Sunday, July 31, 2011

Just A Reminder -- You Voted For These People!

Well, maybe you didn't, and it's likely you're just as disappointed and angry as I am at Congress right now. I am not about to blame you, the voters, for the debt debacle currently occupying this nation, but you get what you vote for.

What you voted for was partisanship, because you voted for people who belong to them. You voted for Democrats, Republicans and Tea Partiers. Sensible people are part of these political organizations, but rational, well-behaved statesmen and women don't hold power anymore. They're fortunate to get elected in the first place.

The priority should be country first, party second. But as I have said before, partisanship has become a false religion, one that covets power above everything and values ideological street cred above what's best for the country. I honestly believe some those creatures in Washington desire some form of a default as a nuclear option, thinking if they play their hand right, their opposition will curl up and die. It doesn't matter if the rest of us go down for the count. That's not leadership, that's arrogance, and all parties do it. Let me repeat that: all parties do it.

So once again, I say we should've listened to George Washington, who said in his farewell address:
"However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."
What's the solution? Stop voting for anybody who's associated with a political party. Don't vote for Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers or Libertarians. Given how that eliminates just about everybody, I would rather write in a non-partisan candidate than vote for any partisan, at least for Congress. I would encourage you to do the same, if you're as fed up as I am. Remember, you're still voting. Do not let anybody tell you that a vote for somebody outside the two-party majority is a wasted vote.

I wish we had some better system to get more independents to run for office. Unfortunately, campaigning costs money, and the parties are tremendous fundraising machines, if nothing else. Arizona's Clean Elections system is no panacea, either, even though the state is registering a growing number of independents. A single open primary would help clean up the mess, but I don't expect it to happen.

You can do something besides vote independently, however. You can pray independently. GOD, thankfully, is not a Republican or a Democrat... or a Tea Party member. GOD is GOD. Pray that our partisans start asking for GOD's wisdom, or using what GOD already gave them (James 1:5). GOD doesn't play politics, and it's about time our politicians took the hint.

Reel To Reel: Cowboys & Aliens

Riders in the sky.

Going Rate: Worth matinee price
Starring: Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Western violence, mild profanity, one partially naked lady

Until now, the closest mashup I've seen between the wild west and a wild visitor from outer space was that time the 1st Virginia shot down that flying saucer in Poland Junction. We should've called it Confederates And Aliens. But now the war's over, or is it? An invasion force is taking over the range in this hybrid of Alien, Independence Day, Super 8 and Unforgiven.

Lone wolf Jake Lonergan (Craig) wakes up in the middle of the New Mexico desert with a nasty wound, a mysterious bracelet on his wrist, and no memory of how either got there. He heads for the nearby town of Absolution, a dying gold-rush town run by Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). The colonel's son is a habitual troublemaker, but he goes too far after an encounter with Lonegran. The son ends up in jail, and eventually Lonergan joins him after we find out he's a fugitive who's been robbing coaches for gold. Just when Colonel Dolarhyde comes to bust his son out of jail, Cowboys And Aliens ceases to be a conventional western. Alien spaceships fly in, blowing things up and lassoing earthlings like in that old video game Defender. Now it's up to Lonegran and Dolarhyde to find out what's happening to the town and to their people.

Craig's Lonergan will no doubt remind a lot of people of Clint Eastwood in one of Sergio Leone's movies -- the mysterious stranger with almost no name, but who can handle a gun like nobody else on the planet. So I guess it's understandable when we see how quickly he learns how to use the bracelet stuck to his wrist. Cowboys And Aliens doesn't waste time meditating on its own surrealism; it deals with trouble in the best way possible for people with saddles and six-guns. We know an armed posse poses little chance against space invaders with blasters, but the characters don't know that. To borrow from another western, they have true grit.

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, the premise looked silly, one of those awful studio ideas that make it onto film because it provides a vehicle for effects. However, Cowboys And Aliens is a well-acted adventure that straddles two genres without parodying either one. I can lay a lot of that at the feet of Ford and Craig, and director John Favreau (Iron Man) deserves some props.

Some people will roll their eyes at this film, thinking aliens have no business in 1870's America simply because science fiction or aliens as we know them hadn't been invented yet. That's two-dimensional thinking in a four-dimensional universe for a movie that's not in three-dimensions.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

It's On!

After a hot, sweaty, opening skirmish, the 2nd Virginia gets an invitation to take the lead role, and this time, your humble servant is along for the fight.

Darkness envelops the camps, pierced by a stray headlight from a vehicle delivering supplies to the moonlit tent cities. Police and security buzz the perimeter of the camp, situating themselves for a long day of crowd control. Not even a stray snore cuts through the soupy morning air.

I enter our camp, jacket in hand. I am the first to arrive. I thought at least a few officers would already be here, even before the morning bugle. A few soldiers sleep in the tents. The rest of us have spent the night at a nearby hotel. Re-enacting lets you pick and choose your level of submersion into the military way of life. A cool bed and a cold shower are well-accepted amenities.

The wake-up trumpet sounds across the camps just minutes after three of our officers arrive. "That's a good bugler," one notes as he sits in the darkness.

"I need to visit the sutlers," I say to them. "I lost my kepi on the way in."

"We found one," another replies. "It was lying in the road." I'm not 100 percent sure it's mine, but it fits.

The others stroll in as morning rises to meet us. It's going to be another tough one: high humidity. High heat. However, there's a 40 percent chance of showers. Ordinarily, this would be something we would root for, but not with the tents. Rain means mold. Mold means hours of scrubbing down stained canvas.

This time, I'm rested and ready. My hydration is at a level that will let me function through the sticky Virginia day. I'm ready to come to Stonewall Jackson's aid.

"Officer in the camp!" a voice calls. All of us stop what we're doing, rise up out of our chairs and snap to a salute to the commander who has just walked inside our perimeter.

He calls over our Colonel for a discussion. The two converse outside our hearing as we go about our morning business, sitting and drinking water and making sure we have our supplies in order for the day's battle. Before long, we learn those battle plans are changing.

Most of the 33rd Virginia is gone this morning, deciding not to battle another day of humidity along with the Federals. What's more, one of their commanders has had a medical emergency. A few remain, but some other battalion has to step into their lead role and absorb the holdouts.

Our Colonel huddles us up for a morning meeting. We are more than happy to fill the spot, but the commander giving us the invitation has a request for us: we need to shed our grey wool shell coats. The 33rd Virginia didn't wear them; we actually need blue shirts on instead. The officer making the request, however, understands we may not have the time or cash to invest a spur-of-the moment wardrobe change. Our white shirts will do nicely.

The lead role in the battle will bring other advantages besides less wool to sweat in: we will get an earlier starting time, meaning we will finish earlier and be able to start packing up sooner. We will have less time standing around waiting to be sent in as reinforcements. We'll fire more shots. Everybody will see more action.

"You're in my company," one of the captains says, noticing my pacing as I itch for battle. "And I'm ordering you to sit down and don't overheat."

I remove my old reliable 1861 Springfield musket from its sack. It has rusted a bit on the outside after the trip from Arizona, but it looks all right. During inspection, though, it fails to cock properly, meaning it's no good for battle. I figure rust may have invaded the lock, meaning the hammer won't hold where it's supposed to. If we had more time, I could take it apart and clean it out with some help from one of several gun experts in the camp. But we have to form up and march out. I swap my Springfield for a loaner Enfield from the regimental armory. I could learn to like this weapon: it's lighter and easier to carry on a long march.

"Yeah," the recruit in the file right of me agrees. "It's that's thinner barrel."

We are among the first Confederates to take the battlefield. No standing around waiting for something to happen.

"Prone!" barks a commander. At least, that's what it sounded like. I have never heard the command before. I don't know if he called "Prone!" or "Prime!" or something else, but it means get down on the ground, out of sight, out of range.

For the next 15 minutes, we lay in the grass, sneaking a glance at the Yankee standards hundreds of yards away, peaking out over the tall grass that is rife with spiders, ticks, grasshoppers and hornets. A monster stinging insect nearly buzzes my face. I'm glad the horses haven't trotted through this area before us.

A lady walks between our laid-out ranks delivering ice to anybody who holds out their kepi. I stretch it back to her, and the cubes she deliver go down my shirt and into my mouth, the rest melting into the cap for a cooldown.

Any moment now, we're going to get the order to advance.

When we do, the next 15 minutes rushes by in a stew of shooting, moving and firing. We gain major ground quickly, taking the Yankee artillery. But then we head towards stalemate, hyphenated by my own frustration as I pinch musket caps to get them to fit on the Enfield's smaller nipple. Across from us stand a persistent line of Federals in red shirts, and they just aren't going down.

It takes twice as long for me to fire, but commanders are prodding us: "Load, boys, load!" My Captain sees me rushing to get loaded and slows me down. "Take your time," he says in a low voice. "Don't rush it." Maybe he sees me turning red again like yesterday. The only thing heating up is the gun barrel. The Springfield disperses heat very well. The Enfield is holding it in.

We push on. We fall back. The ranks grow ragged as we rush to form up.

"Dress this line!" I call, trying to help my brothers in arms keep in line.

"Somebody needs to take a hit!"

Comrades to the right and left of me go down on volleys, and we pull them back up again as we advance, recycling them back into the unit. Nobody wants to lie around and play dead in a battle this large and exciting. Do it right, and the crowds don't even know it. Still, about a dozen mock casualties litter the space between us and them. At least one whips out a pocket camera and covertly squeezes off a few frames around himself. A couple of men in period attire dart between the lines, huddled over small video cameras. Official souvenir DVD's will be out in a few weeks.

Pressing on after shooting off some 30 or so rounds, we drive the Federals back behind the tree line -- and they've left us some booty.

"Plunder that water supply!" our Colonel barks.

Cases of Nestle water bottles sit in the open, waiting to be devoured. We break ranks, grabbing and drinking as much as we can before falling back into line for the next order to advance.

In front of us, the cavalry units are charging and putting on a show, one barely visible to people in the bleachers. A few more lines advance, and then just as suddenly as it began, it's all over.

"That's it, boys, the Yankees are leaving," a commander says.

And so are the crowds. Whether it's the heat, or the mistaken feeling that most of the action has ended, the stands are emptying out quickly. But appreciation is everywhere. Journeying back to camp, and throughout the day, spectators stop us and thank us, asking groups of us to pose for a picture or two.

I am chilled out and walking in the clouds. At last, I got to be a part of the battle, and oh what a battle. We agree universally this was the better battle of the two, whereas yesterday the unit did a lot of standing around and waiting to move in on cue. Nobody cares that this skirmish didn't last as long. Every moment counted.

As soon as most visitors are gone, we start taking the camp apart. The sun emerges from behind the clouds, and we're glad it held off so long. Tents come down and go into the trailer as we sort through all our personal effects. Soldiers trade the wool pants and linen shirts for tees and shorts.

By 4:00, we're loaded up and moving out, exhausted and happy and planning a pizza party back at the hotel with a dip in the pool afterwards. Our Confederate ancestors never had it so good, which is humbling. We brought smiles to a lot of faces today, which is uplifting. We fulfilled our mission, which is inspiring.

"Officer in the camp!"

People jump to attention and salute as one of the lead generals stops by the breakfast area of the hotel, where we're wolfing down Costco's best Italian pies. He smiles and laughs at us in joyous admiration, praising us for stepping up to fill an urgent need.

"I would have liked to visit with you more," he says. "But as they say where I'm from, I was busier than a one-armed pickpocket at a county fair!"

We invite him to stay and break crust, but he and his wife are off to find the best authentic Southern food they can get, collared greens and all. Still, he has to proclaim his love for his Arizona gunslingers, who come so far and do so much.

In war, the history books teach one thing, but the soldiers remember another. It is hardly cinematic or comprehensive. Each battle is personal, focused not on the whole but on the instant. When it's all over, I don't remember the big picture -- the lines on the map with the arrows and circles pointing the direction of the troops and where they marched or retreated. I remember the lone Yankee who charged from the line in desperation to be picked off with one of our shots. I remember that solid walls of Federals in front of me that weren't moving anywhere. Memories of the rote and struggle of firing at will fix in my head. A taste of fear is in there somewhere, fear not of getting killed but of not keeping up, not looking good on the field. It's not nearly comparable to its mortal cousin, but it's still fear.

Unlike my younger compatriots, this news producer's body isn't in the best shape for battle. I gather one could say that about a few old Confederates. But the heart will compensate for many things and drive forward just like the lines pushing those Federals back.

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I was expecting a heated battle on the first day of the First Manassas 150th Anniversary skirmish. I didn't know that battle would be against my system.

Everything is looking up. I have a few hours of decent sleep on my side, some breakfast, and now I'm out the door in the rental car with an 18-pack of water for my fellow Southern compatriots of the 2nd Virginia -- the 1st Virginia in a special role for this occasion. But I'm going to have to park at a satellite lot with the spectators, given that re-enactor parking is reserved for those who got to the site at the crack of dawn -- and I needed that sleep.

I am dressed for battle: wool shell coat and pants with suspenders, shirt underneath, kepi on top, stiff leather brogans on the bottom. I'm not lugging a gun or other equipment; I've sent those on ahead with other gear through the courtesy of a brother in arms. I'll strap it all on when I get to camp.

That camp, I soon find, is going to be a hike, a shuttle bus ride, and then another long hike. I anticipate the leg work. I anticipate the muggy heat. But it's morning, I think, and the worst of the heat or humidity isn't here yet.

I make it to the shuttle bus at 8am, lugging the 18-pack of Aquafina all the way from my car to the bus seat. "That guy's got the right idea!" a staffer shouts to me on the way there. I'm tired, but it's nothing I can't handle. And now I'm in an air-conditioned bus, and I don't think the rest of the journey will be all that hard.

I step off the bus with the gaggle of spectators and a couple of fellow re-enactors, and then the hike really begins. What I figure will be a short hike through the battlefield to the camp becomes a long hike around half the perimeter of the battlefield, after I realize the bus can't stop any closer. Now I know why so many spectators are walking. But they're in shorts; I'm in wool. They're carrying maybe a chair, or a backpack. I'm lugging that case of Aquafina.

As I trudge through the morning march, the humidity attacks. I shift the water to more comfortable positions. A kind gentleman offers to carry one end of it for me. Then a lady offers the same after I make it past the battlefield bleachers and the food vendors. I have to pause. I have to rest.

Now, where are the rest of my fellow soldiers? I've gotten a location, but I need to find it. I plod on through the outskirts of the Yankee camp, where troops are already forming up and drilling. I don't like the looks of this. I can't be late. But I have to stop and rest while bottles of water fall out of the shrink-wrapped case as I soldier on. I puff. I pant. But I'm gonna make it.

I get to the crossroad where I think I'm supposed to be headed and encounter a provost.

"Do you know where Col. Scott's battalion is? Second Virginia?" I ask.

"What brigade," he answers.

"Stonewall Brigade."

"I think they just moved out."

My heart sinks, just as I'm sinking to my knees to regain some strength. But soon a friend spots me.

"Hey Christopher!" he greets. "We're right up here."

"I brought water for the cause," I say. "But I need to cool down."

"Great! We'll put that in the cooler and get some fresh for you."

"Private Francis!" our head commander greets.

"I need to cool down -- now," I say, sinking to the ground. Fellow soldiers take a look at me and see this is more than just a water-bottle job.

"Get some ice!" one says.

Within moments, a makeshift medical triage is placing ice on my forehead, down my neck, on key arteries, and anywhere else they think I need it. Someone delivers a bottle of Gatorade, and I begin gulping it down.

"Keep holding this," our medical expert tells me. "Let it stay on your arteries and cool your whole system down."

Unlike four years ago at Picacho Peak, I'm not nauseous or sick -- just way too hot, and probably way too tired. As I sit and soak up cool, another familiar face appears in the corner of my eye.

"Christopher, are you all right?" the Sergeant said.

"Yes. I just need to cool down."

"You have to get acclimated to this heat. We've been here for three days, and we're still getting acclimated to it. I don't think you should go out today. I know it's not fun sitting out, but it's not fun either if you're on the battlefield and you overheat."

Others agreed. "They've been taking people away in ambulances."

So day one will see me on the sidelines instead of the battle lines -- Picacho Peak all over again. I really should be in better shape, I tell myself. But I thought I was doing all right for awhile.

The only thing I will shoot this day is a pocket camera, capturing HD video of my 2nd Virginia compatriots as they come to the aid of Stonewall Jackson and the Confederacy. At least 1,000 people, likely more, are watching from the sidelines and the bleacher seats -- or under them -- as the Blue and Grey engage in what the public-address-system narrator calls a "gigantic rugby match." One side pushes, the other pushes back. Reinforcements come in. Lines advance. Lines retreat. Muskets crackle and pop in a chorus against an aria of artillery fire. More than an hour of this, and haze is all over the battlefield.

"You are getting a good idea of what a real Civil War battle would look like," the narrator observes for the crowd. "Multiply the sounds of the musket fire by four and you'll get an idea of just how many were out there." I know thousands of re-enactors are involved in this anniversary skirmish. I forget the exact count. But my eyes are trained on finding the 2nd Virginia. For most of the morning, they've stood and waited to go on, doing their best to stay cool and hydrated, with their jackets off until showtime. They're going in the second half of the battle -- a long time to wait, but worth it in the end.

From afar, I pick them out on a hill, as they blend in with the rest of the soldiers. They advance, fire, advance, and fire again. Historic combat is not for the impatient. I watch as they push to victory. Maybe they don't "give them the bayonet," as Jackson famously quoted, but they look sharp in battle from where I can see. And I wish I was with them, marching and firing, and savoring the victory. I wish I was praying with them afterwards, thanking them for GOD's protection. I can pray on my own, anytime. Among friends, however, the spiritual experience rises to another level.

I capture a few more pictures of them thanking the crowd before heading back to camp. All around, people ask how I'm feeling. Better, I say, but I'm still disappointed -- disappointed at not going out with them.

"You'll be with us tomorrow," my Colonel reassures. "Shouldn't have worn that coat and made the march on the double-quick."

"I had the water with me, too," I add, owning up to another tactical mistake. "But I didn't want to come into camp without helping you guys. I knew you'd need it."

"You were carrying water?" another soldier asks.


"How much?"

"Oh, a 12-pack, I think." I can't remember.

"Was it a case?"


They are grateful and appreciative, my fellow Confederates. They can sympathize with my disappointments and still encourage me on to victory. They are living life in the right perspective, loving the moment but not succumbing to it. They know they are not merely here to fire muskets. None of us are. And they are fighting their own battles against the 100-degree sticky heat.

"We're getting to to point now where you were this morning," one tells me.

Soldiers depart for cooler quarters after the camps are closed to the public. The gentlemen play cards while the ladies converse. The commanders sip a few light refreshments in honor of a successful campaign.

Our talented dulcimer player hammers out "Ashkotan Farewell," and I slip into a solo waltz, wishing Madame were here with me to see it, eyes tearing over this tale of longing and love. I still have something left in the tank for a dance.

"The question isn't, 'How did they do this?'" the battlefield narrator observed earlier, "but, 'Could I do that?'" I'm still not sure. Union, Confederate, Yankee, Rebel... allegiances don't seem to resonate on this day. What awes us is the stamina and bravery, the horrendous heat eclipsing the greater truth of men willing to die for their families, their livelihoods, their freedoms, and their nation.

Re-enactors get up at the end of the day and go back to their other lives and times. But within them -- at least the ones I march with -- is a deep reverence for the original people who fought this fight. It extends to the people fighting now, and those who will be in the next battles. It is patriotism by doing, supporting the troops by taking up the arms and tactics of their most celebrated confrontations. Appreciation flows from connecting with at least a tinge of the fear many people will never know.

"This is the big show," our commander observes about the size of this re-enactment compared to others we've been in. It's the Major Leagues. But we all know it's no "show," and it's not just for show, and our continuing orders are to make sure everyone who sees us realizes that in the end.

Friday, July 22, 2011

To Virginia!

From Tucson to Manassas in 24 hours or less (preferably less):

3:40am: Wake. Still getting used to change in hours from a change in work assignment. Fortunately, I didn't have to produce last night's 10pm news.

4:15am: At work. Yes, work. Work before play. Work before battle. Yes, work can be a battle. That's why they call it work. Consume first cup of coffee.

4:30am-6:am: Run teleprompter for morning newscast. Sneak in more cups of coffee. Amazed that it is actually working. It must have come from the Fukujima plant.

6:30am: Caffeine in full force. Start working on noon show. Start grousing for a lead story.

7:30am: Good grief. Manassas will be hitting 100 degrees or more this weekend, and I will be wearing wool. The rest of the east coast is burning up. In Tucson, we call that typical.

8:00am: Bomb goes off in Oslo, Norway. I may have my lead.

9:00am: Still working, looking for more breaking news.

11:30am: Nothing much happening locally. But Norway is a mess right now. There's the lead.

Noon: Show time. Slip in a story on the Manassas heat. Anchor notes that I will be in the heat of battle this weekend.

12:45pm: Drive to Tucson International Airport. Grouse for cheap parking. Get it after two inspections of dodgy lots.

2:30pm: Board American Airlines after wolfing down a cheeseburger. TSA was kind to me -- they didn't pull me over for an enhanced pat-down.

3:45pm: Reading Matthew 16. Guy in the seat next to me is reading Plato's Republic. If I had more smarts, I'd debate with him what Plato would think of our Republic.

4:00pm: The plane has wi-fi, but you gotta pay $10 for it. Pass.

7:00pm: I've jumped two time zones, but the plane has arrived early at DFW -- a little too early. We have to wait for another plane to exit the gate before pulling in.

7:30pm: Need to change from Concourse A to Concourse C at DFW. Hope there's a good place to eat in the departing terminal.

7:50pm: Skype chat with the folks in California via the iPad. Way too cool. They aren't sending me video, but they can at least see me gobbling down a snack.

8:20pm: The plane that will take us to Washington is here. Our pilot is not. He will not be here for another 40 minutes. American Airlines says they will board us all so that the pilot will just have to step in and then will be on our way. Of course, it can't be that easy. Hopefully this pilot can fly fast like the last one. "Time to take a walk," says a passenger next to me. Good idea.

9:00pm: "That's not a carry-on, sir; that's a checked bag." Well, why didn't you folks tell me it was a checked bag in Tucson, after it fit into the sizing box and the overhead bin on the first flight? They insist on checking it. My delay to my hotel just got longer.

9:45pm: We're in the air at least an hour behind schedule.

10:00pm: Look for ways to contort body in airline seat to sleep comfortably on plane. Fail.

1:30am: Arrive at Dulles. Wait for 15 minutes for a tram to take us to the baggage claim.

1:45am: A line of people, your humble servant included, board a shuttle bus for Hertz. When we arrive, one person is working the counter, as expected for this time of night, and he apologizes because he's having computer problems. "Tell me this isn't a government operation," I say to a lady next to me, parroting a line from Apollo 13. "The government would be more efficient," she replies.

2:10am: After a prayer behind the wheel of a Toyota Yaris, I head off for Manassas. I don't make the mistake I made two years ago and end up on a toll road without change.

2:30am: Arrive at the hotel, which is undergoing renovation and sharing parking spaces with several large dumpsters, leaving nothing for me, after all the other guests are bedded down for the night. After a fruitless search, I park at the Cracker Barrel across the street.

2:45am: Nobody is at the front desk, but amazingly, my room key is sitting there, along with my pass bracelet to get me through to tomorrow's event. Goodnight and GOD Bless the hospitality staff.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reel To Reel: Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 2

It all comes down to this.

Going Rate: Worth full price
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Dark fantasy violence, one mild profanity

Oh Harry, how you've grown up. In 2001, when Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone made it to the big screen, it played like a coming-of-age Wizard Of Oz, only a bit darker. Now, nearly 10 years later, we've watched Harry (Radcliffe) and his pals Ron (Grint) and Hermoine (Watson) grow up both in the movie saga and in real life. They're not cute little wizards and witches anymore. They're adults with the world upon their shoulders, and you can feel it all through the final chapter of the eight-film series.

In order to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort (Fiennes), Harry and company must finish the job from Part 1: destroying a series of objects called Holcruxes that give the evil one his invincibility. These things are hidden away in different places, but amazingly, none of them are outside England. I wonder why the dark one didn't think about that. Then again, Voldemort mysteriously doesn't have the ability to give himself a decent nose job. Hogwart's School for Witchcraft and Wizardry resembles a prison camp now that Servus Snape (Rickman) has taken over as headmaster. We're still not completely clear where his allegiances lie, but you'll soon have your answer.

I kept comparing the final Potter to the final installment of Star Wars. The pacing of this film reminded me more of a suspense-thriller than an action fantasy. These characters talk a lot. They brood. They flirt with death more times than any reasonable person would tolerate. Return Of The Jedi was dark in places, but with an overlay of hope: would Darth Vader find the good within him? With Voldemort, we have no such hope. He's bad to the bone. Our main question is whether Harry will live or die trying to save the world from him.

All of this is pretty heavy stuff for young children. But like the characters they love, they have grown up too, and as everyone comes of age together, all of the material matures. HP7: 2 is no kids' movie, even though marketing might steer it that way. And I'm glad it's no Twilight, either, even though there's a splash of romance.

Without spoiling the ending, let's just say the film leaves itself an out for another edition. I'm sure Hollywood will push for it, given the gigantic money flowing into the coffers from this saga.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

To Hack With It

Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch is closing down London's 168-year-old News Of The World after a phone-hacking scandal. Reporters broke into voicemail accounts of soldiers and dead children -- among some 4,000 people -- looking for nuggets they could blow up into headlines. As I go to press this afternoon, at least three people have been arrested in connection with the scandal. The paper's chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, faces questioning by police investigators over what she knew and when she knew it, but she hasn't been fired, and her bosses have waved off her offers to resign.

I can believe the defense that the hacking was limited to a limited number of unethical reporters, but I'm not willing to let Brooks off the hook. At KOLD News 13, when somebody comes up with sensitive information, our bosses know about it, and they know where that information came from. We have anonymous tipsters. We have confidential sources. We have viewers who love watching Dan Marries, Heather Rowe, Chuck George, Scott Kilbury, Kayna Whitworth, Mindy Blake, Erin Jordan, Mark Stine, Teresa Jun, and the rest of the gang, and they want us to beat the competition with their inside info. We have Twitter and Facebook friends helping us cover the news. We don't need to hack phone mails. We would never dream of doing that. Our News Directors and General Managers have made it clear, even if it would give us competitive advantage.

That's why the News did it. Britain's tabloid industry is thriving and ultra-competitive. Rupert's weekly wanted to win at all costs, and it ultimately sold its soul. Now it's rotting in publishing's Hades. Murdoch didn't believe the paper was too big or too old to fail, but I don't believe he killed it as a public gesture of humility. I believe he killed it to make nice with British regulators as he tries to protect and expand his media empire.

In doing so, people at the News who had nothing to do with this scandal are without jobs. At the same time, I wonder why they chose to work for the paper in the first place, given that it had a dubious reputation long before the hacking. We all gotta have jobs, but there are TV stations (which I won't mention) I would never work for if I valued my career, or more importantly, my relationship with GOD.

Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine offers some deeper insight on the scandal and privacy rights here.

Jury Duty

The rage and grumbling over the verdicts in the Casey Anthony trial should remind us all why sworn jurors decide guilt or non-guilt, not the news channels, not the bloggers, not the crowds outside the courthouse, and especially not Nancy (Dis)Grace. In the jury room, the standard for proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt." Everywhere else, the standard is whatever we want it to be, mostly "guilty until proven innocent."

Prosecutors had holes in their case. Anthony had a first-rate lawyer. Admit it: when you hire an attorney to defend you in a criminal trial, you want that legal eagle to get you off -- not present a spirited defense, but get you off. Richard McFaddin, a Kansas City defense attorney who successfully defended notorious "town bully" Ken Rex McElroy against 20 of 21 felony charges, admitted he was a "hired gun," a person paid to help his clients beat the rap.

"Yeah, but I'm innocent. Casey is guilty as sin!"

Perhaps. But trials aren't about what really happened, they're about what you can prove -- beyond a reasonable doubt. Suspicions are not admissible as evidence. Nancy (Dis)Grace is not representing the state. Gut feelings do not tilt the scale towards conviction. "Not Guilty" does not mean innocent. It often means, "Not Proven."

Ironically, so many of us think we're smarter than that knuckleheaded Casey Anthony jury, yet so few of us actually are willing to serve on a jury. My employer, thankfully, is supportive of jury service, even though working journalists have nary a chance of surviving voir dire. Federal Law requires employers to support jury service. We shouldn't have to make excuses or fear for our jobs.

Justice is not beautiful, clear-cut, or convenient. If we are not teaching this in our government classes, our understanding of civics is even more abysmal than I thought. And if we are going to hate on jurors for deciding a case based on facts, standards and instructions rather than mob mentality... then we should be praying for GOD to help us all.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

From The Logs Of Captain Bartholomew Burgundy

It took nearly a month to sort things out, but I can finally reveal the contents of a bottle sent to me by Captain Bartholomew Burgundy containing several pictures from last month's Buccaneer Ball.

Unfortunately, water leaking into the bottle washed out the good captain's notes, so I'm forced to add my own commentary. I could wait until he returns to port, but I don't want to delay things any longer.

Captain Burgundy and his esteemed lady friend, Madame Noire, posing for a pre-ball memento.  Notice the charming glow from her countenance.  I gather she is most happy to see and dance with him once more after more than a year at sea.

A tribute to America before the festivities begin.  Captain Burgundy may serve England, but he's the most patriotic privateer I've ever seen.

Three cheers for the USA! HUZZAH! HUZZAH! HUZZAH!

As always, a procession kicks off the merriment.  From the way Captain Burgundy holds his lady's hand, it looks like he has spent much time in the ballrooms of Europe.  One wouldn't expect such courtly gestures from a scurvy knave.  Of course, Burgundy was never that.  I also notice he's wearing a different weskit (vest) this time around, polishing up his act.

A circle dance, a time to prance, for the ball, one and all.


Captain Burgundy didn't include many photos of the livelier dances, but I suspect that was by design. Here we see him showing off more of his courtly dancing with his favorite partner. I hear he enjoys the minuet immensely. I'm not sure if that's what he's dancing here, but it's certainly something graceful to honor Madame.

Gentleman that he is, he saves a few dances for other ladies.

And of course, he practices his honors.

I'm beginning to think Captain Burgundy isn't even a privateer, much less a pirate. How can someone who enjoys dancing so much be an effective raider of Spanish ships? I'll have to ask him the next time I see him. For now, realize he was surrounded by many ruffians and knaves who had a Jolly Rodger's good time, and you can see more pictures of them here, including a curious cover of Buccaneer's Quarterly which shows the Good Captain facing a bit of, well, trouble on board.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Reel To Reel: Super 8

Close encounters of the Kodachrome kind.

Going Rate: Worth full price
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Language, sci-fi violence, some gross scenes

Producer Stephen Spielberg had to see a little of himself in this film, which he produced for writer and director J.J. Abrams. Make that a lot of himself. It's Close Encounters Of The Third Kind mashed up with The Goonies and multiplied by Cloverfield. Spielberg has to be reliving the aspirations of his youth set off when he saw Lawrence of Arabia and knew he wanted to direct.

I can't remember anybody making Super 8 independent films when I was in junior high. By 1979, when this movie takes place, my gadget-loving father had already ditched our Elmo 8mm sound camera for a weighty Quasar VHS portable. It threatened to put grooves in his shoulders, and it cost a small fortune, but you didn't have to develop anything, and you didn't have to worry about shooting tight. So please forgive me if I find the concept of a bunch of 1979 youngsters focused enough to make a zombie-horror film with "production value" a bit beyond my grasp. I wonder how many kids know what production value means. I also puzzle how a kid from a large rambunctious family acquires enough money, skill, and quiet time to learn old-fashioned film editing. That could be a movie in itself.

But back to the movie I'm reviewing. It opens in a small Ohio town which has just lost a worker in a factory accident. The victim is the mother of Joe Lamb (Jason Courtney), who withdraws into a cold existence. His father Jackson (Chandler), a deputy sheriff, doesn't know much about parenting. He would rather shove the boy off to camp than let him help his friend Charles' (Riley Griffiths) moviemaking efforts for a film festival. Joe and Charles and their buddies are a studio in sneakers, complete with sound, make-up and special effects departments. I bet you they even know about three-point lighting.

As the kids are filming a scene at a train station, they unwittingly become witnesses to a massive derailment, and it's the most spectacular one I've seen on film since The Fugitive. What's more, in one of those derailed cars is some kind of mysterious payload. Once it's unleashed, strange things start happening all over town, making the kids' horror flick look like a family movie. As you would expect, the military moves in and starts covering things up, leading to the inevitable quest to learn the truth.

It's very easy to let a film full of kids get loud and out of control by themselves, without any effects work. Director J.J. Abrams keeps this from happening, though, and the film becomes a creepy, effective thriller until it hits a sentimental moment that evokes memories of another Spielberg film. I dare not say which one.

Overall, though, I highly enjoyed Super 8 and its love of, well, sci-fi movies. Abrams and Spielberg wouldn't have come together on this movie if they didn't feel a need to create a kind of entertainment that honored their roots. This film does a fine job.

As a bonus, Paramount and Apple have released a Super 8 app for iPhones, iPods, and iPads that lets you make digital movies with the retro look of those old home cameras. Neat stuff!

Reel To Reel: Cars 2

We're running a little hot tonight.

Going Rate: Worth full price (3D not necessary)
Starring: Voices Of: Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Eddie Izzard, Emily Mortimer, John Turturro
Rated: G (but may be too intense for younger children)
Red Flags: Cartoon action gunshots, some mild toilet humor

The original Cars took the idea of an alternate motor-personified universe and made it fun and nostalgic. The sequel expands on that idea and runs around the world with it, producing a film that's visually exciting even if it's not always heartwarming. Cars 2 is a tribute to James Bond's Aston Martin, a salute to imports, and a loving tweak of two notorious clunkers, both made by the now-defunct American Motors Corporation: the dreaded Pacer and Gremlin. I think I also spotted a Pinto in there somewhere.

Our hero from the first film, Lightning McQueen (Wilson) is back home in Radiator Springs, Arizona (loosely related to Peach Springs, Arizona, somewhere north of I-40 near Kingman, in case you forgot). He's resting his wheels after a winning streak on the racetrack, only to face a new racing challenge: Sir Miles Axelrod (Izzard) has come up with a clean, green fuel, and he wants to show it off in a series of international races. When Italian formula-one Francesco Bernoulli (Turturro) taunts McQueen for sitting the series out, tow-truck pal Mater (Larry) jumps to McQueen's defense, and the Piston Cup champ decides to put his R&R on hold.

As McQueen and Mater head off to start the series, skullduggery -- or, motorduggery -- is afoot. British spy car agent Finn McMissile (Caine) picks up on a secret weapon in development by a gang of thug clunkers headed up by Professor Z (Thomas Kretschmann). McMissile, who has enough gadgets and toys to make Bond's ride jealous, hooks up with fellow operative Holly Shiftwell (Mortimer) in Japan to receive a secret device from an American agent. The operation goes sideways, and the agent ends up slipping the device onto the undercarriage of Mater. That sets off an espionage thriller suitable for Spy Kids audiences but nuanced enough for adults to enjoy -- the Pixar touch.

It's Mater who has to carry this film as he takes his bumbling stick-shifter-from-the-sticks act on the road as a involuntary secret agent. This could get very old, very fast, if it wasn't for the chemistry among Mater, McMissile and Shiftwell. The film also takes us to car-populated Japan, Italy and England, which are full of colorful riffs on familiar people and places. You have to admire director John Lassiter's love of automobiles; he finds personalities in oodles of makes and models and matches them to the characters flawlessly. Even the Pope and the Queen of England get customized rides in Lassiter's universe.

The original Cars was a parable about friendship. So is this one, but not as heavily. It mainly just wants to race and have fun, and what's wrong with that? Not Pixar enough? I think that's the main problem people will have with this film. Let us not forget, though, that Pixar remains Hollywood's most consistent hit factory. They have yet to release a bona-fide clunker. That's more than I can say for the auto industry.