Saturday, March 29, 2008

Our History

Between the Emancipation Proclamation and the beginning of World War II, millions of African-Americans were compelled into or lived under the shadow of the South's new forms of coerced labor. Under laws enacted specifically to intimidate blacks, tens of thousands were arbitrarily detained, hit with high fines and charged with the costs of their arrests. With no means to pay such debts, prisoners were sold into coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroad construction crews and plantations. Others were simply seized by southern landowners and pressed into years of involuntary servitude.

At the turn of the 20th century, at least 3,464 African-American men and 130 women lived in forced labor camps in Georgia, according to a 1905 report by the federal Commissioner of Labor.

Beginning in July 1908, a commission established by the Georgia Legislature convened a series of hearings into the state's system of leasing prisoners to private contractors. Meeting early every day and late into the night to escape the city's excruciating heat, the panel called more than 120 witnesses over three weeks to give testimony in the state Capitol's regal Room No. 16.

Accounts of Brutalities

Witness after witness -- ranging from former guards to legislators to freed slaves -- gave vivid accounts of the system's brutalities. Wraithlike men infected with tuberculosis were left to die on the floor of a storage shed at a farm near Milledgeville. Laborers who attempted escape from the Muscogee Brick Co. were welded into ankle shackles with three-inch-long spikes turned inward -- to make it impossibly painful to run again. Guards everywhere were routinely drunk and physically abusive.

Testimony described hellish conditions at Chattahoochee Brick and other operations owned by Mr. English, a luminary of the Atlanta elite and a man hardly anyone in the reviving city would have associated with human cruelty. But by 1908, Mr. English -- despite having never owned antebellum slaves -- was a man whose great wealth was inextricably tied to the enslavement of thousands of men.

Born in 1837 near New Orleans and orphaned as a teenager, he served as a young man in the Confederate army, rising to become a captain in a prominent Georgia brigade. After the South's defeat, he went to Atlanta to establish himself in the business and politics of the bustling new capital of southern commerce. He led a drive to make the city the state capital of Georgia, cementing its foundation as an economic center. In 1880 he was elected mayor.

Presiding from an elegant home, Mr. English, a portly man with a thick shock of white hair and a matching mustache, fostered a collection of enterprises that grew as Atlanta emerged from its Civil War ruin.

Chattahoochee Brick

The base of his wealth, Chattahoochee Brick, relied on forced labor from its inception, in 1878, and by the early 1890s, more than 150 prisoners were employed in the wilting heat of its fires. By 1897, Mr. English's enterprises controlled 1,206 of Georgia's 2,881 convict laborers, engaged in brick making, cutting crossties, lumbering, railroad construction and making turpentine.

Mr. English parlayed his industrial wealth to become one of the South's most important financiers as well. In 1896, he founded Atlanta's Fourth National Bank and became its first president.

Mr. English strenuously denied to the Georgia committee that any "act of cruelty" had ever been "committed upon a convict" under the control of himself or any member of his family. He insisted that he and his son were essentially absentee owners of the brick factory, having little to do with its daily operations.

"If a warden in charge of those convicts ever committed an act of cruelty to them," Mr. English said, "and it had come to my knowledge, I would have had him indicted and prosecuted."

Yet his testimony affirmed how Chattahoochee Brick -- like so many other Southern enterprises -- forced laborers to their absolute physical limits to extract modern levels of production using archaic manufacturing techniques.

Once dried, the bricks were carried at a double-time pace by two dozen laborers running back and forth -- under almost continual lashing by Mr. English's overseer, Capt. James T. Casey. Witnesses testified that guards holding long horse whips struck any worker who slowed to a walk or paused.

By the end of the century, the forced laborers churned out 300,000 hot red rectangles of hardened clay every day. Millions were sold to the Atlanta City Council to pave streets and line the sidewalks of Atlanta's flourishing new Victorian neighborhoods, according to company and city records.

The prisoners of the brickyard produced nearly 33 million bricks in the 12 months ending in May 1907, generating sales of $239,402 -- or about $5.2 million today. Of that, the English family pocketed the equivalent of nearly $1.9 million in profit -- an almost-unimaginable sum at the time.

A string of witnesses told the legislative committee that prisoners at the plant were fed rotting and rancid food, housed in barracks rife with insects, driven with whips into the hottest and most-intolerable areas of the plant, and continually required to work at a constant run in the heat of the ovens.

On Sundays, white men came to the Chattahoochee brickyard to buy, sell and trade black men as they had livestock and, a generation earlier, slaves on the block. "They had them stood up in a row and walked around them and judged of them like you would a mule," testified one former guard at the camp.

Another guard told the committee that 200 to 300 floggings were administered each month. "They were whipping all the time. It would be hard to tell how many whippings they did a day," testified Arthur W. Moore, a white former employee.

A rare former convict who was white testified that after a black prisoner named Peter Harris said he couldn't work because of a grossly infected hand, the camp doctor carved off the affected skin tissue with a surgeon's knife and then ordered him back to work. Instead, Mr. Harris, his hand mangled and bleeding, collapsed after the procedure. The camp boss ordered him dragged into the brickyard and whipped 25 times. "If you ain't dead, I will make you dead if you don't go to work," shouted a guard. Mr. Harris was carried to a cotton field. He died lying between the rows of cotton.

Similar testimony emerged from camps owned by Joel Hurt, the rich Atlanta real-estate developer and investor most remembered as the visionary behind the city's earliest and most-elegant subdivisions. Mr. Hurt was also the founder of Atlanta's Trust Company Bank -- the city's other pre-eminent financial institution.

The 'Water Cure'

In 1895, Mr. Hurt bought a group of bankrupt forced-labor mines and furnaces on Lookout Mountain, near the Tennessee state line. Guards there had recently adopted for punishment of the workers the "water cure," in which water was poured into the nostrils and lungs of prisoners. (The technique, preferred because it allowed miners to "go to work right away" after punishment, became infamous in the 21st century as "waterboarding.")

An elderly black man named Ephraim Gaither testified during the state's hearings as to the fate of a 16-year-old boy at a lumber camp owned by Mr. Hurt and operated by his son George Hurt. The teenager was serving three months of hard labor for an unspecified misdemeanor.

"He was around the yard sorter playing and he started walking off," Mr. Gaither recounted. "There was a young fellow, one of the bosses, up in a pine tree and he had his gun and shot at the little negro and shot this side of his face off," Mr. Gaither said as he pointed to the left side of his face. The teenager ran into the woods and died. Days later, a dog appeared in the camp dragging the boy's arm in its mouth, Mr. Gaither said. The homicide was never investigated.

Called to testify before the commission, Mr. Hurt lounged in the witness chair, relaxed and unapologetic for any aspect of the sprawling businesses.

Another witness before the commission, former chief warden Jake Moore, testified that no prison guard could ever "do enough whipping for Mr. Hurt." "He wanted men whipped for singing and laughing," Mr. Moore told the panel.

In response to the revelations, Gov. Hoke Smith called a special session of the state Legislature, which authorized a public referendum on the fate of the system. In October 1908, Georgia's nearly all-white electorate voted by a 2-to-1 margin to abolish the system as of March 1909. Without prison labor, business collapsed at Chattahoochee Brick. Production fell by nearly 50% in the next year. Total profit dwindled to less than $13,000.

The apparent demise of Georgia's system of leasing prisoners seemed a harbinger of a new day. But the harsher reality of the South was that the new post-Civil War neoslavery was evolving -- not disappearing.

Five days after the Japanese attack, on Dec. 12, 1941, Mr. Biddle issued a directive -- Circular No. 3591 -- to all federal prosecutors acknowledging the history of unwritten federal policy to ignore most reports of involuntary servitude.

He wrote: "It is the purpose of these instructions to direct the attention of the United States Attorneys to the possibilities of successful prosecutions stemming from alleged peonage complaints which have heretofore been considered inadequate to invoke federal prosecution."

The Justice Department recently had formed its Civil Rights Section, created primarily to investigate cases related to anti-organized-labor efforts. It began shifting its focus to discrimination and racial abuse -- issues more commonly associated with the term "civil rights" today.

Mr. Biddle wrote: "In the United States one cannot sell himself as a peon or slave -- the law is fixed and established to protect the weak-minded, the poor, the miserable. ...Any such sale or contract is positively null and void and the procuring and causing of such contract to be made violates [the] statutes."

He ordered all Department of Justice investigators to entirely drop reference to peonage in their written reports. Instead, they were to label every file "Involuntary Servitude and Slavery."

In August 1942, a letter from a 16-year-old black boy arrived at the Department of Justice alleging that Charles Bledsoe -- the Alabama man who had received a $100 fine for peonage -- still was holding members of the teen's family against their will. Despite Mr. Biddle's strong directive, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover initially saw no need to pursue the matter. The U.S. attorney in Mobile, Ala., Francis H. Inge, was similarly uninterested.

"No active investigation will be instituted," Mr. Hoover wrote to Assistant Attorney General Wendell Berge.

But seven months into World War II, with the nation anxious to mobilize every possible soldier and counter every thrust of Japan's and Germany's propaganda machines, Mr. Berge directed Mr. Hoover to look further.

"In accordance with the request of the Attorney General that we expedite cases related to Negro victims, it will be appreciated if this matter is given preference," Mr. Berge wrote in a terse letter ordering Mr. Inge into action.

"Enemy propagandists have used similar episodes in international broadcasts to the colored race, saying that the democracies are insincere and that the enemy is their friend," Mr. Berge continued. "There have been received from the President an instruction that lynching complaints shall be investigated as soon as possible; that the results of the investigation be made public in all instances, and the persons responsible for such lawless acts vigorously prosecuted. The Attorney General has requested that we expedite other cases related to Negro victims. Accordingly, you are requested to give the [Bledsoe] matter your immediate attention."

Mr. Biddle's civil-rights lawyers began to reassess the legal breadth of the constitutional amendments ending slavery, the Reconstruction-era statutes passed to enforce them and other largely forgotten laws, such as the antebellum Slave Kidnapping Act. That pre-Civil War measure made it illegal to capture or hold forced laborers in U.S. territory where slavery was prohibited.

As World War II progressed, the Department of Justice vigorously prosecuted U.S. Sugar Co. in Florida for forcing black men into its sugarcane fields. Sheriffs who colluded with the company were brought to trial.

Early in September 1942, a team of FBI agents, highway patrolmen and deputies descended on a remote farm near Beeville, Texas. There they arrested a white farmer, Alex Skrobarcek, and his adult daughter, Susie Skrobarcek.

The two initially were charged in a state court with maiming a mentally retarded black worker named Alfred Irving. But a month later, lawyers at the Department of Justice drew a federal indictment alleging that the pair had held Mr. Irving in slavery for at least four years. They were accused of repeatedly beating the man with whips, chains and ropes -- so much so that he was physically disfigured from the abuse.

Signaling the significance of the case, a special assistant to Mr. Biddle actively participated in prosecuting the trial. The defendants were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Federal officials made clear that the case was intended to send a message: The U.S. government was finally serious about ending involuntary servitude.

"The Skrobarczyk [sic] trial and its conclusion undoubtedly will be have given a decisive setback to the enemy propaganda machine...urging...negroes that their proper place in this conflict is with the yellow race," editorialized the Corpus Christi Times.

Two years later, President Truman's Committee on Civil Rights recommended bolstering the antislavery statute to plainly criminalize involuntary servitude. In 1948, the entire federal criminal code was dramatically rewritten, further clarifying such laws.

More Important News You've Missed: The Smiley Face Is Free

You probably didn't even know Wal-Mart owned it.

Or thought or wished or lied it did.

No matter.

It's free!

How To Sleep Safely From Terrorist Attacks

It's not by supporting Our Leaders.

This is how.

You Need To Know About This

A blog about finger tats.

All About Rev. Moon

You don't hear about him much anymore but he's still up to evil.

Homeland Security Threat Colors For Spring

Via Wired!

Important News Update: You Can Now Wear Nipple Rings On Airplanes

No comment can be worthy of this stupidity.

Link to the TSA's quick surrender to sensibility.

Required Reading: How Our Leaders Got So Screwed Up With Iraq

I'm not even copying a word: Too good to snip, too long to run.

But essential.

Read it here now!

The Nipple Ring Threat To Air-flight Security

Viddie Of The Day

It's Xeni and BoibgBoingTV. It doesn't get better than that!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Near Funny Quote

"Too bad that all the people who know how to run
the country are driving taxi cabs and cutting hair."
-- George Burns

How We're Being Made Safer

Nipple rings a threat....
A Texas woman who claims she was forced to remove a nipple ring with pliers in order to board an airplane called Thursday for an apology by federal security agents and a civil rights investigation.

"I wouldn't wish this experience upon anyone," Mandi Hamlin, 37, said at a news conference in Los Angeles. "My experience with TSA was a nightmare I had to endure. No one deserves to be treated this way."

Hamlin said she was trying to board a flight from Lubbock to Dallas on Feb. 24 when she was scanned by a Transportation Security Administration agent after passing through a larger metal detector without problems.

The female TSA agent used a handheld detector that beeped when it passed in front of Hamlin's chest, the Dallas-area resident said.

Hamlin said she told the woman that she was wearing nipple piercings. The female agent then called over her male colleagues, one of whom said she would have to remove the body piercings, Hamlin claimed.

Hamlin said she could not remove them and asked if she could instead display her pierced breasts in private to the female agent. But several other male officers told her she could not board her flight until the jewelry was removed, she said.

She was taken behind a curtain and managed to remove one bar-shaped nipple piercing but had trouble with the second, a ring.

"Still crying, she informed the TSA officer that she could not remove it without the help of pliers, and the officer gave a pair to her," said Hamlin's attorney, Gloria Allred, reading from a letter she sent Thursday to the director of the TSA's Office of Civil Rights and Liberties. Allred is a well-known Los Angeles lawyer who often represents high-profile claims.

Hamlin showed reporters at the news conference how she took off the second ring by applying pliers to the torso of a mannequin that had a peach-colored bra with the rings on it.

She said she heard male TSA agents snickering as she took out the ring. She was scanned again and was allowed to board even though she still was wearing a belly button ring.

"After nipple rings are inserted, the skin can often heal around the piercing, and the rings can be extremely difficult and painful to remove," Allred said.

TSA officials said they were investigating Hamlin's allegations to see if its policies were followed.

"Our security officers are well-trained to screen individuals with body piercings in sensitive areas with dignity and respect while ensuring a high level of security," the agency said in a statement.

On its Web site, the TSA warns that passengers "may be additionally screened because of hidden items such as body piercings, which alarmed the metal detector."

"If you are selected for additional screening, you may ask to remove your body piercing in private as an alternative to a pat-down search," the site reads.

Hamlin would have accepted a "pat-down" had it been offered, Allred said.

If an alarm does sound, "until that is resolved, we're not going to let them go through the checkpoint, no matter what they're wearing or where they're wearing it," said TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird in Salt Lake City.

People routinely pass through security wearing wedding rings without problems and it might take a larger bit of metal to trigger an alarm, Baird said.

"I'd be really curious to know what this woman had in her nipples," he said. "Sometimes they have a chain between their nipples, or a chain between their nipples and their belly button. It would have to be made of heavy metal to be detected."

Transportation Security employees are required to check anything that raises concerns at checkpoints, Baird said.

"No matter what it is, if it's something that unduly alarms people or sets off the sensors they must check it," Baird said. "But I've never heard of any of our people having anyone remove something that sounds as small as a nipple ring."

Allred said celebrity Nicole Richie had her breasts inspected by security at an airport because of her nipple rings several years ago. Baird said he was not aware of the Richie incident either.

Hamlin filed a complaint but the TSA's customer service manager at the Lubbock airport concluded the screening was handled properly, Allred said.

Hamlin wants an apology from the TSA and an investigation by the agency's civil rights office.

Allred said she might consider legal action if the TSA does not apologize.
Hamlin was publicly humiliated and has "undergone an enormous amount of physical pain to have the nipple rings reinserted" because of scar tissue," Allred said.

Hamlin said her piercings have never set off an airport metal detector. She added that she will never fly out of Lubbock again.

"The conduct of TSA was cruel and unnecessary," Allred said. "The last time that I checked a nipple was not a dangerous weapon."

We Have Succeeded In Bringing Freedom Of Speech... To Iraq

Thanks to Our Leaders' success in Iraq, we now learn the world is flat:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

How Bear Stearns Will Destroy The World

More or less.... Link.

The Saint To Housing Victims

Drop dead!

Blaming the victims.... That's the GOP way.

The Latest Idiocy Of The Saint

It should stay fresh for a awhile; he should be sleeping now. Link.

The Coming George W. Bush Library

See the designs:

Read more.

Our Leaders Clearly Couldn't Get It Right Even If They Wanted To

Or maybe intel really was as deficient at the Pentagon as the Rummy and his neo-cons claimed.

Even More Proof Of Our Continuing Failure In Iraq


The Iraq Winter Soldiers Speak Out


And Maybe The Saint's Brain Is Just Busted -- Another Qualification To Succeed Beloved Leader: Both Are Mental Defects

So much for snark; the case is made here.

Book Of The Day

The tragedy of Iraq told with pain-relieving wit; take a break from crying....

John Ford's Last Film

See it here. And a couple of years earlier, he had done a revisionist western.... Go figure....

The D.B. Cooper Mystery -- Solved


Just in case you care. I don't. Next: Another sucky, boring movie no one will see.

In Case You Need Yet Another Example Of Our Leaders' Ineptitude And HAtred Of Competent Governance


Corruption In Adoption Of Guatemalan Children And Babies

Via Xeni.

Video Of The Day

Blindly linked to a piece from "Hot Dog", the greatest kids' show ever (only competition is WNEW's Wonderama when Sonny Fox hosted it). This may or may not be the same clip; probably but dunno. But it's all good.

Go to the YouTube page (URL in the menu) and see links to more clips!

Read And See How Fucked Up And Corrupt Big Media Journalism Is


Before There Was The Unbridled Greed Of Global Capitalism....

...there was the Bible, the Old Testaments, specifically, and more specifically, the story of Joseph: You put something away during the flush years for the punk years.

And that's what Keynesian economics really is: the story of Joseph.

And now, as the world faces the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, JMK is becoming fashionable again.

Life In These United States: The Death Of Freedom Of Dissent

-- which is was the Bill of Rights' freedom of speech is all about.

I thought governing so as to have a complete lack of respect for the Constitution was impeachable. Apparently only lying about cheating on your wife is....
In the early morning hours of May 21, 2001, a group of five men and women dressed in dark clothing and carrying backpacks crept close to the Center of Urban Horticulture on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. One of the intruders cut open a window of a ground-floor office; another climbed through it and placed a digital alarm clock wired to a 9-volt battery and a model-rocket igniter in the drawer of a filing cabinet. Next to the cabinet, he filled plastic tubs with gasoline. He set the timer and climbed back out the window.

Not long after, at about 3 a.m., a university security officer driving on his rounds saw "billowing smoke and flames" rising from the building. The building's cedar latticework had acted as kindling and the fire raced to the roof. From a city park a few miles away, the arsonists listened to the firefighters on an emergency scanner.

It took firefighters two hours to put out the flames. By that time the office where the fire had started had burned down to the studs, and the central hall and several botany labs were damaged. Damages were estimated at $2.5 million. The morning after the fire, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sifted through the ash but found no fingerprints. Any hairs that might have yielded a DNA signature had been incinerated.

Ten days later, the Earth Liberation Front, a loose group of underground activists who had burned a horse-slaughtering plant, logging company headquarters, SUV dealerships and a luxurious Vail ski lodge built on mountain lynx habitat, claimed responsibility for the fire. The group explained that it had targeted the office of Toby Bradshaw, a plant geneticist who they believed was genetically engineering trees for the benefit of the timber industry. They said his research would "unleash mutant genes into the environment" and "cause irreversible harm to forest ecosystems."

Federal and local authorities launched an exhaustive investigation, code-named Operation Backfire. For nearly two years, the FBI had no real leads in the Washington case or 16 other ELF arsons. The Earth Liberation Front is a secretive, amorphous group, with no structure or leaders or formal membership. It is more of a movement than an organization; anyone with a rage against ecological destruction and a match can act in the name of the ELF. The FBI didn't know where to go looking for them.

In spring 2003, FBI agents finally got their first break. They closed in on Jacob Ferguson, a heroin-addicted drifter who played in a metal band called Eat Shit Fuckface, and who had insinuated himself into the radical environmental movement -- no doubt finding a convenient outlet for the pyromaniacal tendencies he'd exhibited since the age of 8.

Ferguson quickly turned informant. He admitted to setting the first fire attributed to the ELF in the United States, in 1996, and to 12 additional arsons, mostly in Oregon. Although many ELF "elves" knew only two or three others, Ferguson knew pretty much everyone. Prosecutors dispatched him across the country -- from Arizona to Massachusetts -- to meet with his former compatriots and record their conversations with a hidden wire. Soon the FBI was knocking on doors across the country.

Most of the suspected arsonists, if convicted, would face at least 30 years in prison. Lured with promises of reduced sentences, friends turned in friends, boyfriends offered up the names of girlfriends. Recriminations flew. Those who named names "have dishonored themselves ... by becoming vicious traitors and tools of the state," wrote two non-cooperators in the Earth First! journal. In 2006, the trail of accusations led the FBI to the door of a quiet 32-year-old violin teacher in Berkeley, Calif., named Briana Waters.

Earlier this month, on March 6, a federal jury in Tacoma, Wash., found Waters guilty of two counts of arson for serving as a lookout at the University of Washington fire. According to two women who testified against her in return for dramatically reduced sentences, Waters hid in a shrub near the Center for Urban Horticulture with a walkie-talkie, ready to alert the others if the campus police strolled by. Waters testified she wasn't even in Seattle that night.

Although Waters was on trial for only the University of Washington arson, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Friedman charged that she was part of a conspiracy -- a member of a "prolific cell" of the Earth Liberation Front, responsible for 17 fires set in four states over five years. Ten conspirators have pleaded guilty and been sentenced; four have fled the country; three are awaiting sentencing. Waters, the only one of the accused to have pleaded innocent and therefore the only one to have stood trial, now faces 20 years in prison.

The group's alleged ringleader, William Rodgers, avoided a trial in his own way. From his jail cell in Flagstaff, Ariz., two weeks after his arrest in December 2005, he wrote, "I chose to fight on the side of the bears, mountain lions, skunks, bats, saguaros, cliff roses and all things wild. But tonight ... I am returning home, to the Earth, the place of my origins." He placed a plastic bag over his head and suffocated himself. According to medical records, Rodgers was found with his right arm raised, his hand held tight in a fist -- the Earth First! symbol of resistance.

Prosecutors celebrated the guilty verdict against Waters as a signal victory in the campaign against "eco-terror," a mission that the U.S. Department of Justice has made the centerpiece of its domestic counterterrorism program. "This cell of eco-terrorists thought they had a 'right' to sit in judgment and destroy the hard work of dedicated researchers at the UW and elsewhere," U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sullivan declared in announcing Waters' conviction. "Today's verdict shows that no one is above the law."

Civil libertarians draw a different moral from the verdict. For them it is evidence of how the Justice Department has exaggerated the threat of eco-sabotage; they see Waters' story as a disturbing example of the misuse of federal authority and the excessive reach of the American counterterrorism program in the wake of 9/11. As Lauren Regan, director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, Ore., remarks: "There's a question of whether burning property is really the equivalent of flying a plane into a building and killing humans."

Briana Waters wouldn't seem to fit the profile of a dangerous terrorist. The daughter of an engineer and a stay-at-home mother, Waters was raised in suburban Philadelphia and migrated west to attend Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., a magnet for left political activists. She has long, straw-colored hair and blue-gray eyes, and always seems to hold her shoulders forward, like a girl who is shy about being tallest in her sixth-grade class. At Evergreen, she became head of the campus animal rights organization and led nature hikes through the nearby woods, teaching people how to identify native plants.

In her senior year, she participated in a prolonged campaign to prevent logging in the old-growth forest on Watch Mountain, part of the Cascade Mountain range. Her senior project was a documentary film about the protest, an elegy to the cooperation between Earth First! members and the residents of a small town, who together climbed into the canopy and refused to come down for five months, until Congress promised the public lands would not be handed over to the timber company. The protest saved 28,000 acres of wilderness.

Kim Marks, an Evergreen graduate who joined the tree-sit, remembers Waters playing her violin as she perched in the treetops. "It was the most amazing thing to be 120 feet up in the canopy and hear this beautiful fiddle music floating through the forest," Marks says.

Waters certainly brushed up against the radical environmentalist milieu, even if she was not one of the "elves." Her boyfriend at the time, fellow Evergreen student Justin Solonz, has been indicted for building the device that sparked the Center for Urban Horticulture fire, and she was friendly with others in the ELF underground.

But Waters has insisted she had nothing to do with underground activities. She testified at her trial that in May 2001, the month of the arson, she was busy promoting her film, showing it to college audiences on the West Coast. She has no specific recollection of where she was on the 21st; most likely, she said, she was sleeping at home in Olympia. She told the jury that the Watch Mountain protest, especially her experience building bridges between students and locals, and even logging families, impressed her as a model of sound activism, and confirmed her belief that more extreme measures, like arson, were "alienating" and counterproductive.

As it turned out, the University of Washington Horticulture building was a poor target for arson. Among the items destroyed were hundreds of photographs documenting plant regeneration on Mount St. Helens after the volcanic eruption, research on wetlands and prairie restoration, and a collection of rare showy stickseed plants that were being raised to replenish dwindling wild stocks in the Cascade Mountains. Bradshaw, the targeted professor, has said that although he had considered doing genetic engineering, he was not at the time of the fire. Rather he was conducting basic research on hybrid poplars, a fast-growing species that could reduce the pressure for logging in natural forests.

About a year after the fire, in 2002, Waters left her college town and moved to Berkeley, where she made her living teaching children violin and playing in Balkan and Irish folk music groups. She met her partner, John Landgraf, a carpenter, at a summer music retreat, and had a baby girl, Kalliope. She had little contact with the radicals she'd met in Olympia, and was only marginally involved in environmental causes.

But while Waters had moved away from the old radical environmental circles, the hunt for "eco-terrorists" was intensifying. During the 1990s, the FBI's domestic terrorism division focused on militias, white supremacists and cults like the Branch Davidians. But after 9/11, the agency began shifting its priorities.

Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert Mueller decided "they were going to restructure the FBI as a terrorism prevention organization rather than just a crime-fighting organization," explains Ben Rosenfeld, a civil rights attorney in San Francisco. The FBI vastly expanded its domestic and international terrorism capabilities, adding whole new categories of crime to its terrorism portfolio. Acts once considered property crimes -- like the arson at the University of Washington -- were now assigned not to the bureau's criminal division but to the terrorism division.

In testimony before a Senate committee in February 2002, James Jarboe, the FBI's domestic terrorism chief, alerted the public to this new mission, warning that the ELF and its sister organization, the Animal Liberation Front, had become a "serious terrorist threat." By May 2005, agents in 35 FBI offices would be investigating 104 separate incidents of "animal rights/eco-terrorist activities," including the fires set by the ELF in the Pacific Northwest.

In the wake of 9/11, federal prosecutors had some new legal tools at their disposal. Historically, the crime of terrorism has required civilian deaths. In fact, the State Department defined terrorism as "premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatants." But the USA Patriot Act created a new category of domestic terrorism, which is defined as an offense "calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government" or "to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Under this broad definition, eco-saboteurs become terrorists if their crime seeks to change government policy or action.

Several Republican members of Congress didn't want to stop there. In a letter sent to eight mainstream environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Colorado Rep. Scott McInnis and six other congressmen demanded that respectable environmental organizations "publicly disavow the actions of eco-terrorist organizations." In 2006, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which imposes severe punishments on anyone who "intentionally damages or causes the loss of any real or personal property used by an animal enterprise."

During her trial at the Union Station Courthouse in Tacoma, Waters sat straight in an oversize leather chair, her hair pulled back in a rubber band. She wore gold wire-rimmed glasses and sometimes bit her nails as she listened to the proceedings.

In his opening statement before the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Friedman described how Rodgers, the unofficial leader of the University of Washington arsons, organized a series of instructional and strategizing meetings, which took place in five different cities. The group shared information on lock picking, reconnaissance, and the construction of devices that could ignite a fire. They also used the meetings to select targets and gather recruits for their "actions." They called their gatherings Book Club meetings because they communicated with coded messages, using passages from a book as the key. (At one meeting it was Ursula Le Guin's portentous novel "The Dispossessed"; at another, "The Only World We've Got," by environmental philosopher Paul Shepard.)

Waters and the other members of the group took "extraordinary measures," Friedman told the jury, to conceal their identities and their movements: adopting aliases, meeting in public places not associated with any of them, building their incendiary devices in a "clean room" to eliminate DNA evidence. The ELF activists were "organized in cells so if some are discovered the others can continue," Friedman explained. "It's a classic structure for a terrorist or a guerrilla organization."

On the witness stand, Waters declared that she never had an alias, never attended the clandestine Book Club meetings, and never saw any fire-starting device being built anywhere near her house. The prosecution argued that Waters had met with the arsonists at 8 p.m. in Seattle on the night of the crime. Defense lawyers presented a bank card receipt that shows Waters made a purchase at 7:12 p.m. in Olympia, 60 miles away, which would have made it difficult for her to have been in Seattle at 8 p.m.

The government's case against Waters rested heavily on the testimony of two informants, a radical journalist named Lacey Phillabaum and a yacht-racing aficionado with a master's degree in astrophysics named Jennifer Kolar. Both testified Waters was the lookout on campus that night.

Yet as Waters' defense attorneys pointed out, their initial statements to the FBI about the University of Washington fire contradicted one another. Kolar, who worked in high-tech jobs in Seattle and used her expertise to teach encryption at the Book Club meetings, apparently did not identify Waters as a co-conspirator the first time she was interviewed by the FBI in December 2005; instead, she named four others, giving their aliases. Neither did she identify Waters the next four or five times she spoke with the authorities.

During the trial, FBI special agent Anthony Torres acknowledged that nearly two months before Kolar named Waters as a participant in the arson, she'd been shown a photo of Waters and had identified her by name. But she did not say then that Waters had been involved. It was only several weeks after Kolar's first FBI interview, during the time she was seeking to trade information for an advantageous plea deal, that she told her lawyer that she suddenly "remembered" Waters had been at the Center for Urban Horticulture that night. A third cooperating defendant, Stanislas Meyerhoff, who had earlier implicated Phillabaum, his own fiancée, in the fire, told investigators that he was "familiar" with Waters but that she was "not involved" in the arson.

During the tense three-week trial, Waters' lawyers accused the prosecution of misconduct, including falsification of FBI reports to conceal evidence favorable to her defense. Documents produced in court reveal that FBI agents taking notes during their first conversation with Kolar dutifully recorded that she specifically named four collaborators. None of the four was Waters. A typed version of that interview, admitted into evidence in the trial, says only that Kolar identified "Avalon" (the code name of Rodgers) and "some others."

The jury was unconvinced that these inconsistencies constituted reasonable doubt. Although the jurors could not reach a unanimous decision on several counts -- including a "destructive device" charge -- they convicted Waters on two counts of arson, each of which carries a minimum sentence of five years (running concurrently) and a maximum of 20. She could spend as much as two decades behind bars for allegedly holding a walkie-talkie.

"Obviously we were thrilled by the verdict," says First Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Bartlett. "There is a price for people to pay for not showing any remorse, for not accepting responsibility. It will be up to the judge to determine how big a price that is."

Waters' lawyer, Robert Bloom, remains outraged. Prosecutors "used scare-mongering to get the jury to convict an innocent person," he says. "This is really a study in American prosecution. It was an absurdly slanted American prosecution."

If Waters encounters the full force of the government's anti-terror zeal, it will be when she is sentenced on May 30. Prosecutors have not yet decided whether to seek a "terrorism enhancement" -- a sentencing rule that was written into the federal sentencing guidelines in 1995, after the bombings in Oklahoma City and at the World Trade Center, and would allow the judge to add up to 20 years to her prison term if her crime can be construed as a terrorist act.

Prosecutors sought the enhancement for six of the 10 Operation Backfire arsonists, who have been sentenced already, a significant departure from legal convention. (Meyerhoff, despite his cooperation, received a 13-year sentence.) "Never before has the terrorism enhancement been applied where there were no deaths," says Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center.

If Waters spends more than the minimum of five years in prison, her sentence would be disproportionate to punishments received by other arsonists. "That would be a far harsher standard than fits the crime in a lot of arsons," says Heidi Boghosian, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild. James King, for example, a seasonal firefighter, set two fires in California's Cleveland National Park in the summer of 2001 in order to score some extra paydays. More than 50 acres of pristine wilderness were razed. King received a jail term of 30 months and a fine; he was also ordered to retire from the firefighting profession.

Today, as Waters sits in the Federal Detention Center in Seattle, awaiting sentencing, environmentalists and civil libertarians worry that her conviction may beat a path to more convictions, including of nonviolent protesters. In recent years, a number of states have passed laws aimed at eco-sabotage that could implicate law-abiding groups along with the lawbreakers. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a right-leaning, corporate-backed association of state legislators, has written legislation that defines any act of destruction aimed at protecting animal rights or punishing ecological despoilers as terrorism. At least 14 states have introduced bills since 2001 based on this model, and they have passed in Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The problem with such laws, says David Willett of the Sierra Club, is they can be used "to crack down on environmental groups engaged in legitimate activities as well."

Nonviolent protesters have already felt the heat. Documents obtained in 2005 by the ACLU reveal that the FBI has been surveying animal rights and environmental groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace, sending undercover agents to activist conferences and cultivating inside informants. Some of the documents suggest that the bureau was also attempting to link those groups with the ELF and ALF. The National Lawyers Guild reports that it receives calls regularly from environmental and animal-rights activists all over the country who had been contacted by the FBI after attending political events. "It has a chilling effect on free speech," says Guild director Boghosian, "and that's where the real damage to the Constitution is happening."

On March 3, while jurors in the Waters trial were deliberating, three luxury houses for sale in a suburban Seattle cul-de-sac called "Street of Dreams" -- a plot of land surrounded by wetlands -- were destroyed by fire. A banner at the scene pointed to the culprit: the Earth Liberation Front. The FBI immediately announced that the fire "is being investigated as a domestic terrorism act."

Just In Case You Need More Bad News From Iraq....


Invasion Of The Dittoheads

Monday marked the voter registration deadline for the April 22 Pennsylvania presidential primary. The state holds a "closed" primary, meaning that voters must be registered as members of a particular party before they can vote for one of the party's candidates. As we noted in an earlier post, in the weeks leading up to the deadline, the Obama campaign made a huge, statewide effort to persuade independent and Republican voters to register as Democrats.

Though the official number of newly registered Democrats will not be known for about a week, today various media outlets are already reporting on the huge upsurge in Pennsylvania's registered Democrats. Time reports that "so far [Democratic] registration has swelled 84,801 since the 2006 elections -- that's 11 percent of the 790,000 people who voted in the 2004 Democratic primary," and with more than 50,000 people registering as Democrats in just the last week, now, for the first time in the state's history, there are more than 4 million registered Democrats.

What's especially astonishing about these numbers is the large number of Republican conversions: 86,711 Republicans and independents have switched their party affiliation since the start of 2008. Brett Lieberman of the Patriot-News writes that the Republican Party has lost 30,000 voters in the state since last November.

Until the primary occurs (and perhaps not even then), no one will know for sure if the rise in registered Democrats was a result of the Obama campaign's efforts or just a part of the increased voter participation witnessed across the nation during this primary season. However, not everyone is interpreting these statistics as a boon for the Democrats. In a story for ABC News, Keith Staskeiwicz advances a more conspiratorial theory about the newly registered Democrats. Staskeiwicz writes, "While many of the new Democrats appear to be moderates or independents who simply want to be a part of the process, county voter registration officials in central Pennsylvania told that many new registrants spoke openly about changing their party affiliation to give McCain 'a better shot in November.'" Staskeiwicz relies on reports from "officials in Perry and Northumberland counties in central Pennsylvania" to support his claim that Republican voters are heeding the advice of Rush Limbaugh to vote for Hillary Clinton in order to prolong the Democratic primary process as long as possible.

More State Department Spying

Really, doesn't this make you feel safer?
State Department workers viewed passport applications containing personal information about high-profile Americans, including the late Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith, at least 20 times since January 2007, The Associated Press has learned.

That total is far more than disclosed last week with the news that presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama had been victims of improper snooping.

An internal department review has found the additional instances of department employees or contractors looking at computerized passport files of politicians and celebrities, according to preliminary results.

It has not been determined if the new cases also involved improper peeking, officials familiar with the review said Wednesday. Smith's case, however, seems legitimate, the officials said. The review is not complete and the exact number of cases was not yet clear.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the review is going on at the same time as the department's own watchdog investigates passport record security related to the breaches involving the White House candidates.

Smith, 39, died in February 2007 death from an accidental overdose in Florida and was buried in the Bahamas, where she had moved in 2006. The review of her passport file appears to have come after a legitimate request from the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas for information needed to complete her death certificate, the officials said.

Supervisors recorded each instance a file was viewed because the applications in question belonged to members of a select group of several hundred citizens whose passport files were "flagged" for extra protection due to their visibility, the officials said. Among these people are government leaders, movie stars and athletes, the officials said.

The list maintained by Bureau of Consular Affairs has included as many as 500 people at any one time, they said. The list is kept secret partly to deter workers from making unauthorized inquiries into high-profile records. Although there are no formal criteria for inclusion, people on the list are deemed to warrant special consideration because of their public status, the officials said.

The investigation begun by the department's inspector general after last week's disclosure covers some of the same ground as the internal review but also will examine whether the searches of the candidates' records were politically motivated. Thus far, officials say they believe that snooping resulted from "imprudent curiosity."

Two contractors were fired and a third disciplined for breaching Obama's records three times and McCain's records once. A department employee who looked at Clinton's file as part of a training exercise was reprimanded.

The companies that provided the contractors — Stanley Inc., of Arlington, Va., and The Analysis Corp., or TAC, of McLean, Va. — have said their employees' actions were unauthorized and not consistent with company policies.

Accessing any of the flagged files triggers an automatic notification that the record has been viewed. That allows supervisors to check whether it was done for a legitimate reason, such as an official request for verification of information contained in an actual passport.

The review being conducted by Patrick Kennedy, undersecretary of state for management, is expected to result in increased security measures for the passport files of flagged individuals, the officials said.

The most likely step would mean special security for those records, making them accessible to passport employees only after they get permission to view them from a supervisor, the officials said.

That restriction now applies to the files of the three candidates. Kennedy hopes to have it cover all high-profile records before the inspector general's report is completed and ahead of congressional hearings on passport security, the officials said.

In addition, Kennedy wants to expand the list to more than 500 individuals, they said.

But that is unlikely to pre-empt calls for a separate Justice Department investigation into whether the breaches of the candidates' files violated federal laws. Nor would it address concerns that the files of millions of people not considered high-profile enough for the extra protection may also have been improperly accessed.

It is unclear what the contractors might have seen in the candidates' records. Passport applications typically contain only basic personal information such as name, citizenship, age, Social Security number and place of birth. The files generally would not list countries the person has traveled to.

But Passport Services maintain other records that can include information such as marriages overseas, court orders, arrest warrants and medical and financial reports. Further, outside "users" — including other government agencies and foreign governments — may be given certain information.

But the department says extraneous information would be included in passport application files only under rare circumstances, such as suspected fraud. Also, foreign governments are not given access to the U.S. electronic system that contains the files, it said.

A Song For Our Times -- From 30 Years Ago

Everything old....

Once the religious, the hunted and weary
Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
Came to this country to build a new vision
Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope
Like good Christians, some would burn the witches
Later some got slaves to gather riches

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

And once the ties with the crown had been broken
Westward in saddle and wagon it went
And 'til the railroad linked ocean to ocean
Many the lives which had come to an end
While we bullied, stole and bought our a homeland
We began the slaughter of the red man

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
And she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

The blue and grey they stomped it
They kicked it just like a dog
And when the war over
They stuffed it just like a hog

And though the past has it's share of injustice
Kind was the spirit in many a way
But it's protectors and friends have been sleeping
Now it's a monster and will not obey

The spirit was freedom and justice
And it's keepers seem generous and kind
It's leaders were supposed to serve the country
But now they won't pay it no mind
'Cause the people grew fat and got lazy
And now their vote is a meaningless joke
They babble about law and order
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told
Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watchin'

Our cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is stranglin' the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can't understand
We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole worlds got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner
We can't pay the cost
'Cause there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into a noose
And it just sits there watching

America where are you now?
Don't you care about your sons and daughters?
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Everyone Else Is Linking To

But it's cool: this year seen 40 years ago.

McCain's Lovers

Link to this and a whole lot more of the love.

Cheney To Our Dead Troops

"You asked for it."

What We Had, What Our Leaders (Past And Future) Hate, What We Have To Fight For

Sheer Torture... Worse Than Waterboarding

THE CRUDDIEST MOMENT OF THE CRAPPIEST DAY OF MY LIFE ON EARTH happened as I found myself watching five televisions simultaneously, each containing a different political pundit opining on the same subject. When I looked down toward my computer screen to see what the bloggers were saying about it, I noticed that a button on my shirt had come undone.

There I was, literally contemplating my own navel. But I didn't even crack a smile because, in the relentless drone of insipid opinion, irony no longer held any meaning.

I knew then that this whole thing had been a very poor idea, one from which I would not return undamaged. Because the clock on the wall said I still had 14 hours to go.

THE BEST-INFORMED PERSON I EVER KNEW was a friend of my grandfather's back in the Bronx, where I grew up. Every morning of every day of his life, this elderly man -- his name, as I recall, was Boris -- would dress impeccably in a suit and waistcoat and shuffle to the public library, where more than a dozen of the day's local and out-of-town newspapers were threaded through bamboo poles and hung from racks. One by one, Boris would read them all, front to back; at dusk, he would walk home alone. This daily pilgrimage was conducted with ecclesiastic solemnity, a quiet, dignified homage to the majesty of knowledge. Even as a little boy, in that intuitive if primitive way that children comprehend important things, I understood the fundamental truth that Boris was, in some clear but compelling way, a douche bag.

It is possible to know too much. It is possible to care too much. Hunger for information can become gluttony.

This has always been true, but it is more so now because the opportunities for abuse are greater. There are too many voices, competing too hard, fighting for attention, ranting, redundant, random. The dissemination of fact and opinion is no longer the sole province of people and institutions with the money to buy network monopolies or ink by the ton, as it was a half-century ago when information was delivered to us, for better or worse, like the latest 1950s-era cigarette: filtered, for an illusion of safety. Now, all is out of control. Everyone with a computer is a potential pundit; anyone with a video camera can be on a screen.

And so it has come to this: a Web site called, which brags, in its mission statement, that it "auto-generates a news summary every 5 minutes, drawing on experts and pundits, insiders and outsiders, media professionals and amateur bloggers." Driven by algorithm, largely unimpeded by the human mind, this information-aggregating Web site offers an obsessively updated menu of hyperlinks to hundreds of morsels of political news and commentary, many of which lead to dozens more of the same, creating a bottomless pyramid of punditry, a tessellated spider work of interconnected news and opinion that canvasses virtually everything that is being publicly written or uttered minute by minute on every subject everywhere by everyone.

There's a colorful analogy for living in an age of information overload. When I couldn't remember it, I went to Google and typed in "analogy" and "information overload." Twenty-six hundredths of a second later, after combing through the published thoughts of millions of people, the search engine served up a 6,100-page hierarchy of Web hits sorted by frequency of recent usage. And there it was, second from the top:

"Information overload is like drinking from a fire hose."

Right. We're all getting hosed. No one can consume it all, nor would anyone want to try. You'd drown. So, as best we can, we try to reduce our intake to manageable, gasping, horking gulps, and, in so doing, are able to remain ignorant of the breathtaking, mind-numbing totality of it. But what of that breathtaking, mind-numbing totality? It's not like if you don't see it, it's not there. We are like those 2-year-olds who try to hide, in hide-and-seek, by standing in the middle of a room and covering their eyes.

Surely this neurotic impulse to hear and be heard means something, good or bad, about our national character. Doesn't the world need one individual with the courage and audacity to expose himself to it all -- punditry in newspapers, punditry on TV, punditry on the radio, punditry on the Web -- for 24 hours straight?

No? Well, too late.

I'm back, and I'm here to make my report. I should begin by correcting one important impression.

Not fire-hosing, exactly. Waterboarding.

IT IS THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 14. (For the men in the audience, that would be Valentine's Day.) I have chosen this day not just for its iconic value -- notions of affection and comity might tamp down hostility and partisanship -- but also for the day's position in the cycle of spin. I want an ordinary, representative day; this one is 48 hours after the Potomac primaries and five days before the next one. There is not yet a clear Democratic nominee. Roger Clemens has just unconvincingly twitched, glowered and harrumphed his way through his congressional testimony about the use of performance-enhancing drugs and has already been taken to task for it. Nothing big and newsworthy is on for this Thursday.

For this experiment, conducted alone in a windowless room on the ninth floor of the Arlington offices of, I chose my wardrobe carefully. I remembered something I'd learned 35 years ago from James Howard Kunstler, my friend and colleague. At the time, we were both young reporters in Albany, N.Y. Kunstler had been assigned to wrestle a trained grizzly bear. He knew there was no way to win, but he figured he could at least get flattened in style.

So I, too, wear a tux.

I begin at daybreak, on the theory that this will permit me to get my sea legs as a nation wakes up, yawns, scratches and sleepily begins contemplating the news and assembling its opinions. So, 6 a.m. is when I turn on the six TVs, the two radios and my laptop, which is set to the following rotation of blogs: the Drudge Report, Daily Kos, The Fix, the Corner, Captain's Quarters, Buck Naked Politics, Instapundit, the Page, the Hotline, and, of course, Memeorandum, to make sure I will miss nothing else. When I need to use the bathroom, the computer will go with me.

The clock hits 6, everything blinks to life, and, instantly, all manners of hell are in the process of breaking loose.

MSNBC says James Carville told Larry King that Hillary Clinton has to win Texas and Ohio to remain in the race! On the Moderate Voice, a poster named Damozel says John McCain has capitulated on torture and is now dead to right-leaning Dems! A caller to Joe Madison's radio show complains that Tavis Smiley was an arrogant snob when he snubbed Michelle Obama by not letting her speak somewhere! A body language expert on "Fox & Friends" believes Clemens was lying because he clenched his jaw and licked his lips! On MSNBC's "Morning Joe," someone named Chuck is venturing the bold opinion, and I'm quoting this directly, that to get the nomination, Hillary's best strategy has to be "to start winning, not losing." Because a beagle has won the Westminster dog show, FoxNews is predicting a wave of beaglemania. Instapundit links to another blog that links to another blog, where a blogger says he "still can't decide whether Obama is an empty suit, or worse, a truly excellent dissembler." On something called, a blogger wonders with suspicion why the mainstream media have ignored the insidious fact that, for his birthday, North Korea's Kim Jong Il got a floral basket from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. The Page reports that Hillary Clinton campaign chief Terry McAuliffe says he is "more confident than I have ever been" that Hillary will get the nomination. Immediately, at least four blogs furiously link to a quote by David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager, saying that an Obama victory is nearly inevitable.

People are awake. People are opining, furiously. Only a little more than an hour has passed.

I've got these TVs set up so that five of them are muted. The sixth is my master control; this one has sound, and, minute by minute, I punch up on it whatever seems, from the images, headlines and crawls, most interesting on the silent ones.

There's an item on FoxNews that I switch to hungrily, even though it does not belong in this story because it is not punditry. But, under the circumstances, it has an insistent power of its own. That is because it offers no toehold for discussion, deconstruction or serious argument. It is, in the end, simply and wonderfully no more or less than what it is. I live and breathe in it for the moment.

The headline reads: "Funeral Called Off After Mom Wakes Up!"

"KNOWLEDGE IS NOT INTELLIGENCE." -- Heraclitus of Ephesos.

"Information is not knowledge." -- Albert Einstein.

". . . the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth." -- Umberto Eco.

Print journalism is famously dying; everyone knows it. Reports of its imminent demise are everywhere, and serious reservations exist as to whether the potentates of ink can stay financially afloat by converting to an all-pixel format. If they cannot, it will be bad news for the pundit industry, or pundustry. (This is a word I just coined. As I write this, "pundustry" returned no Google hits. By next month it will generate hundreds. The pundustry will see to it.) Opinion flingers feast on the print media as a source of both information and outrage; on this day, much of the snide and snarling portion of the blogosphere erupted from newspaper stories of the day. One of these, appearing in several newspapers, reported that Hillary Clinton was likely to fight tooth and nail for the nomination, even at a grave cost to Democratic harmony and the party's chances for success in the general election. This story alone, by my imprecise count, was cited by at least 45 blogs, which in turn cited at least 240 other print media stories, online media stories or blog entries, creating a towering souffle of more than 1,400 breathy comments by blog readers.

One blogger on Brilliant at Breakfast is comparing Hillary to Scarlett O'Hara: sullenly possessive of what she deems her property, willing to sow the earth of her plantation with salt to keep it from the grasp of the cackling, evil overseer Jonas Wilkerson, in the person of Barack Obama. I thought this an imperfect but charmingly original analogy; alas, a quick search reveals it is a variation of a recurring pundustry theme, going back at least a year, tweaked and twisted to assert whatever point is to be snarked at the moment. Sometimes, Obama is Scarlett; more often, Hillary is. In one variation, Bill Clinton is Jonas and Hillary is Emmie Slattery, the evil overseer's felicitously named trashy mistress-turned-wife. The pundustry is self-pollinating, but mutations abound, and, when they happen, they advance the narrative. In this way, the Web replicates evolution.

On the radio, Laura Ingraham is finding it outrageous that New York City is going to give out free condoms under the jaunty, double-entendred slogan "Get some!" Laura sneers: "Sex out of wedlock! Let's celebrate!" On TV, Pat Buchanan is thinking John McCain will no longer consider Mike Huckabee as his running mate. The Corner says Slate says Obama could steal the Catholic vote from McCain. The Hotline says Edwards is seriously considering backing Hillary. ABC News says Obama says he and Edwards are buddies. Michelle Malkin calls the mayor of Toledo a "jerk" for somehow dissing the Marines. says the New Republic's Jon-athan Chait says that the reason McCain is attacking Obama is that he secretly would rather run against Hillary. The Huffington Post links to a site that worries that Obama's economic plan might be unworkable. Drudge says an Arizona newspaper says insiders say McCain says he may soon resign his Senate seat. In a crawl, FoxNews asks, "Should McCain Consider Sexy Rice as VP?"

Sexy Rice? I mean, true, but . . . ?

I do a double-take. My bad. It's "Sec'y Rice." Some things are beginning to happen around the start of Hour Five involving the nature of perception. Drowned in information, the brain gets soggy and sloppy.

During the last years of his life, when my father's eyesight began to go, he started hallucinating. He was seeing colorful little people in military uniforms dancing into his fuzzy line of sight; of all the images he could still make out, only these little people were completely and consistently clear. Diagnosis: He was not going mad. He was going blind, and when the brain finds itself starving for imagery, it sometimes creates its own.

Something of the opposite was happening to me: Overwhelmed with words and imagery, harangued with opinion, beset by twaddle, my brain hungered for simplicity and found it. What happens is that you focus on small things. For example, you suddenly become aware that sometime in the last few years, as if in a heinous conspiracy of the dimwitted, Americans have decided that the second month of the year is pronounced Feb-ooh-ery. Not Feb-RU-ery, which is correct, or Feb-YOU-ery, which is ignorant but tragically legitimized by the dictionary, but Feb-OOH-ery, which is a national disgrace far greater, in my opinion, than dissing the Marines. Or so it seems at the moment.

I am still seething over this when I notice an interesting two-pronged phenomenon. Prong one is that there is often an amusing disconnect between the subject of a broadcast and the subject of the news crawl beneath it. Prong two is that if you have five TVs on at the same time, and each features a talking head with the sound muted, and you also have a radio playing, it is very often possible to find one muted talking head whose lips happen to synch uncannily with the radio. And so, with only a little mental effort, one can watch a TV screen upon which George W. Bush strides purposefully down a path beside the White House, looking solemn and concerned, stands at a lectern and begins to speak in Laura Ingraham's voice, whining about condoms, while below him runs a crawl reading, "Man Carrying Adult Diapers Kills Woman With Meat Cleaver."

AT THE START OF HOUR SIX, I realize I am doing something no one else likely has ever done before, something no one should ever do again. I am listening to both Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly simultaneously, on two radios.

Both Rush and Bill start out by disclosing that, earlier that day, Jane Fonda had used the c-word live on NBC's "Today" show; it went unbleeped and at least initially unapologized for.

Somehow, I'd missed it. Fortunately, the gaffe is all over the Web in streaming video, and, yes indeed, here she is, Hanoi Jane herself, the bete noire of right wing radio, flagrantly uttering the unutterable. Clearly, Rush and Bill are courageously willing to address this shocking and distasteful subject even at the risk of driving their audiences into multi-orgasmic rapture.

Limbaugh joyfully eviscerates Fonda and moves quickly on to other things, but O'Reilly is in high dudgeon and is all over this reprehensible event. He's morally outraged, and seems to want to wring all he can get out of it, as though it were, say, a luffa sponge.

As someone in the broadcasting business, he says, he doesn't want to become "the scold police," but he wonders just the same if someone ought to call the FCC and demand punishment. (Later at night, on Fox's "The O'Reilly Factor," he will devote an entire segment to the issue, practically sputtering in exasperation when he can't persuade his guest, lawyer Anita Kay, to agree with him that heads must roll. Kay will point out, reasonably, that Fonda wasn't using the word in a hostile manner; she was simply stating the actual title of one of the monologues from the play "The Vagina Monologues," which is, ironically, about how the word should be destigmatized.) B-b-but "this is the most vile word in the lexicon of obscenity!" O'Reilly protests. Laughing, Kay basically tells him to calm down and grow up, that the average 12-year-old girl has heard this word, and it's no big deal. It's my favorite moment of the day. (Anita Kay, the cure for the common scold.) The peril of listening to Limbaugh and O'Reilly at the same time is that you tend to compare them, and these are dangerous waters for an unapologetic, unreconstructed New Deal liberal like me. The comparison makes you actually like Rush. He's funny; O'Reilly is not. Limbaugh teases and baits his political adversaries; O'Reilly sneers and snarls at them. Limbaugh is mock-heroic; O'Reilly is self-righteous. So, when Limbaugh speculates that the Democrats in the House committee went after Roger Clemens because liberals hate cherished American institutions such as churches, the Boy Scouts and baseball, you know he's sorta kidding. When O'Reilly says liberals who oppose torture of prisoners just don't care how many people will die in a terrorist attack, you know he's as serious as an aneurysm.

Bathed as I am in my new, grudging affection for Rush, I nearly miss out on the experience of witnessing, on live TV, the explosion of a genuine Washington foofahaha.

Foofahahas are half foofaraw and half brouhaha. They occur on Capitol Hill with some regularity, identifiable by their momentary intensity but fleeting duration; typically, they cause a flurry of speechifying and accusation launching, dominating the day's spin cycle. Then they instantly disappear like water in the sand. In this case, congressional Republicans have staged a walkout that had the effect of disrupting the memorial service for Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor and human rights activist. Democrats say the Republicans were disrespecting the memory of a great man; Republicans say they were forced to do it because of a devious, cynical procedural maneuver by the Democrats, who obviously had less regard for the saintly Lantos than the Republicans did. Blogs light up. Each side thinks the other sucks. They are fighting for the moral high ground, which in this case appears to be overrun with weeds.

Meanwhile, The Fix is quoting an unnamed Democratic strategist who says Hillary's best option may be to go negative. The left-leaning Daily Kos is accusing President Bush of "holding another fear-mongering news conference in yet another attempt to scare the living daylights out of the American people for no good reason." But the right-leaning Corner says the president is absolutely right.

The Pentagon reveals it is going to try to shoot down an American spy satellite that is falling out of orbit and contains potentially hazardous fuel. This is met with huzzahs from the pundits on the right, who see this as an affirmation of U.S. technological superiority and a bold strategic message to potential enemies. It is greeted with enormous skepticism from pundits on the left, who mistrust the president, envision an environmental catastrophe from the dispersal of some sort of poison mist and believe we aren't being told the truth about why we're shooting this puppy down and that the real reason probably hides some diabolical administration malfeasance. Each side thinks the other sucks.

A caller named Esther tells O'Reilly he is handsome, and O'Reilly thanks her. A caller named Gary tells Limbaugh he is "an American genius," and Limbaugh playfully adds that he is also a narcissist. Sucking up, Gary then volunteers to Rush that he, Gary, is "so conservative I make Bonnie and Clyde look like Dale Evans and Roy Rogers." Rush wisely lets this inscrutable statement go unquestioned.

Something is bothering me, here as I approach Hour Nine. It's this damned thing with Rush.

It's complicated, but here it is: There's something real about all this palaver all around me; in its own overheated, perfervid way, it's inspiring. You can't get away from that. Unfettered discourse is the sign of a robust democracy. It's a genuine war of ideas out there, being fought by highly committed people who care about the world. And I am no conscientious objector. I'm not a witling. I have opinions. There are timeless truths; there are friends and there are enemies; there is right and there is wrong, and, by God, Rush is wrong. To admire Rush in any way is to consort with the enemy. It's treachery. It's siding with them.

I focus on Rush once again and finally notice something. A toehold.

Limbaugh mocks Obama mercilessly for what he sees as the thinness of his message and the mooing, unquestioning devotion of his supporters. That's all fair game, and Limbaugh prosecutes it with bite, flair and humor. But there's this, this . . . thing he sometimes does -- how did I not notice it before? -- when he pronounces the candidate's last name. He lowers his voice a register and booms it out from his chest, drawing out each syllable. I'd taken it as just a theatrical embellishment, but now I see it for what it is. Rush is reducing Obama's name to an African tribal chant.

"O-bahh-mahh." He makes it sound like: Booga booga. Yo' Mama.

Now, that's ugly.

I'm right. I know I'm right. I'm so right.

I lean back in my chair, at peace again.

At war, again.

Rush sucks.

HOUR 10.

It won't stop, or even slow. It's getting worse.

On CNN's "Situation Room," lefty Donna Brazile and righty Cheri Jacobus are yelling over each other so loudly that it's impossible to hear what the subject is. Something about Mitt Romney, I think.

In the blog Real Clear Politics, the Wall Street Journal's Daniel Henninger says Obama is too gloomy about America.

On more than one TV station, Hillary decries politicians who campaign by issuing packaged sound bites, then offers this: "Some people think words are change. Well, you and I know better. Words are cheap." Nicely done, Hillary, at 7.5 seconds.

Hotline says that polls tell it that some congressman named Harris is in good shape in his district, but someone else named Kirk isn't.

On the radio, Glenn Beck says he knows he will be called a racist, but he is still going to predict that Obama will bankrupt the country.

All this is beginning to take a toll. I want to take a break, get away. But stuff keeps happening. Important stuff.

The Little Green Footballs blog says the mainstream media is shamefully ignoring a report that an Obama campaign staffer in Houston had a Cuban flag and a poster of Che on her wall. The lefty press would be all over it, the blog says, if a McCain staffer had a Confederate flag.

Beck speculates that recent advances in the Mexican economy might be part of an ongoing, diabolical plot to create a European Union-type economy in North America by collapsing ours while boosting Mexico's, until they are in line and we can use the same currency. "Doesn't it suck to figure things out?" Beck asks. "The truth matters!"

Someone is saying somewhere that someone is cravenly misleading someone about something, and I get up from my chair, put on my coat, take the elevator to the lobby and walk out into the street.

It's a nice evening. Not too cold. People walking. No one seems to be arguing with anyone. Nice people, walking. Here's a person.

"Sir, do you think that McCain is going on the offensive against Obama in a subtle but devious attempt to ensure that Hillary is his opponent because her negatives continue to outweigh his negatives but Obama beats him by four to six points, according to the latest 24-hour polling data?"

"Uh, I, uh, never really thought about it," says Anthony Booker of Falls Church, backing away.

Here's another person.

"Ma'am, do you think the congressional minority was disrespecting the memory of Tom Lantos, or were they victimized by a deceitful trap sprung by the majority in a cynical gambit to gain political points, with implications for the national elections?"

"Excuse me?"

I repeat the question. This is Grace Sims of Arlington.

"Well, Mr. Lantos was a wonderful man. But I don't know what you are talking about. I don't even have a computer at home."

"You don't?"

"No. I can't afford one right now."

"Ma'am, you are blessed."

"I am?"



When I return to my dungeon, my step is a little lighter. The real world is okay. It will all be over soon. Only 12 hours to go.

ON CNN'S "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," listeners taking the nightly poll are only in 85 percent agreement with Lou's position, apparently because the question is phrased imprecisely, with a double negative, and people have gotten confused about what they were supposed to say. (Lou almost always gets 95 to 97 percent agreement because his polls generally feature yes-no questions that read like this: "Do you think America should forfeit its future by opening the borders to illegal, chimichanga-chomping busboys?") On MSNBC, Tucker Carlson wonders if The Clintons can make another comeback.

On Fox, someone else is wondering the same thing.

Things are going normally, if numbingly. Then I turn on a radio talk show host named Michael Savage.

Savage is asserting that his sources have told him that Obama owes his candidacy to the support of gay men and that Clinton is bankrolled by "big lesbian money." But, mostly on this night, Savage wants to discuss a radio talk-show competitor of his named Bernie Ward. Savage admits he despises Ward because Ward is an ultra-liberal and also because, at some point in the distant past, Ward tried to hurt Savage professionally in some unspecified way. Savage says he is driven by vengeance and never forgets his enemies.

Tonight, he is gloating because Ward has lost his job and possibly his future freedom. He has been charged with distributing child pornography, has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial later in the year. Savage tells his listeners that he has obtained the police report in the federal case and that it contains details of perversities so repugnant, so obscene, so salacious that a recitation of the facts would nauseate any decent person who hears them.

Then he wonders aloud whether he should read them on the air.

He's not sure. It would pain him to do so, he says gravely, but maybe some social good could come of it or something. He's leaning against it, he says, but is going to leave it up to the listeners. So, he invites callers to vote on whether they want to hear the really filthy, lurid, lewd, licentious stuff.

I click on an online thesaurus to find a stronger word for "shameless." Nothing quite does the job.

Savage is evidently taken by surprise when a few of his early callers actually say they don't want to hear it. He even argues with one of them: Well, you could just turn it off, no?

At this point, for the first time all day, I have muted all the TVs and put my laptop aside. I'm fascinated, if not in a good way. I feel complicit, like a spectator at a hanging.

Inevitably, listeners force his reluctant hand, and Savage begins to dish the dirt. Much of what he reads is a transcript of a 2004 chat room conversation between Ward and a dominatrix who calls herself "Sexfairy." The facts are, indeed, disturbing. In skin-crawling detail, Ward explained to his online dominatrix that he is sexually aroused by young teenage children, including his own kids and their friends. He claimed he has masturbated in their presence. At one point, he allegedly sent the woman a photo showing two minors in a sexual situation with an adult. That's the point at which Sexfairy went to the cops.

What isn't clear is whether this is the truth or some sleazy fantasy world Ward has created for his online persona: Savage grudgingly allows for the second possibility, which is, in fact, Ward's defense. Ward doesn't contest the accuracy of the transcript; he says that he was role-playing. (Less plausible is his contention that this was all innocent research for a book on hypocrisy.) Even accepting that this conversation was fantasy, Savage says, the facts show the man is a pervert, is liable to do anything and needs to be separated from his kids, pronto.

In the next few minutes, Savage is going to elevate this disingenuous personal vendetta into the realm of political pornography. He'll be uttering hate speech, and, as such, I don't know if I should share it here. It's absolutely obscene.

Tell you what -- I'll have you vote on whether you want to hear it. Okay?

Okay, you have spoken. I'm only doing this because you demand it.

Savage segues from the pathetic case of Bernie Ward into an attack on liberalism in general. He says that Ward is no aberration, that liberals and progressives are closeted, self-loathing sexual deviants who take bleeding-heart positions on public policy to atone for the filthy urges that haunt their minds and poison their souls.

"Liberalism is a mental disorder, and it is also a cover," he says. "All this do-gooderness is a cover for very, very, very evil deeds."

He continues: "You say, 'Are you generalizing?' The answer is no. I have long tried to comprehend the madness of the American left. I have long tried to figure out what motivates them to hate the family, the church, the police, the military. In fact, why they hate the male, the patriarch. The answer is because they know they're no good, they're know they're dirty and are afraid of being found out. They're afraid Daddy will punish them for what they're doing."

Liberals and progressives, he says, are "degenerates" who are "on an express train to Hell."

How can Savage possibly cap this performance? Ah, here we go:

"I am warning you that many of your progressive friends--the permissive ones, the ones who laugh at conservatives, the ACLU types, the antiwar types? If they have children, I am warning you to watch your children when they go over to their houses."

When he finally cuts to a commercial, I turn him off. Now everything is muted. There is a brief, eerie silence, and I can actually think. I don't listen to talk radio much, so I'm not quite sure what to make of all this.

Who is Michael Savage, and can there possibly be more than a handful of feebs who tune him in?

I check. Michael Savage is the third-most popular syndicated radio host in the country. He has 10 million listeners, which is more people than read the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, combined.


Laura Ingraham is back, this time on TV. So is O'Reilly, and so is Joe Madison, whom we last heard at 6 a.m. Do pundits never sleep?

On CNN, Slate editor Jacob Weisberg says Mike Huckabee is on an ego trip. Slate's pretty liberal, so I buy it.

Here's Ann Coulter. I'm not listening to what she says. Don't care.

I'm exhausted, but taking sides again. Savage put me there.

Switching stations. Here's Keith Olbermann doing an extended editorial on MSNBC. Olbermann's a reliable lefty, so I listen.

His subject is a rift between President Bush and the House Democrats over whether to extend a bill giving the government the right to wiretap suspected terrorists without a warrant. Bush wants the bill to exempt the telecom companies from lawsuits for having shared customer data with the government under dubious authority in the past. The Democrats don't want this exemption and didn't put it in the bill. Because of this impasse, Bush wouldn't sign it, and the bill expired. Each side says it's the other's fault. Bush claims this puts the nation at grave risk; the Dems say that's nonsense, and that this is just the usual scare talk. The issue is probably a little too important to be a tempest in a teapot, but it's also not that big a deal, because everyone knows it's mostly without substance -- grandstanding and brinksmanship on both sides. Call it a tempest in a crockpot.

Olbermann begins strongly, addressing himself directly to Bush that he's only protecting his cronies, the powerful telecoms. Yay!

Now he compares the bill Bush wanted to other bad laws, including the Alien and Sedition Acts, which I actually think might be just a little over the . . .

Uh, now he's comparing it to . . . slavery.

Now he's addressing Bush directly, and he's . . . oh, God.

"If you believe in the seamless mutuality of government and big business, come out and say it! There is a dictionary definition, one word that describes that toxic blend. You're a fascist! Get them to print you a T-shirt with FASCIST on it!"

Now he's, he's . . .

". . . and if there's one thing we know about Big Brother, Mr. Bush, it is that he is -- you are -- a liar!"

I've already checked the thesaurus, so I know there's no help there.

"You are a liar, Mr. Bush. And after showing some skill at it, you have ceased to even be a very good liar!"


"You said that the lives of countless Americans depend on you getting your way. This is crap! And you sling it with an audacity and a speed unrivaled by even the greatest political felons of our history!"

I mute it.

Silence again.

I send an e-mail to a friend who I know is online. This is what it says:

o s, s brtu dytpmh [rtdpm/

I realize I had my hands on the wrong position on the keyboard. I have to resend it. It says: "I am a very strong person," more of a plea than a statement of fact.

The room is still quiet. On Fox's "Hannity & Colmes," someone is yelling.

McCain is on "Larry King Live." He's saying something, and Larry seems to be agreeing wholeheartedly.

On my far right is the TV tuned to C-SPAN, which I have ignored all day for the simple reason that nothing important ever seems to be happening. Now some guy is talking. He's a Tennessee congressman. He's labeled "Zach Wamp." Ha-ha. Good enough! I switch this to the main TV.

Zach is saying something about earmarks. He's saying that before we debate earmarks, we need to define what they are. I'm looking at him, and there's something. About. His. Face.

He's got an oddly prominent ridge in the middle of his left ear. You can see it!

I image-Google the human pinna. Yes, Zach has got an extra line there, sort of. He has an EAR MARK.






Jon Stewart is pretty funny tonight, too.

TV DURING THE WEE HOURS is mostly a repetition of the identical news items from the day, the identical images, the identical sound bites. Here's Hillary again, talking cheaply about how talk is cheap; here's George again, walking down the White House path to the lectern; here's Anita Kay again, looking absolutely luscious. At 2 a.m., the male human mind is a cesspool.

My shoes are off. My tie is off. I'm taking some infantile comfort in a the feel of a stuffed panda someone has left around. I have just consumed my 12th or 14th cup of coffee.

It's only in these wee hours that I finally fully focus on C-SPAN, looking at the repeat of things I had no time to notice before, things that just seemed hopelessly beside the point. There's a report about a bill to display a national Braille tactile flag, a congresswoman congratulating the University of Memphis Tigers basketball team for a fine season, a clip of Rep. Grijalva welcoming Monsignor O'Keefe to give the day's blessing, and here's Zach Wamp again, and I laugh at his ear mark again.

And now here is more footage of the interminable memorial service of Tom Lantos, who escaped the Holocaust to build a life as an international advocate for human rights, only to be tragically foofahaha-ed in death. One of the congressman's granddaughters, a young woman named Chelsea Hedquist, is speaking, her voice in a slight tremolo:

"We would feel his love in the very way he hugged and kissed us, always holding on just a beat longer than we liked as small children . . .

(Laughter) "We would give anything for one of those infamous hugs and kisses right now."

It occurs to me that this is the first entirely convincing, unagendaed, completely genuine statement I have heard all day.

GEORGE KEEPS WALKING purposefully down that path. Hillary keeps decrying sound bites.

The BBC -- it's morning rush hour over there -- reports that Bush defends his record on Darfur. On C-SPAN, for the fourth time, an oil industry exec is busy explaining how he'd rather see ethanol made from biomass than from corn.

A blogger at Power Line News says Demo-crats are not serious about keeping America safe from attack.

Do you know how many volume bars it takes to turn a TV up to full shout? How many of those little bars show on the screen? I bet you don't 'cause you've never done it 'cause you've never been in Hour 21, have you? It's 63 bars! The TV is blasting through the quiet building, and that's when I notice something big. Something transformational.

When you have a TV at full blast, and there's a talking head, you hear his intake of breaths in between sentences really, really clearly. Ha-ha! And if you listen carefully for those, as though that was the important part of communication, you wind up not really hearing anything else! It is just a person gasping for breath! Ha-ha. The effect is especially great with Nancy Pelosi.

In this manner, I entertain myself satisfyingly for 10 minutes.

JUST MORE THAN THREE HOURS LEFT. I'm listening to the radio's "Nightside Project," with Ethan Millard and Alex Kirry. They're reprising the Lantos walkout and analyzing who was disrespectful to whom; they're back on the Hillary Clinton speech bite, how she's got solutions, not words; they're discussing HD DVD versus Blu-ray technology, a subject I understand not at all.

The DJs seem like nice guys. They are asking listeners for Valentine's Day stories, things that happened on Valentine's Day, things they want on Valentine's Day, stuff like that. This is a hip show, and they want text messages only. They'll read the ones they like on the air.

I take out my cellphone and begin to tap in a message. My fingers aren't working well, and it takes 15 minutes to get this down:


I have been alone in a room for almost 24 hours with 6 TVs, a laptop and two radios, listening to and watching and reading only political shows and pundits and blogs, sometimes monitoring four or five things at the same time. Just to see if it can be done.

I'll tell you it can be, but I cannot tell you how horrible it is. It rattles the very center of your being. If you care about the state of humankind, it fills you with despair. We are as a people bleak and hostile and suspicious, filled with senseless partisanship and willing to believe anything and everything about anyone. We are full of ourselves and we hate. And we do it 24-7.

Would you be willing, as a sign of compassion and empathy, to do the unthinkable and broadcast right now, as a Valentine to me, 20 seconds of blessed dead air?

Complete silence. Just read my text and then say . . . nothing. Twenty seconds.

Just to show it can be done."


It turns out, no, it can't be done.