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Sunday, June 27, 2004

Signing Off
How do actors cope when their long-running show goes off the air?

By Jenelle Riley
Back Stage West

LOS ANGELES -- Unless you've been hibernating under a rock in Bulgaria for the last year, you may have heard something about the hit sitcom "Friends" ending its 10-year run this year. Of course, the recent final episode was accompanied by enough fanfare and hoopla to put Christmas Day to shame. With all the magazine covers, television interviews, and countless teary promos NBC could muster, it's easy to forget that every year several quality shows leave the airwaves in droves.

Aside from NBC's redheaded stepchild "Frasier," long-running programs such as "The Drew Carey Show" and "The Practice" also recently wrapped production.

Much was made of the "what will they do now?" dilemma of the "Friends" cast, but let's face it: Considering that the cast's weekly salaries could buy a small island, the American public doesn't really need to concern itself with where Jennifer Aniston's next paycheck will be coming from. But for most actors who find themselves lucky enough to land a steady job on a successful show, suddenly finding themselves unemployed can be a jarring experience. Back Stage West spoke with three actors about their lives after cancellation.

One of the most heartbreaking losses of this season was the WB's abrupt cancellation of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" spinoff, "Angel." Completely original, frequently gothic in scope, Angel was one of the best-written shows on television. The show was enjoying its fifth year when the WB announced, in a rather cryptic memo, that it was ending the show despite calling "Buffy" and "Angel" "cornerstones of our network" and admitting: "The sum total of the work done on those shows has produced some of the proudest moments in our history." Despite rabid campaigns organized by fans of the show, "Angel" aired its final episode May 19.

On a sunny day in April, it's the next to last day of shooting on the series, and Amy Acker still seems stunned by the news. The petite actor, who joined the show as brainy science geek Winifred "Fred" Burkle in Season Three, sits in a trailer on location in Hollywood and attempts to describe the melancholy mood of the set. "It's strange; you sort of feel like this is your office," she notes. "You don't really imagine not seeing these people every day. You realize this is how the business works and no show runs forever, but it's still hard."

Many tears had already been shed as she watched the people she worked alongside leave one by one. "Alexis [Denisof, who played her love interest Wesley] had his last day last week, and I was crying for two hours after I left work," she recalls. "All my friends are, like, 'It's just a show.' But it's sad when you've been with these people for three years, 15 hours a day sometimes, five days a week. Even if you see people outside of work, it's not exactly the same."

Acker's tale of moving to Los Angeles and landing on a hit show is the stuff Hollywood fairy tales are made of. Born and raised in Texas, she had worked at a Shakespeare festival in Wisconsin and lived in New York before heading west. She had been in L.A. only one month when she won the role on Angel. "It was just an audition," she says simply of being cast. "I went on this audition where there were a lot of people, then went back the next day and there were only two people, and then I went back the day after and it was just me. So I thought that was a good sign."

Even she seemed surprised by her luck, having heard so many stories about struggling actors. "Now is going to be the time where I'm going to have to suffer through all of the not working," she observes.

By Acker's own admission, she's playing things by ear. And she claims to look forward to auditioning and experiencing new roles. "It seems like there's tons of good stuff out there," she said. "I'm excited to play a new character, and I'll see what comes up. I'd like to use the auditions not only to get a job, but also as a chance to act."

Sometimes even the most experienced actors can find themselves abruptly unemployed. Actor and musician Tim Russ had several films and countless television appearances to his credit, ranging from "Hill Street Blues" to "Murphy Brown," before landing a steady gig as Lt. Commander Tuvok on the "Star Trek" series "Voyager" in 1995.

It would seem Russ, a charismatic actor who radiates intelligence, was destined to join the "Trek" world; he had previously appeared in the spinoffs "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine," and had a role in the seventh "Star Trek" film, "Generations." Still, when the offer to join the new "Trek" series came, Russ knew joining the franchise could have its drawbacks. "I was not worried about being typecast before I took the part," he says. "But I was aware of the reality of this business: I think there is a potential danger of being overexposed on the series in general."

"Trek" viewers can be a notoriously fanatical group, and Russ wasn't completely prepared for the onslaught of attention he received. "I am a somewhat private individual, and I noticed very quickly after the show began to air that my privacy was being compromised all the time," he recalls. "I had to be protective of my address and phone number. I was stopped constantly wherever I went, interacting with total strangers, whom I would not normally talk to on a daily basis." He compares the experience to Chinese water torture, saying, "A little bit is no problem. But over time, it wears you out. But I was usually very cordial with people, as I was aware that that kind of thing came with the territory."

Russ seems to have embraced his "Trek" connection. The actor, who lists "Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan" as one of his favorite movies, isn't one of those performers who wishes to distance himself from the role he's best known for. "I thought it was kinda cool to be part of the 'Trek' legacy," he says. "It's a cult phenomenon that people all over the world are aware of." Even today he is active in conventions and recently directed a short film titled "Roddenberry On Patrol," a comedy starring several "Trek" actors that pays tribute to "Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry.

When "Voyager" came to an end in 2001, Russ had mixed emotions. "I was relieved to escape the routine and monotony of playing the same character for such a long time and repeating a lot of the same dialogue and action," he admits. "But the other edge of the sword was, of course, realizing that a full-time acting job was coming to an end."

The key for Russ seems to have been to keep busy with many projects. His experience directing on "Voyager" gave him the cachet to direct several commercials and shows for the Discovery Channel. He remains active in charities, including Zenith Youth Homes, which works to provide homes for disadvantaged inner-city youths. And Russ has found more time to indulge in his other passion: music. His latest CD, "Brave New World," was released last year and is available at his website, He performs with two different bands: one blues, the other a trio that plays original songs and covers. He continues to act, although he says there has been a dearth of roles lately. But he has a definite bright side, and it involves his 5-year-old child. "The pace of life is slower than it was while I was on the show," he notes, "which is nice, because it gives me time to spend with my daughter."

Indeed not everyone takes their show's cancellation badly. Amy Pietz starred on the NBC sitcom "Caroline in the City" for four years, from 1995 to 1999, when she got news the show would not be coming back for a fifth. "It was wonderful news," Pietz says bluntly. After attending the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago and appearing onstage at the Steppenwolf and Organic Theatre companies, she came to L.A. for pilot season and, in her own words, "pretty much started working right away."

On "Caroline," Pietz played Annie, the spunky and frank best friend of Lea Thompson's title character. Years before critics began sniping that "Will & Grace" would have been more entertaining as "Jack & Karen," Pietz was perfecting the part of the scene-stealing sidekick who deserved her own show. She won critical raves and a SAG nomination for her work, and she thoroughly enjoyed her time on the show. "There was nothing more thrilling than hearing the audience laugh," she recalls. "I got a real high off that. It was like doing a new play every week."

So why was the cancellation good news? "I had never done a part for that long," Pietz explains. "I had never played one role, and I was definitely looking forward to doing other things that I'd been trained to do theatrically and to doing drama." Pietz purposely avoided auditioning for sitcoms for a number of pilot seasons, wanting to concentrate on dramatic programs. "I really wanted to be part of a different rhythm," she continues. "I was so sick of: 'set-up, set-up, joke.' I can't even tell you. I was just really not interested in it anymore. I think it's true for every actor, that you need variety."

Pietz sounds almost embarrassed to admit she wasn't at all concerned about job security. "I mean, there's tons of work out there, and I just always have believed that I would work. I wasn't worried. I was worried I might be perceived in a particular light that might limit my choices, and I think that was true to a certain extent. But I never thought, 'I'll never get another job again!'"

One of the reasons Pietz wasn't concerned was because of her strong theatre background, and her love of live stage work helped her keep things in perspective. She performed regularly at several theatres and with L.A. Theatreworks. Most recently she wrapped a production of Stephen Sondheim's "Company," for which she received rave reviews.

Beginning July 10 she will be appearing at the Odyssey Theatre in a production of Kenneth Lonergan's "Lobby Hero," directed by her husband, Kenneth Alan Williams. Keeping busy was key for Pietz, and not just in the acting arena. "I've been very busy," she says. "I think last summer was the only summer I didn't do anything theatrically or film-wise or television-wise. And that's when I decided to become a doula."

A doula, she explains, is a birthing coach who physically and emotionally supports women through childbirth. Pietz took training courses and education classes and is on her way to being certified by Doulas of North America. It's been a passion of hers for years, since she gave up a child for adoption many years ago. "At that point I realized I wanted to help other women have non-traumatic birth experiences," she says. "It's always been a goal of mine to do this, and I'm so grateful that I can do this and still have acting."

The experience has also helped her keep the sometimes crazy world of show business in perspective. "I just like to balance out the selfishness and self-centeredness of my acting career with something that's selfless and serves others," she notes, adding that she is not paid as a doula. "It actually makes me a better actress. It makes me more excited and thrilled to be an actress, because I don't place my entire identity on that. It's the most meaningful thing in the world to me. I absolutely love it."

Her schedule is about to get even more crowded, as a pilot she appeared in was recently picked up for the fall season. Titled "Rodney," after standup star Rodney Carrington, the sitcom was recently announced as part of ABC's new lineup. "I was very leery about it originally because I have prejudices about comedians being actors," Pietz admits. "Because you're asking them to do something they're not necessarily trained to do. But Rodney is the most generous performer I've worked with, onstage and off. He's just an amazing human being."

Acting is always a transitional profession, and most actors have grown accustomed to lacking job security. And no matter how experienced the performer, there will always be times when the phone doesn't ring. Still, the actors we spoke to all seemed to have no problems keeping busy.

Shortly after "Angel" aired its final episode, Acker landed a role in a feature film called "The Novice" and completed a short opposite Oliver Hudson. Pietz is heading back to the sitcom world and winning raves on the stage. Russ continues to work in a variety of mediums, frequently creating his own projects. And all three leave a legacy of stellar performances in programs that, at one time or another, spoke to a legion of viewers.

And even if they're not on television every week, it doesn't make the job any less important. "You know how some people are just born actors?" Pietz says. "I was born knowing I wanted to be an actor forever, and I'm sure I will be."

Thursday, June 24, 2004

I got this from the mail:

* * *

Dear Tech Support:

Last year I upgraded from Girlfriend 7.0 to Wife 1.0. I soon noticed that the new program began unexpected child processing that took up a lot of space and valuable resources. In addition, Wife 1.0 installed itself into all other programs and now monitors all other system activity. Applications such as Poker Night 10.3, Football 5.0, Hunting and Fishing 7.5, and Racing 3.6 no longer run, crashing the system whenever selected. I can't seem to keep Wife 1.0 in the background while attempting to run my favorite applications. I'm thinking about going back to Girlfriend 7.0, but the uninstall doesn't work on Wife 1.0. Please help!

Thanks, A Troubled User.


Dear Troubled User:

This is a very common problem that men complain about. Many people upgrade from Girlfriend 7.0 to Wife 1.0, thinking that it is just a Utilities and Entertainment program. Wife 1.0 is an OPERATING SYSTEM and is designed by its Creator to run EVERYTHING!!! It is also impossible to delete Wife 1.0 and to return to Girlfriend 7.0. It is impossible to uninstall, or purge the program files from the system once installed. You cannot go back to Girlfriend 7.0 because Wife 1.0 is designed to not allow this. Look in your Wife 1.0 manual under Warnings-Alimony/Child Support." I recommend that you keep Wife1.0 and work on improving the situation. I suggest installing the background application "Yes Dear" to alleviate software augmentation.

The best course of action is to enter the command C: \ APOLOGIZE. Because ultimately you will have to give the APOLOGIZE command before the system will return to normal anyway. Wife 1.0 is a great program, but it tends to be very high maintenance. Wife 1.0 comes with several support programs, such as Clean and Sweep 3.0, Cook It 1.5 and Do Bills 4.2.

However, be very careful how you use these programs. Improper use will cause the system to launch the program Nag Nag 9.5. Once this happens, the only way to improve the performance of Wife 1.0 is to purchase additional software. I recommend Flowers 2.1 and Diamonds 5.0 !

WARNING!!! DO NOT, under any circumstances, install Secretary With Short Skirt 3.3. This application is not supported by Wife 1.0 and will cause irreversible damage to the operating system.

Best of luck,
Tech Support

Mattie Stepanek dies at 13
Child poet succumbs to muscular dystrophy

The Associated Press

Updated: 4:32 p.m. ET June 23, 2004ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Mattie Stepanek, the child poet whose inspirational verse made him a best-selling writer and a prominent voice for muscular dystrophy sufferers, died Tuesday of a rare form of the disease. He was 13.

Stepanek died at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the hospital said. He had been hospitalized since early March for complications related to the disease that impaired most of his body’s functions.

In his short life, the tireless Stepanek wrote five volumes of poetry that sold millions of copies. Three of the volumes reached the New York Times’ best-seller list.

"Mattie was something special, something very special," entertainer Jerry Lewis, who chairs the Muscular Dystrophy Association, said in a statement. "His example made people want to reach for the best within themselves."

Stepanek, of Rockville, had dysautonomic mitochondrial myopathy, a genetic disease that impaired his heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and digestion, and caused muscle weakness.

His mother, Jeni, 44, has the adult-onset form of the disease, and his three older siblings died of it in early childhood.

Began writing at 3
Stepanek began writing poetry at age 3 to cope with the death of a brother. In 2001, a small publisher issued a slim volume of his poems, called "Heartsongs." Within weeks, the book reached the top of the Times' best-seller list, the MDA said.

He wrote four other books: "Journey Through Heartsongs," "Hope Through Heartsongs," "Celebrate Through Heartsongs" and "Loving Through Heartsongs."

His poems brought him admirers including Oprah Winfrey and former President Carter and made him one of the best-selling poets in recent years.

Stepanek was hospitalized many times over the years. He rolled around his home in a wheelchair he nicknamed "Slick," and relied on a feeding tube, a ventilator and frequent blood transfusions to stay alive.

In the summer of 2001, Stepanek nearly died from uncontrollable bleeding in his throat and spent five months at Children's National. When it seemed he would not survive, the hospital got in touch with a Virginia publisher on his behalf.

Stepanek and his mother had sent the book to dozens of New York publishers, all of whom rejected it, according to Peter Barnes of VSP Publishers. Barnes said he was caught off guard when he read the work.

"I was stunned. Some of it was really good," he said Tuesday. "It was very perceptive and thoughtful."

Didn't fear death
VSP Books printed 200 copies of "Heartsongs" to be handed out to friends. But after a news conference publicizing the book, interest exploded. "Heartsongs" went on to sell more than 500,000 copies.

"Mattie rallied after that," Barnes said. "He went from being on his death bed to becoming this huge publishing success."

Despite his condition, Stepanek was upbeat, saying he didn't fear death. His work was full of life, a quest for peace, hope and the inner voice he called a "heartsong."

"It's our inner beauty, our message, the songs in our hearts," he said in an interview with The Associated Press in November 2001. "My life mission is to spread peace to the world."

He is survived by his mother.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Romantic myths debunked: Who do singles love?
By Danielle Christopher

Got your eye on someone to love? You're more likely to attract your intended by displaying your sense of humor than by displaying your intelligence. Being wildly successful (no matter how much money you make) won't get you as far as you think if you're setting office hour endurance records. And if you adhere to some supposed "rules" about acting cool and distant when you're really interested, expect to see your would-be honey on someone else's arm.

Those are just a few of the surprising results of a May survey of more than 1600 US adults conducted by online dating service, which set out to discover what makes singles' hearts beat these days.

"Who we love, and why we love them, can change over time," said Trish McDermott, Vice President of Romance and resident dating expert at "Qualities like stability and predictability, long hailed as 'humdrum' or 'boring' by some people, have become romantic commodities in today's search for an ideal mate. These changes are as much about our life stages and internal wants and needs, as they are about the external forces that shape our lives and perceptions."

The survey revealed that:

* 70% of singles believe they're most likely to fall in love with someone who makes them laugh; only 30% expressed a preference for someone who makes them think.

* Women are more likely to love nice guys; only 28% are likely to fall for a bad boy over a nice guy.

* Predictability has never been more exciting: 62% of those surveyed believe they'll most likely fall in love with someone who is a planner, stable, fairly predictable and not a risk-taker.

* We don't like workaholics, even if they are incredibly successful: 91% of those surveyed reported that they tend to fall in love with a moderately successful career person with a balanced life rather than a workaholic who enjoys an incredibly successful professional life.

* We are more likely to love a talker: 60% of those surveyed said they are more likely to love someone with a gift for self-expression, while only 40% professed a preference for a great listener.

* Playing "hard-to-get" seems to have played out: 60% of those surveyed report they would most likely fall for a person they already know is head-over-heels interested in them rather than someone they have to chase.

In addition to the survey results, announced findings from an analysis of the results of more than 3 million people who have taken its Personality Test, used to match single's temperaments more closely. The results indicate that most of us bring several quirks to romantic relationships. In fact, more than half the singles tested described some potentially frustrating traits, including inclinations toward being stubborn, jealous, clingy, distant or moody.

"Everyone can be high maintenance at times, but it's our imperfections and quirks that make us unique and loveable," said Dr. Mark Thompson, CEO & Lead Inventor at, developer of the science used in's Personality Test. "The real key to a successful and loving relationship is to find someone who likes to do the maintenance you require."

The most common quirks, according to Dr. Thompson, include:

* Being too social at times — talking too loud, too fast or staying on the go too much.

* Being too big-hearted — being swayed too much by emotion or trying too hard to make your friends and family happy.

* Letting ideas and creativity get in the way of practical matters or becoming so focused on ideas and plans for the future or a new project that you lose track of the day-to-day details of life.

But it seems we all accept those traits and quirks, at least in moderation. Approximately 80% of singles who register at today indicate they are seeking a long-term, committed relationship or marriage. And in the company's January 2004 survey of more than 800 married people in two distinct groups-those who met on and those who met through any means other than an online dating service — people in both groups cited "quality of character" as the attribute that made the respondent fall in love with his or her spouse, while "sense of humor" was the second choice. Findings also revealed that online daters are likely to get married more quickly than those who meet offline; 72% of the couples married after dating for a year or less, while 36% of the other couples married as quickly.

"Despite the challenges many singles feel to find stable, loving relationships and the sometimes controversial state of marriage in America today, many of us still hope to find, and live happily ever after in, loving, committed marriages," McDermott concluded.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

A toast to TV’s best (and worst) dads
‘Father Knows Best’? Not if he’s Homer

By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper

Even Hallmark doesn't make a Father's Day card appropriate for Bart and Lisa Simpson. But imagine if they did.

Bart's could read "Dear Dad: Even though you forgot to pick me up from soccer and I got struck by lightning, and I pretended you were a drunken gambler so I could join the Bigger Brother program, Happy Father's Day!"

And Lisa's could say "Dear Dad: Even though you wouldn't take me to the Treasures of Isis exhibit at the museum and I had to take a bus and I took the wrong one and had to get a ride in a truck with a bunch of dead animals, you're still my dad!"

TV dads have come a long way from "Father Knows Best," which ironically, took place in a town called Springfield, just like "The Simpsons" does. Here's our look at 10 of our favorite TV dads — some good, some bad — of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. (As much as we love Ricky Ricardo, Ward Cleaver, Ozzie Nelson and other more vintage dads, we had to draw the line somewhere.)

Homer Simpson, Dad with the D'oh
Homer doesn't exactly set a good example for his kids. He's not smart (playing blackjack, he hits on 21). He's not hard-working (he intentionally gains weight to qualify for disability). When asked if he liked kids, his response was "What do you mean, all the time? Even when they're nuts?"

When Bart threatens to jump Springfield Gorge on a skateboard, Homer shows up and ends up doing it for him. Accidentally, but still.

Yet Homer truly loves his offspring, and when roused from the couch, he'll do his damndest to support them. He decorates his work station with pictures of baby Maggie. When he's made temporarily smarter, he writes Lisa a note telling her his new intelligence has only made him appreciate her more. And when Bart threatens to jump Springfield Gorge on a skateboard, Homer shows up and ends up doing it for him. Accidentally, but still.

Is Homer a good or a bad dad? Depends on what's most important to you in a father. If you want a dad to set a good example, go to church, read to his children, and get involved in their school and home success, well, then Homer's not your man. But if a good dad is someone who loves his kids, loves their mother, and somehow manages to make a happy home, then you couldn't do much better than Homer. Well, you could, but that's not the point. In Homer's own words "Kids, just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening."

Frank Costanza, Dad for the rest of us
Frank's doctor once told gave him a mantra: When his blood pressure began to rise, he was supposed to say "Serenity now." For most patients, that might have been a quiet chant, but for Frank, it was screamed at top volume, as was almost everything he said.

It might not be all Frank's fault. After all, a son like "Seinfeld's" George Costanza, unemployed, unfriendly and living at home well into his 30s, could try any man's patience. It's little wonder that Frank invented Festivus, "the holiday for the rest of us," which somehow involved a pole, feats of strength and the airing of grievances.

His wife isn't much help either. Estelle Costanza is whiny, manipulative and the queen of Queens when it comes to guilt trips. Still, Frank manages to always have some kind of scheme going on, whether it's translating the words of a catty manicurist for Elaine, threatening to move to Florida to taunt the Seinfeld parents, or plotting with Kramer to sell a line of bras for men. As Frank once said: "I'm like the Phoenix, rising from Arizona."

Archie Bunker, Bigoted Dad
Archie Bunker once described his family as "A meathead, a dingbat, a woman's lib and a bald-headed kid." And that was nothing compared to the words he used to describe those of other races and ethnicities. How did such a prejudiced character end up being one of TV's most beloved?

Probably because he talked like a bigot, but his bark was always worse than his bite. Favorite foil George Jefferson could always put one over on Archie, and he knew it. Archie may have called son-in-law Mike "Meathead," "Polack," and every other name in the book, but he still let Mike and Gloria live in his house for the first five years of their marriage.

And he was proud of his young father days, too, saying "I never left Gloria alone when she was a baby. Wherever I went, I made sure Edith was with her."

Mike Brady, Blended-Family Dad
In the years since "The Brady Bunch" went off the air, a lot of secrets about the show have come out. We learned about the actors' personal lives — that Robert Reed was gay, and Florence Henderson and Barry Williams once went out on a date. We also learned that Reed, who played Mike Brady, had hated the schmaltzy sitcom, even refusing to appear in the final episode, which featured son Greg's high-school graduation. (He'd have a little more moral high ground if he hadn't also starred in "Bloodlust," a movie so bad it became a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode.)

Mike Brady was the kids' dad, not their friend, and if none of the Brady Six ever ended up in jail, rehab or bankruptcy court, he was a large part of the reason why.

But while Reed may have hated playing Mike Brady, those of us who were kids in the 1970s adored him. A cool-and-collected architect by day, he was a true-blue husband and ace father by night. Weaving three daughters into his family couldn't have been easy, and admittedly, he needed a few lessons in women's lib. (Marcia showed him a thing or two by joining the formerly all-male Frontier Scouts.)

But overall, he was devoted to his children without getting all "thirtysomething" mushy about it. His parenting ranged from the cliched ("A wise man forgets his anger before he lies down to sleep.") to the inventive (Marcia and Greg prove who's the better driver by swerving around traffic cones on an obstacle course.) He was the kids' dad, not their friend, and if none of the Brady Six ever ended up in jail, rehab or bankruptcy court, he was a large part of the reason why.

Cliff Huxtable, Doctor Dad
Cliff Huxtable, the "Cosby Show" character, and Bill Cosby, the comedian who played him, were interchangable. One of Cosby's lines from his comedy routine — "I brought you kids into this world, and I can take you out" — made its way to the show, where it garnered at least as big a laugh as it did in the clubs.

Heathcliff Huxtable was a doctor, his wife Claire a lawyer, and their well-dressed, well-appointed family showed a still-so-white TV Land that African-American families could be just as monetarily successful as whites. That said, Cliff wasn't about to give his kids everything they wanted. As he once told Theo: "No boy should have a $95 shirt unless he is onstage with his four brothers."

And money was far from everything for the Huxtables. For parents with such time-consuming jobs, Cliff and Claire seemed to be around the house as much as any stay-at-home parent, Cliff especially. And his creative parenting looked so cool onscreen that any kid watching wished for him as a dad. In one episode, Cliff transformed their home into the Real World Apartments, with Claire, Denise, Vanessa and little Rudy all taking roles to teach brother Theo about the realities of life outside. But one question was never answered: With a dad like Cliff, why would he even consider leaving home in the first place?

Charles Ingalls, Prairie Dad
Those of us who were devoted to Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books were disappointed by some factual goofs the show made when transferring her "Little House on the Prairie" to TV. Dog Jack was a bulldog in real life, not whatever Benji-like breed the show featured. Rural Minnesota didn't have the mountains that often appeared in the background of the supposed prairie. And perhaps most jarring of all, Laura's dad, Charles "Pa" Ingalls, didn't have the beard that his daughter spoke of so fondly in her books.

In one episode, Nellie's father, Nels, admirably called Charles Ingalls ‘the richest man in Walnut Grove,’ and so he was.

Fans got over it. Michael Landon seemed born to play Laura and Mary's beloved dad. He was understanding in the way that we think of modern fathers being, but at the same time, tough, as was required by the American frontier. When he learned a friend of Laura's had one leg shorter than the other, he made her special shoes. When he discovered another friend of theirs was being beaten by his drunken father, he stayed with the man to try and keep him sober. And when the whole world, it seemed, drew themselves up against the Indians, he befriended them and took them food.

The Ingalls family never had the money that Laura's nemesis, Nellie Oleson's family did. The girls were often teased for being "country girls," and could only look enviously at the many store-bought possessions of others. Yet in one episode, Nellie's father Nels admirably called Charles Ingalls "the richest man in Walnut Grove," and so he was. Rich in love, in respect, and in strength. No money could buy that.

Tony Soprano, Mob Dad
The Huxtable family had a lot of money, but also good solid family relationships. The Ingalls family had very little money, but plenty of love and respect. In Tony Soprano's family, money was never lacking, but not all the ill-gotten gains in the world could buy this family stability.

Tony and Carmela Soprano consider daughter Meadow their big success story, and so she is — outwardly. She's an Ivy League scholar who's done volunteer work and always pleased her teachers. Yet emotionally, she's a bit of a mess — and who wouldn't be, with a dad who kills people, including one of Meadow's former boyfriends — and lies about it?

A.J. Soprano is another story entirely. It seems a month doesn't go by before Tony and Carm are being hauled down to their son's high school to hear about his latest problems — if he's not flunking out, he's wreaking havoc at the school swimming pool.

Tony had a messed-up childhood himself, with parents like Livia and Johnny Boy Soprano, but he didn't seem to have learned from their mistakes. Let's hope he gets a group discount with psychiatrist Melfi, because Meadow and A.J. are going to need at least as much therapy as their dad's had. If they survive the show's final season, that is.

Dan Conner, Blue-Collar Dad
TV dads were rarely seen struggling to make ends meet before Dan Conner on "Roseanne." Life in Lanford, Ill. wasn't easy for the Conner family, yet they still managed to hold on to a decent-sized house and their jumbo-sized senses of humor. Mother Roseanne was the star, but without Dan, this family's foundation would have crumbled faster than a loose-meat sandwich at the Lanford Lunchbox.

Mother Roseanne was the star, but without Dan, this family's foundation would have crumbled faster than a loose-meat sandwich at the Lanford Lunchbox

Not only did Dan have to deal with wife Roseanne (he once described her PMS as "like a 24 hour roller coaster ride with Sybil at the switch"), but his kids didn't exactly make life easy for him either. Becky was always in trouble, consumed with boys and sneaking out. Darlene was less trouble on the surface, but her always-witty, sometimes-depressed, pre-Lisa Simpson personality was equally mystifying to a dad like Dan. And son D.J. had his own share of problems, from stealing the car to go joyriding to his own romantic interludes.

Dan could crack jokes right along with Roseanne when the going was good, but when times turned dark, he was the man you'd always want on your side. He took on a second job to raise money for an anniversary present for Roseanne. When he learned that Roseanne's sister, Jackie, may have been abused by her boyfriend, he took out after the guy.

Near the end of the show, "Roseanne" took some risks. After a bizarre season and a half in which Dan has a heart attack at Darlene's wedding, was revealed as cheating on Roseanne and the Conners won the lottery, a startling monologue from Roseanne reveals that everything after Dan's heart attack was her own invention, and that he did not survive the attack. The revelation hit viewers right in the gut much the same way as "M*A*S*H's" Radar revealing that Col. Henry Blake's plane was shot down. Roseanne got the show's title, but in many ways, Dan was its heart.

Al Bundy, Disaster Dad
"Married with Children" patriarch Al Bundy pushed the envelope of what TV dads could get away with. In one episode, he accidentally shot the neighbors' dog. When he took wife Peg away for a night to celebrate their anniversary, he did so solely to watch a boxing match on the hotel's TV.

No one is safe from Al's insults — he criticizes his wife, his kids, and everything about his shoe-store job. Yet Al is really his own worst enemy, as he flunks his driving test, goes on a spending spree with a credit card made out to the dog, and moves his family into the shoe store while their house is being fumigated. He didn't want to sleep with Peg, but at the same time, he was never going to leave her or the kids. Kelly and Bud, meanwhile, seemed to know they've lost the Dad Lottery, but it really never bothers them — they both have enough problems of their own.

"Married with Children" seems tame after years of "Fear Factor" and "Temptation Island," but back in the day it was considered so racy that a group, "Americans for Responsible Television," was founded almost solely to fight the show. Al Bundy would have been shocked to know he garnered such media attention. After all, he was a man with such small dreams — a wife who doesn't bother him, kids who stay out of his way, and most of all, a job that doesn't involve touching feet.

Howard Cunningham, Fifties Dad
Howard Cunningham of "Happy Days" might have been the perfect 1950s dad, except for one kind of major flaw. What kind of dad doesn't even appear to notice when his eldest son, Chuck, simply disappears? Chuck floated around the show for the first two seasons, then was either abducted by aliens or joined some early Milwaukee cult, never to be seen again. Howard and wife Marion chose not to mention it

With Chuck gone, Howard made up for the loss by serving as father figure not only to his own Richie and Joanie, but by letting neighborhood greaser-turned-idol Fonzie move into his garage. And although Ralph Malph and Potsie didn't technically live at the Cunningham house, they were there so often that they might as well have.

Like Mike Brady, "Mr. C" was never on the kids' level. He was the boss, he was the dad, he was friendly but not their friend. And an amazingly good one, at that, even for his times — in one episode, the Cunninghams host the wedding of one of Howard's army buddies. The neighborhood isn't thrilled, because the buddy happens to be black, but that never would have bothered Howard. He saw people's characters, never their color.

Howard wasn't perfect. He and Richie argued about politics (Richie was for Adlai Stevenson, while Howard liked Ike), school and girls, and Howard was perhaps a little bit too devoted to his Leopard Lodge. But when his kids — and their friends — needed him, he was as reliable as Fonzie was cool.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Resolving Roommate Conflicts

Preventing Problems
There's a "roomie humor" piece floating around on the Web that lists ways to get rid of an undesirable roommate. For example: "Collect potatoes. Paint faces on them and give them names. Name one after your roommate. Separate your roommate's potato from the others. Wait a few days, and then bake your roommate's potato and eat it."

Preventive medicine
Some landlords may give you the choice of one roommate signing as the primary leaseholder with any others named as sublessees, or of sharing responsibility equally as co-tenants. In the former case, the leaseholder is solely responsible for upholding the terms of the lease, including paying rent in full and on time, even if the sublessees fall behind in payments to her. Like a landlord, she generally has the right to evict a tenant for breaking a term in the lease.

When roommates sign as co-tenants, however, they share equal responsibility. In other words, if one person falls behind on the rent, the others are responsible for coming up with the full amount, on schedule. As co-tenants, if one of you breaks a lease clause, your landlord can start eviction proceedings against all of you. Most landlords would rather hold on to good tenants, but they have no legal mandate to do so.

How you sign your lease, if given a choice, will depend on your particular situation. But either way, there's an additional step you can take to stem future problems: Draw up your own agreement before you move in together. While it won't be legally binding, it's an excellent tool if there's ever a communication breakdown. The Web site offers a sample agreement.

Five Steps Toward Resolving a Conflict
Even if you're best friends, living together is the start of a brand-new relationship, and sooner or later you'll probably have to deal with a conflict. No biggie—we're all adults here, aren't we? But what should you do if those charming differences start driving you up a wall 24-7?

If your roommate's behavior is persistently obnoxious but not illegal, your only recourse is to call on your communication skills. If the problem roommate is a sublessee and he's not honoring the terms of the lease, the primary leaseholder may have the power to evict him (check your lease on this one), as does your landlord.

If you're co-tenants, however, your landlord is the only person who has the power to evict. In both cases, except in extreme situations, getting your landlord involved is best used as a last step. For one thing, you can all be held responsible—and evicted—on the grounds of one co-tenant's actions. For another, if the problem roommate is evicted and the remaining tenants can't carry her share of the rent until a replacement is found, the landlord may notify credit agencies that the remaining co-tenants are in default of payment. What can you do for protection?
1. Don't make matters worse by doing something illegal yourself. Some "hot-dogging" measures, such as locking your roommate out of the house, are legal no-no's.

2. Have a talk with the roommate in question before the situation gets out of hand. (See "Communication 101" below.) Try to keep it between the two of you, or if you're in group housing, find out discreetly if others feel the same way. The point is to resolve the conflict, not to humiliate your roommate or convince him that he's a jerk. The earlier you do this, the better your chances are of working it out.

3. If an agreement violation is involved, show him a copy of the lease and/or your roommate agreement. (You know, that thing that's under last year's homework assignments?) Be tactful. If he feels ambushed and isn't concerned about his credit record, he might decide to leave without notice, leaving you responsible for his share of payments.

4. Bring in a neutral party to serve as a mediator. Some universities offer this service to students; or you can ask for help from an acquaintance that all roommates consider impartial.

5. Approach your landlord with the problem and ask for help finding a solution. Some landlords and building managers turn a blind eye to minor offenses, such as overnight visitors staying longer than the lease allows, but they might be willing to send your roomie a "reminder" letter or, if a lease term has been broken, begin eviction proceedings.

Communication 101
Heavy metal at 3 a.m. Underwear hanging in the living room. Stacks of dirty dishes. Persistently late rent payments. A non-tenant paramour who keeps his bike in the bathroom. Whatever your conflict, good communication is the cleanest way to handle it. Here are some pointers:
• Passive aggression is out. For one thing it's beneath you, right? For another, it tends to breed hostility—not a good home environment if all parties end up staying in the rental.

• Accentuate the positive: Make a list of your roommate's positive traits as a reminder before you have your talk. What did you like about her when you first met her?

• Think about how you might be contributing to the situation. You're about to ask someone to make some changes, and chances are he isn't going to be thrilled about it. Are you willing to meet him halfway with some of your own compromises?

• Be prepared: For your eyes only, write an imaginary script of how you picture the conversation going. If the roommate gets nasty or defensive in this "dress rehearsal," rewrite your own lines to try to give the script a different ending.

• Pick a comfortable location and a time when you're both likely to be relaxed, and ask your roommate if she's free to get together with you. If she's not, let her suggest a different time. Remember that you're looking for a solution, so try to feel—and sound—more hopeful than ominous.

• During your talk, treat your roommate as you would want to be treated if you were the one perceived as having a problem. Assume that he isn't a sociopath just because he has a habit you find hard to live with. Even bad tempers are often a sign of fear or insecurity; adding to his problem will probably just add to yours.

• Be tactful, be even-tempered, but be clear. Your roommate can't very well change her 'tude if you skirt around the problem. Be concrete about what you would like to see change; a vague "You bug me so bad" won't give her much to strive for. Ideally, she'll come away with enough self-respect that she'll want to try harder.

• To help prevent a blamefest, talk about how you feel rather than what your roomie is doing "wrong." For example, "I'm afraid we'll lose our apartment if I can't cover the full rent when you're late" is easier to swallow than "You always wait until the first of the month to make excuses about money." (Hint: Unless you want to start a fight, beginning a sentence with "You always" is always a bad idea.)

Before you take any actions, think about what's at stake, and how far you would go to fix the problem. If you've tried the steps above, you're still not seeing any progress, and no rules are being broken, are you willing and legally able to move out? Or can you tolerate your differences until you reach the end of your lease term? You may not end up as close friends, but sometimes it's enough to just get along.

A Perfect World
From 'American Idol' to 'The Swan,' we rate the shows that rate us

By Kim Morgan
MSN Entertainment

Everyone wants to be perfect, right? Or at least, as the Army claims, to be all that they can be. Still, it seems people are searching for more these days ... a lot more. Plastic surgery is on the rise, the Atkins Diet has made even Italians deathly afraid of pasta, and for some reason, straight guys are handing their favorite jeans over to men who worship "Will and Grace's" Jack.

What is going on?

If television is a barometer for current trends in "regular" life, then there is a nation-wide epidemic going on of distorted self-image -- involving not just our bodies, but our clothing, housing and basic organizational habits. If you judge by shows like "Extreme Makeover" (both Body and Home editions), "The Swan," "American Idol" and just about everything that airs on TLC, it seems everyone and everything requires a make-over.

Now the obsession comes to theaters, with the release of "The Stepford Wives" -- a re-make, or rather, make-over of the prophetic 1975 satire. Its story of suburban men who create super-human housewives with sunny dispositions and perfect breasts no longer seems like such a stretch (mark).

So in the spirit of popular entertainment judging how the other half lives and looks, we're going to rate them (using a 1 to 10 scale, 10 being fabulous). Are these shows really improving people, or are we just creating another level of freakshow-ry that would make P.T. Barnum proud? You be the judge.

The Body is a Temple Made of Wax

"The Swan"
The skinny (literally):
A team of plastic surgeons, who look like something out of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," re-make a "hideous" chick, give her "therapy" and don't allow her to look in a mirror for three months. After that, they have her compete in a beauty pageant. Didn't John Frankenheimer make this film with Rock Hudson and call it "Seconds"?

The highlight: The sobbing "Sybil"-like reveal, when the woman first sees her new self in the mirror and predictably breaks down. "Who am I?"

Rating: 10. This is better than the latest horror movie in any Cineplex.

"Extreme Makeover: Body Edition"
The skinny:
"Ugly" people are allowed tons of plastic surgery and fill us in on how hard life is looking for about 75 percent of the population. Family members do a lot of praying before the embarrassing homecoming unveil.

The highlight: Wondering what the husband or wife of new hot babe/hunk is thinking when they see the face of their beloved for first time. Is someone going to cheat? Dr. Phil should be present at every unveiling.

Rating: 5. This is too goody-goody for us ... though the episode where the cop admitted she looked like most of the stiffs she picked up was great TV.

"Queer Eye for The Straight Guy"
The skinny:
The "Fab Five," who, sorry, aren't always that wonderfully dressed to start, make over clueless straight guys yearning to be fabulous.

The highlight: The premiere episode "victim" endures the horror of having his undies scrutinized: "I think there was a car accident, because I see skid marks." Um, someone needs a slap for that.

Rating: 5. They do clean up some sorry saps nicely, but honestly, we prefer Isaac Mizrahi's fashion sense, acting, catty documentary ("Unzipped") and line of clothes at Target. He's truly fab.

"What Not To Wear"
The skinny:
Fashion "experts" Stacy London and Clinton Kelly descend on people with a $5,000 credit card for clothes. Greedy Americans can't resist.

The highlight: When Stacy informs a young single mother that her hangover belly in her "hoochie mama" clothes is not attractive (translation: hideous). Ouch. But, hey, honesty hurts sometimes.

Rating: 7. The ladies do a good job maintaining a person's identity within their "taste," and the personal video journals of participants can be hilarious. Case in point: When a shy, baggy-clothes-wearing lawyer exclaims: "I look like a floozy. A well-dressed floozy, but a floozy."

Fame Game

"American Idol"
The skinny:
The overweight, geeky and musically challenged are allowed entrance into a talent show during which a trio of overweight, musically challenged and nasty judges pass judgment. Oh... and they all get makeovers!

The highlight: No, not Fantasia (duh, we knew she would win); it was when the geekish Clay Aiken brought the old-lady appeal of Barry Manilow and vocal stylings of "Cats" to the masses. Even if terrible, it was something different. And the make-over crew did a bang-up job of covering up his disturbingly enormous ears.

Rating: 8. For tension, talent and Tarantino's guest spot.

"MTV's I Want a Famous Face"
The skinny:
A horrifying show where people attempt to look like celebrities via the knife. They usually emerge as some kind of animal creation a la "The Island of Dr. Moreau."

The highlight: When two brothers made themselves over as Brad Pitt. The result? Brad Pitt-iful.

Rating: 4. We want to like it, but it goes beyond morbid curiosity and into serious depression territory. We actually worry for these people.

"America's Next Top Model"
The skinny:
Tyra Banks boot-camps a stable of beauties, giving them the what's what in modeling (no attitude, be on time, stay thin for God's sake!), then shoves them in a house together. Meow-a-licious.

The highlight: Ex-supermodel judge Janice Dickinson's proud obsession with her own plastic surgery ("I've had enough botulism in my face for a small country in Asia," she bragged to People magazine). The young contestants witness their dark future in Dickinson's cat-lady face and freakish lack of expression.

Rating: 9, for the bikini-wax episode alone.

Home Wrecked Home

"Trading Spaces"
The skinny:
Neighbors make over each other's home -- often terribly, with cheap stuff.

The highlight: Whenever a couple witnesses what used to be their sensible den transformed into an 18th century brothel, complete with red curtains, plastic gold statues and "classy" particle-board shelving. Well, it makes us laugh, anyway.

Rating: 1, for actual improvement. 10, for the look on the husband's face when he realizes his next Sunday afternoon football game will be viewed in Prince's bedroom.

"Extreme Makeover: Home Edition"
The skinny:
Ordinary (OK, not quite) but supposedly good people who deserve special treatment get a massive re-haul on their dumpy homes, making everyone on the block secretly resentful and annoyed. Can you say property-tax increase?

The highlight: The one where the gospel choir serenaded the re-model. Overkill, yes, but for a show about sanding and re-finishing it was (sniff) oddly emotional. "The House of Sand and Fog" had nothing on that episode.

Rating: 7. These people have such genuine happiness, it's hard not to root for them ... even if they're really just showing up all the other sorry suckers in the neighborhood.

Nate Berkus ("The Oprah Winfrey Show")
The skinny:
That hollerin' Gomer Pyle-esque shrink Dr. Phil had to up and get his own show, so Oprah had to fill his spot. She wisely pushed her new star fella, the sweet, self-effacing and incredibly attractive Berkus. Realizing that a man yelling in your face about how much your marriage sucks can get real old real fast, Oprah allows Nate to do something that might actually improve a relationship (or destroy it): Re-decorate a home. But how well does he do? We wonder while watching the lucky Oprah fan get her home-over, is she really excited about the house or is she just excited that Berkus is clasping his hands on her shoulders? And in her bedroom ... oh, who cares if the curtains are ugly?

The highlight: When Berkus re-modeled "Trading Spaces" host Paige Davis' surprisingly ugly house. We give her props for honesty (she has no concept of decorating) but then, we'll never trust her with a carpet swatch again. Martha Stewart would be rightfully horrified.

Rating: 7. He's a tad too nice, but he's got better taste than the TLC people. And with Oprah money, he's allowed to splurge. No indoor-outdoor carpeting for Oprah's sisters.

"Clean Sweep"
The skinny:
Oh, this show is painful. An organizer, a designer and a carpenter show up to make people sell and/or throw away things they've stored for years. Nostalgia? Who cares? Your "junk" is making it tough for wifey to back out of the garage properly. We wouldn't be surprised if that's how John Kerry tossed out his war medals -- they didn't really go with that taupe Ikea couch.

The highlight: It's a tossup. Is it the one where the team made a guy get rid of his old football helmet (how exactly is that taking up room?) or the name of the show's host: Tava Smiley. She sounds like some diabolical Bond super-agent. Perhaps she is.

Rating: 1. Yes, organization is good. But come on! Where would our world be without pack rats? These OCD freaks would chuck out Einstein's study if they had the chance. Pure evil.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Court dismisses pledge suit: Justices sidestep church-state issue in tossing atheist's case
The Associated Press

Updated: 2:17 p.m. ET June 14, 2004WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court preserved the phrase "one nation, under God," in the Pledge of Allegiance, ruling Monday that a California atheist could not challenge the patriotic oath but sidestepping the broader question of separation of church and state.

At least for now, the decision — which came on Flag Day — leaves untouched the practice in which millions of schoolchildren around the country begin the day by reciting the pledge.

The court said atheist Michael Newdow could not sue to ban the pledge from his daughter's school and others because he did not have legal authority to speak for her.

Newdow is in a protracted custody fight with the girl's mother. He does not have sufficient custody of the child to qualify as her legal representative, the court said. Eight justices voted to reverse a lower court ruling in Newdow's favor.

Justice Antonin Scalia removed himself from participation in the case, presumably because of remarks he had made that seemed to telegraph his view that the pledge is constitutional.

"When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court.

'Low blow'
"I may be the best father in the world," Newdow said shortly after the ruling was announced. "She spends 10 days a month with me. The suggestion that I don't have sufficient custody is just incredible. This is such a blow for parental rights."

The 10-year-old's mother, Sandra Banning, had told the court she has no objection to the pledge. The full extent of the problems with the case was not apparent until she filed papers at the high court, Stevens wrote Monday.

Nine who have the final say
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed with the outcome of the case, but still wrote separately to say that the pledge as recited by schoolchildren does not violate the Constitution. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas agreed with him.

The ruling came on the day that Congress set aside to honor the national flag. The ruling also came exactly 50 years after Congress added the disputed words "under God" to what had been a secular patriotic oath.

The high court's lengthy opinion overturns a ruling two years ago that the teacher-led pledge was unconstitutional in public schools. That appeals court decision set off a national uproar and would have stripped the reference to God from the version of the pledge said by about 9.6 million schoolchildren in California and other western states.

Newdow's daughter, like most elementary school children, hears the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily.

The First Amendment guarantees that government will not "establish" religion, wording that has come to mean a general ban on overt government sponsorship of religion in public schools and elsewhere.

The Supreme Court has already said that schoolchildren cannot be required to recite the oath that begins, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America."

The court has also repeatedly barred school-sponsored prayer from classrooms, playing fields and school ceremonies.

White House argued against Newdow
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the language of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court's precedents make clear that tax-supported schools cannot lend their imprimatur to a declaration of fealty to "one nation under God."

The Bush administration, the girl's school and Newdow all asked the Supreme Court to get involved in the case.

The administration had asked the high court to rule against Newdow, either on the legal question of his ability to sue or on the constitutional issue. The administration argued that the reference to God in the pledge is more about ceremony and history than about religion.

The reference is an “official acknowledgment of our nation’s religious heritage,” similar to the “In God We Trust” stamped on coins and bills, Solicitor General Theodore Olson argued to the court.

It is far-fetched to say such references pose a real danger of imposing state-sponsored religion, Olson said.

Newdow claims a judge recently gave him joint custody of the girl, whose name is not part of the legal papers filed with the Supreme Court.

Newdow holds medical and legal degrees, and says he is an ordained minister. He argued his own case at the court in March.

The case began when Newdow sued Congress, President Bush and others to eliminate the words "under God." He asked for no damages.

On Monday, Newdow said he would continue that fight.

"The pledge is still unconstitutional," he said. "What is being done to parents is unconstitutional."

At a Sacramento, Calif., news conference, Elk Grove Unified School District Superintendent Dave Gordon called the pledge "a unifying, patriotic exercise that reflects the historical ideals upon which this great country was founded."

He said he'd have preferred that the Supreme Court had decided the merits of the case "and settled it once and for all for our nation."

Newdow had numerous backers at the high court, although they were outnumbered by legal briefs in favor of keeping the wording of the pledge as it is.

Both sides react
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said he is disappointed.

"The justices ducked this constitutional issue today, but it is likely to come back in the future," Lynn said. "Students should not feel compelled by school officials to subscribe to a particular religious belief in order to show love of country."

On the other side, the American Center for Law and Justice said the ruling removes a cloud from the pledge.

"While the court did not address the merits of the case, it is clear that the Pledge of Allegiance and the words 'under God' can continue to be recited by students across America," said Jay Sekulow, the group's chief counsel.

Congress adopted the pledge as a national patriotic tribute in 1942, at the height of World War II. Congress added the phrase "under God" more than a decade later, in 1954, when the world had moved from hot war to cold.

Supporters of the new wording said it would set the United States apart from godless communism.

Why Fathers Count
A loving dad can make all the difference in a child's life

By John Rosemond

Making a Difference

Most research on child rearing has focused on the mother/child relationship, relegating fathers to the proverbial backseat. Yet, the few studies that do exist on the role of fathers underscore their importance.

When fathers function as active parents, the studies show, their children tend to be more self-confident. They are more adaptable, outgoing, and independent. They possess better social skills, exhibit fewer behavior problems, and do better in school. As teens, these kids are less likely to have problems with sex, drugs, or alcohol than children whose dads sit on the sidelines.

The operative concept in these studies is fathers who are actively involved. My wife, Willie, and I had to learn that the hard way.

For a time when our children were young, I served merely as a parenting aide. Like a classroom in which there is a teacher and a teacher's aide, our home had a real, honest-to-goodness parent -- my wife -- and her parenting aide -- me.

I would come home from work in the late afternoon to find Willie (a) exhausted from taking care of children all day long, (b) at the end of her rope concerning the children's antics, (c) mad at me for being at work during the day, or (d) all of the above.

Sensing imminent homicide, I'd put down my briefcase and say, "Just tell me what to do, honey." The parenting aide can't figure things out for himself.

Even when Willie went out, I retained the role of aide. We said I was "baby-sitting" or just "sitting." But when Willie was alone with the children, we said she was home with the children.

The parenting aide just stays with the kids every now and then to give their real parent a break. When the children asked me for something, I'd say, "Go ask your mother." When there were teacher conferences, Willie attended and gave me a report.

When I finally realized what had been going on in our family, I saw that many, if not most, fathers were in the same state of affairs. It was the fault of neither dads nor moms, but it was -- and is -- something that only dads and moms working together can remedy:

Put your marriage first. Willie and I started spending more time with one another than we did with the children. "One big happy family" took a backseat to just the two of us doing things together. I now call this "benign neglect."

Become a husband-and-wife parenting team. Willie began saying, "Wait until your father gets home." That told our children that we made most decisions together, whether it was a matter of a child wanting to go to the movies or needing to be punished.

Agree to disagree. When a decision had to be made on the spot, the parent on the spot made the decision. If we disagreed, we discussed it privately, but the decision stood. This brought me off the sidelines onto the playing field. My relationship with the kids became more active and relaxed.

Limit after-school activities. We trimmed activities to no more than one per week and began requiring the kids to find creative ways of occupying their own time, rather than doing a lot of things for them.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

What your answering machine message says about you
By Bob Strauss

Wear all the makeup you want, and that adorable pink top you found at Neiman-Marcus, but if you're like most women you made an indelible impression way before this much-anticipated first date: the first time the guy reached the message on your answering machine. What does this seemingly innocuous snippet of digital audio say about you? If your greeting is anything like the following, you might want to run right home and change it pronto.

The message: "Hi, this is Emily, and I am so jazzed about what happened on Survivor last night! Can you believe that thing with the snake? Anyway, leave a message after the beep, and I'll get back to you faster than you can say Ryan Seacrest!"
What a guy hears: "Hi, this is Emily! I am so addicted to prime-time TV that I have a hard time distinguishing fantasy from reality! On our first date, I'll embarrass you in front of an entire restaurant of people by demonstrating how I would have auditioned for American Idol!"

The message: "'This is Matt! 'And this is Mary!' 'We're not home!' 'And Matt is hairy!' 'Leave a message!' 'After the beep!' 'And one of us!' 'Will take the leap!'"
What a guy hears: "Hi, this is Mary! Not only can't I rhyme, but this guy Matt may be my brother, my gay roommate, or my live-in boyfriend. Wouldn't you like to know? If you're not so intimidated that you've already hung up, leave a message after the beep!"

The message: "Hi! This is Peggy Blanche Loopdeloop at 555-1302. If I'm not here, you can reach me via cell phone at 555-555-1374, or email me at Leggypeggy at I can also be located via GPS triangulation at coordinates 57.43 degrees north latitude/33.56 degrees longitude."
What a guy hears: "Hi, this is Peggy! I haven't had a decent date in ten years, but I'm not giving up hope. I'll even buy dinner if that'll get you to sit with me for two hours!"

The message: "Is this Kevin? I'm not talking to you any more, Kevin. If it's anyone but Kevin, please leave a message after the beep."
What a guy hears: "Not only have you caught me on the rebound, but you've managed to do it on the first bounce. I may go out with you a couple of times, and I may even have a good time, but after that I'm running straight back to Kevin."

The message: "How do you — hey, what does this button — did it start yet? I didn't hear a —"
What a guy hears: "Hi! If I agree to date you, you'd better not let me anywhere near your laptop. Want to hear a dumb blonde joke?"

The message (in a neutral male voice): "You have reached 555-8344. Leave a message after the beep."
What a guy hears: "Hi! You have reached the Witness Protection Program. Please stay on the line and an agent will be with you shortly."

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Changing Face of Fatherhood
From divorced dads and older dads to gay dads and stepdads, the number of "alternadads" is growing. But whether your fathering style leans more toward Ozzy Osbourne or Ozzie Nelson, experts say the basics of parenting really are quite similar.

By Richard Trubo

About a decade ago, while David and his wife were in the process of getting a divorce, she unexpectedly died of heart-related problems. Overnight, David was faced with perhaps the biggest challenge of his life: Raising his 12-year-old daughter, Leslee, on his own.

In this era of "alternadads," fatherhood isn't always what it used to be. Not only are there more single dads like David than ever before, there are so many divorced dads, older dads, gay dads, and stepdads that Norman Rockwell would have to adjust his depictions of American life if he were working at his easel today.

In fact, "alternative" parenting may actually be today's mainstream. Only a minority -- 38%, to be exact -- of children born in the last three years of the 20th century will reach the age of 18 having lived most of their lives with both of their biological parents.

"About 15 years ago, we began to see courts awarding more men custody of their children in divorce actions," says Patricia A. Farrell, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of How to Be Your Own Therapist. "That turned the tide, and it's now more acceptable for single men and gay men, for example, to raise children without wives."

In a Family Way

David soon found that untraditional fathering can work just as well as the familiar "Leave it to Beaver"-style family life, although it is brimming with challenges. "It's tougher being a single dad than a single mom," he says. "Society looks at single motherhood as a natural state. But when it looks at a single father, it says, 'The child belongs with the mother.'"

Like many single dads, David took his role as a do-it-all dad seriously. He quit his job in the insurance industry and became a work-at-home father -- currently as a developer of Internet sites, including one of his own called "Initially, I had tried to maintain a regular work schedule in an office," he says, "but I was constantly running home to cook meals or go to school functions. So I made a conscious decision to work at home."

Although he concedes that single parenthood is more difficult than a two-parent household, he credits his successful childrearing to keeping the lines of communication open with his daughter. "But she also always understood that the parent has the final decision after issues are talked out," he says.

Chips Off the Old Block

Although our culture tends to think of mothers as better nurturers than dads, a University of Arizona study concluded that the depth of the love that men feel for their children is no less than women have for their offspring. And when problems occur with children, fathers may be the missing link.

Kyle Pruett, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale Medical School and the Yale Child Study Center, says that fathers are "the single greatest untapped resource" in the lives of America's children. The earlier that fathers become involved in their youngsters' lives, the better, he says, noting that infants are "prewired" for attachment to both parents.

According to data from the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, there are 62% more single fathers than there were a decade ago, and they head more than 2 million households. However, they are still far outnumbered by single mothers (about 7.5 million), although the parental concerns among men and women are almost identical. A study of single fathers in the Air Force found that their worries centered around issues such as child discipline, maintaining a balance between work and family, finding good day care, and lack of adult support.

Though dads can do just fine raising daughters on their own, "they should try to ensure that there are women in the child's life who can be healthy role models," says Farrell. "These women can be friends or relatives who the daughters can talk and relate to."

Make Room for Daddy

Just as single fathers are climbing in numbers, so are older dads in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s. Although some of these aging fathers may find it more challenging to keep up with the activity levels of their kids, they might also be better prepared for fatherhood in some ways.

"Compared with younger fathers, older fathers tend to be a little more stable in the workplace and in their emotional lives, and their children are able to take more of the center stage in the lives of these men," says Pruett, author of Fatherneed. Researchers at Haverford College in Pennsylvania found that older dads are more likely to play and read with their offspring, and are more demonstrative in hugging and praising their children.

The population of gay fathers is on the rise as well, with about 10% of homosexual men having children of their own. Studies show that they tend to be as well-adjusted developmentally and psychologically as children of heterosexual fathers and are likely to be accepting of their father's sexual orientation.

All in the Family

Whether you're a father who is young or old, or whether your fathering style leans more toward Ozzy Osbourne than Ozzie Nelson, the basics of parenting really are quite similar. For example:
* Be forgiving of your mistakes in parenting, advises Farrell. "Don't expect to be a perfect parent, because there are no perfect parents," she says. "Just be the best parent you can." Your children will gain the gift of understanding that it's OK to be imperfect and to learn from mistakes.

* "'Quality time' is a myth," argues Pruett. "We all hope that when we've been away for four days and get home on Friday night ready to take our 9-year-old out for pizza and a movie, it's going to be quality time." But surveys of school-age children, he adds, show that what youngsters really want is for their fathers to be less stressed and less overworked. "They want more peaceful parents," he adds, as well as regular family time just to "hang out" with their fathers, protected from their dad's work and stress.

* Think carefully about what you want to give your youngsters besides money, says Pruett. A lot of men feel that their fathering is reflected most directly through their capacity to provide, but children are looking for more from you, he adds. Ask yourself and act upon questions such as, "Do you want to give your child your sense of values? Your politics? Your passion for fishing? Your ability to love?"

Monday, June 07, 2004

Texting: Conversation Killer?
British survey says too much time spent at electronic communications; but maybe it's not all bad

By Jennifer Carlile
Reprinted with permission from

LONDON — In the land of Shakespeare and Chaucer, Britons spend nearly a quarter of their waking lives speaking and writing, according to a recent report. But, while their eloquent ancestors painted pictures with words, artful conversation today consists of emoticons (pictures formed out of text), colorful attachments and ring tones.

The average person spends three hours and 45 minutes a day communicating electronically, according to research released in May by the telecommunications division of British Gas.

And, despite all the calls, texts and e-mail, the report claimed people know less about their friends and family than before, and that Britons fear "in-person" conversation is becoming a thing of the past.

"The concern is that too much 'techno talk' makes us uncomfortable with more intimate face-to-face conversations and means we stop communicating effectively with each other," psychologist Dr. David Lewis told the researchers.

Londoners dispute report
Despite the grim picture painted by the survey, most Londoners questioned by in an admittedly unscientific survey conducted at a tube station and in coffee shops disagreed with the prognosis, citing the benefits of increased technology.

"My work is my computer," said Claudio Cassuto, the director of a European conference organization, who sends up to 100 e-mails per day.

People have complained of the sterility of electronic communication "for ages," he said, but "with PCs there's instant communication, triangular communication" and "open dialogue" via instant messaging.

"Of course if you have a wedding, a birthday, a funeral, you don't expect to do it effectively electronically," Cassuto said. "But, those are pretty much the only occasions when people send cards and letters anymore," adding that his one-on-one speaking skills have not been affected by using the computer.

According to the report, one in three people spend less time talking to friends and family because they can text and e-mail, and 46 percent of Britons would send a text message to avoid "wasting" time by having a conversation.

"Often we're so worn out after a day of constant work talk that we just can't face conversations when we get home so it seems easier to text rather than make a call," said Lewis, the psychologist cited in the report.

But, out of the Britons interviewed in Hammersmith, West London, even those who agreed that personal interaction was difficult, disagreed with the psychologist's reasoning for it.

Steve Hindle, a development manager for a charity, said "it's more difficult to communicate face to face just 'cause you can't get away from your computer screen."

But, commenting on the psychological aspect of speaking to people in person, he said, "I'm 43, so most of my life was face to face, so it's not much different."

Claudia Primus, who studies radiotherapy and works in a library, said, "If you're going to meet someone it's just easier to text them."

"Especially if you're in an area where you can't talk — at work, at the doctors ... " added her identical twin sister Claudette. The 28-year-olds each send around 30 text messages a day.

"At work we use Outlook all day, and Yahoo and AOL in the evenings," said Claudette, who works for a savings-and-loan bank, adding that in addition to talking to other people, they speak to each other on the phone for two to three hours every evening.

"It's good because we don't live in the same city — she's just down for the weekend," Claudia said, referring her sister who was visiting from Bournemouth.

Written, not oral, skills seen in decline
Despite the report's fear of a decline in Britons conversational skills, Neil Gilroy, director of education for the English-Speaking Union, wasn't too worried. "I think young people in particular are more linguistically skilled than they were before."

Although the union, which runs debates as well as public-speaking courses and competitions, does not have an official position on the affects of electronic communication on English linguistics, Gilroy said, "If there is a trend in that direction we probably won't see the effects for another 10 to 15 years."

"Standards are going up every year," Gilroy said referring to public-speaking competitions for teen-agers. He attributed the improvements to an increased emphasis on oral communication instruction for students of all economic backgrounds, and more class participation.

However, he said, "One is seeing a trend for more errors in written English due to the use of texting and e-mail. But, again, I would say it's still too early to know what the precise impact will be."

"If you've already gone through school you know grammar already, so it won't affect you, but for kids now it could be harder," said Claudette Primus, outside the Hammersmith Underground station.

When questioned by, students shrugged off any possible confusion between truncated sentences and proper grammar. "Yeah, abbreviations are easier, but it's not more difficult to write normally," said Jade Stapleton, a 14-year-old student who sends 12 texts a day.

While the effects of electronic communication remain unclear, youngsters appear to take more pleasure in it than the older generation, many of whom dislike relearning how to communicate.

"I just think things are done better face to face," said Gilroy of the English-Speaking Union. Nearing retirement, he said he no longer refers to himself as "old fashioned," instead terming himself an "unreconstructed man."

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Reagan dies with family by his side
Body of ex-president expected to be brought to D.C. for state funeral

MSNBC News Services
Updated: 8:04 p.m. ET June 05, 2004

LOS ANGELES - Ronald Reagan, the cheerful crusader who devoted his presidency to winning the Cold War, trying to scale back government and making people believe it was "morning again in America," died Saturday after a long twilight struggle with Alzheimer's disease. He was 93.

"My family and I would like the world to know that President Ronald Reagan has passed away after 10 years of Alzheimer’s disease at 93 years of age. We appreciate everyone's prayers," Nancy Reagan said in a statement.

Nancy Reagan, along with children Ron and Patti Davis, were at the couple's Los Angeles home when Reagan died at 1 p.m. PDT of pneumonia complicated by Alzheimer's disease, said Joanne Drake, who represents the family. Son Michael arrived a short time later, she said.

In Paris, President Bush called Reagan’s death "a sad day for America."

The U.S. flag over the White House — along with flags elsewhere — was lowered to half-staff. At ballparks and at the Belmont Stakes, there were moments of silence.

Reagan’s body was expected to be taken to his presidential library and museum in Simi Valley, Calif., and then flown to Washington to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda. His funeral was expected to be at the National Cathedral, an event likely to draw world leaders. The body was to be returned to California for a sunset burial at his library.

The White House was told his health had taken a turn for the worse in the last several days.

The president planned to participate in D-Day ceremonies in Normandy on Sunday and then fly back to the United States for an international economic summit in Georgia.

A White House spokeswoman said it was not known at this point whether Bush would change his travel plans because of Reagan's death.

Alzheimer's Disease
Five years after leaving office, the nation’s 40th president told the world in November 1994 that he had been diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's, an incurable illness that destroys brain cells. He said he had begun "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life."

Reagan lived longer than any U.S. president, spending his last decade in the shrouded seclusion wrought by his disease, tended by his wife, Nancy, whom he called Mommy, and the select few closest to him. Now, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton are the surviving ex-presidents.

Although fiercely protective of Reagan's privacy, the former first lady let people know his mental condition had deteriorated terribly. Last month, she said: "Ronnie's long journey has finally taken him to a distant place where I can no longer reach him."

Reagan's oldest daughter, Maureen, from his first marriage, died in August 2001 at age 60 from cancer. Three other children survive: Michael, from his first marriage, and Patti Davis and Ron from his second.

Over two terms, from 1981 to 1989, Reagan reshaped the Republican Party in his conservative image, fixed his eye on the demise of the Soviet Union and Eastern European communism and, with a Congress that was largely controlled by Democrats through much of his two terms, helped triple the national debt to $3 trillion in his competition with the other superpower.

Friday, June 04, 2004

The Decline of Morality in America
Thursday, May 27, 2004
By Bill O'Reilly

Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thank you for watching us tonight.

The decline of morality in America, that is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo." Last night, we demonstrated how the Black Entertainment Television (search) Network has degenerated into a rap video flesh fest. And many African-Americans are furious about it.

We did make one mistake in that report. The outrageous video by a guy named Nellie was not broadcast during the day on BET. And I implied it was. And I'm sorry for that mistake.

The belief that America is degenerating on a moral level is shared by both Republicans and Democrats. According to a new Gallup poll, 82 percent of Republicans and 78 percent of Democrats say that moral values in the U.S.A. are only fair or downright poor. 40 years ago, only 33 percent of Americans felt that way.

So what's happened? First, secular forces have destroyed any rendering of Judeo-Christian philosophy in the public school system. Many teachers are now ordered not to make value judgments on behavior and not to push any specific moral standards. Thus children receive little if any moral guidance in class.

Second, with the rise of single parent homes, more and more American kids wind up unsupervised for long periods of time, left to the television set or the computer, where harmful material comes at them like rain in a thunderstorm.

Third, major corporations now traffic in sex and violence to an extent never before seen in this country. Americans spend more than $10 billion a year on porn every year. And violent video games gross billions more for corporations.

Fourth, peer pressure to actually reject immoral behavior is virtually non-existent in many places. The military criminals at Abu Ghraib never could have committed their crimes if other soldiers did not look away. The code of silence about bad behavior is an infectious disease among Americans.

And finally, the decline of the Catholic church in America has dramatically harmed the U.S.A. According to a 1958 Gallup poll, 74 percent of American Catholics attended mass every week. Now the number stands at 25 percent. With 65 million members, the Catholic church in America is by far the nation's largest and used to set a moral tone that was taken seriously by society in general.

That's over now because of the priest scandals and the lack of leadership within the American Catholic church.

So as it stands, both Republicans and Democrats realize America is lacking a strong moral compass. Millions of American parents are trying hard to teach their children good values, but are besieged by the terrible influences beyond the home. The secularists have succeeded in drastically changing the moral tone in this country. And 80 percent of us see that change as a bad thing.

However, there's no mass outcry about it. And until there is, America will continue its declining moral direction.

Another Victory for the ACLU in Its War on Christianity
Thursday, June 03, 2004
By Bill O'Reilly

Hi. I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight.

Another victory for the ACLU (search) in its war on Christianity. That is the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo." Take a look at the county seal in Los Angeles because it's about to change. [The County] Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to cave in to the ACLU's demands that the small cross on the right be removed, and it soon will be, even though it's been there for 47 years. The ACLU's Los Angeles director, Ramona Ripskin (ph), says the cross makes some Angelenos feel, quote, "unwelcome," unquote. Sane people point out that the cross signifies the historical founding of Los Angeles by Catholic missionaries.

That historical argument seems to have some merit because a few hundred miles north of L.A., federal judge Phyllis Hamilton recently ruled that 7th-graders at a Contra Costa County school could be forced to say Muslim prayers in a history class for the sake of history. By the way, just yesterday, Judge Hamilton declared the law banning partial-birth abortion unconstitutional, thereby wiping out the will of the president, Congress and the vast majority of Americans. Of course, Judge Hamilton knows far more about the Constitution than anyone. And it would be interesting see how this woman would rule if a public school history teacher forced his or her students to say Christian prayers. I'm sure the judge would support that, just as she supports Muslim prayers.

Judge Hamilton and the ACLU are part of the anti-Christian cabal in America that sees the Christian majority as oppressors. These people know they can never impose their secular agenda on this country while Judeo-Christian philosophy (search) dominates the philosophical arena. That's because Judeo-Christian philosophy requires judgments about right and wrong in personal behavior. The secularists deplore that. They want an open society where anything goes, including legalized drugs, any kind of abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and explicit images and speech on the public airwaves.

Unless America's tradition of opposing these kinds of behaviors is changed, the secularist agenda will never become a reality. So diminishing any Christian display in public is the goal and encouraging alternative thought, like Muslim prayers, helps that goal. The harsh truth is that many American Christians don't really care about what's happening. L.A. County could have fought the ACLU using lawyers at the Thomas More Law Center (search) and the Alliance Defense Fund (search), who would have taken the case for free. But there's little outcry from the Christians of southern California to fight, and so the ACLU wins again.

"Talking Points" wants you to know that we are rapidly losing freedom in America. Judges are overruling the will of the people, and fascist organizations like the ACLU are imposing their secular will. And when was the last time you heard your priest, minister or rabbi talk about this? For me, the answer is simple. Never.

And that's "The Memo."

Elderly Couple Divorce After Husband Has Sex Change

A Chinese couple in their 80s are divorcing after the husband decided to have a sex change.

The couple had been happily married for decades until the husband had a sex change operation and came home an elderly woman.

His wife tried to carry on living with him as a sister but found she was unable to come to terms with his new look.

The couple, from Chengdu, Sichuan province, western China, are now divorcing, according to the China News Service.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Did Michelangelo Have Autism?
Aloof, Obsessed, Self-Absorbed -- Yet One of History's Greatest Artists

By Jeanie Lerche Davis

May 26, 2004 -- Classic tortured genius: The great artist Michelangelo may have suffered from autism, new research shows.

The report, which appears in the Journal of Medical Biography, provides a synthesis of new evidence about the famous 16th century artist, renowned for painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

"He was a loner, self-absorbed, and gave his undivided attention to his masterpieces -- a feature of autism," writes lead researcher Muhammad Arshad, PhD, a psychiatrist at Five Boroughs Partnership NHS Trust in Great Britain.

"Michelangelo met the criteria for Asperger's disorder, or high-functioning autism," Arshad adds.

In his report, Arshad outlines research into the great artist -- taken from numerous works, including notes from the artist's assistant and his family. It all points to high-functioning autism, he says.

Autism is a complex disorder that does not affect intelligence. But it does impact how people perceive and process information. Difficulty communicating, social isolation, a need for control, and obsession with very specific interests are hallmarks of autism. For some people, all this makes daily functioning quite difficult. Others get along fairly well, even attend regular schools.

Michelangelo likely suffered from high-functioning autism, called Asperger's syndrome, says Arshad. Some of his evidence:

* The men in Michelangelo's family "displayed autistic traits" and mood disturbances. His family described him as "erratic" and "had trouble applying himself to anything." As a child and young man, he did not get along with his family and suffered physical abuse.

* The artist was aloof and a loner. The artist's mentor described Michelangelo as being unable to make friends or to maintain any relationship. He did not attend his brother's funeral, which underlined "his inability to show emotion," writes Arshad.

* He was obsessed with work and controlling everything in his life -- family, money, time. Loss of control caused him great frustration. He was able to generate, in a short time, many hundreds of sketches for the Sistine ceiling -- no two alike, nor any pose similar. He gave his undivided attention to his masterpieces.

* He had difficulty holding up his end of a conversation, often walking away in the middle of an exchange, writes Arshad. He had a short temper, a sarcastic wit, and was paranoid at times. He was bad-tempered and had angry outbursts.

* He rarely bathed, and often slept in his clothes including his boots. "He has sometimes gone so long without taking them off that then the skin came away, like a snake's, with the boots," wrote the artist's assistant.

"Michelangelo's single-minded work routine, unusual lifestyle, limited interests, poor social and communication skills, and various issues of life control appear to be features of high-functioning autism," Arshad concludes.