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Two-Faced 

The mantra in Columbus: Do as I say, not as I do.

Republicans hold dear the notion of home rule, which says locals can run their communities far better than big government can. More closely held is the idea that money talks, which says that if you got the coin, all other beliefs are on blue-light special and priced to move.

First, the state tried to prohibit Cleveland from enacting predatory-lending laws. It needed to protect the starving bankers. Then it tried to stop Cleveland from ensuring that 20 percent of government construction jobs went to city residents. We can't actually be using our money for our own good, now can we?

But the legislature's greatest about-face is a work in progress: It wants to put an oil derrick behind your house -- whether you want it or not.

Southeast Ohio's oil fields are almost tapped out, so oil and gas companies want to mine the deposits of Northeast Ohio. Unfortunately, it's harder to drill here than in Appalachia, where a bucket of KFC buys you the keys to the city. So instead of negotiating with individual towns, energy companies decided that it would be easier to buy the legislature. And so they did.

A bill that's already passed the House proposes to hand cities' zoning power over to the Department of Natural Resources, which is to environmentalism what Jessica Simpson is to quantum physics. Judging from the DNR's past work -- which includes the long-running sitcom Ohio: The World's Largest Hazardous Waste Site -- it's only a matter of time before we're drilling at second base on Little League fields.

The money guys pretend they're only trying to help communities. "Local regulation is being used to frustrate the cities' abilities to extract the wealth from beneath their land," says Tom Stewart, vice president of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. "Our point is that the state is absolutely better qualified to make those decisions."

Yet if this is help, the cities would prefer to do without it. "We know there are huge deposits under Lake Erie, and we don't drill there," says John Mahoney, deputy director of the Ohio Municipal League. "And yet we'll drill under some kid's playground? I don't think so."

Behind Big Chuck's curtain
Much has been made of the rivalry between Cleveland's TV newscasts. But in the category of local entertainment TV, one program scares away all competition.

It's been nearly 40 years for Big Chuck. The last 25 have been performed with that zany midget sidekick, Li'l John. Still, not a single challenger has come to the fore.

Yet a recent taping of the show reveals that this comic juggernaut is vulnerable after all. For one, the waiting list to be part of the studio audience is not as long as you'd think. In fact, if you're walking anywhere near the WJW studios on a Thursday before 7 p.m., there's a good chance you'll be recruited. (Bonus: free popcorn.)

Moreover, Big Chuck is not that big -- maybe 6 foot. He's now 70 years old, and over time, he seems to have lost a bit of charismatic spark. "I want a Manhattan," he muttered during one commercial break.

Worse, it's only a matter of time before scandal erupts, and Cleveland has its own version of Quiz Show. According to our undercover operative, Li'l John could be heard tipping off audience members to the answers to trivia questions.

Weapons of media consumption
Worried that staffers were losing touch with Middle America, the Bush-Cheney campaign recently ordered subscriptions to several heartland newspapers, U.S. News reports. Among them was The Plain Dealer. We can only imagine how this will affect President Bush's future speeches:

"We are in the midst of a Quiet Crisis, but I have a plan of action to bring good jobs back to America. What I am proposing is to combine all of the towns, cities, counties, and states into one entity, to be known as Greater Texas. This will eliminate duplicate services, shrink the government, and allow us to give more tax relief to the people. I have also increased the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. This will stop the 'brain drain' and attract the young, hip, homosexuals who drive the knowledge economy."

God is against football
The Pope declared last month that Sundays should be devoted to God and not to secular diversions like sports. Though he was speaking to Australian bishops, he might as well have been denouncing the NFL when he said that Sunday sports cause people to "stay locked within a horizon so narrow that they can no longer see the heavens."

The announcement caused alarm in executive suites across the league. The Browns declined comment, as did the league office. But the Baltimore Ravens were more forthcoming. "I'm very Catholic myself," offers Kevin Byrne, VP of communications. "I think we're helpful to families, because we give people a chance to sit around and watch the games together."

Thankfully, the Diocese of Cleveland subscribes to a similarly loose interpretation.

"I don't see him condemning other activities we might be involved in," offers Sister Rita Mary Harwood. "But do not be involved in those activities that crowd out of our life the significant responsibility we have of nurturing our spiritual relationship with God."

In other words, the Pope meant to say that as long as you hit the 8 a.m. mass before tailgating, it's all good.

King, James's version
James Renner, an occasional Scene contributor and former member of the Last Call comedy troupe, will spend next week in Kent and Lodi shooting a short film based on a Stephen King story. Renner secured the rights to All That You Love Will Be Carried Away, from King's 2002 short-story collection Everything's Eventual. The author has a program that allows aspiring filmmakers to use his stories. If he likes the person's screen adaptation, he hands the rights over for $1.

After weeks of delays, Renner recently signed writer and actor Joe Bob Briggs to star as the traveling frozen-food salesman who checks into a hotel to kill himself. (The story has none of King's usual creepiness. This one's just sad and Midwestern.) Harvey Pekar and Q104's Rebecca Wilde also make appearances. The estimated $5,000 budget is being supplied by local investors.

About 16 films have been made under King's $1 program. One of the earliest was directed by Frank Darabont, who went on to shoot a couple of other King adaptations you may have heard of: The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. Punch is hoping that Renner sees equal success, if for no other reason than he'll stop mooching beers off us.

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