Losing His Religion
Dressed down in orange corduroys, a stocking cap and ratty blue flannel, Michael Stipe looked less like a pop superstar than a Mill Avenue urchin during the R.E.M. singer's appearance at a packed book signing at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe on January 29.

The tome in question was Mastering Miracles: The Healing Art of Qi Gong As Taught by a Master, authored by Master Hong Liu and Scottsdale author Paul Perry. A set of ancient, meditative, Chinese self-healing exercises, Qi Gong is related to tai chi.

The Stipester tells The Flash he became a convert after a traumatic tooth extraction. He subsequently befriended Master Liu and family. After attending the Sundance Film Festival, Stipe learned Master Liu would be in Tempe for the book signing, and made plans to join him. "I didn't really know all these people would find out I was here," Stipe says. "I didn't particularly want all the attention, but if it helps get the book out there, I'm happy."

Although he did not contribute to the book, Stipe joined Master Liu and Perry in signing it. In fact, it was all he would sign. No book purchase, no Stipe autograph. Dozens of fans holding stacks of R.E.M. album covers and a recent Rolling Stone cover story on the band were turned away (though several returned with a fresh copy of Mastering Miracles in hand).

Three Mill Rats who pounded on the window were duly reprimanded by a security guard, who also stopped two teen girls from following Stipe into the bathroom. After the signing, Stipe reported that a one-hour daily regimen of Qi Gong "decreased my anxiety, balanced my energy and totally rejuvenated me creatively. I've only been practicing since November, but I'm writing better than ever now, due to Qi Gong."

Master Liu narrated through a translator as a svelte assistant demonstrated an exercise called "Gathering the Moon" (sorry, fellas, this one's for ladies only): "Stand with feet hip-width apart, relax your whole body, and lift up your arms to gather the energy from the moon. Look at the moon, and as you're doing so, imagine the energy coming from the moon into your finger tips and your body. After about 10 to 15 minutes, you may start to notice that people and objects have auras. This is perfectly normal. Do no let it scare you in any way. Perform this every day for seven days--three days before the full moon, the day of the full moon, and three days after, and always before 10:30 at night. Do it whether you can see the moon or not--as long as the moon controls the tides, it has power enough for you as well."

The Flash suppressed the urge to jump up off his own moon and shout, "What's the frequency, Master Liu?"

Say It Ain't So, Joe
More random stuff about the evil Arizona Republic:
* Add three more names--and well-known ones at that--to the list of casualties at Phoenix Newspapers, Inc.: veteran sports columnists Joe Gilmartin, Tim Tyers and Bob Jacobsen. Gilmartin and Jacobsen reportedly have been told they can remain until the NBA season ends. Tyers apparently has been offered an assignment designed to drive him off.

Sources say the threesome would have been terminated last month with the other 60 Arizona Republic employees, but those PR geniuses at PNI feared a reader backlash. For once, those geniuses may be correct.

Gilmartin, particularly, is an institution. Tyers has a large following. Both are encyclopedias of Phoenix sports lore. Though Gilmartin's always been a loyal water boy for sports mogul Jerry Colangelo (Suns in six!), he writes real good (you could look it up).

Tyers and Jacobsen (who once was Republic sports editor) are peas in a pod, nice guys with big guts who have written millions of glowing words about local coaches and drinking buddies.

* Not everyone mourned the passing of the Phoenix Gazette--at least not those who fret more about first-quarter profits than First Amendment proclivities.

Even before Central Newspapers, Inc., pulled the plug on the Gazoo and delivered le coup de grace to 60 employees, Wall Street's money men were dancing the Macarena, counting newfound profits from the forthcoming blood bath and death of a 116-year-old newspaper.

In a Morning Notes advisory to brokers on January 14, a full four days before the last edition of the Gazette, the giant Wall Street brokerage PaineWebber trumpeted the closure as "positive."

So positively did PaineWebber view shutting down a community voice and sending workers to the unemployment lines that it upped its estimate of earnings from $2.85 to $2.95 per share of stock in Central Newspapers.

The brokerage advisory contains an ominous note for employees of the Gazette's afternoon sister newspaper in Indiana, the Indianapolis News, where afternoon circulation also is sinking, as was the Gazette's (after some dunderheaded publisher decreed that it be delivered by 3 p.m., forcing the news deadlines back to 9:30 a.m. and causing the paper to yellow for several hours in the sun).

PaineWebber opines: ". . . if Indy were to be a drag on profits it could be closed as well."

Old hands who worked for the Gazette's late publisher, Eugene C. Pulliam, lament that the company's publicly traded stock is listed as ECP on the exchange. Old man ECP would have hired Howard Stern as editor before closing the Gazette.

* Leaders of the National Association of Black Journalists were not happy to learn of the downsizing of Norm Parish, the Republic's lone black reporter. Particularly since Parish is a regional director for NABJ.

But his ouster only served to convince NABJ's leaders that the group made the right decision when it settled on Phoenix as the site of its convention in 2000, according to NABJ president Arthur Fennell. Perhaps, he says, the convention can inspire the Republic to add more color to its decidedly pale countenance.

Fennell, a broadcast journalist from Philadelphia, tells The Flash that he and other members of NABJ's board of directors paid a little visit to Republic managers in the wake of Parish's firing to express concern regarding the paper's "overall diversity climate."

Fennell says, "It was a fact-finding, information-gathering meeting. We shared with them our concerns and that this [media whiteness] had far-reaching implications around the country, beyond just the city of Phoenix."

One of those implications is more black journalists to work at other papers. Parish has already scored a new job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

* If you are not one of The Flash's legions of operatives working undercover at Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., ignore the following gibberish:

"The Pharaoh is restless. The pyramids quake."

It Was Freebies for Felons Day
What are the odds that master swindler Charles H Keating Jr. and master deadbeat J. Fife Symington III will show up in the same small store at the same time, standing less than 25 feet apart, and not seeing each other--or at least pretending they don't see each other?

Long odds, but it happened.
They both showed up recently at a small store in Camelback Village at 44th Street and Camelback. Keating stood in line at a post office substation in one part of the store (a new mug shot, perhaps), Symington stood in line at the pharmacy to pick up an order (sunscreen?).

None of the others standing in line reported being pickpocketed. Still, federal investigators are combing the scene.

The Ride's Over
The case of the stolen Icehouse "Fear Coaster," reported here last week, rolled to a close Friday when cops tracked down and arrested a suspect in the bizarre heist. Admitting that he stole the beloved roller coaster from the downtown arts venue late last month, the thief told police he'd chopped the ride into pieces and sold it to a scrap-metal yard earlier in the week.

"I still prefer the romantic notion that the 'Fear Coaster' had been hijacked to Guatemala and that little kids would be riding it down there," says Icehouse honcho David Therrien, who hopes to replace the ride with either a Ferris wheel or a Mad Mouse. "It's sad to think that instead, [the coaster] got chopped up and will come back as microwave ovens or something."

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