APRIL FOOLS: It's April, and the airheads who determine our daily news coverage will soon feel a distinct chill. Not only do the maintenance staffs crank up the air-conditioning in Tucson's hermetically sealed newsrooms later this month, but the nattering newsgoblins know that something scary this way comes.

Summer's almost here, and that traditionally means virtually no news -- except the usual crime and carnage crapola -- in this one-horse burg. Slimeballs blowing away other slimeballs, tsk-tsk. Kindly wake us when an innocent citizen gets zapped -- but don't bother us with traffic accidents, which happen every five minutes in this godforsaken autotopia of the masses.

Perhaps the "all-new" Arizona Daily Star will pull our bored little bums out of the fire this year.

High-powered publisher Jane Amari -- or, as we like to call her, the Carrot-Topped Crusader -- has promised everyone who'd listen that her remake of the old gray ghost will finally give our humble town a good newspaper. We've been saying all along the Star stinks, and it's been nice to have Pulitzer's highest local official confirm our judgments before thousands of citizens. Thanks, Jane.

The AmariStar is due out this Sunday, no doubt along with a major advertising blitz designed to brainwash us into becoming good little news consumers. Well, more power to them, we say.

However, if you find yourself reading any variations on the following stories this month, you'll know it's just the same tired old Star in a tawdry new disguise:

· Tax day. Yes, many of our citizens procrastinate when it comes to filing taxes -- so every year, we get footage and photos of cars in line at the post office, desperately trying to get that postmark on the envelope to avoid Uncle Sam's wrath. About the only thing more boring than sitting in a car waiting for a chance to serve the IRS is watching television footage of people waiting in cars for their chance to serve the IRS.

· More cocaine seizures. The border busts go down every year at this time, and despite the best efforts of corrupt law enforcement to seize the dealers' stashes and sell them elsewhere (yes, we know about you guys), we can still buy just about any mind-altering substance we want in our great community. If coke supplies were to dry up, now that would be news.

· Spring cleaning. Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. Our carport's a mess, it's always been a mess, and no matter what pointless little filler on the subject the newshounds throw at us this month, it'll always be a mess until the day we frickin' die. Why not just hand out a prize for the messiest damn house in the Star's Neighbors sections and let it go at that?

· Med school admissions exam. This is the time when smart kids take the test to determine whether they'll be delving into the mysteries of medicine and the HMOs that control it. If they were really smart, these kids would be studying finance, but do we hear anything about finance students? We rest our case.

· Use sunscreen, kiddies. Anybody who hasn't figured out this one by now doesn't deserve to be reminded of it yet again as the weather grows warmer -- let 'em broil. Instead of jolly local weather uncle Jimmy Stewart gracing the Star's new, improved forecast page, why not substitute an attractive naked person during the coming "sunscreen months?" The British put naked babes in their papers, so it must be OK, right?

· Take Your Daughter To Work Day. Those of us who don't have daughters are sick and tired of reading about this and seeing it on TV. How 'bout we send over our loutish, no-account sons to "debrief" your oh-so-special daughters after their hard day at the office?

· Earth Day. Anybody remember what this holiday's about?

· Goodbye, winter visitors. Puleeeze, Ms. Amari, don't make us read another one of these snore-inducing Chamber of Commerce specials in your beefed-up business section. We already know the snowbirds spend money here; what we'd really like to see is a story explaining how we could get that money while keeping them well away from our roads and malls.

If the new, improved Star turns out to be a winner, maybe the Carrot-Topped Crusader could devote her superpowers to bringing about that miracle as well?

BORN AGAIN: We can't wait to see the whole new Arizona Daily Star beginning Sunday. These are the changes Star boss Jane Amari has been touting all over town. So dynamic, in fact, that Jane recently confessed: "We're a little scared."

Rest assured, gentle reader. Jane and her capo regime, Dennis Joyce, and her consiglieri Randy Wright have it all under control, with plenty of positive news to come. Jane's gar-own-teed that to the builders. "If you build a thing that appears on a page of the paper every day, it has to be filled," Amari said in a recent address to the Growth Lobby. "If you give it certain parameters and it says: 'This must be positive news, it must celebrate a facet of life, whatever.' And the only thing that can go in that hole that you created is that. Then you force people to go and find that to fill that hole. I'm a strong believer in a certain amount of formatting to make sure people don't make the wrong choices late at night."

So the Star has been pleading with readers for weeks to do the work for them, at least features about people who do good deeds in their neighborhoods or around town. "The Star,'' as the plea goes, "wants to spotlight these unsung, everyday heroes. Send us one-page, typed nominations, including your name...." There even is a similar solicitation for heroes posted at the journalism department at the University of Arizona.

We submit the first hero to be covered should be the one under Star house arrest, Tony Davis, one of the finest reporters Tucson has ever seen. He's confined now to the paper's northwest bureau gulag, yet instructed to incongruously write about more urban issues. So instead of his fierce coverage of the environment, Davis has been left to write stories about bureaucrat parking and development facilitation (i.e., fee waivers for John Wesley Miller and some feel-good city growth plan). It struck us as mighty odd to have a Board of Supervisors meeting last month that centered on preservation of Canoa Ranch, plus a visit by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to spur protection of ironwood forests, and Davis was nowhere in sight.

That is not what managing editor Bobbie Jo Buel had in mind in 1997 when she won the recruiting war for Davis and lured him back to Tucson from Oregon.

Free Tony!

GIVE US DIRTY LAUNDRY: The Skinny was accidentally watching KGUN-9's 5 p.m. newscast one evening last week when a tease from anchor Guy Atchley caught our attention.

"Ever spill chocolate or chili on a favorite pair of pants?" Guy asked viewers, promising to have a solution to this nagging problem after the commercial break.

We sat spellbound by this tease, waiting until Guy and Colleen returned -- and found ourselves mesmerized by the report, which consisted of Guy reading a script about getting rid of troublesome spots while we watched footage of the revolutionary stain-removal process. We were especially impressed by the way a box of Tide detergent managed to work its way into the foreground of each shot, no matter how the angle of the camera changed.

This kind of filler footage from publicists regularly makes its way into news stations across the country, but most news directors do the right thing with it -- namely, toss it into the trash. What's next from KGUN-9? An investigative report on mopping techniques?

NO-NO NANETTE: Judge Nanette Warner of Pima County Superior Court dealt a setback to insurgent towns Tortolita and Casas Adobes last week. Both towns had sued, hoping to have declared unconstitutional a 1961 law requiring communities within six miles of an existing city or town to get that municipality's permission before incorporating. It's another turn in the three-year-old screwing the two wannabe communities have endured since they began their incorporation effort.

The Legislature's recent effort to help Del Webb may benefit Casas Adobes, where the incorporation was adopted by voters, but the bill ignores Tortolita, where so many residents wanted to preserve their lifestyle that incorporation was done by the sheer force of petitions.

The complaints against the towns -- that the city would lose money and that new towns would facilitate sprawl -- are utterly specious. On the latter, the city has shown it needs no help in promoting sprawl. On the former, we're all Pima County residents and taxpayers. Tax distribution by the state greatly favors cities and towns and it would save all of us money -- including those who live in Sam Hughes, Starr Pass, Jefferson Park, El Encanto, Barrio Viejo and every Tucson neighborhood -- if there were more people in incorporated areas.

Tortolita is a special case where desert preservation was a key element in the formation of the town. Tortolita lawyer Bill Risner, who says the town is planning an appeal, argues that Warner's ruling is "a bad day for Tucson because Tortolita is good for the people of Tucson."

CHUMP CHANGE: Compugeek David Wichner had an article in the Star's Saturday edition advising us to rush out and cash in our change in those rip-off machines in local grocery stores. The Coinstar Inc. machines take a whopping 8.9 percent charge for counting loose change -- which means for every dollar you put in, you get a mere 91.1 cents back. We consider that a pretty high exchange rate.

Wichner highlighted a new promotion Coinstar has with the U.S. Mint: if you pour more than $20 into the machine, you'll get a certificate for two free new Sacagawea coin dollars. Wichner reasoned that, if you put in $20, you'd get back $18.22. Once you subtracted the cost of a 33-cent stamp, you were only paying 12 cents to redeem your change.

Well, sure, but that's only if you put in precisely $20 -- and if you've gone to the trouble of counting your change, then you might as well cash it in with the pizza delivery boy. If you turn in less than $20, you don't get jack, and if you put in more than $20, your return declines as the amount increases. Plus, there's the added hassle of dropping your rebate coupon into the mail and waiting for your dollars.

We've got a better idea: cash your loose change in at the cashier window at one of the local Indian casinos. They don't take any cut at all and -- if you're feeling lucky, punk -- you can try your luck with a slot machine on your way out the door.

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