Monday, May 30, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 30

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's new audiotape, in which he speaks directly to Osama bin Laden and says it is, in essence, just a flesh wound.

The awful reminder of what Memorial Day is all about. As we remember the fallen, four more U.S. personnel fall in a military aircraft crash in Iraq.

Waiting for the guy to give up is good. But TASERs is better. Hanging in suspense, hanging over Atlanta, now it's all over except the indictment. The good news for that guy, he is a lock for the Countdown Hall of Fame.

So is this year's crop of British cheese chasers.

And the Bengal tiger who needed a root canal.

To say nothing of the 34-year-old woman who got her son for his 16th birthday a stripper. Thanks, Ma!

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

If the new reality of the last four years has not already convinced you that the supposed leader of a political or terrorist movement may not have as much support from his own side as he claims, our fifth story on the Countdown offers you very new and very old evidence.

The very old evidence, 574 years ago today, on May 30, 1431, the British burned Joan of Arc at the stake in Rouen, largely because her own French King Charles would neither ransom nor rescue her.

The very new evidence, as an audiotape surfaces of the al Qaeda in Iraq leader Zarqawi insisting his health is fine, security officials in the Gulf suggesting tonight that the continuing debate over what condition his condition is in may in fact be a power struggle within that terrorist group.

That's what they're telling NBC News off the record, anyway, echoing assessments made last week by U.S. officials, who saw more to this than just whether or not Zarqawi got shot somehow.

Now, in a 21-minute audio message posted on the Web, a voice claiming to be that of Zarqawi directly addresses Osama bin Laden, saying the media reports were, quote, "near rumors and unfounded. My injuries were minor. I'm still amongst my brethren and people in the Mesopotamia" - Iraq, that would be - "and continue combating the crusades."

The new message contradicts a report in this weekend's London Sunday "Times" that Zarqawi was seriously wounded by shrapnel after his convoy was bombed three weeks ago, that he is likely in Iran, and that his operatives are waiting to smuggle him into another country for medical attention.

More on Zarqawi and the implications of a power struggle in a moment.

But first, back here, two American citizens stand accused of conspiring to help al Qaeda. According to the FBI, Tariq Shah (ph) and Rafiq Savir (ph) were caught on tape pledging allegiance to Osama bin Laden and offering to help other recruits. Shah, a self-described martial arts expert from New York, allegedly offered to teach his trade to terrorists and even scouted out a Long Island warehouse as a possible training ground.

His purported partner, a Florida doctor, Savir, reputedly offered to treat wounded jihadists in Saudi Arabia. He meant to fly out there and begin work at a Saudi hospital in four days. Instead, he was arrested early Saturday morning at his home in Palm Beach County, Florida, to the surprise and shock of neighbors and friends. One of them, Dr. Daniel McBride, telling the "Florida Sun Sentinel" that Savir is, quote, "a quality guy and a quality physician."

His ex-wife even told the paper he was a lovely father and husband and nothing if not a hard-working man. Tariq Shah's mother voiced similar disbelief, saying the charges against her son were, quote, "ridiculous."

Both men will be arraigned in federal court tomorrow.

Joining me now to discuss al Qaeda in America and in Iraq, MSNBC terrorism expert Juliette Kayyem of the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.

Juliette, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: These domestic arrests, if these men were actual threats, how come the best the government can muster against them after two years of study is one conspiracy charge each?

KAYYEM: Because a conspiracy charge is a pretty nebulous charge of material support. This is the new PATRIOT Act provision, which basically says if you get steps close to a terrorist act, materially support a terrorist act, then we're going to go after you.

I don't mind so much that it's only one charge against them, if in fact it's true the allegations and the indictment are true, that they actually took steps, were looking at warehouses, had promised to help. The doctor had promised to help jihadists in Saudi Arabia.

Then the material support provision is what we should be going after them.

What I think's interesting about this case, well, two things are interesting. One is, it shows that these counterterrorism investigations are crossing state lines now, that there might be a lot better communication between, say, New York and Florida at this stage.

But also, I think we've gotten a little bit of taste of how the Europeans are doing that, and I think that's good. We, immediately after September 11, we were making a series of arrests that were just sort of, you know, sort of immediate arrests of, the charges never held up. People were being arrested for things that never held up in court.

This investigation was two years. And this is what the Europeans do, the French, the Germans, the Brits. They wait, they listen, they try to infiltrate. They get their FBI agents in or their intelligence agents in and try to get these guys to say things that they wouldn't otherwise say.

I think it's a good move on the part of the Justice Department to not just simply go after everyone that they think might be a terrorist, but to kind of wait it out and see what these guys are really up to. If the allegations against these two are right, it's probably some of the more serious, one of the more serious terrorism cases to go forward since September 11.

OLBERMANN: But isn't there, with that one charge, could there not be a second way to look at this also, that these guys could be the 2005 equivalents of the victims of the Palmer raids in the '20s, or the McCarthy witch hunts in the '50s? In other words, if they had no real links to terrorists, but only to FBI agents posing as terrorists, we didn't really interrupt any terrorism here.

KAYYEM: Right. I will admit, the government is not alleging that these guys were planning a terrorist attack. The law now permits the government to go after these guys for materially supporting terrorism.

Now, you are raising a point that civil libertarians and others have raised about the PATRIOT Act. Is material support, what does it mean? Isn't it kind of vague, doesn't, you know, just because someone says that he likes bin Laden, is that enough?

The government has to make the case at this stage, has to make the case that these guys were doing more than thinking good thoughts about bin Laden, and that they were actually training or helping in a terrorist conspiracy.

So the one charge, we don't know what that means any more. The truth is, is that, two years ago, on September 11, they were throwing 80 charges against some these guys that never held up. So the number, to me, doesn't really mean much. It's going to be, what is the evidence? Does it hold up in court?

OLBERMANN: Before we move to the Zarqawi tape, just for the record, I'm not really as much raising the libertarian point as much as the American history point.

But to the Zarqawi tape. That analysis that I mentioned earlier, that this could be way more than just a health update, that there could be a power play, A, is the evidence in that contained in the fact that the tape includes a part where he says, I would like to assure you, bin Laden?

And B, does a power struggle necessarily mean something good, or does it just mean there are more people who have a motive to blow things up?

KAYYEM: I think it's, unfortunately, I think it's the latter. I mean, I thought last week that it, that the evidence did suggest, and a lot of counterterrorism specialists thought that the evidence suggested Zarqawi in had, in fact, been hurt, simply by the evidence coming out on the Web site.

If this Web site, or if this tape is authentic, it suggests that someone is lying about Zarqawi to sort of cause a lot of infighting amongst the group, which could, which is not necessarily good for us. It means that now there might be a splinter group or two groups. Think of the IRA and the real IRA, that there might be two groups going after American troops or Iraqi democratic interests, rather than one.

The other, you know, the other truth may be that Zarqawi is actually telling the truth, that originally there were lies about him placed by whoever, maybe another insurgency group, but he is, in fact, fine.

The scariest thing about this tape, though, has, you know, has, basically has to do with, he says to bin Laden, Let's wait. We have the plan. Something in the future is going to happen. So that, I don't know what that means at this stage.

OLBERMANN: Terrorism expert Juliette Kayyem of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, great thanks, as always, for your time tonight.

KAYYEM: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Whether or not Zarqawi is currently engaged in a political power struggle, it has not affected his group's capacity for terror, not yet, anyway. As coalition forces launched a massive crackdown on the insurgency in Baghdad, code name Operation Lightning, they were met with renewed resistance. Terrorists killed dozens of Iraqis around that country, including, as well as the Iraqis, a British soldier, and a senior Kurdish official.

Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for most of the attacks, including a double suicide bombing in Hillah. Two attackers detonated themselves in a crowd of policemen and ex-policemen, killing 30 and wounding 100 more.

And there's no word yet on whether insurgents were responsible for an Iraqi plane crash in eastern Diyala Province today that may have been simply a crash. Four American airmen were on board, and all are presumed dead.

The war in Iraq casting an enormous shadow over Memorial Day's commemorations here at home. Two years ago at this time, only weeks into the war, the president had declared major combat operations over in Iraq. The number of Americans killed to that point, 160.

Today, that total is more than 10 times that. It has exceeded 1,650.

President Bush paying tribute today at Arlington National Cemetery, first by the traditional laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, and then in his remarks to an audience of military families, in which he vowed to stick with the mission in Iraq on behalf of the fallen.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we look across these acres, we begin to tally the cost of our freedom. And we count it a privilege to be citizens of the country served by so many brave men and women. And we must honor them by completing the mission for which they gave their lives, by defeating the terrorists, advancing the cause of liberty, and building a safer world.


OLBERMANN: For the soldiers still on patrol in Iraq, this Memorial Day the same as almost any other day, their fallen comrades never forgotten, their work of stopping the insurgency seemingly never done.

Their story tonight from our correspondent in Baghdad, Jim Maceda.


JIM MACEDA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dawn over Baghdad. But it's no holiday for these soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division on patrol in a haven for insurgents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's still work to be done.

MACEDA: Captain Keith Haviland from Pomona, California, leads the mission, finding IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here, open this.

MACEDA: They could be anywhere, inside a minivan, under a brick, or a cardboard box.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an empty box. And then they put the IED on the backside of it.

MACEDA: His men raid houses used by suspected insurgents and detain the brother of a local insurgent leader still on the run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether you help me or not, I will find your brother.

MACEDA: This could be any day, but today is Memorial Day. Patrolling this road again is especially hard.

It's a landmark for us we'll never forget.

MACEDA: The spot where, last month, one of his gunners, 42-year-old Glen Watkins, was fatally wounded when a bomb-laden taxi blew up next to his Jeep. Watkins, a father of four from Tacoma, Washington, could have been home, but he signed on for a second tour of duty with Alpha Company to be with his buddies.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every year is Memorial Day for us here.

MACEDA: It's a similar story for the men of 767 Company, all explosive ordinance disposal engineers remembering one of their own.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Staff Sergeant Russell Verdugo (ph)...

MACEDA: Sergeant Russell Verdugo from Phoenix, Arizona, died last Monday in a secondary blast when he set out to defuse an explosive. Like all bomb disposal experts, Verdugo, known as Vee to his men, took enormous personal risk to save lives.

MAJ. MATTHEW GOFF, CHAPLAIN, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: Most of them under danger every day. But they come willingly, and they make that sacrifice because they see the benefit of being here.

MACEDA (on camera): But for American troops here in Iraq, there's little time today to grieve or to remember. The focus on the day's mission and the constant threat pushes just about everything else aside.

(voice-over): Still, Alpha Company Sergeant Tom Stone can't help but recall his uncle killed in Vietnam, whose name and rank he wears on a bracelet, as well as his fallen buddy, Glen Watkins.

SGT. TOM STONE, ALPHA COMPANY: And when you lose someone that's one of your own, it brought us even a little bit tighter.

MACEDA: Two companies of the 3rd ID in a war where everywhere is a front line, taking some of the highest casualties, but soldiering on, and for whom Memorial Day will never end.

Jim Maceda, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: Also tonight domestically, an exciting end to the crane drama in Atlanta. Too exciting for the guy. Just exciting enough for the cops, thank you.

And an exciting end to the Indianapolis 500 motor race. So? Well, if you know my career history, you know I have been wondering about that name of that rookie woman driver, Danica Patrick.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Probably heard the name Danica Patrick over the weekend. She drove in the Indianapolis 500 yesterday. As a sports humor columnist at noted, she accomplished this, quote, "despite the recent loss of pit boss Keithica Olbermann."

Our fourth story on the Countdown, if you thought this was the breaking-down of one of the last gender barricades in sports, I hate to pull rank on you, but I was a sportscaster for 26 years, and women have been part of the Indy 500 since 1971. The first one to compete in the race, Janet Guthrie, did so in 1977.

As our correspondent Kevin Tibbles reports, what made Ms. Patrick so special was not that she was a woman racer, but rather she was a rookie racer who nearly won the darn thing, that, and the whole Dan Patrick, Danica Patrick business.


KEVIN TIBBLES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the very beginning, this race was going to be very different.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lady and gentlemen! start your engines.

TIBBLES: Twenty-three-year-old Danica Patrick, just the fourth woman to start the Indianapolis 500, was quick to make a little history of her own. Before the race was even half over, she'd become the first woman ever to be in the lead.

Low on fuel, she was passed with just six laps to go by eventual winner Dan Wheldon. Still, after 500 miles, Patrick finished the race as she'd started, in fourth place. Another milestone as the best finish ever for a female driver.

DANICA PATRICK: It was good. It was, like, I just want to stay here, just stay here, just pull away. I know this car is fast. But with, you know, with having to save a little bit of fuel, you can't be as fast as, you know, as your potential.

TIBBLES: A series of near-disasters and almost miraculous recoveries made for a nailbiter of a race. First, she stalled the car in the pits, dropping her way back in the field. Then a collision and spinout damaged the front end. Still, the five-foot-two rookie driver simply never gave up on her dream to make history at the Yard of Bricks.

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


OLBERMANN: It survived German bombings, mechanical malfunctions, even four seasons of "Monty Python's Flying Circus." The great mystery in London, what made Big Ben stop?

And speaking of being stopped, that's what the police did this weekend to filmmaker Oliver Stone. DUI and drug possession. But they won't say what kind. It's a conspiracy!


OLBERMANN: We're back, and we pause our Countdown of what we're calling the real news for a segment of what we're calling the odd news. And it's all pretty much the same meat to me.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin in Lodi, California, where Kubi (ph), the 600-pound Bengal tiger made a visit to the dentist this weekend. Aw, isn't that cute? No, it's not. Kubi needed a root canal - he doesn't floss enough - after he broke off a tool while snacking. What was he snacking on? Obviously, his old dentist.

But the new dentist had some help, two assistants, an oral surgeon, a veterinarian, and enough anesthesia to kill a horse. Kubi came through just fine and made the trip home to the tiger preserve in Oregon, where he will dine on pureed Vegas entertainers until the tooth feels better.

Meanwhile, not far away in Depoe Bay, Oregon, there's a shih-tsu in trouble down at the old ocean. He fell halfway down a cliff and can't get up. His name's Tinky-Winky, and for some reason, passers-by didn't want to just leave him there.

So the fire department was called in, a rescuer rapelled down the cliff, put Tinky-Winky in a bag, and brought him back up to his relieved owners. Moral? Never take a shih-tsu that close to a cliff.

And finally, engineers in London are still perplexed as to why Big Ben stopped for more than an hour Friday night. I'm pretty sure we winded it, guv'nor. The 147-year-old really big clock, famous for its accuracy, stopped at 10:07 p.m. Friday night, started again, then stopped for 90 minutes. It's working fine now. Officials say they didn't find anything wrong with the gears. The best they can come up now is that it was a really, really hot day.

Which is the same problem I had with that Rolex that I bought in Times Square for $3.78.

Also tonight, the power of cheese. It's that time of year again, time to kill off a few more Englishmen who don't realize you can't really run downhill in pursuit of a cheese roll, you can only fall downhill.

And his nickname was Sugarfoot. Now it may simply be Zzzzzzz. What happened when the cops' patience ran out high in the skies above Atlanta?

Those stories ahead.

But first, now here are Countdown's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Craig Stanley, a state assemblyman in New Jersey. He is introducing legislation to force the New Jersey hockey team there to change its name from the Devils to something else. Evidently, Assemblyman Stanley did not hear about the hockey owners blocking out the players and there being no season this past winter, and maybe not next year either.

Number two, Larry Joy, an electrician from Winstead, Connecticut, who owns one of those biodiesel cars we told you about, but runs on vegetable oil. We mentioned the exhaust on the biodiesels is a lot nicer than on ordinary cars, especially to bears. Mr. Joy's 1981 VW Rabbit biodiesel had a window broken and a lot of the hoses chewed on by a bear.

And number one, Paris Hilton. It starts (INAUDIBLE) enough if you're named Pat, and you're dating somebody else named Pat. But how is this possible? Hilton is reportedly engaged to Greek shipping heir Paris Latsis. If they got married, he'd be Paris Latsis and she'd be Paris Latsis.

And by the way, it is her, after all, so I have to ask this. You say they're engaged? Engaged in what?


OLBERMANN: The assumption was that they would just wait until he collapsed from sleep deprivation, and hope that he collapsed onto the crane in Atlanta and not off of it.

Never assume.

Our third story on the Countdown, remember our Hall of Fame, with its section entirely devoted to idiots, morons, goofballs, and criminals who have to remind the judge that they're the bank robber, not the bank robber, they are the blanking blanker drug dealer?

Well, when the annual Hall of Fame voting is conducted in the fall, there will be three new names on the Legends ballot," led by Mr. Carl Roland. Roland, infamous for bringing the busy upscale Buckhead section of Atlanta, Georgia, to a screeching halt for than three days, is now in police custody. How'd they do it? Skilled negotiations, psychological trickery, waiting for that sleep deprivation to kick in? No, tasers. Like he was Rick Sanchez or somebody.

Early Saturday morning, shortly after midnight, authorities used a cup of water to lure Roland to what they considered a low-risk area of the 350-foot-high crane. And when he reached for it, zap. Like Rick Sanchez.

He was lowered safely from his perch by what appears to have been two guys and a pulley left over from then construction site, and then examined at an area hospital. Roland has been charged with a number of crimes in Atlanta: trespass, reckless conduct, criminal damage to property - those in addition to the murder charge outstanding in Florida. "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" newspaper reporting Roland was uncooperative during an interrogation by both Atlanta and Florida detectives. He did, however, ask for a lawyer.

Can I please - zz - have a lawyer - zz?

He's expected in court tomorrow.

Next to Nashville, Tennessee, home of 34-year-old Anette Pharris. She's another mom who decided it was incumbent upon her to make her son's milestone 16th birthday unforgettable. Yes, that way. In attendance, 30 guests, not including the entertainment. Here's the entertainment, stripper Cassandra Joyce Park, AKA "Sassy," with young Brandon Pharris. Sassy's on the left, by the way.

Mrs. Pharris has now been indicted on charges of contributing to the

delinquency of a minor and involving a minor in obscene acts, caught after

an employee of the local drugstore developing pictures of these festivities

· she took pictures! - called the cops. Pharris told her local newspaper, "The Tennessean," that she doesn't see anything wrong with having a stripper at a party where 10 of the attendees were under 18, saying, quote, "Age is just a number. My son is very mature."

Well, maybe, but obviously, it ain't hereditary, lady!

And you may recall Mr. Stinson Bailey of Arkansas, who we mentioned on "Newsmakers" one night. He had obtained a permit to knock down his house. He opted not for one of those complicated wrecking balls or implosions, but decided instead to simply torch the place. You may remember, too, his priceless quote afterwards. "I would have been all right if the wind hadn't changed." His house burned, and so did those of three of his neighbors.

Mr. Stinson Bailey, meet Mr. Dean Craig. Mr. Craig, falling just a

tad shy of winning the Most Hospitable Resident award in Aurora, Illinois -

· goodness - tried to get two house guests to leave his residence, but they refused. So he burned the place down. Craig and his guests escaped the blaze. The home conveniently actually belongs to his mother, and thus he's been charged with felony arson.

There must be an entire psychodrama behind this, but it's probably most easily and quickly explained by one, as they say in painting, detail. Surviving the blaze, the Craig house trash can full of crushed beer cans, and you can just read on it "Ice House." No wonder those people wouldn't leave.

Get the thing that wouldn't leave to leave by torching the place, hire a stripper for sonny's sweet 16, go on the lam on a crane. How, even if forced, could you choose just one of these three rocket scientists? That's why we have a Countdown Hall of Fame "Pantheon of Legends."



OLBERMANN (voice-over): The Hall of Fame is a big imaginary building, but not so not big that we could afford to devote an entire wing to just dumb criminals and another one to only wacky stunt men and a third to only drunken idiots who got themselves stuck in a trash can. There's just not enough room. Especially since we had to enlarge the animal wing to accommodate the huge bouncing bear crowd.

So here in the Hall of Fame's great hall - yes, that's right, there's a hall inside the hall, bear with us here - each of these individuals whose bizarre actions have brought us joy, bewilderment or just great videotape over the years has his own little plaque. It is here that the Countdown Hall of Fame honors the legends.

Who are these people? Well, they're everyman and everywoman caught on tape in strange situations either of their own making or of someone else's.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you talking about? You're crazy.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you just hit me?

OLBERMANN: Perhaps they got drunk and did something stupid, or perhaps they didn't get drunk at all and still did something stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a bubbling cauldron of hell, and I advise upon (ph) no human being on the face of the earth, you will die if you go over those falls. I reached out and touched the face of God, and he smiled. Thank you.

OLBERMANN: Or they're just run-of-the-mill weirdoes and show-offs out for our attention. We're not too proud to oblige if they make it strange enough.


OLBERMANN: Some of the legends are dumb criminals, and some are really dumb criminals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you readily admitted your involvement in the robbery and stated that you were forced into it to pay a drug debt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a drug dealer, not a bank robber! I'm the one with the drugs. He was the one that robbed (INAUDIBLE) I'm the mother-(DELETED) drug dealer!

OLBERMANN: Some of them are television personalities, others are just personalities caught on television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of Taiwan! Get out of Taiwan!

ELTON JOHN: Yes, we'd love to get out of Taiwan, if it's full of people like you! Pig! Pig! Rude, vile pig!

OLBERMANN: And one is here because he solved the Countdown magic equation: High pressure sales guy plus four-foot samurai sword, plus live TV equals...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The nice thing about these - (INAUDIBLE) Ow! Oh, that hurt!

OLBERMANN: His partner entered the hall on the write-in ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We may need emergency surgery in the studio.

OLBERMANN: Many of our legends are Guinness World Record holders, as well. You wouldn't believe how easy it is to get into that book. Mixed in are the true stuntmen and the daredevils, like the all-time great Felix Baumgartner. This guy goes out there and performs all manner of unsafe acts, literally risking death on a regular basis. And for what? So we can have 30 more seconds of really cool video. Felix, we salute you.

And we salute you, Miss Universe, the klutziest supermodel on earth.

We salute every celebrity who ever had a glamour shot taken at 3:00 AM in

some Arizona drunk tank. And we salute the true legends, those caught in

unbelievable but unfilmed situations, who later, for some reason defying

belief, agreed to reenact the event for the cameras

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was only one I had that I could use, my tongue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as odd as this looks, with her hands and legs tied, Benee Lance (ph) called her office, not police, for help.

OLBERMANN: The Hall honors all of these wild stunts, feats of strength, strange people and even stranger things they do. You may call them dopes, you may call them maniacs, you may call them miscreants, and you may even call them common criminals. But here, here on this ground, we call them the Legends.



OLBERMANN: Also tonight, no, he is not the child of tongue lady, he's just one of the many faithful who has helped the new "Star Wars" film sweep the holiday box office business. Details in "Keeping Tabs."

And the tranquilized bear on the trampoline you've seen. But how about the bear who led the orchestra at a wedding? That you will see when this hard-hitting, news-filled edition of Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: You'd think if one of its stars slapped - or heavily tapped - a CBS news producer in the middle of an interview that the remake of the 1974 classic "The Longest Yard" would do better than third in the weekend holiday box office. But as we find out in our number two story on the Countdown, it had two problems. One, the remake pretty much stinks, Burt Reynolds or no Burt Reynolds. Two, the "Star Wars" epidemic is still fully communicable. In its second weekend, "Revenge of the Sith" is expected to have taken in nearly $71 million. That four-day estimate beats the two big premiers of the Memorial Day weekend, the animated feature "Madagascar," $61 million, and the Reynolds and Adam Sandler remake of "The Longest Yard," which came in third with $60 million.

You may recall, as demonstrated in this Countdown "Puppet Theatre" recreation, last week, Burt Reynolds slapped a CBS producer who had seen neither the original nor the remake of the film, asking him, quote, "What the hell kind of guy are you?"

"The Longest Yard" may have turned into the longest watch, but even if it had been good, it probably would have been no match for episode - whichever one this is, of the "Star Wars" double trilogy. Much of this weekend's $71 million worth of audience was also part of last weekend's $150 million worth audience. As "comic book guy" says on "The Simpsons" of the latest edition of a fictionalized version of George Lucas's creations, "Worst cosmic wars (ph) ever. I will only see it three more times. Today."

We mentioned the Countdown Hall of Fame earlier tonight. It's a good time to go back and visit the "Star Wars" wing.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): In a wing in the Hall of Fame far, far, far -

· oh, my mistake. It's right here by the front door, next to the gift shop. It is here, in a special place of honor, that we keep our most curious specimen in a secure glass case - plastic really, kind of a giant action figure box. It is the "Star Wars" geek. The species dates back to the last century, in fact, the late 1970s...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Star Wars," rated PG.


OLBERMANN:... with the confusing premiere of the first episode of the "Star Wars" saga, which, thanks to marketing considerations, later became known as the fourth episode. Fanaticism spread across the world as millions of youngsters found themselves captivated by all the spaceships and puppets and stuff. But a strange thing happened. About 95 percent of fans grew out of their Boba Fett Underroos and action figure collections and became productive members of society. The rest? They got stuck somewhere along the way and became "Star Wars" geeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Jar-Jars are the most irritating thing and should have been edited out of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this just is an average Jedi knight robe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The critics don't know what they're talking about.

It was a great movie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Grade A, number one. Go for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much of a "Star Wars" fan are you? It's obvious really, isn't it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With these new three episodes, you're going to finally get the full scope of the drama.

OLBERMANN: Perhaps they had some trouble adjusting to life on this planet, or maybe they just went looking for fellowship in the force, if you know what I mean. That was certainly easier to find than it was to find a date. Or some of them tried to socialize with the normals and found that, for some reason, it was hard to get women in the clubs to talk to them. The fact is, when you're 10 years old and playing with a plastic light saber, you are as cute as a button. When you're 35, you're a Countdown Hall of Fame geek.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I modified the toy version of the light saber, put a 6,000- volt transformer in it, a neon tube from Mr. Neon (ph), and a nine-volt power supply, a couple switches, and boom.

OLBERMANN: So these outsiders looked inside for fulfillment, and they began building stuff. They build their own spaceships. They build their own robots. They build their own lousy Chewbacca costumes. They go to conventions to rub elbows with other "Star Wars" geeks, or whatever they're rubbing. They camp out for days, weeks, months to see the latest installment on the first night. And whatever they do, they do it in full costume, just in case they should ever have to face the "Star Wars" geeks' archenemy, the talking rubber dog (INAUDIBLE)


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what are the principles of the Jedi knight?

Always to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To always defend truth and justice throughout the galaxy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And to eat a lot of peanut every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't deal with lesser life forms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't deal with lesser life forms? You must be a lonely guy!

So this is to help you breathe, yes?


UNIDENTIFIED: And which of these - which of these buttons calls your parents to pick you up?


OLBERMANN: But through the nearly ever-present abuse and mockery, the "Star Wars" geek perseveres and somehow even manages to pass the gene on to new generations, a phenomenon which is baffling to our research scientists here at the Hall of Fame. Must be some sort of airborne or contact-eye (ph) kind of thing because we're pretty sure they're not procreating.


OLBERMANN: Speaking of stars, or at least seeing stars, there's the arrest of Oliver Stone in our latest edition of the gossip and celebrity news, "Keeping Tabs," arrested for DUI and possession of an unidentified drug. Oliver Stone. How in the hell do you not see that coming? This was at a police checkpoint late Friday night on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, pulled over for erratic driving, police say. Then they searched Stone's Mercedes and found the alleged drug. It's still being analyzed. Stone pleaded guilty to possession six years ago. There's still an outstanding warrant for him, as well, for being really loud in a restaurant with the actor William Hurt while I was at an adjoining table and Stone kept shouting, I hope nobody recognizes us and annoys us here, Bill!

The future of another master of the low-key public appearance should be in the hands of the jury by this time next week. It is your tax and entertainment dollars in action, day 560 of the Michael Jackson investigations. And this was a day off, time to plan ahead. Analysts, who now outnumber the residents of Santa Maria, California, suggest that the closing arguments, which will probably begin Wednesday, will be critical to this case because neither side has decisively sold its picture of things: the prosecution, that Jackson groomed for molestation and then molested the son of a very strange and not very admirable family, the defense that Jackson did no such thing, that the family was so strange and so not admirable that they'd already tried to grift a series of celebrities before glomming on to Jackson and fabricating the molestation story.

But some things you just know are utterly authentic for the simple reason that nobody would make this stuff up. Here it was Memorial Day. In England, it was Cheese Day. Want to guess how many were injured? Think about that while we make the network some money.


OLBERMANN: For us, this has been, of course, Memorial Day. Other nations celebrate it or similar invocations at other times. Thus, in those lands, this is an open date, or a date open to the components of our number one story on the Countdown tonight, the stupid wheel of life, traditions that did not make sense when they started and do not make sense now, like today's annual cheese-rolling day in Gloucestershire, England, the inarguably stupid 640-foot collapse down a hill in pursuit of an eight-pound piece of cheese - Gloucestershire cheese, of course.

The pain was worth it, said teenage winner Chris Anderson, as he lay on a stretcher en route to the hospital with a fractured limb, clutching his winning trophy to his chest, the eight-pound slab of cheese. "This cheese is going straight in a cupboard when I get home," he said. "It's definitely not for eating." Anderson then added, of course, "Then again, I'm a bit mental."

If you weren't before, you are now. Fortunately, only 20 other competitors were injured.

Hearkening back to our Countdown Hall of Fame, the Gloucestershire runners, fallers and bone brokers especially are already members in good standing in the wing of Stupid Traditions.

Well, with those injuries, maybe standing is the wrong word, but you get the point.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): It is open year-round, but you'll want to check your calendar before visiting this exhibit, since you may need a helmet to enter the wing of "Stupid Traditions." Here we celebrate the strange and dangerous things people do year after year all around the world just because, annual events that keep our newscasts filled with interesting video but also make one wonder what is going on in the empty heads of the participants.

Why, for instance, each year in August do the people of Bunol, Spain, engage in Tomatina, a giant, messy tomato food fight? Some sort of ketchup shortage? They do the same thing with oranges in Italy. It signifies an ancient townfolk revolt that had nothing to do with oranges, but hey, orange-ya glad they didn't choose coconuts?

In Galaxidi, Greece, it's flour. They throw flour at each other. Then the spring rains come, and the streets run brown with gravy. The granddaddy of them all, of course, is the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Why, for nine days in July each year, do man and male cow risk life and limb alike in this bizarre spectacle? No one there really knows for sure, especially the bulls. Trust me. If they knew what was waiting for them in the stadium at the end of each day's run, we'd see a lot more bulls' offense on the cobblestones.

But traditions don't have to involve the slaughter of animals nor the waste of food to be stupid. In fact, our favorites usually involve people hurting themselves. Take, for example, the cheese roll in Gloucestershire, England. Only one hunk of cheese is wasted. Of course, all of the participants are wasted.

They have a hill in Japan, too, but they raised the stakes a bit. They've added a big log to the mix. No, not very safe, but safety doesn't get you into the Countdown Hall of Fame, now, does it. It does not. Here we only honor the upper echelon of hazardous traditions, the once-a-year fire-walking, belly-flopping, bed-racing, wife-carrying, unsafe-boating, bun-snatching dangers to themselves and others.

Why do they do it? One reason and one reason alone beats in their breasts. Because they did it last year, and the year before that and the year before that. That's not just stupid, that's Hall of Fame stupid.


OLBERMANN: There is, perhaps, a level of traditional stupidity above that even that of Hall of Fame. I don't know what we would call it, but we would probably have to use Chinese words in the description because the event in question is a marriage ceremony in Chungchun (ph) in northeastern China, a marriage ceremony for two tigers, a rare white tiger named Zorro and a female Siberian named Lele. But since they apparently remain in cages both before, during and after the so-called marriage, their nuptials per se were dwarfed by the wedding procession, celebrated by man and others. That's the bride there.

And this is the band here. They couldn't get Bare Naked Ladies, so they just got the duo of the bear and the monkey. Wedding pyrotechnics provided by another monkey. I always like to leave my monkey in charge of the blowing up of things. And yes, you're right, you recognized it instantly. This one was planned by the same people who did the Trump wedding.

Now, who gets into the Hall of Fame for that one, the tigers or the all-bear-and-monkey orchestra? I don't know what we'd do without bears on videotape, not merely the musical kind but also the amateur acrobatic kind. We've been wandering back inside the Countdown Hall of Fame tonight, and there's one more wing to explore. Just hand your ticket stub to the bear at the turnstile and follow that barnyard smell.


OLBERMANN (voice-over): Enshrinement in the animal wing is not an easy achievement. There are many pretenders. On the eve of the balloting, leading candidates often revert to their vices to ease the stress of election night. And if they don't get in, sometimes they blame the media.

That being said, your admission to the animal wing comes with caveats. Remember the buddy system. Keep your hands away from Pinky the cat at all times. And if you think you smell something, yes, guess what? You do.

Ladies and gentlemen, the animal wing. Attraction number one, that which people line up around the block to see, the bear in mid-air. An original Countdown classic, it's bear falls out of tree. Sure, the people enjoy dog riding on a skateboard, and the three-eyed, two-mouthed cow is nice, but there's something about an unconscious bear doing involuntary gymnastics that makes Americans giddy. To say nothing of making the bear giddy.

Of course, you have your hybrids, the wholphin, the zonkey, and yes, the liger, plus the half machine, half dog and the half seagull, half Barbie doll. This squirrel over here can water ski. This parrot can ride a bike. If you think a cat using a toilet is impressive, how about an elephant?

Speaking of elephants, some of our Hall of Fame exhibits play tribute to animals who have met top Republicans. Reversing his earlier stance that turkeys make good bowling balls, here President Bush pardoning two turkeys named Biscuits and Gravy. Sadly, they later died anyway. Happily, they were young.

And of course, there was that impromptu "No elephants left behind" moment witnessed by the president's safari in Africa. We have this tape playing at the Hall of Fame 24 hours a day in a continuous loop. And lastly, in this group, the commander-in-chief's old friend, Barney, who gave the phrase...


BUSH: We're making progress on the ground.


OLBERMANN:... a whole new meaning.

In the politics-free zone, if you can ride a dog, you're elected. If you can free your enslaved colleagues, you're elected. If you're the missing link, we're all afraid not to vote for you. Let us not forget the Hall of Famers who have gone ahead to that great zoo in the sky, like Dick the goldfish or Bubba, the 100-year-old lobster. Fortunately, there's a new generation chomping at the - something - to get into the hall.

Then, most importantly, let us not forget that the bear survived his fall. He was OK and went on to live a productive and happy life and he gave up smoking and everything. Thus we honor the beasts that ease our burden because here at Countdown, we're crackers about animals.


OLBERMANN: And we're just crackers generally. That is Countdown. Enjoy what's left of Memorial Day. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night, and good luck.