Monday, July 31, 2006


Exhibits from the trial of convicted terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, including photographs of September 11 carnage, videos and tape-recorded final phone calls from World Trade Center victims, were posted today by the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.

They're not all for the faint-of-heart. I advise some caution as you wander through these 1,202 exhibits used by both the prosecution and defense. Eighteen of them are clearly marked by the court to advise viewer discretion.

9/11 Conspiracies: Yeah, and Elvis shot JFK

Over the weekend, I watched C-SPAN coverage of a June convention of truly fruity conspiracy maniacs who believe the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were really a conspiracy by President George W. Bush, the U.S. military, Israel, the oil industry and other shady characters to achieve their various political goals.

Here's a condensation of the basic theory from moderator/conspiracy advocate Alex Jones'
The planes did not bring those towers down; bombs did. So why use planes? It seems they were a diversionary tactic - a grand spectacle. Who would want to divert our attention from the real cause of the collapse of those towers? It must be those who benefited most from these attacks. ... All evidence points to elements inside, high atop the governments of Israel and the United States. Those wishing to implement their world government through their control over finance, media and militaries are guilty of these most heinous crimes. This atrocity is proving to advance the domestic police state agendas and consolidate the Middle East’s oil reserves. The people who most benefited from these attacks are the wealthiest, most privileged and powerful men on earth who feel they will finally be able to hold dominion over the nations of the world through their New World Order. For some of these globalists, these attacks were merely a means to an end - a huge step toward ruling a world socialist system. But for others, likely the planners of such a vile crime, this was a mass sacrifice to themselves. This mass ritual sacrifice of the vulnerable and the heroes who tried to save them was perpetrated by power crazed freaks who are simply - satanic.
The panel featured 9/11 Scholars for Truth founder James Fetzer, BYU Physics Professor Steven Jones, President of the Institute for Space and Security Studies Dr. Robert M. Bowman, USAF Lt. Col. (Ret.), filmmaker and radio talk-show host Alex Jones, and terrorism expert Webster Tarpley.

The crowd at the 9/11 conspiracy conference had their own set of facts: That the WTC could only have collapsed because explosives had been pre-positioned there; that news media is complicit somehow; that government officials were told in advance of 9/11 to stay off airplanes that day; that the 9/11 Commission's work was a whitewash sham; that the real airplanes were hidden, and exact replicas were used; that no airplane debris was ever found in Pennsylvania or at the Pentagon -- where they believe a cruise missile hit; and that the U.S. military had a shockingly -- read, deliberately -- slim defensive posture that day.

Let's get one thing straight: Even the federal government's version of 9/11 is a "conspiracy theory," but these folks have collected "facts" -- regardless of their accuracy or significance -- and congealed them into an ugly mass of hurtful tripe-for-profit.

Even if these wacko theories held any water, anybody who has dealt with the criminal justice system knows that the only perfect crime is one in which only the perpetrator knows what happened, leaves no evidence and keeps his mouth shut. If two people know, the chances of it remaining a secret go down. So how many people do you think would have to be involved in the 9/11 attacks? What would be the chances that all of them could keep their mouths shut? That none would experience a pang of guilt that would cause him to confess? There is no chance.

For a point-by-point refutation of the diverse WTC conspiracy theories floating around, check out this site.

Human nature leads to these conspiracy theories, and in this case, human nature proves them wrong.

Ellroy on Ellroy: Return to Los Angeles

Author James Ellroy has never been quite right, but he's been quite good. As a boy, his mother was murdered after a likely sexual tryst with a strange man in Los Angeles. As a man, Ellroy became became obsessed with solving the case and exploring his darker Oedipal spaces.

The result was a book, "My Dark Places," one of the best examples of intimate true crime ever written. Last weekend, Ellroy wrote about returning to Los Angeles in the Los Angeles Times' West Magazine. He wrote, in part:

I was midway through a three-year crack-up. It was the upshot of long transits of overwork and emotional seepage held in check by near-insane ambition. Brutal sleeplessness and panic attacks. Sobbing jags and weightless plummets. It was a six-week hotel stay. My alleged L.A. agenda: take a neurofeedback course to curb insomnia. My real L.A. mission: hide out and seek safety in the wild-ass place that made me. ... This essay is a travel document and a homecoming brief. It will stand as my final autobiographical statement. The gist is simple: My birthplace made me, I ran away, I ran back.
If you've ever wanted a glimpse behind a tortured soul, a creative presence and a guy who just wants something he's never really had, click through to Ellroy's essay.

Photo by Damon Winter / LATimes

Meeting of the Bad Hair Club for Men

British Prime Minister Tony Blair (right) chats with
Apple's Steve Jobs (left) and Cisco's John Chambers in San Jose.
Associated Press photo by Stefan Rousseau

If I had hair, I'd try to fix it better than this.
Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 28, 2006

A curious infidel in Cairo

Ron Franscell and driver Mahmoud, Cairo, November 2001

Author's Note: Shortly after 9/11, I was deployed by the Denver Post to the Middle East, where I was to take the pulse of the Arab/Muslim street in those confusing, maddening weeks after the World Trade Center attacks. Here is one dispatch from Cairo that resonates as much today as the day it was written.)


CAIRO, Egypt, Nov. 4, 2001 -- Everybody loves Mahmoud.

He is a legend among the tea-men and the other drivers outside the American hotel. He and his white Mercedes are well-known to the hubbly-bubbly sheesha boys in Giza; they wave when he passes. And he is a free lunch for the stray dogs who beg for scraps on the street. They love him most of all.

“If I feed them, they are happy and they will not harm me. If they are happy, then I am happy. Then,” he smiles big, “Allah is happy. Understand?”

He first approached me one morning near the 26th of July Bridge -- commemorating the day the last British soldier left Egypt -- hungry for a paying “guest.” Tourists stopped coming after Sept. 11. The hotels, restaurants, shops and airplanes are empty, and Mahmoud’s Mercedes has been too idle. He knows he has only five or six paces to make a sale. Forty pound to Giza full tour half day three hour not one hour three no better ask around Mercedes very nice you go I not joke understand?

Mahmoud speaks passable English very fast, which is why I hired him to be my driver in Cairo. Plus, it pleases him to help me understand. Later, he tells me he once lived in Aspen, where he was an electronics engineer for GTE, but he missed Egypt too much.

He is a devout Muslim, part cabbie, part cleric. To him, peace is what happens when the heart is pure. “Peace is life,” he says. He differentiates between the politicians (“who only want a chair”) and the common people. “The men in chairs have their hand in water, while people have their hand in the fire, understand?"

Mahmoud is also a Bedouin, with an eye for what is out of place. Walking in the Sahara, he once found a Nazi pouch containing a letter and 100 marks. Collectors offered him money for the old marks, but he believes it should be returned to the soldier or his family. He has written to the German address on the envelope, but has never gotten a response. Nonetheless, he promises to take me to the desert when I come back to Egypt, to show me how history is covered and uncovered every day by the shifting sands.

I wish to walk in the real Cairo, so I ask Mahmoud to take me away from the tourist places. We drive into the entrails of the city, weaving through narrow streets in the usual lunatic, death-defying Egyptian rush. He plunges us into a cheerless neighborhood where the locals live simple lives and almost never see the spiffy tourists who’ve stepped from the pages of a Banana Republic catalog.

So I walk. Prayers waft over the city. How can a city with prayers on the air be sinister?

A woman passes, carrying on her head a cage made of wooden slats and filled with chickens. This doesn’t seem to be a hygienic way to carry chickens. Another woman in a full galabaya -- a black robe and veil -- waits for an overcrowded bus beneath a perfume billboard featuring a pale European woman, unexotic except for the dress that is so foreign here.

At a news cart on the sidewalk, a magazine vendor sells the latest Modern Bride, Newsweek, Architectural Digest, MAD, Teen People and Vogue.

Whole lambs hang in a shop window, headless, foreleg-less, sinewy. The butcher tells me one would cost 550 Egyptian pounds, about $130 U.S. I know that’s just the starting bid. Everything, meat as much as cab fare and Coca-Cola, is negotiable.

In an alley grotto, I sit with some Egyptian men -- Abdul al Samad, who looks like a businessman; Mohammad Said, a grizzled man selling hand-made whips and canes, and Said Ahmed, one of the many young men in Cairo’s back streets who looks as if he would volunteer for any task a paying tourist required. With them, I sip strong Turkish coffee down to the silty last inch while Mores, the shine boy, polishes my desert-scoured walking boots for 3 pounds. Curious children from the bleak neighborhood come round to see the American sahaffi, journalist.

“American Number One,” old Mohammad says, perhaps exhausting his English as he hands me a braided leather riding crop. “25 pound?”

But I look past him. Someone has scrawled 911 on the dirty wall behind him. It unnerves me. Is Sept. 11 being celebrated or mourned? I cannot tell by looking, so I put my finger on the Arabic graffiti and ask: What does this mean?

Abdul puts down his sheesha pipe and smiles at the curious infidel.

“God,” he says, pointing at the sky.

How ironic the written Arabic word for “Allah” should look like “911.”

Mahmoud drops me at the curb in front of the American hotel. I wander the seawall along the Nile, where fishermen dangle bread in the water to catch small, flat fish. The setting sun warms their backs, and they wait. I don’t speak to them much, because my Old World grandfather taught me real fishermen don’t talk until they have finished fishing.

Far below, dozens of river rats skitter over the detritus, scavenging for fish guts and garbage drifting from the heart of Africa toward the Mediterranean. One gray rat spies a plastic water bottle floating in a backwater and tries to retrieve it, but the water is too deep and the rat’s curiosity is not so strong. But he keeps trying, always failing. I kept thinking, how disappointed he’ll be when he finally salvages it. How much energy he wasted on curiosity. An American journalist in a strange land, I hope I am not some river rat scavenging deeper waters for empty vessels.

Another man, obviously not a fisherman, speaks to me. His name is Shoukry, he tells me, and he cooks in a pizza place on 26 July Corridore. When he discovers I am American, he stands very close to me. “I am sorry for the happening in New York. Very sorry,” he murmurs. “Egyptians love Americans. Many good people. Very sorry.”

Shoukry’s words comfort me. I assume they are genuine because he doesn’t ask for money.

The next day, Mahmoud picks me up early for a trip to the mosque, because I have asked many questions about Islam. He tells me many things I haven’t heard. Did I know Muslims should travel to Mecca not once, but seven times in their lives? No. Did I know the eighth trip should be to Bethlehem, because Jesus, too, was a great prophet? No. Did I know the Koran predicts the Second Coming of Christ? No.

“If you don’t trust in Jesus and Moses,” Mahmoud preaches in his rapid-fire way, “you don’t trust in Mohammed. Any Muslim who say Jesus was only a man who died is not Muslim. Church is not building for one person, but for God. And is only one God for all of us, Muslim, Christian and Jew. Understand?”

I save table scraps from my last supper in Cairo, and I give them to Mahmoud the next morning. For the dogs, I tell him. He smiles big. The dogs will be happy, so Mahmoud will be happy, and Allah will be happy. And I am happy they’re all happy.

“Your heart is open,” Mahmoud tells me. “When you come back to Egypt, inshallah, I will have you stay in my home and I will show you Egypt in eyes of Egyptian, not tourist, understand?

There is much to understand.

Inshallah. God willing.

PHOTO ABOVE: A Cairo mother and sons (Photo by Ron Franscell)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Out of Beirut: A war story comes home

Ramona and Sousan Ataya of Beaumont, Texas, had only been vacationing two days in Beirut -- mother Sousan's native country -- when the war between Israel and Hezbollah spilled over into Lebanon. Joined by several cousins, they were caught up in the tense days of waiting to be rescued by the American government, fleeing by taxi to a safer refuge in the mountains near Beirut, and hours of pushing through anxious crowds to clamber aboard a U.S. Navy ship that would take them to Cyprus.

What was to be a five-week holiday before 22-year-old Ramona (in photo with father Dr. Raja Ataya, also Lebanese-born) started medical school in the fall turned frighteningly dangerous. They landed safely in Houston Wednesday night and their story is told today by Writer Beth Gallaspy in the Beaumont Enterprise. It says, in part:

"In the mountains, we knew we were safe, but you're constantly hearing bombs," Ramona said about 12 hours after returning to her Beaumont home. "You see the planes outside your window dropping bombs. We weren't really worried for our lives that much, but we were worried about what's to come, what's going to happen, what if it does get worse." ...

Two days of rest in a luxury hotel there preceded a marathon of travel home: a five-hour flight to Germany, a 10-hour flight to Newark, an eight-hour layover, then on to Houston. Their commercial flight had a two-hour delay, but by then the women were too tired to care.

"We didn't even have the energy to complain anymore," Ramona said.
ABOVE: Beaumont Enterprise photo by Mark M. Hancock

Must be sweeps month: Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV

Next time you find yourself complaining that CNN or Fox is a little too one-sided for your tastes, tune-in to Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV, based in Beirut. So far, the station has not been struck by Israeli missiles knocked off the air nor its information services closed.

Among today's headlines:

Starbucks thanks costumers for contributing in paying for Israel's weaponry

Main headline in Iranian newspaper: Tel Aviv evacuated

Israeli reserve combat soldiers refuse to take part in "missions of occupation and aggression"

Rice in Israel: a ceasefire is not at any price

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bad Reporter!

Anais Nin's last husband has died

"I am the keeper of fragile things and I
have kept of you what is indisolvable."

Anais Nin

Rupert Pole, the forest ranger who revealed Aanais Nin's true eroticism and wild sexual liaisons to the world, has died. His remarkable obituary in today's Los Angeles Times details his efforts to publish her personal diaries after her 1977 death, including details of her affairs with Henry Miller and her own father, composer Joaquin Nin. As her literary executor, he unveiled even more of Anais Nin to readers than she herself had unveiled, which was extraordinary itself. The obituary explains how she was still married to Hugo Guiler when she married Pole in 1955.
She was Mrs. Pole for 11 years, until she grew too fearful of the legal consequences of having two husbands who claimed her as a dependent on their tax returns. Before invalidating their marriage in 1966, she told Pole about Guiler, explaining that she could not divorce the banker because of his decades of financial support and remarkable tolerance of her many absences and indiscretions.

Ultimately, Pole was the man with whom Nin chose to spend her last years. After scrimping from his salary as a forest ranger and later as a teacher, he built a small house in Silver Lake that he hoped would entice Nin to stay with him permanently in California.
As a final twist to their entangled romance, it's likely that Pole's ashes will be scattered in California's Santa Monica Bay, where Pole scattered Anais's ashes in 1977 ... and in 1983, scattered her husband Hugo Guiler's ashes, too. Seems fitting that Anais Nin would spend eternity with two men, doesn't it?

Want to get out of debt? Wash your dishes!

Yeah, I know you're laughing, but it makes some sense: Dirty dishes cause debt.

It's a fact that going out to eat is one of the Top 5 causes of credit-card debt. And one of the biggest reasons people go out to eat is they can't face a dirty kitchen. Thus ... keeping dirty dishes out of your sink might be the No. 1 way to saving money, according to Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam at

"Most people are so overwhelmed with piled counter tops and dirty dishes that they would rather go out to eat. ... Do the dishes after every meal and keep hot, soapy water in the sink while you are baking or cooking. Clean up as you go. If your sink is empty and the dishes are washed, your kitchen always looks good. This helps you save money because you have time and space to cook."
OK, makes sense. The dishes are out of the sink and I feel richer already! But I still can't figure out what to do with all the dirty dishes I stuffed in the linen closet.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

End the Unjust Jewish Occupation of Muslim Lands!

This rampant subjugation must stop!
(Thanks to SoccerMom and Ric for the "map" of Arab & Muslim countries)

How to solve the Middle East Crisis

Just give them all homes in Aspen, Colorado!

The priciest home in all of North America, according to, is the $135 million Starwood Estate in Aspen. Says Forbes: "It's a record-setting prince--er, price. Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, former Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S., has put his 95-acre ranch on the market. The Starwood Ranch estate includes a 56,000-square-foot mansion with 15 bedrooms and 16 baths, several smaller buildings, stables, a tennis court and an indoor swimming pool. Listed with Joshua Saslove at Joshua & Co."

Two questions: Why does anybody need 16 bathrooms? And how many Palestinian refugees could live in 56,000 square feet?

Coach Pappy: Texas A&M's oldest living letterman

My paper, the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, had a marvelous story today about "Pappy" Drennan, an icon in Southeast Texas high school football during the days when we were producing an unusual number of pro stars such as Bubba Smith and Jerry Levias.

Pappy, now 96, started coaching high school football in 1938. He won 95 games in 19 years as a head coach and retired in 1971. He is Texas A&M's oldest living letterman and the oldest living high school coach in Southeast Texas. He still drives his truck, still holds season tickets to Aggie football games, still attends A&M functions in town. Writer Perryn Keys' story said, in part:

Pappy is a man who wore a leather helmet when he played high school football at Cleburne, but only because plastic was still a few decades away. He is a man who not only remembers Texas A&M's only national championship in 1939, he roamed campus before then. He was best friends with the Aggies' brightest stars. And yet he still doesn't understand all the fuss.

"I mean, I'm sure glad to have you," he said humbly. "But I don't know why you're here. There's people who were All-Americans, guys who wound up being millionaires. I was a great player in high school, but not after that. Not in college."

Want to read more about this special guy? Check out the Enterprise story here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Yeah, but can she walk on water like her granddad?

This was reported out of the U.K. by United Press International (UPI) today:
An American who began her career as a journalist in Belfast, claims she is a descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene and is publishing a book about it.

Kathleen McGowan has received a seven-figure advance for her novel, "The Expected One," said the Sunday Times of London. The book will be published in New York on Tuesday. It has earned $2 million from the sale of foreign rights and will appear in Britain on Aug. 7.

McGowan, 43, said she had submitted her proposal to publishers in 1997, six years before author Dan Brown published "The Da Vinci Code" -- which features a plot line involving descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

McGowan self-published her book last year after she was "laughed out of New York City," she said. It sold 2,500 copies but was snapped up by Touchstone Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. It tells the story of Maureen Paschal, a journalist searching in the Pyrenees for scrolls supposedly written in the first century by Magdalene.

When asked to produce ancient family documents that she claims to have uncovered in France, she said she had been "asked not to talk about what I've seen."

I don't think Jesus will ever agree to the paternity test.

'We want to kill you'

Over the weekend, I heard a retired-military commentator on CNN respond to a question about negotiations between Hezbollah and Israel by quoting an unnamed terrorist source who purportedly said at some time in the past: "We don't want something from you, we want to kill you."

I can find two variations of that quote on the Internet, one allegedly spoken after 9/11 and another allegedly from an unidentified Hamas source. Partly because they're on the Internet, partly because the sources are not named, and partly because I can find no trustworthy original publication, I'm dubious it was ever said.

Does anyone out there know the primary source -- both the speaker and the publication/tape -- for this shocking, oft-repeated and possibly counterfeit comment?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Hezbollah's official web site

Just in case you're one of those people who mistrusts the American media, you can get your Hezbollah information right from the mullah's mouth at the terrorist group's official web site. is, as you might expect, a propaganda site where Hezbollah refers to its activities as "resistance" and the florid speeches of its leader are printed in their full (if occasionally impenetrable) glory. But if you want to see how "the other side" views this conflict, take a look.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What would 'proportional response' look like?

Hezbollah, several world leaders and many non-Jewish liberals in the U.S. are criticizing Israel's response as "disproportionate" to the Hezbollah provocation. But L.A. Times columnist Max Boot asks a challenging question in today's editions:

What would a proportionate Israeli response to the snatching of its soldiers and the bombardment of its soil look like? Should Israel kidnap low-level Hamas and Hezbollah operatives? Those organizations wouldn't mind in the slightest; they want as many martyrs as possible.

The real problem is that Israel's response has been all too proportional. So far it has only gone after Hamas and Hezbollah. (Some collateral damage is inevitable because these groups hide among civilians.) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is showing superhuman restraint by not, at the very least, "accidentally" bombing the Syrian and Iranian embassies in Beirut, which serve as Hezbollah liaison offices.

So what do you think ... what would have been a "proportionate" response to Hezbollah?

Blogaganda: Digital enhancement

Today, friends on both sides of the Middle East crisis -- indeed, on both sides of the world -- e-mailed me photos intended to illustrate their separate beliefs.

One, an American friend here in Texas, sent several photos of American soldiers in Iraq purporting to show the humanity and sensitivity we all hope they're truly showing in their mission. The other, an American scholar living in Egypt, sent a grotesque portfolio of the destruction in Beirut, including what purport to be the mutilated, disemboweled corpses of Lebanese children, to prove the all-out brutality of the Israeli Defense Forces.

Both believe you are unlikely to see these photos in your daily newspaper. Both are wrong.

Photos of American soldiers doing good deeds in Iraq have appeared in many (maybe most) American newspapers, but the Radical Right Machinery has convinced gullible sycophants that the Liberal Media has suppressed anything that makes war look like the noble enterprise it is.

And photos of the destruction of Beirut -- albeit probably not gutted dead babies, Israeli or Lebanese -- have been appearing on TV and in news pages for more than a week, but the Radical Left Machinery has convinced gullible sycophants that the Corporate Media has suppressed anything that would celebrate noble Hezbollah's freedom-fighting and proof that the IDF is just a giant death squad.

Cameras might not lie, but sometimes photos don't tell the whole story. No matter how we feel about these wars, too many people have become unwitting digital-propagandists, forwarding material of questionable origin and purpose. Our inboxes are filled every day with politico-porn, usually designed to serve the twisted ends of their creators. Some of it supports our existing biases, so is less offensive ... and some of it challenges our presumptions, so is abhorrent. Personally, I accept very little I see on the Internet as fact without a profound skepticism.

The mainstream American media, reviled on the Web and the blogosphere -- sometimes for good reason -- remains the only institution which strives to present a fair and accurate picture. That's only a bad thing when it passes through the prism of our own biases.

But if you only want to see dead babies, the Internet is full of them. Knock yourself out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

'I fled Lebanon and all I got was this T-shirt'

Many of the 25,000 Americans stranded in Lebanon during the first few days of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict are carping that the U.S. didn't act fast enough to rescue them. Other countries reacted faster, some say.

Well, aside from the fact that other countries might have been better positioned geographically and logistically to move into the region, my question is bigger: Who's dumb enough to vacation in a war zone -- and the Middle East is one big war zone these days -- and then complain that they weren't rescued fast enough?

Various reports list 25,000 American nationals in Lebanon, but nobody has yet come up with a firm figure on how many of those are actually interested in being evacuated. One TV report said "about 10,000," but it remains unclear. I don't oppose sending U.S. ships, planes and helicopters to get them out, but their whining about the timing is wearing thin. They picked a treacherous place for holiday, and it just ain't gonna be a four-star experience. Going to Libya would have been safer, fergawdsakes.

It just goes to show ... a lot of people only think they're adventurous.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The shit heard 'round the world

An open mike at a G8 Summit luncheon caught President Bush peppering his conversation with some salty language, suggesting that the mess in the Middle East is getting poopy.

"See the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit and it's over," Bush told British PM Tony Blair as he chomped on a roll.

Of course, the news media is all over Bush's language, sorta like your little sister when she tattles, "Mommy, Ronnie said the F-word!"

Personally, I'm glad the president -- in his language anyway -- proves not to be the stodgy, prudish Baptist prig that he wants the Moral Majority to think he is. In private, most of us use profane language that we'd would never use in a major speech at the Tuesday Rotary meeting, much less the State of the Union address. I confess to using much stronger language regarding Hezbollah than "shit" ... and they are usually deliciously compound profanities, blending juicier and poly-syllabic obscenities. I am able to turn the air around me an acidic blue. It's a gift.

Without a doubt, the Radical Left will act horrified and say it proves our Republican president is unstatesmanlike, even though you gotta believe that President Clinton probably didn't get Oval Office, um, perks without expressing a few comely expletives. And then there's Harry Truman ... a Democrat to whom, ironically, George W. Bush often compares himself. But most of my Leftist friends have been complaining for years that "Bush never says shit." Now he has.

And the Radical Right, especially in the Bible Belt, will probably find some passage in the Bible where Jesus warned that "thou shalt not speak with a potty mouth" or somesuch.

Remember when "crap" was a cuss word? Now it's not just OK for prime-time TV, it's a regular line on some of the best shows, like "Everybody Loves Raymond." As with any word, overuse and misuse are generally the problem, fer crap sakes.

Now, I'm not for a cultural Tourette's Syndrome, where vile words spill out freely at the most inappropriate times, like my annual job review. I've sometimes blurted out some blistering epithets, and I've generally had the good grace to know I fu ... messed up. The trick is knowing exactly when to drop the F-bomb, or the MF-Scud, or the CS-Katyusha to hit the target precisely.

I'm a writer. I writhe, revel and bathe in words. I love them. I use them all. I don't think there's any such thing as a bad word. Sometimes civil language simply doesn't make the point. My use -- or the president's use -- of a colorful word or phrase isn't always evidence of ignorance or an underdeveloped vocabulary; it often means I've chosen a word for its precise meaning and effect. Profanity often allows for a much more passionate expression. A cuss word is like a verbal exclamation point.

So the president said "shit." Get over it, dammit.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Are newspapers dying? Yes ... no ... are you gonna eat that?

Mark Morford is about as crazy as newspaper columnists come ... and he's good, too. His recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle about the future of newspapers was about as insightful ... and inciteful ... as any of the high-falutin' assessment you'll see from Wall Street vultures and far less acrid than most anti-media bloggers (is that redundant?) He wrote, in part:
Here is the thing: Everything is changing. Everything is changing at a rather unprecedented pace that excites and terrifies almost everyone involved until you want to hold your head in your hands and scream and drink and cry. Technology is moving so fast that you will soon need a wireless router for your digital toaster that also produces grappa and makes stock recommendations and plays MP3s through your fingernails. This is just the way.

But at the same time, I know of not a single pseudo-hipster who loves to download tiny Nelly Furtado music videos to her Nokia for 4 bucks a pop and then sit around a cafe with three other pseudo-hip girlfriends, all plugged into the phone and jamming to the song via headphones, like all those Verizon commercials seem to fantasize. Translation: You gotta maintain a proper perspective.

Are newspapers dying? If by newspaper, you mean the ink-on-paper products that are delivered to your front lawn by kids on bikes or magically appear overnight in the newsstand down the street, the answer is probably yes. Technology will certainly allow us to kill fewer trees, solve portability problems and tailor information more precisely for digital delivery, maybe within a generation or two.

But will the people who train to become fair observers who report back for the greater good also become extinct? Nope.

I've said it before and it bears repeating: From the dawn of mankind, we have valued those among us who can run to the next hill, look over and report fairly and accurately what they saw. Their observations help society make good decisions for itself by sharing trustworthy information that not everyone can witness for themselves. So before you wish for the painful death of the New York Times, ask yourself if you want to rely on your next-door neighbor or the blogosphere for crucial news information that could affect your life. Newspapers shouldn't be your only source of trustworthy new information, but your choices will be severely impacted without them.

And if I were as funny as Morford, I'd have said it in a more entertaining way.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

And now for this infomercial ...

You can now pre-order my new book "FALL: The Rape and Murder of Innocence in a Small Town" at You can see more about the book at this site.

The early-bird price is $15.72 -- a huge discount from the $24.95 cover price. Your book will be shipped after its December 28 publication date. (Money-saving tip: If you also order my debut novel, "ANGEL FIRE," at $12.50, you'll qualify for Amazon's free shipping! And if you want it signed, I'll do it for free if you mail it!)

Will you like this rather intimate true story about the abduction, rape and murder involving two childhood friends of mine when we were growing up in a small town? Well, see what some experts have said about it:

"Few authors understand what makes a true crime book stand out like a beacon from the mass of prosaically gruesome re-telling of police reports. Ron Franscell does! 'FALL' explores the true story of this unholy sacrifice of youth and misplaced trust in a gripping, throat-tightening way. It is an almost-hypnotic read, hard to look away from. But it is also compassionate as we question the awful fate of the victims, sadly singled out by fate or luck or whatever shapes our destinies. This is a very, very, good book--a gem for readers who look for the whole story, written by a very, very, good writer. Every time I hear a neighbor or a local lawman in a traditionally low-crime town, say 'Something like murder doesn't happen here' -- when, of course, it does -- I shake my head. This time, it happened in Casper, Wyoming, and Ron Franscell takes you there ... completely. It will make you cry honest tears. The victims deserve no less."

"FALL is an intimate true crime story. Franscell tells his story from a truly unique perspective. What sets FALL apart in the genre is that he was there, not as a victim or a perpetrator, but as a child splashed by the unexpected evil of it all -- and he grew up with a gift to be able to tell the story in all its violent colors."
Famed trial lawyer, Wyoming native
and author of "GUNNING FOR JUSTICE"

"On more than one level, FALL rises above most books in the true-crime genre, mostly because it searingly depicts a type of evil not too often exceeded. … This uncommon story has every chilling component of human terror, drama and suspense that readers of true crime look for. In an elegant and powerful voice normally seen only in fiction, Ron Franscell captures the sights, sounds and smells of this Wyoming saga and masterfully gets inside the emotional marrow of its participants. I highly recommend this engaging book."
New York Times bestselling author of "HELTER SKELTER"

"Ron Franscell reveals extensive new details of one of the vilest crimes in Wyoming history, one that cast a long and poisonous shadow through more than three decades. He returns to his hometown (and mine) of Casper to illuminate how it touched the lives of so many who were dragged along in its wake. This is first-rate reporting and a riveting read."
PETE WILLIAMS, Justice Correspondent, NBC News

"Author and newspaperman Ron Franscell is one of the most versatile writers on the scene today, as FALL amply demonstrates. FALL is one of those rare true-crime books that crosses genre lines into what is simply dramatic literary nonfiction at its best. This is much more than a book about one of the most chilling crimes I can recall. In the vein of 'In Cold Blood' – and perhaps even more meaningful with the author's personal connection – it is a deep and moving tale about the impact of a crime on a small town, written with the flair of a novelist, and a journalist's eye and ear for truth."
Best-selling author of "MONSTER,"

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Cops or robbers? Cop-foolery booms

Right here in Beaumont, Texas, we're watching a couple cases of cop impersonators who've stopped unwitting motorists. In one case, the faux cop stopped lone women drivers, asked for their drivers licenses (which have addresses) and, in at least one case, showed up later at the woman's home. A 22-year-old man has been arrested as a suspect in those cases, and is now free on bond.

And over the weekend, the real local police reported another fake-cop encounter: Two men in a white Crown Victoria -- a popular cop car -- used a flashing red light to stop a bicyclist. They emerged from their car brandishing guns and took the man's wallet.

A fourth possible incident is under investigation, but local deputies are mum on details. Maybe nothing happened, or maybe it's a fake fake cop. Who knows?

Cop impersonators aren't funny, but this whole series of news events has had its funny moments.

Shortly after an arrest warrant was issued for the young man in the first two incidents, our reporter looked up his home address on the Internet and called his number. Surprisingly, a man who identified himself as the suspect chatted with her briefly, saying it was all "a misunderstanding." After he hung up, we tried to call the police to let them know their collar was at his home at this moment. But they wouldn't return our calls ... so we just posted our story, saying we'd found a man supposedly the subject of a manhunt at his own house and talked to him. Makes you wonder why the local cops didn't think of that? (Our photographer was actually waiting for them at the suspect's house when they arrived about 30 minutes later.)

A snippy dispatcher later interrogated the reporter about how she got the guy's address. "Yahoo," she said. (She meant the search engine, not a cop.)

News of the armed robbery broke early Sunday. We called the cops early Monday and were told nobody knew anything and to "call back after lunch." We did. But then the cops were all at a party ... a party. It was mid-afternoon before anybody told us anything -- and it was only what was already known. I guess they don't want the public to know there are apparently armed robbers masquerading as cops on our streets. I guess some secrets are best kept ... secret.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

World's fastest lawnmower

Photo by Chris Detrick / Salt Lake Tribune

Bobby Cleveland, "America's most decorated lawnmower racer," set the record for ‘‘world’s fastest lawnmower’’ at the Bonneville Salt Flats on the Fourth of July. Cleveland's goal was to reach 104 MPH on his custom built mower, but after four attempts, his fastest average speed was 80.752. But since no record yet exists for this category of racing, he set an official record anyway!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ken Lay cheats justice, not death

Kenneth Lay, founder of Enron, died today of a heart attack at his Aspen, Colo., vacation home. He was 64.

The blogosphere's wacko conspiracy theorists are having a field day. Says MamaB's Blog (just one of hundreds): "Funny how he dies right before he's to be sentenced now isn't it? I can betcha this man is not dead and has a new identity. Don't tell me that they can't do this cause they do it everyday for criminals that rat out criminals. So this again shows me this frigging government under the Bushs is the most rotten bullshit in the world. This is the same guy that backed Bush for his elections."

(It's funny how the same people who think George W. Bush is the biggest idiot in the world also think he has planned and executed the most complex conspiracies since Machiavelli.)

But it might surprise you to to learn that because Lay died before he was sentenced, legally it's as if he was never charged at all. Any criminal penalty that might have required him to pay a considerable fine of, say, millions is rendered moot. The government's forfeiture claim against Lay for $43.5 million will be dismissed and even though Lay was convicted of many crimes, the law no longer recognizes that any criminal charges were ever brought against him. He goes to Heaven ... or hell ... with a clean permanent record (although his estate might face plenty of civil lawsuits.)

But I'm just bummed that he still had a vacation home in Aspen. Doesn't seem right, does it? UPDATE 7/6/06: The Denver Post reports today "Lay had sold several properties he owned in Aspen and was staying in a home rented from family friend I.V. Pabst, who also lives on the property. Modest by Aspen standards, the 2,866-square-foot home sits on 37.6 acres and is valued at $431,500 by the Pitkin County tax assessor."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Insurgence Day!

Current events often seem more like deja vu than history. This Fourth of July, watching various documentaries about the American Revolution, it's fascinating to see how our freedom was won by a group of insurgents who often flagrantly ignored the 18th century rules of engagement to defeat an enemy superpower, which sometimes committed atrocities against prisoners and civilians.

OK, maybe that's too shallow a comparison. American colonists were fighting for freedom and self-determination against an enemy that desperately wanted to stay; jihadists aren't fighting a war for freedom, but for religious cleansing, and their enemy would prefer to be anywhere but Iraq and Afghanistan. At any rate, you'd think we'd know how to defeat an insurgency since we have some practice at waging an insurgency.

Nonetheless ... deja vu all over again.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Can you hear me now? Good ....

So abu Musab al Zarqawi's cell phone contained the telephone numbers of high-ranking Iraq government officials. What was he calling them about ... bad trash pickup and late delivery of his newspaper?

So, our own government is monitoring OUR phone calls, but the top terrorist scumbag in Iraq apparently can call bureaucrats and politicians -- and maybe order pizza and beer -- without ever being noticed. Did anybody think to monitor phone calls in Iraq ... or might that have been too invasive?