Q. A few days after the Democratic National Convention, I received one of those mass emails. According to the message, a four-star general paid tribute to veterans on the last night of the convention. While he spoke, the giant screen behind him filled with the picture of four powerful warships patrolling the ocean and a half-dozen jets streaking across the sky to show off our country's military might. The trouble, according to the email, was that the ships were Russian. I didn't see a thing in your paper about this. Is it true? Or was the story suppressed?
-- Mary Kay Martz, of Belleville
A. Talk about failing grades. Whoever put that convention presentation together deserves marks way below "C" level, so to speak.
Yes, the story is true. While retired Adm. John Nathman proudly praised America's vets, the ships prowling the sea behind him were from the very fleet he once had monitored warily during the Cold War -- the Russian Federation Navy.
Since there were no audible gasps, it seems nobody saw the gaffe as the delegates awaited Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Without close-ups of flags or other symbols, one country's battleship looks pretty much like another's at a glance, right?
Well, not quite -- especially if you have sharp eyes like Rob Barker, a 38-year-old former electronics warfare technician who served in the U.S. Navy until 2006. He learned to identify foreign ships by their radar equipment, so when he saw the four ships on the screen, he immediately knew something was amiss.
"I was kind of in shock," he told reporter Sam Freeman when he called the Navy Times to alert them to the big boo-boo.
The flat-screen antenna on the largest ship seen was clearly that of the MR-700 Podberezovik 3-D early warning radar on the Russian cruiser Kerch, according to Eric Wertheim, editor of "Combat Fleets of the World." The other three ships were smaller and harder to identify, but one seemed to be the missile destroyer Smetlivyy sailing between two frigates.
Final giveaway: If you look closely, the ships' sterns all sported a white flag with a blue X, a Russian Navy symbol. Our ships, of course, would fly a U.S. flag. The best theory seems to be that you were being treated to a show of force by Russia's Black Sea Fleet in a photo believed to be at least six years old.
So how did it happen? The day after the Navy Times report, the Democratic National Convention Committee steamed full speed ahead into apology mode.
"Due to vendor error, incorrect images appeared briefly on screen behind 51 veterans during the convention and the DNCC apologizes for this mistake," according to a written statement that did not explain "vendor error" or how it occurred.
The goof is easily found on the Internet so why Republican media outlets didn't jump all over it I don't know. I'm sure the anti-one-worlders are having a field day, but, as a journalist, I know that simple carelessness occasionally leads to the wrong photo being published. With the presidency on the line, I'm sure the last thing the Democrats wanted to show was the Russian Navy on a giant video screen.
And, that may be only half the story. An equally sharp-eyed former Air Force pilot told the Navy Times that the planes flying above the ships may have been F-5s being piloted by the Turkish Stars, the Turkish Air Force version of our Thunderbirds. He said he could tell by the formation and wing configuration.
It's a good thing walking the plank has gone out of fashion or someone might be making his new home in Davy Jones' Locker after this fiasco.
Q. On many days. when I drive through East St. Louis on Missouri Avenue (Illinois 15), there is a man who just sits and waves at everyone from his house. Who is this man, and what's his story?
-- C.P., of Belleville
A. Good to hear that The Waver is still on the job more than 15 years after he started bringing cheer to otherwise harried commuters rushing to work and school.
For Sam Taylor, it's a labor of love that began about 1995 when the then 39-year-old was diagnosed with a respiratory disease that laid him low. So, to make himself and everyone else feel better, he began waving at passers-by as he sat on the porch of his home near 24th and Missouri.
"I need that," he told us in a story we did in 2000. "I make their day. They make mine. It's a joyful thing for me. The only time I miss a day is if I feel sick. If I don't get out here, they will wonder where I've been."
Now 56, the former school janitor and Big River Zinc caster gets Christmas cards and even gifts from some of his "regulars." We wish him many more years of brightening people's days.
Today's trivia: If you want to see the longest sword fight in movie history, what film should you rent?
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or email@example.com