Thursday, February 26, 2009

Soldier's Joy

Merry memories of the George Washington Ball, presented by We Make History, as taken from the journal of Private Christopher Francis.

Photographs by Pvt. M. Cynecki

The ladies arrive in waves of two and three, parading through the narrow ballroom door in their 18th Century gowns or modern representations. Strolling about to greet the guests, I catch a stream of elegantly attired children, and I silently remove my tricorn and bow to them in turn as each one passes. Each pauses to return a curtsy.

Groups cluster along the side of the hall, conversing and greeting. I recognize most, but when I turn around, I notice a lady sitting by herself in a satin gown at the far end of the hall. My duty as a gentleman prods me forward.

"Greetings!" I say as I introduce myself as a member of General Washington's Continental Line. "Is this your first ball?"

"Yes," she answers, brightening.

"Do not worry. The dances are easy. If you can walk, you can dance."

The lady, however, knows more than I realize. "You don't recognize me?" she inquires. "I usually dress in black."

My mind pulls together a string of clues, and I lobby a guess. "Would you be Madame Noire?"


My jaw falls open. Blood drains from my face. Without hesitation, I sweep off my cocked hat once more and give reverence as low as my bended right knee will allow, saying not a word until my display of honour is complete.

The lady is no stranger. An admirer of my writings, a certain "Madame Noire" had corresponded with me several times, often sending words of admiration and illustrations of others engaged in my dearest diversion of elegant dance. In one reply, I wished that one day "we may join hands in a joyous and graceful celebration of movement."

"I do agree that a well-rounded gentleman is properly educated in the art and the joy of dance," she wrote in kind.

For months I puzzled over her identity. Who was this charming lady of mystery? Might we someday meet? Only now is my hypothesis proven true. She is the same lady who had graced me with her company a few times between battles, always dressed in a stylish black frock with matching parasol to protect her beauty against the torment of the sun. I knew her signature attire, but not her name. Now the lady and her nom de plume are joined at last. Madame Noire: French for "black."

The hour of commencement arrives for the evening's festivities, but the honoured birthday guest has yet to arrive. Perhaps he is delayed by business at Mount Vernon. Our beloved dancing mistress steps to the front of the hall and summons our celebration to begin, no doubt on the General's order. In honour to America, she leads us in the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem.

As the final words of musical tribute fade into silence, I suddenly burst out with the traditional rallying cry General Washington would have offered if he were leading this charge: "Three cheers for the United States of America!"

The guests enthusiastically follow my command.

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

At that moment, as if on cue, the crowd parts and General Washington emerges from the rear of the hall to warmth and smiles. "Happy Birthday!" greet a few.

He joins hands with Mrs. Washington for the Grand Promenade. I scurry off to find the lady I wish to escort: Madame Noire is unaccompanied, as I had hoped. So we join hands and wind about the ballroom with the others, led by His Excellency, who eventually pauses in place with his beloved to bow to us all in passing.

We end in a ring around the hall, the appropriate formation for Sellinger's Round. Madame is not familiar with the dance, and with its verses and choruses of movement, I sense a challenge before us. She must learn quickly. I must demonstrate to her satisfaction the gentleman of refined words is refined in his footwork.

Our dancing mistress rehearses us once before we begin, and then our flutist and fiddler lead us off. I caper as with much liveliness through numerous figures: setting and siding and arming and prancing back and forth in a circle while fending off the weight of buckled shoes and a thick regimental coat. My partner follows my moves with restrained elegance, no doubt living up to the expectations of a well-bred lady and General Washington's own cardinal rule of civility: "Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present."

I labour to brush aside any errors, caught in the spirit of the dance. When all is finished, and after we have exchanged stately closing reverences, she gives me great compliment: "Your dancing is as beautiful as your writing!"

Following etiquette and my own desires, I seek another lady for the next dance, "The Spaniard," a fitting tribute to some of our allies in the cause of Liberty. It too is a lively caper, danced in long sets with couples changing places along the line and leading down and up the set before engaging in "rights and lefts," a potentially confusing figure. I know its pitfalls, enough to lead my lady -- dressed in a brightly-coloured polonaise -- through uncertainties and mistakes, especially my own.

The knowledge is invaluable when I turn along the line to find the couple next to us has dropped out, along with the one next to them. A huge hole has formed in the set as the struggling dancers have ceded the floor in courtesy. I dance on, reaching out to join hands with invisible couples, and my partner graciously follows. Other couples step up or step in, and the abnormality resolves, albeit with a few more errors along the way until the end, when I thank my lady for her persistence.

I struggle with the allemande left and right. My hands fail to weave into their proper places around my partner. Now, however, is not the time for amateurism, as His Excellency stands next to me in the three-couple set of "Away To The Camp." Our dancing mistress graciously gives us the option to substitute a simpler turn, but my lady expects the motion as called. She is a newcomer, a student all the way from the Netherlands and a quick study. She guides my hands as we dance, and we worry not of mistakes.

Excessive flirting is usually discouraged. Yet the dance all but requires the gentlemen to tossle the ladies' locks as they take hands and parade around them in a line. I do so with care, as does General Washington. The ladies repay us in kind when their chance to parade arrives. Graciously, they avoid tugging my tufty ponytail... unlike a certain colleague of mine.

As I lead the gentlemen, I raise my free hand high in joy.

"Many dancing masters would frown upon this gesture," I say.

"Let your light shine through," His Excellency encourages.

A row of beautiful young ladies stands before us: our 16 American Belles, honoured representatives of the original 13 states and the three that entered the Union during General Washington's presidency. Yet they are more than just charming girls in pretty gowns.

They are ladies of good character, ladies for which we hold high expectations, the General tells us. We care deeply about them, and we wish to honour them because they are worthy of it. But they must begin, he stresses, by honouring themselves, for it is only then that they can insist all others treat them as ladies.

I consider myself honoured to help escort them as His Excellency presents them to the gathering, one by one. Each steps forward and bows, as he presents them a floral gift before a Continental Soldier steps to her side, bowing, and escorting them forth. A British officer also takes part, invited by His Excellency as a sign that we are beyond old hostilities. King George III would approve.

The American Belles now have the privilege of selecting their next partners. They disperse into the crowd, approaching their desired gentlemen and offering their hands.

I stand as the ladies pass by me...

And pass again...



My head sags as if a commanding officer has just hung a sign of punishment around my neck. Am I very wrong in expecting that at least one of these ladies should dance with one of their escorts?

But before hope lies bleeding on the dance floor, one of the young ladies will have me as her dancing companion. She has taught me, among other things, a box step. Together we enjoy "Haste To The Wedding," one of my favourites.

As is tradition, we serenade those celebrating birthdays with a circle dance of "For They're Such Jolly Good Fellows." In good measure, General Washington also leads us in a round of "Happy Birthday."

"On one knee, Christopher."

I obey the command, and fall before them as their musical Romeo.

Outside, I appear the soldier, adept with musket and willing to lay down my life for my Country. Inside, I feel the grace of a gentleman. Any music in three-quarter time brings that passion to the surface, as in "Come, Let's Be Merry."

With a lady who savors as many dances as I can give her, I float through the movements: turning and bowing to the two other couples in the set, casting off to the middle and the end, leading my lady up the centre in a step-in, step-out waltz. We then circle with the others so that a new couple may begin the dance again.

The desire for grace holds firm during the "Duke Of Kent Waltz," especially during a beautiful move known as a balance. My lady and I join by the left hand, step to and away from each other, and then I twirl her gently underneath my arm so that we change places. We repeat the move for the other arm. Opportunities come to turn our corners and then our partners before starting over again with right- and left-handed stars. My spirits are lifted as is my free hand during the turning steps. I walk with a slight dip of the knees -- perhaps a silent longing for a minuet -- as I venture round.

Nothing can displace me from this sphere of dreamlike bliss.

"We have a request for something we have not done in awhile," His Excellency announces. "The Shoe Dance."

But, he adds, we are going to do it differently. Instead of the ladies removing one shoe in the centre of the ballroom for the gentlemen to chase down, the gentlemen shall be the ones to cast off their footwear. I remove one of my pewter-buckled brogans, hoping the lady who finds it will not be perplexed at the mysterious cushions inside and ask, "Who in this room, pray tell, is Doctor Scholl?"

The ladies line up in formation. They are not used to the military drill, but General Washington gives the orders.

"Fix bayonets!"

"Present arms!"

Out of his eyesight, I hold a musket of air, demonstrating to the ladies the proper manual of arms.


They race for the centre with restrained bravado, unlike the gentlemen who would fall all over themselves to pluck a shoe from the pile. The ladies hold up their prizes, beckoning forth their new dancing partners in this inverted Cinderella story. A young lady finds me and we head a set for "Soldiers' Joy" -- albeit a version substituting stars for the challenging "hey for three." No one disparages the change.

The tradition of delicious prizes for lucky guests results in a curious award. The name of our Dutch guest is drawn for a tin of Dutch cookies. Those treats traveled as far as she did, His Excellency notes.

But the most curious of award pairings is yet to come.

General Washington holds up a box of Belgian chocolate truffles, noting the gift wrapping for Valentines' Day. If this goes to a married person, he notes, we would hope that person would share.

A name is drawn at random. And the chocolates go to...

"Private Christopher Francis!"

"HUZZAH! HUZZAH! HUZZAH!" I cry, incredulous as I walk up to claim my prize. His Excellency embraces me, and he must now explain this astonishing development.

"Christopher is an eligible bachelor," he says, and he notes many eager matchmakers in the crowd. "Perhaps this is an omen!"

Perhaps. It is like catching the bouquet at a wedding. But I also know The LORD's plan for me might not include a wife. And yet a friend once told me, "First you find your Master, then you find your mission, and then you find your mate."

For now, however, I refrain from puzzling over the message.

"You can never tell!" I exclaim of the future, holding my box of truffles in one hand while fluttering my tricorn with the other.

See and read more of the lively evening here!

NEXT: Belles In The Night

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Flowers Of Edinburgh

Learning a Scottish country dance at this past weekend's Celtic Festival in Phoenix:

A most humble bow to the lady in the crowd who kindly took these pictures at my request.

And now that I think of it, the Highland Ball is less than six months away!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Medley Of Merriment

Dearest Readers, the George Washington Ball is this evening! As always, an account shall follow. For now, feast your eyes upon the Germantown County Dancers and their variety of lively dances. Notice also how they enjoy sharing their joys with newcomers. Why keep a wonderful diversion to oneself?

Remember, keep your shoes buckled and practice your honours!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Waltz Your Cares Away

More than 5,000 people danced at Vienna's Opera House for this year's Opera Ball, recession or not, as AFP reports:
The glitzy opening ceremony featured the dance of the debutantes, 160 young couples making their debut in Vienna's high society.

Then, with the words "Alles Walzer" (Everybody Waltz), the floor was opened up to the other guests -- Austria's political, business and social elite all dressed to the nines in tailcoats and ballgowns -- who waltzed to the strains of "The Blue Danube."
Here's a look from ZIB24 (with German narration):

"Crisis? What Crisis?" asks the lede of the AFP story. (FYI, that's also the title of a 1975 Supertramp album.) The implication is that now is not a time for revelry. But I argue, Dearest Readers, we need it now as we always have. If anything, it reminds us that the joy of fellowship shall carry us through even the darkest hours.

Candlelight Company

Dearest Readers, in my perusal of available YouTube material related to my dearest diversion, I have found something that probably best captures the flavor of an assembly -- that is a ball for those of you living two centuries ahead of me -- from the 1700's. Notice the candlelit atmosphere, or at least a believable facsimile thereof.

Here you shall see snippets of three dances, the first one being one of my favourites, "Haste To The Wedding!" I cannot place the others for now, though I am sure I have danced one of them at some time, perhaps at the George Washington Ball!

Of course, the dancers of the 1700's would not have needed a caller. Remember, you would have been dancing every week, learning at will. If someone called for a dance unfamiliar, someone would quickly explain the figures to you, and you would carry on with little or no prompting. Perhaps there would be a few errors, but likely not!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Let Us Be Lively!

Dearest readers, are your shoe buckles tightened? I have shown you several dances of stateliness and grace in preparation for the George Washington Ball, but the dances of old England and the new Colonies were not always so elegant. Let us look to the lower classes now and dial our timepieces back about 150 years to the late Renaissance, where the ladies and gentlemen let their dancing hearts run wild and loved every moment of it.

Here are the Newcastle English Country Dancers:

What? An encore?


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Turn Or Two, Or Three For Thee

You say simplicity is not your forte? Well then, dearest readers, I present you something more adventurous in advance of the George Washington Ball.

Watch as this group dances "Prince William" in a three-couple set.

Do you feel a bit dizzy? I blame you not. I recall many dances which involved numerous turns and swings and circles where I briefly lost my place. Fortunately, the kind ladies were always glad to help me find it again!

I have never danced this particular number. It is one of the most complex dances I have ever seen, something only performed when you have a room full of highly experienced dancers. That highly intricate procession you see at the beginning of the dance is called a Mirror Hey. Just learning a regular hey -- a figure-eight progression involving groups of three or four -- is plenty challenging. Many people, including your humble servant, have trouble with it. Also notice the turning along the diagonals of the set and the casting off around the other dancers.

'Tis beautiful to watch, one must concede. Someday I hope to possess such skill to carry me through such highly detailed merriment without a map.

Thanks, Harry, For Clearing That Up

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid found a new tax loophole, and after watching this video, I'm afraid it's one between his ears.

In this video from last year, watch him try to explain to interviewer Jan Helfeld that paying income taxes is voluntary because the IRS allows deductions.


Cringe we must, but at least this video is a wonderful teaching tool. We'll show it to government classes in future lessons on "Washington double-speak."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ye Need Not Many To Make Merry

The George Washington Ball approaches! So please allow me regale you this week with some more examples of my dearest diversion -- historic dance, that is.

Could one enjoy a stately caper without benefit of a grand ballroom? Does my hat have three corners? Of course! Watch as two couples demonstrate a simple colonial dance in the parlor of a historic home in Berks County, PA.

Dearest readers, note the simple, symmetrical patterns: circle right, circle left, right-hand star, left-hand star, "1" couple leads down and back and then casts off behind the "2" couple, and begin again with the "2" couple now the "1" couple. Ordinarily, this is a dance one would see in a long set with many more couples. The "1" couples would progress down the set until reaching the end, and the "2" couples would move up towards the musicians. Yet it scales wonderfully to a simple dance among friends at an informal gathering.

I make example of this, my friends, for this is exactly the kind of dance I would teach to a newcomer learning the graceful arts of the ballroom. One much encourage the aspiring dancer with the beauty of uncomplicated movement before advancing to the fancy figures. As our Shaker friends say, "'Tis a gift to be simple!"

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kind Hearts And Courtly Gestures

For the fraction of you keeping track of whether I have a lady in my life or not this Valentine's Day, the answer is "not." I've written before about God giving me clarity on relationships with ladies, and that clarity still stands -- albeit sadly at times. Yet every so often, I meet someone who brings me unexpected warmth.

I encountered "Lady B" at a Robert Burns supper last month in Tucson, meaning the first time ever she saw my face, it was framed by my Scottish attire: blue bonnet, white cockade, red weskit, Royal Stewart kilt and plaids, red and white diced hose, and a silver Cameron clan kilt pin. She wore a nice semi-formal dinner dress and a contagious personality. Lady B was old enough to be my grandmother but young enough to radiate vigor. I sat at a table of eight, surrounded by seven other members of her family who received me with friendly respect. They happily posed with me for a few pictures, several at Lady B's invitation.

Maybe it was my Highland dress, or my beloved 18th Century manners of bowing and prefixing sentences with "My Lady" and "Good Sir." I gather they were fascinated with my short story of wandering from Missouri to Texas to Arizona through the course of my news producing career. I hope I inspired them by showing them how living history had "got me back to God." Lady B was inspired by something else.

"Do you know Barbara Grijalva?"

Yes I do, I told her. I work with her every day.

She lit up like the wick of a lamp encountering fresh oil. She told me of Barbara's husband, a postal worker, and how much he cared for and her two daughters -- both deaf. Lady B signed out of habit as she talked, telling me of this kind man who brought the mail and so much more.

The evening progressed through dinner and dessert to entertainment, as we watched the pipers play and the Scottish singers and dancers regale us. I pined for an opportunity, an invitation to the audience to partake of some reel or even the Gay Gordons, but that chance never came. I could only clap for encouragement.

Lady B was loving every moment of it, the joy of Celtic culture lifting her spirit beyond the ceiling. By the time we sang "Auld Lang Syne" to close the evening, she was not content to see me standing solo.

"Chris, get over here!" she called, demanding I join hands with her and the relatives for that song of days gone by usually crooned only once a year.

Afterward, she repeated what she had said to me several times that night: "I'm so glad you sat with us!" She hugged me and I bowed to her in my low, courtly manner -- head down, arched low, one foot in front of the other. She honored me with compliments again, and again I bowed.

"My lady," I said, perplexed. "You do me too much credit!"

She found it hard to leave, but her friends and family saw her out into the pleasant January evening. I don't know if I'll ever see her again.

As I said, God gave me clarity. He also gave me this desire for chivalrous love before erotic love. I find it much more fulfilling.

I love to honor the ladies.

I love being a gentleman.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lessons From Behind The Big Desk

A few years ago, a news director and I were talking about the problems associated with hiring another producer for our station. The process wasn't going as smoothly or as simply as I thought it should. My boss agreed.

But he had to sit on his hands for reasons he couldn't disclose. "When you get to be on this side of the desk," he told me, "you'll understand."

President Barack Obama is reaching that understanding from his side of the desk as he gets ready to finally sign a hard-fought stimulus package. The struggle demolished whatever visions of bipartisanship he held before taking office. Republicans are still going to be Republicans, Democrats will still be Democrats, and partisan politics is here to stay. Towards the end, President Obama learned he would have to play the game by the old rules, as evidenced in his first prime-time press conference:
Now, my administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing little or nothing at all will result in even greater deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence.

Those are deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe, and I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work.
And what about partisan bickering? Just as pork is in the eye of the beholder, so is partisanship, as Nancy Peolsi indicated to Katie Couric:
We had an election and it was about a direction for our country. We have strong philosophical difference in the Congress. This isn't inner-party bickering; this is major difference of opinion on philosophy, on how our country should go forward.

We reject the failed Bush Administration economic policies, which got us where we are today. The proposals that the Republicans put forth were more of the same. We will not go back.
So much for post-partisan America. If you want to be post-partisan, don't join political parties. Don't vote for them. But sadly, that's next to impossible given political realities. The president is learning all about it on the job.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Switch Delayed

President Obama has signed a bill delaying the switch to digital TV until June 12 so more people can get their converter boxes and new TV's with digital tuners. I have mixed feelings, and so does our general manager at KOLD-TV.

Jim Arnold tells Tucson Weekly's John Schuster:
"The electricity alone will cost our company $245,000 a month by not being able to turn off our analog transmitter," said Arnold. "People get so angry with KOLD and thousands of other stations when the government has forced us to go digital. We've already (collectively) invested more than $100 million in going from analog to digital. That was $100 million we had to spend, because Congress told us we had to: 'We can auction off your old frequency.'"

In Arnold's view, the government forced television stations to pay for the upgrade so the feds could make money on those frequencies from phone companies.

"The other people are making it sound like those frequencies are being used for emergency services. Part of that is true," Arnold said. "The part that Congress doesn't tell you about is they're going to auction off the other frequencies to try to raise money, to sell to phone companies and things like that. ... I think it was a congressional money grab. I had someone tell me the TV stations should have the guts to tell Congress we're not going to do this, end of story. (But) we're licensed by the government."
This is why I shake my head at people who complain that the government didn't force broadcasters to pay for the digital channel assignments on top of everything else.

However, the delay does give us time to work out some problems with our signal coverage in Tucson -- like a big hole on the northwest side where Pusch Ridge blocks our digital signal coming from Mt. Bigalow, a problem shared by all Tucson TV stations. We're working on a fill-in transmitter. Stay tuned.

Lincoln's Personal Emancipation

Historian Matt Dallek writes a column in today's New York Post which casts President Abraham Lincoln in a different -- and troubling -- light on his 200th Birthday:
During a campaign debate with his opponent Stephen Douglas, Lincoln explained defensively that he actually never had "been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races." He added, "I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people... I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."
But hold on. Read on. Dallek points out Lincoln's thinking evolved beyond the popular beliefs of the day to beget the Emancipation Proclamation and a new definition of freedom for all.

People change. People learn. People don't get it, and then they do. President Lincoln knew all about second chances... and third and fourth ones. He lost several runs for office, and when he did win the presidency, it was in a four-way race with 40 percent of the vote. "That's not a mandate," as Bob Dole would later say about Bill Clinton's plurality win in 1992. But today, people look upon the man who saved the nation, freed the slaves, and demanded reconciliation for the former Confederacy and think: Greatest. President. Ever.

All this came from imperfect beginnings. If only we could say the same of other politicians who start flawed and stay flawed, or worse, start promising and submit to corruption.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What Happens In Vegas...

Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman wants President Obama to apologize for having the audacity to say companies getting federal bailout money shouldn't be taking trips to Sin City on the public dime. AP Reports:
Oscar Goodman spoke after a regular scheduled meeting with tourism officials where he expressed concern that federal lawmakers might be discouraging travel to the city.

"What's a better place, as I say, than for them to come here," Goodman told KLAS-TV. "And to change their mind and to go someplace else and to cancel —- and at the suggestion of the president of the United States -— that's outrageous."
Of course, Mayor Goodman is a paradigm of accountability and business ethics after a legal career defending outstanding figures like Meyer Lansky, "Tony The Ant" Spilotro and Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal.

Making A Federal Case Out Of It

Comcast Cable is turning the investigation of the now-infamous Super Bowl porn interruption over to the FBI. Its own investigation found no technical mistakes on its end, no runs, no drips, no errors. The cabler is convinced somebody hacked in.

But who has the skill and equipment to pull it off? Very few. "Captain Midnight," the video pirate who jammed HBO's signal in 1986, turned out to be John R. MacDougall, a Florida electronic engineer. He used his on-the-job tools as an uplink technician to briefly knock the network off the air.

I won't speculate who has the necessary parts to jam a cable system. But technically, it's not hard. I remember when TCI (now Time-Warner Cable) in Columbia, Missouri, brought its production truck over to televise a conference at the MU School of Journalism. The production folks plugged into the cable system and used an empty channel to transmit raw live coverage back to the head-end, where it was put on another channel for cablecast. If you know what you're doing, you can adapt the technology for nefarious purposes.

Bringing the feds into the case is a necessity, because cable TV systems are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. However, don't expect hard time for the culprit. Captain Midnight ended up paying only a $5,000 fine on top of probation after a plea bargain -- and his stunt affected cable subscribers across the country.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pork Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

When is pork not pork? When it's in a stimulus package as opposed to a budget bill.

The AP's Calvin Woodward analyzed President Obama's statements just before his prime-time news conference:
OBAMA: "I know that there are a lot of folks out there who've been saying, 'Oh, this is pork, and this is money that's going to be wasted,' and et cetera, et cetera. Understand, this bill does not have a single earmark in it, which is unprecedented for a bill of this size. ... There aren't individual pork projects that members of Congress are putting into this bill."

THE FACTS: There are no "earmarks," as they are usually defined, inserted by lawmakers in the bill. Still, some of the projects bear the prime characteristics of pork - tailored to benefit specific interests or to have thinly disguised links to local projects.

For example, the latest version contains $2 billion for a clean-coal power plant with specifications matching one in Mattoon, Ill., $10 million for urban canals, $2 billion for manufacturing advanced batteries for hybrid cars, and $255 million for a polar icebreaker and other "priority procurements" by the Coast Guard.
What bothered me more was this, from his prime-time news conference:
It is absolutely true that we can't depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life.

It is only government that can break the vicious cycle, where lost jobs lead to people spending less money, which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that's moving through Congress is designed to do.
I have trouble with the words "it is only government that can break the vicious cycle." I still believe the private sector can heal itself if the money is spent in the right places and the tax cuts go where they need to.

We didn't spend our way out of the Great Depression -- ultimately WWII's wartime industry demand ended that. A lot of people are starting to see the pork in the package and they're letting Congress know they don't want it, stimulating or not. It's no surprise the Republicans are emboldened by that and are refusing to sit this one out. The party people put in the trash can a few months ago now has a new mission as the party of fiscal responsibility, and working under that mission statement, they can start to repair the damage from the Bush years.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

There Will Be Blood Suckers

We always knew Microsoft had bug issues, but now they've spread beyond its software, according to the Daily Mail:
Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft and a renowned philanthropist, let loose a swarm of mosquitoes at a technology conference in California to highlight the dangers of malaria.

‘Malaria is spread by mosquitoes,’ the Microsoft founder yelled at a well-heeled crowd at a technology conference in California.

’I brought some,’ he added. ‘Here, I’ll let them roam around – there is no reason only poor people should be infected.’
Fortunately, none of the 'skeeters carried malaria -- or bubonic plague, for that matter.

If they did, Gates is offering a free download next Tuesday to fix the problem. However, all infected people must make sure their settings are properly enabled to recieve this critical update.

Sarah, Sarah, Storms Are Brewin' In Your Eyes

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is still ticked off about a lot of things, including bloggers and rumors and the media.

From the AP:
She said reporters continue to question whether her 9-month-old son, Trig, is actually the child of her 18-year old daughter Bristol from a secret previous pregnancy.

“I’ll tell you, yesterday the Anchorage Daily News, they called again to ask — double-, triple-, quadruple-check — who is Trig’s real mom,” Palin told Esquire. “And I thought, ’Okay, more indication of continued problems in the world of journalism.”’
I can understand the frustration over a lie that won't die, but at least give the paper credit for checking its information. Running with a rumor would have been faster and easier, but I'd like to think most of us are still dedicated to professionalism, even if you don't.
Palin said she named Bristol in part for Bristol, Conn. — home of the sports network ESPN.

“When I was in high school, my desire was to be a sportscaster,” she said. “Until I learned that you’d have to move to Bristol, Connecticut. It was far away. So instead, I had a daughter and named her Bristol.”
What if she had a desire to be on the Food Network?

Chew On This

Here's another example of the idiocy of health insurance regulations.

An Arizona appeals court is ordering the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) to pay for dentures after talking out of both sides of its mouth.

The Arizona Daily Star reports:
Those rules, which mirror state law, say the program will provide dentures when they are “medically necessary.”

But the agency also adopted a rule which says that the inability to chew food, by itself, does not make the artificial teeth medically necessary. Instead, AHCCCS took the position someone without teeth can survive with a totally liquid diet.

Attorneys for AHCCCS defended the rule, saying the statute requiring “medically necessary” dentures says nothing about eating or chewing.
So in the mind of an AHCCCS attorney, gummin' is good enough.

Right now, I am going rounds with my health insurance company over payment for an assistant surgeon who repaired my shattered right arm. Said company has, for no discernible reason, turned up its nose and said, "Your contract doesn't allow for that." If one of those bureaucrats or paper pushers had seen the state of my arm, he'd agree there was no way the job could have been done without some help in the ER.

Or maybe not. Maybe he would have said an intern could have handled it. I'd expect this pretzel logic from an HMO, not a PPO.

But in Arizona, where our legislature consistently cuts education funding, it's par for the course.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tristan's Logic

Tristan Kingsley apologized to the parents of Tucson for showing up in a pornographic movie clip that mysteriously popped up during the Super Bowl on sets connected to Comcast Cable of Pima County.

I can accept the apology, but I can't understand how a mother of two reconciles her responsibilities as a parent with her career as a porn star. Her explanation:
"You know what? We all have sex. If we're an adult, guaranteed we've all seen a [certain part of the male anatomy] at some point," she said. "I'm sorry to all the parents, other than that we're all grown adults."
In other words, everybody does it, so why is everyone so uptight about it?

It's because we hate to see sex cheapened. We hate to see the effects of that on our society. No need to make you a list.

Ultimately, Kingsley is going to have to explain her career choice to her kids -- who are 2 and 4 right now. I want to know if she will recommend the skin-flick business to them.
"I would never want my kids to see that," Kingsley said.
She can say that now, but what about later, when she has to rectify the double standard?

Tristan Kingley's logic says parents don't always have to be a role model for your children. If they're too young to comprehend, it's all right to misbehave. Kingsley doesn't say whether she plans on another career choice soon. We can pray she does.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterback

A few thoughts on yesterday's big game:

* My vote for biggest play: Pittsburgh's James Harrison interception and 100-yard runback for a touchdown. It reminded us anything's possible in football and gave us hope the Cardinals could pull off a miracle in the final seconds. So what if they didn't? Next season is only six months away.

* NBC's cameras were in the right place on two reversed calls, both challenged by Arizona. Instant Replay saves the day.

* Can we go ahead and book Bruce Springsteen for next year's halftime show? And let's extend halftime by 10 minutes.

* Jennifer Hudson's performance of the National Anthem -- albeit lip-synched -- was the best since Whitney Houston's in 1991. Versions will be hitting iPod's very soon, legal or illegal.

* Favorite commercials: Budweiser's Clydesdale ads. Least favorite:'s. Enough hormones, already.

* Biggest Celebration Moment (for Cardinals fans): Larry Fitzgerald's splitting the Steeler defense for a 64-yard TD run. "And he... could... go... all... the WAAAAAAAYYYYY!"

* Biggest embarrassment: If you watched the game in the Tucson area, and you had Comcast cable, you saw 30 seconds of porn hacked into the telecast. I was watching at a Super Bowl party at my church, and fortunately, somebody switched away within seconds before the nasty stuff hit the big screens for all the kids to see. Nobody knows who's behind this hack or how it happened... yet.

Extreme Makeover: Foreclosure Edition

Josh Brodesky of the Arizona Daily Star offers an alternative as the cast and crews of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition do their thing for a Tucson family:
With each city stop, my version of the show would partner with a local non-profit agency such as the Primavera Foundation, which has a goal to assist 125 first-time home buyers in Tucson this year. Most of these families live on modest incomes, and most of them are considering buying foreclosures.

Instead of swooping in and out of town to build one sprawling upscale home, my version of the show would remodel 20 of those foreclosed properties, making sure they have good roofs, quality plumbing and wiring, and working heating and cooling. Volunteers would rush to help. Materials would be donated. Foreclosures would be taken off the market.

It wouldn't be as sexy as building a sprawling upscale home, and the ratings probably wouldn't be great, but it's the kind of work that could go a long way toward improving people's lives and changing the housing crisis we all are facing.
It's ironic to note, as the Star article points out, that at least two of the show's super-sized makeovers have gone into foreclosure, arguably because the receiving families haven't been able to pay the increased property taxes and utilities from owning a monster-sized house.

But let us remember: Extreme Makeover is only partly about helping families. The other part is about wowing people with homes they'll never be able to afford. For the record, I'll take Habitat For Humanity and its humble abodes with sweat-equity requirements.