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O'Reilly's XXX-Factor 

Sex empress stumps the king of sting.

It appears that conservative TV host Bill O'Reilly looks to our humble weekly for inspiration. Just weeks after Scene wrote about Ambiance, the Middleburg Heights company that hopes to franchise its sex shops across America ("The Love Buss," January 22), O'Reilly invited Ambiance President Jennifer Downey onto his Fox News show.

Anyone who's seen O'Reilly in action might have worried about our heroine. His modus operandi is to pummel guests with semi-logical questions designed to make them look hypocritical, then hold his own hand high in victory.

But this time, Bully Bill was fighting with one hand tied behind his back. Apparently fearing his viewers might be offended by words like "dildo" and "vibrator," O'Reilly was left to awkwardly grope for euphemisms to describe the very products he was denouncing.

"If I'm walking by with my little kids and your window is exposed, and I look in and then I see some . . . rubber stuff, um, you know, that's not good, is it?" the host asked at one point.

When Downey explained that mall mainstays Spencer Gifts and Borders sell some of the same products, O'Reilly blurted, "You sell a few other things that you're not gonna get in JCPenney. You know what I'm talking about? Battery things? You know what I'm talking about here?"

O'Reilly was further handicapped by the segment's visuals. Even as he was trying to portray Ambiance as a porn emporium, the screen flashed innocuous images of hearts. Apparently, Ambiance's Wall of Dildos was deemed inappropriate for prime time.

Loyalty oaf

When Assistant County Prosecutor Aaron Phillips was indicted last week for bribery, obstruction of justice, and possession of dope and criminal tools, the reaction among fellow barristers was common: What the hell was he thinking?

But soon that question had been replaced by an even bigger head-scratcher: What the hell were his bosses thinking?

Despite being under investigation since November, Phillips was allowed to prosecute the most high-profile criminal trial of the year, the Tonica Jenkins murder-conspiracy hullabaloo, which was broadcast on CourtTV.

Kim Kowalski, spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office, says Phillips was given the job because he was based in East Cleveland, where Jenkins lived, and that the assignment came down before Phillips himself came under investigation. Still, as Scene reported a few months back ("Aaron Judgment," November 13), Phillips has a long history of getting his nose dirty.

During the past year, he's been accused of having improper connections to a criminal defendant, scolded by an appeals court for failing to disclose a possible conflict of interest, and suspended for running an advertisement that violated the county's policy on doing private legal work.

The only reason he hadn't been fired by then, First Assistant County Prosecutor Robert Coury told us, was because he was an "excellent employee" who was "loyal to the office." It seemed not to matter that, two years earlier, Phillips was suspended for representing a private client facing criminal charges and had drawn criticism for intervening in other prosecutors' cases.

No really, I'm manly

County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones has a problem. Newspapers keep referring to him as "Peter Lawson-Jones." And since hyphenated names on men carry certain implications -- like maybe they aspire to figure-skating careers-- Jones is concerned about how this plays with Rust Belt voters.

"I'm not that sensitive," he pleads. "I'm an old-fashioned guy."

Lawson is actually his grandfather's name, he says, not his wife's. "I told my wife I wouldn't marry her unless she took my last name. I'm handy with a remote control and insist that it be in my hand." He also claims to play basketball and baseball, and recently taught his two-year-old how to assume a three-point football stance.

Still, Punch was skeptical. The guy does have three names, after all. And when queried on the number of power tools he owns -- the true test of manliness, set forth by the Virility Accords of 1912 -- he quickly changed the subject. But Jones does get credit for effort. When asked if he does shots of Jim Beam, he eagerly replied, "If that's what I gotta do to prove I'm manly, that's what I'll do."

PBR is passé

Okay, we know we told you that Pabst Blue Ribbon has become suddenly hip ("Cool in a Can," December 25). But then something horrible happened. The Plain Dealer also pronounced PBR cool.

On February 7, "The Minister of Culture" (a.k.a. Michael Heaton) laid bare all matters cool in his story about The Hipster Handbook by Robert Landham.

In Landham's world, "deck" replaces the word "cool," and "fin" replaces the word "lame." According to the author, it's now deck to wear black-horned glasses, pierce anything but the ears, and, yes, drink Pabst from a can.

But Landham also has an overriding thesis, which says that "cultural trends become fin (i.e., lame) the moment they hit the mainstream." And there is perhaps nothing more lame or mainstream -- save for Michael Stanley -- than The Minister of Culture.

Even as you read this, some 43-year-old Chamber of Commerce official from Olmsted Falls is buying black-horned glasses, piercing his elbow, and ordering a can of PBR.

Hence, we must sadly inform you that the Pabst craze is officially over.

Painful reality

Joe Millionaire was a hit from New Hampshire to New Mexico. But it's still disturbing to learn that nowhere -- we repeat, nowhere -- was the gold-digger-meets-fake-millionaire show bigger than on the banks of the Cuyahoga.

In Cleveland, the final episode drew what TV geeks call a "44 share," according to Fox 8's Kevin Salyer. What that means: Of the thousands of Clevelanders watching TV last Monday, 44 percent watched Joe/Evan do his clumsy waltz with Zora.

These are huge, Super Bowl-sized ratings, Salyer says. The only city that even came close was Atlanta.

Apparently, local PBS station WVIZ was showing reruns that evening.

Lesbians and the law

Two Cleveland legislators plan to introduce bills that would extend civil-rights protections to gay, lesbian, and transgender Ohioans. State Representative Dale Miller says he was encouraged by the passage of a similar bill in New York, which has a Republican governor. "Maybe that shows public sentiment has come a ways," Miller says. Fellow Democrat Dan Brady will introduce his legislation in the Senate.

Yet both bills appear doomed, owing to Republicans' hostility to all matters gay. Last year, the House felt compelled to pass a law condemning gay marriage -- even though it was already outlawed. And Miller has heard rumblings about an anti-sodomy law.

Cincinnati activist David Langdon, who represents the American Family Association of Ohio, wants to see the state prohibit homosexual sex acts altogether. But state Representative Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati), a Langdon pal and cave-dweller in his own right, says the proposal is news to him. "I know nothing whatsoever about that."

Which, of course, is not good news to us, since the state would have to create a new Division of Bedroom Police to enforce the law, bringing thousands of sweet government jobs to Northeast Ohio.

Begging 101

Final exams, term papers, where to score your next bong hit -- college is rife with pressure. But it gets worse when your instructor's calling you up to bum a few hundred bucks.

Students in Paul Hanson's CSU sociology classes began getting the calls a few weeks ago. Hanson claimed he'd fallen on hard times. Some lent him money; others complained to CSU officials.

The school found no evidence that Hanson extorted cash in return for better grades, but they fired him anyway, since a guy who can't even run a decent extortion racket is unfit to mold our precious youth. But it's still unclear why he'd be stupid enough to hit up students -- not exactly renowned for their disposable income.

"It was a really unfortunate situation," says Peter Meiksins, head of the sociology department. "Most of the students weren't angry; they felt bad for him."

Our brightest stars

First, Shaker Heights becomes a hot topic with a Project Greenlight-winning movie script. Then local comic-book writer/jazz critic/general pain-in-the-ass Harvey Pekar's autobiographical American Splendor snags Sundance's top film prize.

Lost in all the hoopla, however, was Debbie Brew's monster win. The manicurist and "nail artist" at Jenniffer & Co., a Mentor salon and spa, recently placed among four runners-up in an International Cover Photo Competition held by the revered Nails Magazine.

Brew submitted pictures of hands. Though she was robbed of top honors by a pair of stylists from Tokyo, her work is on display in the January issue of Nails, if you still have it around. The photo spread, however, doesn't capture her common versatility. "Many times, my customers want something special before they go on vacation, such as a tropical design on their nails," says Brew. "We can do toenails only, or 1 fingernail, or 10 nails. Whatever the customer wants."

Shapirospeak

The Indians' winter caravan recently rolled into Ohio cities big and small. With a losing season all but assured, fans were fed a heaping helping of corporate-speak, an unfortunate atmospheric of the Mark Shapiro era. Our correspondent at the Columbus banquet (a.k.a. a guy we know's dad) jotted down these IBM Management Training School phrases on his Villa Milano napkin. Get to know them. They'll be the buzzwords du jour of the club-seating section this summer:

"Championship-caliber management system"
"Lead the ship where it wants to go"
"Shorten the period of transition"
"Bridge the gap between potential and talent"
"Fruits of the challenge"
"Great ceiling"
"Embrace the next generation"

Ah, yes: The crack of the bat, the smell of the grass, and the sensation of paradigms shifting underfoot.

Great Cavs value

With the Cavaliers close to locking up the worst record in the NBA, and attendance at Gund Arena comparable to that of a pedophile's funeral, the team is already pitching season tickets for next year. Its new Prime Seating Plan offers lower-level seating at a reduced price. And if you act right now, you'll get free tickets for the remainder of this season.

The upside: That's free tickets to 13 games.

The downside: You'd actually have to attend 13 Cavs games.

Bobby's economics

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy recently released a study showing how Ohio's state and local taxes place a heavier burden on the poor than they do on the rich. Families making $216,000 or more a year pay 9.7 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Families making less than $15,000 pay 11 percent.

A big reason is sales tax. Poor folks spend a greater portion of their income than rich folks, who save more.

Here's something you may not know: Taxes on cigarettes and alcohol are even worse than the dreaded sales tax. With smokes and booze, the state essentially penalizes bad taste.

Excise taxes, as they're called, are charged by the unit of consumption, not as a percentage of price. So the state slaps the same tax on every fifth of booze, be it Old Grand Dad or Chivas Regal. Same goes for a pack of cigs, with the state's cut at 55 cents on both Basics and American Spirits.

So if you want to stick it to Bob Taft, order from the top shelf.

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