Jan. 24, 2007 | 4:10 p.m. ET

The State of Angelina
(Kellyanne Dignan, "Scarborough Country" producer)

While politicians and pundits continue to dissect the State of The Union, The New York Times  speculates on the state of Angelina Jolie. It seems the "Gray Lady" is catching on to what the tabloids have known for weeks: Saint Angelina isn't looking quite so saintly these days.

In the early days of Brangelina, Jolie got a bit of a pass for her unconfirmed roll in the Braniston split. The couple made public appearances and gave interviews portraying their new relationship as family oriented with a whole lot of charity thrown in for good measure. Once baby Shiloh came along and People Magazine snapped up the rights to the first family portrait for millions it seemed nothing could slow this couple down. But like all good things...

Angelina's troubles seemed to begin with her January Vogue cover and interview. Her comments about Brad's ex Jennifer Aniston seemed petty and heartless. The Earth mother was heading down a slippery slope. Next up reports Angie called baby Shiloh a blob, Madonna's adoption illegal, and St. John's clothes ugly.

While none of these headlines exactly helped Jolie, she wasn't dead in the water quite yet: then came the Golden Globes. Instead of making headlines for her dress or an award; everyone was talking about her nasty interview  with Ryan Seacrest. It seems Ms. Jolie thinks herself above answering red carpet questions on award show morning routines.

Now it seems unlikely Angelina is going anywhere anytime soon, (although I do have it on good authority she just left New Orleans for Vietnam) but she better take note of the Hollywood culture she seems to disdain. It pays her quite well and gives her a platform most charities can only dream of. As any has-been actress will tell her: one day you're in- the next you're out.


Jan. 22, 2007 | 2:03 p.m. ET

What’s in a date?
(Kellyanne Dignan, "Scarborough Country" producer)

It’s not just Patriots and Saints fans feeling the blues today. The Daily Mail reports January 22 is the unhappiest day of the year. Apparently a British psychologist worked out some kind of formula based on six factors including unpaid holiday shopping bills, cold weather, and New Year’s resolution failure. Since there is no “football factor,” last night’s Patriots-Colts heartbreaker is just a coincident.

Dr. Cliff Arnall’s formula has been around for a while so this story isn’t exactly new. Last year January 23 got the top honors. I remember sitting around in our “Scarborough Country” editorial meeting discussing the day’s negative designation and wondering what, if anything, we should do on it.

The story may seem silly, but I really like it. I’m fascinated by the importance people put on specific dates. June 6, 2006, or 6/6/06, passed with little incident despite reports it could mean the end of the world . Computer users worried September 9, 1999, or 9/9/99, would crash our hard drives, but we all survived to begin Y2K computer panic a few months later.

The next sequential date already getting people into a frenzy could be a bit more lucky. July 7, 2007, or 7/7/07, is unofficially considered the potential luckiest day of the year. Wedding planners report thousands of couples are betting three sevens will equal years of blissful matrimony, while Harry Potter fans buzz about a potential 7/7/07 release for the 7th Harry Potter book.

With all those weddings and reading to get to; don’t let today’s blues get you down. July will be here before you know it. If you just can’t wait, never fear: according to Dr. Cliff Arnall’s formula, we’re one day closer to June 23, the happiest day of the year.


Jan. 18, 2007| 3:27 p.m. ET

Beauty waves goodbye to Broadway
(Kellyanne Dignan, "Scarborough Country" producer)

Breaking news out of Broadway: there is only room for one princess; at least one Disney princess. After 13 years "Beauty and the Beast" is packing up its magic roses and singing candle sticks to make way for "The Little Mermaid." Apparently the people behind Disney Theater are concerned the two shows are too similar for one small neighborhood in Manhattan. Curiously they do manage to co-exist beautifully in Disney World; but that's neither here nor there.

While Ariel won't have to outswim the beauty she will have to go fin for a Gucci purse with Elle Woods. "Legally Blonde the Musical" opens in San Francisco next week and heads for the Big Apple this spring. Theater-going movie buffs will also be able to check out the musical version of "Desperately Seeking Susan"  in London's West End next Fall. Remember the good old days when Madonna starred in the screen version of theatrical musicals like "Evita?"

There is no doubt theater is alive and well with so many fun shows sure to appeal to the masses coming to Broadway in the next year. I have always been a bit of a theater buff. Both of my parents were great about taking us to shows. My dad even sprung for the huge programs and soundtracks.

My theory is Americans like theater for the same reasons they go to the movies: it's suspended reality. Why did I love "Spamalot?" (I'm not alone. It just got seven nominations for the 2007 Laurence Olivier Awards) Because it's fun and 180 degrees away from the reality I deal with everyday. That's why I'm not sure I'll be running to Houston to see "Enron The Musical." I can appreciate the genius of taking a situation that's clearly a lemon and making lemonade; but I'm not sure I'm ready for a singing Jeff Skilling. I'll take killer rabbits and singing mermaids any day.

Jan. 17, 2007| 3:30 p.m. ET

Taking a stand on over-the-top kid's parties
(Kellyanne Dignan, "Scarborough Country" producer)

Engraved invitations and catering for 150 guests isn't just for weddings anymore; for some parents those are just the building blocks of their children's birthday parties. I'm sure there has always been a few parents in Hollyweird willing to drop thousands of dollars on their cherubs, (just imagine young Suri Cruise's first birthday party) but the trend is apparently growing. MSN Money reports birthday party suppliers have seen orders up by 5 to 7 percent annually over the past three years.

But there is some good news if you think your child's party should cost less than a fully loaded German SUV. USA TODAY reports that a group of educators and parents launched a new campaign this week to stop birthday party extravagance. The group, "Birthdays Without Pressure" is based in Minnesota and according to its Website their goal is to raise awareness and offer alternatives to over the top birthday parties.

I was intrigued by this campaign to keep kid's parties free of carnival games and crudités so I called Prof. Bill Doherty, the group's media contact and a professor of Family and Social Science at The University of Minnesota. He said this defines an informal group: there is no budget and no formal meetings. Doherty got together with some concerned parents and a parent educator to launch this campaign because the parents wanted it. He hopes the group will bring awareness and get a buzz going about the issue and make parents realize they don't have to spend a lot to make their kids feel loved.

I wonder if he's seen one of my favorite TV shows: MTV's "My Super Sweet 16". My sister and I like to watch it and ask our parents why there were no helicopters and multi-platinum recording artists at our birthday parties. For those of you haven't caught the hit MTV reality show, the premise is relatively simple: bratty teenagers throw temper tantrums and convince their parents to spend the down payment on a nice beach house on a 16th birthday party. There is usually an expensive automobile or trendy club thrown in for good product placement.

We had one of the "My Super Sweet 16" girls, Marissa, and her parents join us on Scarborough Country last spring. I booked them after reading The Arizona Republic's profile of her MTV experience. Marissa made her MTV mark by famously getting two cars and dying her poodles pink. When I called the family to do a quick pre-interview I was fascinated by their reasoning for throwing the party, it was simple: their daughter wanted it and they could afford it. They were also quick to point out this one event did not represent their entire parenting philosophy. Marissa is certainly a fortunate child but she does have an after school job and isn't given everything she wants when she wants it. As for the two cars, that was justified as publicity for Dad's car dealerships. The party price tag doesn't even come close to the cost of purchasing all that national TV time.

I'm fascinated by the parents role in these parties. While the TV editing gods would like to believe these parties are just about the kids they really say something about the entire family. Parents can get just as, and even more so caught up in the desire to have the biggest and best party.

It is doubtful we'll see "Birthdays Without Pressure" making a cameo on "My Super Sweet 16" anytime soon, but it is nice to know some parents are taking a stand against catering and limos before kids enter kindergarten. That said, I have to point out the irony in forming an organized group to protest parents making too big a deal of their child's big day.

When parents and educators organize against the lavish parties, it lends the free spending parents a bit of credibility I'm not sure they deserve. As my mother will tell you, a little pin the tail on the donkey and cupcakes from the local bakery for 15 of junior's friends will make the same statement; it just won't get you any media attention.

Jan. 17, 2007 | 2:24 p.m. ET

White House doesn't need a rookie

I like Barack Obama. He is one of the most interesting politicians to arrive in Congress in years. And while there was a time when I would have been excited to see a young outsider being handed the keys to the Oval Office, that time has passed.

Political candidates like Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton got elected president by bragging about their lack of Washington experience. After being elected, Jimmy Carter continued proving just how clueless he was in the ways of Washington by running one of the most incompetent administrations of the 20th Century.

Ronald Reagan enjoyed much more success, in part, because he led a state for eight years that had a larger GNP than most industrialized nations. But Bill Clinton’s first two years started off as badly as Carter’s. His young administration gave new meaning to the term “amateur hour.”

Mr. Clinton eventually got his sea legs and ran a ruthlessly efficient White House operation through two wars, numerous scandals and an impeachment crisis.

Yesterday, while announcing his intention to run for President, Barack Obama bragged that he too was a novice in the ways of Washington. But the Senator told supporters how his very weakness would become strength because he could shake up the status quo. A nice thought, but not so reassuring when you realize that just two years ago, Mr. Obama busied himself in Springfield, Illinois, by worrying about pothole politics and pork barrel projects.

The comparisons yesterday to Lincoln are laughable.

Still, Barack Obama thinks he is ready to take on Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Haven’t we learned from George W. Bush that a rush into politics followed by a rush into the Oval Office usually leads to disaster?

A quick glance at recent history teaches us that overmatched presidents have led us into Iraq, Somalia, an Iranian hostage crisis and the Bay of Pigs. Now more than ever, America needs an experienced hand on the wheel as our ship of state heads directly into the eye of a global storm. Not since World War II has the United States faced so many crises across the globe.

I don’t know whether that leader will be a Republican or Democrat, but I do know that now is not the time for on-the-job training. From a civil war in Iraq to nuclear ambitions in Iran to nuclear programs in North Korea to the very real possibility that a nuclear weapon could be detonated in an America city while our next president is sitting in the Oval Office, Americans are in unprecedented peril.

Let’s keep the rookies on the bench and hire someone who can save our country.

Jan. 15, 2007 | 3:37 p.m. ET

The united union of France and Britain?
(Kellyanne Dignan, "Scarborough Country" producer)

Viva la Britain? Not a phrase that's exactly sweeping the streets of Paris or London for that matter; but according to the BBC it was almost a reality. Recently uncovered secret British government documents from the 1950's show Britain and France considered a "union" in the 1950's.

Now, any American, who has traveled around Europe since the E.U. and Euro became all the rage, will tell you it's a whole lot easier getting around and converting the check to dollars in a "European Union". But those same passport carrying Americans are also likely to tell you these countries still have unique differences and I'm not just talking about the language they print the menus in.

While I doubt the world was ever that close to "Britance" or "Fratain;" the documents show the French Prime Minister suggested a merger with Britain in 1956. Shock of shocks, the Brits put on their stiff upper lip and rejected the idea. The French Prime Minister then proposed admitting France into the British Commonwealth with the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, as head of state. I can only imagine the medieval Norman ancestors turning in their graves. Today's Brits are filling the message boards at London's Telegraph with their own take on the long forgotten merger. The consensus seems to be it wasn't such a hot idea.

That said, an Anglo-French union isn't exactly new. The International Herald Tribune dug up examples of British interest in France including a World War II appeal in June of 1940 by Winston Churchill for a full union of the two countries.

So how close did the French come to singing "God Save the Queen"? The French proposed the merger while they were having troubles with the Suez Canal; and tensions in Israel and Jordan could have led to British and French soldiers facing each other on the battlefield. France went on to join the European Union's predecessor, the Common Market and; apparently kept no records of the proposed merger.

The rest, as they say, is history. 


Jan. 5, 2007 | 2:27 p.m. ET

Senators lose their candy
(Kellyanne Dignan, "Scarborough Country" producer)

The halls of Capitol Hill just got a lot less sweet, and it has nothing to do with politics. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports the new Senate will have to do without free candy.

The Senate "candy desk" dates back to 1968 when Sen. George Murphy, a former actor and film executive, began sharing sweet treats with his colleagues in the back row. (It’s always those Hollywood types!) Various senators have kept up the tradition over the years but the confection took on a more corporate spin 10 years ago when Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, used his home state Hershey connection to score about 100 pounds of free candy a year.

That’s a lot of kisses!

With Sen. Santorum not returning to Washington, ethics rules prevent Hershey from stocking the candy desk which now belongs to Wyoming Republican Sen. Craig Thomas. Senators can only accept gifts over $100 if they are produced in a senator’s home state and used primarily by people other than the senator or his staff.

I e-mailed Sen. Thomas’ office to get to the bottom of the candy conundrum. His press secretary tells me it is "extremely accurate" to say they are working on finding a way to keep the tradition going. I’m optimistic that the people over at the Wyoming Business Council would be glad to help the Senator out.

Lets hope it all works out.  As anyone who has ever watched "The West Wing” will tell you, a filibuster doesn’t look like much fun without a sugar high; and as any mother will tell you, you shouldn’t take candy from strangers.


Jan. 3, 2006 | 12:08 p.m. ET

Say goodbye to Hemingway and Faulkner, and hello to Potter and Grisham. The Washington Post reports Fairfax County, Va., public libraries are dumping some classic books to make room for DVDs, computers, music and, oh yeah, more popular reading materials. What is this,

Now, I get that libraries have limited space and often very limited budgets to add more space so some culling of the collections will always be necessary. That said, there is something about replacing "Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings" with a Harry Potter DVD that just doesn’t sit right.

Fairfax County librarians defend the decision to stop carrying all classic books at every library branch as necessary to not only save space but give the public what they want. Apparently some of the classics, including works from Emily Dickinson and Marcel Proust, hadn’t been checked out in more than two years.

As an avid reader and proud library card holder, I decided to do a little research. Since I am a good 250 miles from Fairfax County, I searched their collections online. What did I find?

William Faulkner: 54 titles

John Grisham: 93 titles

And it’s not just the adult fiction Fairfax County is giving the Barnes and Noble treatment. I searched middle school classics like Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher In The Rye”: both produced fewer titles than Cecily Von Ziegesar’s popular Gossip Girls series. For those of you not familiar with the "Gossip Girls," earlier this year Naomi Wolf compared them to pornography in The New York Times. 

This story makes me sad because I remember many an afternoon spent searching the local library for another Roald Dahl book. But there is no doubt that times change and once-popular and classic books go by the wayside as readers tastes change.

My mother would tell you in addition to the Dahl classics I also spent many an hour reading "The Baby Sitter’s Club" and "Sweet Valley High." With such illustrious titles on my past reading lists, I certainly can’t deny today’s kids their above mentioned "Harry Potter." I’m going to give Fairfax County the benefit of the doubt, at least until they open an in-house Starbucks.

Dec. 29, 2006 | 1:33 p.m. ET

Saddam's death may bring hope to Iraqis

There are so few things to be optimistic about in Iraq that I just had to run to my computer when I had a fleeting positive thought about that miserable country.

The good news? Saddam Hussein is going to be executed. And while the killing of the former Iraqi dictator will cause further unrest among the Sunnis he kept in power for 40 years, his death will send an unmistakable message to the millions of Shiites who he oppressed for years.

Since you are a learned soul, I need not tell you that the Shiites compose 60 percent of Iraq’s population. Kurds, who also faced torture and execution at the hands of Saddam’s killing machine, make up 20 percent of the population. That means at least 80% of Iraq will take comfort knowing that the madman who killed their families and friends for 40 years received ultimate justice.

Why is this important? Let me restate that question.

Take two: Why might that be a reason for hope? Because the United States encourages Shiites and Kurds to rise against Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War. When they did, America did nothing while Hussein mowed them down. For almost four years, many Shiites have been afraid to commit to the U.S. because of the fear that Saddam would regain power after we once again abandoned Iraq.

That is one less fear 80 percent of the population will now have.

Winning back the Shiites is all that really matters now in Iraq. As long as we had 80 percent of the population pulling for democracy, our only concern was Sunni terrorists. Since the bombing of the Shiites’ most sacred mosque, civil war has been unleashed by Shiite death squads who complained that America never held Sunni thugs accountable.

Maybe the execution of Saddam Hussein will give them reason, over time, to reassess the situation.



Dec. 28, 2006 | 1:58 p.m. ET

Is Prince Harry heading to Iraq?
(Kellyanne Dignan, "Scarborough Country" producer)

Earlier this week a report surfaced in Britain’s Sun that Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, is headed to Iraq. Upon hearing this news I was intrigued to get to the bottom of the source. It turns out The Sun is quoting the younger Prince’s girlfriend, 21-year -old South African Chelsy Davy.

The Daily Telegraph reports the Prince wants to go so the news isn’t exactly shocking, but a lot of people are wondering if it is a good idea. There is no doubt Harry is eligible to go, and his unit is scheduled for a six-month tour. Officials at Britain’s Ministry of Defense say no decision has been on whether the Prince will be allowed to ship out.

There is concern the Prince’s high profile could make him a target for suicide bombers, and put his fellow troops in harms way. As a Second Lieutenant, Harry would have command of 11 men and four light tanks, all at the age of 22. While I don’t hold Prince Harry’s age against him, he is known as a bit of a party boy. In fact, The Sun’s last headline about the young royal spawn told tales of a 14-hour drinking binge at his regiment’s Christmas Bash.

Video: Should Prince Harry serve in Iraq? The fact that Prince Harry wants to go is a credit to him and the Royal family. He comes by it honestly; his uncle, Prince Andrew, spent 22 years in the Royal Navy and flew dangerous missions during the Falklands War.

What’s disturbing about The Sun’s report is where it come from: Chelsy Davy. It seems Prince Harry may share more in common with his Uncle Andrew than a military career. In her hey-day, the Duke of York’s former wife, Sarah Ferguson, was constantly opening her mouth to the press and causing the palace headaches during and after their marriage.

Chelsy may be new to the fold, but she may want to take a few lessons from Prince William’s girlfriend Kate Middleton. Not only is Kate the most-searched “Royal” on the Internet, she is also invited to royal events.

Chelsy, take notes: Blind quotes in the tabloids, does not a princess make.


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