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Vroom, Vroom.... 4.29.2007 |

I'm a big fan of cars. Love 'em. Love the speed, the engineering and the beauty. The past two weekends, I've taken my paltry little digital point and shoot out and about to the small car showings in Boiling Springs and Shelby. Below are the fruits of my labor. Bear in mind, they pay me to write -- not to take pictures.

Visitors check out a 1947 Ford Coupe on display at the Courthouse's Birthday Party.

Antique fire truck from Kings Mountain on display at the Courthouse's Birthday Party.

A 1957(?) Pontiac Star Chief on display at Springs Alive in Boiling Springs.

A 1970(?) Ford Mustang Boss 302, Springs Alive

And hey, if I got any of the above wrong, or you own any of the above, let me know! And if you owners would be willing to let me take your baby for a spin, make sure to let me know!

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Sore thumbs... 4.27.2007 |

I am not a gamer. I've never touched a Wii. I'm not committed to having the latest consoles and if I don't beat the game, that's just fine by me most of the time.

Don't get me wrong -- I've been a fan of different games throughout the video game revolution. Frogger was entertaining, Duck Hunt was euphorically diverting, Mortal Kombat introduced me a whole new world and I actually remember the exact time and place I first played Madden NFL. None of that, friends, compares to the first time I got behind the controller and did my first lap on Need for Speed: Underground.

I love cars -- and while I've never been a fan of over-zealous paint jobs and seizure inducing decals (carbage, as it's called) -- I must admit the satisfaction of customizing your virtual car until it is virtually unrecognizable and, without a doubt, no longer street legal. And the racing... Like I've said, I'm not a gamer and most times I didn't care if I placed. I just like making the car go. True gamers may be wincing but, hey, that just means I'm one less person you have to worry about beating your score.

Need for Speed:Carbon -- which I played for the first time earlier this evening -- was no exception to any of the other NfS games I've played over the years now. I sucked. But the graphics and the cars and the...well...it was just a great looking game. Heck, even as I gloriously mangled my Murcielago (again) it looked great grinding into a sparking nub of Lambo.

I'll admit the roads were a little wonky -- not exactly what I had come to expect from the NfS crowd. But, hey, I'm just going to crash anyway.

Anyway, all that to say all this...
I don't think violent television or movies or video games make people go out and do bad things.
But, I do finally see the wisdom in a quote from "Smartbomb" by Chaplin and Ruby:

"Show me your children’s games, and I will show you the next hundred years."

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Burns AFJROTC goes airborne |

Blackhawk up and away...

McSweeney's Internet Tendency 4.23.2007 |

DispatchesFrom Adjunct Facultyat a Large StateUniversity.
- - - -
D I S P A T C H 15
On Crocodiles.
By Oronte Churm
- - - -
I like stories about shifting impressions. In Chekhov's "The Lady With the Dog," Gurov returns home after a quickie affair at a resort, and everything is beautiful:
He returned to Moscow on a fine frosty day, and when he put on his fur-lined overcoat and thick gloves, and sauntered down Petrovka Street, and when, on Saturday evening, he heard the church bells ringing, his recent journey and the places he had visited lost their charm for him. He became gradually immersed in Moscow life, reading with avidity three newspapers a day, while declaring he never read Moscow newspapers on principle. Once more he was caught up in a whirl of restaurants, clubs, banquets, and celebrations, once more glowed with the flattering consciousness that well-known lawyers and actors came to his house, that he played cards in the Medical Club opposite a professor. He could once again eat a whole serving of Moscow Fish Stew in a pan.
I don't even like chowder, but that fish stew served in a pan makes me crazy with hunger. Contrast that scene with Gurov's impression of the very same place and people, just three paragraphs later. His rage is comic:
What savage manners, what people! What wasted evenings, what tedious, empty days! Frantic card-playing, gluttony, drunkenness, perpetual talk always about the same thing. The greater part of one's time and energy went on business that was no use to anyone, and on discussing the same thing over and over again, and there was nothing to show for it all but a stunted wingless existence and a round of trivialities, and there was nowhere to escape to, you might as well be in a madhouse or a convict settlement.
Chekhov writes the prose equivalent of Monet's paintings. After a while, you begin to see that variations of mood and tone—not haystacks or water lilies or card players or fish stew—are the real subject.
- - - -
Mrs. Churm fell twice when she was pregnant with Starbuck, from a combination of inner-ear disturbance, shifting center of balance, and "ligament laxity," a loosening of the joints caused by new hormonal levels. The first time, she slipped on our front stairs, and we rushed to the hospital to see the midwife on duty.
Davie was a thin, low-talking Englishman with a ginger ponytail and a closely cropped beard. He was married and had his own kids, whom he took cycling and rock- climbing, and he volunteered at a shelter for at-risk pregnant teens. The only male midwife at our hospital, he wore a button on his scrubs that read, "Listen to the woman." He knew all about women's bodies and what would happen to them, while all I knew was enough to get us to this point. There was a group of former patients called "Davie's Girls," who gushed over him as if they were in junior high and he was the resident hottie.
Davie sent us for an ultrasound, checked Mrs. Churm inside and out, stripped off his gloves, washed up, and sat on a rolling stool directly in front of her. Speaking so softly that I had to strain to be included, he explained to her how a fall could shear the placenta from the uterine wall and starve the baby of food and oxygen. "But really," he assured my wife, "you seem to be fine. Anyway, it's so early in the pregnancy, it's not like we could take heroic measures."
Because I'm deeply in touch with my feelings, I can tell you that I was above all terrified for my wife and unborn child. I was also grateful to the point of tears for Davie's care and honesty. And when he said so matter-of-factly that my son wasn't viable I felt some evil crocodile part of my being sink lower in the swamp of my brain, so only its snaky eyes were visible above the gray matter. It thought: You'll pay for that comment, you ponytailed son of a bitch.
- - - -
It's been a damp, drizzly semester in my soul. The young men are in love with violence. (One said in class that he was getting aroused just thinking about actress Jennifer Garner punching him in the face.) A young woman lectured us that no one had ever given birth alone; she knew this because her mom was an ob-gyn. My impressions of students began their slide back around the holidays, even as I rationalized that they had their own competencies, were athletes and future chemical engineers and captains of finance. I began to worry that this was all like a date that had gone on too long.
There are some professors—one in a departmental generation, maybe—who ripen and become happier and more generous the longer they're around the institution. They seem to have the good luck not to drop dead of virulent cancers the year after they retire, and you see them in the hallways, busy but engaged with others' research, families, and lives. One I know reminds me of a black-and-white photo I have of poet-doctor William Carlos Williams in old age, laughing joyously under a dogwood in full blossom. I wanna become that guy.
- - - -
The second time my wife fell, she did a full-on belly flop on the tile floor at her water-aerobics class. She was about a week shy of being full-term. I was horrified at what that kind of overpressure might do to the baby. But at the hospital they hooked her up to a belly band and a fetal monitor, and everything seemed fine.
Davie was the midwife on duty when Mrs. Churm finally went into labor. It was a slow night in labor and delivery. We also had a midwifery resident, a battle-ax nurse, which I mean in the most grateful and admiring way, and a doula we'd hired, so there was plenty of attention. I walked Mrs. Churm up and down the halls, pushed against her spine to counter back labor, and helped her in and out of showers. But when she went into the stage called transition, the most intense part of labor, when women lose their minds and so do their husbands, she was in the birthing-suite toilet. Davie sat on the floor at her feet, slumped against the wall, twirling his ponytail with one finger.
"I'm dying!" cried Mrs. Churm. "Nooo, you're not," Davie said in a bored drone. "I am! I am! I am dying!" Mrs. Churm cried. "Ohhhh ..." Her groans were more horrible than her cries.
I excused myself, saying I'd just step out and eat my breakfast in the next room, since we'd been up 24 hours, and I'd need my strength for the actual delivery. No one listened. I went out and bit into the gooey institutional muffin they'd brought on the breakfast tray. The crown stuck to the roof of my mouth in a big chocolate glob I couldn't chew, and I sobbed on top of what was left.
- - - -
Impressions change easily. Just when I was feeling most tired, and a bit fed up, my student Madeline came to office hours. Her roommate had tried to kill herself, and the university had utterly failed everyone involved, leaving Madeline to care for this girl she didn't even know, whose mother wouldn't help, either. Madeline had written a story that was miraculous in its ability to show the pain and confusion of recent weeks without self-pity or even anger at all those who'd let her down.
We had just finished conferencing when I heard the disorganized noises that indicate some violence, and a girl screamed, "Oh my god!" There were half a dozen TAs, instructors, and lecturers in my group office, and maybe 15 students.
As I jumped off my chair and rounded a tall bookcase, I expected to see two guys scuffling on the floor. Instead, a young woman was thrown backward in grand-mal seizure on a teacher's desk. Her fellow students quickly lifted her feet off the floor and lay her flat, then formed a wall so she couldn't fall off. Even as I called 911 on my cell, another student a few feet away was speaking calmly to a dispatcher, and the police told me to hang up.
The girl thrashed and thrashed, fighting the thing that had her, and tears ran into her hair. She was rigid, silent, and perfectly white. Then she turned blue, and bright blood trickled down her chin. It wasn't like watching someone die; it was like looking at death. But the students didn't back away. Two spoke loudly but reassuringly to her as others held her on the desk, and one young man—classmate, not boyfriend—stroked her hair. I asked them to turn her on her side, and she gasped loudly for a breath. Someone shouted, "She's back!"
Her face turned cherry-red then from the buildup of carbon dioxide, and when her eyes opened they were totally pink from blown capillaries. She struggled to speak and rise but made no sense. I found myself saying loudly, "Stay down, sweetheart," not even knowing where that came from; a second later I realized I'd been speaking as if to one of my little boys, and had to walk away. It was startling for me to acknowledge to myself that I'd begun to relate to my students as a father might. The paramedics were there by then, and in half an hour she was able to walk out with them. Her peers stayed with her the entire time. How had they become so strong and compassionate?
- - - -
Starbuck was born healthy. After I cut the cord, they suctioned his airway, cleaned him, weighed him, and put him under the heater to pink up. Meanwhile, Mrs. Churm was bleeding much too heavily.
Even Davie seemed flustered. He had a tray of instruments that included a curved needle that looked like it belonged to a sailmaker, and he was going to use it as soon as they could get the placenta to deliver. He roughly, impatiently, kneaded my wife's abdomen, and she cried out from sharp pains worse than anything that had come before. They gave her a shot that caused more contractions, and that was even more agonizing. When the placenta delivered, it came so fast that Davie didn't have his basin ready. I caught a glimpse of something as organic as lungs, and there was a hard liquid slap on the floor.
"Oh! Muh shoes!" Davie cried, and I knew everything would be OK.
- - - -
The details of what happened at Virginia Tech on Monday are still emerging, but what has stayed with me from the accounts so far is that professor Liviu Librescu, 76, held his classroom door shut long enough for a few students to jump from second-story windows to safety. I suspect that events happened so fast that his power to hold back Death as long as he did, before being killed, came from a deep and primitive feeling: These are my kids, you son of a bitch.
What a beautiful old crocodile.

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4.19.2007 |

Oh my God...Mark Wood is insanely amazing. You should definitely make it to one of his shows at Shelby High. I'd tell you more but that would ruin the surprise. Seriously...GO!

It's a tempting "I told you so..." 4.16.2007 |

Link to site here
SURVEY: Daily Show/Colbert Viewers Most Knowledgable, Fox News Viewers Rank Lowest
A new study by the Pew Research Study shows that viewers of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report have the highest knowledge of national and international affairs, while Fox News viewers rank nearly dead last:

Despite significant technology shifts, however, Pew found that “today’s citizens are about as able to name their leaders, and are about as aware of major news events, as was the public nearly 20 years ago.”

(So don't blame my generation for 'dumbing down' America.)

The results about Fox News echo findings of previous surveys. In 2003, University of Maryland researchers studied the public’s belief in three false claims — that Iraq possessed WMD, that Iraq was involved in 9/11, and that there was international support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The researchers stated, “The extent of Americans’ misperceptions vary significantly depending on their source of news. Those who receive most of their news from Fox News are more likely than average to have misperceptions.” Fox News viewers were “three times more likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions.”

Is this a problem of being an irresponsible news consumer or an irresponsible news provider? Of course, one redeeming quality of the Fox News channel is the fact they aren't the ones airing Nancy Grace. That falls squarely on the shoulders of CNN.

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Study: Abstinence classes don't stop sex 4.13.2007 |

By KEVIN FREKING, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON - Students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, according to a study ordered by Congress.

Also, those who attended one of the four abstinence classes that were reviewed reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as those who did not attend the classes. And they first had sex at about the same age as other students — 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc.

The federal government now spends about $176 million annually on abstinence-until-marriage education. Critics have repeatedly said they don't believe the programs are working, and the study will give them reinforcement.
However, Bush administration officials cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study. They said the four programs reviewed — among several hundred across the nation — were some of the very first established after Congress overhauled the nation's welfare laws in 1996.

Officials said one lesson they learned from the study is that the abstinence message should be reinforced in subsequent years to truly affect behavior.
"This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines. You can't expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth's high school career," said Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families.

For its study, Mathematica looked at students in four abstinence programs around the country as well as students from the same communities who did not participate in the abstinence programs. The 2,057 youths came from big cities — Miami and Milwaukee — as well as rural communities — Powhatan, Va., and Clarksdale, Miss.
The students who participated in abstinence education did so for one to three years. Their average age was 11 to 12 when they entered the programs back in 1999.
Mathematica then did a follow up survey in late 2005 and early 2006. By that time, the average age for participants was about 16.5. Mathematica found that about half of the abstinence students and about half from the control group reported that they remained abstinent.

"I really do think it's a two-part story. First, there is no evidence that the programs increased the rate of sexual abstinence," said Chris Trenholm, a senior researcher at Mathematica who oversaw the study. "However, the second part of the story that I think is equally important is that we find no evidence that the programs increased the rate of unprotected sex."
Trenholm said his second point of emphasis was important because some critics of abstinence programs have contended that they lead to less frequent use of condoms.

Mathematica's study could have serious implications as Congress considers renewing this summer the block grant program for abstinence education known as Title V. The federal government has authorized up to $50 million annually for the program. Participating states then provide $3 for every $4 they get from the federal government. Eight states decline to take part in the grant program.

Some lawmakers and advocacy groups believe the federal government should use that money for comprehensive sex education, which would include abstinence as a piece of the curriculum.
"Members of Congress need to listen to what the evidence tells us," said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which promotes comprehensive sex education.
"This report should give a clear signal to members of Congress that the program should be changed to support programs that work, or it should end when it expires at the end of June," Smith said.
Smith also said he didn't have trouble making broader generalizations about abstinence programs based on the four reviewed because "this was supposed to be their all-star lineup."
But a trade association for abstinence educators emphasized that the findings represent less than 1 percent of all Title V abstinence projects across the nation.

"This study began when (the programs) were still in their infancy," said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. "The field of abstinence has significantly grown and evolved since that time and the results demonstrated in the Mathematica study are not representative of the abstinence education community as a whole."

The four programs differed in many respects. One was voluntary and took place after school. Three had mandatory attendance and served youth during the school day. All offered more than 50 hours of classes. Two were particularly intensive. The young people met every day of the school year.
Common topics included human anatomy and sexually transmitted diseases. Also, classes focused on helping students set personal goals and build self-esteem. The young people were taught to improve communication skills and manage peer pressure.
On the Net:
Abstinence study: http://www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/PDFs/impactabstinence.pdf

Do I want my daughter having sex before marriage? NO!
In the event my daughter makes the (irresponsible) choice of having sex before marriage do I want her to know how to be safe (at least until I find out and kill her)? Yeah, actually.

Teenagers are going to have sex. Yeah, you may have taught your kid better than that but some teenage boys and girls come up with new ways everyday of talking your little darling into bed.

If they do have sex, maybe it's just that one time -- they've figured out they just aren't ready for it. They regret having done it. But if they don't know how to make that mistake safely, that one time could ruin their lives. AIDS, unplanned pregnancies and a litany of STDs are out there lurking.

Frankly, I don't think it should be up to the government to tell your kid about sex anyway. Of course, if you have cable, your kids probably know all about it anyway.

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Beep ball at GWU...

More on the county budget... |

Here's some info I've gathered while learning about the county budget.

This comes from Chris Crepps, from the county's finance office. He explained some facets of the budget for me:

"The County has several operating "funds" that serve certain purposes.
Each fund operates almost like a separate entity. Our main fund is the
BUDGETED GENERAL FUND. It is this fund where we focus our
attention during budget because this fund includes the revenues collected
from the 58 cent property tax rate.

(I'd be glad to share a copy of our annual financial report if you want to review more details on all funds. Within the annual financial report, the "Management's Discussion and Analysis" and "Notes to Financial Statements" provide a lot of good
information that you may find useful. A copy of the annual financial report is also at the Cleveland County Memorial Library in Shelby.)

The total adopted budget for the current fiscal year in the County's Budgeted General Fund was almost $57.1 million. Including our projections for a 3% cost-of-living and increases in health insurance, the requested expenditures from next year's budget amount to $61.6 million.

From the spreadsheet I shared with you, all County departments are asking for $3,622,176 from the County's Budgeted General Fund. This figure does not include the 3% cost-of-living adjustment to all employees that the Commissioners are seeking. Further, the figure does not include any estimated increases in health insurance costs. Together, these additional items would cost approximately $900,000. In summary, we are faced with $4,500,000 in additional requested expenditures. However, we anticipate only about $1,500,000 to $1,600,000 in additional revenues in the next fiscal year (July 1 to June 30).

The County
Commissioners do not want to raise property tax rates. The County Manager, David Dear, will do all he can to limit the requested increases in expenditures without asking for an increase in the County's property tax rates.

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The county's budget... 4.12.2007 |

Begging for budget... John Wasson from DSS explains that caseload per employee is expected to increase to 230 cases by next year. Employees already average 215 cases a year.

Department heads from various agencies were present in council chambers Thursday morning to explain their budgetary requirements.

Will time and space collapse if I do a Top Ten of Top Tens?? How about just two? 4.11.2007 |

Top Ten Things Never Before Said By A NASCAR Driver

10. Kasey Kahne: "Anyone know how to drive a stick?"
9. Jeff Gordon: "Does this gas taste funny to you?"
8. Jeff Burton: "I don't care much for country music or beer"
7. Mark Martin: "Switch the 'r' and 'c' in 'racing' and you get 'caring'"
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: "Wow, Letterman looks so young in person"
5. Denny Hamlin: "You're looking at a guy who can drive 500 miles without taking a leak"
4. Kyle Busch: "A truly great driver doesn't mind asking for directions, am I right, ladies?"
3. Kevin Harvick: "It would be nice if the guys in the pits occasionally surprised me with a piece of carrot cake or something"
(Actually, I can kind of see Harvick saying something like that...this is the man that said if $100,000 was raised for the Victory Junction Gang Camp, Tony Stewart would wax his back and chest. Read about it...)
2. Jimmie Johnson: "The Nextel Cup is great, but what I'm really excited for is Late Show Ventriloquist Week"
1. Matt Kenseth: "If you think I'm fast in my car, you should see me in the bedroom"

Top Ten Signs Your Family Is Nuts Presented By Dr. Phil

10. You're 42, but your dad still makes you watch the parade on his shoulders
9. All of mom's recipes involve 1 part gin and 3 parts tonic
8. Breaking the wishbone usually involves a trip to the hospital
7. The Shi'ites next door ask you to keep the fighting down
6. Never had Thanksgiving with family because you work at the Late Show
5. Have to eat your dinner without utensils because everyone's on suicide watch
4. In honor of the pilgrims, everyone gets scurvy
3. So-called turkey is wearing a dog collar
2. Instead of spouses, each member brings an attorney
1. Caught your wife "giving thanks" to the caterer

Ah, Letterman...the Top Ten is really the only reason I tune in. Of course, I also have a totally new appreciation for Jay Leno's "Headlines." You may not realize it, but working at a newspaper makes those things like 10 times funnier.

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