Saturday, October 27, 2007

Reel To Reel: Michael Clayton

Cleaning up is a messy business.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton, Sydney Pollack, Michael O'Keefe
Rated: R
Red Flags: Language, Brief Violence

It's ironic that a lawyer good enough to fix troubled cases isn't good enough to run a bar or take out everybody at the poker table, but that's exactly the world of Michael Clayton, a talker-thriller that hits an occasional dead spot, but still effectively leads us through a slimy tale of corporate law. What it has to say isn't earth-shattering -- scummy corporations rely on big-shot lawyers to twist the truth -- but it says it in a compelling, tension-filled movie.

The title character (Clooney) is a self-described "janitor," a legal eagle at a huge New York firm who cleans up messes for clients outside of the courtroom. An opening scene has him advising a valued customer who's just committed a hit-and-run accident, telling him exactly what his options are in a hard-reality demeanor. Clayton has a precise method, refined over many years and many cases, with an answer for just about anything and a knowledge of the system. However, he can't seem to fix his own problems, including the aforementioned bar. He has some semblance of a family life, including a son from a previous marriage, but it's more procedural than heartfelt as he ferries the child with him on some of his rounds.

He is also unprepared to face his toughest assignment yet: damage control in a multi-billion dollar class-action lawsuit. Clayton's firm represents agricultural conglomerate uNorth, which is facing a lawsuit over deaths from a weed killer, and the case could collapse after the lead defense lawyer on the case, Arthur Edens (Wilkinson), suffers a breakdown during a deposition. Edens strips off his clothes and runs naked through a parking lot, part of what he calls a "moment of clarity." Clayton is convinced Edens is off his medication, but in the process of trying to save him and the case, Clayton learns his colleague found damaging evidence against the ag company. At the same time, uNorth's lead counsel, Karen Crowder (Swinton) is playing fixer herself. She's unconvinced Clayton can get the job done, so she turns to a pair of men who repair cases in ways more akin to the CIA.

I like watching George Clooney. He speaks with a cool-headed this-is-how-it's-gonna-be directness reminiscent of his Danny Ocean roles. Sydney Pollack is also compelling as one of the firm's partners, even though it still seems like he's playing yet another riff on his George Fields agent character from Tootsie. Michael Clayton is told partly in flashback, setting up a key moment and then replaying the events leading up to it, but I still didn't understand all of the nuance or significance of the key moment, when Clayton gets out of his car and runs up a hill to where three horses are standing. We also get some parables from Clayton's son, a fantasy-book buff who keeps talking about a novel filled with lost and cautious characters who don't know why they're in the community they're in. It's not hard to make the link to Clayton... or Edens.

Overall, Michael Clayton is well-acted and well-executed, but it doesn't say anything prophetic, not like A Civil Action did some years ago. And Eden's raving lunacy doesn't measure up to the Howard Beale of Network. Perhaps in the ashes of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom and other corporate mega-scandals, Michael Clayton isn't showing us anything we haven't already read in the papers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Take This Gavel And Shove It!

Natural disasters, like the fires consuming California right now, are useful for diverting your attention from flaming injustices. Usually, defying a judge's order is called contempt of court. But leave it to your lawmakers to find a way around that, especially on something having to do with security.

"JUDGES? WE DON' NEED NO STEEEENKING JUDGES!" Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff has overruled a federal judge who temporarily blocked construction on a border fence. The fence passes through the San Pedro Riparian Area of Southern Arizona, and environmental groups had sued, but a border-security law enacted by Congress gives Chertoff the power -- unbelievable as it may seem -- to trump a judge.

From KOLD News 13's Political Specialist Bud Foster:
The Defenders of Wildlife had planned to asked the federal court for a temporary injunction to buy more time but that has been rendered moot..

In a statement released just after the decision, it said, "Today's decision highlights the need for Congress to step in with legislation that would secure the nation's border while still being mindful of the impacts to the environment and local communities."

Congressman Raul Grijalva agrees with that assessment. In a statement of his own, he says "the secretary's decision to invoke a waiver for fence construction in the San Pedro is short sighted and will devastate the region and the river. It is an insult to those of us who live on the border. The secretary's responsibility is to protect the homeland, not selectively destroy our environment for political gain."

The judge's office had no comment on the decision other than to say it's not sure what it can do, if anything, now.
However, your Lightning Round knows exactly what the Bush Administration wants this judge to do: sit down and shut up.

HIKE! Elsewhere in the halls of Washington, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel is getting out the tax bucket and preparing to give the rich a good soaking. He's proposing a $48 billion tax hike on hedge fund and buyout firm executives.

As Bloomberg reports:
The New York Democrat said the proposal would more than double the tax rate on so-called carried interest, the compensation that executives at buyout and venture-capital firms, as well as real estate and oil and gas partnerships, receive for managing investments. It would also require hedge- fund managers to pay tax on income they defer in offshore accounts, he said.

The so-called patch, which lawmakers must pass this year to forestall a tax increase on 21 million households, will set up a showdown between Democrats who want to offset the lost revenue with new levies and Republicans who oppose any increase. The carried-interest measure will also be part of a broader overhaul that contains a permanent repeal of the minimum tax, a tax-rate surcharge on wealthy households and a lower corporate rate.
We don't expect Rep. Rangel's proposal to get very far, but hey, somebody needs to pay for that war in Iraq...

NAP TIME. Meanwhile, those fires are still burning in the Golden State. Rest assured, your Federal Government is on the case, but man, those planning meetings are a real bore, as we can tell from Vice President Cheney's nod-off caught on camera. RawStory has a look:

In all fairness, we found it hard to tell whether he was nodding off at all the first time we saw it. But after a few more viewings, we're convinced. Looks like somebody could use some Red Bull.

IT'S TEN O'CLOCK. DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILD IS? You will if you outfit your young one with a GPS tracker jacket. As The Guardian reports:
You switch it on when you leave the house and what you get is nothing less than the ability to know where someone is - within four square metres - anywhere in the world. You can watch them move, check where they've been and get updates every 10 seconds. You don't even need to be permanently logged on to your computer, as you can have email alerts sent to your Blackberry or text messages to your mobile.
But, and this is a big but, kids can always take the jacket off. And with the cost ranging in the hundreds of dollars, this is one piece of clothing you don't want them to lose. As our assistant editor Sluggo Wisekampf said, "Ya wanna treat your kid like a dog, buy a leash!"

STICK YOUR FINGER THERE. A school lunchroom fingerprint scanner is upsetting parents in Salem, Oregon. They claim it violates privacy. The school claims it speeds up the cafeteria line by matching each student with their pre-paid lunch account.

As the Salem Statesman-Journal reports:
Jack Adams, the superintendent of the North Santiam School District, said the system does not take a student's actual fingerprint.

"It's a string, not a fingerprint," Adams said. "It's three mathematical pieces of information taken from a student's finger. It's stored on the school computer and can't be used in any other way."

But some parents are opposed to the finger-scanning of minors in schools. They say they're concerned that the prints their children register with the school could be stolen, misplaced or used for a form of fraud that hasn't even been invented.
If I'm a kid, I'm more concerned with putting one of my digits where every other kid has put theirs... eeeeeewwwwww, gross!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dance And Danceability

An unforgettable night of honour and grace, just as Jane Austen would have wished it -- another noble effort of We Make History.

From the writing desk of Mr. Christopher Francis, a regimental, and with full apologies and tribute to Miss Austen.

Photographic mementos are preserved here.

The seasoned regimental stood amongst his friends, settled for only a short time in the line of highly respectable ladies and gentlemen, dancing companions all. He was a sprightly man, known for spontaneous demonstrations of spirit, with enough welled inside to sustain him through a prolonged and hurried travel of one hundred miles by carriage. Yet he could still be disposed to moments of weariness, as much as he laboured to disguise them, as in the moment when an involuntary expression of fatigue migrated from his lungs through his mouth despite his best effort at suppression.

It caught the eye of the ballroom host standing next to him. "Mr. Francis!" he said in a low tone of teasing disapproval.

"It has been a long day's journey into night," the regimental replied, ashamed that he would permit a display so incongruent with the occasion. Indeed, it was with haste that he had departed a wedding in his other life and time. Moments after witnessing a colleague joined in matrimony, he offered the new couple a hearty, if anachronistic, "HUZZAH!" as they passed by him at the ceremony's conclusion.

Not one inferior of character had been received into the large hall. Genteel and graced young Britons in their finest apparel, gowns and coats and breeches, awaited instruction from the dancing mistress Madame Toussaint, a highly regarded caller whom the regimental regretted could not share in more of the dances she explained. She laboured to ensure each step footed with precision, in order, with a steadfast patience and kindness well-suited to many eager newcomers, numbered in the dozens about the room, to the point of starting the music over if need be to ensure the enjoyment of the gathered.

When Sellinger's Round was called, she hinted not at the dance's complexities, but of its repetitions, its choruses and verses, which relieved the regimental's first dancing companion. She was a young lady who, during the opening promenade, confided she had never attended a ball such as this one. The regimental reassured her as his eyes floated between her and the guests in their satin and silk. Fathers accompanied their daughters, and they would be recognized by the host throughout the evening as the finest of company. He took note of a few three-cornered hats. As was tradition, a few had strayed from the designated segment of time, offering long coats and baggy breeches or more opulent gowns. A few ladies chose fashions in tribute to the Renassiance. And one gentleman prophesied by his gray wool uniform of a future conflict in the former colonies.

But his focus would remain on his partner as he led her through the intricacies of the opening number, sometimes catching himself in mistakes, but making his best effort to please the lady and dampen any fear. Both of them found themselves hurrying through figures at times but not losing themselves.

"It is a bit complicated," he admitted. The regimental worked to support his disclosure as a gentleman of experience as his legs maneuvered through settings and sidings and slippings to the notes of the pianoforte.

"Thank you very much for a wonderful dance," he said upon bowing to her at the end, indicating not only the pleasure of her company, but his thankfulness for her willing tolerance of his awkward figures.

He found it unseemly that perspiration should adorn his forehead, although the fluttering waves of the guests in hopes of generating a breeze gave him some solace. He questioned his choice of attire: the dark blue embroidered coat and tails topping his white breeches and hose. His shoes, to much relief, were quite up to the task.

"From perspiration comes inspiration!" he declared and continued dancing.

However, he realized his coat might attract the suspicious eye, its epaulets hinting at French sympathies, which he made every effort to dismiss before anyone could challenge them. "I must have a word with my tailor." he explained. "She has a eye for things French. But I am loyal to Britain!"

As if to prove his allegiance, he sought out a gentleman topped in a large hat and dark regimental coat trimmed in the manner of a naval commander.

"That is a wonderful bicorn," he noted of the headpiece which reminded him of French soldiers. "Are you allied with Napoleon?"

No, he returned with kind resolution. "The British Navy."

Of course, the regimental concluded. How could he not recognize the vestments of his mother country? "There may be spies among us," he offered, desiring to explain away his unfounded suspicions.

Upon seeking another partner, he found himself in a dilemma, approaching two ladies standing together and not sure which one to bow to in request for a dance. How could he offer in such a way that would be both fair and mannered? His mind brought forth a memory from another ball in another time, of a technique shown to him by a commander whereby he closed his eyes, pointed, and twirled around, with his tip of his finger indicating the winner of the lot. The regimental did so, and upon opening his eyes, found a smiling face in front of him.

"You," he smiled. Perhaps it was not as mannered as he desired. But fair it was.

The call came for sets of six, and from a demonstration at the front of the hall, many could tell a favourite dance was upon them: "Come, Let Us Be Merry!"

Heads around him turned in confusion, and the regimental quickly gathered he was the only one in the set who knew the dance. His determination strengthened in the realization he must lead them, or find the effort disintegrating into confusion. Standing with his partner as head couple, he encouraged observation as he took hands with the lady and gracefully turned her towards the others, bowed, and turned again with the appropriate honours. He cast her off to the middle, touched hands briefly with her, and then cast to the bottom of the set, where they joined inside hands, and the regimental walked her in three-quarter time up the centre of the couples, turning to face her on opposite beats until the top of the set where they cast back to the centre and all joined hands to circle round.

The others learned quickly, after an iteration or two. A young lad in a ponytail and three-cornered hat danced as well as his betters, and no one frowned at any missteps. "Thank you for leading us!" a lady proclaimed to the regimental upon the dance's conclusion. He bowed to her in return.

He would have another opportunity to demonstrate his abilities, when Christchurch's Bells was announced. The gracious caller sought him to show the assembled the proper way of turning a lady, in a serpentine manner with the partner's hand held gracefully -- and sometimes closely in a crowded set. Then, to the amusement of the guests, she demonstrated the improper way, swinging his arm about as if she were throwing him aside to the gutters of London. The regimental exaggerated the moment for as much comedic effect as he thought proper, stumbling as her hand let go in feigned dizziness, leaving no doubt as to the absurdly of gracelessness and the discomfort it would cause.

"I am a bit of a player," he softly admitted later, hesitant to leave an unseemly impression among the refined, cultured and knowledgeable.

They proved themselves worthy when prizes were announced, offering historic facts and dramatic recitations instead of the common jig to claim their rewards, save for one gentlemen at the end. Somebody, the regimental concluded, must always bend against the wind. Yet all would cavort a few moments later to claim tins of cookies passed among sashaying couples in several lines.

Perspiration adorned the regimental once again, and he ventured outside after the end of a set. "Air, glorious air!" he proclaimed, letting the wind revive his spirit. Others had gathered outside in search of the same relief. His heavy uniform was indeed the culprit, more dangerous than any French spy. Yet the concern lingered enough that several gentlemen decided, on a future occasion, to provide more representation for the Royal Army, in brightly coloured uniforms. Procurement would be another matter.

"Do you wish to be head couple?" a lady offered after she accepted the regimental's bow and offer of a dance.

"Yes," he replied and formed a new set. The host and a young lady joined him as Madame Toussaint introduced the caper: "The Spaniard."

To the regimental's relief, the host pointed out the Spanish influence of the young soldier's uniform. Perhaps, the gentleman thought, he had defended his loyalties unnecessarily and thought too little of his seamstress.

He smiled as he skipped up and down the line with his dancing partner, a seasoned young lady of impeccable manner and beauty, inside and out. He added extra flourish to his turns and lilts in his steps to match his joy, his free hand raised in happiness as they cavorted. The dance progressed them all the way to the end of the line, where another soldier awaited the regimental and his free hand. He enthusiastically slapped it in what societies would later call a high-five.

"I don't think that was historical," the lady remarked with the grin of humour.

"Yes, but it was lively," the regimental replied.

The end of the evening drew nearer than many expected, as minutes evaporated in the bliss of good company and fine dancing. Time remained for two more dances before the final waltz, but the moments were consumed in merely one: the Duke of Kent's Waltz.

For the final set dance, the regimental asked for the company of a young lady with an infectious smile, one who had impressed him with her spirit and quality of footwork. She did not disappoint him as the two balanced and turned each other, casting off in graceful steps behind the other couples. In one measure, he added an ambitious flourish, leaping slightly into the air and touching down lightly in a "double-axle," as it would be known later. He tried it only once.

All through the dance, the two exchanged smiles, the regimental grinning and returning grins as they were drawn into the beauty of the music and the movements. The caller's voice drifted into silence as the moves ingrained themselves among the couples. The dance ran long, and then longer, and then longer still, nobody wanting to end the moment, all enveloped in the joy of grace and pleasant company, basking in a moment long anticipated.

When the evening ended, after the final waltz, the regimental offered his traditional cry of approval: "Huzzah! Huzzah!" Even among the genteel, the cry echoed over and over again.

Early in the evening, a charming schoolteacher offered her approval of such boisterous displays.

"I know why we love you," she whispered to the regimental.

"I love you too," he responded, his heart humbled.

Click here for more reflections and moments of happiness from this evening's fine assembly.

NEXT: A Servant In The Cause

Friday, October 19, 2007

Curse Of The Tongue

Life is hard. Work is hard. Working in a lingual cesspool is pushing it. But some folks claim it has advantages.

WHAT THE *&%@#? If office morale is in the toilet, potty mouths may be the solution, according to a study from the University of East Anglia, as reported by AFP:
Researchers said swearing in front of senior staff or customers should be seriously discouraged or banned, but in other circumstances it helped foster solidarity among employees and express frustration, stress or other feelings.

"Employees use swearing on a continuous basis, but not necessarily in a negative, abusive manner," said Baruch, who works in the university's business school in Norwich.

Banning swear words and reprimanding staff might represent strong leadership, but could remove key links between staff and impact on morale and motivation, he said.
Our Lightning Round language critic offered this thought: how about removing the source of frustration or stress? You can only say *^%$@! so many times before you feel like you need to take a shower.

BANNED WORDS. And from the flip-side department, a Pasadena, California teenager has started a no-cussing club.

The group's message is clearly labeled on its site: "Ya wanna hang with us? Don't cuss."

"A lot of kids at my school, and some of my friends, would cuss and use dirty language all the time. They did it so much they didn't even realize they were doing it," Hatch said on the site.

Hatch said that the cussing bothered him so much, he challenged them to stop.

"They were shocked. They didn't know that it was bothering me. They didn't even realize how much they were doing it until I said something. I was actually surprised at how they reacted. They accepted my No Cussing Challenge," Hatch said.
So far, the club has at least 50 members. Yes, there is hope for our youth!

FUEL INJECTION. Republican House staffers were furious over a suggestion they get inoculated for several diseases before attending a NASCAR race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in North Carolina. They were there to take the public's temperature on health care and homeland security issues. But everybody was hot about the infectious implications.

From the Washington Times:
The recommendation also angered some lawmakers, who thought it was insulting to suggest that race fans might be infectious.

However, the dispute raised questions among NASCAR fans about whether they needed to be immunized as well.

"No one has suggested that fans get any — or need any — shots at all," NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. "This simply appears to be a dispute between staffers that has been blown out of proportion."
The on-staff nurse here at Lightning Round headquarters says Congressional staffers should be just fine, but they could use a few booster shots or tablets for the following afflictions:

Deficitis -- symptoms include spending money like it's no tomorrow
Belligeria -- continued support for questionable military actions
Oral diarrhea -- particularly acute to the Senate, symptoms including filibustering
Campaignarrhea -- patients include lawmakers who never stop running
Spinal Atrophy -- you wonder why your lawmakers can't pass workable immigration reform?
Gas -- always a chronic problem

As for the rest of us, the American drug industry is working on remedies for these:

Apathitis -- who cares who's President; when does American Idol start up again?
Unimatrimonia Compulsia -- our schools are failing, our highways are crumbling, crime is rising, the economy is sinking, the terrorists are gunning for us, but dadgummit, we need to do something about GAY MARRIAGE!!!!
Partisanism -- this is a toughy, but we remain optimistic for a cure

GRAVE SITUATION. Are things turning around in Iraq? Maybe we can get some unbiased insight from cemetery workers, who say their businesses is slowing down because of a drop in violence.

As McClatchy Newspapers reports:
A drop in violence around Iraq has cut burials in the huge Wadi al Salam cemetery here by at least one-third in the past six months, and that's cut the pay of thousands of workers who make their living digging graves, washing corpses or selling burial shrouds.

Few people have a better sense of the death rate in Iraq .


Dhurgham Majed al Malik, 48, whose family has arranged burial services for generations, said that this spring, private cars and taxis with caskets lashed to their roofs arrived at a rate of 6,500 a month. Now it's 4,000 or less, he said.
But while you exhale just a little bit, consider these words:
"We Iraqis are full with sadness and tragedies now," Ali Hazim said. "I swear by the name of Allah that each house bears some weight of sadness and of tragedy, and this is the reality of Iraqis now."
BIG BROTHER BUFFET. The Dutch are opening a new restaurant at the University of Wageningren where researchers watch every move you make and every bite you take in the name of discovering what works and what doesn't in the commercial dining room.

Reuters reports:
From a control room, researchers can direct cameras built into the ceiling of the restaurant to zoom in on individual diners and their plates. They watch how people walk through the restaurant, what food catches their eye, whether they always sit at the same table and how much food they throw away.

"You're already watched by cameras everywhere like 'Big Brother' so what difference does it make here?" said Bert Visser, a plant scientist eating a chicken sandwich. "Presentation really influences what you choose."

Patricia van der Souven, a research assistant eating pumpkin soup and a salad, agreed: "One day they had blue lights and I didn't come in because the food didn't look nice. Blue light isn't warm, it's too business-like."
Sort of like Hell's Kitchen, without Gordon Ramsay spitting in your face.

OFFSIDES. We've figured out a way to outsource just about everything, so why not the Super Bowl? The NFL is considering playing the Big Game At The End in London one day.

From the AP:
"There's a great deal of interest in holding a Super Bowl in London," [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell told reporters Monday. "So we'll be looking at that."

The commissioner said London's Wembley Stadium would make a great candidate for American pro football's biggest match-up, given the opening of the stadium's latest incarnation and enthusiasm overseas for the game.
Imagine the irony of the New England Patriots winning a Super Bowl in England. The Yanks are coming! The Yanks are coming! I can just see the taunts from the crowd -- many dressed as Redcoats.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

If You Can't Report Something Nice, Go To Jail!

A Salt Lake City judge has sentenced a reporter with KUTV to do a public-service story or go to jail. This is Katie Baker's punishment for interviewing a potential juror in the Warren Jeffs trial, in violation of a decorum order set by the court.

From the AP:
"She violated the order," Baker's attorney, Jeff Hunt, told The Associated Press. "But she did that not knowing it was prohibited by the court. It was a mistake."

During a hearing, [Judge James L.] Shumate accepted Baker's explanation but gave her 90 days to complete a public-service story and provide a DVD to the court or be found in contempt, Hunt said.

"It does bother me a little bit that he would order a reporter to do a story. ... The station is reviewing its next steps," the attorney said.

Hunt said the judge did not explain what story would meet his public-service benchmark. Shumate's office said a written version of the ruling was being prepared.
Some of you press-bashers are saying, "Good, hold reporters accountable!"

But this is not good. This sets a very bad precedent for First Amendment law in this country, and KUTV should challenge this ruling with full force. Where does a judge get off ordering a reporter to do a story -- public-service or not? The judge did not specify a specific topic for this ordered report, but it doesn't matter. If this order stands, the invitation is there for other judges to order up stories if they don't like press coverage.

Suppose a judge ordered the paper to do a positive story on a murder suspect found not guilty. It sounds fair, you may think at first; it's helping to clear the person's reputation. We always think people are tried and convicted in the media, anyway. But think about this carefully. This goes beyond keeping cameras out of the courtroom or moving trials because of publicity. A judge has now become the ultimate editor, deciding what will and what won't be published. Do you want a judge deciding what you read in the paper or watch on TV? Do you want the courts influencing the news agenda in your newsrooms?

Of course some of this is hyperbole, but with apathy towards the First Amendment in this country and the general dislike of reporters in general, it's not much of a stretch. This isn't about whether Katie Baker messed up. She did, and she admitted as such. This is about a judge punishing a reporter by becoming her new editor, if only for one story. Somebody tell me where in the First Amendment Judge Shumate got the right to do that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Quality Produces Quantity

Producers, reporters, anybody who works in TV will one day have to answer that question, "Why is there so much crime on TV news?"

The answer is, "Because you watch it." Crime, sensationalism, and tabloid sensibilities bring ratings. For producers like me, the challenge is where to draw the line between ambulance chasing and reporting on the crime stories people want to know about while getting "other news" in.

Tuesday night's 10pm newscast on KOLD News 13 had both ying and yang. We had a story on a missing Tucson woman found dead and a six-year-old shot to death while she was sleeping on the family couch. But we also had stories on the search for a new Tucson Unified School District superintendent, safety inspections for truckers. But the longest story of the night was a four-minute epic on the rise of Buddhism among Tucsonans.

So it's heartening to read a story in The Boston Globe about a study from The Project for Excellence in Journalism, which found quality news attracts viewers, too:
In an unprecedented survey, a team of researchers under the auspices of the Project for Excellence in Journalism studied the minute-by-minute Nielsen ratings for newscasts from 154 local television stations over five years, more than 33,000 news stories in all.

What they found is that quality sells. The sensationalism of late-1990s WHDH, the study suggests, does bring good ratings. But well-done, substantive TV news proves just as popular - and often earns even better ratings.

Viewers, the study found, are perfectly willing to watch stories on education policy or tax debates - in many cases they'll tune in to those stories but flip away from a segment on a celebrity divorce or a deadly highway pileup. And they'll consistently reward in-depth reporting with higher ratings than more cursory stories, no matter what the topic.

The findings suggest that the shift to violence and voyeurism has left everyone worse off. Viewers, fed a diet of out-of-state car chase footage, are left knowing less about issues, like the schools, that actually affect them. And the TV stations, in clumsily catering to an audience they misunderstood, may actually be sabotaging their own ratings.

"I think what governs most television news directors is the sense that they have no choice, that they have to use crime, accidents, and disaster to grab the interest of the viewer," says Marion Just, a political science professor at Wellesley College and one of the study's lead researchers. "But they do have a choice. They can do well and do good."
Take heart, TV newsers. We know people vote with the remote, but they're willing to give you a shot if you're relevant.
According to [Project founder Tom] Rosenstiel, the findings may be explained in part by the shrinking of the network TV news audience. "There are so may other ways to be entertained on television," says Rosenstiel. "People that turn to a local newscast are that hardy few that's actually looking for information."
Aha! People who watch news want news! Something a lot of us forget sometimes.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Flagged For Ridicule

Your Lightning Round editor-in-chief senses the entire immigration debate bounding through the gate of animosity into the garden of absurdity. And we need look no further than our city of headquarters to find the awful truth.

THEY'VE GOTTA GO. For more than 50 years, a Mexican flag has flown alongside a U.S. Flag at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, reflecting the fact that the Sonoran Desert stretches across the border. But no more. And Old Glory's gone as well. The flags, the poles, everything must go as the Museum operates on the old loony PR principle that it's easier to cheese off the many versus the few.

The Arizona Daily Star says it all came down to nagging questions and a threat:
Questions from visitors about why the Mexican flag was being flown on U.S. soil escalated in the past couple of years, said board chairwoman Sophia Kaluzniacki.

An anonymous death threat against the museum's animals made earlier this year by a phone caller also factored into the [museum] board's decision, but to a lesser degree, she said. The desire to avoid controversy on border-related issues was the main thrust, she said.
Winifred "Wynee" Warden, a museum trustee who wasn't there for the vote on the flag flap, doesn't think it's right:
"That border thing is going to be resolved one way or another. Eventually then they can put the Mexican flag up, I guess. It's crazy," she said. "It's the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and so they both should be represented. It's too bad when you have to kowtow to everyone who complains."
At least the museum didn't have to remove any Mexican spotted owls. And we hear it's putting up a new flag -- a white one.

UPDATE: Just hours after we went to press, we learned the museum board voted to reverse its decision, saying:
“The board must balance both the educational mission of the Museum with protection of its collections, staff and visitors,” said board chairwoman Sophia Kaluzniacki. “While it saddened us to experience increasing messages of violence, we also must stand true to the history and traditions of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. On behalf of the board we did not anticipate the degree of response this action would create and we regret any concerns that were generated.”
A simple "We blew it!" will suffice.

FROM THE MOUTHS OF BABES. Homeland Security may be getting the scoop on you not from your phone records or wiretaps, but from your kids. Boston Herald columnist Michael Graham found that out after his daughter went in for a checkup:
“The doctor wanted to know how much you and mom drink, and if I think it’s too much,” my daughter told us afterward, rolling her eyes in that exasperated 13-year-old way. “She asked if you two did drugs, or if there are drugs in the house.”

“What!” I yelped. “Who told her about my stash -- er, I mean, ‘It’s an outrage!’ ”

I turned to my wife. “You took her to the doctor. Why didn’t you say something?”

She couldn’t, she told me, because she knew nothing about it. All these questions were asked in private, without my wife’s knowledge or consent.

“The doctor wanted to know how we get along,” my daughter continued. Then she paused. “And if, well, Daddy, if you made me feel uncomfortable.”
Graham points to guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics that he says condone, if not encourage, snooping by doctors in the name of spotting abuse and other problems in the home that would contribute to poor child health -- to say the least. Your Lightning Round is still looking for those guidelines, but in the meantime, we offer some counter-advice from commenter Yaakov Watkins:
I agree that the doctors should ask all the questions they want. Parents should ask all the questions they want also. Like "Where did the doctor touch you?" "Did the nurse hurt you?" "How big was the needle?" "How many times did the nurse poke you with the needle?" "Did the nurse talk to you about things that made you feel funny?" "Was there a gun in the doctor's office?", "Were you ever alone with the doctor?"

GUT CHECK. The mystery of what your appendix does may be solved. Surgeons and specialists at Duke University theorize it's a storehouse for good bacteria, as the AP reports:
Diseases such as cholera or amoebic dysentery would clear the gut of useful bacteria. The appendix's job is to reboot the digestive system in that case.
But it seems we're doing part of the appendix's job for it:
If a person's gut flora dies, they can usually repopulate it easily with germs they pick up from other people, [Duke University professor Bill Parker] said. But before dense populations in modern times and during epidemics of cholera that affected a whole region, it wasn't as easy to grow back that bacteria and the appendix came in handy.

In less developed countries, where the appendix may be still useful, the rate of appendicitis is lower than in the U.S., other studies have shown, Parker said.

He said the appendix may be another case of an overly hygienic society triggering an overreaction by the body's immune system.
So we guess it's fair to say your appendix can get stressed out -- just like the rest of you.

READIN', RITIN', AND RELOADIN'. English teacher Shirley Katz wants to take her Glock 9mm pistol to class with her in Medford, Oregon to protect against a Columbine-style attack. Naturally, district rules prohibit packing by faculty.

From the AP:
Katz won’t say whether she has ever taken her 9 mm Glock pistol to school, but she practices with it regularly and has thought about what she would do if she had to confront a gunman. She would be sure students were locked in nearby offices out of the line of fire, and she would be ready with her pistol.

“Our safety plan at our school now is that if somebody threatening comes in, you try to avoid eye contact, and do whatever they say, and that is not acceptable anymore,” she said. Shootings at Virginia Tech University and the one-room Amish school in Pennsylvania, “reinforced my belief we have to take action, we can’t just acquiesce as we have been taught to do.”
And by golly, you better raise your hand before speaking in her class.

FLOORED. Meanwhile in Mahwah, New Jersey, students at a high school are eating lunch on the floor. Administrators decided to maximize teaching time by combining all lunch periods into one mass feeding, leaving hundreds of the hungry without table settings.

As WCBS-TV New York reports:
The cafeteria holds around 300, some outside picnic tables are provided, and seniors can leave for lunch. But parents and some students were quick to speak out to school leadership against hundreds left to floor dining -- and got nowhere.

"Kids should not be eating on the floor," one mother said. "Nobody should be eating on the floor. Animals eat on the floor."

Added a student named "Samantha": "It's dirty. It's disgusting."

CBS 2 HD was able to obtain and analyze three floor swabs. The findings found "very high" bacteria counts, suggesting a combination of "dirty" surfaces.
Mahwah High School says it's finding other seating for the kids. As for the food... well, we all remember our school cafeteria diets. Mystery meat, anyone? Anyone?

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

"I Will Continue To Do My Job"

I'm still following the story of Air Force MSgt. Bradley Behling and his tribulations with PODS after they mistakenly sold all his stuff while he was in Iraq. He has updated me, and things appear to be moving forward, but I cannot share the details with you. This case is a delicate legal dance, and any more media exposure could blow it. Please continue to keep him and his family in your thoughts and prayers.

Some of you have been following the comments in the last update, in which an anonymous poster challenged MSgt. Behling's character and wondered whether he actually earned his Bronze Star. I have the sergeant's response, which he has allowed me to post here:
To Anonymous,

I am sorry that you feel the need to attack my character. I guess the fact that you chose to remain anonymous shows your character.

I know exactly how people feel about me at my last job. I often get calls from them for advice or invites to group functions.

My ex wife is a good person, and we are great friends- she has testified for me on my behalf. I doubt that if I was a gambling degenerate liar she would have done that. I was able to pay for everything that I had to replace from savings, and investments. If my "gambling problem" was so severe I doubt I would have had the means to do that.

You ask for proof all I can to is write about my time there Any of these facts are easily verifiable in my squadron.

February ‘06 a tasking came down for a 1st Sgt to deploy with the cops to Iraq, since they are my folks anyway I thought it would be a good experience, my commander didn’t want to let me go because of the crap going on with my soon to be ex at the time. I convinced him and he let me go.

March-May we went through the Army “prepatory course” for Convoy operations, Urban Terrain Combat scenarios, Local confrontations, and detainee ops. All of this because we were filling an ILO mission (In-Lieu-Of) the Army did not have enough people to send to this area, so it fell to us. We could not go until we had completed this training. I established myself during this time by doing everything that the “kids” did taking no advantage of my rank and position to include being pepper sprayed and running the combat course. At the end of training the kids collected over $500 for me and bought me this beautiful shadow box that said “MSgt Brad Behling Army Qualified 1st Sgt You are the corner stone of our morale” and $300 in “Gucci gear” to go over my flack vest. It was very moving.

We came back for 10 days around Memorial Day, and on 2 June we departed for the AOR and landed in Kuwait for 10 more days of training in desert conditions.

We Arrived in Camp Bucca on the 14th of June, change of command on the 17th. We fell in on 65 additional troops that were staying for another 4 months, and cops being cops I was concerned that they would not mesh well, but as all things when it comes to my professional life it worked out fantastic and they became quick teachers and friends to all of my cops.

The 30th of June an Airman from the 886th (our sister squadron) was shot by a 9mm from some kid messing around. 98% of the time where the bullet went in it goes straight through and he gets a painful reminder, this time it clipped his right shoulder bone and cut 45 degrees through his body severing a major artery on the way out his left side. There was nothing anyone could have done.

While our units responded to the crime scene I got two kids in my office both named Ryan, both 19. They were in the same barracks when their friend was shot. They were of course hysterical and I did my best to calm them down getting them some water and talking to them about their time in the desert and what they had accomplished during their time there, consoling them about their friend and telling them that the hospital there was above reproach.

After I calmed them down I went to the crime scene, they were taking him out and while still alive at the time I knew it looked grim. I found the other 1st Sgt Frank Guzman standing with CID getting asked a hundred questions he did not have the answer to. I got him out of there and let CID do their job.

When I returned to my office I found the two Ryan’s much calmer, and I did not elude as to the condition of their friend. CID finished up in the crime scene and came and spoke to the two Ryan’s in turn, Frank returned to the scene to clean up the blood once it was released. I found out that Carl had died about an hour and a half later. No one knew what to do with him because we were Air Force, so I had to dust off my mortuary hat, and start the paperwork and help them prep the body.

Arrangements were being made to pick him up and the two kids had still not been told that their friend was dead, so I went to the leadership of the 886th, and talked to their Operations Superintendent-SMSgt Hoffstetter I said “You can tell them or I can tell them but I do not want them over hearing that their friend is dead.”

The Senior said he had told someone once and he would never do it again, I said “That is fine I respect that, I think it is important to see someone from their leadership however so will you at least stand with me while I do it.”

That was the longest hallway on the planet that day. When I walked in I pulled my chair from around the desk and said. “Guys, there is no easy way to say this but Carl died a short time ago.” They fell to pieces. “There is nothing I can say to make you feel any better right now, but there are 8 other people standing outside needing your strength, and need to know you are going to be OK.” The chaplain gathered the other members of that squad and they were out there waiting on them. Frank stayed with them while I went to lodging and arranged movement of everyone in that trailer out to an empty one, I dropped the keys and the completed copies of the mortuary paperwork off with Frank and went back to my room and cried for 20 min.

The next day a Services mortuary team arrived and I assisted them in re-packing the head with ice, sealing him in the container, and getting the flag on. We drove him around the base once. It was moving as everyone stopped and saluted as we drove by. Two helicopters lifted off that day one with Carl, and the other with a 21 year old who was facing murder charges.

As we walked away from chopper pad I ran into one of the Ryan’s put my hand on his shoulder and asked how he was holding up. He said “I’ll be ok sir; and sir if no one else says it, thanks for getting him home to his family.”

I teared up at that, here this kid had just lost a good friend and he was thanking me, shows his character.
MSgt. Behling also shared this story involving his squadron, even though he was not on this particular convoy:
We are coming up on the year anniversary of an IED attack that blew up Brandon Byers he lost a chunk of his left hand and his left leg was filled with shrapnel. We were returning from escorting a convoy to Kuwait when we were struck. IED (Improvised Explosive Device) sorry I speak in acronyms:-). This particular type of IED was called an EFP. (Explosively Formed Projectile) it’s small copper plates that form in to “bullets” as the explosion happens. They sliced through the hummer like a knife through warm butter. “Fortunately” he was the only one seriously hurt in the attack; a couple of others were grazed by flying metal. He was medevac’d (choppered) out to Camp Arifjan where they did as much as they could for him. That was a long week. Sitting with him catching barf and trying to get him prepared for the next chapter in his life. He is still here and has had several surgeries to his hand. It can move, and he has some feeling in it. Amazing some of the things doctors can do now a day.

After it is all said and done I came to the realization that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow, and we need to make the most of today. The petty things in my life don’t even register anymore, and I am far more content with my lot in life.

The cops love me and they all feel cared for, I have 370 of them and I know all of their 1st names, and most of their spouses and children’s names. Amazing how far that goes.

So to Anonymous I say think of me what you will. I know what really matters in this life. It is not Bronze Stars- I personally would have had that young man live and come back with nothing. The fact that my leadership saw fit to submit me for that award is humbling.

Your opinion of me is just that and if there was anything constructive in your criticism of my character I failed to see it.

I will continue to do my job and be there for my Airmen both here and where you are.

MSgt Bradley Behling
99th Security Forces 1st Sgt

Friday, October 5, 2007

Reel To Reel: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Just who is the coward?

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider
Rated: R
Red Flags: Graphic Gun Violence, Mild Language, One Scene With Brief Sexual Talk

Jesse James shot at least 15 people and robbed more than a dozen banks, and yet he is remembered as a hero among his contemporaries -- mostly by unreconstructed secessionists after the Civil War. Robert Ford is remembered as a coward, even though he ended the criminal career of an extremely dangerous man. The Assassination Of Jesse James... plays like a funeral procession for both men, slow and sad and tedious at times, hyphenated with narration fit for a eulogy or a wild-west version of Dragnet. It's another one of those movies you can label with the all-purpose tagline: "The story you never heard."

The film picks up shortly before James (Pitt) and his brother Frank (Shepard) carry out their last bank robbery in late 1800's Missouri. With most of their gang either arrested or dead, they turn to petty thieves to carry out the job. One of them is a young Robert Ford (Affleck), a baby-faced, mumbling 19-year-old old James fanboy who approaches Frank and begs to a part of the gang like his older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell).

The younger Ford makes an unlikely outlaw with his pasty complexion and his emotional vulnerability. If you hurt his feelings, he's more likely to cry than kill you. Jesse delights in testing his cohort's toughness, while at the same time expressing similar fits of paranoia and weakness. He roughs up a boy in one scene and cries in the next. And still, James is a sympathetic character, "dungeoned" by illness and his outlaw temper.

Most of the film deals with Jesse's struggles after the last train robbery. With the law and Pinkertons on his tail, he is unable to hide behind an alias, and he moves about the country tying up loose ends and killing off traitors while plotting crimes that never come to fruition. In the meantime, the Fords see James' growing instability and cruelty, eventually striking a deal with Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden to bring James in.

Calling The Assassination... a Western doesn't seem fitting, unless you want to call it Western Psychodrama or Western Art-House. It is adapted from a novel by Ron Hansen which explains its plodding pacing and character development. This is not a movie for your average Western fan. But its redeeming quality is forcing us to rethink the glory of the Jesse James legend and the condemnation of the man who took his life.

James died from a bullet to the head while dusting off a picture, shot by Ford from behind. I challenge you to watch the moments leading up to this scene carefully and decide for yourself whether Ford acted as a coward. The ambiguity of the events justifies multiple interpretations. History, unlike legends and folk songs, isn't cut and dried.

Gimme Five!

We all know what a new baby costs. At least, we should. So does Hillary. And wouldn't you know, she wants to help.

CASH IN THE CRIB. Senator and presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to give every newborn child a $5,000 baby bond to pay for college or a new home once he or she turns 18.

From the AP:
The New York senator did not offer any estimate of the total cost of such a program or how she would pay for it. Approximately 4 million babies are born each year in the United States.
ABC News reports Sen. Clinton floated the same idea last year for only $500 a birth. But then Time magazine suggested five large. So how much will this cost? ABC did the math.
Presuming that approximately 4 million children are born in the United States each year, a $500 "baby bond" would only cost roughly $2 billion per year. A $5,000 "baby bond" would cost the government $20 billion per year.
For comparison, the AP says we're spending $10 billion per month on the Iraq War. The bigger question: what will $5,000 buy when today's newborns turn 18? Will the government even have any money left by then?

MONEY FOR NOTHING. It might, you may argue, if it stops frittering away money like it did with Charles D. Riechers, who got a no-work contract with an intelligence contractor while awaiting White House confirmation to a civilian post with the Air Force.

The Washington Post reports:
For two months, Riechers held the title of senior technical adviser and received about $13,400 a month at Commonwealth Research Institute, or CRI, a nonprofit firm in Johnstown, Pa., according to his resume. But during that time he actually worked for Sue C. Payton, assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, on projects that had nothing to do with CRI, he said.

Riechers said in an interview that his interactions with Commonwealth Research were limited largely to a Christmas party, where he said he met company officials for the first time.

"I really didn't do anything for CRI," said Riechers, now principal deputy assistant secretary for acquisition. "I got a paycheck from them."
The Air Force defends this arrangement, saying it allowed the military to utilize Riechers' skills. We certainly hope that Christmas Party was a blast.

PREMATURE ADJUDICATION? A Coral Gables, Florida man is accused of beating his 8-year-old son with a belt. Loscar Rodriguez says he did it because the boy had bad grades.

But what caught your Lightning Round editor's eye is the reaction from Judge Fred Seraphin at the accused's court appearance, as reported by WPLG-TV:
"What's this abuse thing? He gave him a serious spanking for not doing his work," said the judge during Rodriguez's bond hearing Wednesday.

"A welt from a belt is supposed to leave a mark so you remember to get your work done," the judge said.
We wonder if Judge Seraphin has sentenced anybody to a good fanny-whacking lately.

SPLITSVILLE. Two wingnut groups representing New England liberals and Southern Conservatives are meeting in Tennessee to talk about secession, according to the AP:
If allowed to go their own way, New Englanders "probably would allow abortion and have gun control," [League Of The South president Michael] Hill said, while Southerners "would probably crack down on illegal immigration harder than it is being now."

The U.S. Constitution does not explicitly prohibit secession, but few people think it is politically viable.
And oh yes, there was that war you may have learned about in school.

GOING NOWHERE. Edith Macefield of Seattle turned down $1 million to move so developers could build a shopping center where here home now stands. The 86-year-old woman refused. Rather than force her out in a showdown conducive to a TV Movie of the Week, the builders are building around her, as the AP reports:
Macefield said that she doesn't need the money and that she doesn't want to move from her home, where she has lived since 1966. A concrete wall looms within feet of her kitchen window as the project rises.

Macefield's 108-year-old house is the last home on the block near the Ballard bridge.
KCPQ in Seattle adds some more details via video.

Macefield will be getting several new commercial neighbors, including a Trader Joe's. It's certainly nice having Two-Buck Chuck around.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Come On Down!

How I won $2500 on The Price Is Right and never got the money.

If you got here via or other message boards, please see these other posts for updates after you read this.

I pull myself out of bed at 4am on the morning of October 2, 2007 with a ticket to see the Drew Carey version of The Price As Right and no serious aspirations of hitting any jackpots. I am more curious in seeing how Drew performs as a host in the long shadow of Bob Barker.

After a light breakfast, I fly down the I-10 towards CBS Television City, with semis tailgating me and white knuckles on the steering wheel. This is L.A. You drive 80 miles per hour bumper to bumper. Google Maps estimates a 45-minute drive from my parents' home in Upland to the studio at Beverly and Fairfax in Los Angeles.

5:30am. I arrive outside the studio gate, tucking myself into a parking space on the street opposite the growing line of eager contestants outside TV City. I know from two previous trips here you have to arrive early to assure yourself a seat. But today's line isn't long -- only about 40 people, who cheer as I approach them waving my ticket in my hand. I have no fears of getting in. A lady next to me says CBS actually brought in paid seat-fillers for some shows.

"How much do you make at that kind of job?" I ask.

"Seven dollars an hour," she says. It's chicken feed, but how many jobs pay you for sitting around?

6am. Another cheer erupts. The beloved CBS pages in their maroon suits open the gates and start passing out Order Of Arrival slips. I get number 41. With it in my hand, it's time to move the car.

No way am I paying 20 bucks to park at The Grove shopping center next door. The friendly lady next to me has tipped me off to a five-dollar lot up the street on Fairfax. I think I've found it next to Canter's Deli, but nobody's in the attendant booth. I wait 30 minutes in this lot after driving around and around, trying to score a possible free spot on a side street. But I can't wait forever. I have to get back to the studio for the next step. I head back down Fairfax and park by a meter, feeding it enough for half an hour.

7:30am. It's time to exchange one number for another number. The crowd sits on metal benches outside TV City as the CBS Pages come around again, taking my Order Of Arrival slip and exchanging it for a priority number, written on my ticket. It's time to move the car again.

8:15am. Back at the lot next to Canter's Deli, the guy gives me a rate of $10 all day. I ask if there's a discount rate for TPIR contestants. No such rate exists. But for $10 versus $20, I'm not going to argue. I'm parked, off and walking back down Fairfax.

9:45am. Once again, I'm back on the benches at TV City, having briefly explored The Grove to the beat of my iPod. I'm not going to zone out on tunes any more this day. I will need all the support and alliances I can muster from my fellow possible contestants on the bench besides me.

The CBS pages start taking us around the corner to begin the contestant processing. The woman next to me has been on the show several times in the last week without getting picked. She would have been on two more times last Thursday if the taping had not been canceled. Drew Carey was ill, I'm told.

People are already warm to Drew even though his first TPIR show has yet to air, as of this day. Some people wear Cleveland Browns jerseys. A group of people don t-shirts with a caricature of Drew on front and "I drew Drew" on the back. Another group's t-shirts say "Move over Barker's Beauties, here come Carey's Cuties!" Another group: "Canada loves Drew!"

10:15am. We're filling out contestant information cards. A CBS page has gone over the rules for eligibility. He says people who are employed by CBS Broadcasting or its subsidiaries are not eligible. He says nothing about CBS affiliates who air the show. I figure I'm eligible, even though I work for a CBS affiliate. The rules on the Internet say nothing about affiliates either.

11:00am. My price-tag name tag is on my shirt. The poor CBS page had to write "Christopher" instead of "Chris" because that's my legal name on my driver's license. It took him three tries to get it right.

11:20am. Stan Blits, producer, walks out to start contestant interviews. He's an instantly likable fellow who loves his job of picking potential winners. Stan interviews contestants in groups of ten with an assistant by his side to take down the numbers underneath our name tags. We will take those numbers off just before taping begins.

I know for sure one guy from Yuma is going to get picked to come on down. He's big, black, and overwhelmingly the crowd favorite. He's celebrating his 40th birthday, and he's got a voice on him like Fat Albert. I want to see him on stage as much as everybody else.

It's my turn before Stan. I'm making sure I'm smiling.

"Christopher, what do you do?" he asks.

"I'm a television news producer in Tucson, Arizona."

"I feel sorry for you," Stan quips.

"Well I'm here now," I respond, still smiling.

"If you're here, who's doing your job then?"

I give him a slightly-stilted, effervescent response: "I have fill-ins and assistants who are taking care of business in my absence!"

I think I nailed it. I'll know for sure pretty soon.

Noon. We're on our last bench of the pre-show ritual, sitting right outside the studio door. Security make me give up my iPod, but I can keep the headphones. Applause and cheers erupt as each group of contestants files over to join us after completing the interviews. Every group walking in means we're that much closer to show time.

You can tell who the seat-fillers are. They're the ones who don't have the numbers under their name tags.

12:45pm. We're in the studio now. I'm in the third row from the front, which gives me a great view of the slightly-improved set. The theme is still 70's retro, with colorful curtains and carpets augmented by new lights and neon stripes on the prize doors. Everything seems brighter or lighter, but one thing hasn't changed: the studio still seems a lot smaller in person than on TV. Four cameras stand at attention on stage -- five if you count the jib camera for sweeping the audience.

Retro music pumps through the PA as the audience files in. The whole crowd gets into "YMCA," including one lady who jumps out of her seat to do the motions. Another woman grooves to "Footloose."

1pm. It's showtime. Announcer Rich Fields comes out and gives a few pointers, reminding us to take the numbers off our name tags, spit out any gum, and give plenty of help to the contestants who get up on stage to play pricing games.

1:05pm. Taping begins and Drew comes out to a standing ovation. He's just like I envision him -- a portly Bill Cullen in a sharp suit. He uses a thin stick microphone just like Bob used to do, only his version is wireless.

The first pricing game is "One Right Price," the odd choice of a starter, since it's fairly simple and has been used in the Bob Barker era to make up time. It becomes obvious very quickly that Drew is not as polished on the game mechanics as Bob was, but his personality makes up for a lot. Our first contestant picks the wrong prize for the one right price, and we're quickly into the first break.

Drew makes great use of the time, opening up to questions and basically doing some stand-up while he visits with Contestants' Row and the audience. The commercial breaks in the studio run at least a couple of minutes longer than they do on the air as the producers stop down tape to give them more time to set up for the next pricing game. A large panel drops in front of the doors to hide the game and prizes yet to come, assuring that the studio and TV audiences see them at the same time.

Game number two is "Half Off." Top prize is $10,000, hidden in one of 16 boxes with the dough. But you can take away half the boxes, then half again, then half once more, leaving only two possible boxes if you correctly identify prizes that are "half off." Our contestant does this perfectly, getting down to two boxes. She also picks up $500 for each correct guess, a change from the Barker version of the show. In the end, she picks the wrong box, yet she's walking away with $1500 and three small prizes.

Our birthday boy from Yuma makes it to Contestants' Row in the third game. He quickly wins his way on stage and gets to play "Temptation," one of the harder pricing games. More than $3000 worth of prizes roll out to him as he constructs the price of a car from the individual prices of the prizes. He elects to go for the car, putting the prizes at risk.

He's wrong on the second number, an unusual mistake. Most contestants miss on the last two numbers. He falls to the floor, humorously milking the heartbreak for the audience, but he'll be right back for the Showcase Showdown. He tries his best, but he can't make it to the showcase.

Game four rolls around after the break. And my moment, the one I doubted I'd ever get, has suddenly arrived.

The words from Rich Fields: "Christopher Francis, come on down!"

I point at myself as the audience cheers.

"Yes, you!"

I run up to Contestants' Row in stupefying disbelief. I'm so beside myself I don't see the model entering with the next item up for bids. I think it's somewhere on the stage. But she's actually in Contestants' Row, standing right next to me with a professional-grade camcorder. Could this be any more perfect for me?

"Christopher, what do you bid for that?"

People behind me are screaming "$800!" But I think I know better.


I hear groans from behind me. Other bids come in under $1000.

Ding ding ding ding! The "perfect bid" bell goes off. I point at myself again, thinking I have to be it. Drew reminds the audience a perfect bidder gets a $500 bonus.

"And the person that gets the $500 bonus is the person that bid $2000!"

More bells. I run up on stage. If things were surreal before, they're in dreamland now as I walk up on the turntable and shake Drew Carey's hand. He hands me $500 in cash right on the spot, which I shove into my pocket.

"Huzzah!" I shout after getting the dough.

"Huzzah! Rejoice everyone, Huzzah!" Drew adds, obviously getting the anachronistic reference.

He directs my attention to one of the giant doors. My prize to play for is this beautiful bed.

"You can put that money on the bed and roll around on it," Drew says as we listen to Rich describe it.

The turntable spins around and I see I am going to play "Push Over." I'm mildly relieved. When I walked up to it, I thought I might have to play "Clock Game," which I can do... but it might not be pretty.

This one isn't easy either. I have no idea what this bed costs, but I know furniture is always expensive on Price. I rely on the audience to guide me as I push a line of numbered blocks through a window to set my guess of a price. I move slowly and carefully. Once a block falls into the bucket, I can't get it back. I watch the audience reaction. They're waving at me to push on. Finally they wave for me to halt. I make a halt sign with my hands to query them, and they respond back with the same. I have a price of four-thousand-something.

Drew flips down a panel to reveal the price, and alas, it's something in the two-thousand dollar range.

"Man, we just can't give anything away today," he says. There's still the big wheel and the showcase, I think.

Producer Roger Dobkowitz shakes my hand as he leads me over to the side of the stage and asks for the cash.

"We'll send you a check," he says about the $500 bonus. "We use this money over and over."

I understand completely and dig the money out of my pocket. He guides me over to a row of seats for contestants who play pricing games, and another production assistant gives me some paperwork to sign.

This is where I notice the clause on the first page, which states you affirm you are not employed by CBS, "or affiliates, or any television station that broadcasts the program."

Now, again, when I read the rules on the Internet, and when the CBS page announced the rules, nothing was ever said about affiliates. Still, I point out the potential conflict to the PA.

"We'll check on it," she says.

Meanwhile, I anticipate the big wheel. I get to spin second.

"And you're a television news producer from?" Drew asks just before we take turns spinning.

"Tucson, Arizona," I say. A few "ooohs" rise from the crowd.

"I wish you many fires," Drew cracks.

(This program was taped before the destructive Southern California wildfires. Producers later edited the wisecrack out.)

The big wheel, by the way, is just about as heavy as I expect: heavy enough to require some exertion and both hands, but light enough for me to get it all the way around.

"Do you want to say hello to anybody?" Drew asks.

I'd thought about this moment before, and I'm ready: "Hello to my Mom and Dad, to everybody in Phoenix with We Make History, and everybody in Tucson. Huzzah!"

Short and simple. And I would need to spin again, only getting 50 cents the first time -- not enough to beat the leader. I give it another pull with a grunt.

"Heavy isn't it?" Drew says.

This time, of all the times not to get a dollar, I get one here. "Not now," I cry. But it lands there. Sorry and thanks for playing. One more handshake from Drew and my TV face time is up. No showcase for me.

During the next commercial break, Drew comes up to me again and says he was just kidding about the "many fires" remark.

"Oh, that's all right -- we have a lot of wildfires in Arizona."

"Yeah, you do!" he said, agreeing.

His kindness stuns me. He just apologized for a joke that was obviously a joke, when he didn't need to. He shows that affection constantly. And if people at home plug into that, this new version of TPIR is going to run a long time.

After the taping is over, everybody who won something meets with one of the CBS people to pick up and sign more paperwork. Again I tell the lady about the possible conflict and how I didn't see a problem beforehand.

"I know why that rule is there," I say. "I don't work for any promotion connected with the show. I work in the newsroom."

I leave them my phone number in California and they say they would call me before the end of the week.

I walk out of the Bob Barker Studio with my paperwork in hand and a few more congratulatory audience members greeting me. I chat with them outside the gate on the experience -- especially nailing that $2000 camera. The production staffer says they're going to give me $2000 in place of the camera, which they have the right to do. Some of the prizes are bought by the show and not provided, meaning they probably need them to use again as props.

Now I need lunch. A guy stands on the corner of Beverly and Fairfax with a Subway sign in his hand -- and coupons. That's where I feast -- on ham and swiss, celebrating a $2500 win and an experience I'll never forget. Huzzah!

I enjoy it while I can. Two days later, my winnings would evaporate just as suddenly as they accumulated.

A man with CBS Promotion calls, and after asking a question or two about my job and what station I worked for, he says he can't award me the money.

Like with the other CBS production people, I tell him that I didn't see anything in the rules online or in the CBS page's spiel barring eligibility for being employed by an affiliate, even though it was in the document I signed. He said he needs to have the website fixed to clarify that, and the CBS page should have made things clear too. I can tell he regrets it, but still, he can't bend the rules.

He says this isn't the first time something like this has happened. He says a person who worked for Simon & Schuster was disqualified in the same manner because, in the octopus tentacles of media ownership, the book company is a unit of Viacom (which at one time was connected to CBS). He also says the spiel given by the pages will be clarified to include the fact that those employed by CBS affiliates are ineligible. The CBS TPIR web page has been updated to reflect this.

I ask what would have happened if I had not said anything about it and gotten caught. He tells me there would have been "affiliate consequences," but doesn't elaborate. I later tell my assistant news director that I had no choice to be honest, and I ask what would have happened if I had concealed my employment. He says "misdirection" would be bad, but we don't get into specifics. I can see CBS taking action against KOLD in the form of fines or some other sanction. And anything that would embarrass the station or cause trouble with the affiliation agreement would be a firing offense, not to mention the bad publicity the whole scandal would generate.

My assistant boss shares my disappointment. "I'd been spreading this like wildfire," he says, talking about the news of my win. Now he's going to have to break it to everybody else.

What weighs on me is how my honesty didn't mean very much to the CBS brass. True, it kept me, CBS, and KOLD out of trouble. But there will be no consolation prize other than my time on TV and the memories they can't take away. I can't even donate the money to charity. It's gone to the Twilight Zone.

I understand why CBS is so strict on the rules. After the 50's quiz show scandals, rigging a game show became a federal offense. CBS aired two of the most notorious offenders: Dotto and The $64,000 Question. And I imagine they are still smarting from paying Michael Larson more than $110,000 after he beat the board on Press Your Luck. But in Larson's case, he admitted he found a flaw in the game without any help from inside and still got the cash.

My father fumes when he hears me explain all this. He wants me to write a letter to CBS about it. He thinks I should have kept my mouth shut, and I can't blame him. All his life he has conducted himself and his business in an ethical and honest manner, and several times, in several different jobs, others have taken advantage of him, lied about him, and used him. Seeing his son deprived by a huge corporate albatross -- especially in the face of fair play -- draws his wrath. My mother saw it coming: "I was afraid they would find a way to [mess with] you."

This is the kind of thing that tests the depth of my faith. I gave thanks to God for my newly won wealth after the taping while I sat in Subway for the post-game feast. Many wonderful things have happened to me in the past year or so, and I am convinced God is watching over me and demonstrating His love. I have seen many Miracle Moments. But I must also accept some rewards are in Heaven, not on Earth. I pray now for contentment, for serenity, for the wisdom not to mourn money I never really lost. Suing isn't worth it, but if I gather if I had won a car, the sting would throb harder.

(A disclaimer was added to the end of the show. Rich Fields said over the credits, "The fourth contestant on stage was found to be ineligible and will not receive his prizes.")

My episode aired Wednesday, November 28. Some clips are in this post.