Friday, May 30, 2008

Private Lives

Romans 12:3-8 (NIV):
"For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully."
The apostle Paul says we all have a role in the Church, the Body of Christ, even if we don’t think our particular role is important. A lot of us wish we could job swap, either because we’re sick of our own job (and I can think of a couple of times this past week when I felt that way) or because we think we’re capable of being the boss. But sometimes God has a way of reminding us we’re in the spot we belong, and sometimes, we’re not cut out to be the boss.

Take what happened to me last February. Many of you know I’m a historical re-enactor, and among other things, I portray a Confederate soldier.

The 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry got together in the West Valley of Phoenix for a demonstration to homeschool groups. We had about 60 families or so. We spent a lot of time interacting with them one-on-one, answering questions about us and our uniforms and our weapons. Then we drilled and marched a little and pretended to fire our weapons (pretended because we couldn’t fire powder with so many homes close by). Then came the time to let the young ones march and drill with broom handles, and suddenly, I was promoted all the way up in rank from private to captain. A mixture of adults and kids fell into my company -- company “C,” appropriately enough.

Following orders is tough enough with the state of my drill. But when it comes time for me to give the orders, I can see the headlights coming my way. I haven’t developed my officers command voice. I have never dressed a line. I have never marched or commanded a battalion. I have never led one in firing or even the manual of arms. I don’t know where to stand, where to look in relation to the line and to the other captains.

I dressed my line, sorted the soldiers from highest to shortest. I had some reluctance separating the children from their parents, especially the wee ones. I don’t know if they’re going to have separation anxiety or not, especially with some stranger barking orders at them. I had them count off and practice the right and left faces a few times. Kids kept getting squeezed out of line whenever I went from two columns back to one line and I had to urge kids to move over one by one. It only underscores why an officer has to have a tough voice! All around me, the other captains get their troops in order like they’d been doing this all their lives.

Then came the marching, and I wasn’t sure where I was going to line my troops up. I marched them forward, then to the left, and halted them where I thought we were going to line them up. Turns out I was wrong. Our Colonel had to briefly take over for me and lead them back into the proper position.

One thought sprung to mind: “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.”

We marched some more. I kept saying “by the left face” instead of “by files left” when turning. I’ve heard these commands over and over in my brief re-enacting career and yet I can’t remember to give the proper one. One of the young boys, who has the wisdom of someone twice his age, happily corrected me while marching in my line.

We did a couple of pretend fires by company, a couple of poses for the cameras, and a charge.

To my relief, even after all my mess ups and lack of command, after standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and carrying a weapon when I shouldn’t have as a captain, our Colonel led the crowd in cheers for all the commanders and they cheered me anyway. Anyway.

No hard feelings lingered afterward. Nobody was thrown in the brig or put on KP. That’s how we are, and our Colonel empathized, “it’s a different world when you’re giving the orders.”

We have several officers in our group, and I wonder how they became officers, or what they had to do. I don’t wonder about that anymore. I’m too busy being a foot soldier. And I don’t think I’d want it any other way.

You can’t have an army without officers. And you can’t have one without soldiers either. As Paul wrote, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” And then, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

So what if you’re not officer material? We’re not all designed that way. When we all come together in the Body of Christ, it doesn’t matter who we are, as long as we’re using the gifts God gave us.

Look at everybody who helps at Tucson Community Church. Setting up chairs and signs sounds like it’s pretty menial compared to production or counseling, but somebody’s got to draw people in. Running a camera isn’t as glamorous as punching the switcher, but somebody has to line up the shots for a director to take.

We can’t allow ourselves to feel less important because our jobs are less glamorous. We’re all serving the Lord. We’re all His foot soldiers. And the Lord will cheer us on.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Jobs Americans Farmed Out

Right-wingers have to be fuming over this: instead of hiring Mexican labor, some American companies are just outsourcing their operations to Mexico, as the AP reports:
"Employers can't find legal workers to replace this huge number of illegal workers," said James Holt, an agricultural labor economist and independent consultant based in Washington. "Their only option is to go where the workers are."

Many of the growers, once based in California's Salinas Valley, are also heading south to escape high land prices and water shortages. Mexico is closer to eastern U.S. markets than California, they say. Shipping times to Atlanta are a day shorter from Mexico's central Guanajuato state.
In all fairness, U.S. manufacturers have done this for years, using maquiladoras for low-cost assembly work. We've even done it with television: Fox once used a couple of Mexican border stations to broadcast back into the U.S. (It still does with XETV in Tijuana, but it's moving the affiliation to a San Diego station.)

So why should farming be different? Unless you want to make outsourcing illegal, too.

UPDATE: Now we're outsourcing TV newscasts too. And this time it's a Spanish broadcaster making the move!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Reel To Reel: Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Well, Indy, at least you haven't forgotten how to show a lady a good time.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Shia LaBeouf
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Gunplay, Fistplay, Swordplay, Some Scary Moments

Meeting up with Indiana Jones again is like visiting an old friend you haven't seen since high school. But while you were in school, he was in his prime. Now he's older, grayer, and probably rusty with that whip and revolver. Like Rocky Balboa, you know this guy needs to retire sometime. Yet Professor Jones can still fight like a champ and wriggle out of danger while digging up anything you need -- that perfect combination of adventurous mind and machismo who influenced National Treasure, The Da Vinci Code, Sahara, and The Mummy films, among others. Ironically, it also seems to borrow from those films -- I'll let you guess which ones. Yet Raiders Of The Lost Ark borrowed too, drawing from old cliffhanger serials as it perfected the modern big-budget action flick. So forgive me if nothing seems particularly innovative, except for this chapter's sci-fi twist.

The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull opens in the 1950's, where the Soviets have replaced the Nazis as chief antagonists. The reds disguise and shoot their way into Nevada's Area 51, looking for that rumored alien body from that rumored UFO crash, which is quite neatly hidden (along with the Lost Ark) in a government warehouse. A trunk pops open. Ta-da, there's Indy (Ford) and his battered fedora, captured and forced to find the body with his buddy Mac (Winstone). And over here, meet our new villainess, KGB agent Irina Spalko (Blanchett). She's Stalin's favorite psychological warrior, although she looks like she walked out of a goth ball at Tucson's Club Congress.

Indy does what we expect, fighting his way out and also surviving an atomic bomb blast in a self-parodying way. Perhaps the filmmakers are laying pipe for the next sequel: Radioactive Jones and The Day After. But before you can say "half-life," Dr. Jones is back at his day job and under suspicion for getting too close to the commies. A job change is required, but as Indy rolls off for the east coast, young greaser Mutt (LaBeouf) rolls up in his Harley, begging for help.

One of Indy's old acquaintances, "Ox" Oxley (Hurt) has been kidnapped while seeking a powerful crystal skull from an ancient civilization in South America. Worse, Mutt's mother is also in captivity. But Ox has left behind a cryptic clue in a letter -- Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code? No, more like Raiders of the Lost Skull after our hero is re-teamed with Marion Ravenwood (Allen), the fiesty ex-flame sorely missed since the first film. (Didn't you just love it when she said, "Herr Mac?") Not surprising, the Russkies want that skull too.

So now I get to the big question: has Indy aged gracefully or deteriorated into the gettin'-too-old-for-this-stuff phase? Ford's character seems to talk more and whip less. Maybe I missed him shooting anything with that revolver. Once again, dialogue economy is an issue with anything connected to George Lucas since Return Of The Jedi: these people just talk too much in all the wrong places. Yet Indiana doesn't overextend himself with hot-dogging stunts, many of which are farmed out to Mutt in what may be the basis of yet another franchise. Marion, of course, hasn't forgotten any heroic skills.

This latest film doesn't play like a conclusion, and the last scene certainly leaves the door open. If it is indeed the final chapter, it's one that leaves Dr. Jones still on top of his game. George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg obviously knew their limits and stayed within the lines. That's hard to imagine this team doing, especially for the Indiana Jones saga, but they pulled it off. Yeah, Indy's gettin' old. But he's staying wise.

Memo To Hillary

Dear Sen. Clinton,

Drop out now, before you find the floor pulled out from under you.

I've read your remarks about staying in the race and the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. I've read your apology damage-control statement. No need for me to rehash anything; you know what you said. And my head hurts trying to find some rational explanation for something so incoherent and cryptically intimidating.

The only possible translation is this: "Hey, I have to stay in the race because Obama could get shot!" Was that an observation, a lament, or -- gadzooks -- an obtuse threat? Don't answer me.

As for your explanation, reported in the New York Times and elsewhere:
“The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy,” referring to the recent diagnosis of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s brain tumor. She added, “And I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive.”
Apparently, you were also thinking about them in March, as the Times pointed out:
In March, she told Time magazine: “Primary contests used to last a lot longer. We all remember the great tragedy of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated in June in L.A. My husband didn’t wrap up the nomination in 1992 until June. Having a primary contest go through June is nothing particularly unusual.”
We admire your respect and caring for the Kennedys, but I do not see the need to inject Bobby into the observation of why the nomination process has gone on so long.

Maybe it's because he had what you're losing -- an excited, inspired band of supporters eager for a new America. Those kind of people support Obama. You only wish you could motivate people like the Kennedys. Sen. Ted and his folks, however, have pushed you aside. You should've seen that coming after your hubby did his best to minimalize liberals in the 1992 campaign and afterward. Remember the "new Democrats?"

All things come around in politics. All that triangulation has now bit you in the face. Conservatives can't stand you. Lefties hold you a grudge. Griping about the media can't save you now, and surely not when you give them more tabloid material.

It's time to call it a campaign, Sen. Clinton. The delegate math doesn't add up, and your resistance is futile. Curtsy out with some honor and perhaps a cabinet position will await you in an Obama administration. VP? You think you have a chance after raising the specter of assassination?

Friday, May 23, 2008

What Do You Mean, "No Immediate Danger?"

Texas will appeal a state appeals court ruling saying authorities had no right to take more than 440 children away from a polygamous ranch run by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Reading the court's reasoning, I'd appeal too. The AP reports:
"Even if one views the FLDS belief system as creating a danger of sexual abuse by grooming boys to be perpetrators of sexual abuse and raising girls to be victims of sexual abuse ... there is no evidence that this danger is 'immediate' or 'urgent,'" the court said.
But it's still a danger.
"Evidence that children raised in this particular environment may someday have their physical health and safety threatened is not evidence that the danger is imminent enough to warrant invoking the extreme measure of immediate removal," the court said.
I guess authorities are supposed just ask them nicely not to abuse anybody and hope the message gets through to that compound in Eldorado.

Rushing in and sweeping away hundreds of kids smacks of thuggery, and I'm old enough to remember the debacle of the McMartin preschool case. However, what the FLDS does is no secret anymore. The group's self-proclaimed (false) prophet Warren Jeffs is doing time for marrying underage girls to older men. The women are treated as property, shuffled off to other men if their husbands fall out with the leadership and are excommunicated from the church -- which also happens to own their homes. Lawsuits are piling up against the FLDS, most from former members.

Nothing good is coming out of this church. It is secluded and secretive to protect its warped morality. It is the Taliban with prairie dresses instead of burkas. Love is filtered through a sieve of control and domination, sexual and otherwise. Maybe the accusation triggering the raid was flimsy, but finding several pregnant underage girls screams for action.

This group is not being persecuted for their beliefs. They are being prosecuted for sexual misconduct arising from those beliefs.

Matthew 25:40 keeps coming to mind: "Whatever you do for the least of these my brothers, you do it to me."

Paging Tyler Durden...

Minnesota police are trying to break up a fight club, according to AP:
SAVAGE, Minn. — Police are trying to score a knockout over a junior high fight club that's sprung up in Savage.

A group of boys has been fighting in back yards, garages and a city park over the past month. They've been videotaping the fights and posting them on YouTube.
I thought the first rule of Fight Club was that you didn't talk about Fight Club.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cost Of Living It Up

Lou Pearlman, who gave bubblegum pop too much sugar by thrusting 'N Sync and The Backstreet Boys upon us is going to prison. The music mogul admitted ripping off investors to the tune of $300 million.

Pearlman pleaded guilty to conspiracy, money laundering, and making a false claim. He confessed to running a Ponzi scheme. But what galls me is his attorney's contention that Pearlman simply had to have an extravagant lifestyle, as the Orlando Sentinel reports:
"Mr. Pearlman did live large, if you will, but judge, he was in the entertainment business," [defense attorney Fletcher] Peacock said.
Meaning he had to look the part. Meaning he had to siphon money, as has been accused, from the boy bands he managed. No wonder some in the courtroom laughed, as the Sentinel reported, when he said:
"Over the past nine months since my arrest I've come to realize the harm that has been done. I now want to do whatever I can to help resolve that harm."
Remember, this is a con man talking.

U.S. District Judge G. Kendall Sharp showed reasonable mercy, offering to shave one month off of Pearlman's 300-month sentence for every $1 million he repays his investors. It's doubtful he'll give it all back.

Unfortunately, we can't get back any of those minutes we were subjected to "I Want It That Way" or "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)".

Monday, May 19, 2008

Reel To Reel: Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Get the point of the sword, already.

How It Rates: ***
Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Sergio Castellitto, Peter Dinklage, Liam Neeson
Rated: PG
Red Flags: Ye Olde Battle Violence

I saw Prince Caspian after a day at the Prescott Highland Games, in full Jacobite Scottish Regalia, so my mind was already tuned in for historically-inspired fantasy. Trouble was, it also wanted to sleep a little more after an early morning drive of 300 miles.

So with that disclaimer, the new installment of the Narnia franchise suffers from one acute problem: tediousness. It has big battles. It has moments of magic and talking animals. But the film trudges along, even slowing down the swordfights, as if that's supposed to deepen their impact. I think not.

Prince Caspian takes place one year after the four young kings and queens of Narnia have fallen out of the wardrobe -- and out of the hidden world -- during a hunt. We can safely deduce life has been pretty drab for the Pevensie children, having to return to school instead of ruling over a mystical realm. I guess it's like Harry Potter's summers with the Dursleys, but much worse because they can't leave.

Then, while waiting for a London Underground train, their surroundings fall away and they're back in their royal realm, unknowingly summoned by Prince Caspian, who's on the run to escape his evil uncle, king of the Telmarines, who sound more like Spaniards than Marines. They've conquered Narnia, which is now a thousand years older than when the children left and devoid of its enchantment. The Pevensies soon discover the world they left behind is the fantasy equivalent of an old mining ghost town. Turns out, Prince Caspian has blown a horn to summon the old kings and queens back to Narnia, and now the Pevensies must find a way to liberate their old land and keep Caspian from being murdered by the king, who wants to short-circuit the line of succession.

Uh, where's Aslan?

I kept thinking this over throughout the film, which does feature the lovable, messianic lion, but in a vastly diminished and more allegorical role. I'll leave it to you to discover the message. With it comes a question many Christians ask themselves about God in this world, about divine versus human intervention, faith versus reality, and how much God expects for us to handle. It's a lot to think about and discuss with the kids.

But please, let's pick up the pace. Some battle scenes go on way longer than they should, including a mano y mano swordfight that includes breaks between rounds like a heavyweight fight at Ceasar's Palace. I half-expected a cutman and a trainer to step out from the side and hector the opponents about their jabbing.

We get some light-hearted moments from a swashbuckling mouse named Reepicheep, who sounds a little too much like Puss 'N Boots from the Shrek pictures. No doubt it was the idea of director Andrew Adamson, who also helmed the animated films.

What I miss the most though from the first Narnia picture to the second is the depth of its allegory. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was a thinly disguised parable. I think there's a parable in this one here somewhere... somewhere.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ve Have Vays Of Makink You Pine For Homeland, Ja?

The Washington Post found hundreds of foreigners were drugged before they were deported without medical reason, putting the government in violation of its own rules for holding detainees. But hey, they must all be dirtbag terrorists, so when did we really care about that?

From the article:
"Unsteady gait. Fell onto tarmac," says a medical note on the deportation of a 38-year-old woman to Costa Rica in late spring 2005. Another detainee was "dragged down the aisle in handcuffs, semi-comatose," according to an airline crew member's written account. Repeatedly, documents describe immigration guards "taking down" a reluctant deportee to be tranquilized before heading to an airport.

In a Chicago holding cell early one evening in February 2006, five guards piled on top of a 49-year-old man who was angry he was going back to Ecuador, according to a nurse's account in his deportation file. As they pinned him down so the nurse could punch a needle through his coveralls into his right buttock, one officer stood over him menacingly and taunted, "Nighty-night."
Here's a bit of levity, though -- the gub'mint is doing some spin doctoring:
To recruit medical escorts, the government has sought to glamorize this work. "Do you ever dream of escaping to exotic, exciting locations?" said an item in an agency newsletter. "Want to get away from the office but are strapped for cash? Make your dreams come true by signing up as a Medical Escort for DIHS!"
And just think of the prescription drug plan.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Queen Of Clean

What does the Queen Mother do when she's in her viscount son's domain? The counters, the sinks, the tabletop, the floor -- you know, basic queening.

I can't stop her. I can't dissuade her. I'm no slob, but her eye finds fault with the surfaces, and she will not rest until such deficiencies are corrected to her standards. I need a bigger iron she tells me, and a bigger trashcan. I need those disinfecting wipes. I need more soap. I need a Swiffer. We have to go to the Wal-Mart.

Upon her first visit a decade ago to my Texas abode, the awful truth of bachelor living confronted her the moment she opened the freezer. Three empty cartons of ice cream stood at glazed attention. I still occasionally hear of that encounter. The Royal Father is content to collapse on the sofa in front of Turner Classic Movies, but the Queen Mother won't rest until the chrome is shiny, mentioning comments in passing about the need for Comet.

As I searched for a new domicile in Tucson, she asked if a washer and dryer were part of the residence. She could care less about floor space. I'm content to walk out the door and down the sidewalk to the on-side laundry, feeding it quarters like treats to hungry dog, but Her Majesty will continue to politely prod me for the extra amenities. Any visit is not considered official until she asks whether or not the towels need to go back with her for proper fluffing and freshening. Ditto for the bathmat.

Her eyes are spared the ugly indignities of cleaning a musket in the bathtub, the black water dotting the porcelain and streaming into the drain, of swabbing with patch after powder-stained patch, leaving the room lightly fragranced in sulfur and Bore Butter, the latter easily mistaken for toothpaste.

Back at the palace, she must fight the occasional battle with ants. Crawling out of the cupboard, they parade along the tile grout in a show of strength rivaling a Soviet May Day procession. Her Majesty is not impressed.

"I put that stuff down everywhere I saw them!" she proclaims. "I sprayed the heck out of everything!"

Out come the baits and aerosol, and all the Queen's forces strike swiftly. Victory is assured, even if it takes longer than directed on the package. Her subjects are relieved.

Her loving Viscount marvels at her ability to get a tub cleaner than he ever managed. Such is the strength of her realm and the dexterity of her hand, sure to drag a finger along the top of the TV set and admonish with dry exasperation, "You need to dust."

All in good time, Your Royal Highness, I reply with the courtly reverence. But I challenge you to abstain from the towel rack for just one day, this Sunday in your honour, so that you may reflect upon those you brought into this world, even if they do not quite know how to tidy it.

Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ashes To Ashes, Flesh To Flush

One day, what's left of you may go down the drain in a new crematory process that's supposed to be better for the environment.

From the AP:
Since they first walked the planet, humans have either buried or burned their dead. Now a new option is generating interest — dissolving bodies in lye and flushing the brownish, syrupy residue down the drain.

The process is called alkaline hydrolysis. It was developed in this country 16 years ago to get rid of animal carcasses. It uses lye, 300-degree heat and 60 pounds of pressure per square inch to destroy bodies in big stainless-steel cylinders that are similar to pressure cookers.
Giving your dead goldfish an American Standard sendoff is all right, but winding through the S-trap is not my vision of going in style. And let's not even talk about the indignities of Draino.

We already flush enough curious stuff away, as KOLD News 13's Suleika Acosta found out.

Local Gone Loco

The FCC is floating new regulations intended to make sure local TV stations serve the public, but you don't have to look very hard to realize you're being bamboozled.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal lays it out, in part:
The regulations would require TV and radio stations to consult with community advisory boards, broadcast a required amount of local programming, use local talent instead of remote voice-tracking and locate main studios within their license areas.
Let's take each of these proposals one at a time.

Consulting with community advisory boards. Nothing wrong with this. Stations have been doing it for years on their own, sometimes working it into their news branding strategy -- "KXXX Listens!" KGUN here in Tucson used to hold community meetings and read mail from viewers on the air. KOLD telecast a community-wide meeting a couple of years before I began my tour of duty here (although I am not sure of the subject matter and Google is not returning any matches). Stations talk to paid consultants all the time. Why not make sure they're talking to viewers, too?

Broadcast a required amount of local programming. Now we've got a problem. The FCC is dictating content. "Local Programming" sounds noble and responsible, but it won't hold up under a 1st Amendment challenge. You can argue the FCC has the right to demand this because it licenses broadcast stations to operate on public airwaves. However, the whole concept of broadcast licensing is based largely on the scarcity of available channel space -- which isn't true anymore in the age of cable, Internet, and satellite. Digital TV, which is more spectrum-efficient, hollows that argument further.

Even the concept of "public airwaves" is flawed. Cable uses public streets and right-of-ways. Satellites beam signals through the public airwaves. Yet stations on the latter two are not facing these additional regulations. I know it's because people pay for these services, but people are also paying for cable and satellite delivery of free TV services. It's time to stop putting over-the-air broadcasters in a different league from cable and satellite. Those two worlds have largely merged on the dial.

Use local talent instead of voice-tracking. You hear that, Clear Channel? Other radio groups do this too, but CC has gotten most of the gripes. A DJ in one city (usually large) records banter for a station in another city (usually small), which is then digitally transferred and stitched together with the music. A program director from the other station will also feed the DJ some local information and riffs to work in. Some voice-tracking systems will even calculate time announcements so the DJ can pre-record them as well.

Station groups will tell you voice tracking gets better DJ talent into smaller markets for less money. But who's defining "better?" If I'm living in Hays, Kansas, do I want a St. Louis DJ talking about the big snowstorm by remote control, just because he sounds more up-market? The best radio DJ's connect with their audiences and vice-versa. Morning drive shows are all about this. It doesn't matter if you've got the radio voice. Station groups need to quit fearing amateur-hour radio in smaller markets.

On the other hand, restricting voice-tracking is messing with content, and it stinks under 1st Amendment scrutiny. Also consider this: stations voice-track to fill the overnight hours or holidays. Who wants to work Christmas because the gub'mint says so? The FCC doesn't -- and shouldn't -- have jurisdiction over personnel decisions.

Locate main studios within their license areas. This rule targets smaller stations owned by the same group that are run by a hub system, meaning those stations get their programming and commercials via satellite or fiber-optic cable from a central master control operation in another city. All that exists in the station's city of license is an unmanned receiver unit hooked up to the transmitter. I know this is the case with KWBA in Tucson, although their new owners will likely put somebody back at the switch.

As with voice-tracking, stations do this to save money on personel as well as equipment. The intent of the rule seems to be preventing a repeat of what happened in Minot, ND during a chemical spill in 2002, when all the stations in Clear Channel's group didn't carry any information on the hazardous situation because nobody was behind a microphone in that city. However, even The Nation concedes part of the problem was due to emergency broadcasting equipment and not a dearth of local staff.

As for the FCC's main studio rule, an analysis [PDF] in the Indiana Law Journal found it did little to help broadcasters or localism. So much for that theory.

But here's my biggest concern, according to what I read in the R-J article:
Under leadership of former FCC chairman Michael Powell, the agency began a formal inquiry into broadcast localism in 2003.

The agency held hearings in Portland, Maine; Charlotte, N.C.; San Antonio; Rapid City, S.D.; Monterey, Calif.; and Washington, D.C.; where members of the public told FCC commissioners they were unhappy some stations were taking a direction away from local content.
Raise your hands, people. How many of you attended one of these hearings? How many of you even live in these cities?

Not to impugn any complaints from the people who did attend, but it's always the people with complaints who show up for these kinds of hearings. If you're happy with the way broadcast TV is running, why sit through some boring hearing just to tell people everything's fine?

It sounds like Powell and the guys didn't try hard enough. They threw a bone to critics and anti-big-media whiners without getting the full picture. Broadcasters are rightfully upset about the rule changes. Frankly, with the big switch to digital TV less than a year away, they've got more than enough to handle.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Chaos Theory

According to Politico, Sen. John Kerry thinks Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" tampered with the Indiana Primary, helping Sen. Hillary Clinton to eke out a win. Ben Smith breaks down the numbers rationally:
The margin was about 18,500; Clinton only got 54% of the Republican votes, which made up 10% of the electorate. If none of those Republicans voted for either candidate, Obama would gain about 10,000. The question really is what share of Clinton's votes were Limbaugh voters. For them to have provided the margin of victory, by my math, about 38% of all her Republican voters -- that's a lot -- would have had to be voting tactically.
For the uninitiated, "Operation Chaos" is Rush's invitation for Republicans to vote for Hillary in open primaries, thus giving her the nomination and giving the GOP an easier target in November.

I briefly discussed this in March. Limbaugh's position -- besides his anatomically impossible one -- is the media louse up the Republicans' primaries (meaning somebody who bows to the altar of conservatism doesn't win), so we have every right to louse up the Democrats' primaries.

Let's call this what it is: prejudice. It's prejudicial against reporters, voters, and anybody who votes with half a brain. And with Sen. Clinton's chances of grabbing the nomination slipping away, it looks like most Republican voters have better things to do than tilt the process.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

How Do You Say "Irony" In Spanish?

The Phoenix anti-racism group Pueblo calls Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's arrests of illegal immigrants hate. And to show their firm, rock-solid opposition to hateful stereotyping of Hispanics, they raffled off a chance to beat Sheriff Joe to a pulp in a piñata effigy.

ABC15 asked Pueblo Co-Founder Ray Ybarra if it was a conflicting message to encourage people to whack the sheriff piñatas in an effort to spread the message “don’t hate.”

“That is a difficult argument to make. We’re not the ones out there deporting families. We’re not the ones separated anybody. It’s an inanimate object and people are swinging at it symbolically,” said Ybarra.
Translation: our hate isn't as bad as Joe's hate. Not a good strategy when your ilk have already lost points for marching with Mexican flags.

It's Called Democracy

It doesn't matter whether you are reading this before or after the votes have been counted in the Indiana or North Carolina primaries. Unless Sen. Hillary Clinton throws in the towel -- which she won't -- this contest won't be over until June. So brace yourself for more grumbling about how long it's taking to get a cottonpickin' nominee.

Here's where I puzzle: how can something so good for democracy be interpreted as something so rotten for everything else? Think of the thousands of people in past elections who concluded their vote didn't mean diddly-squat in the primaries after Super Tuesday. Consider throwaway states like Wyoming which suddenly became a factor. And when's the last time anybody cared about how they voted in Guam? For the first time in a long time, those areas shrugged off as "flyover country" cannot be ignored.

Still, you hear people wish the whole thing would've ended on Super Tuesday so they could get the coronation over with and start kicking McCain around. The will of the electorate is just so inconvenient. This is America, not FedEx. The presidential nominating process does not absolutely, positively have to end in February.

Might we remind you, the GOP nearly faced the same situation a few months ago. But with their winner-take-all system, the math quickly works against the underdogs -- except for Ron Paul whose legions of apparatchiks still think they can pull off an upset victory.

Speaking of upset, why is the Clinton camp treating defections of former supporters to Obama like high treason? Somebody forgot to tell Hill that expecting loyalty in campaign season is like expecting your dog to always come when he's called. Right now, she's looking more and more like the fire hydrant.

Once the nomination is decided, we will all have plenty of time to gorge on slimy attack ads seasoned with a few debates and soundbite collections, starting on Labor Day. Two months is plenty of time to make up your mind. And four years from now, if you want to avoid all this mess called democracy, you can petition to move Super Tuesday back to December.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Pilgrim's Fancy

The progress recounted by Christopher the Prancing Puritan at The Cavaliers' Ball as presented by We Make History -- and recounted as John Bunyan might have witnessed it.

Pictorial Assistance By John Cabot (as portrayed by Michael C.)

(Click any photo for a closer view!)

I lighted in a certain desert place where was shade, and as I laid me down to sleep I dreamed a dream.

I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed in brown and white, a flat-brimmed hat upon his head, and satin garters round his knees. I looked and saw him lead a lady clothed in modern stylish black by his right hand, his left hand stately at his hips. And right away I knew he drempt as well, warm with expectations of capering about.

And then I saw a Cavalier remove his sword before he took his lady's hand. And there I paused, recalling thoughts of civil war, of Cavaliers and Roundheads. But then I saw him begin to lead a long procession of the two disparate sides, and they were joined by allies far and wide in frivolity. He weaved them about into a labyrinth; but, behold, he doth led them out again into a circle.

And I saw him call the ladies and the gents in turn to step forward and back, and I saw Christopher -- for this was the name of this Pilgrim clothed in brown and white -- skip out and loose his happiness. The Cavalier called on the merry ones by the colour of their dress to present themselves, and I saw ladies dressed in hoopskirt gowns emerge with grace as if in the presence of the king.

As lay there dreaming, I saw the many arrange themselves in sets and walk back and forth in a double, as their Caller directed, and dance a tiny jig to their partners, turning themselves in place. Then I saw the Pilgrim cross back and forth across the set, changing places with his lady, whom I perceived a bit confused by some new figures. Yet she endeavoured to follow each step, and her partner was not dismayed as he encouraged her with smiles and words of thanksgiving after he honoured her with a regal bow.

"Each dance builds upon the next," I heard the Pilgrim explain to his lady, and lo, in my dream, I saw he told no falsehood as they proceeded into Sellinger's Round.

"Ah," I heard him say in mirth of familiarity upon the mention of the dance, and I saw couples step in and out of one great circle and then turn each other and repeating the tiny jig.

Then the gathered multitudes formed up in sets again, in groups of six, for "The Black Nag." The players broke into a jauntily wistful melody, and the couples sashayed back and forth in order, then siding and changing places along their line. I saw in my dream Christopher skipping for joy at every opportunity to slip to the other side, although he walked a hey for three with caution, a bit uncertain of the figure but determined to keep the elegant form, passing his neighbours by the left and right shoulders in a figure eight.

"May I escort you somewhere, my lady?" he asked his partner upon conclusion of the dance. And I saw he rarely left her side, watching o'er her and attending to her refreshment.

Tea and punch did much to reinvigorate the gathering, and they were eager to dance in spite of peculiar moments where the capering mysteriously suspended. I saw a circle dance progressing through two parts, with the ladies and the gentlemen took turns skipping and clapping; but mysteriously, the third did not emerge. The players began it once again, but still it halted prematurely; and the Pilgrim wondered if thievery was afoot.

But on they danced, and the Pilgrim and his lady found themselves immersed in a set of unfamiliar weaving figures neither one of them did understand. Now I saw that Christopher had walked through it, and he thought his steps were proper. Alas, he and his lady soon found they were mistaken when their fancy motions did not conform to those of their neighbours.

"What shall I do?" lamented the Pilgrim in silence as they stood in place during the parts they understood not. And I could see him struggle to obscure his countenance of disappointment, ashamed to be such a poor example to his lady.

But lo, I saw their neighbors step in to correct them and lead them on, helping them to salvage their merriment before the dance concluded. And his lady, although tempted by the thought of surrendering to defeat, danced on with him, and the Pilgrim bowed to her in gratitude in the end, thankful to His Creator that he was Blessed to dance with a lady of Great Patience.

Then I saw his joy return when the Caller doth announced a favourite dance of his: "Come, Let Us Be Merry!"

"This dance I do know," he reassured his lady and his neighbours as they formed a set of three couples. And true to his word, the Pilgrim took great pride in leading his lady through the elegant honours and casting off around the other couples before leading her between them before joining hands in a circle of six and progressing around into new places.

And then I saw some moments of invention. As others repaired to the room of refreshments, a number of ladies and gentlemen remained behind, and the Caller taught them a dance much waltz-like in its movements, even though the steps appeared more suitable to minuets from a time yet to arrive. The Pilgrim stood alone, his lady excusing herself for powder, but I saw he could not resist the urge to dance as the players filled the air with music. So he walked in graceful steps and dipped his knees in three-quarter rhythm, dancing with an unseen lady as he thought of that minuet to come.

And to his side, several ladies held hands, stepping in and out as they circled round, and Christopher joined eagerly joined them, no longer satisfied to dance alone. And the ladies varied their steps, circling in a different direction after a suitable number of beats, and then skipping about after several beats more. And then I saw a pair of ladies take the centre of the circle, dancing in the middle as the others circled round them, repeating the motions once again. Then the Pilgrim and two others took the centre when the dance repeated once more. And wherefore, they found they had created a new dance!

"We must name this dance!" a lady exclaimed upon the conclusion.

"How about The Cavaliers' Fancy?" I heard the Pilgrim suggest, whereas I gather he put his loyalties to Parliament aside to honour of the Host of the celebration.

Wherefore the gathered agreed upon the name with much delight, they were eager to teach the dance to anyone.

I saw the Pilgrim demonstrate his knowledge of a reel, as he linked arms with ladies in a dance called "Willow Tree."

And I saw the happy multitude link arms again to honor those born in April and May, along with a new professor of Oxford, having completed his studies and standing before us in his graduation gown.

And then I saw the Cavalier draw names for prizes: fine delicacies of Denmark and Flanders (and graciously, not Vanity Fair). He held the grand prize up, and I saw a tin of Flemish chocolates. Then he drew a name and announced the winner...


"Huzzah!" I heard the Pilgrim cry as he claimed his prize.

Do you have someone to share the chocolates with on the long carriage ride back, I heard the Cavalier ask.

"Ohhhh, yea..." the Pilgrim responded with mirth of confidence.

The call went out for The Pineapple Dance, and I saw Christopher explain it to his lady: "This is the easiest dance you will do all night!" He explained it briefly, but the dance taught itself.

Wherefore a dance loved by all is worth dancing again, I saw everyone joining in a reprise of "The Black Nag," and the Pilgrim reminding his neighbours of the figures.

And then I saw the couples dancing in a waltz, anticipating a style of the future; and the Pilgrim led his lady in a progression side by side around the room, stepping in and out before they drew together into a two-step. She recalled it had been a long time since she had waltzed in a box step. And once again, he bowed to her in deep gratitude.

Several times I heard him compliment his lady on her dancing, wherefore she said to him, "Oh, you are just being nice." But he refused to accept any other characterization, and he paid honour to her without hesitation.

Then in my dream I saw him standing in his white and brown attire, lamenting the end of the frivolities; and then I saw him lay to sleep with joy of dance abundant in his heart.

So I awoke, and behold it was a dream...

...but only for me.

See more memories for thyself here.

NEXT: Treasured Moments

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Picnicking In The Past

A few scenes from We Make History's annual 18th Century Picnic.

Photos by Viscount Christopher Francis and Mrs. Rosemary.

All of us are game for something new -- lawn golf!

The rules in brief: 3 points for landing your... uh... whatever-it-is on the top rung, 2 for the middle and one for the bottom.

It takes just the right touch.

Your humble Viscount tried his best, but could only manage wrapping it around the bottom of the post. Pity it does not count for even half a point.

But it's good to climb to the pinnacle of achievement.

The victorious ladies, 24-17. And with our arms warmed up... let's bowl!

Yes, dearest readers, bacci is indeed the sport of kings... and viscounts. 'Tis April Madness, our annual single-elimination royal tournament.

I've rolled it. I've lobbed it. I've tried just about everything but the knuckleball. But with the jack (the white ball) way out in the field, I have no choice but the shotputter's hurl.

Our French allies know it's all in the wrist.

His Lordship is quite the expert.

Fairness requires that we go to the tape on more than one occasion. The closer you get to the jack, the higher you score.

My partner and I, the charming lady to my left, try our best, but we are blitzed by a youthful pair 10-0. Ah well... bowling was never my choice diversion.

I hear clapping and laughter. It must be the Virginia Reel -- by way of Prescott!

Honouring the ladies...

A right-hand turn...

Sashaying my partner...

Now, reel that set!

With both hands and feet warmed up, let us repair to the gridiron. Off comes my coat, but the tricorn stays on.

That hat actually protects me after a hard hit. Beautiful and practical -- the perfect fit!

Our cheering section:

Friday, May 2, 2008

We're Adding In A 15% Gratuity, Too

Nevada is billing Steve Fossett's widow for the costs involved with searching for the multimillionaire adventurer -- still missing and now legally dead. The tab comes to $687,000, which isn't much considering Fossett left behind an eight-figure estate.

From the AP:
"We do not charge the rich or the poor," [Nevada Emergency Management Director Frank] Siracusa said. "There is no precedent where government will go after people for costs just because they have money to pay for it. You get lost, and we look for you. It is a service your taxpayer dollars pay for."

But Siracusa added that the final decision on whether Peggy Fossett would be billed rested with the governor, who since January has cut state spending to deal with a budget shortfall projected to top $900 million by mid-2009.
Sounds like somebody needs to increase the state's rake at the casinos. And remember, dearest readers, Nevada has no state income tax. So go blow some more money at the roulette wheel. Maybe Leroy's Sports Book is taking action on whether Fossett will be found alive. I put the odds at 200-1.