Monday, June 30, 2008

Reel To Reel: Wanted

The Matrix unplugged.

How It Rates: **
Starring: James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie
Rated: R
Red Flags: Copious and INTENSE bloody violence, Numerous f-bombs, Two sex scenes -- definitely not for the kids!

I liked Wanted. But all through the movie I kept thinking back to the first chapter of the Matrix trilogy and how it blew my mind with its defiance of physics and its nightmarish take on virtual reality. Wanted bends bullets and creates its own nightmare universe, right down to Angelina Jolie playing Fox, a riff on Matrix's Trinity. Although it's exciting and gripping, it's not particularly original, save for a few scenes.

Wesley (McAvoy) plays a wimpy, beleaguered, panic-pill-popping cubicle slave at an insurance company. His obese, ugly boss cuts him down every day. His best friend is hooked up with his cranky girlfriend and rubbing it in his face. He's nearly broke and living in a grungy Chicago flophouse until one day when he's caught in a gunfight at a store. Scooped up by Fox, Wesley learns assassins took out his father, who was a member of a super-secret cult of killers led by Sloan (Freeman, playing yet another variation on the same role). Furthermore, he has abilities with a gun a sharpshooter would envy. Sounds like Neo, uh, Wes is "the one."

Invigorated by the knowledge of who he really is and longing to take control, Wes trains to become a killer, looping bullets around people's heads like Venus Williams delivering a killer serve. He gets orders from a "loom of fate" that spells out the names of victims in woven binary code -- no stinkin' computers needed in this matrix. But Wes is eager to take out the man who killed his father, although it will lead him to uncover a devastating truth.

Wanted is unapologetically bloody and profane. It enjoys its violence in a cathartic, escapist way. The Matrix had depth and questions about the technological world we created. Its violence was mostly virtual, not physical. It's not correct to call Wanted a poor imitation, because it's not poor. But even though the movie evolved from a series of comic books, it's still an imitation.


Ratings people and media analysts say young people don't watch TV news.

Now Variety tells us a lot of 'em don't watch TV, period:
According to a study released by Magna Global's Steve Sternberg, the five broadcast nets' average live median age (in other words, not including delayed DVR viewing) was 50 last season. That's the oldest ever since Sternberg started analyzing median age more than a decade ago -- and the first time the nets' median age was outside of the vaunted 18-49 demo.
That notion of a "key demo" may (hopefully) be on its way out in favor of "anybody we can find."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Treasured Moments

Pirates! Privateers! Corsairs! Buccaneers!
They're all forming a boarding party in Prescott with We Make History -- and throwing in a few twists.

As Recalled By Captain Bartholomew Burgundy
Photographs By Jack Tar

EDITOR'S NOTE: Earlier in the log of the Wayward Star, Captain Burgundy notes his supplies of ink and parchment are running low, undoubtedly from a long hunt for Spanish vessels. This explains the following entry from his adventures in Prescott, which appears to be a collection of highlights rather than a conventional narrative. Once again, I have labored to preserve his native English dialect.

21 June, The Year Of Our Lord 1708

Me companion for th' evenin' ganders h'self in the great mirror. She be th' terror of th' Pacific, Buccaneer Jane (which, I tell ye, be not her real name, shoul' this log evah fall into 'th hands of me enemies, 'specially th' Span'yids.)

"Do I look intimidating?" she says of her black attire.

"Wi' that pistol," I say, "ye intimidatin' no matter how ye look!"

* * *

Dred Cap'n Scott once again' declares there be a truce 'mong us. No swordplay, whatsoever!

But, however, he be enactin' a new rule. He 'as learned many of us are quite adroit a' dodgin' cannonballs with this' move call th' Twist. So t' keep us ready f' battle, anytime someone cries, "Twist!" all of us be twistin'. Savvy?

All hands on deck! The good Cap'n recognizes us all by th' countries of our home ports -- including th' French, th' Italians, th' Span'yids (avast!), th' Russians, an' the Japanese, but he be a bit puzzled when I stan' wi' the English.

"I thought you would be with the French," he observes 'a me.

"Froinch?" I wonder. Me poppa, maybe. Ah' heah' rumours 'bout me surname, how Poppa was' nevah born into some fam'ly of esteem, but rather, developed a peculiah taste for fine spirits ovah th' course of sev'ral raids, spurnin' th' rum completely. Thus 'is crew, in a bit of indignatious jest, dubbed him "Cap'n Burgundy."

When ye' called to jig, ye jig! Step lively into th' circle when' the good Cap'n calls ye out!

"All wearing red!"

"All wearing black!"

"All wearing feathers!"

"All from England!"

"All gents!"

"All ladies!"

"All mmmmmmphmmh..."

Wha' was tha'? Wha' was th' order? The music of Bahama Becky an' The Plankwalkers be fillin' th' spacious hall an' drownin' out th' good Cap'n. Or maybe it be saltwater in me ears?

At leas' I hear the' call fer a broadside. All join 'ands and rush the' centre!

"YAARRRR!" we cry as we storm into th' middle. A pity fer ou' beloved photo artist Jack Tar. We nearly run 'im down twice!

* * *

I say anythin' worth doin' once is worth repeatin, even a year apart. So how happy I was to once again' dance th' Pirate Polka: slidin' an' slappin' an' tappin' an' clappin' and shakin' fingers an laughin' wi' the ladies as we mix 'round in a circle. I admit, it fulfills me ulterior motive to dance wi' every lady a' the ball. I don' wan' to bail out on me lady friend, savvy, bu' I have my gentlemanly obligations.

Speakin' a such, I insist on dressin in me finest t' impress me lady Buc, but alas the winds be not in our favor, an' th' savage heat of th' desert withers me through my coat. I be grat'ful for the windmakin' devices and the gen'rous grog, along with the concern of me companion, who notes time 'an again that I got' to be burnin' up. She and I stand together before th' fan' of relief.

But finally, th' sweat and scourage of th' temperature forces me t' do wha' many've ye would consider ungentlemanly: shed me coat. I feel a bi' odd dancin' about wi' me weskit plain as day. Th' ladies, Bless Them, don' think less'a me.

Ev'ry year, we pay tribute t' Noah, tha' first sailor, remem'brin 'is adventures wi' a ship fulla animals... oh, an' three sons who had to help repopulate th' earth. An' me crew thinks they're busy!

We pick 'ot someone t' represent Noah, prefer'bly with t' beard 'an all like. An' he chooses a wife. An' we need 'is three sons, Japeth, Shem, an' Ham. So ou' Noah follows orders from the Dread Cap'n and chooses two young lads fer Japeth and Shem. An' he chooses a youn'-a'-heart one fer Ham. That be your humble cap'n.

Now his sons nee' wives. So now the' pick from th' fine ladies of th' party. Ye think fer a minute I'd choose anybody besides Buccaneer Jane? Didn' I tell ye she carried a pistol? An' everyon' else -- they be th' animals!

So wi' th' family all togeth'r, standin' at th' front of the crowd, we all pay honour wi' a shanty, recounting Noah's righteousness 'n triumph throu' th' great flood, 'till 'e released th' dove an' discovered th' waters be recedin', an' everythin' could begin again' anew. Land ahoy!

Every'un twist!

* * *

Ye up for a game of ninepin? Nay, not bowlin' -- the dance, me mates!

Ere's how't goes, more'r less: Ye take four couples standin' in a square, an' then ye add one more person 'n the middle called the ninepin. So then th' couples go back and forth with the ninepin standin' there, dancin' around th' ninepin. And then one person from each couple dances wi' the ninepin 'n a circle 'til they get the call to break off and find a partner to swing. If ye ain' quick, ye get left with no partner an' ye end up as th' ninepin.

I remember dancin' this 'n schoo' as a wee one, yet I 'adnin't learned th' part about endin' up as th' ninepin if I didn' swing some'un quick enough. They all laughed 'a me as they danced 'round me.

Yet now, ev'ryone wants to be th' ninepin -- includin' meself! Me dancin' mates intentionally don't find somebody t' swing, an' they offer t' take turns bein' danced around, as if t'were a dance 'n their honour. Most of th' ninepins stan' in place. But I dance a jig, 'appy to be th' centre of attention.

An' I adore gettin' trapped by me mates when we play "Catch The Pirate."

The Dred Cap'n feels 't necessary t' honour a few more brave bucs. He sings a shor' shanty of an Irishman who sailed t' Portugal, where 'e found 'is true love. An' now they 'ave a brave and lively son, an' a beatiful an' graceful daughter. Ah, dubloons and pieces 'f eigh' be not th' only treasure.

An' a few of us be puttin' candles on th' cake this month an' next. What do we do wi' em? Make 'em walk th' plank? Nay. Keelhaul them? Maybe 'in some primitive time, aye, but not this evenin'. Twist? Aye, a little. But we join hands' an' dance aroun' them -- singin' "Fer they're such jolly good fellas!" It seems not a lot 'f us be havin' birthdays 'n June or July. I wond'r why.

Maybe ye not up for a polka or a refin' country dance. But if ye can't danc' a jig, how 'in blazes can ye call yeself a sailor?

Buccaneer Jane an' I 'ave the pleasure 'a bein' the firs' t' demonstrate it. Ye really don' need t' be fancy with ye' feet, jus' lively. Some like ta' hop about 'n point their toes, an' some jus' hop about. It doesn't mattah a wee bit as long as ye have somethin' of a rhythm 'bout ye. But ye better hope ye 'ave enough stamina to go a few rounds until some'un kindly cuts in on ye', meanin' tappin' ye on the back wi' a hand so ye c'n bow out gracefully. I mus' admit, 'tis bettah th'n the method I seen in some taverns of ill repute 'n me travels, where ye might get a tap on th' neck wi' a cutlass instead!

An' gents, just as ye got t' do ye duty in askin' a lady to dance, ye also got to thow 'er the rope when she be in distress. A couple of ladies dance an' dance so sprightly, they nearly lose th' wind in their fair sails! Lookin' at 'em, ye might be fooled inta thinkin' they're not to be disturbed. But, they be overflowin' wi relief when another cuts in t' relieve 'em.

"Oh, thank ye," I heard one gasp.

Speakin' for meself, I keep losin' the wind. But, I couldn' let 't show around th' ladies. So I jig on and on, throwin me hands up into th' air an' shufflin' me feet. If I be dyin' on this' floor tonight, I shall die kickin' and screamin' for joy! Hizzah!

Th' Dred Cap'n be delighted! Such a knowledg'ble crew! He offers plunder in exchange fer piratical facts, and everyone, save for only one soul, has one at hand. Buccaneer Jane an' I discuss piece'a wisdom we shall offer 'f we be drawn from th' hat, fer she didn' know 'bout the fact requirement, 'an blow me down if I'm gonna see 'er have t' jig to claim her prize.

In th' end, it be me among th' lucky ones, an' I share an' insider's tip fer every pirate who doesn' want to 'ave to bury treasure:

"In 1652, Samuel Sewell establish'd a free mint in Boston, givin' pirates a place t' drop their booty without gettin' caught!"

Me prize? Dutch cookies -- tasty! Try gettin' such'a treat from th' Span'yids.

Bahama Becky an' The Plankwalkers get 'round. I spot 'em playin' a tango durin' an' interlude fer a waltz, an later, durin' the' Pineapple Dance, they fiddle wi' this dance tune from Hungary! I 'alf expect to see our Russian' mates dance th' Troika. I be tempted t' break out wi' me rendidion of a Ukrainian Hopak, but alas, me dancin' legs aren't tha' strong.

So I sashay about wi' th' ladies -- an' a few gentlemen Bucs -- throwin' in a twirl 'ere an' there wi' a kick -- Hey!

Now twist!

* * *

Thar be’a sayin, “Dance wi’ th’ one tha’ brung ye,” but I cannot, for th’ life’a me, stan’ to see a young lady on th’ dance floor, warnderin’ abou’ like a lost ship, durin’ a waltz. Buccaneer Jane be engaged ‘n conversation wi’ an ally about her nex’ plunder, so I seize th’ opportunity to sail to th’ lost lady’s rescue.

I run halfway across th’ the ballroom, full sail, me coattails’ flyin’, until I make a full stop in fron’ of ‘er an’ bow as if she were th’ Queen! Th’ wee one graciously takes me han’, and we dance a variati’n of th’ Minuet, steppin’ gracefully across th’ ballroom. Me partner, she be a lively one. She smiles as she prances abou’, complimentin’ me more reserved moves an’ givin’ her buccaneer mother grea’ pleasure, I do believe.

* * *

A' the end of th' evenin, we share a feast 'n a nearby tav'n, an' it takes three pints'a lemonade to replenish me. Me lady Buccaneer Jane insists I chow down, an' I be happy to oblige 'er before I bid 'er farewell an' Bon Voyage as I make me way back to the Wayward Star.

An' as I sail fer home and thin' back on 'er smile and her prettiness, a query interrupts me reminiscin': Eh, where be me cookies?

Aye, she not be called Buccaneer Jane for naught, savvy?

More from this motley yet friendly crew of seafarers here.

NEXT: Go Fourth In Victory!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

One Way In

A newly-released survey [PDF] from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life gives me pause. It finds 70 percent of Americans with a religious faith believe there are several paths to everlasting life, and Jesus isn't the only way there.

However, as CBS News and the AP report,
  • 92 percent believe in God

  • 74 percent believe in life after death

  • 63 percent say their respective scriptures are the word of God
Taking that last stat into mind with the 70 percent who believe in several paths, I have a hard time figuring out how Christians can rectify an open mind about salvation when Jesus makes it clear in John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

The CBS & AP article gives a hint:
Others emphasize the wideness of God's grace.

The Catholic church teaches that the "one church of Christ ... subsists in the Catholic Church" alone and that Protestant churches, while defective, can be "instruments of salvation."
I believe in God's grace, but I also believe that grace is expressed in His ultimate gift to us in Christ The Savior. I believe we can't have God's grace unless we admit our sins and accept Christ's sacrifice for us.

That being said, I know God sometimes uses people of little or no faith to do His will. In Joshua 2, the pagan prostitute Rahab gave shelter and protection to a pair of spies sent into Jericho. However, she had heard of God's mighty deeds, as Joshua 2:8-11 (NIV) points out:
Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, "I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
So, she at least had the Fear of God in her... or respect for Him.

What worries me is that many Christians don't have either this fear or respect. God gives us free will and latitude in many things, and we are all commanded to love our neighbors and our enemies. However, how is this love defined? Is it defined as unconditional acceptance of what others do, or caring enough about somebody to straighten them out if they're on the wrong path?

Christ had a famous moment of righteous indignation as recounted in Matthew 21:12-13 (NIV):
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"
Jesus wasn't subtle with people who had a reputation for ripping off the faithful. We shouldn't let others spiritually rip us off by watering down our obedience for God in the name of tolerance -- especially if they are believers.

1 John 2:3-6 (NIV):
We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands. The man who says, "I know Him," but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys His word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.
It looks like we have a lot of work to do as believers. And as I've learned in the year since my baptism, being a devoted Christian isn't easy. I'm far from perfect, and please don't ever let me give you the impression of being the proverbial holier-than-thou person. A fellow believer gave me this verse to commit to memory -- 2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV):
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

Friday, June 20, 2008

History-Making Wedding

Mark the date. Ben Franklin is marrying Betsy Ross on July 3 in Philadelphia. Actually, it's historical interpreters Ralph Archbold and Linda Wilde, but don't tell them we told you that.

Fitting for such a ceremony, Archbold and Wilde will exchange rings engraved with a kite and key and stars and stripes, symbols representing the historic characters they play.

After the ceremony, the couple will head to the historic City Tavern, one of Benjamin Franklin's favorite restaurants, for a private reception with family and friends.
Your humble servant would love to be there for the nuptials, but he is slated to march in Flagstaff's Independence Day parade, in full Continental Army uniform.

So Huzzah to Ben and Betsy! As Franklin himself said: "Marriage is the most natural state of man, and the state in which you will find solid happiness."

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Strange Justice, Eh?

The next time you hear Canadians snort about how much better their justice system is compared to the U.S., you e-mail them this decision from a Quebec court which overturned a father's decision to ground his daughter. The offense? Logging on to Internet sites he tried to block and posting inappropriate pictures.

As AFP reported:
"I started an appeal of the decision today to reestablish parental authority, and to ensure that this case doesn't set a precedent," [The father's lawyer Kim Beaudoin] said. Otherwise, said Beaudoin, "parents are going to be walking on egg shells from now on."
Your Lightning Round staffers find it interesting that this girl used a court-appointed lawyer that had been involved in the parents' ten-year custody dispute. Ten years.

We don't believe in karma, but any set of Mommies and Daddies who argue over possession that long is bound to get slammed. And it looks like the daughter has learned to play the system like a piano... much like American kids.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


This is not a Photoshop gag. An Indonesian man started turning into a tree. (Warning: disturbing images)

It's because of the virus we're all supposed to get a lecture about sometime in our young lives.

Now if he fell in the forest, and nobody saw it, would he actually fall?

Sometimes, You Gotta Drill

Speculation aside, the price of oil isn't going to drop in this country until we start finding more of it. That means we're going to have to suck it up and start drilling offshore.

You don't like looking at oil derricks? Fine. Understandable. But I know you don't like looking at gas station signs either, and there's far more of them.

What do you know about oil drilling? I hope it's nothing like you saw in There Will Be Blood. The gusher days are over, replaced with much more efficient, cleaner, environmentally-friendly ways of extracting oil. But that's right, you didn't think the oil companies were capable of being environmentally friendly, did you?

I wouldn't dream of driving a Hummer. Ferraris aren't my style. Oil hogs belong in the pig sty. But until we get an electric car that's capable of taking me from Tucson to Los Angeles without a long recharge, I'm sticking to something that runs on gas. So let's go out there and find it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

About Tim Russert...

The three-day period of television mourning over the death of "Meet The Press" moderator Tim Russert proves two things: 1) TV journalists love talking about themselves and 2) journalism has lost a heavyweight champion.

I know a lot of you don't understand why NBC and all the cable news networks have devoted hour upon hour to this story. As I asked on Friday, what about all the people evacuated from their flooded homes in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa? Aren't they worthy of a little airtime amid this wake?

But as a sign in Tim Russert's office said, "Thou Shalt Not Whine." Russert didn't. He didn't turn a weekly hour of television into a partisan gripe-fest with guests -- as is the standard for the cable shows. Russert didn't work off of party talking points. If you imploded on his show, it was because he used your own words against you or hit you with the question you were dodging. And if you wanted to be somebody in Washington, you didn't dodge him.

I hear the phrase "tough but fair" uttered consistently in his obituaries. It is like TV political journalism is writing its own obituary, wistful once again for the days of Walter and Edward and Eric. It knows it's too chummy with the insiders, but it can't be a player unless it has the key to the clubhouse door.

Tim Russert's chair is too big for most people to fill. I have two candidates who I think would be right for the job, but I know neither one of them would take it. Whomever NBC chooses to sit there next needs to realize, above anything else, that the moderator is not the star of the show but the advocate for the viewer.

The Father, The Son & The Upgrade

How Dad's love survived a pain in the ASCII.

The job was supposed to take a couple of hours, a steady hand, and minimal mileage. One day later, we were frustrated but hopeful. Two days later, we were frustrated and capitulatory. Three days later, it was finally done, leaving me flummoxed at why my PC upgrading experience failed so spectacularly.

I'd upgraded my father's PC before, a couple of years ago, taking him from an aging Dell Pentium II to a cutting-edge AMD 3200 system. Now, after looking at an electronics-store ad and talking about it, we agreed to move him up to a top-line system for a dirt cheap price by swapping out the motherboard, processor, and memory. Gathering the parts required an hour-long journey from Upland, California to Industry in the usual Los Angeles traffic.

I cleared a space on Dad's workbench and got to work on New Years' Eve. And then, as I noted in my journal:
When I got all the parts together this afternoon and started to put the new AMD quad-core processor into the motherboard, it just wouldn't drop in like it was supposed to. Thats when I took it out and noticed a pin was bent in the middle. Rather than try to unbend it myself, Dad and I took it back to [Store X], where they exchanged it for one with no bent pins, no questions asked. We inspected it and left satisfied.

Late this afternoon, I tried again. It still wouldn't go in. Maybe something was blocking it in the slot. But the slot looked fine. I looked at the chip.

Not again, I groaned. I saw another bent pin -- this time on the outside.

Neither Dad nor I wanted to make another trip to [Store X]. I decided to try to bend it back, using a steady hand, a small screwdriver and a magnifying glass. Dad held the glass while I did the ever-so-gentle bending. After a couple of tweaks, I finally got the chip in the slot with no forcing. With that settled, putting the fan on the processor was a snap, literally. I installed the memory, mounted the motherboard inside the new case we got Sunday and screwed everything in solid. I connected the case wiring and mounted the extra hard drive Dad just bought. It still awaits a smoke test, but that can be done tomorrow.
I thought the hard part was over. I was wrong. Here's my chronicle from the next day, New Years' Day.
I'm still trying to get Dad's computer upgrade to work. This morning started out promising. I had the motherboard set up in the machine, and all I had to do was put in the hard drive and the DVD drive (one of them, anyway). I get it all wired up, turn it on, and I get nothing. Not even a POST.

It may be the power supply, we figure. It's one of the older types that has only a 20-pin connector instead of a 24-pin connector. So we head over to [Store Y] and spend $40 on a nice new one with plenty of cables and wattage and pins. I install it, wire it up, and turn it on again. Again, nothing. No POST.

Not wanting to go out all the way to [Store X] again, we take the board in the box to [Store Y]. They look at it, and they think everything's okay, but they want $80 to do a diagnostic. They also tell us that ECS motherboard we put in there is a cheap motherboard and prone to flakiness. Looks like we're going back to [Store X] again. So Dad and I go back there for the third time now in four days.

Our first stop is their service department. After making us stand in line (not telling us we had to stand in line in the first place, or showing us where the line was), they again wanted money just to do diagnostics on the board. After talking with them about it, they said why not just exchange the board and the processor again. So I pick out a better motherboard, and we go to their exchanges department, where they part out the motherboard we're exchanging and take back the processor.

More waiting, more people punching things into sales computers, more paperwork to sign. But the process is moving forward. Then we have to go to the checkout line to claim the new processor. First, the wait is long: at least fifteen minutes with the gargantuan line. Then we get to the register, and the guy behind the counter first takes the paperwork back to do the exchange, then comes back and says we need to go back to the computer department to claim the processor, contrary to what we were told by the exchanges guy.

I'm getting tired of being shuffled like a deck of cards. "We've been sent three different places already," I said.

Dad is getting tired with the waiting, and he pulls rank.

"This guy," he says, referring to me, "is with 60 Minutes!" A bit of a stretch, but the guy got the hint. He went back and got the goods himself.

Then another guy, presumably a supervisor comes back and says we can't upgrade to the better motherboard, even if we're willing to pay the difference in price, because it's being sold as a bundle.

I'm ticked. "We have done everything you have asked us to do," I said. "We have been here three times in three days."

My Dad's willing to go with another ECS motherboard, if I'm not. Finally, to my chagrin, he exchanges the motherboard with the same model and talks to another supervisor, telling her all we've been through in the past few days. She says we can get the processor tested out before we leave, and we take her up on that offer.

More waiting. The guy in the exchange department tests both the processor and the motherboard. Both check out okay on the bench. Finally, it looks like we're getting somewhere.

We get home around 6:30, three hours after we ventured out again. I put the processor back together with the motherboard, rewire and remount everything. I flip the switch.

Nothing. The darn thing just refuses to POST. Darned if I know why.

It doesn't matter to me that the thing POSTed on the bench at [Store X]. I need it to POST in the case, screwed in, like it's going to be in the real world. Maybe it's shorting out in the case. I unscrewed it and tried to boot it with out it making case contact. Nothing. But I have a feeling that this is a poorly designed motherboard/case combination and I wouldn't want it for a system.

After much venting and frustration with Dad on this, we've decided to go back to [Store X] again, with the board installed in the case and get them to either make it work or give us our money back -- and with no charge for the diagnostics, either.
One day later, we finally had it working, only because my Royal Father took it to a place down the street from our house, with service people who knew what they were doing. He shelled out $120 and the system booted up, justifiably fast. I added a few other drives and cards to the case to finish the upgrade. Somehow, after this labyrinth of headaches, Dad figured he came out ahead in the deal.

This is not the father-son bonding I wanted over the holidays. The Queen Mother was not amused, advising me that I needed to enjoy my time off from the stress of the newsroom rather than trading it in for stress over a computer. The Royal Father didn't hold a grudge, thanking me for all my futile efforts. I've repeatedly fixed mysterous PC issues before, usually within an hour or less, so overall my track record proves I'm no hack.

He continues to depend on me for tech support, and I know in a couple of years, he'll eye another upgrade. I pledge I will carry it out and get it right this time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Good Evening. I'll Be Doing This Job Solo For Awhile."

Be careful with pronouns in news scripts. KPIX-TV's Ken Bastida, or his writer, was not:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Few Steps More

Taking my dancing skills forward with the Tucson Friends Of Traditional Music.

My colonial, three-cornered, black-and-white tricorn lay next to me in the passenger seat like a good friend cheering me on.

I sit in the car a few moments, thoughts flashing back to the night two-and-a-half years ago when I nervously stepped through a side door and into another century wearing breeches with an oversized colonial officer’s coat, head topped by the same tricorn. I say a prayer, take my hat, and walk out into the warm Tucson evening on the last night of May.

Three people stand inside the door of First United Methodist Church, one at the cashbox.

“Is this your first time?” the lady taking admissions asks.

“Yes and no,” I say. “Not here.”

Contra dance is a derivative of English Country Dance, the dance of the 1700’s colonists, of Washington and Pride and Prejudice. I’ve stepped though them many times before, in the full period attire. This night I wear dress shorts and a brown plaid button-down shirt with sneakers, putting myself in line with the advisory on the society’s website: “Casual.”

Inside the sparsely lit ballroom I tally a half-dozen couples in street clothes, tennis shoes and lightweight skirts. No knee pants, no ruffled ball gowns, no wigs or cocked hats, except for the one I brought in. I am not stepping into an antique painting. I feel underdressed. I am not sure why I am here, pushing myself into a group of dancing strangers. I could say I’m curious, and that would be most accurate.

“Newcomers, over here!” our caller announces. She waves a few ladies and gentlemen over for a demonstration of basic steps. A woman in a casual red-laced skirt stands next to me. She’s 20 years my senior, if I have to guess.

Everything is to an eight-count, our caller explains. That’s familiar. We walk back and forth in a few circles to get the hang of it. She demonstrates a swing, and the familiarity ends. It’s not hoe-down swing, elbow to elbow or even a graceful turn of your partner with hands at shoulder level. This is a waltzing swing, taking hold of the lady in your arms and spinning with gusto for as long as you can, perhaps as fast as you can, until the eight-count ends.

You can get dizzy, our caller advises. “Pick out a part of your partner’s face. If you don’t want to look into her eyes, look at her nose.” I’d rather look at her eyes and hold my breath.

A do-si-do is no mere back-to-back maneuver, but another whirling spectacle as you and your partner circle round each other. My partners can whirl for now. I practice swinging my partner.

“I think that’s right,” I say after ending up with her to my right as is proper.

I try a balance with it, stepping forward and back, hand in hand. She smiles. She neither discourages or encourages me. We are learning together.

“You want to dance with as many partners as possible,” says our caller -- another rule not amended from century to century.

The caller announces the first dance and I seek a partner. Men casually approach the women: “Wanna dance?”

This is what passes for honors? As long as that tricorn is on my head, I cannot follow a suit of such inelegant queries. I approach a lady in a t-shirt and skirt, sweep off my hat, and bow with outstretched leg, the Williamsburg way.

She accepts with gusto, and we line up in a longways set. Soon we launch into a centrifugal rollercoaster ride of circles and swings and left-hand stars, progressing up and down the line, gaining just enough breath between figures to continue on for the full dance. I bow to my lady and find another partner, and the next dance feels much like the first, with the moves jumbled up and the whirling and circling just as intense.

The spinning hurls the sense from my brain, and I sometimes lose track of what figure comes next, thus the need for patient and forgiving dancers and a dutiful caller: “Circles!” “Ladies!” “Do-si-do!” “Swing!” The sweat pours down my forehead. This only after two dances. My tricorn is a fan when the music halts.

It may be the lack of air conditioning in the church hall, or the residual warmth of a scorching Tucson afternoon, or my underhydration for such happy exertion, but I desperately need a break. It puts me in the minority of dancers, most of whom are craving more.

Two jugs of spring water stand at attention outside the ballroom, and I graciously down a cup, enjoying the replenishment as I strike up a conversation with one of the men at the door who saw me enter. I note again this is my first time with the group.

“I’m with a group called We Make History,” I say, something I’ll repeat a few times through the night. “We do different dances from different time periods.”

I talk about the different balls and the styles, from seventeenth-century through the Civil War. I mention dancing a stamina-challenging 30-minute long Virginia Reel.

“You know where the reel comes from, don’t you?”

No I don’t. But I’ll take a shot at it.

“Scotland, I think.”

“A lot of reel music is from Scotland, but the reel is from France.”

So the next time I drain my energy stripping the willow or swinging my way up and down the set, I can praise the French for my consumption.

I replenish myself enough to rejoin the other dancers. After taking my place in the set with a new lady, I see my practice partner in the red skirt ducking out the door. She hurries off without any goodbyes. Perchance she was late for another appointment. Maybe two or three whirls around the set fulfilled her need for diversion. Hopefully the gentlemen were not ignoring her.

The experienced contra dancers stand out in every figure. They spin with the grace of ballerinas and frenzy of dervishes. Ladies’ skirts spin up to an immodest degree. The seasoned women pull you to them with a fisherman’s strength, stare straight into your eyes, and silently demand you give them focus during a hearty swing.

“I noticed your eye contact,” one lady says to me. “That’s very contra.”

Other ladies notice what’s above my eyes. They snicker at my three-cornered hat and shake their heads back and forth as we turn together.

“It’s like I’m dancing with somebody on Masterpiece Theatre,” one partner interjects.

Some mistakenly compliment me with a “yaarrr,” to which the Standard Correction follows: “It’s not a pirate hat; it’s a patriot hat!”

I explain why I’m wearing it: bridging the gap between English Country Dancing and its sibling. Lights flick on between their ears -- “oh!” -- as they recall the connection.

The fiddler and pianist play a waltz, and a lady approaches me. “Wanna waltz?”

I merely bow to her.

“I’m not the greatest waltzer,” I repeat, wondering to myself how many times I’ve said that to ladies. “Perhaps you should lead.”

She does. She knows how. I reluctantly look down at my feet to make sure the music and steps line up. I look up, and for a moment, I’m somewhere in the eighteenth century.

“I prefer to give my attention to your face,” I say with a light British tone.

“Oh no! Not the accent,” she grins.

Oh yes, the accent. Viscount Christopher or Christopher the Patriot or Christopher the Colonist fully emerges. Part of him is there through the rest of the evening, as others compliment me on my hat, glance at it or break a smile. They forgive me for my foul-ups and lead me where I need to go. I’m exhausting myself but know my presence is appreciated and welcomed.

The crowd thins as the clock ticks on. The experienced dancers draw from a deep well of energy, but even that runs dry eventually, as couples quietly disappear. By eleven, the hall sits nearly empty, and I find myself without a lady to take in my arms.

I retreat into the past with a freestyle minuet, walking in graceful three-quarter time about the hall. I pivot and weave amongst the couples with hands held open. Somewhere on the sparsely populated wooden floor I picture a lady in full gown, turning with me, a ghost of the past.

“You’re more graceful than a lot of newbies,” the caller compliments.

Those who are left, including me, help reset the tables cleared out before the dance began, and I assist with packing up the sound system. The evening isn’t over until we are all on our merry way.

“We could follow you all the way down the set in that hat,” the fiddler tells me.

Once again, I talk to the man who greeted me at the door and his wife, who I now know as the organizers. They thank me for coming, and we talk more about the dances I’ve done and who’s stepping back in time in Tucson.

“I have full colonial attire,” I say. “Blue satin with breeches and a jabot and a gold-trimmed tricorn.”

They encourage me to wear it one evening, should I so desire.

I’m stunned. “I didn’t want to intimidate anyone,” I explained. “I thought about it, but decided not to.” In the Tucson heat, I’m not sure if I would want to, anyway. But I’m tempted to come back as the unabashed colonial gentleman. I envision the ladies snickering once again over that.

My shins throb. Sunday morning will ache. I need a caffeine fix. But I’ve taken care of the curiosity, and I shall return in my own grace and borrowed time.

Two days later, my right ankle still abhors me. I limp all over the newsroom.

“What happened to you?”

“Saturday night,” I say. “It’s a long story.”

“Did you dance?”

“Oh, yes.”

Thursday, June 5, 2008

And They Didn't Spell My Name Right, Either

A courtroom sketch artist had to re-draw a picture of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed after he complained his nose was too big.

From the AP:
"I heard he said I should compare it to the FBI photo of him," [artist Janet] Hamlin said, clutching a copy of the much-publicized capture photo that showed Mohammed in a T-shirt looking disheveled and unshaven.
Your Lightning Round stringers have since learned that big nose came from the latest Guantanamo bay torture interrogation method -- schnoz-boarding.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama's Choice

As I go to press, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois has just claimed victory as the 2008 Democratic Presidential Nominee. He has every right to crow. He beat racism, pessimism, and Rev. Wrightism. He played the primary game like a chess grandmaster, deploying his operatives into states long before they became important. He reminded us politicians can still inspire. He gave people something to vote for instead of a default anybody-but-Bush figure too often churned out by the DNC, thinking our collective disgust with the current administration is enough to sweep somebody into office.

Senator Hillary Clinton is not conceding, unless you count her new openness to the number two slot. I don't imagine the Obama crew wants to mess with her any more, but the DNC can't ignore the reality of the numbers. The latest polls show Obama beating Sen. John McCain, but Sen. Clinton would beat him by a comfortable margin.

So sometime in the next 48 hours, I imagine a meeting at an undisclosed location with Obama and his council of war across the table from the Democratic godfathers. The conversation from the bigshots will go something like this:

"Congratulations, Senator. You've made history. No matter what the outcome is in November, you will be the first African-American ever to be the presidential nominee of a major party. We know you've worked your tush off to get here, and we wouldn't want to take anything away from your success and organization, but it's time to face some realities as we focus on the big show.

"Your rival is offering to be your running mate. I know that suggestion turns up the noses of your faithful, but she is not going to fade away. More notably, her folks won't fade away either. Look at that stink they raised in Florida last weekend. We as a party cannot afford Sen. Clinton's people griping all summer long about being robbed. We also cannot afford your rival making some smug remark about how we were warned should McCain win this one. And Heaven forbid somebody gives her the idea to run as an independent. Not that we really think she would pull that garbage, but hey, it worked for Joe Lieberman. She's got to be awfully tempted after slugging it out with you these last six months and winning the big states.

"All those hot-pants pundits on the tube say this party needs to come together. Well, duh. But it's not going to happen if you don't throw Hillary a bone, and that bone is gonna haveta be awfully dadgum big. You aren't running against her anymore. You are running against all her minions who would rather kiss Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's behind than vote for you.

"We'll make this simple. If you don't add her to the ticket, our chances for winning are at best 50-50. If you do and we still lose, you have every right to demand we shutter this party and endorse Whizzo the Clown in 2012."

Obama's people will huddle, play out the scenarios, crunch some numbers with the strategists and then come back with some terms and conditions -- mostly conditions like:
  • Sen. Clinton agrees she is on the second half of the ticket, not the first.

  • Sen. Clinton agrees to stop calling her former supporters traitors for flipping their support to the Obama campaign.

  • Sen. Clinton agrees to rein in her husband, threatening to neuter him if he wags his finger at another reporter.

  • Sen. Clinton agrees to let Chelsea be a normal young woman for a change instead of her evangelist. Sen. Clinton and her husband further agree to stop floating rumors of a Chelsea candidacy -- for anything.

  • Sen. Clinton agrees not to say the words "right" "wing" and "conspiracy" together during any TV interview.

  • Sen. Clinton agrees any mention of early morning phone calls shall be limited to annoyances from those friggin' telemarketers.

  • Sen. Clinton agrees to have throat surgery to alter that insidious, nefarious cackle.
And lastly, the Obama camp will reserve one condition for the DNC.
  • The party agrees to change the delegate selection process to a winner-take-all system so we don't have to go through this @%*##@ thing all over again in four years.
I doubt they'll go for the last term, but I'm sure Obama's folks consider it a throwaway clause. Politics is all about compromise.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Unfriendly Skies

I have never seen an industry that hates its customers more than the airlines. They subject us to:
  • Long waits at the ticket counter, which is perpetually understaffed

  • Cancellations, pinball rerouting, tarmac purgatory and other ills of pushing a hub system of interdependent flights to its limit

  • All sorts of tacked-on fees, including American's decision to charge you for your first checked bag, rather than just the brutal honesty of raising fares to keep up with fuel costs

  • Customer service nightmares, such as Ed Cone's experience with flight attendant stupidity and other incidents related by Jeff Jarvis

  • And the latest: possibly charging fliers according to weight, essentially reducing you to just another piece of baggage -- which is pretty much what they've done already
Yet we still continue to fly. We have no choice. We have to be in New York, L.A., Chicago, Kansas City in a matter of hours, and the airlines have us as their captive customers, enslaved to their rickety system.

Even more ironic: most airlines (except Southwest) are in one of four financial states:

1) bankruptcy

2) emerging from bankruptcy

3) flirting with bankruptcy

4) merging to avoid bankruptcy

It astounds me how the airline industry continues to find new ways to lose money, year after year, crowded plane after plane, fee after fee. Only Hollywood accounting is shadier... or Enron's.