves when we stand by and watch (deportations) happen to others and do nothing," said the Rev. Trina Zelle.
Says a retired clergyman:
"With hard-working poor people under threat of their families being separated, the responsibility of the church to protect them and keep them intact is very critical right now," [John] Fife said.
They have no doubt been inspired by the case of Elvira Arellano, holed up in a Chicago Methodist church since last August. So far, the feds have left her alone. She is one person. But our prognosticators at Lightning Round headquarters have been doing the math, and we wonder how many churches would be able to support five Arellanos and their families... or a dozen... or two dozen? They cannot simply live in the pews, we reason. And given the numbers, the government will not kindly avert its gaze.

Our office oracles have no dearth of doomsday scenarios when asked for an endgame. "Remember Elian," the paperclip guru said. They recommend someone kindly taking the concerned clergy aside and telling them softly, "No."

SEEING THE LIGHT. Somebody is pointing green lasers at planes landing at an airport on Oahu, Hawaii.

From the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
"Landing is a precarious operation," said Cmdr. Chris Moss, the operations officer at Air Station Barbers Point. "To be distracted by the laser is dangerous in itself, but the eye damage from the laser can be instantaneous and permanent."
We at your Lightning Round recommend pilots arm themselves with the Army's newly-developed pain gun.

RISING DANGER. The Marines want Yuma, Arizona car dealers to put a 50-foot height limit on advertising balloons after a fighter jet had to take evasive action from a breakaway bunch.

From the AP:
The Marine base shares space with the Yuma International Airport. Yuma International Director Craig Williams said he has told dealers to take down their balloons, but they continue to be a problem. Some fly long strings of smaller balloons that Williams said may not violate the letter of the law, but likely the spirit.

"When you string a million of them together and put them way up in the air, it's a problem," Williams said.
An F-5 fighter costing millions of dollars, a weapon of high technology threatened by a low-tech, cheap, latex inflatable stuffed with helium. Now let us ask again, what is the real problem?

DOWNSIZING. A New York appeals court has ordered an insurance company to pay for surgery on a teenage boy to reduce his -- shall we say -- abnormally protrusive chest. The insurer called the condition "cosmetic." The boy and his family called it traumatizing.

From the AP:
Court papers said the teen, of Hempstead, N.Y., was teased by his peers and never engaged in activities that allowed anyone to see his breasts. They said he would not go to the beach and even refused to attend an out-of-state university, fearing dormitory mates would ridicule him.


The judges said it was "absurd to deny coverage on the grounds that plaintiff's son did not provide support from a mental health professional, particularly where the external review decision itself acknowledges that the patient suffers 'depression' and 'emotional distress' from this condition."
In other words, buying him a bra is not considered appropriate medical treatment.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Even In The Darkest Hours...

It is 1862.
Union forces are on the Peninsula.
Yankees advance towards Richmond.
Yet Virginia’s finest ladies and gentlemen find reason to celebrate and hope for the future in a glorious ball presented by the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry and We Make History.

Adapted from the journal of Private Christopher Francis
1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry
Photographs by 1st Sgt. Michael C.
1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry

“Be ready to gallop. Be ready to reel,” Captain Scott advises the gathering before him -- soldiers and commanders of the 1st Virginia and the awaiting Virginia Belles.

Color pours from the ladies’ gowns, hooped and ruffled, fitted to perfection, evidence Union blockades are failing spectacularly in any attempt to efface the beautiful dressing of the fairer ones. The recruits stand proud in their powder-gray wool uniforms, buttoned in gold, decorated with lace cravats, kepis removed as social graces dictate.

Flags and tri-color bunting enliven the spacious ballroom, outfitted with a new wooden dance floor just in time for the festivities. The guests arrive from all over the country, southerners and northerners filing through the doors. A few Federals join in, setting present hostilities aside. An Austrian ally arrives to a warm welcome. A soldier from the modern world finds a room full of Americans grateful for his service. He leads the gathering in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.

“Three cheers for the United States of America! Hip Hip…”


“Hip Hip…”


“Hip Hip…”


The nation may be divided, but on this night, it is unified.

A contemplative Virginia recruit from Tucson stands among the crowds as they pair off for the grand promenade about the hall. Rested and renewed from skirmishes out West, he turns his attention to finding a partner. He does not have to look far. A young lady standing not three feet away graciously accepts his invitation -- a gracious bow - - as the couples line up.

All about, couples are greeting and exchanging names as their anticipation builds. The recruit smiles at his companion, but utters not a word. They both feel a little shy in this moment, preferring to enjoy the music of the Privytippers -- bass, guitar, and banjo.

The parade flows into the customary mixer, where couples meet and share a swing and a smile before changing partners as they circle around one another, stepping in and out to the side, simple steps intimidating no one.

Set dances might intimidate even the most stalwart Virginian, but not on this occasion, and especially not through the skillful direction of caller Miss Becky.

“They seem to build on each other,” one dancer notes.

He is right, for the first set dance incorporates familiar patterns from the mixer, and the second one incorporates moves from the first. Change up the chasses, stir up the swings, add a new move, and a new dance is born. The newcomers grasp it with ease. The more experienced and lively Virginians look forward to each new set with the anticipation of showing off their polish and poise.

“Do you have a dancing companion?” the recruit asks, quick to catch a lady alone on the floor, eyes searching.

“No, sir,” she answers, smiling.

“May I be yours?” he offers with a cavalier bow, one foot out front, perhaps dating him back one-hundred years to his time as a Continental soldier, or perhaps a nobleman. He cannot help it -- not that the ladies mind.

They are with the finest of gentlemen tonight, and a generous number share a special honor as Virginia Belles, that title bestowed on young women of paragon character who represent the best of society to come, each representing a county of Virginia in what will hopefully in a fully liberated Confederate States of America. A gallant member of the 1st Virginia escorts each one. With so many counties and so many ladies, the odds are quite in the gentlemen’s favor, necessitating more than one escort per soldier!

“Find your partner for the Virginia Reel!”

Start the pocketwatches… but not so fast. The Captain informs his guests this is merely an appetizer for the feast yet to come -- a marathon reel. Stonewall Jackson, he notes, was known to lead his men in short marches before the longer ones. Surely the same logic shall suffice on the dance floor.

He takes command and calls the dance with precision, getting the various newcomers acquainted with the steps they will be cavorting through in their sleep… lines in and back and in and back... first gentleman, last lady honor… first lady, last gentleman, honor… first gentleman, last lady, right-hand turn… first lady, last gentleman, right-hand turn… first gentleman, last lady, left-hand turn… first lady, last gentleman, left-hand turn... first gentleman, last lady, two-hand turn... first lady, last gentleman, two-hand turn… first gentleman, last lady, do-si-do… first lady, last gentleman, do-si-do… top couple chasse down and back… reel along the lines… chasse back, lead the lines through an arch of hands… reform the lines… start all over again.

Somewhere in this progression, the Tucson recruit’s set disjoins from the call. The couples fall behind. But disaster does not even wink at them. In a ballroom miracle, they continue on without missing a step, leading themselves, dropping hints for each other at the next steps, proceeding without trepidation and making nary an error. They are true Virginians, dancers for all their lives, unfazed at a few new steps or a few old familiar ones.

The recruit stands bedazzled at the set after the final notes fade.

“That was a fine job,” he compliments in breathless admiration. “That could have been a disaster! Everybody did wonderfully!”

Captain Scott relays a dispatch from the battlefield. The Army of Northern Virginia is pushing those Yankees back. Richmond is spared. It is not something the two Federals in the ballroom desire to hear, but encouraging developments nonetheless. Victories end wars. Stalemates lengthen them.

A rousing anthem from the 1st Virginia fills the hall.

“Then here’s to our Confederacy,
Strong we are and brave,
Like patriots of old we’ll fight,
our heritage to save.
Rather than submit to shame,
to fight we would prefer
So cheer for the Bonnie Blue flag
that bears a single star.
Hurrah! Hurrah!
For Southern rights, hurrah!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag
that bears a single star.”

With such a rousing battle cry, how can any man resist the urge to enlist? But suppose an irresistible bonus was offered for those stragglers and doubters. Suppose a dance with a fine Virginia lady? All it takes is one of their shoes.

The new recruits line up behind the battle-hardened soldiers.

“Present arms!”

“Fix bayonets!”


In a matter of seconds, the 1st Virginians storm the floor, grabbing their prize as if it were running away from them. Hands clasping shoes rise in triumph, the victors clutching their spoils as they seek the ladies who fit the footwear. As fate would have it, the Tucson recruit finds himself rejoined with the young lady he escorted in the promenade. She radiates spirit and thoroughly enjoys the next set with him.

Dancing produces many animated companions and a few unexpected ones. One mixer involving three-person sets starts out promising: a gentleman flanked by two ladies, with the gentleman passing on to other sets. Mathematics knows no ballroom decorum, however, and the mixer often produces sets of three gentlemen. The Tucson recruit sees it happen to himself three times in a row, most dramatically in a troika which finds him dancing with his Captain and Sergeant.

“You are quite lively!” the most superior officer observes.

“Is it possible for me to be any less?” the recruit responds, relishing the awkwardness like the next battle.

More amusing combinations emerge in the cookie dance, that highly anticipated, highly entertaining, simple to learn, impossible to forget mixer variation where ladies and gentlemen line up before three chairs. One in the middle holds a tin of cookies. Two others fill in the outside seats. The person in the middle then hands the cookies to one person flanking him before chasseing off with the other, preferably of the opposite gender. Then again, probability and ratios lack the proper respect.

The Tucson recruit ends up surrounded by the modern-day soldier and another gentleman, but the solution is not difficult.

“Let’s go.”

“All three?”


They roar their battle charge, plunging down the center of the lines, a cry guaranteed to drive even the bravest Yankee clear to Maine.

Energy and joy consume the crowds. They clap as much they can, the thunder of hands reverberating and piercing the air, leaving no bystander unimpressed. Even the bunting on the walls longs to join the assembly as it peels away from its stiff upright stance.

“The Virginia Reel!”

Now, start the pocketwatches.

For the Tucson recruit, it is more than a test of stamina. It is a chance for redemption. The last time he preformed this dance, he erred greatly on a crucial step in front of his commanders. Standing in the set with them again, he would show them he could dance it like a true Virginia gentleman and earn the respect of the lady who approached him as a partner.

Each corner honors… promising.

Right-arm turn… flawless.

Left-arm turn… good.

Two-hand turn… perfect.

Do-si-do… no hitches.

Chasse back and forth… and now let’s reel!

With the lady leading him just a little, he reels along the line with no mistakes, no offside moments, no red-faced embarrassment. Relief flows through him as he chasses back to the head of the set and leads the lines into the arch of hands, his task accomplished.

Minutes tick by and the dance intensifies with the heat of revelry. Exhaustion taunts. Yet the dancers pounce and stomp with escalating vigor in each repetition, shouting and clapping. They unleash myriad rebel yells and bellows of encouragement.

“You show ‘em how it’s done!”


“Hair flip!”


“Long live Virginia!” the recruit shouts with half his wind as he reels through the line of ladies once again, buffeted by the fierce fire of clapping and stomping about.

Winded, another recruit yanks off his jacket, tossing it aside for the saving embrace of fresh air. It defies ballroom convention, but it keeps him in the dance.

When the last note of the Privytippers sounds, 27 minutes have expired. The point is proven, and the crowds have yet to see a ballroom full of Yankees top that.

The intensity of the reel dissolves into the grace of a waltz. The Tucson recruit chooses a partner who shows him how to twirl a lady, for which he is grateful.

“I would rather dance a thousand waltzes than anything on a modern dance floor,” he confides to her, even though he admits only a basic waltzing ability.

The Captain draws the evening to a close with words of thanks and an observation on how the arts have the overlooked ability to inspire us.

“Who here has been inspired?”

A confident cheer rises from the crowd.

Many continue the celebration with a hearty meal at a nearby establishment of modern-day treats. Good food meets good company, and the clash of centuries does not go unobserved by the establishment’s modern-day patrons who smile in amusement. Even in the darkest hours of war, joy prevails, follows us, and dwells within us back to where we came.

More fond memories, recollections and stunning beauty -- our Virginia Belles, of course -- found here!

STILL TO COME: A New Ball For A New World

Soldiering On

A new recruit of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry takes up arms at Picacho Peak during "Civil War In The Southwest" and finds himself dogged by an enemy whose force he underestimated.

Adapted from the battlefield journals of Private Christopher Francis
Photographic assistance by
Rosemary W. and
Michael C., 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry

The fresh recruit from Tucson stood in the morning Arizona sun, blue skies matching the trim of his new powder-gray uniform, a kepi barely containing his bushy brown hair as he wondered how the Confederates could shoot and move with all their accouterments. A cap box and slinged bayonet hung from the black leather belt around his waist. He fiddled with it several times before sliding it into the right position. His Sergeant had instructed him on the proper way of fixing the haversack, cartridge box and canteen looped over his shoulders. The belt needed to snake around the straps a certain way to let one haversack strap hang free.

Two new recruits to his side hastily acquainted themselves with their gear, fresh from the sutler and in need of adjustment. Leather punches and cutting tools reported for duty. Arrangements for cartridges and musket caps followed where needed. Nobody would go unarmed or unloaded.

"Line up by height!" commanded the Sergeant.

The men of the 1st Virginia formed up, minds girding for battle, the mood jovial and anticipatory. The Sergeant could tell a more soldierly demeanor and discipline were needed, and thus began the drill.

Three basic commands to carry arms, and the recruit from Tucson found himself having trouble with all of them. The shiny new 1861 Springfield in his hand defied his wishes as the trigger ended up facing the wrong way when he shouldered the weapon. After each command his eyes flitted to the privates on either side of him, checking and verifying and adjusting his fingers, hurrying before his seargent adjusted them by force. The rifle weighed on his arm with nagging fatigue as he held it around the trigger. He did his best to ignore it. He needed the strength.

He anticipated some difficulty, remembering his service several months ago, in different uniforms and hats -- as a Yankee Doodle and then simply a Yankee -- but with a determination to master the order of arms or at least avoid scrutiny.

Marching came naturally to him, propelled by the rhythm of the young company fifer's rendition of "The Bonnie Blue Flag" and the unison crunching of brogans against sun-baked earth. The recruits wound a path through the camps to the admiration of civilians in the waning stages of breakfast. Ladies sat around camp stoves, smiling for their warriors, enjoying the morning and the promise of Confederate victory.

Despite the rustiness, Colonel Scott was impressed as he addressed his troops and greeted the new recruits.

"I know you will enjoy this," he said to the Tucson soldier.

With allied units falling in and a few words of inspiration and duty from their leader, the 1st Virginia marched off to battle.

The Yankees stood in wait for them this morning, cannons primed and ready to take out a few rebels. Their adversaries would announce their presence with a thunderous volley.

"Double charge!"

The Tucson recruit snatched two cartridges from his pouch, ripping the ends off with his teeth and pouring each down the Springfield barrel with the hurried urgency of a newcomer desiring a suitable first impression. He dug out a musket cap and pressed it into place as the firing lines came to the ready. Rifles from the rear rank lowered over his shoulder as he raised his own to his chest.


White smoke blasted from the twin rows, not nearly in unison, but enough to scare a faint-hearted Union conscript. Yet their numbers proved formidable and their positions a serious challenge. They had calvary with pistols. They had cannons. They had plenty of willing men. The Tucson recruit did not concern himself with the odds, however, as he kept reloading and firing and advancing with the lines.

"Fire by rank, from the right!"

The Sergeant had warned them about this command. In theory and in practice, rifles would fire from one end of the lines to the other in a chain reaction, each man not firing until the man beside him fired or at least popped his cap. It seldom happened correctly. Yet remarkably, it happened on this occasion with a convincing result -- not perfect, but convincing.

Aside from a few rebel yells, the soldiers of the 1st Virginia had little time to admire their combat skills, loading and unleashing volley after volley, advancing on the Colonel's command. In front of them, the Union calvary took shots anywhere they could find them. Cannons fired at Union targets but failed to knock out any of the line.

"What the heck?" the Colonel wondered aloud as a few rebels from another unit ran for the Union lines. Deserters? Daredevils? Turncoats?

The fresh recruit found himself puzzled as well. Why aren't those Yanks going down?

A Federal cannon blasted out the center of the 1st Virginia line -- just as expected. The men collapsed in a painful display, but retreat did not even cross the mind of those still standing. If the Yanks were going to profess some sort of immortality, by golly, so were they.


The men in gray ran them down without bayonets, securing a quick surrender after at least 25 volleys. The Tucson's recruit's rifle barrel smoked and blazed with heat. He wondered if he would have enough rounds to make it through the rest of the day.

He and his fellow volunteers reformed in front of the spectators behind the safety ropes, casualties brushed off, the dead resurrected and smiling for the crowds camped out on the base of the rocky cliff with their cameras and wide-eyed wonder. After a few words of explanation from the Colonel, the questions commenced.

"How long does it take you to load those rifles?" one person asked.

"About 20 seconds," a recruit replied.

"But for some of us, it takes a little longer," the Tucson recruit added, slipping into a Virginia drawl.

He was grateful to have survived the battle, relieved his rifle had performed as expected, even if those Union scoundrels would not go down. But within him and above him, two other aggressors -- the building heat and a latent cold -- plotted a sneak attack, hiding out just as the Confederate forces did in Picacho more than a century ago.

They launched their charge, and the recruit found lightness invading his head. His insides groaned. His hands fell to his knees in a crouch signaling an imminent collapse.

"Can you make it back to camp?" a fellow recruit inquired, taking him by the arm.

"Yes," the Tucson recruit advised, his voice unsteady and weak. He stumbled as his rescuer guided him back through the tents and civilians, back to the shade of the 1st Virginia Headquarters, where the ladies instantly came to his aid. They peeled off his coat and gear, setting it aside while a nurse placed a series of cold rags over his head and neck. At times they wrung out water down his back as they offered bottles to him. Drink. Drink.

"You need to feel like you're drowning in it," a nurse advised him.

He had heard the warnings earlier in the morning, the advisories to keep drinking water, to stay hydrated, to take off the thick wool coats back in camp. He had brought Gatorade powder with him and offered it to his fellow soldiers. He had taken sips from his canteen as directed. He had heard of the Yankee recruit who had fallen before even stepping on the battlefield. And yet he couldn't understand his illness.

"You feeling better?" a fellow private asked.

"Yes, sir," the new recruit responded, trying his best to convince himself the worst was over.

Yet the skirmish was not finished. The latent cold made a charge from the center of his internal battlefield, launching a volley manifesting itself as a dishonorable discharge.

"What is wrong with me?" the recruit wondered aloud, saddened nearly to tears at his plight, embarrassed at all the witnesses observing him with a bucket below his head.

The Colonel offered him a choice. "Do you want somebody to take you home, Christopher, or do you want an EMT?"

"Get me an EMT," he said without hesitation, choosing the option that would not require an immediate surrender.

The ladies of the 1st Virginia continued to attend to him, cooling his weakened body with cloth after cloth, his legs now shivering from the cold water drenching him. The emergency medical technician soon arrived, and he complimented the nurses on an excellent job as he examined the heat-felled recruit. The young soldier warned his blood pressure might be low. Indeed it was, but not serious.

"Did you collapse?"


"If you had collapsed, I would have recommended you go to the hospital."

Fortunately, no ambulances would be needed. But on the advice of the EMT and his commanders, he would fight no more this day. It's not such a bad thing to remain here among the beautiful women of the 1st Virginia, they advised him.

True, he acknowledged. But he came to fight, not to play the wounded soldier, not to leave others worried for him. Despite his willingness to take up the rifle, and confidence he could return to the lines, he remained in the shade of the tent fly -- Colonel's orders. He sipped Gatorade water as the crackles of musket fire and cannon blasts teased his ears.

All through the day, the ladies and recruits inquired of his condition, taking comfort in seeing his color and spirit return.

"You did the right thing," said the recruit who had escorted him back to camp. "Heat exhaustion can sneak up on you."

The words comforted him, but the nature of the injury still gnawed at his heart. A bullet, a cannon blast, a slash of a sword -- those all seemed like more honorable injuries, things truly worth confinement to camp. He had worked through illness before in his other life and time. But perhaps that was foolish bravery, dangerous fortitude.

He joined his fellow soldiers for supper, determined to show his fitness and appetite.

"We were praying for you," another member of the 1st Virginia told him, relieved in his recovery.

He vowed to return the next day, stronger and wiser and well hydrated.

"Make sure you drink plenty of water tonight," his Sergeant advised. "No soda. No coffee."

He arrived early the next morning, resuming his place under the tent fly but determined not to remain there all day. His fellow soldiers trickled into camp, all inquiring about his condition. Much better, he told them, ready to fight on.

The Sergeant inspected weapons as the men stood in line, taking each rifle and shaking it for the reassuring clink of a ramrod in a barrel. The tinkling of metal upon metal signified a clean gun. When he came to one of the newer recruits and his loaned weapon, the rod emitted a dull thud.

"We forgot to clean this one," the commander acknowledged. "You'll go down in the first volley."

The unforgiving sun rose in a cloudless sky, and the Colonel recommended a light drill this morning. Again the troops marched off, and the Tucson recruit felt more at ease this time, satisfied he was making progress with the commands. Some of the others found themselves out of step on commands to turn, which brought some minor frustratation to the Sergeant.

"You should know your left from your right!"

The recruit spotted a familiar face and lens to his left. A photojournalist from that modern-day dispatch of news and information, KOLD, had arrived to capture the soldiers preparing for battle. Now came the time to show the rest of the world what Virginia gentlemen were made of.

The 1st Texas and 8th Louisiana joined the gray-uniformed volunteers on the brushy, thorny battlefield. Yankees hid in the bushes, behind the cacti, taking shots. On the Colonel's command, a few of the allied men ran forth to take out those "pests."

Once again, the Confederates found themselves surrounded by blue coats -- on horseback, in formation, loose in the weeds. Drive them back! Drive them back!

Volley after volley jetted from the 1st Virginia rifles, and those Yanks refused to fall. They were as stubborn as they came, provoking questions about the aim of the rebel forces. The Tucson recruit took a hit he didn't expect as he advanced through the desert grounds. He marched straight through a cactus bush, and a needle lodged in his leg. But the Battle of Wounded Knee would have to wait as long as Union troops stood before him.

More shots rang out amid the blasts of heavier artillery and crackling of pistols. The recruit worried about his cartridge supply, but the solution presented itself. A cannon blasted him and two other men to the earth.

"Pull that cap over your face if you're dead," a post-mortal private advised from the ground. "Otherwise they could come back and shoot you."

Do these Yanks have no shame? the recruit wondered.

On the command to resurrect, he brushed himself off and fell back in line with the rest of the troops, marching to the rope separating soldiers from spectators. Before him stood a journalist from KOLD displaying a grin as wide as the Potomac.

"Private Francis, are these friends of yours?" the Colonel inquired.

"They do look a might familiar," the recruit replied in drawl. "They have come up from Tucson to celebrate our victory."

He expected the reporter to fire away with questions. He did not.

"Aren't you goin' to hit me with a question?" the recruit prodded. "That's what you're here for!"

"What's it like to re-enact?" the reporter opened.

"Are you asking me?"


"I will defer that question to my comrades."

The journalist found a father and son of the 1st Virginia and a colorful character of the 1st Louisiana, and the recruit hoped his compatriot in his modern-day world would have enough time to use as much of their words as possible.

* * *

At least two dozen people sat on wooden benches under a tent canopy, the wind blowing the canvas like a sail. The Tucson recruit held the center pole tightly, preventing it from falling onto another person, as it had an unlucky woman in the front row. She sat with an ice pack and a bump on her head. Colonel Scott, chaplain as well as commander, offered prayer for her before he began his Sunday service.

His homily turned back the pages of history to a connection uniting the leaders of the North and South, even in the height of war. They were men of God, true believers, faithful to the end. General Robert E. Lee, upon hearing chaplains had prayed for him, started to cry and said, "I sincerely thank you for that, and I can only say that I am a poor sinner, trusting in Christ alone, and that I need all the prayers you can offer for me."

The words pierced the young recruit. All weekend long, people had offered their prayers for him, he realized, prayers for his health and strength in his imperfect and sometimes miserable state -- a sick solider, a weekend warrior, determined but infirm and nursing a bruised heart. Yet friendship and camaraderie overrode all that, and the thought of being worthy of someone else's prayers left him humbled.

One billion people inhabited the earth at the time of the Civil War, the chaplain noted.

"All of them are gone."

Gone... and many forgotten, except for a handful of lives the history books have found worthy of remembering. One billion people gone, the recruit thought. An inexplicable sadness blossomed within him as he pondered the unstated void of such a massive departure of souls.

Many of them lived through one of history's darkest chapters and yet they're not even a footnote on the page, he thought.

No towns named after them, no statues bearing their likeness. No dates on the calendar, no words on a plaque. Here lived someone deserving of our praise, selfless and loving, who made the world around them better in a way you shall never know.

When I'm gone, I'm a footnote too. I've got to matter while I'm here. Nobody remembers you when you're gone.

Col. Scott noticed something amiss with the young recruit, and asked if he needed to get back to camp.

"I'm just a little emotionally messed up right now," the recruit replied, rubbing an eye. "A lot of things to think about."

"The preacher's words got to you," his Sergeant comforted.

* * *

The second battle of the day found the 1st Virginians outgunned and in retreat. Yet even in retreat they attacked, turning and firing as they fell back to safer grounds, the inevitable no distraction for their will to win. The Yanks might have this round, but victory would be theirs.

Marching towards the gathered spectators for questions, the recruit spotted another familiar face -- one of the lead anchormen from his other life in time. He held a camera, but he was not there for a story. He smiled and waved, and the recruit replied with a discreet yet joyous acknowledgment.

I hope he's not just here because I'm here, the recruit thought.

* * *

At ten minutes after ten o' clock that evening, viewers of KOLD in Southern Arizona took in a sampling of the Civil War in the Southwest through the reporting of Mark Stine and photojournalist Edgar Ybarra.

"Here's a little history trivia for you. During the Civil War, where was the westernmost battle fought?" anchor Teresa Jun queried to introduce the piece. "This might surprise some of you. It was actually just north of Tucson, at Picacho Peak. That's where some dedicated volunteers re-created the Battle of Picacho Pass this weekend. KOLD News 13's Mark Stine takes us back in time."

Union soldiers marching and the sound of drumbeats flashed across screens.

"To the beat of the drum, soldiers march to war," Stine narrated.

A line of Federals launched a volley. "As soon as shots ring out, the battle begins."

Two confederate cannon blasted.

"It's kind of an experience, you almost think it's a real battle," recounted a member of the 1st Louisiana.

"This battlefield clouded with smoke was created in the name of living history," the reporter continued.

Major Anderson and his father of the 1st Virginia appeared on screen. "It's living history," the elder Anderson said. "It's giving history the humanity that it really had."

"Re-enactors re-recreate the Battle of Picacho Pass and others fought in New Mexico back in the 1860's," the reporter explained over video of more skirmishers.

"I have a love of history and I want to share that with people and help them understand what our history is, what our heritage is," the younger Anderson said.

"A love of history that takes men and women to the field of battle," the narrator continued, illustrated with the waving Stars and Bars and more battlefield action.

"Fire!" a commander shouted.

"Some able to dodge bullets. Others are not so lucky."

"It's exhilarating when you have the cannons going off and musket fire to the right of you and the cavalry coming through," Major Anderson recalled to the camera.

A quick shot of the Union calvary and pistol fire bridged into the next soundbite.

"Playing Cowboys and Indians when you were a kid -- only you get to shoot a real gun," the 1st Louisiana re-enactor grinned, a delight to the camera with his long white hair and beard looking to his side where his comrades stood. "We're all grown up men getting to play like we was boys again."

It takes hundreds of dedicated volunteers to pull off a re-enactment like this," the reporter noted.

"It takes about $1,000 for a feller to get outfitted completely to come on the field with his uniform and gear," said the 1st Louisiana man.

"Fore the re-enactors, the dedication of time and money is worth it, as long as the thousands of spectators take a little piece of history away from the performance," the narrator said, showing the spectators sitting to the side of the cliff.

"When you see other people care and come out it's very gratifying," the elder Anderson said, patting his heart. "I just get warm all over when I see the folks come out."

Mark Stine appeared on screen, walking through a camp and bending down before a tent. "But it's not just the battle. These men and women re-enacting live, eat and sleep the Civil War era all weekend long."

"Not take a bath for a weekend, cook on the campfire and eat dirt," the Louisiana soldier said with the pride of authenticity. "Sleep on the hard ground."

The picture changed to a hand rubbing against tin.

"Scrubbing on a washboard," the reporter described. "Laundress Colleen Gilliem shows there's much more to the Civil War than just fighting."

"It was more than just the war," the laundress noted. "It was the life and the home fronts back East that everybody left behind and the families they left."

"No matter if the re-enactor is living in camp," the reporter concluded, hyphenated by a burst of gunfire, "or firing a gun on the battlefield, it's all to keep this time period fresh in our minds."

His closing image displayed a sign in front of the peak, one arrow of the wooden post pointing to the battlefield, the other pointing to camp, the guidepost to history for those willing to follow.

The Tucson recruit had asked for the exclusion of his face and words from the story, even though he had pushed for a crew to make the journey to the battlefield in the first place. This wasn't about him, he insisted, and they understood.