No hair, no waistline, no time, no news


Del. J.B. Jennings, a Baltimore County Republican who joined the Maryland Air National Guard last summer, just got back from 6 1/2 weeks of boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. How was it?

"It was hell," he said.

"It's everything you think boot camp is like. The TIs [training instructors] are in your face screaming all the time. You get no time to eat. When you're in the chow hall eating, they're 'Hurry up, hurry up.' And they're constantly pushing you physically. You march everywhere you go. ... I lost 26 pounds in 6 1/2 weeks."

Hardest part? "Not being able to communicate with my wife. We were limited to three-minute conversations, no more than once a week, usually every other week."

Not lots of time for current events chit-chat during those three minutes. Which leads us to, most surreal part:

"You're literally cut off from the outside world. No TV, nothing. I didn't even know the economy was as messed up as it was with the stock market.

"You're sitting at the airport [on the way home from boot camp] and you buy a Time magazine and you're like 'Oh my God.' I had no idea. You leave, you think everything's fine and you read we gave banks $700 billion. It's like reading a history book and you're thinking, 'I was alive during this whole thing, but I didn't witness it.' "

Second-most surreal part: His own mother not recognizing him when he stepped off the plane. Twenty-six pounds and a buzz cut will do that.

Best part: "Serving my country in a time of war."

Lone regret: Before leaving, Jennings found good homes for the Black Angus cattle he'd bred on his farm, but he wasn't able to do the same for his two sows.

"Guy told me he would take them and never did. Unfortunately, they went to the auction.

"Deep down, I hope somebody bought them to breed them, but chances are they wound up on somebody's dinner plate."

Not in it for trophies

Appearing on The Colbert Report the other night, Wire creator David Simon told Stephen Colbert that he got out of newspapers because they'd become obsessed with winning prizes.

"That's good that you found TV because nobody in TV wants any prizes or anything," Colbert replied.

"I mean, you surely don't wany any prizes, right? Like, you've never won an Emmy, right?"

Colbert then went on to taunt Simon with his own Emmy, displayed on the set's fireplace mantel.

"She's pretty, isn't she?" Colbert said. "You wouldn't kick her out of bed for eating crackers, right? You want to touch it?"

Simon gamely touched it.

That sister cities thing - never mind

Lesson No. 1: Don't diss Sister Cities stuff unless you want a tongue-lashing about President Dwight D. Eisenhower starting the program in 1956 to promote peace, cultural understanding, yada yada yada.

Lesson No. 2: Don't assume Baltimore is spending city money just because the Board of Estimates, the city spending board, votes to spend $2,900 to rent a tent and banquet equipment for the Baltimore-Piraeus Sister City Committee.

The committee raises private funds, which are put into a city account and disbursed through the board when tent rentals and the like pop up.

So says Gayle Economos of the Baltimore-Piraeus Sister City Committee, who also supplied the aforementioned, and deserved, tongue-lashing. The Baltimore Sun and this columnist in particular regret the error. Unfortunately, the city did spend $17,000 to send Mayor Sheila Dixon and three other city employees to a pair of Egyptian Sister Cities. The taxpayers regret that.

He saw it on the Web

Joe the Plumber isn't the only guy in the trade wading into the presidential campaign. Jim Scardina of Scardina Home Services in Millersville is using his company's huge, light-up billboard along Interstate 97 to promote John McCain - and spread rumors about Barack Obama.

"Is Obama a natural born citizen of the U.S.?" the sign glowed the other day.

Scardina is referring to rumors that Obama was not born in Hawaii, but in Kenya, which would make him ineligible for the presidency.

His source?

What about that birth certificate the campaign released to news organizations?

"Photoshopped," Scardina said.

Connect the dots

Happy birthday to William Donald Schaefer, who turns 87 today and is still discovering new things all the time. When I phoned with early birthday wishes the other day, the former mayor, governor and comptroller was gushing about raspberry cider. He'd just had his first taste of the stuff. "I've been drinking apple cider all my life," he said, clearly feeling cheated. He also marveled over his age. "Eighty-seven. Can you imagine?" ... Howard County Exec Ken Ulman (he's 34, can you imagine?) made a brief appearance on the NBC Nightly News the other evening. The newscast did a story on the competing environmental and energy plans of McCain and Obama, and it used Howard County's hybrid vehicles, recycling bins and library solar panels as examples of a local government looking for more encouragement in the form of federal tax incentives. Ulman was shown saying that at Columbia's lakefront.

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