Friday, June 29, 2007

Down And Out On Capitol Hill

The immigration overhaul bill is once again dead, deceased, disintegrated. Watching the progress of this measure conjured the surrealistic vision of an operating room where two doctors stand over a patient -- one with the defibrillator paddles, the other with the IV drip of potassium chloride -- each taking turns killing and reviving and killing again.

EPIPHANY. Arizona Senator Jon Kyl is among the grumbling reformers sifting through the wreckage:
"I've learned one main lesson out of this enterprise... A lot of Americans have lost faith in their government, they don't think we can control our borders, that we can win a war, that we can issue passports, that we can solve other problems and so they ask the question why should we grant a special status to people who came here illegally until we know that you're going to get serious about enforcing this new law?"
Finally, Kyl catches up to his electorate. But your Lightning Round reminds you of this: for conservatives, anything short of the Great Wall of China along the border qualifies as lax security.

We have an AP-estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. We cannot deport them all. It's theoretically possible, but so is cold fusion. Perhaps we put them work building that Great Wall instead. Shame them into deporting themselves. Nothing says vamonos like watching yourself bricking up the gateway to freedom.

COLD TO THE TOUCH. The worst of us are setting the agenda for the best of us, and it's downright disappointing. Last week, we examined the no-touching rule at a Virginia school. Now we're hearing about a suspicious-touching campaign.

From the Virginian-Pilot of Hampton Roads:
The "Stop It Now " campaign - just launched locally - will urge people to call a help line if they see an adult whom they suspect of having a sexual relationship with a child.

Billboards and posters show an adult hand holding a child's hand, with the words: "It doesn't feel right when I see them together."

A national help line number is listed, and through it callers can get advice about what to do.
We don't dispute the need to root out molesters. But your Lightning Round doesn't feel right about tattling on what could very well be harmless expressions of love and friendship between family members.
Groups that have formed to help people falsely accused of abuse are opposed to the campaign. Dean Tong, who operates a Web site that offers help to people who are falsely accused of abuse, said the campaign has the potential to tarnish the reputation of innocent people and hurt children.

"For every case of genuine abuse, there are two or three that are unfounded witch hunts," said Tong, a Florida forensic consultant who has written books on the topic of false accusations.
Our research here is unable to pin down a standard, reliable figure on the number of false allegations -- all the more reason to let the facts be our guide, rather than just gut instincts and media-shaped paranoia.

Now that doesn't feel right, either.

CALL HIM DANIEL. Kevin Richardson, animal behaviorist, will lie down with lions... and tigers... and probably bears, too, smothering them with kindness and respect -- and living to talk about it to the London Daily Mail.

The paper has the you-can't-be-serious photo spread and this revelation:
A former student of human physiology who once worked with pre and post-operative human patients, Kevin turned to animals ten years ago when he came to the conclusion that he could trust a lion over one of his own kind every time - well, nearly every time.

A close encounter with an aggressive four-year-old male in the early days taught him a lesson he has not forgotten. The animal pinned him to the ground and started biting him until something about Kevin's passive attitude stopped him in his tracks.
Or maybe he just didn't taste good.

DOWN AND DIRTY. A researcher claims composting using worms may doing more harm to the environment than SUV's.

Materials Recycling Week reports comments from British Composting Association research director Jim Frederickson:
“The emissions that come from these worms can actually be 290 times more potent than carbon dioxide and 20 times more potent than methane. In all environmental systems you get good points and bad points.”
Said one commenter to this story on the MRW website: "Maybe the worms will stop if the Democrats promise them amnesty and the right to vote."

CLEANING CASA. Mexico purged nearly 300 of its top federal cops because of corruption, replacing them with officers that have passed anti-dirty-cop measures.

The secretary of public security spoke to the Houston Chronicle:
[Genaro] Garcia Luna said that some of the dismissed commanders might someday return to supervisory roles if they complete new training courses and prove themselves free of corruption.
We wonder what proof Mexico will ask for. Cross your heart and hope to die?

DON'T MAKE ME TURN THIS PLANE AROUND! A Delta commuter flight had to land because a young child threw a temper tantrum.

From NBC10, Philadelphia:
A 4-year-old wanted apple juice and when the stewardess didn't get it quick enough, the child threw a tantrum, NBC 10 reported.
Your Lightning Round has since learned the real reason: it wasn't 100 percent juice.

NOT NOW, HONEY, I HAVE A HEADACHE. Michael Eugene Moylan of Port St. Lucie, Florida walked into a hospital with a mysterious pain in his head. Doctors soon found he had been shot. Authorities soon found his wife had done it... while he was sleeping. The bullet lodged in his head.

From the AP:
Moylan, 45, woke up at 4:30 a.m. and thought he had suffered an aneurysm or that his wife had elbowed him in his sleep, authorities said.
"How can this guy be shot, not know that he was shot in bed and then walk into a hospital room. It was just amazing to all of us," [Sheriff Ken] Mascara said.
He's a loving husband, we gather. His wife April claims it was an accident. Nevertheless, she's facing a charge of attempted murder. No doubt about it, this will lead to a "trial" separation.

Cue the rim shot.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Shake Your Booty!

We Make History sets sail with a crew of pirates, privateers, corsairs, young bucs, old sea dogs and landlubbers as we plunder the ship of monotony and put the jolly in Roger.

From the logs of Captain Bartholomew Burgundy
(as deciphered into his native salty dialect by best mate Christopher Francis)
Photographic Contributions By Jack Tar (among others!)
(Click any picture for a bigger view!)

23 June, The Year Of Our LORD 1707

I step out of th' inn and not two paces in front've me stands a gentleman in wha' they call shock 'n awe.

"Ye all set for the party?" he asks, eyebrows flyin' off his face.

"Aye," I tell 'im.

I think I made quite th' scene, standin' there in me new red coat, red stockings, an' cocked hat with the bow rosette -- the one me mum rolls her eyes at. Still 'aven't found a proper one big enough across the seven seas, carryin' out me privateer duties. As for me crew of the Wayward Star, they aren't savvy on th' Arizona heat, nor wi' me orders not to plunder Jerome while I'm away.

But if mutiny is their aim, I got meself a line on some fine replacements. 'Tis obvious as the guests land anchor, greeting Dread Cap'n Scott and Smuggler Jane and drawing swords in a demonstration a' courage and bravado for th' First Photographic Mate.

I notice how me profession is employin' so many ladies -- 'n pretty ones at that! What am I going to do if one'a these fair ones decides to plunder me ship? On this night, 'tis all about th' ladies. And th' young ones! I see some fine lads 'n ladies for a Junior Officers' Corps. Over there, looks like we picked up a Ronin from the Far East. An' wait -- a woman of Persia? Malaysia? Th' veil is indeed a mystery.

Already, we be gettin' th’ scratchy throat from sayin’ “Arrrr!” in greetin'.

“It works better if you say, 'Yarr!',” someone insists. Clever mate!

We 'ave to be on our guard, ye know. Across from us, on th' other side of th' path, landlubbers gather outside th' inn and cast their gaze over us like the fog of a nasty morning. I hail them from afar, wavin' a signal of friendship which they generously return. We shall 'ave no trouble from 'em. I worry 'bout the lads in the carriages, tho', craning their necks in passing t' get a glimps'a this group.

"Gather round!"

Th' Dred Cap'n sets the ground rules: this be a truce -- no plunderin' among guests, no swordplay, an' Cap'n Hook has t' watch which hand he turns with. Lucky for 'im, a mate has a spare cork t' plug th' hazard. I come in peace, unarmed 'cept for th' sword I borrowed for th' portraits, not wanting to find meself in a situation where me cutless tears through me breeches. Ye wouldn' want that now, would ye? I c'n barely keep 'em from fallin' below me knees. All them sailor knots 'round me calves and still they mutiny. Arrrrrr.

Let us dance, me hearties! A beautiful buccaneeress offers her partnership for th' pirate promenade before I can even set about findin' a dancin' mate. Glad I practiced me bowin', for we honour each other many a time durin' this opening festivity, culminatin' in a circle where our Cap'n of Th' Dance calls some select companions out fer a brief back 'n forth jig in th' center.



"Privateers!" (Miss'd tha' call to step out, me hearin' still a lil' numb from th' broadside upon tha' French vessel th' other day.)


"Maricopa County!"

"Pinal County!"

"Pima County!" (Me adopted home port! Strangely, I seem t' be jiggin' alone. Has Tucson no worthy seafarers?)

Now, many of us bucs ain' used to what they call the set dancin' like the landlubbers do, but I do 'ave some experience. If ye gonna plunder fer King and Country, ye better be prepared t' dance at court! No need to get all overly fancy, though. Our favourite musicians, Bahama Becky 'n The Plankwalkers have a grand idea: let's play "Catch Th' Pirate!" Then, "Chase Th' Pirate!" So we line up 'n sets and take turns chasin' each other about and leadin' each other around. Bet ya' them cultured folk never 'ave this much fun in a dance! Howev'r, we can strip th' willow just like them, if that be ye game.

Bet ye didn't kno' pirates polka'd either! Well, a' least I didn' know, but anyway, 'tis another lively dance. You stan' round in a circle like, an ye' join hands with' ye beautiful' partner, and ye step step one way, stomp stomp stomp, then ye step the other way, stomp stomp stomp. Ye slap ye knees twice, ye clap ye hands twice, then you clap ye partner's hands thrice before ye wave a couple'a playful fingers with an "Arrr!" of satisfaction. Ye swing partners and ye do it all over again.

Did I say I love the mixer dancin'? I absolutely, unabashedly adore dancin' with as many ladies as possible! Granted, ye do get winded, tho'. Fortunately for us, the ship's galley is open an overflowin' wi' tropical punch, and God is blessin' us wi' a gentle sea breeze to cool th' flaming flesh.

Ye kno' ye can't get a buncha bucs together, fill them' with tropical delights an' not expect th' cry for a raid. So gents, take off one'er ye shoes and back away. Let's let the ladies plunder the lot an' sort out who's th' rightful owner of this booty... and new dancin' partner!

Ah, but gents, ye ain' gonna let them outdo ye? So let's see ye doff a boot! Ready, mateys?


Like a title wave -- no -- a furious hurricane smashing into the coast, they devour it all. For me own safety I have to lag behind a lil'. An' look at what one of me mates is doin'. He bloody well nearly takes out half th' line in th' rush for th' prize! I sense some skullduggery, bu' really now, what do ye expect from a crew'a pirates?

If ye can't beat ye mates to the' booty, ye can always win the prize wi' some headwork -- or footwork. Me name is drawn for some fine shortbread cookies.

I gotta say, I find meself in shock. "Me, me?" I answer as I rise to th' occasion. "I con' believe it!"

Th' terms: either a fact or a jig.

"I hav' a fact," I answer. "In 1645, Cap'n Kidd wos born in Scotland. He wos executed in 1701. Some say 'e was a pirate. The evidence says 'e was a privateer. An' I say, he's me hero!"

"Well played!" the Dred Cap'n praises as I claim me prize. Of course, th' crown gets ten percent under me letter of marque. Not bad tho' when ye figure an' agent would take fifteen.

We be an international gatherin', ye know, but ye don't need a flag t' tell who can dance th' best jigs. I give it me English best, but the Scots and Irish bucs clearly 'ave me beat. An' the French corsairs? Tha' looks lik'a Can-Can!

We 'ave much time for songs as well as dance, singin' the praises of that 'ol sailor Noah inside the hall, an' singin' the shanties outside t’ escape th’ heat as we raise our cups of ale in th' fair wind, th' stars that guide us lookin' down from Heaven as we all be sharin' that camaraderie that 'tis a blessed journey.

An' so in that spirit we prance 'n a circle around a few pirates celebratin' birthdays, singin' as we give 'em honour.

So how do they show appreciation? They huddle 'n fright like a bunch'a scurvy dogs.

"Mutiny!" Dread Cap'n Scott cries. Do we throw 'em over? Nay. A more fittin' penance is a'hand.

"Jig! Jig! Jig!" I an' the others shout.

No planks will be walked this nigh'. But I clearly can see one of they honorees makin' a bolt for it, gettin' outta th' center of attention.

The last set dance left me a bi' winded, so 'tis a touchin' moment when the ol' Pirate Waltz is upon us, an' I find a beautiful lass who seems a wee bit nervous about th' whole waltzin' thing. But I bow t' her, offering me hands, an' I teach 'er a two-step an' then a box step. I ain' ballroom material yet, but we both do jus’ fine. Usually, I seem to be th' one learnin' the dances. 'Tis nice to teach. 'Tis nice to see th' smile and the gleam in th' lady's eye. Ahhh, me heart.

We feast afterwards, takin' over the back room of a nearby establishment, revelin' in tales of our adventures 'n the sea of life... an' plannin' our next adventure in th' park...

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following day, we received this brief sports dispatch from the Associated Pirate Press:

Buc Bowl I: Buccaneers 21, Raiders 21

PRESCOTT (APP) -- The game destined to settle an old score resulted in another score unsettled.

Buccaneer Bowl I ended in a 21-21 tie after two halves of intensely defensive play. Dread Captain Scott’s Bucs rallied from a 14-0 deficit in the first half with help from several standout performances on the offensive line.

The lightning-fast Josh again proved his value to Cap’n Hook’s Raiders, adding to his already stellar yardage. Intense blitzing by the Lacy’s hurried several passes, forcing the Buccaneer line to regroup. In the end, a reliance on simple plays and determination put Scott’s team on the board.

Turnovers piled up in Sunday’s game as both teams held the line, breaking up passes and foiling rushing attempts.

The highly-anticipated match at Granite Creek Park came after April’s scoreless stalemate in the 18th Century Bowl, where both teams shuffled their lineups following a blowout first meeting.

Players expect to bring the contest to a conclusion at August’s Highland Bowl.

Yaarrr! Click ye here fer more pictures from the weekend's festivities!

NEXT: Marching In Time

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Human Touch

A poster from our youth said, "Hugs, not drugs." Another poster said, "Keep hands, feet, and objects to yourself." Like two trains sharing the same track, these divergent directives were bound to collide.

HANDS OFF. Kilmer Middle School in Vienna, Virginia has a strict no-touching policy: no slaps or punches, but also no patting, no handshakes, no high-fives, and absolutely positively no hugging. That last one got student Hal Beaulieu sent to the principal's office after some inappropriate contact with his girlfriend.

From the Washington Post:
School officials say the rule helps keep crowded hallways and lunchrooms safe and orderly, and ensures that all students are comfortable. But Hal, 13, and his parents think the school's hands-off approach goes too far, and they are lobbying for a change.

"I think hugging is a good thing," said Hal, a seventh-grader, a few days before the end of the school year. "I put my arm around her. It was like for 15 seconds. I didn't think it would be a big deal."
The school defends the policy on the basis of overcrowding:
Deborah Hernandez, Kilmer's principal, said the rule makes sense in a school that was built for 850 students but houses 1,100. She said that students should have their personal space protected and that many lack the maturity to understand what is acceptable or welcome.

"You get into shades of gray," Hernandez said. "The kids say, 'If he can high-five, then I can do this.' "
Is this not a school? Shouldn't the faculty educate students on what is and is not appropriate contact instead of writing a blanket policy that ducks the question? And if the school is crowded, people are going to be touching anyway -- hopefully not up to the ceiling, but touching nonetheless.

But if students can't hug or offer a hearty handshake in greeting, maybe they should bow and curtsy. This is Virginia, after all, still awash in colonial heritage.

ONWARD CHRISTIAN DRIVERS. The Vatican has issued 10 commandments for good drivers.

As quoted in The Guardian:
1. You shall not kill.
2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.
3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.
5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.
6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.
7. Support the families of accident victims.
8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.
9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.
10. Feel responsible toward others.
A lot of people are having trouble with Number 5.

Praying while driving? We gather it's permissible, as long as you keep your eyes on the road.

We at your Lightning Round felt the need to add a few more commandments, phrased in commandmentese.

* Thou shalt learn thy difference between straight and angled parking and orient thy vehicle accordingly.
* Thou shalt leave sufficient distance between thy right door and thy drivers-side door of thy neighbor.
* Thou shalt not leave heap-a-junk cars to collect in thy front yard like a plague of rust upon thy land.
* Thou shalt not crank thy sound system, particularly thy sub woofer, to a level inducing of earthquake in small European nations.
* Thou shalt realize air freshener trees are no substitute for thy good shampooing.
* Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors spinners, paint job, tricked-up suspension or anything that makes thy neighbors' ride hype.
* Thou shalt honor thy back seats as a place for sitting. Enough said.

IF I DOWNLOADED IT. Legal action is pending against celebrity gossip site for briefly offering the full text of O.J. Simpson's canceled crime hypothetical If I Did It. The Goldman family wants to publish it as Simpson's confession, thus keeping the profits and getting something from their long-standing, yet-to-be-fulfilled $30 million judgment from a wrongful-death suit. says it didn't do anything wrong, even though it did pull the book off the site... but not before it got into the hands of the BitTorrent community, which continues to pass it around.

Somewhere, O.J. is smiling.

THE GREEN SCARE. If a polar ice cap melted, and nobody saw it, did it really melt? That's what Czech president Vaclav Klaus is suggesting.

His response to a reader question on
Do you really “see” any damage caused by current warming? I do not. I would prefer more snow for skiing during this winter but we are – in Central Europe – enjoying warm evenings this May and June, which is very pleasant. Do you see meltdown of glaciers and icebergs? You may see some retreating of continental glaciers, but they represent only 0.6 per cent of the planet’s ice. There is no meltdown either in Greenland or the Antarctic just now.
Klaus also suggests forms of environmental activism are the new socialist threat.

Using Klaus' own comparisons, we'll believe it when we see them hoisting a green flag with a hammer and sickle.

THANKS FOR NOTHING. A man in Jacksonville, Florida heard his neighbor screaming and ran to the victim with shotgun in hand. He treated her bleeding leg and likely saved her life. His neighbor was also his boss, and she expressed her gratitude by firing him.

From the Jacksonville Times-Union:
[Colin] Bruley, a leasing agent at the Oaks at Mill Creek, said he lost his job after being told that brandishing the weapon was a workplace violation, as was failing to notify supervisors after the incident occurred.
We point out Bruley never fired his gun, and he was a little shaken to be following some bureaucratic protocol.

Our beleaguered hero, however, seems to be taking things in stride:
Bruley said he is considering contacting a lawyer about his dismissal, but will first look for another job and possibly another home. He promises he won't shy away from aiding others in need.

"If I'd lose my job again for helping some girl's life ... I'd do it over and over," Bruley said.
Surely somebody out there has an opening for a hero. We hope. Just don't take a job at Home Depot.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bud Foster's New Assignment

KOLD News 13 anchor Bud Foster has gone back and forth between reporter and anchor over his storied career (pun intended). Now it's back to reporting.

Here's the official word from KOLD News 13:
Veteran newsman Bud Foster expands role
KOLD News 13 adds special issue focus to news programming

TUCSON (June 21, 2007) – Tucson’s burgeoning growth, direct involvement in border security and the roller-coaster political seasons on the horizon have prompted KOLD News 13 Television to create a special slot to cover those issues. They’ve put their most experienced newsman on the case.

Starting in later this month, KOLD News 13 Morning Anchor Bud Foster will lead specialist coverage for the new focus.

“Southern Arizona is starting to take its place on the national stage and we want to cover the most important matters in depth. No one in this market has a better resume to do that than our own Bud Foster. And no one is more trusted. His combination of exceptional news skills, deep knowledge of this community and extensive connections at all levels make him a perfect choice,” said Jim Arnold, KOLD Vice President and General Manager.

Foster’s new segments will be aired across the station’s news broadcasts, but will be seen most regularly during the 5 and 6 p.m. programs. He also will continue to fill in as the morning anchor as he is needed and as his new responsibilities allow.

“I’m looking forward to breaking new ground,” Foster said. “My true love has always been uncovering the big stories and interpreting them for viewers. These are exciting times to be starting this new venture and I can’t wait to get started.

Foster will phase out of full-time morning anchor duties as he creates and builds this new journalistic focus for KOLD.

“This allows Bud the opportunity to contribute to every newscast,” Michelle Germano, KOLD News 13 News Director, added. “More people will get to learn – and benefit – from his exceptional know-how.”

Foster is a 33-year veteran of the news industry in Arizona, starting as a producer for Channel 12 in Phoenix. He joined KOLD in 1994 as a reporter and anchor.

He has won more than 30 awards for his work in journalism, and is the only Arizona reporter to drive the U.S./Mexican border from east to west, covering more than 400 miles and resulting in a five-part series and half-hour documentary, “Life Along the Line,” which is used in area schools as a teaching tool.

A native of Indiana, he graduated from Ball State University with a degree in Business Administration. He also has pursued graduate studies in journalism at Arizona State University and in political science at the University of Arizona.

The Balance Of Imbalance

An interesting dichotomy:

MSNBC reports journalists overwhelmingly give to left-wing political organizations.

The Center for American Progress and Free Press unveils a study saying talk radio is overwhelmingly the domain of conservatives.

It's something to think about the next time you gripe about the left-wing/right-wing media. Don't the two cancel each other out? Does the center hold after all?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

King Of The Road

Long long ago, on a family vacation far, far away, we joked my father should be wearing a t-shirt labelled "Born To Drive." He logged as much mileage as the truckers while ferrying Mom, my brother, my aunt and myself in the family car around parts of New England looking for antiques. I consider it an especially generous duty, and also neccessary: nobody else could operate a stickshift.

We never flew anywhere for summer getaways. When I asked Dad why, he gave the Clark Griswald answer: wanting to see more of the country. That was the educational, good-for-you response. The expense of flying two adults and two children would stay neatly concealed in the "when you're older, you'll understand" compartment. So for several years, we rolled from Kansas City to rural Massachusetts or New Hampshire -- realm of my aunt and uncle -- in two or three days, my brother and I enslaved to our parents' music before we got our hands on Walkmans and then Watchmans, delivering us from Gordon Lightfoot. The ultimate road trip came in 1986, an adventure which took us to Disney World -- finally -- and then up the east coast to Williamsburg -- huzzah! -- and Washington D.C. before looping back to our midwest home. We flew to England in 1990, but try driving the Atlantic.

These expeditions should have mutated my motorhead genes, but it merely recessed them until I started earning a living. Now, I can do six hours in the car from Tucson to L.A. I can cruise from home base to Vegas in the same lump of time. I'll get up at 4am to do The Drive At Five and hit my destination before lunch. My iPod helps pass the distance, but a private radio station doesn't freeze the odometer. I have to have the tolerance for rear-numbing gigs behind the wheel. And since my Kia doesn't have cruise control, my foot has to be in the race from start to finish.

Dad, however, still has me beat, having logged hundreds of thousands of miles all over the country. His supervisor work for a pharmacy franchiser took him through the best and worst of America on four wheels. He called on stores armed with sales figures and suggestions for improvement, rapped with the guy behind the counseling window, and drove on. He used a radar detector back when they provided reasonable protection, although he got a few speeding tickets just like everybody else -- just a few. But stamina, not acceleration, kept him going.

I have my limits. If it's going to take me more than a day to get somewhere on the road, I'm looking at Expedia. I can see the country from the air, too. But the lure of the interstate still beckons me, the thought of revisiting the run from Kansas City to St. Louis again, or following I-10 back to Texas, or retreading the miles to Florida or through Colorado, wondering where I'll find the next pit stop with clean facilities. If I hit the Powerball jackpot, I'm taking a road trip -- a long one -- in a hybrid SUV with plenty of space and an appreciation for the person who passed me the road warrior's sword.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Reel To Reel: Ocean's Thirteen

Back to Sin City to break the bank.

How It Rates: ****
Starring: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ellen Barkin, Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac
Rated: PG-13
Red Flags: Brief language, Mild Sexiness

Ocean's Twelve showed considerable stretch marks, so I entered the second sequel to Ocean's Eleven with admittedly lowered expectations, if the Spider-Man and Pirates Of The Carribean threequels hadn't lowered them already. However, Thirteen is the equivalent of hitting a jackpot on nickel slots. It recaptures the breeziness and cool of the original, and best of all, puts our favorite gang of grifters back where they belong -- in fabulous Vegas.

Danny Ocean (Clooney) and his crew are out to avenge a massive rip-off by casino hotel lord Willy Bank (Pacino). He has just squeezed their mentor and bankroller Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) out of a monster hotel deal, a loss that leaves him penniless and literally breaks his heart. Bank is opening a high-roller palace down the strip from Paris, appropriately named "The Bank" even though it resembles a towering strand of DNA. Danny's plan to make Reuben whole goes beyond simply robbing the joint -- been there, done that. He needs to rig the gaming floor so the whales fatten themselves beyond their wildest expectations, breaking the house on the grand opening night. And as a kicker, he needs to derail Bank from getting another five-diamond award in the travel guides.

The film spends considerable time setting up this gargantuan job, rigging dice, blackjack, roulette, slots and casino dominoes for cryin' out loud while avoiding the most sophisticated cheating-detection system ever designed... and triggering an earthquake, yes, earthquake on Las Vegas Boulevard. It makes Ocean's original casino heist look like a Wells Fargo stick-up. And with Reuben's cash depleted, they need another money man. They turn to their original mark: Terry Benedict, still carrying a grudge from the original robbery but eager to crush Bank's ego. But he also has a job of his own in mind.

The con works, and that's not a spoiler. The Ocean's pictures are not about if, but how. They're a stew of slick characters and nifty gadgetry sailing through complications with deep resources and almost unlimited cash. If technology doesn't do the job, cue the soft touch. And don't worry about the logistics of getting a giant boring machine underground. Haven't we established these guys could con the stripes off a zebra? As Bernie Mac's character notes, "'Nuff said."

Once again, director Steven Soderbergh keeps this film moving with breathless speed. The dialogue pops with grifter smarts, even though it does lay the set-ups on thick. It's a thinking-man's caper film, as was the original. But unlike the original and sequel, Julia Roberts is missing in action. You won't mind.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Air America

The president has Air Force One. But the FBI has something leaner, meaner, and yet arguably porkier.

FIRST CLASS. Congress is spending $3.6 million of your tax money to maintain a $40 million Gulfstream V jet tricked up with security and communications gear. Its official purpose is to fly "crucial missions" into Iraq, but it also spends a lot of time schlepping FBI Director Robert Mueller around.

From the Washington Post:
[FBI officials] said that Mueller's logistical and security advisers have urged him to use the plane routinely. "It's not like he is the one checking the box for which plane he uses," Assistant Director John Miller said. "He is the CEO of the FBI's part in the war on terror. That means every trip he makes -- whether to rally the troops in field offices, to negotiate agreements with partners overseas or to explain to the public the changing threats and solutions -- furthers the operational mission of the bureau."
For $40 million and all the high-tech toys you can fly with, we at the Lightning Round would have asked for "Blue Thunder" instead. At least it came with a firestorm gun turret.

LOVERS, NOT FIGHTERS. "Don't ask, don't tell" apparently doesn't extend to the Air Force labs, where a watchdog organization discovered a proposal for a gay bomb.

From KPIX-TV, San Francisco:
As part of a military effort to develop non-lethal weapons, the proposal suggested, "One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior."

The documents show the Air Force lab asked for $7.5 million to develop such a chemical weapon.

"The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soldiers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistibly attractive to one another," [Edward] Hammond [of the Berkeley Project] said after reviewing the documents.
The military later rejected the idea. But it does get us thinking, or at least laughing. Your Lightning Round has said before that hormone control is the key to snuffing the fire of anger. However, we didn't mean stoking the flames of passion.

NAME'S THE SAME. Unfortunately, that stereotypical crack about "more chins than a Chinese phone book" has a grain of truth. Too many Chinese are sharing the same last name, causing a nomenclature crisis.

From AFP:
Current Chinese law states that children are only allowed take the surname from either their mother or father, but the lack of variety means there are now 93 million people in China with the family name Wang.

In a country of around 1.3 billion people, about 85 percent share only 100 surnames, according to a nationwide survey conducted by the Ministry of Public Security in April and published in the China Daily newspaper on Tuesday.
Chinese officials are considering an amendment letting children take hybrid last names.
For instance, a father named Zhou and mother named Zhu could choose to call their child either Zhou, Zhu, Zhouzhu or Zhuzhou, the report added.
Yes, it's tongue-knotting, but it's better than the AOL solution: who wants their children named Wang1284? And if Wang married Chung... let's not go there.

ALWAYS THE FIVE-FINGER DISCOUNT, ALWAYS. Wal-Mart has a growing problem with shrinkage, the economically-correct term for shoplifting.

From the AP:
[Retail consultant Burt] Flickinger and other analysts say the increase in theft may be tied to Wal-Mart's highly publicized decision last year to no longer prosecute minor cases of shoplifting in order to focus on organized shoplifting rings. Former employees also say staffing levels, including security personnel, have been reduced, making it easier for theft to occur. And a union-backed group critical of the retailer's personnel policies contends general worker discontent is playing a role.
Wal-Mart's official stance, according to AP:
The new policy seeks prosecutions of first-time offenders only if they are between ages 18 to 65 and steal at least $25 worth of merchandise.
Reading that correctly, we can get Grandfather Joe to slip out with the plasma screen. Jeffy, you've got that case of Miller Lite.

We jest, yet we offer this serious question: aren't those magnetic inventory control tags supposed to sound an alarm at the door when somebody walks off with the goods? Or did somebody steal that, too?

Something else to note: part of the role of the Wal-Mart greeter -- that person who rolls you a cart when you walk in -- is to create not only a friendly shopping environment, but also the perception you're being watched. That only works if the greeter isn't watching the stacks of new DVD releases and waiting to strike like an asp.

FROSTED FLAKES. Kellogg's is bowing to the food police, promising to reformulate both its cereals and its advertising.

From the New York Times:
The Kellogg Co. said Wednesday that it will phase out advertising its products to children younger than 12 unless the foods meet specific nutrition guidelines for calories, sugar, fat and sodium.

Kellogg also announced it will stop using licensed characters or branded toys to promote foods unless the products meet the nutrition guidelines.
Tony the Tiger's stripes just turned yellow. The cereal giant says these changes are voluntary, which your Lightning Round finds fruit-loopy seeing they come a year and a half after the company was threatened with a lawsuit from the usual health suspects: the Centers for Science in the Public Interest, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and two Massachusetts parents. Those suits are now evaporating.

We wonder why Kellogg's didn't let these cases go to court. We know, we know, it's less expensive to settle, but seeing advocacy groups bully corporations into tougher nutritional standards affrights us, especially when we all find ways around those standards anyway. Powdered sugar donuts, anyone?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Dan Vs. Katie Vs. The News

Dan Rather says his old broadcast "dumbed down" and "tarted up" when Katie Couric took the desk. He was talking about the product. CBS topper Les Moonves thought he was talking about Katie and ripped Rather a new news hole. Couric producer Rick Kaplan says Rather should shut up and fade out. At least one TV writer notes Dan's newscast was in third place long before Couric took over, and that Memogate scandal didn't help.

This is the same quality versus ratings debate with a new scapegoat. I have discussed previously why the CBS Evening News with Couric isn't working. Several reasons don't involve Katie, but several big ones do -- including the ghosts of her Today past and her awkwardness with the prompter. Gender is not the issue.

Mooves said, "Let's give her a break," echoing my sentiments, even though Evening News recently dropped to its lowest rating levels in 20 years.

If CBS dumps Katie now, it admits the critics are right, and the network has just flushed away millions of dollars. If it stays with her and the ratings don't show improvement, or drop even lower, they lose millions in ad dollars. They also leave affiliates grumbling about lousy lead-ins to their own programming.

My worst fear: the bluster of snarky TV critics, bloggers, and talk radio will buffet Black Rock like Hurricane Camille, and nervous toppers will topple Katie like Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad. And who will they get to replace her? Bob Schieffer doesn't want the full-time job. CBS alienated former weekend anchor John Roberts when they passed him over and he jumped to CNN. They're not going to dust off Uncle Walter.

Harry Smith, maybe? It could work. He's a likable enough guy.

But maybe some low-key person would be just as well... somebody who wouldn't make $15 million... somebody who would make news the star again.

Hey, Dan and Heather... how would you like a shot at the big time?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Emissary

A visitor from afar – in time and distance – joins hands with dancers unfamiliar yet welcoming in a tribute to the Father of the Constitution.

As recounted by Christopher Francis

“He’s going to dance with some ladies tonight,” my sister-in-law explains to my young niece as she gazes at my mother and I preparing a salad. “Lots of pretty girls.”

I’m not sure my young beloved understands the beauty of it all, even if she has seen me in my upscale colonial regalia: blue satin jacquard jacket and breeches with the embroidered waistcoat, white stockings, buckled shoes and gold-trimmed tricorn.

I enjoy firing a musket. I march proudly as a Patriot soldier or a Confederate private. I’ll skirmish as a Jacobite against any redcoat any time, anywhere. But what brings me joy, untainted happiness, is dancing in the Colonial style. The first Virginians loved to dance. So did Washington. I have no doubt some of their blood is within me.

So when I learned of the Independence Day Ball in Norwalk, California – an 18th Century night of cavorting less than an hour’s drive from my parents’ home in Upland -- the wheels in my head and on my carriage started turning. This time, I also need something for a potluck dinner. I figure a salad and brownies should work, even though I require the services of my Queen Mother to supplement my limited culinary skill.

“If you break down on the way,” my brother says as I embark on the journey through L.A.’s freeways in my colonial best, “just say your horses ran off.”

My worst-case scenario: breaking down on the 605 and having to look under the hood wearing knee pants. I would probably cause a few accidents just from the double-takes. I imagine the chuckles from the tow truck driver, or worse, the California Highway Patrolman who knows my historical likeness is going straight into his cruiser camera, itching to be passed around the office like a dirty joke or leaked to ABC 7 Eyewitness News.

An hour later, inside the ballroom of the Norwalk Masonic lodge, I acquaint myself with my soon-to-be dancing companions. I talk at length with a gentleman in Regency attire. It’s quite the contrast: my flowery aristocratic persona compared to his subdued brown short jacket and trousers. Georgian garments will flirt with Pride and Prejudice this evening as the others make their way in. The crowd of fifty people definitely skews older, but I spot several young faces as I head to the buffet line.

I eat sparingly. I need to stay light. A hearty meal may fill me up, but it also slows me down.

Our host doesn’t mean to interrupt our dinner, but he feels obligated to remind us “why we are here.” Here does not merely mean in the room. He means in America, today, all because of a document -- the Constitution -- authored by James Madison, who also wrote the Bill of Rights.

“What caused the Revolution?” our host asks, a question I knew would not have an easy answer.

A lady at the next table jumps in. “Wars don’t usually have a single cause,” she explained. She’s a professor, as others note in jest. But this does not disqualify her, and our host takes her lead.

Before we dance, we flirt with some facts: taxation without representation, the infamous Boston Tea Party, the quartering of British soldiers within our homes. Lousy redcoats.

The British government lived under the Magna Carta. Being in a British colony, our host pointed out, was better than any other country in the world. The Brits had rights. Even the king had to follow the law. The colonists revolted to protect what was theirs -- only they didn’t think their rights came from the king. Those rights came from God.

“Why does it work?” our host asks rhetorically about our government. “Limited power.”

I already know it: checks and balances, and three separate branches. I wonder how many of my peers appreciate this. I wonder how many young people do. If I walk down the street and ask ten people about the separation of powers, it would make “Jaywalking” on The Tonight Show.

Such quandaries will have to wait. We have a night of dancing before us.

Fleur de Lis -- our musicians on piano, flute, violin, viola, and bass violin -- start with a waltz, and immediately couples take the floor. They have their moves down like pros. I’m dancing with an experienced group. I don’t even attempt to find a partner. My pedestrian waltzing will not cut it here.

Many sport period attire. Others display modern-day formal wear. Some dance in casual clothing. One couple joins us in Hawaiian luau mode. Mumu? Island shirt? Perhaps this is Polynesian Colonial.

Our caller announces the first country dance, and I fear abandonment. It seems every person is attending with a partner, but here I am solo. They line up in a long set in excited anticipation. I look around. I ask a lady if she has a partner. She already does -- I just haven’t seen him yet. Is there no lady for me?

Long before this moment, I inquired whether attending alone could be a problem. The host assured me it would not. But now I needed rescuing just as I have rescued other ladies in the past. Dread slips in. I did not come all this way for this.

To my relief, a lady accepts my invitation as she is heading to the floor. She looks she is about to dance with another lady she knows, but the other graciously steps out of the way, leaving me to bow to my new partner as if she were royalty.

We do not start with a procession, as I am used to in the We Make History celebrations, beginning instead with a simple, symmetrical dance, explained in full by our talented caller who makes sure we do not miss a single beat. Her technique: walk us through once, then again if we asked, stirring in the music and then just letting us go on if we start dancing correctly. She does not have to do a lot of explaining. Now I know I'm with the pros.

If this ball had come along a year ago, I might have passed. But after a year of experience, I figured I was good enough to move up to the next level if the dances did the same. So on this night, I skipped through some of the most challenging English Country Dances I have ever done. “The Faithful Shepherd” has so many figures and changes of positions, I never would have been able to get through it without a caller. “Turning In Threes” nearly induced a merry dizziness.

However, I enjoy every moment, joyously showing it. I skip about the floor in steps where others might simply walk. I remind myself to smile as I face my partners and change places with them, keeping my eyes joined to theirs as we circle each other, my coattails flying about me just as the ladies' gowns whirl around them. I raise my free hand into the air in bliss as I turn my partners or join in a star.

“Riding your horse?” my lady smiles and observes.

If concealing happiness in that which lifts my heart is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Others pick up on my spirit. They raise their free hands, too. Some start skipping. Am I encouraging them? Or were they skipping all along?

I walked through the door this evening envisioning myself an emissary of sorts, bringing the lively grace I had developed in one society to another, where I knew others would appreciate it.

Thus, I always bow deeply to every lady, sweeping off my tricorn into my hand.

“Thank you for a wonderful dance!”

I don’t care if I look like a fop in blue satin, standing out like a prince among peasants, if only because I'm the sole person in the room wearing the three-cornered topper.

“You should stick some macaroni in your hat,” one lady observes dryly, a reference to that old English club of overdone fashion, the club that would inspire the Patriot anthem Yankee Doodle.

This is who I am. I am a gentleman. I am a time traveler. I am a servant of God and of others. My desire is to bring a smile to my dancing companions. And I do.

Several times, I do not have to seek a partner. I stand in the dance floor, formulating a strategy for finding another companion when a charming lass greets me and asks me to dance. Of course, I bow in grateful acceptance. The role reversal humbles me.

Many ask about my upscale attire, especially my embroidered floral waistcoat.

“Did you make that yourself?”

“A charming lady in Phoenix did,” I reply, paying tribute several times to the labors of Madame Rodriguez and her eye for fashion.

I lose count of the number of dances, but it seems like at least a dozen -- with only one intermission for refreshment. We all need the time to cool down. The fans in the room are not circulating the air as we would like, and some ladies furiously fan themselves. My stamina persists. I have not sat out one dance in a year and a half, and I am keeping that record going as long as I can.

Therefore, I dance every dance, including the final waltz. A charming elderly lady offers to share it with me. I offer my standard disclaimer: “I have to warn you, I’m not much of a waltzer.”

She sees that I am. “You’re doing a two-step.”

It’s possibly a Texas Two-Step. I did live there for five years, so I must have learned it through osmosis. My partner gives me a crash course in a three-step. It is clear I am not going to master it in five minutes. A silent frustration fills me as I struggle to learn the steps. The music ends before I can make progress.

“Thank you for teaching me,” I say to my partner with a bow and a tinge of embarrassment at being outdanced.

“You’re a good two-stepper,” she compliments.

Maybe all is not lost.

I stick around to help clean up the ballroom, disposing of trash and cups and collecting what is left of my dinner offering: Most of the salad is gone and only a few brownies remain. The Queen Mother’s efforts were not in vain. I help one of the musicians load up her keyboard and stands. The evening cannot end with me just walking away.

Just before I leave, I converse with a couple who asks about me and the other group I am in. I share my business card.

“I go by Christopher now,” I point out, correcting the truncated printing of my name.

“The light-bearer,” the husband observes.

“Bearer of Christ,” I say in agreement.

“Are you a Christian?” the wife asks excitedly.

“Yes I am,” I say with warmth, and I recount coming back to God through living in the past, prayers at Picacho Peak, a re-affirmation outside an In-N-Out, and a baptism just days ago. They love hearing it all. Ah, another Miracle Moment.

I return to Upland well after midnight, happy yet tired, a pad on my right foot -- scraped yet only mildly sore. With both guest rooms occupied by my brother’s family, I fall asleep on the couch downstairs and finally conquer the glorious insomnia of afterglow.

It catches up to me the next day in the 500-mile journey back to Tucson, back to my other life and time: the reminiscing and reflection. Come on, I remind myself, the next ball will be here soon enough.

In some English Country Dance tunes, I detect a sad-sweet melody, beauty seasoned with a dash of mourning. It makes me think the music was written with the longing for the world we recreate on the ballroom floor. I can’t get it out of my head as I roll east on I-10, leaving one world behind but refusing to let go of it.

This fine ball raised more than $1,500 for the Montpelier Foundation, which is dedicated to restoring the home of James Madison. Huzzah!

More about my merry dancing companions here.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Death Be Not Cramped

Vertical development is a fact of life in urban areas. Now it's a fact of death.

GRAVE SITUATION. From the country that gave us double-decker buses comes the double-decker burial. England is running out of space for the deceased, so some of the dearly departed will have to be buried on top of older graves.

From Associated Content:
A technique called "lift and deepen" will be used to make old grave sites have enough room to take up to six new coffins each. These new coffins will placed on top of the older remains, as reported by the BBC. Once the deeper graves have been used once there will be no time constraints on when they can have fresh bodies placed in them. 150,000 people are buried in churchyards and cemeteries every year in England and Wales.
Reports BBC:
It will be left to the local authorities who look after graveyards to contact relatives of those who are buried - a job which may be thwarted by illegible weathered gravestones from more than 100 years ago.
Even in death, we don't know our neighbours. But above everything, your Lightning Round hopes the expired Brits won't have to end up sleeping with the fishes -- in a literal sense.

WHAT PRICE DEATH? You know the cliche about money and happiness, but that's not stopping a couple of economists. They're looking for the magic number that will bring back smiles after the death of a loved one, especially in wrongful death cases.

From Scientific
They calculated that it would take $220,000 annually to raise someone's happiness to pre-death levels after a spouse dies, $118,000 for a child, $28,000 for a parent, $16,000 for a friend and only $2,000 for a sibling. Taking into account that some people might be harder hit than others could as much as double those amounts, [researchers] Oswald and Powdthavee wrote in paper reported at a conference held last week on happiness research, law and policy at the University of Chicago (UC).
Still, this theory has fine print.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia says there is "so much more at stake when people suffer loss than simply the hit to their happiness." Actual suffering should factor into damage awards, he says, but so should other things such as feelings of outrage or injustice.
Otherwise you're left with more feelings of outrage and injustice at the jury who stiffed you.

LIVING IT UP. Wily coyotes are going upscale, hanging out in the Biltmore area of Phoenix.

From the Arizona Daily Star:
They're feasting on plenty of quail and jackrabbits, they have lakes nearby and plenty of places to hang out, wildlife officials say. They've even taken a liking to pets. Recently, coyotes have attacked and seriously wounded pet dogs and cats in the Biltmore.
We guess those world-class restaurants just can't please everybody.

ROLL ON. A deranged man in a pink shirt tried to jump into the Popemobile while it was cruising through Vatican City. Bodyguards tackled the man, and His Holiness was not harmed. He barely noticed, as you can see from the video below.

With defense like that, the NFL is once again considering expansion.

CORRUPTING OUR YOUTH. Dennis Seavers, the executive director of Arizona's Board of Fingerprinting, got a wrist-slapping for a MySpace page where he described himself as a "wild debaucher" who turned children into little lawbreakers.

From the AP:
Seavers told The Associated Press in a May 21 interview that the page's contents were "exactly the opposite of me as a person" and were a joke intended for viewing only by friends.

"If I had known that the public would see it, I never would have done it," Seavers said.
Rule of thumb, Mr. Seavers: if it's on the web, it's out there for everybody.

CAN'T SIT STILL. Part chair, part robot. Meet Hubo FX-1:

From "Future application include carrying old and disabled persons and moving heavy loads."

Didn't I see this thing in The Empire Strikes Back?

Thursday, June 7, 2007

News 4 Goes 24

Tucson's KVOA News 4 -- one of my competitors -- is launching a 24-news channel on Cox Cable channel 3. (This channel is already running infomercials, by the way.)

According to the Arizona Daily Star they will rebroadcast KVOA's newscasts live and then re-run the most recent newscast over and over until the next newscast.

This is the same thing KTVK does in Phoenix with the Arizona News Channel. It's not always Live, Local or Late Breaking, but it's a good way to get a news channel on the air with minimal start-up costs.

By the way, folks, KOLD News 13 has its own 24-hour weather and news channel: KOLD News 13 Now is on digital channel 13.2 for you HDTV owners. We're also on Cox at digital channel 87, and on Comcast.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Court To FCC: Get A Grip

An appeals court has thrown out an FCC ruling which fines broadcasters for dirty words on the tube -- even those dirty words slipped out accidentally. In this case, we're talking about Cher's use of the s-word and Bono's use of an f-bomb, both on network television, both fleetingly.

From the Hollywood Reporter:
"We find the FCC's new policy sanctioning 'fleeting expletives' is arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedures Act for failing to articulate a reasoned basis for its change in policy," the court wrote in a 2-1 opinion.
Media critic Jeff Jarvis has an excellent analysis of this ruling on his blog. Let me add some observations of my own.

First, this ruling is long overdue. The FCC has clouded the waters so much on what will get you fined and what will not. The ruling says as such:
"For instance, the Commission states that even non-literal uses of expletives fall within its indecency definition because it is “difficult (if not impossible) to distinguish whether a word is being used as an expletive or as a literal description of sexual or excretory functions.” This defies any common-sense understanding of these words, which, as the general public well knows, are often used in everyday conversation without any “sexual or excretory” meaning."
In other words, all F's are not uttered equal. We had ABC network affiliates bail out of carrying an uncut version of the movie Saving Private Ryan because f-words were used all over the place. Those words were used in the grit of war, not the height of passion, but with the FCC's ruling on Bono's bomb, who can blame them for playing a safety? Of course, the FCC didn't fine any affiliates who did show the movie, proving the FCC lacks consistency in enforcement, not just rule making.

Second, the appeals court also makes it clear any broadcast indecency regulation is getting harder to justify:
The Networks contend that the bases for treating broadcast media “different[ly]” have “eroded over time,” particularly because 86 percent of American households now subscribe to cable or satellite services. As the Networks argue, this and other realities have “eviscerated” the notion that broadcast content is, as it was termed in Pacifica, “uniquely pervasive” and “uniquely accessible to children.”
With uncensored cable networks and the Internet in a vast majority of homes, it does not make sense anymore to require anything that broadcasts over the air -- yet shares the same dial space in most homes -- to be subject to stricter rules. Most basic-cable nets filter out profanity and nudity as well, but technically, they don't have to. They do it more as a gentleman's agreement than anything else, simply because they share that dial space with the broadcast channels.

Also notes the court:
The FCC’s decision, however, is devoid of any evidence that suggests a fleeting expletive is harmful, let alone establishes that this harm is serious enough to warrant government regulation. Such evidence would seem to be particularly relevant today when children likely hear this language far more often from other sources than they did in the 1970s when the Commission first began sanctioning indecent speech.
Guess what: your kids are learning dirty words on the playground -- and if they're hearing it from the tube, they're likely hearing from the cable movie channels, in the cinemas, or from DVD's. Those sources get a pass, or ratings, or parental control.

All of the FCC's flimsy arguments simply don't hold up in front of both the First Amendment and media world we live in. I'm hoping the FCC appeals this to the Supreme Court and we finally get a decision knocking some sense into them and clearing up the fog surrounding this issue.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is afraid if this ruling stands, it will lead to networks cursing like The Sopranos on fast-forward. Baloney. Those of us who are offended will simply tune out profanity. We do that already. Networks will offer "family-friendly" entertainment. They do that already, too.

A V-chip? Try some parenting for a change. Try watching TV as a family. Try talking about what you watch, and try explaining to your children why a dirty word is a dirty word. Enlighten them on why people don't use those words -- or at least try not to use them. The FCC will never be able to do that.

Randy Returns

Randy Garsee is going back on the air -- not in Tucson, but for KTEN in the Sherman-Denison area north of Dallas, on the Texas-Oklahoma state line. He'll be both primary anchor and managing editor, giving him that evil diabolical power we know he's been craving [grin].

More from Randy's website.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Rise From The Water

I stepped forward into the warm pool, my bare feet scampering over the white-hot cement of the June afternoon outside Tucson Community Church.

"Nice and warm," I said, wading in waist deep.

"Feels good, doesn't it?" the pastor observed. People I barely knew surrounded me, some going through this ceremony, some there to watch, but all of us there to root each other on. A few small children laughed and giggled and longed to step in the water.

"There's a lot of people around here, a lot of distractions." he said in my ear after he motioned me to the side of the water. "But this is a moment for you and God. Take a moment, and when you're ready, say, 'I confess Christ as my Lord and Savior.'"

I bowed my head.

God, you have brought me this far, I prayed. My friends have brought me this far. Help me as I continue this walk with You.

I had already walked a long way, some of it in detours.

I grew up in the church. I took part in the youth club, and I went to Sunday school. I attended services with Mom and Dad and brother Michael at my side. When the children's musical came around every year, I always tried out for and landed one of the lead roles.

I went through Confirmation classes like a good young Presbyterian, confessing Christ as my Savior in a credo which I read out loud to my family and other church members at a banquet. But reflecting upon it, the whole process felt more like a typical college essay exam. I spent a weekend with a dozen other kids reviewing the theology with our pastor as he laid it out in front of us in magic-marker writing on an easel. He gave us a take-or-leave-it approach: look at it, and write down your thoughts. I did. Others reviewed my work and I rewrote. Yet what I put on the paper wasn't what I believed; it was what others thought I should believe, trying to earn an "A" from the elders who would vote on my membership. I don't know what I did with that credo. It didn't matter.

I drifted away from Sunday School and Youth Club as other interests took over: computers, mostly. Virtual reality replaced actual reality in the early days of computer networking. With the sturm und drang of growing up, the feeling manifested that others didn't understand me and didn't care. My Sunday School teacher wrote a letter noticing my continued absence and trusting I had chosen to spend my time in some other productive matter. I thought about writing him back and saying, "You left first."

When I moved with my family from Kansas City to St. Louis, it took awhile for us to find another church, and it didn't happen before I went off to college. I had disconnected myself from Sunday services by then. My first job after graduation required working nights and weekends, meaning worship would conflict with my schedule anyway. This went on for twelve years. About the only time I went to church was on Christmas Eve, and then, only with my family.

I still believed in God -- just not like churchgoers did. I hadn't given up on Him, even though sifting through some of the news headlines in the course of my work -- the killings, the crime, the inhumanity -- might have shaken my faith.

But God doesn't give up either. He would find a way to reach me again and pull me back. He would work through a curiosity I had about Colonial American life and a desire to heal some old wounds of rejection from my younger years and peers.

It started a year and a half ago when I walked back in time into an 18th Century ball -- a night of beauty, kindness, elegance and manners. When I attended, I did it to satisfy some curiosities and a spirit of adventure. I thought of it as the Prom night I never had. I mainly wanted to have fun.

But I never imagined a few graceful turns in breeches and a tricorn would be an expression of God's grace. He was working that night, through this crowd of strangers who suddenly treated me like family, this collection of warm and wonderful people who bowed and curtsied me into a world I thought only existed for others. The gentlemen offered many words of encouragement and no lady refused me a dance. When that ball ended, I knew I was on the first page of a new chapter in my life. I couldn't get it out of my heart. It uplifted me. It kept me awake.

I didn't think of it at the time as the Holy Spirit, but that's exactly what it was.

I attended several more historic balls with a happy urgency, like a child counting the days towards summer vacation, escaping from the stress and deadlines of a broadcast newsroom and eager to experience a bliss I had never known over and over again. I re-lived the past on the battlefield, in the full regalia of war, hoping to inspire and educate others, just as others had done the same for me. Friendships blossomed, and I noticed what I call Miracle Moments: signals from God that He was watching over me. Some I remember, some I've forgotten, but a newsroom memory from my birthday last year will never lapse. A class of elementary-school children on a station tour spontaneously began singing "Happy Birthday" after I explained why I was donning a three-cornered hat.

I called 2006 an epiphany year. I found new purpose and joy, a new zest for life. Or... I thought I had.

Inside me, a void still loomed. It poked at me, lacing my thoughts with depression and involuntary solitude, and I couldn't understand why. Had I softened my heart so much that it was breaking? You need a thick skin to survive in journalism. Maybe I had gone too far.

You're happier in the past than you are in the present, I thought. What is wrong with me? I dealt with it as best I could.

When I fell victim to heat exhaustion while skirmishing with the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War re-enactments at Picacho Peak, a feeling of uselessness hovered over me like a storm cloud. I couldn't march and I couldn't battle -- commanders' orders. All I could do was sit under the tent fly of headquarters, not wanting to leave and thus surrender, but at the same time embarrassed and wishing my fellow soldiers had not seen me like this.

But again, God was watching over me. And so were my fellow infantrymen.

"We were praying for you," one of them told me later.

Praying for me? I was worthy of prayer? Me, the rookie who could barely get the drill right? I could not comprehend it. In a camp church service the next day, I learned General Robert E. Lee had also fallen into tears upon hearing others had prayed for him. "I am just a poor sinner," he said. When the service ended, tears had streamed down my cheek as well.

A friend of mine who led this service saw the cry for help. After I explained it all to him in an e-mail, he gave reassurance: looking out for me was "simply who we are." He posed a question: "Why has God brought you here?"

I already knew the answer, but I still felt the void. Stresses of work still pressed on me and confusion about my purpose gnawed from within. I didn't know where I stood with God and I was afraid of the answer. I remember looking at a knife while making lunch one day and thinking, I don't think I should be holding this.

Several weeks later, after another wonderful ball and a post-dance feast, our commander came to my spiritual aid in a place I least expected: outside an In-N-Out in Phoenix.

"I feel comfortable asking you this because I've known you for awhile. If you're uncomfortable with anything, just say so and I'll immediately back off. Have you asked Jesus to come into your heart?"

"Probably," I said, "but not in exactly those words."

He said he noticed I was being drawn back to God, especially after that sermon at Picacho. The truth came out of me then, first in a few drops, then in a cascading waterfall of nervous admissions about the emptiness within me and how journeys into the past were helping me deal with the present. With a few friends by my side, our commander prayed with me as I asked Christ to come into my heart -- another poor sinner wanting to get right with God and heal.

On Easter weekend, I went back to church on my own for the first time in more than a decade.

And now I stood in the water, head bowed.

"I confess Christ as my Lord and Savior," I said, my voice laced with trembling humility, my eyes welling with tears, as I gave thanks to The Almighty and to all those who had led me back to Him.

"Pinch your nose," the pastor said to me. He leaned me back and let the fluid consume me.

"I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!"

I arose from the water with a contented joy as the family of Christ cheered and applauded for me. All I could say was "Thank you" as I shook hands with the smiling gatherers who congratulated me in the glorious sogginess. I had forgotten to bring a towel, but I didn't care. Letting the wetness drip from me like the mistakes of the past didn't bother anybody, and besides, the 100-degree Arizona sun would dry me out as we celebrated with chocolate cake and punch afterwards. The angels were celebrating, so why not us?

No members of my family witnessed the event, no friends, no colleagues at KOLD. I had told nobody about it beforehand. I wanted the moment to be about God, not me. Some of my extracurricular activities are the stuff of sideshow. I wouldn't allow that.

I have been attending TCC for the past two months. I'm on their production crew. For the first time in my life, I actually enjoy going to church, and it's because the pastors do such an amazing job of teaching in a way that's relevant to the way people live. I'm getting the message. The journey continues. I'll need some help along the way -- working in a newsroom and serving the Lord seem incompatible at times.

But I've made the commitment to the profession I chose. I'm not about to walk away and become a monk. Walking away, after all, was the start of the problem.

Be Blessed.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Yabba-Dabba-Do You Believe?

The last time I saw dinos and humans living in peaceful coexistence, it was on The Flintstones. Then came Jurassic Park to dispel those fantasies. But we still have Barney, don't we? And we also have this:

IN THE BEGINNING... The Creation Museum is now open in Petersburg, KY, offering the Biblical story of how the world began in a format rivaling anything from the Smithsonian Institution with claims science backs them up.

Evolution is derided at this 60,000-square-foot facility, packed with high-tech exhibits designed by an acclaimed theme-park artist, animatronic dinos and a massive ark hewn of wood. In this Old Testament version of history, dinosaurs appeared on the same day God created every other land animal. And what museum would be complete without fossils? Those dusty artifacts are also found here - hung in large glass cases in a room visitors spill into after taking a tour of Old Testament history. [The museum founder] says most fossils, like the ones stored in natural history museums around the world, were created by the massive flood detailed in the book of Genesis.
Scientists offer dismay and condemnation.

From Gregory Farrington, executive director of the California Academy of Sciences in SFGate:
Fundamental religion is based on unquestioning faith, science is based on reason that is continually questioning. They are very different paths. Visitors to the Creation Museum must understand that it is not a science museum -- it is a religious museum, whose re-imaginings of geological and biological evidence have no support from the scientific community.
The organization behind the museum offers a reasonable question:
Answers in Genesis founder Ken Ham said the vast majority of natural history museums and textbooks available to students are devoted to teaching evolution.

"And they're worried about one creation museum?" he said. "I think they're really concerned that we're going to get information out that they don't want people to hear."
True. And if this is the only museum your children visit, we at the Lightning Round would have cause for concern. But we have a different perspective. We see it as another church, without a steeple but with a fixed, multimedia sermon. We also know we live in a country where we are free to believe... or not.

We pose a question to the Creationists: What Would Jesus Do? Perhaps the answer is in John 8:32: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

But what is the truth?

From NPR:
[Ham] rejects the idea that science has a lock on empirical evidence.

"All scientists have presuppositions that they start with that determine how they interpret evidence," he says, adding that scientists were not around to see dinosaurs walk the Earth anymore than creationists can claim to have been present to observe Adam and Eve.
Maybe it's time to end the debate over how the world began and work on the problems of the world today.

HANDS OFF. A New Hampshire man refused to shake Mitt Romney's hand because of the GOP presidential contender's Mormon faith.

From the AP:
"I'm one person who will not vote for a Mormon," said the disgruntled patron.

When Romney asked if he could shake the man's hand anyway, the diner refused.

In a follow-up interview, the patron said he plans to vote for Senator Hillary Clinton.
When your Lightning Round contacted him, we got this response: "He's a Mormon? Oh, sorry. At first I didn't hear that second 'M'."

YOU GOTTA BE KIDNEYING ME. A Dutch TV show called "The Big Donor" is offering the winner a kidney transplant from a dying woman. Doctors are shaking their heads, according to BBC:
"The scenario portrayed in this programme is ethically totally unacceptable," said Professor John Feehally, who has just ended his term as president of the UK's Renal Association.

"The show will not further understanding of transplants," he added. "Instead it will cause confusion and anxiety."
Here in America, inside sources tell your Lightning Round a similar show will offer a spinal transplant. Contestants will be drawn from Congress.

UPDATE: Hours after we went to blog, wire editor Dominic Duplex ran to us out of breath with this urgent dispatch from the AP:
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) - A Dutch television show in which a woman would supposedly donate a kidney to a contestant has been revealed as a hoax. Presenters say they were trying to pressure the government into reforming organ donation laws. The show says the three prospective recipients are real patients in need of transplants, and had been in on the hoax.
Heckuva way to lobby.

FAHRENHEIT 451. Used bookseller Tom Wayne wanted to get rid of some excess inventory, but he found he couldn't give his extra volumes away. So he burned them. And he enjoyed it.

From the AP:
"This is the funeral pyre for thought in America today," Wayne told spectators outside his bookstore as he lit the first batch of books.
Firefighters put out the burning pages because he didn't have a permit. Wayne says he'll get one and keep on burning until his entire supply of 20,000 books disintegrates into ash.
"After slogging through the tens of thousands of books we've slogged through and to accumulate that many and to have people turn you away when you take them somewhere, it's just kind of a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "And it's a good excuse for fun."
In all fairness, Wayne is offering to spare these volumes from the flames by selling them to you for $1 a book plus postage. But Wayne, there is recycling.

THAT'S ALL. Cindy Sheehan is stepping down from her role as anti-war activist, exasperated at what she sees as America's war mentality.

From the AP:
When she had first taken on Bush, Sheehan was a darling of the liberal left. "However, when I started to hold the Democratic Party to the same standards that I held the Republican Party, support for my cause started to erode and the 'left' started labeling me with the same slurs that the right used," she wrote.
She's now being accused of "cut and run."

WORD UP! Officials evacuated a high school in Edinburg, TX after finding a junky car in the parking lot painted with the words, "Da Bomb." Seven seniors are now in trouble.

From The Monitor of McAllen, TX:
All seven will graduate, Edinburg schools Superintendent Gilbert Garza said, but they won’t be attending Saturday’s graduation ceremony.

Garza was unsure if the district would try to press criminal charges against the students, however.
Meanwhile, faculty are getting a lesson in street slang -- old school, perhaps.

Look up "Da Bomb" on UrbanDictionary and you get:
A really stupid way of saying something's awesome... I mean how old is it now??
Which means our seven seniors are "wick," too.