Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Making Of A Live Shot

A tough spot for microwave transmission.

A location crisscrossed by power lines.

A short in a video cable.

A quick live truck relocation.

A problem with an audio cable.

A faulty tripod.

An hour of setup time reduced to minutes, then seconds.

And still, the lead story for KOLD News 13 at 10 last night went over the air with little hint of trouble.

You will not see the extraordinary teamwork of photographer Paul Durrant, engineer Jaime Cordova, and reporter Suleika Acosta mentioned on the air -- which is why I am mentioning them here.


Sunday, May 27, 2007

Reel To Reel: Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

Ahoy! A producer and a privateer team up to review the latest super-swashbuckler.

How It Rates: **
Starring: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Stellan Skarsgård, Chow Yun-Fat, Geoffrey Rush, Keith Richards
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Ye Olde Swashbuckling Violence

Our official buccaneer took some R&R from his high seas adventures to catch the new Pirates movie. Captain Bartholomew Burgundy joins us here. So, what did you think?

I thot' it was a grand spectacle, mate! But I gotta admit, I fancied th' first two parts better.

I agree. This sequel has a few strong sequences and a few good sword fights. But would you agree with me that it's like a ship overloaded with cargo? Something that sails, but barely?

Tha' seems ta describe it spot-on. I wished I 'ad me charts to be navigatin' th' flick at times, wi' all its subplots an' characters. I mean, tha' gangs all 'ere. Ye got Captain Jack, all righ', but ye also got Will an' Elizabeth an' Cap'n Barbossa. An' ye got Davy Jones an' all these other pirates in th' stew, includin' one tha' looks a bi' like Keith Richards.

That is Keith Richards, playing Jack Sparrow's father. I really wanted to see more of him in this picture, sort of like Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade.

Aye, me bucko! Seems like ou' friend Cap'n Jack's becomin' a lil' indisposed with wha' you landlubbers call multiple-personality disorder. All these voices insid'a his head! I see any'a me crew talkin' like such, I cut 'is rum ration, savvy?

It's amusing, I'll give it that. But I didn't see it in the first two pictures, and I wonder if these hallucinatory sequences exist only because somebody said, "we need more Jack!" Actually, we need more Jack being Jack and less of everybody else being themselves. In this chapter, our pirate heroes are trying to get Jack back from Davy Jones' locker. That's enough work for one picture, requiring them to enlist the help of a pirate from Singapore and sail off the edge of the map. They need him to help them stop the East India Company -- headed by the stiffly evil Lord Cutler Beckett -- from wiping out every pirate with the help of Davy Jones' heart.

Tha' Lord Beckett! He's a mongrel, ain' he? Ye bein' a patriot an' all allied wi' His Excellency George Washington, didn' it chill ye in the beginnin' of th' picture where 'e read out all th' rights tha' be suspended? No habeas corpus! No freedom of assem'bly! An' hangin' all thos' poor souls? Bleedin' awful.

Aye, that got my attention, Captain. But the character of Lord Beckett is one-dimensional. He ranges from conniving to annoyed, mostly over tea.

Makes ye want to 'ave one of ye Boston-style tea parties on 'is ship, righ'?

Aye, but that's another movie. Getting back to this one, rescuing Jack is only the first thing on the list. Next, the members of the pirate brotherhood have to get together for their version of the UN, where they decide what they're going to do about Beckett. In the course of all of this, you have alliances and double-dealing and double-crossing. I forgot who was aligned with who. Looks like I needed a chart, too. But the film does tie up the loose ends, and if you can forget about the nuances and the twists and enjoy the action, you'll like it.

I liked th' action. I gotta admit I nev'r seen a sword fight on a ship's mast, right? And ye gotta love the part where all the' crew of the Black Pearl is runnin' back an' forth to list th' ship so tha' it flip over like a tortoise. Bu' I say the picture ran a wee bit long.

I agree. It runs nearly three hours. I would have found a way to trim thirty minutes out of this film.

Not hard, mate. Where's me cutlass? Wha' scenes would ye slice ou'?

I would've thinned or lost a few scenes involving Elizabeth's and Will's respective fathers. That's for starters. I'd have to get another look at the film if you want specifics.

But ye'd leave 'ol Keith Richards in, righ'?


Wha' abou' tha' extra scene after th' credits?

Thanks for reminding me. Sit through them and you'll get a hint of what may be to come.

Ye thinkin' another sequel?

You bet your booty.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Pirates Of The Campaign

As Jack Sparrow sails back into theaters and CBS readies the "Pirate Master" reality game, we notice a Democrat who may be flying the Jolly Roger.

SURRENDER THE BOOTY. Presidential candidate John Edwards -- affectionately known around the Lightning Round offices as "The Hair Guy" -- stands to score a share of some buried treasure. Edwards is a shareholder in Fortress investments, which owns Odyssey Marine Research, which recently discovered a sunken 17-century galleon loaded with $500 million in loot.

From TheStreet.com:
Edwards' personal financial disclosures show he's an investor in the exclusive Drawbridge Global Macro Fund, which owns the 9.9% stake in OMR.

Ten percent of $500 million. After costs, of course.
This raises the possibility of pirate plunder funding a presidential campaign. Your Lightning Round suggests the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law be extended to buccaneer contributions.

Contributing pirate editor Captain Bartholomew Burgundy weighs in: "We bucs 'ave a king, not a president! Buh ye know, all's fair in politics an' piracy. Just 'as long as ye don' steal votes!"

RUNNING ON EMPTY. Don't blame the service stations for high gas prices. They're getting hit in the wallet too, and some have even stopped selling gas.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Credit card companies and banks get an average of 2.75% on every gallon of gas sold, and credit card processing fees now rank as the second-biggest expense for gas station operators, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores.

"The way I see it is, I'm doing all the work of providing the labor, the wages, the electricity, the lighting, the maintenance of the pumps, the repairs and the insurance, which is quite substantial," [Gas Station owner Jeff] Curro said. "I'm doing all the work, and somebody else is getting fat on me."
The U.S. House just passed anti-gas-gouging legislation, which the White House is hinting it will veto, calling it a form of price controls tried in the 1970's.

Your Lightning Round remembers prices above $3 per gallon before. We also remember how all this talk of gouging suddenly went away when prices suddenly dipped down to $2.50.

OFF WITH HIS HEAD! The newest kids-gone-wild scare is "helmet boxing," basically amateur brawling in the backyard with some token safety protection.

From WCBS-TV, New York:
To play, each individual dons a helmet with a face mask, along with a pair of gloves, and then each hits each other in the head until someone passes out, a helmet gets knocked off, or someone simply throws in the towel.
It sounds like a hybrid of boxing, hockey fights, and backyard wrestling. And you guessed it, kids are watching other kids fight on (ta-da!) YouTube. Granted, it sounds a little more civilized than those videos of beatdowns that keep popping up. Doctors are offering the boilerplate warning:
"I think there is a false sense of security if you're using gloves and a helmet that you're protected and that nothing is going to happen," said Dr. Andrew Gregory of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Your Lightning Round points out that amateur boxers wear head protection, even at the Olympics.
[Helmet boxer A.J.] Pacheco's parents are allowing their son to continue fighting after watching a few matches, though they do admit they're not 100 percent comfortable with it. "As long as everyone has their chin straps on safe and everything's secure, they don't seem to mind," Pacheco said.
In that case, maybe they would be comfortable stepping into the backyard as a referee, perhaps growling Mills Lane's trademark line, "Let's Get It On!"

BLOCK-STRAP. Capitalizing on the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding cell phone radiation, the Swiss company Isabodywear is making undies that block the harmful emissions.

From Engadget:
The briefs are purportedly constructed with threads made of silver, which the company claims will fend off harmful cellphone radiation; moreover, in an effort to really prove just how effective these undergarments are, it suggests that phone calls originated within the confines of your new underwear simply won't connect.
Don't try doing that at home, folks. In fact, just don't try it period.

UP THERE. Scientists say Viagra may help shake off jet lag. At least it works in hamsters.

From Bloomberg:
Hamsters given sildenafil, the chemical name of the drug sold as Viagra, adapted more easily to altered patterns of light exposure to simulate changes caused by air travel across time zones. Long-haul travel desynchronizes the body's alignment to the day-night cycle, leading to the disorientation of jet lag.
First, we didn't know hamsters were capable of jet lag. Second, we have to ask about side effects. Doesn't the Mile High Club have enough members?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reel To Reel: Shrek The Third

Princess Fiona's expecting and the stretch marks are already showing.

How It Rates: **1/2
Starring: Voices Of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy, John Cleese, Justin Timberlake, Julie Andrews, Antonio Banderas, Eric Idle
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Some flatulence gags and Ye Olde Cartoon Swordplay

At 93 minutes, the third adventure of America's Favorite Ogre runs lean and yet thin. The genius of the Shrek saga has been its bilateral appeal -- adults dig it even more than the kids for its sly cultural riffs and inside jokes. This time around, it lacks new ideas, and the filmmakers undercapitalize any existing freshness.

Shrek (Myers) is the Ogre who would be king, only he doesn't want the crown after a series of disasters filling in for his gravely sick father-frog-in-law King Harold (Cleese). His Majesty croaks, leading to a darkly comic funeral scene. The filmmakers mash-up Paul McCartney's "Live And Let Die" with the spirit of Fantasia's "Dance Of The Hours" sequence without the gators and hippos.

Now Shrek must find the next in line to the throne, a teen underachiever named Artie who needs classes in remedial royalty. The title character also has fatherhood on the horizon. But while the green one's away, the jilted Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) is plotting a coup. Dejected with life as a bad dinner theater actor, he rounds up a Who's Who among Storybook Villains to help him take over the Kingdom of Far Far Away, kidnapping Princess Fiona (Diaz).

The movie is filled with promising starts that fizzle out. It lacks a clear sense of direction as it glues its gags together with Medieval epoxy. I wouldn't have minded so much had Shrek riffed more (where are the gags evoking Paris Hilton?) but it can barely do that. The Required Moral for Young Viewers -- learning to lead and having faith in oneself -- fails to shine through the sped-up storyline.

Box office returns from opening weekend indicate a fourth Shrek film could make it to screens. I say quit now before the gas runs out.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Let's Make A Deal

Occasionally something does get done in Washington, despite the gnashing of teeth from the grizzled graying "gub'mint" watchers here at your Lightning Round. This week's accomplishment is a bipartisan immigration reform bill. It's bipartisan in the truest sense of the word because both conservatives and liberals think it bites.

BUCKING THE SYSTEM. The immigration reform proposal dangles citizenship in front of millions of illegal immigrants, provided they go through the motions to get legal.

From the AP:
The proposed agreement would allow illegal immigrants to come forward and obtain a "Z visa" and - after paying fees and a $5,000 fine - ultimately get on track for permanent residency, which could take between eight and 13 years. Heads of households would have to return to their home countries first.
It's that five-large fine that gets our attention. Given that many illegals send much of what they make back to Mexico or make way less than minimum wage, how does the government expect the average UDA to afford it?

Just for grins, we did some math. The AP mentions a figure of 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. If every one of them forks over the money, the government would make $60 billion -- about 15 percent of what it has spent on the war in Iraq so far: $426 billion as we went to press, according to MyWarTax.org. Don't even think about balancing the budget on the backs of the border-crossers.

SELF-DEFEATING PURPOSES DEPT. Commuters rioted in Argentina this week, enraged over slow train service.

From the AP:
Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas as rioters pelted them with rocks. The fighting at Buenos Aires' Constitucion station spilled into a nearby street as demonstrators shattered windows, set fire to a ticket sales area, looted shops and ripped pay phones from walls.
Total anarchy -- what encouragement for engineers to get to the station on time.

THEY CHOOSE FREE WILL. Fruit flies may have a spark of free will within their tiny brains. Ironically, this could lead to more sophisticated robots.

From LiveScience via MSNBC:
The result, joked neurobiologist Björn Brembs from the Free University Berlin, could be "world robot domination."

"Seriously though," Brembs said that programming robots with aspects of free will "may lead to more realistic and probably even more efficient behavior, which could be decisive in truly autonomous robots needed for planetary exploration."

Better understanding aspects of free will in humans also could aid in the treatment of mental disorders where people face problems controlling how they feel, think or act, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Brembs told LiveScience.
Maybe this also explains what happened to all those bees. Goodbye, and thanks for all the honey!

WHAT'S YOURS IS OURS. Microsoft claims the Linux operating system and several free pieces of software violate 235 of its patents. Gates' guys want to be paid for that.

From the Los Angeles Times:
Some of the patents that Microsoft claims have been violated relate to the Linux graphical design, e-mail, the operating system core and the Open Office word processing and spreadsheet programs that compete with Microsoft Office.
This is like Cadillac suing Ford because a Lincoln Towncar looks too much like a Deville, or Coke suing Pepsi because it tastes too much like the "Real Thing." Microsoft has this annoying tendency to think it not only owns software, but also the look and feel of software. In a legal showdown between Apple and Microsoft during the 1980's, a judge ruled you can't copyright look and feel.

The real villain here: the convoluted world of software patents, which can be just as bad as drug patents when certain companies think only they have the right to make a buck.

WE DO IT BECAUSE WE LOVE YOU. Gunmen attacked sixth-graders at a school in Murfreesboro, Tennessee during a field trip. But it was all fake, and all cooked up by faculty.

From the AP:
During the last night of the trip, staff members convinced the 69 students that there was a gunman on the loose. They were told to lie on the floor or hide underneath tables and stay quiet. A teacher, disguised in a hooded sweat shirt, even pulled on a locked door.
The students' response:
After the lights went out, about 20 kids started to cry, 11-year-old Shay Naylor said.

"I was like, 'Oh My God,' " she said. "At first I thought I was going to die. We flipped out."
The school's response:
The mock attack Thursday night was intended as a learning experience and lasted five minutes during the weeklong trip to a state park, said Scales Elementary School Assistant Principal Don Bartch, who led the trip.

"We got together and discussed what we would have done in a real situation," he said.
Your Lightning Round gathers they're now discussing the need for good attorneys.

WORSE THAN PSYCHO. Your Lightning Round photo editor was aghast to run across this: a gas mask shower head.

From Gizmodo:
It's the details that make it special: the eye-holes hold your soap, and it appears to be coming out of the wall rather than being simply attached to it.
Coming next: the knife-shaped back scrubber.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

You Get What You Vote For

I don't watch American Idol. However, why does the dismissal of Melinda Doolittle surprise anybody -- especially after the Phenomenon Formerly Known as Sanjaya?

It's never been about the music, silly geese. It's all about the Nielsens.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Why Katie Couric Isn't Lifting CBS News

The New York Times asks if Katie Couric's CBS career is circling the drain. Reporter Bill Carter's conclusion: not yet. That's despite the hit piece by The Philadelphia Inquirer's Gail Shister and comments from CBS News Exec Linda Mason, who said on PublicEye that people seem to "prefer the news from white guys, and now that Charlie [Gibson]'s doing so well, from older white guys."

From my humble perspective, let me offer the reasons Katie isn't the salvation CBS was hoping for.

Ghosts of Yes-TODAY. Couric paid her journalistic dues covering the Pentagon and the Gulf War. But then came Today and we saw her flying outside 30 Rock as Peter Pan. How many people remember the latter and not the former?

She's Got The Look. I call it the "prompter stare," that deer-in-the headlights countenance that drains all the personality out of her. When Couric interviews or ad-libs, she's in the zone. When she reads scripts, she's in the cage.

No Time To Chat. Katie's big strength is her interviewing ability, and CBS tried to exploit this by working more newsmaker interviews into her nightly broadcast. When Rick Kaplan took charge, he hardened up the show and cut the interviews.

Weak Lead-Ins. CBS stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are all struggling in their early evening newscasts. The network is still smarting from losing affiliates in Detroit and Cleveland to Fox. The local broadcasts are failing to deliver viewers from their own news products over to Katie's.

Let me remind everybody: Couric has been on CBS for less than one year. One theory says it takes 18 months for a local newscast to show ratings improvement after a makeover. I believe you can apply that to the network 'casts. Let's wait until the summer of 2008 and make the decision then about Katie's future.

And by the way folks, she has been winning in Tucson.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Long Flight From The Nest

The Queen Mother knew the day was coming, and she had adequate warning -- 23 years' worth. If that wasn't enough, I'd given her my own disclaimer: "Mom, if I get an offer on this job in Texas, I'm taking it."

In August 1994, just two months after I graduated from college, the magic call came to the family home in St. Louis.

"Are you still interested in working for us?"

Mother's happiness at my first TV producing job was tinged with mourning. McAllen, Texas, on the southern tip of the Lone Star State, sat nearly a thousand miles away and on another cultural planet. Her first-born was heading to Never Never Land.

From my journal of August 8, 1994:
What's really strange was that I expected to be a lot more exhilarated than I am now. But the first few hours after, I was scared.
Two weeks later, we made the journey together in my aging 1986 Chevy Celebrity, built like a tank even if it showed its wear from seats to grille. I didn't want to drive a U-Haul, so clothes, toiletries and computer stuff filled the trunk and the back seats, enough to last until United Van Lines would deliver the rest. On the advice of Grandfather Francis, we bought "The Club."

We sailed down I-44 in the morning, breaking for lunch at a Hardee's in Springfield, listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio and then Maury Povich on the television (via Channel 6 in Tulsa, 87.7 on your dial). Clouds above us thickened. As Oklahoma City approached, so did a summer cloudburst.

I navigated the Chevy through pounding rain and ferocious lightning all around us, looking for the I-35 junction as the radio jock chirped, "there's just too many accidents to tell you about." He promised to get some rain songs on the air in the next hour. For Mom, it didn't matter what road we were on as long as the car didn't hydroplane. A nervous hour passed with us heading southbound, just as planned, outrunning the storm only to see it catch back up with us in Ft. Worth. We shared a sit-down dinner at Denny's and musty accommodations.

I wrote in my journal...
The hotel room at the HoJo was a little too cruddy for Mom's taste, with peeling wallpaper, a gritty bathroom and stains on the pillowcases.
I'd picked the motel. She told me crummy is the way HoJo is. So I let her have the say on the next room.

Interstate 35 took us as far as San Antonio, with Mom doing half the driving. We paused for lunch at the world-famous "Bubba Truck Stop" in a lonesome part of Texas easily forgotten. A switch to I-37 got us nearly to Corpus Christi, and then we had to leave the Eisenhower system behind for U.S. 77 through the barren land locals call Kenedy County, home to more cows than people. We made it into Harlingen around sunset, resting ourselves at a brand new inn after taking a quick street tour of McAllen.

I thought I'd land an apartment on the first day of looking, unaware students from UT Pan-American were snapping them up. Mom and I drove dozens of miles from McAllen to Harlingen and back checking out at least 10 complexes ranging from domestic tranquility to rat paradise. I settled on a place in McAllen that wouldn't be ready for a month. My plan was to set up temporary quarters down the street from my workplace at a motel that rented rooms by the week. Maybe they rented by the hour too, when Mom and I got a look at it.

We laid in that room resting our cranky selves when Mom checked in with Dad back home. Within seconds, Mom's voice shattered into a breathy whisper. Grandma Francis -- the one excited about my move to South Texas because it was near my grandparents' timeshare on Padre Island -- had passed away suddenly and yet peacefully.

Mom and I held each other a lot that night, the sadness topping weary travels and my growing hatred of driving all over the Rio Grande Valley chasing a place to live. We somehow found the strength to go for shakes at Wendy's down the road. She caught a plane back to St. Louis the next morning -- the Queen Mother flying back to Kingdom of Francis to console her subjects. I found consolation in Brook Benton's melancholy voice on the radio as I drove away from Valley International Airport:
Hoverin' by my suitcase, tryin' to find a warm place to spend the night
Heavy rain fallin', seems I hear your voice callin' "It's all right."
A rainy night in Georgia, a rainy night in Georgia
It seems like it's rainin' all over the world
I feel like it's rainin' all over the world.
I would not make it to Grandma's funeral as I started my new job and bounced from motel room to motel room like a drifter before subletting a snowbird's trailer at a guest ranch on McAllen's west side. The clouds lifted when I finally got into my apartment.

Until then, my only link to the world I left behind was a gnat-encrusted phone booth at the ranch because the trailer had no working line. It also had no working cable TV and barely working water. But the Queen Mother was always there for me on the other end of the connection, that steadfast leader and guardian angel who made the trip to Texas. She was not about to see her baby bird fly off alone. We would not see each other again face-to-face until Christmas, when she, Dad and Grandpa Francis would bring presents to me at my sparse domicile.

I made the move from McAllen to Tucson solo in 1999, but part of me wanted her with me again, sitting in the passenger's seat where the dirty laundry sat. Her company would have helped me at least pass the time on a desolate stretch of I-10 west of San Antonio where the radio scan button spins infinitely, and I kept track of the number of disabled cars on the shoulders. But I did have a cell phone, and I used it a lot -- at Royal insistence.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Make Yourself Scarce

We already know we're our own worst enemy. Penguins don't invade Middle Eastern nations or develop WMD. You don't see brown bears involved in stock inflation and accounting fraud. Raccoons get all the blame for various petty thefts, but really, they're not bad -- they're just masked that way. But back to the question... what about us?

THE AMERICAN EXCESS STORY. Paul Watson, president of the far-left Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, says the world's population needs to drop to less than 1 billion to save the planet. That's about the number of people who were on Earth at the time of the Civil War, according to a friend of mine. And with that in mind, Watson implies going back in time wouldn't hurt either.

From the Business and Media Institute:
Watson essentially called for humans to return to primitive lifestyles. “We need to stop flying, stop driving cars, and jetting around on marine recreational vehicles. The Mennonites survive without cars and so can the rest of us.”
Yes, and we also survived without indoor plumbing, light bulbs, electricity, and penicillin. Survived.

SWIPING SALVATION. It doesn't absolve you of sin, but the Catholic Church in Brazil has launched a new credit card.

From todaysthv.com:
The Church needs money for its work with the poor in places like the Providencia health center. The center treats forty people a day. People on the margins of society: beggars, prostitutes, transvestites. The doctors treat some seriously ill patients with diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS.

Part of the proceeds from the Catholic card will be spent on the health center, representing a lifeline for the project, says its director, Doctor Linhares.
And thankfully, none of those proceeds will go to pay off pedophile-priest suits.

We're told the Brazilian Catholic Church might try an investment fund. Your Lightning Round wonders, could indulgences make a comeback?

OPENING NIGHT FIGHT. Two guys in the balcony got into a fight during a Boston Pops performance.

From CBS News:
CBS Station WBZ correspondent Joyce Kulhawik said one man objected to another man's talking. "A woman screamed, then suddenly it came to fisticuffs."

Witnesses said they heard a scream from the balcony, and the sound of chairs falling, then a second scream as the fight escalated.

At that point, [conductor Keith] Lockhart halted the performance while police intervened.
We have since learned it was all part of a pilot for a new CBS show: "WWE Symphonic."

ALL FOR SHOW. Florida's Democrats may make their January primary non-binding to avoid a spanking from party bigwigs for holding it too early. Dems would hold a caucus later to pick a candidate, which we guess is better than relying on touch screens or punch cards.

From the St. Petersburg Times:
"The danger is that every Republican candidate spends time here trying to win Florida, and the Democrats are noticeably absent, " said [Democratic activist Chris] Hand, a former aide to Sen. Bob Graham, who managed Alex Sink's campaign for chief financial officer last year. "That doesn't play out well in the general election. I wouldn't want to be the Democratic presidential nominee who skipped Florida's primary."
Or given Florida's voting problems, maybe it doesn't matter anyway.

CALLING ALL COPS. Cities in Phoenix's East Valley are running so short on police officers, they're looking as far away as Boston for recruits.

From the East Valley Tribune:
Scottsdale recruiters post advertisements in men’s restrooms at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. Mesa patrol cars display bumper stickers that solicit applicants. And Mesa’s police chief personally called officers who left the department before his arrival and invited them back.
Good thing they're not looking in Chicago. Otherwise potential recruits would be telling them, "Wait 'till next year!"

VE HAVE VAYS OV MAKING YOU BUY PREMIUM. The state of Wisconsin is threatening to sue a gas station that's selling discount fuel to seniors and those who support youth sports.

From the AP:
But the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says those deals violate Wisconsin's Unfair Sales Act, which requires stations to sell gas for about 9.2 percent more than the wholesale price.
So gas profits aren't just inflated, they're mandated! In the words of a Lightning Round colleague: "Must be nice." While we're talking about gas prices, WiseGeek explains why gas prices end in 9/10 of a cent.

LITTLE EYEBALLS. Television advertisers continuously lust after a younger demographic. Seems they're getting it, as researchers have found 90 percent of U.S. kids under 2 regularly watch TV, DVD's and videos.

From Reuters:
But 29 percent of parents surveyed by [researchers] believe baby-oriented TV and DVD programs offer educational benefits.

“Parents are getting the message loud and clear from marketers of TV and videos that this is good for their kids. That it will help their brain development ... None of this stuff has ever been proven,” [researcher] Frederick Zimmerman said.
Your television correspondents at The Lightning Round have found the networks have several new infant-friendly shows in development:

"Milk Or No Milk?"
"CSI: Playpen"
"First Numb3rs"
"American Babbler"

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Reel To Reel: Spider-Man 3

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, doing things that a sequel can... poorly.

How It Rates: **
Starring: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace, Bryce Dallas Howard
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Superhero Action Violence

Spider-Man 3 raked in $148 million opening weekend, rendering this review equal to the Surgeon General's Warning on a pack of cigarettes. However, the preceding chapter in the Spidey saga demonstrated an unflinching ability to balance love story and action flick. The third installment tries to balance parable, love story and action flick, making everything fall to the floor in a mushy mess.

The story picks up with our hero (Maguire) in a good groove. Spider-Man is wowing the crowds and making the papers. Girlfriend Mary Jane (Dunst) is starring in a Broadway show. That's enough to make Parker forget he still ekes out a living as a freelance Daily Bugle photographer living in a rathole apartment while going to college. Maybe it's time Spidey asked for a cost-of-crime-fighting allowance.

But who needs fortune when you've got fame? Parker relishes it, saving the police chief's daughter and giving her a kiss during a big congratulatory bash -- right in front of Mary Jane. Enter Complication #1: relationship problems.

Complication #2: lingering resentment. Harry Osborn (Franco), you will remember, blames Spider-Man for the death of his father, the former Green Goblin. Now Junior is suiting up and stepping on Senior's flying surfboard.

Those two complications should be enough. But since this is a big-budget summer sequel to a pair of big blockbusters, we don't have enough seasoning. So, let's add in...

Complication #3: Flint Marko (Church), an escaped con who has a connection to the death of Peter's uncle, one who conveniently accidentally ends up in a particle disintegrator turning him into a walking heap known as the The Sandman. Actually, it's more like Cat-Box-Litter Man. I see a product placement opportunity for Fresh Step squandered, but they wouldn't be able to explain how Sandman manages to re-integrate his clothes as well as the rest of his body. Talk about absorbancy...

Complication #4: some black goo from a meteorite lands on Earth and wants to bond with Parker's Spidey suit. Black never goes out of style, but conceited revenge is a heck of a fashion accessory. Come to the Dark Side, Spider-Man.

Complication #5: rival photographer Eddie Brock (Grace), who's angling with Peter for a staff position at the Bugle, still headed by the hilarious blowhard J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons).

Now we've overdone it. Too many bad guys, too many subplots to stir together. And boiling in there, we have a morals clause: a theme of revenge and forgiveness that's supposed to sweeten the pot. But with simplistic, overtly moralistic dialogue tacked on to provide an emotional hook, I could only cringe at the tartness. Screenwriter Alvin Sargent handled the last film with finesse, but with Ivan and Sam Raimi (who also directed) sharing the credit, you know that saying about too many cooks. You can clearly tell the emotion came from Sargent and the action came from the Raimis. It doesn't work.

But with a $148 million domestic opening and $375 million around the globe, a lot of people think it does... or did.

Friday, May 4, 2007

In God We Trust (Everybody Else Must Show Proper ID)

This week's edition intertwines money, deception, and redemption -- but mostly deception.

GET THEE TO A SEMINARY. Former New Jersey governor James McGreevey publicly dropped a triple-whammy in 2004: he was gay, he was cheating, he was resigning. Now, add a fourth: he's studying to become a Episcopal priest. McGreevey switched denominations after being raised Catholic. Lest you think this is the most spectacular example of "running to rehab" you've ever seen, the vicar at St. Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan provides some enlightenment, courtesy the New Jersey Star-Ledger:
"This process that he's in right now, is not going to be some snap of the finger, overnight process. That will not happen. That's not how it works. He knows that," [Rev. Kevin] Bean said. "And so at the parish level, and at the diocesan level, everyone knows that this is a process that ... intentionally is deliberate. You don't enter into it unadviseably."
We at The Lightning Round wish McGreevey the best on his spiritual journey, noting he has already embraced honesty -- brutally embraced it -- but embraced it all the same.

TIME TO SHAVE THE BEARD. ABC News reports an Osama bin Laden look-alike has been arrested twice in Pakistan after reported sightings of the al-Qaida leader.

From ABC News' "The Blotter:"
The official said an extensive investigation involving Pakistani and U.S. intelligence officers found that the look-alike has no connection to bin Laden, but that local residents had tried to collect rewards based on Akhbar's resemblance to bin Laden.
Saddam Hussein's former doubles are now asking themselves, "Why weren't we good enough?"

BANK AT HOME. The IRS has shut the doors of the First National Bank of Robert Arant, charged with running an illegal "warehouse bank" out of his home to help people dodge the tax man.

From the AP:
Arant took customers' money - promising to keep their identities private - and pooled it in six accounts at Bank of America, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo Bank, [court documents say]. He would then pay the customers' bills from those commercial bank accounts. He charged about $75 a year in fees for the service, plus fees for wire transfers and for initial account set-up. For $30, customers could buy debit cards to access their money more easily; otherwise, they could access it by check, money order or wire transfer...
We don't know if Bob's Bank gave you a toaster for a new account, but at least 13 people who put their bread in may be burned with federal charges. And you thought the significant penalty for early withdrawal was bad...

NICE PANTS! It's a case tort reform harpies dream of: A Washington, D.C. judge is suing a dry cleaner for $67 million -- yes, million -- over a lost pair of pants.

From ABC News:
Plaintiff Roy Pearson, a judge in Washington, D.C., says in court papers that he's been through the ringer over a lost pair of prized pants he wanted to wear on his first day on the bench.

He says in court papers that he has endured "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort."

He says he was unable to wear that favorite suit on his first day of work.

He's suing for 10 years of weekend car rentals so he can transport his dry cleaning to another store.
The case, amazingly, has not been thrown out -- and Pearson plans to call 63 witnesses. ABC News does the math on the exponential impact should he win his case:
The ABC News Law & Justice Unit has calculated that for $67 million Pearson could buy 84,115 new pairs of pants at the $800 value he placed on the missing trousers in court documents. If you stacked those pants up, they would be taller than eight Mount Everests. If you laid them side by side, they would stretch for 48 miles.
But we at your Lightning Round are perplexed at one simple fact: This guy is a judge?

SMART MONEY. Smarts don't necessarily translate into scratch, according to an Ohio State University study.

From the AP:
While people with higher IQ scores tend to earn more, they don't always save and invest their money wisely, said study author Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University.

"Individuals with higher IQ should not think that they have any particular advantage," he said.

People of below-average intelligence, meanwhile, are just about as wealthy as those in similar circumstances but with higher IQ scores, the study found.
We're still waiting for the studies on Jessica Simpson.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Puritan's Progress

A celebration of The New World, as established in Jamestown 400 years ago this year and honored by We Make History.

Adapted From The Journals Of Chaplain Christopher Francis
Pictorial Assistance By John Cabot (as portrayed by Michael C.)
(Click any image for thy close-up)

Presented In Iambic Pentameter in Tribute to Shakespeare and Bunyan.

The windy voyage now complete and lo,
A merry Puritan am I, clothed in
Black and brown and eager for some dancing!
My friends bestow me with thy title Chaplain.
A preacher now? I shall honor God with
Joyous, num’rous steps of high refinement.

Our fellow voyagers have made it here,
Kind ladies and fine gentlemen stroll in.
Explorers meet and greet about thy room.
Chief Powatan in fully painted mirth.
His subjects all around him brave and strong.
Pocahontas in three persons, showing
Young girl, then older, then an English Lass!

A tribute to thy country of the now,
And then the watch wound back four hundred years
Promenade we all back to the time of
Newfound land and cur’ous native dwellers.
An unsure lady calmed with steady hand
Extended to her with a courtly bow
We very much enjoy Sellinger’s Round.

Thine eyes observe a Pilgrim woman to
Thy corner of thy hall. I waste no time
In off’ring her the opportunity
To share a dance and disprove myths long told
Of Puritan contempt for dances all.
Our many steps do surely show the world
We are not strangers to the land of joy
If though our brownish garb doth paint us blue.
We caper through the Fields of Frost and Snow.

To honour such the brave who came before,
We pay tribute with a re-enactment
Of first steps taken on the New World land
A cross over my shoulder as I walk,
Heavy and yet such a glor’ous burden.
All knees do bend upon the blessed Earth,
Prayers offered that the Gospel may spread forth
Across this new and wonderful country.

I share so many moments with such fine
And charming ladies of the lands afar.
I gaze into their eyes as my feet glide
O’er the ballroom. Come, let us be merry!
A bow with sweeping hand, a clap and turn,
And skip with grace amongst the couples all.
Such poise doth nourish health and spirit both.

The jigs are up! And we are all about,
Prancing about in freeform style, the lads
And ladies showing off their fancy feet,
Although the natives do prefer less bounce.
They sloweth down the pace, walking in style.
A low-impact sort of jig I cannot
Help but try to emulate, yet some shall
Recognize my steps as “Thy Egyptian.”

John Smith is spared by native Algonquians,
Young Pocahontas makes the saving cry!
Years later she would marry a John Rolfe.
All Haste to the fair Wedding, so we say.
Oh ‘tis my fav’ourite! But I smile too soon.
This version is but new and diff’rent than
Thy dance that I learned sev’ral years ago.
But still, my heart doth not complain, for I
Treasure learning with all its challenges.

A winner of thy contest? Oh, Huzzah!
Ten balls hath I attended, prize not won.
But unlike other winners drawn from lot,
I have my fact of history in mind,
No dance shall I perform to satisfy
Thy yearnings of the unforgiving ones,
Ye who delight watching solo jigs.
Mind must be exercised as sure as foot.

But be not laggard in ye steps or ye
Shall find no lady to engage for dance
When they shall cast thy footwear to thy floor,
Thy quick shall have the honour of first choice,
If thou can stand thy weight of rushing charge,
The glor’ous crush of noble gentlemen
Upon the back of one who halts too soon.

All is wond’rous, yet so tiring, yet this
Pilgrim puzzles how thy time could slip so
Far so fast, and leave us at the end, too
Soon for many, but the ticking clock has
Brought us back into our modern lives and
Times yet with promise that the journey is
Not over, and we shall meet here again.

Click ye here for more images and words of celebration!

COMING IN JUNE: Shake Your Booty!