I'm running a presidential prediction contest on the Drudge Retort today:

President Obama will win re-election even though Mercury is in retrograde, claims Psychic Nikki. See if you can do better than this observer of the spirit world and enter the Drudge Retort's presidential prediction contest. The winner will receive a $50 Amazon.Com gift certificate and a life-size cardboard Joe Biden. To enter, post a comment here predicting the percentage of the vote that President Obama, Mitt Romney and Everybody Else will receive and the number of electoral votes that Obama, Romney and Everybody Else will receive. Entries must be submitted before Dixville Notch, N.H., reports its vote early Tuesday morning.

You don't have to be a current Retort member to participate. Just join the site and post your prediction in the discussion.

-- Rogers Cadenhead

Glenn Kessler, the fact-checking columnist of the Washington Post, often employs logic that's more factually dubious than the claim he's covering.

Here's his explanation for why he gives President Obama four Pinocchios for saying in ads that Mitt Romney wants to kill Big Bird:

Romney may have been off base in suggesting PBS funding has much to do with the deficit, but that's no excuse for the Obama campaign to declare that means the demise of a popular children's character. According to the financials of Sesame Workshop, Big Bird should do just fine, with or without public funding.

Romney said during the debate he wants to kill funding for PBS, citing Big Bird and Jim Lehrer as examples of its programming.

PBS receives 15 percent of its funding from the federal government, which amounts to around $1 per American per year. But some of its member stations are not funded as well as others, as PBS explains:

These dollars are particularly important to smaller stations. While the appropriation equals about 15 percent of our system's revenue, this is an aggregate number. For many stations, the appropriation counts for as much as 40-50 percent of their budget.

If Romney becomes president and eliminates funding to PBS, some of its stations will lose half of their funding overnight and almost certainly shut down. For those viewers, this will kill Big Bird and all the rest of the programming that public television provides.

The issue isn't whether Sesame Street could survive without PBS. It would, because the show has 43 years of popularity and generates millions in licensing revenue. The issue is whether PBS stations could survive without federal funding.

The Obama ads are using Big Bird as a metaphor for the programming that would disappear from the homes of Americans if Romney killed PBS funding. I think it's a fair use of rhetoric that doesn't deserve to be called a lie.

Pfc. Genaro Bedoy

The deaths of seven U.S. service members in Afghanistan were announced this past week by the Department of Defense.

Four Army soldiers died Sept. 16 in Zabul Province when they were shot by Afghan police after coming to their aid at a security checkpoint that was attacked by insurgents. One of the four killed was Pfc. Genaro Bedoy, 20, of Amarillo, Texas, who had a wife and seven-week-old baby girl (pictured above).

Bedoy played wide receiver and defensive back for River Road High School. "Genaro was a good kid. He always worked hard for me," his football coach, Bryan Welps, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. The coach said Bedoy talked to him about his decision to join the Army. "I thought it would be good for him," he said.

Bedoy was assigned to 52nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Also killed were Sgt. Sapuro B. Nena, 25, of Honolulu, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Spc. Joshua N. Nelson, 22, Greenville, N.C., assigned to 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 513th Military Intelligence Brigade, Fort Gordon, Ga.; and Pfc. Jon R. Townsend, 19, Claremore, Okla., assigned to 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

On Sept. 15, Marine Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell, 27, of Kokomo, Ind. and Marine Lt. Col Christopher K. Raible, 40, of North Huntingdon, Pa., died during a Taliban attack on their base in Helmand Province. Fifteen heavily armed insurgents wearing U.S. Army uniforms and suicide vests snuck into Camp Bastion and incinerated six U.S. fighter jets, each worth about $25 million.

When the attack began, Raible was heading to video-chat with his wife and three children after dinner. Armed with a handgun, Raible rushed to the scene and coordinated the Marines' response before he and Atwell were killed by wounds suffered in an explosion. "It was very fitting that he was killed leading his men from the front," said Maj. Greer Chambless.

Raible was assigned to Marine Attack Squadron 211, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force. Atwell was assigned to Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force.

On Sept. 20, Army Sgt. Jason M. Swindle, 24, of Cabot, Ark., died in Panjwa'l of injuries sustained when he was attacked by a rocket-propelled grenade while on mounted patrol. Swindle was assigned to 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

At the Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine this past weekend I saw speeches by novelists Jeff Lindsay (Darkly Dreaming Dexter), Steve Berry (The Templar Legacy) and Diana Abu-Jaber (Arabian Jazz).

I have an unpublished thriller in its second draft that's around 60,000 words long, so I go to these festivals looking for tips on how to become a more gooder writer and also to establish a daily writing routine to finish it. I've proven conclusively in the past year the novel won't finish itself.

Lindsay said that he gets up every morning at 3 a.m. to write about grisly serial murder until it's time to wake up his daughters for school. "I write best when I don't get in my own way," he said. "I write semi-conscious, then when I'm alert, rewrite."

It wasn't until his 50s that he could work full-time as a novelist once the first Dexter book made a killing. He advised writers to learn a marketable skill that lets them set their own hours. "I recommend arc welding," he said.

His most critically well-received book is one he can't admit to writing. "I ghost wrote a book that got the greatest review of my life, and it kills me," he said.

Abu-Jaber wrote a memoir, The Language of Baklava, that revealed some disturbing stories she was afraid would anger relatives. She hears frequently from writers who won't tell their own life story while some family members still around to take offense. To that concern Abu-Jaber said, "If you wait for everyone to die, who is going to read your book?"

Berry, who lives near St. Augustine, is a former lawyer and county commissioner who began writing fiction at age 35. Until Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code reinvented the commercially moribund spy thriller genre with historical conspiracies, secrets and international settings, Berry had five completed thrillers that plowed the same ground which had been rejected 85 times. "Twelve years ago, I couldn't give away a manuscript," he said.

One aspiring writer asked about going the solo route instead of seeking an agent and publisher. Berry said that's a bad idea if you'd actually like to sell books and build a career as a novelist, but he did share one factoid that suggests there's an opportunity for self-publishers in his genre. "Seventy percent of my sales are e-sales," he said. "Five years ago it was 5 percent."

Green plastic swim fin

The children's novelist Adrian Fogelin taught a three-hour fiction seminar Thursday on creating a character in which she asked audience members to pick one shoe among 20 pairs. She then put us through a series of writing exercises to create a person to occupy that footwear. I chose a child's green dollar-store swim fin.

I went into the event with no desire to write anything after subjecting myself to hours of dire news coverage about the U.S. ambassador's murder in Libya. But as the exercises went on, I became fond of the 10-year-old aspiring oceanographer who explored the murky depths of a pool at the King for a Day motel outside Joplin, Mo., and counted the minutes until Shark Week.

One exercise asked us to reveal the character's traits through dialogue:

"The shark is the apex predator of the ocean," Ernest explained to the woman on the bus, who nodded in a manner that demonstrated she was obviously impressed with his expertise.

"As such," he continued, "it serves a vital role in the aquatic ecosystem. What is your favorite species of shark?"

"No habla Inglés," she replied.

Seminars like this always make you think you've created the next Holden Caulfield or Boo Radley. But after it was over, I realized I'd been recreating the irrepressible kid from Calvin & Hobbes.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thalia S. Ramirez

The deaths of three U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan were announced this past week by the Department of Defense.

Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jose L. Montenegro Jr., 31, of San Juan, Texas, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Thalia S. Ramirez, 28, of San Antonio died Sept. 5, when their OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter crashed in the Pul-e Alam district of Logar Province. They were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.

Ramirez (pictured above) was the only African helicopter pilot in the Army, reports Mwakalishi. She was born in Nairobi, Kenya, to a Kenyan mother and Puerto Rican father and attended Braeburn School in Nairobi.

She earned her Kiowa Warrior aviator qualification in 2008 after enlisting five years earlier as a water purification specialist. Both Ramirez and Montenegro were nearing completion of their year-long deployment.

Army Sgt. Kyle B. Osborn, 26, of Lafayette, Ind., died Thursday in Muqer of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Camp Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.

Osborn was a high school wrestler who gave up competing at the collegiate level to enlist in the Army, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. He competed at state weighing 152 pounds as a senior and captained the McCutcheon High School Mavericks team that was regional champion in 2005.

He was just six weeks into his first deployment, CBS Minnesota reported.

CNN reported Sunday on the Aug. 10 death of Marine Lance Cpl. Gregory T. Buckley, 21, of Oceanside, N.Y., which was noted earlier on this blog. Buckley was killed with two other Marines when a new Afghan policeman was handed his weapon and immediately opened fire. He was due home in two days to see his younger brother play varsity football for the first time.

Buckley's father Gregory Sr. said his son feared being killed by one of the Afghans he was training. "He told me, 'If I have to stay until November I'm not going to come home. ... You gotta be able to tell mom, Justin and Shane that I'm going to be killed over here. I said out in the field? He goes 'no, in our base.'"

Staff Sgt. Jeremie S. Border

The deaths of five U.S. servicemembers in Afghanistan were announced this past week by the Department of Defense.

Army Staff Sgt. Jeremie S. Border, 28, of Mesquite, Texas, and Staff Sgt. Jonathan P. Schmidt, 28, of Petersburg, Va., died Sept. 1, in Batur Village of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with small arms fire.

Border (pictured above) was an Eagle Scout who went on to become a college football player at McMurray University and a Green Beret, KHOU reports. Cheryl Hays recalled on a Facebook page dedicated to his memory, "I knew Jeremie from Troop 90. He was one of my very favorites. His Eagle ceremony was the first Eagle ceremony I had ever attended. Let me tell you, I was so touched. I think all the moms were sobbing at one point."

Border was assigned to 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), Torii Station, Japan; and Schmidt was assigned to 192nd Ordnance Battalion, 52nd Ordnance Group, 20th Support Command (CBRNE), Fort Bragg, N.C.

Marine Lance Cpl. Alec R. TerwiskieMarine Lance Cpl. Alec R. Terwiske, 21, of Dubois, Ind., died Sept. 3 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province. He was assigned to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Tewiske (pictured at right) was determined to make it through boot camp. "Wow my own mom thinks I won't make it," he posted in December 2009 on his Facebook page. "Can't wait till I prove her wrong!" In October 2010, Tewiske posted he was done and on his way home. "Hell yeah I did it!"

Tewiske's parent command was Inspector/Instructor Staff, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, Fort Knox, Ky.

Army Pfc. Shane W. Cantu, 20, of Corunna, Mich., died Aug. 28, in Charkh of wounds suffered when he was hit by shrapnel.

Cantu was assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.

Army Spc. Kyle R. Rookey, 23, of Oswego, N.Y., died Sept. 2, in Jalalabad from a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 4th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.

The Florida Republican Party recently began running a TV ad here that attacks former Gov. Charlie Crist, the Republican who left the party and became an independent during his unsuccessful 2010 Senate run. The ad shows old clips of Crist praising President George W. Bush and Sarah Palin and declaring he was "about as conservative as you can get."

That statement turned out to be as true as Mitt Romney calling himself a progressive when he wanted to be governor of liberal Massachusetts. Crist endorsed President Obama and will be giving a speech on his behalf at the Democratic National Convention tonight.

What makes this ad exceptional is that Crist isn't running for office this year. It's the first attack ad I can recall that targeted a non-candidate. There's talk he'll run for governor again as a Democrat, but that wouldn't be until 2014.

Before the ad, I thought Crist was a politician whose career was over. He's been on TV in Florida for a while as one of those "have you been injured in an accident?" attorneys for Morgan & Morgan, delivering his lines with the enthusiasm of a hostage.

But if the Republicans think it's necessary to launch a pre-emptive strike against him, Crist's political fortunes as a Democrat must be stronger than I thought.