Friday, August 31, 2007

Deja Vu To A Kill?

From the Here-We-Go-Again Department: one week after we reported the suspension of a Phoenix-area student who drew a gun -- on paper -- in class, another Arizona youngster is in trouble.

DRAW TWO! This time, it's a Florence student who went beyond a simple sketch.

From the AP:
Stephanie Vardarkis said her son, Joshua had drawn the images on index cards, sort of like a cartoon that included a stick figure holding a gun.

In one image, the boy included the name of the school resource officer. Rather than it being a threat, Vardarkis said the character was meant to be calling the officer for backup

Larry Cline, a spokesman for the Florence Unified School District, said the student was told by the teacher to put the cards away. He didn't and the cards were confiscated.

Cline said the cartoon content warranted suspension "because it is the intent of the district to provide a safe environment in which to learn."
Yeah, those cards can be dangerous. Just think of all those nasty paper cuts!

WORK FROM HOME. In Tucson, where people complain about traffic, you would think more people would figure out ways to telecommute. Unfortunately, my job doesn't lend itself too well to that scenario, but I can still dream. IBM is aggressively embracing telecommuting.

From ABC News:
"We don't care where and how you get your work done," said Dan Pelino, general manager of IBM's global health care and life sciences business. "We care that you get your work done."

IBM says it saves $100 million a year in real estate costs because it doesn't need the offices.
And just think of what else you save: no hobnobbing with the office brownnoser, nobody getting suspicious about your secretary, and best of all -- no cafeteria food!

LIGHT IT UP. Winnie Langley celebrated her 100th birthday with her 170,000th cigarette. We are debating which is more amazing: Langley's tough lungs or the fact that somebody counted all those smokes.

From the London Daily Mail:
Winnie, from Croydon, South London, claims tobacco has never made her ill.

She has outlived a husband, Robert, and son, Donald, who died two years ago aged 72.

The former launderette worker said she started the habit in 1914 - just weeks after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28 - which sparked the First World War.

The 100-year-old, who is awaiting her telegram from the Queen today, said smoking helped calm her nerves during the two World Wars.
So why doesn't she have cancer?
Despite the numerous health warnings, Mrs Langley insists she's never suffered because of the habit as she "has never inhaled".
Yes, the old Bill Clinton excuse. But maybe it's all those additives.

LIFE IS RUFF. Leona Helmsley's will gives $12 million to her dog and zilch to two of her grandkids.

From the AP:
Helmsley left nothing to two of [her son] Jay Panzirer's other children — Craig and Meegan Panzirer — for "reasons that are known to them," she wrote.
We'll probably never know those reasons, but given Helmsely's character, your Lightning Round can hear her explanation from beyond the grave: "There are those who have, and those who have not. I have, and you have not."

AH, BUREAUCRACY! Here is the wailing wall for those wrapped up in red tape. Farmer Joel Salatin declares, "Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal." And what, precisely, does he want to do? Farm -- his way.

For example:
In the disconnected mind of modem America, a farm is a production unit for commodities — nothing more and nothing less. Because our land is zoned as agricultural, we cannot charge school kids for a tour of the farm because that puts us in the category of "Theme Park." Anyone paying for infotainment creates "Farmadisney," a strict no-no in agricultural zones.

Farms are not supposed to be places of enjoyment or learning. They are commodity production units dotting the landscape, just as factories are manufacturing units and office complexes are service units. In the government’s mind, integrating farm production with recreation and meaningful education creates a warped sense of agriculture.
Read on for more examples of bureaucracy at work, royally lousing things up. We caution you, the "gub'mint" doesn't get equal time to defend itself.

BLONDE MOMENT. The buzz bins are yakking it up over 18-year-old Lauren Caitlin Upton and her ramblingly air-headed answer to a question in last weekend's Miss Teen USA pageant. First, the moment as preserved by YouTube:

In case you didn't catch that:
I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some people out there in our nation don't have maps, and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq everywhere like, such as and I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., er, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future for our children.
Upton later defended herself. From WorldNetDaily:
"I didn't do anything wrong," Lauren Caitlin Upton told the State newspaper of South Carolina. "I wasn't expecting [the question]. I lost my train of thought."
Despite all this, she still came in third runner-up! Your Lightning Round is pitching a new TV game show: Are You Smarter Than Miss Teen South Carolina?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

My Favorite TV Neighbor

Kim Klaver's blog shares a moving speech from 1969, when Mr. Rogers went to Washington to ask for money so he could continue his fledgling public-TV program. Watch for yourself and witness a man who had a genuine dedication to children framed in humbleness and love.

In less than ten minutes, he had the money.

Watching this video, I remember Ed Murrow's speech "Wires And Lights In A Box," in which one of the greatest broadcast journalists reflected upon TV's vast power and lamented the failure of networks to serve the public a balanced diet of both information and entertainment. Mr. Roger's statement does not draw a sweeping portrait of the industry or warn us of dire consequences. Yet you hear in his voice a soft-spoken urgency delivered from a counselor who understood what children dealt with and the need for somebody to address their needs through a comforting medium.

To say Fred Rogers understood children is like saying Julia Child understood food. "Understand" is a wimpy understatement. As a young boy, his program, "Sesame Street," and "The Electric Company" were on my must-see list. He talked to millions of children, but I always felt he was talking just to me in that loving and steadfast voice. This was an age where we called ADD hyperactivity, and we talked to our children before we wrote them a prescription.

Fred Rodgers passed away a few years ago, but his program is still running. How many of our children are visiting his television neighborhood? Or has he, like so many re-runs, been relegated to our TV attic, something the grown-ups appreciate but the children shrug off as boring and lame? With TV doing so much of our surrogate parenting, I can only pray for the best.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The New Red Scare

We here at your Lightning Round are convinced the number of lead-laced products coming from China is proof of a diabolical Communist plot, especially given how many toys are involved. It makes perfect sense. Get to the young ones, innocent and happy. Soften up their formative brains in minute amounts, stupefying them slowly so they may conform to our message with no resistance. And those we do not reach during the day, we shall dispose of via night...

PLEASANT DREAMS, LITTLE ONES. New Zealand is investigating allegations of dangerous levels of formaldehyde in children's pajamas imported from China.

From the Financial Times:
The government ordered the probe after scientists hired by a consumer watchdog programme discovered formaldehyde in Chinese clothes at levels of up to 900 times regarded as safe. Manufacturers sometimes apply formaldehyde to clothes to prevent mildew. It can cause skin rashes, irritation to the eyes and throat and allergic reactions.

The Warehouse, a New Zealand retailer, issued a recall at the weekend for children’s pyjamas made in China after two children were burned when their flannelette nightclothes caught fire.
And in some Chi-Com factory somewhere, Comrade Foreman is berating his workers: "Ashes are useless to us!"

CHEW ON THIS. Leon Trotsky once prophesied: "In the third year of Soviet rule in America, you will no longer chew gum!" He dared not speak of Finland. Scientists say Ancient Finns chewed gum, but not merely to occupy their mouths.

From the AP:
Last month, students in western Finland found a piece of Stone Age birch-bark tar, believed to have been used for chewing and to fix broken arrowheads or clay dishes, archaeologists said Monday.

"Most likely the lump was used as an antique kind of chewing gum," said Sami Viljamaa, an archaeologist who led the dig near Oulu, some 380 miles north of the capital, Helsinki. "But its main purpose was to fix things."
Yes, but did they stick it under their desks at school? Did they scrape it off the streets? Did their chewing gum lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?

BLAMING THE BIRDS. Investigators probing the Minneapolis bridge disaster are determining whether pigeon poop played a role.

From the AP:
"There is a coating of pigeon dung on steel with nest and heavy buildup on the inside hollow box sections," inspectors wrote in a 1987-1989 report.

In 1996, screens were installed over openings in the bridge's beams to keep pigeons from nesting there, but that didn't prevent the building of droppings elsewhere.

Pigeon droppings contain ammonia and acids, said chemist Neal Langerman, an officer with the health and safety division of the American Chemical Society. If the dung isn't washed away, it dries out and turns into a concentrated salt. When water gets in and combines with the salt and ammonia, it creates small electrochemical reactions that rust the steel underneath.
Perhaps we can classify the so-called "rats with wings" as WMD: Winged Mass Destructors.

DRAW! School officials in Chandler, Arizona suspended a 13-year-old boy for drawing a gun -- on paper, that is.

From The Arizona Republic:
The [boy's family] said the drawing did not show blood, bullets, injuries, or target any human. They said it was just a drawing that resembled a gun.

But Payne Junior High administrators thought the sketch was enough of a threat and gave the boy a five-day suspension, later reduced to three days.

Chandler district spokesman Terry Locke said the sketch was "absolutely considered a threat," and threatening words or pictures are punishable.

The school did not contact police and did not provide counseling or evaluate the boy to determine if he intended the drawing as a threat.
And people wonder why parents are homeschooling...

WHICH IS WITCH? We're seeing toil and trouble in Salem, Massachusetts, where two Wiccans are accused of placing raccoon remains on doorsteps.

From The Boston Herald:
Police said they’re baffled as to why Sharon Graham, 46, and Frederick Purtz, 22, both of Salem, allegedly tossed a raccoon head and entrails outside two city businesses, Angelica of the Angels and the Goddess’ Treasure Chest.

But Purtz’s lawyer said it’s likely a conflict inside the town coven.

“There’s probably some internal issues within the Wiccan community,” Sean Wynne said. “I can tell you that based on research, that the Wiccan community does not condone any blood sacrifice or the harming of anyone else...”
From the Salem News:
Christian Day, leader of a community of witches in Salem, said he hopes this incident isn't used to target his religion.

"No witch would ever desecrate a corpse," Day said. "We understand the spirit world. This is our whole life. It is our life. [Graham's] not a witch."
Paging Glinda: "Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?"

OUTTA HERE. The INS finally caught up with Elvira Arellano. As we told you this spring, she's the illegal immigrant who dodged deportation for a year by holing up in a Chicago church. The ending was anticlimactic, devoid of an hyper-emotional, cable-TV fueled standoff. The feds grabbed her and deported her back to Mexico shortly after she spoke at a rally in Los Angeles, which had your Lightning Round thinking she was just cruisin' for it.

Now, Mexican lawmakers are taking her side. The senate in her native country has passed a resolution condemning the deportation.

From USA Today:
"For me it is very important that our government take a strong stand to defend all of us who decide to migrate to another country," Arellano said.
It's kinda sad when your homeland doesn't have enough pride to want you back.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Anchorwoman And Reality

Fox's new reality series Anchorwoman is what happens when the owner of KYTX in Tyler, Texas hires former bikini model and WWE looker Lauren Jones as an anchor and reporter for 30 days to help boost ratings. It's the show that asks that question: how much of TV news is beauty and how much is brains? The series follows Jones as the KYTX staff try to mold her into something resembling a TV journalist while they get their own jobs done. The concept has elicited much huffing and puffing among TV newspeople, who are tired of having to justify their existence and convince the rest of the planet they're not ratings-hungry tabloid hacks.

Before I deconstruct the program, you need to remember a dirty little secret about unscripted, so-called "reality" television. Producers can easily manipulate the raw materials of these shows to fit their pre-conceived visions. They don't write the dialogue, but they can re-arrange the words and the scenes. The editing technology available today makes it seamless.

So many things about the show don't surprise me one bit, and not just because I've worked in TV newsrooms for 13 years. It's because the program fits into a neat little formula. It's watchable and admittedly entertaining. But it's only mildly enlightening for non-newsies about the demands of the business. I can break down the first episode (which was actually two episodes glued together) into a perfect outline for a scripted show: anticipation, consternation, preparation, presentation, celebration, abomination, determination, and congratulation.

Jones is excited about her opportunity, but the KYTX newsroom isn't. A combination of grumbling and sighing awaits her. Some staffers roll with it, but not anchor/producer/reporter Annalisa Petraglia, who's rightly concerned with the station's credibility. News Director Dan Delgado seems resigned to it all, knowing Jones is not his hire but determined to make it work. The new girl gets a crash course on reading from a prompter, which is truly a lot tougher than it looks, even for a suspected bimbo. Her big debut arrives, where she reads a block of stories. She does all right except for one prolonged pause, but not extraordinary. Still, the staffers praise her, but I have to ask, are they really happy for her or happy the earth didn't open up and swallow them? Just as Lauren is getting her groove, she messes up by making distracting moves in the background of a newsroom live shot. It prompts a dressing-down from the General Manager and new resolve from Lauren as she goes out on her first reporting assignment, eager to earn respect and prove she's no dumb blonde. It's classic made-for-TV reality.

Anchorwoman is shaded with irony. As staffers fret about their credibility, scenes pop up over and over again of Stormy the "weather dog." We also see shots of billboards advertising Jones' arrival, exclaiming "She's Coming!" While Jones gets chewed out on her newsroom antics, staffers laugh over a tape of her goof-up in an edit bay. Clearly credibility and integrity are in the eye of the beholder, and one detects some unrighteous stone-throwing. Still, if credibility is the issue, I have to ask why the show doesn't show more of Dan or Annalisa's jobs -- especially Annalisa's. I know many anchors at many small-market stations produce -- but report as well? For the same show? How she manages to organize, execute and pull it all together day after day is worthy of another show. But this is entertainment, not news. This isn't about KYTX. It's about their guest-star anchor.

Perhaps I need to watch Making News: Texas Style on the TV Guide channel instead, which delves into the KOSA newsroom in Odessa, Texas without a top-heavy centerpiece.

I don't begrudge Lauren Jones or her determination. But it's hard for me to enjoy Anchorwoman without feeling for the real stars -- the people trying to maintain their professionalism while looking after an unwanted house guest.

UPDATE: Fox canceled the show after one low-rated airing. I guess people don't want a show about TV news airheads. They've seen it already on too many nights. It's saddening.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Hearts Of Plaid

The lads and lasses of We Make History gather together in celebration of Highland victories. Why? Because they clan!

Adapted from the Gaelic diaries of Christopher the Jacobite
Pictorial Assistance by Michael C.

(Click any photo for a closer view!)


Bonnie Prince Charley lands in Scotland, albeit with few men and no munitions. Yet still he rallies the clans to his side. They appear one by one on a warm August evening: Clan Maricopa, Clan Prescott, Clan Tucson, Clan Phoenix, Clan Flagstaff. Some Korean missionaries offer their alliance and friendship in return for a few photographic mementos and a pledge of protection against Japan.

The lads display their swords with great eagerness, some already armoured in readiness of a lengthy series of skirmishes, whatever it takes to return the House of Stuart to the throne. A plethora of lasses accompany them, steadfast and beautiful, knowing full well every able body will be needed to secure a British defeat.

Developments tilt heavily in their favour. Word arrives from Prestonpans of a quick and decisive victory, one secured in a matter of minutes as the bloody redcoats retreat in minutes, running from the battlefield. Aye, Edinburgh is ours. London is next. Victory is near! Tonight we celebrate the imminent success.

After an opening march, the Bonnie Prince addresses the excited ensemble with a few reminders of courtesy.

"Every lad is expected to dance with as many ladies as possible!" he commands with regal authority. "Any lad who cannot live up to this is not fit to march on London!"

And, he adds, every lad is expected to know how to bow. He calls upon a noted commander of his forces, a battle-tested leader with a reputation for fine dancing in addition to hard drilling. Yet standing before the prince in his dark blue embroidered jacket and fine tartan, he is mysteriously unable to demonstrate the required honours.

What be this?

An eager highlander is already jumping at the opportunity. He stands among the gathered in his bright red Stuart Royal tartan and blue Jacobite bonnet with a Cameron Clan pin on his wrap, a tribute to his mum's ancestry.

"Mr. Francis!" the Bonnie Prince observes, directing the attention of the hall to the volunteer. The eyes of every lad and lass, some 80 or more, now fall on him. Mary Queen of Scots, Robert The Bruce, and William Wallace await the demonstration. With as much grace as he can muster, the highlander falls back on one leg, spreading his arms apart as he lowers his head, offering a courtly bow.

"Ah! Can ye show us another way?"

Another way? the highlander muses. That is the way for him, the way he learned it from a dancing master in Williamsburg during his many travels. Maybe I just put my leg out and bow over it without falling back... He does so knowing full well it does not look much different, yet it is satisfactory for the Bonnie Prince, who offers a third, simpler way. The dancing commences.

Lads seek lasses for a circle mixer. The anxious Jacobite falls back on his reliable, proven method of securing a dancing companion, seeking out a lonesome pair of eyes or the beckoning smile from a lady standing just outside the centre of activity. But he finds none as he wanders about the floor, or others have found them first.

Fear washes over him. I am going to be marooned! he shudders, unable to comprehend how he might end up alone, especially after his display of grace. An upsetting truth reveals itself: usually the proportion of ladies to gentlemen leans overwhelmingly in favor of the lads. Tonight, the odds seem even.

Time is escaping him. The crowd is joining hands.

I cannot be alone!

But just as hope flickers out, he finds an unapproached lass and hastily bows low to her, almost in desperation, yet garnering acceptance with a smile and appropriate honour.

Not to worry, a friend later advises him. The lasses still outnumber the lads by his count. He advises the blue-bonneted highlander to seek out the ladies sitting down.

He would have little time to impress his newfound partner, as the first dance mixes the gathering through numerous changes of companions. They step in circles around the room, joining hands and stepping back and forth to the centre with a joyous kick. The enthusiastic lad pours his joy into his feet, skipping in steps others merely walk through.

"Save some for later!" a friend suggests after seeing the Highlander’s sprightly steps in the opening promenade.

But this is his love, his joy, the one diversion uplifting him above all others, the stuff of his dreams. He allows no dampening of his passion as the smile fixes upon his face, dance after dance, reminding himself that fatigue is no excuse to impress a beautiful lass across from him in the set. He removes his sporran, that anchor around his waist which serves no purpose but to slap against him, tormenting him like the musket fire of the pitiful English.

The dance hall fills with the music of the Bonnie Prince Charlie's Angels, crime fighters and beloved accompanists. They play under the command and call of Miss Becky, beloved dancing mistress who never fails to lead the cavorting masses to terpsichorean victory.

But ah, the crowd longs for a Highland breeze! This is Scotland, is it not? We should be enjoying a cool dampness instead of monsoonal humidity!

"Maybe we could get a breeze from Loch Ness," the blue-bonneted lad remarks after several mops of his watering brow.

"Aye," another lad responds. "We might just smell the monster."

Several lasses help quench the relentless thirst with ample liquid sustenance, partaken as generously as it is given. Water and punch rehydrate the multitudes who fan themselves or turn to a modern relief.

"Careful, Marilyn Monroe," the Bonnie Prince dryly admonishes as the spirited Highlander plants himself in front of the anachronistic windmill. His kilt billows and ripples above his knees, endangering his modesty, even with his hands holding it in place.

(We shall note the lad has indeed taken appropriate countermeasures against embarrassment. And though it would not be an issue on this night, he has also trained himself to answer the irritating standard question of non-Scots with a simple reply: "My legs.")

Revitalized, he leaps at the opportunity to dance a Highland Jig. But this jig more resembles a Highland Fling, a product of some study and practice, but mostly just a free hand raised above him, a few well-placed hops from one foot to the other, and a heartfelt commitment: If you're going to put on a kilt, learn the Fling!

The efforts do not go unrewarded as others seek to imitate, lasses facing him and matching his steps as the spirit of the dance infects the hall. It is satisfying, yet fatiguing, and his exertion leaves him planted once again in front of the mechanical windmill, his chest forward and head tilted back, beckoning the air to refresh him.

"You deserve it, Christopher," the Bonnie Prince compliments without a warning of kilt-lifting.

"The Sword Dance would be nice," the blue-bonneted Jacobite ponders. "There's one over there. I just need another." But that will have to wait for another time. The gathering practice their Highland Charge. Woe to the Englishmen who stands before this!

Cheers of "Huzzah!" accompany every announcement and follow every dance. Polite applause does not convey enough spirit, refined though it may be. The Highlanders must intimidate and celebrate in the same breath.

Winded yet determined, the lad in Royal Stuart garb seizes every chance to cavort, refusing to bow to fatigue. I made it to Edinburgh, didn't I? The gathered clans share his resolve, and without fail, they are drawn into a reward of extraordinary bliss.

A moment arrives during one final mixer of the evening -- a stew of small circles, right- and- left-hand stars and do-si-do's -- when the spirit of the dance consumes the masses, when walking steps transform into skipping steps and bows and curtseys sink lower and flow deeper from the heart. The Highlander raises his free hand during the stars, first observing he is one of few doing so... and then noticing everybody is doing it... and nobody is calling the steps any more. The pinnacle of joy is upon them, hearts joined in peace through dancing. The happy multitudes create a new world for themselves, if only for a few precious moments, one they shall return to in times of reminiscing many days later.

It is not Heaven, but you can feel it from here.

During a last waltz with a beautiful young lass, the Jacobite spies a lively pair of Highland women. He later offers words of astonishment.

"You two were wonderful," he says, commenting on their stylized, ballet-style footwork that unquestionably has them thinking outside the box step. "I have never seen a waltz like that. George Balanchine couldn’t have choreographed that any better."

Did every lad follow orders, the Bonnie Prince inquires, and dance with as many lasses as possible?


Three cheers for the Bonnie Prince!

"Hip hip, HUZZAH! Hip hip, HUZZAH! Hip hip, HUZZAH!"

The gathering retires to the local inn, where containing their enthusiasm for the sake of the slumbering seems impossible. They shush themselves repeatedly, afraid of the innkeepers' wrath. Some retreat outside. But all bask in the afterglow, which dissolves into dawn.

Morning has broken, evidence of the Lord's greatness, and the faithful offer their prayers and testimonies, thanksgiving for their blessings and God's presence in their lives. Tears flow from eyes, the product of humble hearts consumed by the Holy Spirit, tears of joy. Happy tears, like the rain that enriches the earth and sprouts the seeds, that fill the rivers and the oceans, that give life to the barren and hope to the hopeless.

To the field of battle!

Kilted and stoked, the sides meet on the green. You take the high road, and I’ll take the centre. Hike!

"D" is the key in the Highland Bowl. Let us see the English get by these lines, populated by blitzers and rushers and lightning-fast wee ones who can exploit the tiniest weakness. Lasses prove they are just as worthy as the lads in the fight. The passing game is crucial, but the interceptions and incompletes add up.

But victory shall be ours, and the ties of two previous contests shall be settled, as evidenced by the scorecard.

Game One by the measure of one and twenty to nil.

Game Two by the measure of nine to seven, including a rare safety.

Through the course of both matches, "everyone was both a zero and a hero," the Bonnie Prince notes in the post-game analysis. The talented Tracy takes MVP. And every lad and lass of the gathered clans take home many glorious memories, summed up in a trademark cry:


More images and stories of Highland glory here!

NEXT: Yeeeee-haw!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Smile When You Say That

Long layovers and flight delays may really gripe you. But you'd better not show it.

FACIAL PROFILING. A new breed of security officer is watching your body language and expressions. Do terrorists have an evil grin? We're not sure, but Behavior Detection Officers can spot sinister countenances.

From McClatchy Newspapers:
At the heart of the new screening system is a theory that when people try to conceal their emotions, they reveal their feelings in flashes that [University of California professor Paul] Ekman, a pioneer in the field, calls "micro-expressions." Fear and disgust are the key ones, he said, because they're associated with deception.

Behavior detection officers work in pairs. Typically, one officer sizes up passengers openly while the other seems to be performing a routine security duty. A passenger who arouses suspicion, whether by micro-expressions, social interaction or body language gets subtle but more serious scrutiny.

A behavior specialist may decide to move in to help the suspicious passenger recover belongings that have passed through the baggage X-ray. Or he may ask where the traveler's going. If more alarms go off, officers will "refer" the person to law enforcement officials for further questioning.
Besides the obvious worries about misconstrued expressions, an ethnic gap comes into play:
Different cultures express themselves differently. Expressions and body language are easy to misread, and no one's cataloged them all. Ekman notes that each culture has its own specific body language, but that little has been done to study each individually in order to incorporate them in a surveillance program.
In other words, the Behavior Detection Officers are relying more on gut feelings than proven methodology.

So put on a happy face... or else.

TAKE 'EM OUT. One of the most effective ways of treating ADHD in kids is also the simplest. Take their tonsils out.

From the AP:
Today, as T.J. gets ready to turn 3, he is a changed boy. Lively, to be sure, but affectionate instead of mean and aggressive.

"It's a total turnaround -- this is a different child," his mother said. "He's a normal, active toddler now. He responds to punishment for the first time. He gives us hugs. He says, 'I love you.' He's learning to share. Everybody notices the difference."
Doctors have found a connection between hyperactive behavior and sleep deprivation, with tonsils as the culprit.
Snoring, restlessness, apnea, and gasping for breath during the night are clearly linked to hyperactive daytime behavior in very young children. And enlarged or infected tonsils and adenoids -- immune-related tissue masses in the back and upper throat -- most often are the cause of what's known as "sleep-disordered breathing."
For the record, I still have my tonsils. And I still think I have some hyperactivity. Sleep apnea? I'm not sure. Looks like I'll have to set up the tape recorder at night.

MARRIAGE TAKES ITS TOLL. Divorce lawyers in the northeast are using the E-ZPass system to uncover the unfaithful. E-ZPass is an electronic device mounted in a car that automatically communicates with toll booths and deducts the appropriate fee from the driver's pre-paid account. But it also records the where and when, meaning it can expose a philanderer's journeys to the cheatin' side of town.

From the AP:
"E-ZPass is an E-ZPass to go directly to divorce court, because it's an easy way to show you took the off-ramp to adultery," said Jacalyn Barnett, a New York divorce lawyer who has used E-ZPass records a few times.

Lynne Gold-Bikin, a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer, said E-ZPass helped prove a client's husband was being unfaithful: "He claimed he was in a business meeting in Pennsylvania. And I had records to show he went to New Jersey that night."
Your Lightning Round has learned the makers of E-ZPass have a new product: E-ZAlimony.

SEE YOU IN JAIL, HONEY. The AP admits it "might make for a tense time at home." An Elko County, Nevada, sheriff's deputy pulled over and arrested his own wife for drunk driving. She happens to work as a jail deputy, so she already knows a lot about life behind bars.

From the AP:
Charlotte Moore reportedly had been drinking approximately two hours earlier at a downtown business group's wine walk, the [Elko Daily Free Press] newspaper said.
Guess she forgot about the "walk" part.

THE DOG ATE IT. Disgraced North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong returned his law license to the state bar association, and it's not in the best of shape. In a letter obtained by The Smoking Gun, he writes:
You will note that it contains a misspelling of my middle name (which I unfortunately did not notice until after my swearing in) and damage subsequently inflicted by a a puppy in her chewing stage.
Also curious is the next paragraph:
I am unable to comply with the order that I surrender my membership card, as I have never been sent one. Since I have never encountered a situation in which I needed the card, I have never requested one.
What "situation" was he referring to? Maybe... oh... practicing law?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

More Highland Memories

As I await the Highland Ball, my thoughts hearken back to the highlands of Flagstaff and last month's Celtic Festival.

Here are the pictures I promised, all of them captured by the gracious and talented Rosemary Woods -- and all Copyright © 2007 by Rosemary Woods.
(Click any picture for a larger view.)

Checking for a spark in the French musket...

We have fire!

Stephen prefers his pistol, especially when it works.

A borrowed bayonet should do the trick....

Maybe not.

At least the lasses are impressed with my bravery.

But don't try anything funny, laddie. Didn't I warn ye they know how to fence?

Le Comte and Le Comtesse, our French allies, show their support -- and fine fashion sense!

And on the left, their humble servant Rose -- who serves us all with her wonderful photographic talents. Huzzah! But what's with that pirate flag?

Oh that explains it. Captain Burgundy takes time away from privateering to lend some (brief) firepower.

Me buckos prefer th' cutlass, but I fancy th' musket.

An' one of th' lot favors... ah... somethin' else.

Ye through carryin' on? We gotta loot th' ale tent!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Attitude Adjustment

Once again, I see an article about "the media" which compels me to respond.

Motivational blogger John Place asks: "Have You Fallen for these 7 Negative Attitudes Pushed by the Media?" Keep in mind he is not a raving anti-media creature. Says Mr. Place: "I’m simply saying that the media’s darker side is bound to seep into our collective conscience; it surrounds us. And we’re receptive to it."

With that established, let me respond to each one of the Seven Negative Attitudes:
1. Mindless Consumerism: The average American is exposed to 247 commercials everyday. Buying things has become reflex, due partly to the ideal lifestyle flickering on the television: big house, giant SUV, three-car garage, flat-panel television. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life, but are you buying things to improve your life? Or to compensate for feelings of emptiness? Find something to believe in; fill the void with something real.
The 247 figure comes from Consumer Reports. I have seen higher and lower figures, but this shouldn't be about the numbers. Despite the volume of ads, it's silly to blame individual lack of self-control on the media. Mindless consumerism isn't the fault of the seller or the advertiser; it's the fault of the buyer. You don't blame Safeway for stocking aisles and aisles of groceries in every store, crying out for you to buy them. Dangling a product in front of somebody is not tantamount to drilling through their skull and programming them to automatically buy it. Mindless consumerism stems from human deficiencies, not from media.
2. Poor Body Image: Never before in history have we been surrounded by so many examples of physical perfection, shaped by cosmetic surgeons, airbrushed by artists, and distributed by print and video. Remind yourself that fitness is more important than perfection. And while it’s true that Americans outside the media are fatter than ever, even physically fit individuals struggle with a poor body image. Yes, attractiveness is an advantage, but your value runs deeper than your appearance, and those actors don’t look half as good without make-up and lighting.
I have no argument with the time-tested maxim that looks aren't everything. However, people all around us who are not on the TV or magazines are also trying to achieve the look. We can't discount the influence of our friends, our peers and our neighbors. One journey through high school will convince you this is more than a media issue.
3. Roaming Eye: Television gives everyone (men in particular) the idea that the world is overflowing with beautiful, willing sex partners; even if it’s true (which depends largely upon your own skills with the opposite sex), that roaming eye, that tendency to want what you don’t have, can be destructive if not monitored and controlled. Like all the elements in this list, human nature is the root here. Remind yourself that relationships are built upon more than physical attraction.
If the point here is that TV pushes sexual impropriety, promiscuity and adultery, well, yes and no. Yes, because it happens in real life, and as my college drama professor said, "Theater reflects the society in which it exists." Yes, because there's a drive for ratings which unfortunately cater to our baser instincts. But no, if you can't tell the difference between scripted television and unscripted reality, that's not the fault of a TV program. Again, like with advertising, we cannot hold the media accountable for our individual moral transgressions. We have choices in our lives, choices we make of our own free will.
4. Destructive Communication: Electronic media brims with insults and anger. On message boards, gentle persuasion has collapsed beneath the weight of incivility. In real life, victory is seldom obtained with witty one-liners or rude put-downs. Hone those communication skills. Learn to Persuade without offending. Connect.
Amen to that. Treading through some message boards and blog comment sections requires mental hazmat gear. But the media only provides the tools. We provide the content. Let me add to Mr. Place's advice: choose your blogs and your boards carefully. Flame wars may be fun to read, but a time will come when you want to talk about a subject armed with facts and respect. You can be passionate without being angry. Practice your honors. Being historically minded, I remember the first of Washington's Rules of Civility: "Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present."
5. Clique Mentality: As if cliques weren’t prevalent enough, television programs often have casts that are socially, ethnically, and racially homogeneous. That’s fine; it’s free enterprise at work, for the most part, and not every story involves a melting pot. I make no bones about it; I’m simply reminding everyone not to be afraid of diversity in the real world.
Again, it's TV reflecting society, not the reverse. We were separating ourselves into cliques long before the box came along.
6. Stereotypes: As evolved as we believe we are, television is overflowing with stereotypes: the dumb jock, the bubble-headed blonde, the geek with a pocket protector, all products of lazy writing. Most of us are smart enough to recognize a stereotype for what it is, but I question the subconscious impact of such repeated exposure. The best defense is to remind yourself that every human being deserves to be evaluated as an individual, no matter how prevalent or justified a stereotype might seem.
As Mr. Place eludes to, this is a human problem, not a TV problem, but he's still labeling it as a media problem because stereotypical content still exists in the media. Once again, TV reflects society. But I will argue, all things considered, TV is doing a better job of breaking stereotypes than making them. And sometimes, TV is making fun of stereotypes -- anybody remember "Men On Film" from In Living Color?
7. Danger Fixation: We’re wired to pay attention to danger, which is why the Discovery Channel broadcasts so many programs that show the world being destroyed by tsunamis, earthquakes, and giant asteroids; why the news leads with gunfire and bloodshed. Remind yourself that there are just as many positive forces in the world as negative; your focus on the negative is a matter of personal choice and perspective.
This point all but admits the media isn't the problem, it's human nature. TV newscasts wouldn't be filled with so much crime if it wasn't scoring ratings. Granted, it's also because crime is easily covered and summarized. I will spare you from a rant here about shrinking newsroom budgets and the kinds of stories TV news chooses to tell -- and how it doesn't have to be this way with some effort. But it ultimately comes down to what we want to see, and we vote with the remote. Most TV channels are running as a business, and demand has to drive the supply.

John Place has many valid points, but to label them "Negative Attitudes Pushed By The Media" makes me think of that scene in All The President's Men where Deep Throat tells Bob Woodward, "You're missing the overall." These attitudes are not actively pushed. They are not the product of conspiracy or collusion. They are there because they exist in our society as a whole, and you're not going to fix them by turning off a switch.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Hug The Press

Newsrooms take it on the chin in a new study from the Pew Research Center. Or do they?

The AFP headline reads: "US public sees news media as biased, inaccurate, uncaring." In the story itself:
More than two-thirds of the Internet users said they felt that news organizations don't care about the people they report on; 59 percent said their reporting was inaccurate; and 64 percent they were politically biased.

More than half -- 53 percent -- of Internet users also faulted the news organizations for "failing to stand up for America".
All true. But here's what the executive summary says and the AFP doesn't tell you: people have an overwhelmingly favorable view of local news, especially local TV news -- 78% among all respondents, 68% among those who get their main source of news from the Internet. Obviously somebody out there likes us, even though we're not here to be liked.

From the Pew Study:
The internet news audience is particularly likely to criticize news organizations for their lack of empathy, their failure to "stand up for America," and political bias. Roughly two-thirds (68%) of those who get most of their news from the internet say that news organizations do not care about the people they report on, and 53% believe that news organizations are too critical of America. By comparison, smaller percentages of the general public fault the press for not caring about people they report on (53%), and being too critical of America (43%).
So it's roughly half and half. Paraphrasing the thoughts of one newsie: if you get as many complaints as compliments, you must be doing something right.
Far more than twice as many Republicans as Democrats say news organizations are too critical of America (63% vs. 23%), and there is virtually no measure of press values or performance on which there is not a substantial gap in the views of partisans.
Republicans are going to say you're too liberal. Democrats are going to say you're too conservative. The thing to take away: quit worrying about people yelling bias and just report the news. You have to remember when people cry bias, they're complaining that you're not biased in their political direction.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine provides an exhaustive analysis.

Mutual Of Misery

It's a dismaying paradox. You buy insurance hoping you'll never need it, and the insurance companies sell it to you hoping the same thing.

LIKE A BAD NEIGHBOR. In yet another analysis surprising nobody, Bloomberg News finds U.S. insurance companies making mad money and stiffing policyholders:
Insurers often pay 30 percent to 60 percent of the cost of rebuilding a damaged home — even when carriers assure homeowners they're fully covered, according to thousands of complaints with state insurance departments and civil court cases.
Bloomberg cites the particularly disgusting example of Allstate, which hired the consulting firm of McKinsey and Company to improve its efficiency:
For 57 years, Allstate has advertised its employees as the "Good Hands People," telling customers they will be well cared for in times of need.

The McKinsey slides had a new twist on that slogan. One [PowerPoint] slide McKinsey prepared for Allstate was entitled "Good Hands or Boxing Gloves."

When a policyholder files a claim, first make a low offer, McKinsey advised Allstate. If a client accepts the low amount, Allstate should treat the person with good hands, McKinsey said. If the customer protests or hires a lawyer, Allstate should fight back.
The consultant made other suggestions:
One McKinsey slide displayed at the Kentucky hearing featured an alligator with the caption "Sit and Wait." The slide says Allstate can discourage claimants by delaying settlements and stalling court proceedings.

By postponing payments, insurance companies can hold money longer and make more on their investments — and often wear down clients to the point of dropping a challenge.

McKinsey's advice helped spark a turnaround in Allstate's finances. The company's profit rose 140 percent to $4.99 billion in 2006, up from $2.08 billion in 1996.
McKinsey isn't talking about the work it did for Allstate. Allstate isn't talking about it either. Your Lightning Round editor's personal experience with them is limited to a sky-high car insurance quote.

But we can safely gather thousands of Allstate customers think the "good hands people" need their knuckles rapped... or cuffed. Or maybe they need a piece of the rock.

PAY TO STAY. Students in two Tucson, Arizona school districts will get $25 a week to stay in school under a pilot program financed by a nonprofit organization, Youth Education Security Inc.

From the Arizona Daily Star:
"A student who might have had to choose a job over going to school might now be given the hope to stay in school because of this program," [YES head Lou Barsky] said. "I'm not trying to say $25 is $1 million, but that's not what is important. What's important is the hope we're giving to students who are living in poverty."
But mostly they're giving them money, with bonuses for good grades. But will it be enough of a motivator? Twenty-five dollars a week breaks down to five bucks a day, less than minimum wage and way less than the minimum pay at In-N-Out.

DOING THEIR PATRIOTIC DUTY. An anti-war activist asked GOP presidential wanna-be Mitt Romney why none of his sons are serving in Iraq. He says it's because they're busy serving their Dad's presidential campaign... or his ego.

From the AP:
"The good news is that we have a volunteer Army and that's the way we're going to keep it," Romney told some 200 people gathered in an abbey near the Mississippi River that had been converted into a hotel. "My sons are all adults and they've made decisions about their careers and they've chosen not to serve in the military and active duty and I respect their decision in that regard."

He added: "One of the ways my sons are showing support for our nation is helping me get elected because they think I'd be a great president."
One of them is traveling through all 99 counties in Iowa in an RV. As Boston Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis noted, there's no roadside bombs to annoy them there.

SEEING THE LIGHT. GE developed the bug light. Now Intelligent Optical Systems is out with the barf light. It's called the "LED Incapacitator," and Homeland Security wants them.

From Fox News:
The handheld device using light-emitting diodes to emit super-bright pulses of light at rapidly changing wavelengths, causing disorientation, nausea and even vomiting in whomever it's pointed at.

"There's one wavelength that gets everybody," says IOS President Bob Lieberman. "Vlad [IOS top scientist Vladimir Rubtsov] calls it 'the evil color.'"
Right now the prototype is too heavy to carry around all day, but it's a lot easier than trying to deploy old tuna-fish sandwiches.

BACK TO YOU. They weren't testing that barf light on a British TV anchor. Kenny Toal got sick at the desk while suffering from food poisoning.

From the Daily Mail:
Moments before they went live at six o'clock, Toal picked up a waste paper bin and vomited, before vowing to carry on with the show.

He managed to read the introduction into the lead story but then continued to be sick during a film report. Co-presenter Pam Royle took over the news-reading and battled on herself, despite sitting next to her retching co-anchor.
He finally had to leave during sports.
Toal said: "Five minutes before the show I felt really sick. Two minutes before the show I asked for a bucket.

"I managed to hold on while on-screen but I was very sick during news reports. I was starting to put [sports anchor] Chris [Ford] off his stride so had to call it a day."
The culprit? His mum's cheese pie, which he says he left out too long to defrost.

And to think of the stuff we've left out around the newsroom: cookies, donuts, birthday cake, brownies, leftovers from Monday's noon show cooking segment, Subway sandwiches, hot wings, stale pizza, cupcakes, pie, industrial-strength coffee, ubiquitous spring water... why are we still alive?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Making A Scene Behind The Scenes

The news director of KOCE-TV -- PBS station in Orange County, California -- sent out a memo to his staff complaining about a rogue employee at the Orange County Register who keeps "performing antics for the camera" in the background during interview segments from the paper's newsroom. His latest transgression: a finger up the nose -- and it was not a scratch. That employee, according to the L.A. Observed blog, is now taking another finger -- one pointing toward the door.

With our set design at KOLD News 13, cameras are always pointing into the newsroom. Thankfully, nobody has been caught with an offending digit, although one reporter (who shall not be named) was once caught wearing a plastic bucket on his head after he'd used it to illustrate a story on child drowning dangers. On Halloween I have to displace myself from my regular desk to prevent viewers from seeing a colonial soldier or a happy highlander behind Mindy Blake's shoulder, necessitating some unnecessary on-air explanation.

Once in a while, I'll wear some historic hat into the newsroom before a journey into the past, and I have to remind myself to remove it before the cameras go on. I forgot to take off my tricorn on Election Night a couple of years ago, and a friend later told me he knew I was working when he saw the distinctive triangular crown over an anchor's shoulder.

The Drudge Factor

The Los Angeles Times says the Drudge Report plays a tremendous effect in propping up news websites and setting agendas, just like the The New York Times does.

Indeed. Drudge is required reading for me every day. Not only does he have the big stories, he has the "talker" stories that might make it into my newscast at KOLD. And let me be honest, The Lightning Round takes major cues from Drudge links.

But what I miss is Matt Drudge's original reports, those splashy scoops he used to send out in the 1990's, when he started out on America Online, before the Lewinsky scandal. Drudge isn't a citizen journalist anymore; he's a citizen aggregator. Other sites and blogs trying to copy his success have sprung up to do what he did, and now all he has to do is link to it, along with doing his Sunday night radio talk show. The Times article implies he's making boffo bucks.

Thinking about it, he does what I do every day. He pulls stories from other sources onto his site. I pull stories from KOLD reporters, AP, CBS, and CNN into my newscast. He runs his operation on the web. I do it on TV. I never thought of myself as a news aggregator, but it sure looks like I am.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Reel To Reel: The Bourne Ultimatum

Bourne-again action.

How It Rates: ***1/2
Starring: Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, David Strathairn, Glenn Scott, Paddy Considine
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Intense Action Violence, Mild Language

The third film in the Bourne saga is a global, hyperactive game of Pac-Man, with bad spooks chasing a rogue spook and dirty spooks with their hands on the joystick. These spooks have a dazzling ability to track people anywhere on the planet, using a room full of obedient keyboard jockeys to hack into cell phones and computers and monitor every conversation. They deploy operatives at the push of a button, who feed back video to central command through miniature cameras, some attached to handguns, believe it or not. I can believe it more than not because the NSA's computer capabilities are years ahead of anything off the shelf.

All of this technology, however, is useless against Jason Bourne (Damon), a highly-efficient CIA assassin who's still trying to figure out who trained him while his superiors try to kill him, thus covering up the highly covert, highly illegal operation that used him. The picture runs, literally runs, like a deadly version of The Amazing Race with Bourne hopping from Moscow to Paris to London and Madrid and Morocco before getting back to America, running through streets and airports and jumping through windows. "We have to move," he says at one point, which is the understatement of the entire picture. He's got CIA ops on his tail every step of the way -- when they can find him -- and at each location, you know somebody or something's going to get killed or blown up. Bourne leaves such a mess behind him I wonder why some Homeland Security flunkie doesn't show up halfway through the film asking questions about ruckus overseas.

Bourne does have an ally in Joan Allen (Pamela Landy), the CIA's model of the prototype good cop, who gradually learns the dirty big secret surrounding Bourne's missions. But she's clearly not going to get by Fearless Leader, Noah Vosen (Strathairn), a CIA honcho from the with-us-or-against-us school of threat management who keeps trying, trying, trying to terminate Bourne with legions of ops only to see them get cold-cocked or bumped off. Bourne is so resilient, walking away from each confrontation, he makes James Bond look like Johnny English.

Damon's character has more than enough chase and fight scenes, all of them filmed with shaky hand-held cameras to pump up the action. All the shaking makes them hard to follow at times on the big screen, although things should be better on DVD. Naturally, this doesn't give Bourne much time for extracurricular activities. A brief fling with a Madrid CIA agent (Stiles) barely generates any passion, let alone romance. Why should it? We have to move.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Yours, Mine, And "Ours"

When your Lightning Round editor-in-chief first came across this week's lead story, the opening paragraphs had me thinking "kicker." Then it rose to the lead story. The former USSR's experiment with democracy is evaporating before our eyes because of a youth movement backed by the powers that be. But the threat isn't the return of Communism. It's worse.

(NOT SO) FREE LOVE. Russia isn't breeding enough, according to the Kremlin. So the "Nashi" ("Ours") organization is running a camp called the Love Oasis, where youths are encouraged to have sex. So far, it sounds like reconstituted hippiedom. But get beyond that, and you're looking at reconstituted fascism.

From the London Daily Mail:
But the real aim of the youth camp - and the 100,000-strong movement behind it - is not to improve Russia's demographic profile, but to attack democracy.

Under Mr Putin, Russia is sliding into fascism, with state control of the economy, media, politics and society becoming increasingly heavy-handed. And Nashi, along with other similar youth movements, such as 'Young Guard', and 'Young Russia', is in the forefront of the charge.
Author Edward Lucas compares Nashi to the Hitler Youth, explaining how the movement feeds on the bleak prospects of the average Russian life. Just like Communism used to, it offers hope to the hopeless, offering good jobs and good friends. Old reds, meet the new reds.
In July 2006, the British ambassador, Sir Anthony Brenton, infuriated the Kremlin by attending an opposition meeting. For months afterwards, he was noisily harassed by groups of Nashi supporters demanding that he "apologize". With uncanny accuracy, the hooligans knew his movements in advance - a sign of official tip-offs.

Even when Nashi flagrantly breaks the law, the authorities do not intervene. After Estonia enraged Russia by moving a Soviet-era war memorial in April, Nashi led the blockade of Estonia's Moscow embassy. It daubed the building with graffiti, blasted it with Stalin-era military music, ripped down the Estonian flag and attacked a visiting ambassador's car. The Moscow police, who normally stamp ruthlessly on public protest, stood by.
Is this the same country that embraced perestrokia and glastnost? Not anymore. And if Nashi gets its way, nobody will remember either of those terms:
Just as the Nazis in 1930s rewrote Germany's history, the Putin Kremlin is rewriting Russia's. It has rehabilitated Stalin, the greatest mass-murderer of the 20th century. And it is demonizing Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically-elected president. That he destroyed totalitarianism is ignored. Instead, he is denounced for his "weak" pro-Western policies.
The kids are eating it up.
Terrifyingly, the revived Soviet view of history is now widely held in Russia. A poll this week of Russian teenagers showed that a majority believe that Stalin did more good things than bad.
People complain about ignorant Americans, lame-brains threatening our democracy. At least ours is strong enough to survive. We fear it might not be long before we once again find ourselves talking about ICBMs and mutually assured destruction. Kinda makes Gorby's boldness all for nothing, doesn't it?

O CANADA! After W. won a second term, you heard a lot people talk about moving to Canada. Many did. In fact, the numbers cited by ABC News are at a 30-year-high:
In 2006, 10,942 Americans went to Canada, compared with 9,262 in 2005 and 5,828 in 2000, according to a survey by the Association for Canadian Studies.

Of course, those numbers are still outweighed by the number of Canadians going the other way. Yet, that imbalance is shrinking. Last year, 23,913 Canadians moved to the United States, a significant decrease from 29,930 in 2005.
The reason people make the move isn't surprising, but the perceptions are saddening:
Jo Davenport, who wrote "The Canadian Way," moved from Atlanta to Nova Scotia in December 2001. She also cites political reasons for her move, saying that she disagreed with the Bush administration's decisions after 9/11.

"Things are totally different here because they care about their people here," she says, explaining that she's only been back home once or twice.
Most commenters to this piece at ABC seem to be saying, "Good Riddance!" And in Arizona, they're saying, "Heh, gatta make room for all dem Mezkins."

POR NADA. Wal-Mart has found another way to keep prices low south of the border. Employ volunteer baggers, employees who work for nothing and collect only tips.

From Newsweek via MSNBC:
Wal-Mart is Mexico’s largest private-sector employer in the nation today, with nearly 150,000 local residents on its payroll. An additional 19,000 youngsters between the ages of 14 and 16 work after school in hundreds of Wal-Mart stores, mostly as grocery baggers, throughout Mexico—and none of them receives a red cent in wages or fringe benefits. The company doesn’t try to conceal this practice: its 62 Superama supermarkets display blue signs with white letters that tell shoppers: OUR VOLUNTEER PACKERS COLLECT NO SALARY, ONLY THE GRATUITY THAT YOU GIVE THEM. SUPERAMA THANKS YOU FOR YOUR UNDERSTANDING. The use of unsalaried youths is legal in Mexico because the kids are said to be “volunteering” their services to Wal-Mart and are therefore not subject to the requirements and regulations that would otherwise apply under the country’s labor laws.
Granted, many of Mexico's home-grown store chains follow a similar practice, but not on Wal-Mart's scale.
And in its defense, Wal-Mart says it fully complies with a 1999 agreement covering the teen-aged baggers that the Mexico City municipal government negotiated with the Supermarkets and Department Stores Association of Mexico. The company also says it goes beyond the obligations of that accord, awarding bonuses twice a year to baggers who maintain high grades in school and also providing accident insurance that covers the kids not only when they are on duty, but also when they are en route between home and workplace. The company’s written statement cited a study conducted by the Mexican government and a U.N. agency that found that teenagers participating in the baggers’ program were less likely to use illegal drugs than peers who panhandled or hawked merchandise on city streets.
So the next time you see a panhandler on the streets of Nogales, your Lightning Round encourages you to say, "Go work at Wal-Mart!"

IT'S FOR YOU. An 85-year-old Maine man continued to lease his phone from AT&T until just recently, more than two decades after it became legal to own your own phone, paying nearly five bucks a month for something his daughter quickly replaced for a one-time fee of only $7 to a discount store. What did that monthly fee go for? A wall-mounted, rotary-dial albatross. You would think AT&T would do a Microsoft and push an upgrade his way. Apparently not.

From the Bangor Daily News:
Right away, [the daughter] said, she picked up the gold receiver and dialed the customer service number on the bill to cancel the [leasing] service. The friendly operator on the other end attempted to dissuade her, offering her uncle a 20 percent discount off his monthly rental fee and reminding York of the benefits of leasing.

"She said that if something goes wrong with that phone, they’d have a new one here the next business day," she recalled. "I was thinking to myself, ‘If something goes wrong with that phone, I’ll go to Wal-Mart and get one the next day.’ But I didn’t say it." She
It seems a lot of people, mostly elderly, continue to lease phones simply because they don't know they can own one. It's not illegal, but it is unethical, consumer advocates say. Still, AT&T continues to preach the leasing doctrine.
A call to the company’s leasing service headquarters in Florida resulted in several minutes of listening to a recorded on-hold message explaining the advantages of leasing a telephone. These included the next-day replacement service cited by York, as well as assurances that a leased phone will have "a real bell ringer" and be hearing aid-compatible. In addition, said the recording, "You can be assured that your lease supports jobs right here in the good old U.S. of A!" There is also a "lease rewards card" that offers discounts on prescriptions and hearing aids.
Your Lightning Round wonders if they lease telegraph keys, too.

DOG DAY AFTERNOONS. Don't have the time to be a full-time pet owner? FlexPetz lets you time-share a dog by the day.

From the AP:
For an annual fee of $99.95, a monthly payment of $49.95 and a per-visit charge of $39.95 a day, (discounted to $24.95 Sunday through Thursday), animal lovers who enroll in FlexPetz get to spend time with a four-legged companion from Cervantes' 10-dog crew of Afghan hounds, Labrador retrievers and Boston terriers.

The membership costs cover the expense of training the dogs, boarding them at a cage-free kennel, home or office delivery, collar-sized global positioning devices, veterinary bills and liability insurance. It also pays for the "care kits" — comprising leashes, bowls, beds and pre-measured food — that accompany each dog on its visits.
Just don't call it a "rental."
"Our members are responsible in that they realize full-time ownership is not an option for them and would be unfair to the dog," said [FlexPetz founder Marlena] Cervantes, 32, a behavioral therapist who got the idea while working with pets and autistic children. "It prevents dogs from being adopted and then returned to the shelter by people who realize it wasn't a good fit."
True. But we know some cats begging for equal opportunities.