Friday, February 29, 2008

Pirates Of Jalisco

FrancisPage brings you a first: Folklorico pirates, as portrayed by Douglas High School's dance group and KOLD News 13 LIVE during a Chuck George weathercast:

We reached Captain Bartholomew Burgundy for his response:

"Mariachi Pirates? Ain't tha' a bi' like th' Sharks and Jets in West Side Story? An' they dahnce mo' loike Cossacks!"

Striking Out

We knew something was up when Morton Thidwicke, CEO of our parent company Encompass, Leverage and Devour, came strolling through the Lighting Round newsroom and said a bright day was dawning. Unfortunately, we had the blinds closed.

He talked of synergy and the dynamism of new media, exactly the kinds of things you hear before a flunkie starts handing out pink slips.

"Huh?" I injected. "Is this an Obama rally?"

"No, no, son," Thidwicke replied with his grandfatherly air. I looked to see if he was holding a knife. But he continued: "Like the Walrus said to the Carpenter, 'The time has come to talk of many things.'"

"Like my job, I gather."

"Like your future job, my friend." He turned in place and waved his arms around our battered office as if he were shaking off responsibility for his forthcoming words. "We have surveyed your operations for several months now, and while we are satisfied with the product, the question is whether it takes full advantage of the distribution channel."

He shifted his gaze back to me, graveness ringing his face. "You only publish on Fridays, but a blog stands ready for input 24/7. Why do you constrain yourself to one day a week?"

"That was the design," I replied innocently. "We talked about looking back at the week's more unusual or underreported stories while giving people something to look forward for. Or are you going to tell me that conversation took place with an underling who no longer works here?"

"Do I look like John McCain?" he said, punctuating it with an annoyed chuckle. "Whatever was said, it's pointless now. We are moving in a new direction. Effective immediately, I am calling an end to your Friday operation and reassigning your staff to efforts throughout the week. Our readers are hungry for content regardless of the calendar and we must adapt to meet that growth area. From this day forward, our audience will no longer have to wait for the weekend to hear from us."

Whew. It beats outsourcing to the Philippines. And Mr. Thidwicke kindly allowed us one last edition. We begin with another person who sees the end is near.

THE ONLY BAD PUBLICITY... It's a little late for it now, but Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee is hoping a national newspaper does for him what The New York Times did to John McCain.

He tells ABC News' "The Note:"
"Obviously, that one didn't seem to make a big difference. In fact, if anything it's helped John McCain and I'm kind of hoping the New York Times will take me on and run a nasty front page story -- may be the best thing that could happen to me, certainly was to him."

Huckabee has suggested recently that such a moment could be his ticket to the nomination.

"One word can end a guy's political career, one word, and it's over," Huckabee elaborated. "So when people say I can't be the nominee, until we get to the convention in Minneapolis this fall in September, we don't know absolutely, positively who that nominee is."
Oh, I think we do... Pat Paulsen! Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign is begging for equal time from the Times, after it ran an article depicting campaign workers depressed over the thought of losing Texas and Ohio.

Also from The Note:
According to the Huffington Post, the Clinton campaign says their [group] letter [to the paper] was rejected because the space is for "ordinary readers."

Clinton staffers and volunteers also submitted individual letters, which the Times also rejected, according to the Huffington Post.
Now if they had only dressed Hillary in Muslim garb...

KEEP IT CLEAN. They can't do anything about political dirty laundry, but a group of Australian researchers are working on clothes that clean themselves, according to Technology Review:
Researchers at Monash University, in Victoria, Australia, have found a way to coat fibers with titanium dioxide nanocrystals, which break down food and dirt in sunlight. The researchers, led by organic chemist and nanomaterials researcher Walid Daoud, have made natural fibers such as wool, silk, and hemp that will automatically remove food, grime, and even red-wine stains when exposed to sunlight.
If all goes well, Arizonans may never have to do laundry again... except during the monsoon.

I SWEAR... If only sunlight could clean up our kids' dirty mouths. Cursing experts say kids are swearing more than ever.

The Sacramento Bee reports:
Teens are more likely to drop casual expletives, or "fillers," than the generation before them and have more trouble adjusting their conversation to fit their audience. That means adults — especially strangers who cannot sanction the teens — hear more of the same language that the teens' friends hear, says [Timothy] Jay, author of "Why We Curse" and "Cursing in America."
He estimates that the average adolescent uses roughly 80 to 90 swear words a day.
Jay says kids pick up cursing from -- ta-da -- their parents.
Jay notes that the Internet, television and other media may be making adolescents more comfortable with swearing, but it is their parents' own language habits that are the biggest influence.

The solution, says Jay, is for parents to teach the etiquette of swearing.

"Kids should know about the power of language. Parents should remind them about how important words can be and when you should use them," agrees Leahy.
Etiquette of swearing? What ever happened to soap in the mouth?

YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO KNOW THAT. The Smoking Gun is hot, but not as hot as, the do-it-yourself depository of leaked documents from governments and corporations around the world. A bank named on the site sued, but since the site is located outside the U.S., the most a federal judge could do was order its domain name de-listed. A coalition of media groups is now fighting that order, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen's health policy wing, filed a declaration saying that the organization frequently uses leaked government documents to bring attention to important public issues, such as the Food and Drug Administration's consideration of "a drug company plan to conduct research on its new drug in Latin America using a design that the agency acknowledged would be unacceptable in the United States." After the plan was exposed, the company redesigned its study, Lurie said.

"If Wikileaks is shut down," Lurie said, "the ability of Public Citizen and its members to access" information from whistle-blowers "will be significantly impaired."

Attorney William Briggs, who represents [bank] Julius Baer, said his firm was preparing a response to the briefs lodged Tuesday. "This is a case that presents a conflict between an individual's right of privacy versus the press' ability to publish private information about private individuals," he said.

"I think the individual privacy rights outweigh the right of the press to report that information because of reasons of identity theft. If financial industry customers do not think their information is protected, those institutions could go out of business."
And you can hear anti-globalizationists around the Internet saying, "That's the point!"

As for us, we're not going out of business, just adjusting our business hours. Be seeing you!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Class And Classlessness

What would Bill do?

Not Bill Cunningham, but Bill Buckley, whom we sadly just lost, a departure for one of conservatism's most erudite and tempered mouthpieces, that little dust-up he had with Gore Vidal nonwithstanding.

Cunningham is the right-wing Cincinnati radio show host who opened for a John McCain rally on Tuesday, repeatedly referring to Sen. Barack Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" and calling him a political "hack." McCain didn't personally invite Cunningham and didn't hear the actual comments. But he got the crux from his staff and declared, according to CNN: "I absolutely repudiate such comments, and again I will take responsibility -- it will never happen again. It will never happen again." Cunningham is enjoying a hissy fit, saying he got thrown under the McCain bus for giving the crowd "red meat" like the GOP locals requested.

Let's back that bus up a moment. Anybody who has been paying attention to John McCain knows he doesn't play red-meat politics... at least in the end he doesn't. Last November, he laughed at first when a voter referred to Sen. Hillary Clinton as the b-word before eventually saying he respected her. Now he's doing the same thing with Cunningham minus the giggle.

Cincy Republicans probably thought they were doing the Arizona senator a favor by sending in a conservative hothead. Instead, he burned his base. On the other hand, one of my newsroom colleagues says he's more likely to vote for McCain now that he's cheesed off the right wing again. So now his campaign staffers have to cross radio boilers off the list for future events and hope they can still find somebody with partisan charisma. Good luck. Maybe he can hire a Obama lookalike and flip him to the GOP.

Despite McCain's delayed repudiations, is civility not too much to ask for in a presidential campaign? Obama's people thrive on it. And the late William F. Buckley, sharp-tounged as he was, certainly knew where to draw the line.

Friday, February 22, 2008


The Earth is saved! The Navy blasted that dying spy satellite to bits with an explosion reminiscent of the Death Star's demise. They didn't need the Illudium Q36 Expolsive Space Modulator. It's a relief for our staffers, panicking because they couldn't find where they stashed their old Skylab protection helmets.

PROMISE THE MOON. Never did we imagine the moon as an extortion device, but in researching this week's lunar eclipse, our backgrounding staff ran across this, provided to us from AFP:
[A]n eclipse is credited with saving the life of Christopher Columbus and his crew in 1504.

Stranded on the coast of Jamaica, the explorers were running out of food and faced with increasingly hostile local inhabitants who were refusing to provide them with any more supplies.

Columbus, looking at an astronomical almanac compiled by a German mathematician, realized that a total eclipse of the Moon would occur on February 29, 1504.

He called the native leaders and warned them if they did not cooperate, he would make the Moon disappear from the sky the following night.

The warning, of course, came true, prompting the terrified people to beg Columbus to restore the Moon -- which he did, in return for as much food as his men needed. He and the crew were rescued on June 29, 1504.
We hear staffers at the New York Times tried to use the same technique to escape job cuts. It didn't work.

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? American and British space agencies are planning a new cell phone network on the moon. It will serve astronauts, of course, and eventually settlers, as reports:
The satellite system should ensure a full four-bar signal for lunar colonists living in the base NASA wants to build at the south pole of the moon after 2020.

The stellar vision of the mobile's future even tops the effort that managed to get a text message to the top of Mount Everest.

Phone calls and other information would be bounced off satellites orbiting the moon for communication between colonists, the moon base and the earth.
If only such effort would be put into improving Earth's cell phone system, which still drops calls, garbles speech and provides your Lightning Round staffers with wimpy-powered devices. We can text to Mount Everest, but we can't get a signal on Mount Lemmon.

Oh, for the days of analog, with those-brick sized phones and generous power. Is a full watt too much to ask? Too bad the old system just shut down.

CRACKBERRY. From the We-Actually-Needed-A-Study-For-This Department: electronic devices can be -- gasp -- addictive!

From BBC News:
"You would be surprised how many people had their PDA or Blackberry next to their bed heads."

[Professor Nada Kakabadse of Northampton University] added: "Those who are addicted will get up in the middle of the night and pick up messages on their PDAs two or three times a night."
Of course, most of those messages will be, "What r u doing?"

NEVERENDING SEASON. From the ashes of the Hollywood writers' strike comes NBC's decision to do away with the traditional fall TV season and start debuting shows year-round, according to the New York Times.
The lineup also may receive early input from advertisers who are given an earlier look at it. That may help both parties, [Marc Graboff, the co-chairman of NBC Entertainment] said. He cited as a cautionary tale the network’s experience with “Kidnapped,” a show from a season ago.

“That’s a perfect example,” Mr. Graboff said. “The pilot cost $7 million to produce. We put it on sale to advertisers in May, and they ran for the hills. If we had been able to sit down and have a two-way conversation about them and we told they we had a show about a 13-year-old boy who is kidnapped for the entire season, they would have told us, ‘Good for you, but we’re not putting our clients in it.’ ”
Anything that spares us another remake of Bionic Woman can't be all bad.

THINGS YOU DON'T NEED TO DO ANYMORE. From our favorite nerd site, Slashdot, comes a link to a list of obsolete technical skills, including:
  • Balancing the tonearm on a record player

  • Calling collect on a pay phone

  • Churning butter

  • Hand cranking a car to start it

  • Licking stamps

  • Resoling shoes

  • Saving Tin for The War
Obsolesence is, as always, in the eye of the one who still uses a VCR.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Washington's Way

Etiquette and gentility by the Rules, as set forth by His Excellency George Washington and demonstrated at a birthday ball in his honor by the family of We Make History.

Recounted by Private Christopher Francis of the Continental Line with photographic mementos by Pvt. M. Cynecki

As a boy, George Washington copied down 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation as both a penmanship exercise and a guide to living with honor. Several come to mind as I gather in celebration with my fellow patriots.

Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

Newcomers surround me. They have traveled from the far region of New Mexico, having heard of His Excellency's reputation for hospitality and joyous celebrations. Young ladies stand in satiny ball gowns of orange and blue and green. A wee lad bubbles with anticipation. I approach as soldier and gentleman to greet them, bowing to everyone as they introduce themselves.

I offering words of encouragement and reassurance. "If you can walk, you can dance."

But I confess my shortcomings. "I must admit I may not remember all of your names."

In writing or Speaking, give to every Person his due Title According to his Degree & the Custom of the Place.

"Your Excellency," I proclaim with a bow as I greet General Washington.

"Your Servant," he returns in humble honor.

Shew Nothing to your Freind that may affright him.

My musket and bayonet are secured in the armory. My troublesome hair is queued and affixed with a specialty treatment of the modern-day stylist, so that the removal of my tricorn shall raise no errant strands like horns from my head.

In your Apparel be Modest and endeavor to accommodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration keep to the Fashion of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places.

I ponder whether I should wear a ribbon in my hair or my clocked stockings. But other than the polish of a ruffled jabot, I decide against any other flourishments. My colorful regimental coat is honor enough, I gather, but I hope the buttons on my breeches hold. They seem to tighten in the knees every time I put them on. Either the linen is shrinking or my dancing calves are strengthening.

"I just noticed something," His Excellency observes, indicating the turnouts of my regimental coat are not fastened. I hastily correct this with some help from the General.

"I did not want them to get caught in the door," I explained, noting the long journey by carriage from Tucson, faithfully guarded by our Spanish allies.

In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.

A challenge indeed, with such beautiful music emanating from our talented musicians at the piano and flute as we welcome each other.

Run not in the Streets, neither go too slowly nor with Mouth open go not Shaking yr Arms kick not the earth with yr feet, go not upon the Toes, nor in a Dancing fashion.

As the hour of the dancing approaches, it is hard for me to restrain the anticipation in my feet. Some of young ladies prance about in rehearsal and expectation.

Undertake not what you cannot perform but be carefull to keep your promise.

"It is expected that the gentlemen will dance with as many ladies as possible during the evening," our host reminds the assembly. A giddy grin slips across my face.

"I am sure Private Francis will have no trouble with that," His Excellency observes.

Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.

Among friends, no pangs of nervousness violate my heart -- and white gloves dissuade any discourteous habits of hand.

Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too Close.

The portrait of a patriot should be a portrait of nobility.

Superfluous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremonie are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected.

I labor to honor every lady I dance with, bowing low before them...

In Pulling off your Hat to Persons of Distinction, as Noblemen, Justices, Churchmen &c make a Reverence, bowing more or less according to the Custom of the Better Bred, and Quality of the Person. Amongst your equals expect not always that they Should begin with you first, but to Pull off the Hat when there is no need is Affectation, in the Manner of Saluting and resaluting in words keep to the most usual Custom.

...and removing my tricorn as if I were honoring a queen, letting humility place a yolk upon my head. But oh my, I do need to pay diligence to keeping eye contact.

The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.

A cheer of "Huzzah!" lacks the proper intensity without the raising of the right hand in jubilation. A right-hand star lacks the proper merriment without the left hand raised in joy.

When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it.

I sense worry in some of my dancing companions about complicated steps. "Do not fret," I tell more than one lady, smiling and assuring all will be well regardless of her skill. Likewise, I find times where I forget a turn or two or anticipate the wrong figure. But we laugh and continue to dance.

"Jack's Maggot" (a fanciful idea, not a creature) literally throws some of the guests for a loop. Hey for Three? Hey, what was Jack thinking? But still we continue, looping as best we can around one another.

During a round of "Come, Let Us Be Merry," I notice anxiety in my partner, a newcomer, as I lead her in a waltzing minuet-like step among the others, and I worry I am forcing her into a step that is not to her level of comfort. The next time I lead her, I try a simpler hesitation waltz. Yet we dance on, and later I praise her again, admitting the step can be complex.

"Sometimes it is best not to get concerned with the steps of the dance. Rather focus on the Spirit of The Dance so that you may enjoy the music and each others' company," I say to her and others.

Be no Flatterer, neither Play with any that delights not to be Play'd Withal.

Shall we make one small exception? In the dance "Away To The Camp," both the ladies and gentleman are encouraged, dare I say expected to tousle each other's hair in playful jest as we circle about one another. I do so and encourage my fellow dancers to do the same. But one must take care of what is loosed upon others. A lady -- perhaps not satisfied with tickling my queue -- tweaks my tricorn instead, sending it plunging to the floor.


If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, do it not Loud but Privately; and Speak not in your Yawning, but put Your handkercheif or Hand before your face and turn aside.

During "The Spaniard," my feet spring from the floor as I prance towards the ladies, letting happiness pour from me while repressing the fatigue spreading through my legs. I skip as I slip, pirouette as I cast of, dip to the rhythm of three-quarter time and clap to the beat. I shall allow no display of weariness!

In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physicion if you be not Knowing therein.

"I am winded," I say at end of the first set of dances. "But I am happlily winded."

At the conclusion of the next set, a French aristocratic friend notices my countenance has paled beyond a comfortable level.

"You are a dancing fiend!" he exclaims. He is no doctor, but he knows the signs of exhaustion even if I do not notice them myself. Or is it just a ruse to draft me into the army of Louis XVI? "You always wanted to be a Royal Écossais," he points out.

"Ja," I think out loud, so bereft of clear thought in the aftermath of the dance I cannot even remember what foreign language I should be speaking.

"Oui," my friend counters as he leads me to the refreshments. Two cups of cherry punch and the fatigue disperses. All hail the ale!

Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.

I desire to sit not, especially in the presence of the ladies. Three-quarters of the evening elapses before a kind lady invites me to take a seat. I then realize I have danced exhaustively for three hours and not sat down once.

When you meet with one of Greater Quality than yourself, Stop, and retire especially if it be at a Door or any Straight place to give way for him to Pass.

The assembled gentlemen do not hesitate to hold open doors for ladies or displace themselves so that the fair ones may pass in their ballroom finest unscathed.

At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than Ordinary.

During a pause for refreshments, a gallant lad assists in the seating of his lady friend at my table, displacing the chair to make way for her and gently pushing it in.

"Now there is a gentleman," I commend.

Let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.

Wide grins are out of character for the portraits of the times. But a dour soldier I am not.

In walking the highest Place in most Countrys Seems to be on the right hand therefore Place yourself on the left of him whom you desire to Honour: but if three walk together the middest Place is the most Honourable the wall is usually given to the most worthy if two walk together.

The gentleman is always dancing on the left, our host reminds us. I insist I place myself to the lady's left in portraits as well.

"Let me be proper!" I cry as I reorient myself to the mannered place.

No partner will leave my side before I ask them if they would like an escort following the conclusion of each dance. Many cheerfully allow me to lead them back to their friends and family. "A fine dancer," I praise so that all assembled may hear, adding another bow.

With the same dedication, I am blessed to escort several American Belles, a group of 16 young women whom we all have high hopes for, gracefully wheeling them around to face the portrait-taker.

I would escort even more patriotic ladies had we not drafted a couple of gallant young men into our Continental Line for just this occasion.

Artificers & Persons of low Degree ought not to use many ceremonies to Lords, or Others of high Degree but Respect and highly Honour them, and those of high Degree ought to treat them with affibility & Courtesie, without Arrogancy.

In my heart, an extra bow to a beautiful lady is never unecessarily ceremonious.

They that are in Dignity or in office have in all places Preceedency but whilst they are Young they ought to respect those that are their equals in Birth or other Qualitys, though they have no Publick charge.

The wee patriots show themselves dignified beyond their age as they dance among their own and their betters, albeit with more laughter and smiles. When prizes are announced, an enthusiastic group of children cannot contain their enthusiasm.

"Huzzah!" I cry.

"Huzzah!" respond the young ladies to my side.

A Man ought not to value himself of his Atchievements, or rare Qualities of wit; much less of his riches Virtue or Kindred.

"You are a fine dancer," a lady compliments during the pause. "It would not be half as fun without you here."

"Thank you," I say, adding "I am still learning," not wanting to think of myself better than anyone among me. For it is they whom God has brought into my life.

Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.

Many guests find themselves the winners of chocolates, candies, books and historic patterns. And to their relief, they need not offer a fact from the past nor a jig to claim their prizes.

Use no Reproachfull Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.

Early in the evening, a mysterious, rude, high-pitched holler permeates the ballroom, to the anxiety some of the young ladies. They summon me to investigate.

We find the source in the world outside -- perhaps from some boorish Redcoats under cover of evening. I quickly resume my soldierly duties to protect those I hold dear, instituting proper countermeasures with the aid of General Washington. Thankfully, I see the matter resolved without the need for armed sentries at the doors.

"Maybe it was a ghost," a young one wonders.

"It wasn't a ghost!" another protests.

When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speech be ended.

What words could I possibly add that would possibly equal the beauty of the magnificant ladies' gowns? Besides, I must catch my breath.

Drink not too leisurely nor yet too hastily. Before and after Drinking wipe your Lips breath not then or Ever with too Great a Noise, for its uncivil.

As we are summoned back to the ballroom from a pause in the festivities, I turn to a lady serving refreshments with quiet urgency.

"Do I have cherry punch around my lips?" I inquire.

Thankfully, she says I do not.

Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

"I assume we shall be keeping it Reel," I inquire of General Washington as the final set of dances approaches. He responds with a smile, and my expectation is fulfilled when we form sets for the Virginia Reel.

"It is almost a residency requirement," I tell a guest. "A Virginian should be able to dance a Virginia Reel!"

The reeling part falters me a little, but I think I can honestly proclaim myself to be a man of Virginia... or a reasonable facsimile of. But where is His Excellency? Surely he would not miss this dance in his honor!

To my relief, I find he is enjoying the moment, capturing images of our joyous turns and sashays about the ballroom floor.

Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.

When the last waltz ends, nothing is finished. For some, it has just started.

"You are now a part of the We Make History family," proclaims His Excellency. "The door is open for you."

I have cavorted at many balls, with many ladies, in many places, but nothing ever grows dull or routine. My feet may tire but my spirit does not. It longs to bring past into present, loving others and serving them.

When the post-ball feast is finished, and when we disperse back to our other lives and times, the joy of the dance burns within me all through the long journey back home under the starry skies, like Paul Revere making his midnight ride.

More from the merry patriots here.

One night in Richmond...
One evening of merriment...
Federals await,
But the ladies come first...
...On The Eve Of Chancellorsville...

The Virginia Diaries
The battles and travels of a 1st Virginia Private and colonial gentleman in the Old Dominion.

(Will my life ever be the same afterward? By Heaven, I hope not!)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Lovesick Over You

Your Lightning Round editor-in-chief didn't get any flowers or candy this Valentine's Day -- which wasn't a hurtful thing considering the potential for harm in the shape of a heart.

ROTTEN HEARTS. WCBS-TV in New York City found year-old Valentine's Day candy showing up on store shelves:
CBS 2 HD did its own investigation, purchasing six bags of Valentine's Day treats at stores around New York City. Of those six bags, five were inedible.

From the finest of truffles to candy bought in bulk, most of these products were expired and showed signs of improper storage, like melting and reshaping. Some of the chocolates had white dots or streaks, called a "bloom," which means the chocolate is stale.
It's great candy to send to an ex-Valentine, perhaps with an appropriate card: "My lips shall never touch yours, and neither shall these." Or, "You left my love to wither, spoil and rot -- now see the fruits of your indifference."

Your Lightning Round editor admits he's kept old chocolate around himself -- mainly in the form of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies in his desk, the treats that mysteriously resist spoilage. We think the refrigerated temperatures of the newsroom have something to do with that.

THOSE WHO CAN'T READ, TEACH. How? That was the question on our minds when we heard about John Corcoran, the California man who taught school for 17 years after graduating from college without knowing how to read, write, or spell.

Corcoran engineered a matrix of deception to propel him through the educational system, as KFMB-TV reports:
"When I was a child I was just sort of just moved along when I got to high school I wanted to participate in athletics. At that time in high school I went underground. I decided to behave myself and do what it took. I started cheating by turning in other peoples' paper, dated the valedictorian, and ran around with college prep kids," said Corcoran.

"I couldn't read words but I could read the system and I could read people," adds Corcoran.

He stole tests and persuaded friends to complete his assignments. Corcoran earned an athletic scholarship to Texas Western College. He said his cheating intensified, claiming he cheated in every class.

"I passed a bluebook out the window to a friend I painstakingly copied four essay questions off the board in U.S. government class that was required, and hoped my friend would get it back to me with the right answers," Corcoran said.
So unfortunately, cheaters do win sometimes. Corcoran, however, grew tired of the game and sought tutoring. He's now head of a foundation providing literacy programs. You might call it penance.

IT'S NOT TOO LATE. Boulder, Colorado's city council is deciding whether to pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush and VP Dick Cheney.

Reports the Rocky Mountain News:
"Whether or not it's the city's business directly, like potholes, I feel this affects all of us," [impeachment supporter Liz Robinson] said. "We're the ones who are paying the taxes to support this administration's depredations, especially the war."

Impeachment proceedings would be worth doing even if they only put the last few months of Bush's eight years in office at risk, Robinson said.

"We need to send a message that this all matters to us, whether it's last-minute or not," she said.
Your Lightning Round has learned a vote for secession is scheduled for next week. The potholes, on the other hand, can wait.

SATELLITE SHOOTDOWN. The Pentagon wants to make sure a dud spy satellite doesn't drop dangerous fuel back to earth, so they're going to shoot it out with a missile.

From the AP:
[Gen. James Cartwright] predicted a fairly high chance—as much as 80 percent—of hitting the satellite, which will be about 150 miles up when the shot is fired. The window of opportunity for taking the satellite down, Cartwright said, opens in three or four days and lasts for about seven or eight days.

"We'll take one shot and assess," he said. "This is the first time we've used a tactical missile to engage a spacecraft."
We recommend VP Cheney take aim and fire.

BLAST OFF. International Space Station astronauts have access to a gun as part of a survival kit, according to former NASA engineer Jim Oberg and reported by WESH-TV:
He said the gun has no place in an environment where people are under such high stress.

"There have been cases of severe psychological strain on people in space, strain that they have taken out -- that their shipmates worried about the ultimate actions," Oberg said.

Experts said the idea of an astronaut losing control was unthinkable until one year ago, when Lisa Nowak shattered the myth.
We can think about all the things a bullet might do in a micro-gravity environment. It makes the space shuttle's tile problems look like a routine shower re-grouting job.

IN SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SNIFF. ISS Science Officer Don Petit says outer space gives off a scent:
It is hard to describe this smell; it is definitely not the olfactory equivalent to describing the palette sensations of some new food as "tastes like chicken." The best description I can come up with is metallic; a rather pleasant sweet metallic sensation. It reminded me of my college summers where I labored for many hours with an arc welding torch repairing heavy equipment for a small logging outfit. It reminded me of pleasant sweet smelling welding fumes.
Which is good, we gather, because we don't need to waste precious cargo and living space with Glade.

CHARLIE BIT ME! Advice to young boys -- never put your finger in your baby brother's mouth when he's teething, as this English lad learned in this YouTube video that's been downloaded more than 6 million times:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Something Beautiful Remains

Communications Professor Steve Beverly of Union University in Tennessee normally writes about game shows. But lately, he's writing about the emotionally draining task of salvaging the campus ripped apart by tornadoes.

The news footage over the past few days combined with his accounts leaves me stunned and thankful nobody died. I only have to think of a twister tearing a path through my alma mater, the University of Missouri-Columbia, to feel a bit of the devastation. It very well could happen, with Missouri in the heart of Tornado Alley.

Yet it is one of life's great ironies that the worst events bring out the best in us. As Professor Beverly notes:
The spirit and camaraderie and the encouragement spreading throughout this campus is nothing short of astounding. You know by looking in every direction how massive the job will be to rebuild Union. Yet, people have the most upbeat spirit and we are all reinforced and energized by scores of volunteers who are coming with work teams to assist with the cleanup. Some were here Saturday from as far away as Michigan. We don't know them. But we know the kind of people they are merely from the fact they are here.
We gathered on the parking lot of the administration building at 9 a.m. for prayer and encouragement from our president, David S. Dockery. At that point, I looked up and saw 20 of our communications alumni from the last decade. I absolutely lost it. Some of them came from as far away as Little Rock. To think that they thought enough of their years at Union to make a long journey at their own expense to help us overwhelmed me.
The tornadoes, the destruction, and the deaths across the South -- none of those things were of God, even though insurance companies call them "Acts of God" out of a lack of understanding about the forces of good and evil. But the real Acts of God are the love, teamwork, and support of students and faculty as they rebuild -- the Holy Spirit in action. Union University's students are learning the greatest lessons of their lives in these next weeks, the ones they didn't sign up for, didn't pay tuition for, but will shape the rest of their lives.

God is great.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Saga Continues

Super-duper-cali-fragialistic Tuesday, the gigantic showdown that was to be the mother of all primaries, ended up resolving only one thing: the presidential preference campaigns aren't over yet if you're a Democrat. But while you bite your nails and stress over delegate counts, we at your Lightning Round have a few other items for your consideration.

KEY TO DEMOCRACY. Diebold electronic voting machines are already known for security problems. But here's the topper: blogger Brad Friedman reports somebody copied a key to a Diebold machine using a photo on the company's website.

From BradBlog:
It was revealed in the course of last summer's landmark virus hack of a Diebold touch-screen voting system at Princeton University that, incredibly, the company uses the same key to open every machine. It's also an easy key to buy at any office supply store since it's used for filing cabinets and hotel mini-bars!
It's no wonder Maryland is voting to scrap its Diebold machines for pencil and paper optical scanning systems.

LOOK BEFORE SENDING. The New York Times landed a huge scoop last week because of a mis-directed e-mail. The paper reported drug giant Eli Lilly was in settlement talks with the feds over improperly marketing its drug Zyprexa for schizophrenia.

As it turned out, one of Eli Lilly's lawyers at Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia wanted to email [law firm] Sidley Austin's Berenson, about the negotiations. But apparently, the name that popped up from her email correspondents was the wrong Berenson.
The wrong Berenson was Alex Berenson, a Times reporter. He who trusteth in auto-complete has a foolish finger.

SKIN TRADE. Abercrombie & Fitch makes millions selling clothes, so why do they display images of people under-dressed? Virginia Beach police seized two large promotional photographs from an A&F last weekend because they ran afoul of obscenity laws.

Reports the Virginian-Pilot:
[Police] confirmed that one depicts three shirtless young men from the back, walking through a field. The man in the lead appears to be about to pull up his jeans, which have slipped down enough to reveal his upper buttocks.

The same image is displayed on the Abercrombie Web site.

The other image is of a woman who is topless and whose "breast is displayed with her hand covering just the nipple portion," [a police spokesman] said. "You could still pretty much see the rest of the breast."
One could interpret the first photograph as an innocent case of plumbers' behind, but the second makes Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction look like just a glitch. Now the A&F manager could be looking at fines and/or jail time for the risque business. Authorities later dropped the charges, but another case isn't going away so easily.

Fifty-two ABC television stations are also on the hook for $1.43 million in fines because of a nude scene in a 2003 episode of NYPD Blue which showed a woman's partially bare breast and fully bare buttocks as she was preparing to take a shower, and a young boy accidentally walking in on her as he tries to use the bathroom.

ABC warned about "partial nudity" in a disclaimer before the show, and it made this rationalization for the scene, as noted in the FCC ruling.
ABC asserts that the purpose of the scene was to "illustrate the complexity and awkwardness involved when a single parent brings a new romantic partner into his or her life," and that the nudity was not included to depict an attempted seduction or a sexual response from the young boy. Even accepting ABC's assertions as to the purpose of the scene, they do not alter our conclusion that the scene's depiction of adult female nudity is titillating and shocking. As discussed above, the scene includes multiple, close-up views of the woman's nude buttocks, with the camera at one point panning down her naked back for a lingering shot of her buttocks.
C'mon, ABC, admit you're playin' dirty here.

But here's what your Lightning Round finds puzzling: All of the stations that were fined were in the Central and Mountain time zones, because the particular scene aired in the 10pm hour rather than the 11pm hour, in which indecency standards are looser. Should one hour really make a difference, especially in the age of TiVO?

Also puzzling: not all of the ABC stations in said zones were fined. KNXV in Phoenix, Arizona was fined, but not KGUN in Tucson? KMBC, KDNL, and KSPR in Missouri were fined, but not KMIZ? As far as I know, all of these stations aired NYPD Blue in the 10pm hour.

UPDATE: According to David Hatfield of Inside Tucson Business, KGUN wasn't fined because nobody in their viewing area complained to the FCC. So if a buttock is bare in prime time in Tucson, and nobody complains, is it still offensive?

The courts have already found the FCC's indecency regulations are a mess to figure out. Look for this case to end back up in front of judge.

WHAT DID HE TAKE FOR A HEADACHE? Actor Heath Ledger died from "acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine," according to New York City Medical Examiner spokeswoman Ellen Borakove. And yet his death is still called an accident.

Reports AP:
In a statement released through Ledger's publicist, the actor's father, Kim, said Wednesday: "While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath's accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage."
And still the question persists, did he need all of those drugs in the first place? Yes, it was an accident all right... an accident waiting to happen.

Until next week: medicate safely, everyone.

Friday, February 1, 2008

You're Not A Machine

Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." Amen. But doing all things doesn't necessarily mean doing them all at once.

I CAN DO IT ALL! (NOW WHAT WAS I DOING?) Computers multitask well. People, not so much, according to Walter Kirn in The Atlantic, who cites research showing people who do multiple things at once accomplish their goals at the cost of focus and sanity -- something us TV news producers already know from years of control room experience.

Writes Kirn:
This is the great irony of multitasking—that its overall goal, getting more done in less time, turns out to be chimerical. In reality, multitasking slows our thinking. It forces us to chop competing tasks into pieces, set them in different piles, then hunt for the pile we’re interested in, pick up its pieces, review the rules for putting the pieces back together, and then attempt to do so, often quite awkwardly. (Fact, and one more reason the bubble will pop: A brain attempting to perform two tasks simultaneously will, because of all the back-and-forth stress, exhibit a substantial lag in information processing.)
I'm hearing you there, Mr. Kirn. Your Lightning Round editor recalls several incidents of toiling over a script on the newsroom computer when somebody walking out for the day bid me farewell and I responded "Bye" with a lag of at least five seconds. My mind was preoccupied with a word or a phrase on an LCD screen. Shame on me. On the other hand, my focus might not be as bad as I thought.

This leads us to multitasking's damage to etiquette, something we also knew already:
I've been fired, I’ve been insulted in front of co-workers, but the time I flew thousands of miles to meet a boss who spent our first and only hour together politely nodding at my proposals while thumbing out messages on a new device, whose existence neither of us acknowledged and whose screen he kept tilted so I couldn’t see it, still feels, five years later, like the low point of my career.
Many of us would burn to say something akin to Dustin Hoffman's line in Tootsie: "Hey, is my acting interfering with your talking?"

People can also put a dollar value on our attention division disorder:
Six hundred and fifty billion dollars. That’s what we might call our National Attention Deficit, according to Jonathan B. Spira, who’s the chief analyst at a business- research firm called Basex and has estimated the per annum cost to the economy of multitasking-induced disruptions. (He obtained the figure by surveying office workers across the country, who reported that some 28 percent of their time was wasted dealing with multitasking- related transitions and interruptions.)
That's about 2.5 hours in an average workday, meaning we only really work 5.5 hours a day instead of 8, and 27.5 hours a week instead of 40. It's enough to make you want to turn in the blackberry and laptop in exchange for a shirt saying "Leave me alone! I need to get something done!"

STICKIN' IT TO THE CAPITALIST MAN. Sink a bank, be a hero. Jérôme Kerviel, the French rogue trader who plunged Societe Generale into a $7 billion loss is now an Internet sensation, according to Charles Bremmer in TimesOnline:
After half a million Google searches yesterday, JK's admirers are singing his praises as "The Che Guevara of Finance", the "James Bond of the Soc Gen". The real JK may have lost his Facebook friends on the day of his arrest, but 11 new Jérôme Kerviels are on Facebook at the moment, with 30 groups in French and English. On one he has over 900 fans, many of whom proclaim their love for the clean-cut Breton whose pals called him Tom Cruise.
We suspect this has more about getting a few licks in on the French than it does actual fandom. Our bigger question remains why nobody seemed to learn anything from the exploits of Nick Leeson, who cratered Barings Bank in the 1990's with risky bets on derivatives. He later went on to write a book and see his story made into a movie. Where's his fan club?

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE. In another one of those tell-us-the-obvious studies, British and American researchers found middle-age really is depressing, regardless of nationality.

Reuters reports:
For men and women the probability of depression slowly builds and then peaks when people are in their forties -- a similar pattern found in 72 countries ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe, the researchers said.
They suggest we get depressed as we find out we're not going to reach many of our goals in life. Ron Paul's supporters ought to be going through that phase right about now.

LEND ME YOUR EAR. A pastor in Carlisle, PA is putting chaplains in local bars, hoping to minister to those who try to drown their troubles in drink.

From the AP:
The chaplains won’t preach against drinking or evangelize when the program starts at Market Cross Pub, organizer Chuck Kish said.

“We’re simply going to be there to help anybody who wants it. Sometimes people really just want somebody they can talk to who is not going to be judgmental, but be sympathetic,” he said.
And if they drive these barflies home, that's a miracle in itself.

PROUD TO SERVE, AND BE SERVED. A South Carolina Representative says if you're old enough to die for your country, you should be old enough to buy a drink in it.

Rep. Fletcher Smith has sponsored legislation that would allow service members younger than 21 to purchase alcohol if they show a military identification card to a bartender or store clerk.
You will recall the voting age was lowered to 18 using the same justification. We doubt this will boost recruiting numbers, but it could create a new market for fake service ID's, leading to the inevitable question from a skeptical bartender: "Is somebody else flying your F-18 home for you?"

CHEERS! A traffic officer in Manchester, England wrote a parking ticket -- and got applause from the crowd. The act wasn't as impressive as the car that was cited, as Autoblog reports:
In some countries, folks cheer at the sight of an exotic supercar, while in others they assume the driver is a (expletive deleted). In which camp would you think England falls? We'd have hoped the former, but the crowd has spoken, and they're saying otherwise. When an evidently obscenely wealthy driver parked his Bugatti Veyron in a loading bay in downtown Manchester, a traffic warden wrote him a ticket while a gathering crowd stood by and cheered her on.
And for an encore, your Lightning Round suggests the officer aim a radar gun down the Autobahn.