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30 November 2006

CSI FBI links print at terror scene to Muslim named Spongebob R. Squarepants

Click to get an even bigger, clearer look at this amazing new 3D full-color fingerprint identification technology. Isn't it amazing? Don't you feel safer already?

Meanwhile, they charged the wrong guy, an Oregon lawyer and veteran Army officer, with a terror bombing in Madrid. All the alarm bells went off when they found out the guy who sorta maybe fit a crime scene fingerprint was a Muslim convert.

Of all the varieties of Junk Science, my favorite is Police Junk Science. Did you know police rely on an amazing machine that can tell if you're lying or telling the truth? Beat that, evil-doer! We know what's in your black heart! We know if you've been sleeping! We know if you're awake! We know if you've been Bad Or Good! So be good, for goodness' sake!

~ ~ ~

The Los Angeles Times (California USA)
Thursday 30 November 2006

$2,000,000, apology
settle FBI fingerprint
error case

by Sam Howe Verhovek, Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE (Washington USA) -- A misidentified fingerprint cost federal taxpayers $2,000,000 Wednesday and led to an unusual formal apology to Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim lawyer in Oregon whom the FBI says it wrongly named as a suspect in the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

The federal government "regrets that it mistakenly linked Mr. Mayfield to this attack," according to the apology issued by the Justice Department. It added that the FBI had implemented measures to "ensure that what happened to Mr. Mayfield and the Mayfield family does not happen again."

But Mayfield, who under the settlement can still proceed with a legal challenge to the controversial Patriot Act, said the nightmare he endured could happen to someone else.

"I look forward to the day the Patriot Act is declared unconstitutional and all citizens are safe from unwarranted arrest and searches by the federal government," Mayfield said in a statement.

Mayfield was detained in May 2004 after federal officials matched his fingerprint to one found on a bag of detonators in Madrid after the March 11, 2004, commuter train bombings that killed 191 people.

Two weeks later, however, Spanish police said the print belonged to an Algerian man, and the U.S. government said it had made a mistake.

The case highlighted the error potential for fingerprint matching, which some experts say is unacceptably high.

"This is a tip-of-the-iceberg phenomenon," said Simon A. Cole, a professor of criminology, law and society at UC Irvine and author of "Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification."

"The argument has always been that no two people have fingerprints exactly alike," Cole said. "But that's not what you need to have an error. What you need is for two people to have very similar fingerprints, and that's what happened here."

Michael Cherry, president of Cherry Biometrics, an identification-technology company, said misidentification problems could grow worse as the U.S. and other governments add more fingerprints to their databases.

"I really believe there are a lot more Mayfields out there," Cherry said. "We just don't know about these cases because the Spanish police don't always get to oversee them. We simply don't have an identification standard that fits with today's times."

In a report on the Mayfield case in January, the Office of the Inspector General, the Justice Department's internal watchdog, said FBI experts had overlooked "important differences" between Mayfield's prints and those of the Algerian man, and had essentially ignored information from Spanish police that pointed to the other suspect.

"We believe that the FBI laboratory's overconfidence in the skill and superiority of its examiners prevented it from taking the [Spanish report] as seriously as it should have," Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said in a summary of that report.

The Justice Department reiterated its contention that mistakes in fingerprint identification were extremely rare.

"The inspector general made suggestions for improving the FBI's fingerprint identification process, and the FBI has adopted many of those suggestions," said Tasia Scolinos, director of public affairs for the Justice Department.

Mayfield, a former Army lieutenant and a convert to Islam, said Wednesday that the government had "targeted me and my family because of our Muslim religion."

But Fine, in his report, concluded that Mayfield's faith was not the reason the FBI came after him, and he said agency officials had not misused the Patriot Act, which Congress passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

President Bush and other defenders of the act say it is an important anti-terrorism tool, but critics say it has handed the government too much surveillance and wiretapping power and tramples on civil liberties. Mayfield's challenge contends the act violates the constitutional guarantee against unreasonable government searches.

- 30 -

Times staff writer Lynn Marshall contributed to this report.

28 November 2006

Iraq War has now gone on longer than all of America's World War Two / NBC says: Yup, it sure is a Civil War, yup, looks like it to us, yup

Much has happened in the last 2 or 3 days both on Earth and Vleeptron.

For one thing, my RealityLand pal John diP (I am no longer allowed to put his entire Real Name in any of my C-space droppings, because for several years when you Googled his name, you found him on the same page as some pornographic London telephone box adverts) sent me an e-mail which was actually a very crude code that announced he Guessed The Mystery PizzaQ Famous Solid Object.

My head was momentarily stuck up my dupa and I didn't realize what he was trying to tell me. But DOH yup he got the answer, and he lives about 5 hours from me so there is a very strong chance i may have to actually buy him his Pizza.

And now, to the Earth News.

The War In Iraq has now lasted longer than the entire USA part of World War Two.

From Pearl Harbor to V-J Day, from the sneak attack by the Japanese 7 December 1941 to the Japanese unconditional surrender on 14 August 1945 -- with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy on Japan's side -- George Bush's fuckhead blunder war has now gone on longer than that.

And I don't think anybody's close to surrendering to his Shock and Awe Demands anytime soon. I could be wrong about that. Watch This Space.

NBC -- the USA commercial television network -- has taken a wild leap into Reality and the Stunningly Obvious, and announced that its news programs will henceforth describe the situation in Iraq as an authentic full-blown Civil War. So it will be fun from now on to watch Fox News say "No, it's NOT a Civil War! Liar Liar Pants On Fire! NBC hates America!"

But I agree that Iraq is not like Vietnam.

Vietnam was mostly a jungle. Iraq is mostly a desert.

But the flag-draped coffins of my neighbors' children serving in the US military -- coming up fast on 3000 of them -- these are verrrrrrrrrry similar to the flag-draped coffins of 58,000 American servicemen and women from Vietnam.

Another difference: Vietnam was not a Civil War. It was a war for independence from Western colonial powers. And they won their independence -- just as the United States won its from the world's mightiest military superpower, Britain. With an army composed largely of illiterate farmers.

If you are reading this and you are in any kind of position to Stop This Fucking Crazy War, please do so.

~ ~ ~

More soon about the Amazing Coded Solid Object Answer, and about Why Very Large Prime Numbers are Very Important.

That's the kind of stuff people think is important on the Utopian Planet of Vleeptron, which has not had a war for 31,662 years. (The Garlic War was the last one.) By not having fucked-up blunder wars, Vleeptron is able to pour its resources into education, health and the transportation infrastructure.

Here on Earth, in my Land of the Free, it's Wars and Prisons.

No Pizza, but take a whack at this one: In the last 20 years, how many

* new public colleges/universities

* new prisons

has California built? Or any state if you can find out. Which is America building faster, prisons or institutions of higher learning?

Good night. More later.

27 November 2006

in Mahagonny Poker Drink Salon

I'm very uncomfortable about legal gambling. It touches the small but permanent part of me that's Puritanical, that's oppressively Calvinist, and makes me want to forbid and prohibit wicked things, things that huge numbers of people clearly enjoy, for the Public Good.

The reason I don't actually demand that government stop these wicked things is that I once visited a place where government prohibited all wicked things. It used the force of law and police and prison to prohibit all naughty and wicked things. It was Prague under the Socialists (Communists), and it was the most unhappy place I have ever seen, the total collapse and total failure of a government to respect its human community. My friends who lived across the Wall from Socialist East Berlin and Socialist East Germany have similar memories of its governments.

The Communists are gone now, and I've been back to Prague, and there's all sorts of naughty and wicked things going on there now. And there's authentic happiness. And authentic freedom. The police and the government are much more restrained about the things they feel they need to ban and prohibit.

One of the problems with a city whose big legal industry is gambling is that gamblers don't just go for the gambling.

They go because wherever there's gambling all day and night, there's also prostitution, child prostitution, and addictive and powerful drugs, all available with a certainty and reliability, speed and ease the "sports" and the high-rollers can't get in their permanent homes.

Alcohol, which is legal -- well, there's no such place as a casino without huge amounts of drinking, and usually while you're throwing large sums down the toilet, the drinks are free. Gambling goes best with a fuzzy head and bad judgment -- at least the house feels it goes best that way.

In the last 25 years, the American media has made Donald Trump into a national superstar, for the sole virtue of making millions of dollars and putting on a disgusting public spectacle of how he makes it and spends and wastes it. In America, when you see Donald Trump on television, you see a man loudly hailed by all as a Winner, someone children should admire and hope to become someday. Children are encouraged to grow up to become Donald Trump.

I hope someone will Leave A Comment and remind me of the Good Things, of just one Good Thing Donald Trump has done for America or for the world. In how he makes his money, and how he spends it, one might compare Trump with Bill Gates. You can follow Bill Gates around for a decade and not get much closer to child prostitutes or crack or powder cocaine or heroin. And if you want to bash Windows or Microsoft, compare these wicked things with Trump's casino industry. Compare the way Gates takes your money, and the things he gives back in return, with the way Trump takes your money, and the things his enterprises give back in return.

But here's a snapshot of what life and death are like in the shadow of one of Donald Trump's three Atlantic City casinos, the Taj Mahal.

When Atlantic City legalized casino gambling in 1978, and became the first place east of the Mississippi River where gambling was legal, I detoured there a few times on trips from Massachusetts to Washington DC to see it and try my hand at blackjack. All the casinos are along the Atlantic shore on a brightly illuminated Boardwalk.

I walked one block inland from the Boardwalk and was horrified. Just a block from the casinos was the worst urban blight, poverty and devastation I had ever seen in America, and it matched photographs of European cities after the war ended in 1945. Enemy bombers could have made Atlantic City worse, but not much worse. AIDS hadn't yet ended the practice, but a block from the Boardwalk was a commercial blood bank open around the clock paying $25 to anyone who sold them a pint of blood. There was a waiting line. People were that desperate for cash.

A quarter century later, and barely a dollar has floated west from the Boardwalk casino strip to benefit the rest of the Atlantic City human community. Here is what the great American hero and winner Donald Trump, who owns three Atlantic City casinos, has helped to do and has grown rich from.

If your American city has fallen on hard times, someone inevitably will promise that legalized casino gambling can turn it around and save it and bring back Happy Days and Good Times, lots of jobs, a big new tax base, prosperity. Politicians love it because it's "voluntary taxation" -- people trudge through a blizzard to pay gambling taxes to the government.

The guy selling you the Miracle Resurrection of Casinos is lying. Just visit Atlantic City, at any hour day or night, and walk a block west of the glittering Boardwalk. When you come home again, Leave A Comment. Tell Vleeptron what you saw.

~ ~ ~

The New York Times (USA)
Saturday 25 November 2006

Broken Lives and Victims
in Shadow of Taj Mahal

by Nicholas Confessore and Nate Schweber

Sometimes, when troublemakers enter Papa Joe's diner on Tennessee Avenue, Joe Boccino glares at them until they leave. Other times, he pulls out his black Easton baseball bat and raps it hard -- once, twice, three times -- on the counter.

"You're in the middle of crack city," Mr. Boccino said yesterday at his restaurant, surveying this blighted corner of Atlantic City, where the authorities think at least some of the four women found dead in a drainage ditch on Monday were known and spent much of their time.

Not far from the Boardwalk, it is the kind of neighborhood where trouble puts its feet up. Drugs and prostitution are the main pursuits of those who visit here, and of those who stay.

Up the street, on Pacific Avenue, prostitutes lean against pawn shop windows lined with engagement rings, scouting for customers.

When they want to eat, some come to Papa Joe's. When they want to sleep or shower or shoot drugs, most walk around the corner to Ocean Avenue, a blocklong stretch between Pacific Avenue and the Boardwalk where crumbling homes and dilapidated boarding houses languish in the shadow of the nearby Trump Taj Mahal.

"These people have nowhere to stay. They just crash where they can," Mr. Boccino said. "But they're pretty good people. They're like family."

By yesterday, though, fear and a sense of resignation had settled in.

Kim Raffo, 35, from the Canarsie area of Brooklyn, was part of that family and was the first of the four murder victims identified.

Yesterday the authorities announced that they had identified a second victim, Tracy Ann Roberts, 23, whose last known address was on Tennessee Avenue. They said both she and Ms. Raffo had had prostitution arrests.

The Atlantic County prosecutor, Jeffrey S. Blitz, said a task force of almost two dozen investigators from the F.B.I., the state police and local agencies had been brought in to compare photographs, DNA samples and markings on some of the bodies.

Earlier, some of the regulars along Ocean Avenue said they feared the body of a woman with a butterfly tattoo, found wrapped in a red hooded sweatshirt, was that of Ms. Roberts, whom they described as a young, blond and boisterous Philadelphia native.

"I used to let her stay in my apartment, and I remember her sleeping 18 hours because she was so tired from ripping and running," said Charles Coles, 40, who said he works in construction. He said detectives had shown him photographs that he recognized as being Ms. Roberts.

Mr. Coles said he last saw Ms. Roberts on Oct. 27 outside the Sands casino, where she told him that she had recently been hospitalized after a man assaulted her and hurt her throat.

His sister, Shakira Coles, said Ms. Roberts had family in Georgia and had spent time there herself. Ms. Coles said she had a "country accent" despite being from Philadelphia.

Jannette Brown, 47, said that the first and last times she ever saw Ms. Roberts she was asking for crack cocaine. Ms. Roberts had been a dancer at a strip club on Pacific Avenue called The Playground, she said, until her addiction began affecting her looks and she turned to prostitution.

Ms. Brown, who was a prostitute herself until last year, said Ms. Roberts had left a child in Philadelphia but wanted to quell her addiction, leave prostitution and go back to being a mother.

"'I can't do it; how did you do it?'" Ms. Brown said she had asked her.

Mr. Coles and other neighborhood residents also said they believed another victim to be a woman they knew, a timid Boston native with a daughter she never saw and a vicious crack habit she could never quite break. She slept on friends' couches, they said, and every day slathered makeup over her acne so strangers would pay her for sex. In recent days, they said, the police had been asking about her.

"Fifteen dollars was a good date for her, isn't that sad?" said Ms. Brown, 47, who knew both her and Ms. Raffo.

Ms. Brown said that she had once taken the Boston woman with her to perform oral sex on a customer in a parked van for $50 each. "Afterward she said, 'Oh my god, that was the easiest money I've ever made in my life,' " Ms. Brown said.

For many of the prostitutes who live on or near Ocean Avenue, addiction leashes their bodies twice over -- to the drugs, and to the place where they can be most quickly found.

It is rare for them to accompany customers to the motels on the Black Horse Pike, where the bodies were found, Ms. Brown said, because it is too far from their dealers.

Instead, they do their work in a nearby alley where old syringes and glass pipes crack underfoot, or in a vacant lot off Ocean Avenue, where a hand-painted sign urges, "Repent to Jesus."

"Every penny they got they bought either heroin or cocaine," Ms. Brown said. "They would not even buy a roof for a night because that would take away from their drug money."

Most people on Ocean Avenue are just passing through. The lucky ones work in the casinos. The rest whip back and forth between odd jobs like waitressing and less savory ones like prostitution.

Dee Roman, 31, who lives above Papa Joe's, said she saw vials and bags of crack on the street "all the time." She added, "You can't get away from that stuff."

Ms. Brown said she feared that another of the victims was the daughter of a friend who had used crack since she was 17 and later began using heroin.

The woman worked a strip of Pacific Avenue known as "The Track," as did the Boston woman, Ms. Brown said.

She said she had last seen her friend's daughter this month wearing a denim miniskirt, a bra and a mesh blouse, an outfit that matches a police description of one of the victims.

"I remember telling her, 'It's not summertime,'" so take off the miniskirt, Ms. Brown said.

The police would not comment yesterday on the unidentified victims.

The police have been showing a computer-generated composite picture of one woman, and Mr. Boccino said they had been asking people about the Boston woman, whom he nicknamed "Christmas Tree" because of her height.

She would come in for breakfast around 2 a.m., he said, ordering a sausage, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel with an orange soda before working the streets, ignoring his pleas for her to get clean.

"She just got her sandwich and said, 'I'll see you later, Papa Joe,'" he said.

- 30 -

Copyright (c) 2006 The New York Times Company

24 November 2006

Make Earth Proud! Win $100,000 ! You can do it! Kids can do it!

Somebody complained that Vleeptron has too much math(s).

Look. It's like this.

If Sentient Life On Earth goes extinct soon, and other Sentients hear our radio and see our television echoes and play our gold CDs on our robot probes someday, how will the Milky Way Galaxy remember us?

Click on Google News.

Hatred and violence. Murder. Bigotry. Fear. Greed poisoning the atmosphere and melting the ice caps.

And a little Bach and Mozart.

We'll be remembered as the little blue planet where Mozart lived, the little blue planet that choked and bombed and machine-gunned itself to death. Without any help at all from Aliens.

If you are a Sentient, please help Life On Earth survive, and please help the Milky Way Galaxy think of Earth as a fine and special and wise and lovely place.

Not the way we are right now.

And if money is important to you -- well, look, here's a way to show all the other Sentients how very smart we are (or were), and

win U$100,000

Then you can buy a Cadillac Escalade and put a really loud sound system into it and drive around the neighborhood blasting Eminem.

Of course you have to be a Brilliant Math Genius to win the money, n'est-ce pas?

Not really.

If you go digging in the Guinness Book of World Records, you'll find an astonishing thing. Several of the world's largest Prime Numbers were discovered by two high school students in California, a girl and a boy.

We've found bigger Primes since then. But the girl and the boy high school students and the Prime Numbers they discovered will stay in the record book forever.

I won't say they were ordinary or just like you and just like me. (Psst! None of us is ordinary!)

But whatever they were, they were high school students, and belonged to the Human Race.

Maybe you don't want a Cadillac Escalade. That's cool. Give the $100,000 to a homeless shelter or buy some nice land for a nature sanctuary.

What will we leave behind? Each of us can leave behind a big shitty toxic mess of hate and fear and violence and bigotry. That's easy.

Or we can leave behind beautiful music and amazingly beautiful and mysterious discoveries about numbers. We can plant trees and flowers. We can save endangered animals.

When the Sentients who come after us hear our name, they can curse or they can smile.

Do something that makes the Sentients smile. Here's something that makes Sentients smile.

~ ~ ~

from G.I.M.P.S. -- the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search

44th Known Mersenne Prime Found!

Lightning strikes twice. On September 4, 2006, in the same room just a few feet away from their last find, Dr. Curtis Cooper and Dr. Steven Boone's CMSU team broke their own world record, discovering the 44th known Mersenne prime,

(2^32,582,657) - 1

The new prime at 9,808,358 digits is 650,000 digits larger than their previous record prime found last December.

However, the new prime falls short of the 10,000,000 digits required for GIMPS to claim the Electronic Frontier Foundation $100,000 award.

With five record primes found in less than 3 years, GIMPS has been on an incredible lucky streak. Never before have Mersenne primes been bunched so closely together. When looking at the exponents, we expect only 1.78 Mersenne primes between powers of two, and prior to 2003, a maximum of 3 Mersenne primes were found between powers of two. The last 5 Mersenne prime exponents all fell between 224 and 225 -- and we haven't finished testing all the exponents in that range!

The new prime was independently verified in 6 days by Tony Reix of Bull S.A. in Grenoble, France using 16 Itanium2 1.5 GHz CPUs of a Bull NovaScale 6160 HPC at Bull Grenoble Research Center, running the Glucas program by Guillermo Ballester Valor of Granada, Spain.

Dr. Cooper and Dr. Boone could not have made this discovery alone. In recognition of contributions made by the project coordinators and the tens of thousands GIMPS volunteers, credit for this new discovery goes to "Cooper, Boone, Woltman, Kurowski, et al". The discovery is the tenth record prime for the GIMPS project. Join now and you could find the next record-breaking prime! You could even win some cash.

Perfectly Scientific, Dr. Crandall's company which developed the FFT [Fast Fourier Transform] algorithm used by GIMPS, will make a poster you can order containing the entire 9.8 million digit number. It is kind of pricey because accurately printing an over-sized poster in 1-point font is not easy! This makes a cool present for the serious math nut in your family.

[They also sell a jeweler's loupe so you can read every one of the
9,808,358 digits.]

~ ~ ~

43rd Known Mersenne Prime Found!

On December 15, 2005, Dr. Curtis Cooper and Dr. Steven Boone, professors at Central Missouri State University, discovered the 43rd Mersenne Prime,

(2^30,402,457) - 1

The CMSU team is the most prolific contributor to the GIMPS project. The discovery is the largest known prime number.

The new prime is 9,152,052 digits long. This means the Electronic Frontier Foundation $100,000 award for the discovery of the first 10 million digit prime is still up for grabs!

Dr. Cooper joined GIMPS over 7 years ago with colleague Dr. Vince Edmondson. Edmondson was instrumental in the campus-wide effort until he passed away in 2003. Cooper, Boone, and CMSU truly earned this discovery, diligently coordinating over 700 PCs!

are you Sophisticated? are you genuinely Hip? Do you like Pizza?

Sure, click.

Look. I said This Thing was Famous.

I wasn't jiving you. I wasn't lying.

I bothered a stranger a few days ago and put the PizzaQ URL in my e-mail. The guy replied:

Yes I recognized your object --
where did you get it?

He was implying that This Thing -- in its Solid Object form -- is Very Rare. There aren't a lot of these floating around. I know of one other, I think it's on display in New York City. You could go there and REALLY see this thing in all its 3D Solid glory. (What you're seeing now is a projection of a 3D object onto a flat 2D plane.) If you really kissed up to the Keepers of this Object, they might even let you touch it.

So much for the Solid Object.

What's really Famous is its Essence, what it actually represents. Exactly like an Idol. An idol is just a thing of wood or gold or ivory that represents its god or goddess who, ordinarily, you can't see or touch or co-exist in the same room with it.

So this is an idol of some plastic kind of stuff which represents the Famous Thing. Because we don't co-exist in the same SpaceTime or Universe as the Famous Thing. So the people who worship This Thing made a couple of idols out of it.

Abbas from Toronto got the Ballpark right. We're talking Math(s) here.

A wealthy man asked Euclid to teach him geometry.
At the end of the first lesson about points, lines,
dimension and angles, the man said,

"I think I understand all that. But what can I do
with it? How can I make profit from it?"

Euclid beckoned his slave and said,

"Give the man a few pennies,
because he insists on profiting
from knowledge."

So how Famous is This Thing? You probably think it's really a geek nerd super-obscure thing, and not Really Famous like Britney Spears or Fed-Ex or Madonna or Nancy Pelosi.

Well, most people think Famous = Money.

So, to get your attention, here's another Hint. This Thing has a Secret in it. And if you Solve The Secret, you win


(You'll probably have to pay taxes on it.)

So now you agree that it's Famous, right? Or at least Worthy of Your Respect and Attention and Curiosity.

But the Vleeptron PizzaQ Ministry wishes everyone to know that if they REALLY want to think of themselves as educated and sophisticated and [wo]men of the world and been around the block and in-the-know and genuinely Hip, then This Thing would be as instantly recognizable to You as all these other Solid Objects.

MORE GUESSES! Ask your pals. Ask people you hate. Ask your Mom. Ask your Dad. Phone Klaas in Rotterdam.

But don't ask a math professor, that's a Violation of the Vleeptron PizzaQ Honor Code.

You can ask your high school math teacher -- they have a very high-class way of saying "Doh!" -- but no university math professors.

21 November 2006

Orchestra New England's Colonial Concert in New Haven Connecticut USA! Tix available!

The Holidays are upon us!

You'll have to Do Things!

How many of those things will be
Torture & Torment?

How many of those things will be
hazardous to your health
and make you feel sick for days?

How many of those things will lock you
in a room with your Extended Family
for hours?

How many of those things
will be Thoroughly Fun and Beautiful?

Maybe you're near enough to this one to go.
Lucky Dog!
Vleeptron will be there!

~ ~ ~

Orchestra New England
Saturday 25 November 2006
27th annual Colonial Concert

United Church on the Green

in New Haven at 8 pm

Maestro James Sinclair leads the audience
through an evening of colonial re-creation,
from period costumes to the music of
"recent arrivals" by Bach, Mozart, Haydn and others.
An outstanding way to launch the holiday season!

Bach, Prelude and Fugue in G Major, BWV 541
Telemann, Concerto in E Minor for Flute and Recorder
Haydn, Symphony No. 93 in D major
and more music of Bach, Mozart, and Haydn.

Soloists include Keith Underwood (flute)
Lawrence Zukof (recorder)
and Daniel Bircher (baritone).

Tickets available from
the Shubert Box Office
at 203-562-5666 or 888-736-2663
or online at

20 November 2006

Up from fœtid Comment Sewers beneath Ciudad Vleeptron: Hints about the PizzaQ Thing

I don't think clicking will help,
but click all you want.

Don't ever say Vleeptron is not generous with Hints.

Okay, I lied. It's smaller than a toaster oven.

Hmmmm okay the only other Hint I am willing to part with is that This Thing -- or rather its Essence, what it Represents -- is (in certain circles) Extremely Famous. Thousands of human beings -- obviously including This Guy -- devote their entire adult lives to worshipping This Thing.



abbas said ...

a non-linear sinusoidal wave form with an unknown function of x.
Sat Nov 18, 11:32:04 AM 2006

Bob Merkin said...

yeah yeah ... that sure sounds hi-tone and upscale and impressive, but you think you're getting free pizza for "... with an unknown function of x"?

You're in the right Ballpark. It's not a herd of alien dairy animals, or the corpse of a folksinger who accidentally fell under a truck.

Okay, here's a HINT.

I took the original image and whited out everything in it that wasn't The Important Thing.

But you're actually looking not at a computer-generated virtual image, but at a photographed Solid Object that you could touch and pick up and put on a scale or keep in a corner of the kitchen or use as a paperweight. My estimation is that The Solid Object is about the size of a toaster oven.

But go back to your Right Ballpark and try to figure out (metaphorically speaking) if it's Baseball or Canadian Football or Nerf Ball or Soccer or Golf or Ping Pong. No Pizza yet.
Sat Nov 18, 03:13:16 PM 2006

Bob Merkin said...

oh, and "sinusoidal" sounds *really* extra-credit high-class, but I feel confident in telling you it ain't sinusoidal.

But you do get credit for "non-linear." High-class, and correct.
Sat Nov 18, 03:15:39 PM 2006

a. h. said...

hmm no other takers?
Mon Nov 20, 12:51:36 PM 2006

pativerypuzzled said...

Eh ???? what the bloody hell is this ? i have been looking at this thing for about 30 minutes in total since you posted it here. I put on The Ramones first album and scanned the web for 3d objects in in human sciences. Since it looks like something organic I tried chemistry, biochemistry, biology. Zip, zich, null, nada. Also no results in math, physics, statistics an even quantum physics. Jungian Associacion did not work and the ramones were no help at all. I do now that i am a Pinhead, but at least i gave it a go. and I know that some university in south Africa has some beautiful pix in 3d. ....
is this the actual size of the object in quetion or is this just a part of the whole image or an enlargement ?
Mon Nov 20, 01:44:22 PM 2006

bob has an IRC relapse and nominates 2 guys for Nobel Peace Prize

Khaled Mardam-Bey (top)
and Jarkko Oikarinen,
NGO Vleeptron's nominees
for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I think there's a FAQ page on the website of the Nobel Prizes, and it probably explains how people get nominated for the prizes.

I think I'll look it up and nominate Jarkko Oikarinen and Khaled Mardam-Bey for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Dr. Oikarinen (he eventually got his Ph.D. in medical imaging technology) already won the Dvorak Award in 1997, and in 2005 he received a Special Recognition Award by Finland's Millennium Technology Prize Foundation.

In 1988, Oikarinen was bored during a summer job at the computer center at the University of Oulu, and wrote a program which became Internet Relay Chat.

God only knows who used IRC before 1995 (I first used an IRC client on CompuServe), when Khaled Mardam-Bey wrote mIRC, a wildly popular and wildly powerful IRC program for Windows machines.

It's wildly popular because idiots like me can manage to download it and go clickety-click, and about ten minutes later, the idiot is chatting with a hundred thousand people in North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, Oceana, and Antarctica, and it would not in the least surprise me to find myself chatting with somebody orbiting Earth in the International Space Station.

Khaled Mardam-Bey

خالد مردم بي

was born in Amman, Jordan. His father is Syrian and his mother Palestinian. He went to college about a mile from where I grew up, American University in Washington DC, and now lives in London and continues to pour his love and life into improving mIRC and adding all sorts of astonishing bells and whistles to it.

It's shareware, and Honest Decent Human Beings who download and use mIRC are supposed to send KM-B about $25. I did. I hope he got a good restaurant meal out of it.

After I nominate both these gentlemen for their well-deserved Nobel Peace Prize, I'll have to sue them for addicting me to IRC and stealing years from my life. It will probably be a class action lawsuit, with about 1,000,000 other plaintiffs from all over the planet.

That should be some trial. All the plaintiffs will want to hug the defendants.

I've been in Chat Rehab for the last few years, trying to pay more attention to my Wife and my Cats and people I can really see and touch and smell.

But like any powerful addiction to Stuff That's Enormously Fun and Pleasurable, I have relapses now and then.

Like last night.

Because I am certifiably insane, I believe Internet Relay Chat is the antidote to the hatred and violence that are consuming Planet Earth. My response to the ghastly wars that have erupted since I became addicted to IRC is to click onto Undernet and send hippie lefty peacenik refusenik pacifist messages of peace pax paz paix shalom salaam selam etc. (Please send me the word for Peace in any lingo.)

Wars are easiest when you can't see or hear the people your side is killing.

Wars get more difficult when you can read the words, more or less in real time, of the people underneath the Shock And Awe. Most people on IRC can type in English, if that's the only lingo the Shock And Awe side understands.

Meddling in perfectly good wars on IRC is a heartbreaking and horrifying business. During the Balkan Wars of the late 1990s, on the chatroom Undernet #kosovo , a guy from Belgrade typed

{Ygor} must go, bombs falling
* Ygor has quit IRC

and I never saw his nick on Undernet again, but that doesn't mean anything, there are typically 50,000 people on Undernet at any given moment. But I never saw Ygor again.

What hurts the most are the vile threats and insults hurling back and forth through the Chat-o-Sphere in times of war. It's still much better than the actual war

Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But names can never hurt me

but there is a huge volume of particularly ugly hatred especially reserved for Peace Assholes like me. A Hezbollah guy would rather French-kiss an Israeli soldier than read Peace Crap from anybody, and ditto the feelings of an IDF soldier.

Once war starts, it's like when sex starts -- nobody wants it interrupted or stopped. It just feels so good, you want it to just go on and on and on and on and on. Peace doesn't offer any emotions that feel nearly as good.

Peace is complicated and confusing. Israeli Jews will have to learn how to be day-to-day neighbors with Palestinian and Arab Muslims. Hezbollah will have to learn how to be day-to-day neighbors with Lebanese Christians and Druse. Shia and Sunni will have to go shopping for groceries at the same market, without firearms. I'm not joking when I say that's going to be incredibly hard.

War is simple and easy. It's so easy that the United Nations is trying to make every country and combatant on Earth stop using Child Soldiers younger than 16. Without much success. The government of Sri Lanka was just accused of using Child Soldiers, a nasty rap previously reserved for the Tamil Tigers. In Africa, the Lord's Resistance Army usually wins the prize for accusations of abducting children to be soldiers and sex slaves. The Lord's Resistance Army is a religious movement, and teaches the child soldiers that if they believe, enemy bullets cannot harm them.

But war is so easy that little boys make excellent soldiers, and little boys and girls make excellent sex partners for older soldiers. You don't need to be mature to be an effective soldier; in fact maturity usually just gets in the way.

Tonight's Relapse ... well, I really didn't want any war or any politics or any anger or any flame wars. I didn't want to read KILL THE JEWS or KILL THE FUCKING SAND NIGGERS. I just wanted some easy, fun, innocent chat, so I didn't click on any of the Hot Button chatrooms.

#worldchat seemed safe. I'd been there before, and it's usually all Hi and I like ABBA and I have a cat named Muffin and My bf is working in Abu Dhabi.

We somehow began singing musical theater songs from "My Fair Lady," and it was all very pleasant, but then I lost the first half of my chat because we were chatting about doors, and @girlscout said she wished that someday she'd have a house with a purple front door, so I said

{Droog4} I hope you get your wish. If you have any more wishes, could you wish that this fucking war ends immediately?
* Droog4 kicked by KillaZ (do you use that mouth to kiss your mom?)

and the Bot instantly kicked me off the channel for using the F-word, and that means I lost the first 20 minutes of my #worldchat. But I was just kicked in the teeth, not banned forever, so I was able to re-join immediately.

Meanwhile a boy from Jordan named arrow was struggling along with some pretty bad English, but as it turned out, he reads and understands English a lot better than he types it.

Jordan is almost entirely Arab and Muslim.

Its next-door neighbors are Iraq, Israel, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. There's no war in Jordan. It even has a peace treaty with Israel. War in Iraq, war in Lebanon, but Jordan itself has stayed pretty peaceful, or at least pretty Lo-Violence. Not an easy trick. Uneasy lies the head that wears that crown.

But please note so many interesting things more than my bad manners and vulgar mouth.

See all these people from all over the beautiful planet Earth, from every Time Zone, just chatting (or trying to chat) with each other.

Here I am in Northampton Massachusetts USA, and in this little college town I could get on the phone and have 50 Lefty Peacenik Quaker Commies in my living room in a half-hour.

The Congressional election a few weeks ago made it abundantly and noisily clear that all over the United States of America there are people who are very pissed off about the War in Iraq.

But read on down to what the Jordanian kid arrow typed.

He has a computer. He has a television. He has a radio. He has a phone. His English is pretty competent.

But read on down to what arrow typed.


* Now talking in #worldchat
* Topic is 'Welcome to #Worldchat ( enjoy your stay.'
* Set by KillaZ on Sun Nov 19 11:29:35
{Droog4} whoops sorry
{girlscout} hehe
{gumnaam} salaam
* catty_29 has quit IRC (Quit)
{girlscout} people need to believe in it again for it to stop
{Droog4} salaam gumnaam
* ieza80 has joined #worldchat
{gumnaam} h r u
{Droog4} pretty good gumnaam how r u, did you have good Ramadan and Eid?
* SwEeTy_InDiG has left #worldchat
* Fevil has left #worldchat
{gumnaam} yup
{Droog4} excellent
{gumnaam} where u from
* ieza80 has quit IRC (Quit)
* X sets mode: +l 68
{Droog4} USA, sorta near Boston
{Droog4} u in PK?
* neat40 has joined #worldchat
{gumnaam} yup
{gumnaam} in karachi
{girlscout} what's boston like?
* neat40 has left #worldchat
{Droog4} oh actually it's a real interesting and entertaining city
{girlscout} I have never been there
* Fevil has joined #worldchat
{gumnaam} yaaaaaaa
{Droog4} lot of Big Brain Places there, MIT, Harvard
{gumnaam} u r rite
{girlscout} *nod*
* Fevil has left #worldchat
{Droog4} aha gumnaam has been to Boston
* SwEeTy_InDiG has joined #worldchat

{arrow} this is the first amarican i see like to stop the war

{gumnaam} ok{gumnaam} friend
{gumnaam} i have to go
{ashley} hi
{Droog4} arrow i can fill a very big stadium with americans who want to stop the war
{gumnaam} ALLAH HAFIZ to all
{Droog4} salaam gumnaam
{girlscout} they want to stop it for the wrong reasons though
{arrow} droog4
{Droog4} there is no wrong reason to stop any war
* pink_24 has joined #worldchat
{girlscout} I don't condone war in general
* X sets mode: +l 70
{girlscout} but what's done is done
{girlscout} it seems even worse to back out now
* Droog4 confesses he is a bit of a peacenik refusenik commie pinko lefty
* Bojan_ww has joined #worldchat
{gumnaam} droog ALLAH HAFIZ answer is ALLAH HAFIZ
* pink_24 has left #worldchat
{gumnaam} not salaam
{Droog4} gumnaam thank you for the free lesson, i really need it, my Urdu really sux
{gumnaam} okz
{girlscout} lol
{gumnaam} ALLAH HAFIZ
{briar} hi
{Droog4} Allah Hafiz to you also
{gumnaam} girlscout y u laghing
{girlscout} just because
{Droog4} girlscout is guessing i know zero words of Urdu
{gumnaam} dont laugh
* girlscout chuckles
{girlscout} why not?
{girlscout} don't tell me what I can and cannot do
{girlscout} I happen to like to laugh
{Droog4} Group Hug!
* isloo has joined #worldchat
{girlscout} heh
* zeek has joined #worldchat
* X sets mode: +l 72
* KFEPKFEW has joined #worldchat
{GrimLurkin} Group hug my ass. Die.
* SwEeTy_InDiG has quit IRC (Quit)
* solitario_77 has joined #worldchat
* zeek has left #worldchat

{Droog4} hmmmm i guess for the last 5 years of the Vietnam War lots of people were saying: Well, you're right, this really is a sucky terrible war, but we can't back out now.

* Crazy_Devil_ has quit IRC (Quit)

{Droog4} that cost about 20,000 guys' lives

{GrimLurkin} Droog4 I'd appreciate if you kept such political matters under wraps.
* briar has left #worldchat
* X sets mode: +l 70
{GrimLurkin} Or I will escort you out.
* natashe has quit IRC (Ping timeout)
{gumnaam} Droog4 i thnk she dont have sense to talk any person
* jane has left #worldchat
* durb1 has quit IRC (Ping timeout)
{Droog4} gumnaam i have just been warned not to talk politics here or i will be kicked, banned, sodomized and made to wear polka-dot clothes.
* Tommy} has quit IRC (Read error: EOF from client)
* kaYaL_viLLi has joined #worldchat
{gumnaam} okz
* kaYaL_viLLi has left #worldchat
{GrimLurkin} Humerous as that was, don't test my patience.
* ComicS_GirL has joined #worldchat
* KFEPKFEW has left #worldchat
* X sets mode: +l 66
* ishi^_^ has joined #worldchat
{gumnaam} tum kabhi aye ho khi ya pk Droog4
{GrimLurkin} You've gotten a lot more warning than others woul dhave gotten.
{Droog4} okay chill our grim
{Droog4} our = out
{GrimLurkin} Thank you.
{GrimLurkin} =)
* FayRa has joined #worldchat
{Droog4} gumnaam, speaking Urdu is a good way to get around the censorship, but there is just one tiny little problem with that ..........
* X sets mode: +l 68
* co_cr_cw_ml has left #worldchat
* SweetieDoll has joined #worldchat
* ComicS_GirL has quit IRC (Quit)
* Chastity_Sun has quit IRC (Quit)
* gumnaam has quit IRC (Quit)
* layla92 has joined #worldchat
* ruthie has joined #worldchat
{layla92} who from malaysia in here
{ruthie} halleeerr
* vdvdv is now known as erie^
* chiquilla has joined #worldchat
* Droog4 leaps off the roof of Petronas Tower
{layla92} ...
{layla92} lalalalalala
{chiquilla} hola!
{Droog4} hola chiquilla
* MrLuvr has left #worldchat
* MATET has joined #worldchat
* ComicS_GirLy has joined #worldchat
* arrow has left #worldchat
{MATET} hello
{chiquilla} hace mucho tiempo que no entraba a este lugar
* IR-45m has joined #worldchat
* layla92 has left #worldchat
* ishi^_^ is now known as he_she
* he_she has quit IRC (Quit)
* MATET has quit IRC (Quit)
* X sets mode: +l 66
* ruthie has quit IRC (Read error: Connection reset by peer)
{Droog4} okay i am gonna find some other Commie Pinko Lefty Peaceniks to talk to about ending this fu**ing war like by tomorrow at 9:30 am
{Droog4} nite girlscout and grimlurkin
* melissa27fph has quit IRC (Quit)
* X sets mode: +l 64
* ComicS_GirLy has quit IRC (Quit)
* kerei_f has left #worldchat
* X sets mode: +l 62
* cute_bi has quit IRC (Quit)
* big__dck has joined #worldchat
* X sets mode: +l 54
* KillaZ sets mode: +b *!*@*
* M_M was kicked by KillaZ (Blacklisted- Pervertistan)

private chats:

{arrow} sory man are you english
{Droog4} nope, worse
{Droog4} USA
{Droog4} u?
{arrow} im frome jordan
{Droog4} salaam how you doin?
{Droog4} i wanna see Amman and i wanna see Petra
{arrow} itry in this chat to speak english
{Droog4} you're doing a lot better than my Arabic
{arrow} patra very baetiful
{Droog4} alf layla iwa layla
{arrow} romans city
{Droog4} did the Romans build Petra? thanks
{arrow} no iam not mean roman
{Droog4} they show Petra in lots of Hollywood movies
{arrow} tray to visy patra and jarash om qes
* Droog4 tries to find jarash om qes on a Map
{Droog4} I found Jerash!!!
No such nick

[arrow got disconnected but managed to get back on Undernet]

{arrow} plz your email
{Droog4} oh
{Droog4} hmmmmm
{Droog4} hey -- I found Jerash on the map!
{Droog4} it's in the North!
{Droog4} (you know that)
{arrow} thank

here a big Lag (delay) tsunami hit Undernet. I could tell I was still connected, but it was taking a long time -- minutes or longer -- for anyone to get my messages or reply to them. But before I left ...

private chat to @GrimLurkin

{Droog4} yeah i respect your No Politics rule
{Droog4} i'm an Army vet from the Vietnam War
{Droog4} wasted young american lives is a very real thing for me
{Droog4} i want it to stop instantly
{Droog4} here is what Staying The Course does:
{Droog4} their families and sweethearts will never see them again
{Droog4} i lost friends and still miss them bitterly
{Droog4} the kid arrow from jordan said he'd never seen an american on irc who wanted to end the war
{Droog4} i wanted him to know there are lots like me
{Droog4} this is where i speak about these things:

16 November 2006

BIG BLACK BEAR BACKYARD NEWS! e-mail to my grandnieces and grandnephew

Dear Ladies & Sir,

I've been a very bad Uncle (I think that's what I am, maybe a Great-Uncle) and I apologize. There isn't much way to get around you and us being so far away except for C****** and me to visit you, which I've always wanted to do.

It's November, and December, January and February follow that. For some mysterious reason, people in New England often get inspired to visit Florida in those months. C****** was born up here and has no greater love for the horrible (but very postcard beautiful) New England winter than I do. So it could happen. Please keep your Sun turned up to Medium Hot, and we won't want to see any Snow.

Because my mom was a Jewish Mother, I Worry. It's hereditary, like wrinkles on peas, and like freckles, and hair color.

When I wrote you about Molly the Single Mother Bear and her cubs, I didn't want to say that I was always worrying about them, but I'm always worrying about them. They shouldn't be my backyard neighbors. They should live far from people in the Deep Woods, because that's the safest place for Molly and her family, and that's the safest place for all the people in my neighborhood.

It's been a long time since I wrote you about Molly and the cubs because I haven't seen them for a long time. Now and then my neighbors say they've seen them, so I know they haven't moved away.

Do you know what a Standard Poodle is? A Standard Poodle is a pretty big dog, a fine hunting dog, and they're not nervous and angry and hyper and always yip-yip-bark-barking like little pink Toy Poodles with painted toenails.

Yesterday, a half-hour before the Sun went down, I was on my kitchen steps, and looked across my little street and saw two huge black Standard Poodles running between my neighbors' houses to cross to my side of the street. They were big, black, and very handsome and healthy looking.

At least I thought they were Standard Poodles at first. But that seemed strange, because Every Dog in my town is ALWAYS on a leash (with a human being on the other end).

So I looked more carefully. They weren't Poodles! They were young bears! Crossing the street, trotting pretty fast, heading my way! In broad daylight!

I screamed into the house: "C*****! Quick! Come outside! Quick!"

And she did. By this time the bears had run between two houses and were in my neighbor's back yard, but we could see them clear as day through the bushes.

And then, across the street, there was a much bigger bear heading after them: It was Molly!

The Bear Family turned and started walking toward our backyard, and C****** got very nervous, about me (because I'm a Fool) and about our cats (because Elmer the big Maine Coon Cat is an Officially Certified Fool). The next-door neighbor's dog, Wilbur, is the biggest Fool of all, and our neighbor Dad rushed around his backyard screaming "Wilbur! Wilbur! Get in the house! Get in the house!" (He had that upset, frustrated tone of a man whose dog never obeys him.) But it turned out all our cats were safely inside. Finally even I decided Molly and her two Big Cubs were getting too close for comfort, so I let C****** push me into the kitchen. But we could see Molly make some groaning bear command noises and nudge her cubs into the woods in the middle of our block, and then they all disappeared.

All three of them looked so healthy and alert and Fat and Sassy -- obviously they're all doing just fine in the Lots To Eat Department.

So, even with my usual Worry Cloud about them, I am thrilled to report that Molly the Single Mother Bear and her two cubs are doing Just Wonderfully!

The whole wonderful treat lasted less than two minutes. Molly knows my (foolish) next-door neighbors keep a bird feeder in their backyard full of delicious birdseed, so she lingered there to snoop around and show the cubs where the Snack Bar is. But I think the excited screams from C****** and me and Wilbur and Wilbur's owner had spooked Molly, so she stopped looking for easy snacks and took her cubs and they all vanished like big black ghosts.

She has a superb instinct to keep herself and her cubs away from people. This sighting in the sunshine was very rare, because usually you only see them around dawn and around sundown. (They roam around trying to get lucky with dumpsters or trash cans, and of course all the bird feeders in the neighborhood.)

I think Molly found the woods in the middle of our block about five years ago by accident, in an emergency, and ran into it to hide from people. And discovered that it was a safe place to hide from people all day. No adult ever goes in there, and by now all the little kids have been told to keep out of those woods.

But she likes it a lot, it's surrounded by lots of Free Snacks, and she decided to raise her family here. All my worrying and wishing hasn't made her pack up and leave.

I know the big bear is female, because big males don't stay with their families (the bums). But I can't tell if the two cubs are male or female or both. These kinds of bears are usually born in January, so they were probably ten months old, still letting Mom teach them the safety ropes, still letting Mom boss them around. When they stop obeying her, she'll kick them out of the woods and make them find places of their own, like she did with big Todd the Teenager.

I've called these new cubs Tony and Marc, but like I said, one or both of them might have been girls. So if you want to suggest one or two Girl Names, that's what I'll call them.

I think if Molly knew I was always worrying about her and her cubs, she'd tell me not to worry so much. She really is an excellent big black Ghost whom you almost never see, and she knows every sneaky hidden path from woods to woods for miles around.

Just so Bob the City Boy wouldn't tell you anything stupid or wrong about Molly and her kids, I found this excellent website about our Massachusetts bears so now you'll know everything I know about them.

One more nice bear story.

Three years ago when I went to visit the world's greatest beekeeper at Warm Colors Apiary, he was very upset about the big Sweet-Tooth bear that was always sneaking into his beehives from the riverbank and ripping them up to get at his tons of the world's most delicious wildflower honey. (I think I sent you guys some, and those animal beeswax candles, too.) He tried electric fences and strings of noisy tin cans, everything he could think of, but Sweet Tooth kept sneaking in and ripping up his hives.

A few months ago we went to visit, and I asked him about his bear troubles.

He's not upset about the bear anymore. He and the bear finally learned to get along. The bear still steals his honey, but not too much.

But the bear's made the apiary his personal territory, and keeps other bear honey thieves away. So the beekeeper and Sweet Tooth are friends and neighbors now. (But I don't think the bees and the bear ever became friends.)

Well, this has been Much Too Long, but I hope you've enjoyed our Backyard Black Bear News. I hope all you kids, and Mom and Dad, and cats and dogs, and the golf course Alligators, are all fine and happy.

This isn't Molly -- I didn't have a chance to run in and get the camera -- but these are her cousins, from a wonderful Bear Park called Clark's Trading Post, in New Hampshire. For 50 years, Clark's has adopted all the orphan bear cubs in the mountains, and given them a wonderful, loving home. If you're ever driving up there and see the sign, start screaming: "We want to see the bears! We want to see the bears!" (That's what C****** screamed at me; her parents had taken her and her sisters there when she was your age.)

Your (Great?-) Uncle Bob, and Love from Aunt C***** too!

15 November 2006

A Soldier's Tale / l'Histoire du Soldat

U.S. Army Specialist Lynndie England
and her fiance at the time, Spec. Charles Graner,
pose with a pyramid of naked human beings
at Abu Ghraib prison. Their Reserve unit

was sent to Iraq in 2003.

from Wikipedia:

Marie Claire is a monthly women's fashion magazine published in France (in French), Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom (in English), Turkey (in Turkish), in the Netherlands (in Dutch), and in Russia (in Russian).

For the slick magazine
Marie Claire to be a household word, you need to be something I'm not: a woman. But around the world it's hugely popular with a huge audience of youngish women. In content, style and message, it's a bit like Oprah.

Maybe my Canadian pals could drag a woman into the Vleeptron Comments to describe Marie Claire better, but I'll try as best I can. First, access -- it's aggressively and ubiquitously for sale at the supermarket checkout counter, and always in the dentist's and the gynecologist's waiting room.

What does it stand for? What is
Marie Claire's message? In a word, respectability. And if there were such a word, unshock: If you go to the library and read a decade of Marie Claire, it's almost a certainty you'll never find an article or even an advertisement that shocks you. I suspect homosexuality and lesbianism are nearly absent from Marie Claire, where pleasant, successful woman-man dating and eventual wholesome marriage and kids are the love that dares to speak its name ceaselessly in MC. Perhaps once a year you might get a first-person piece about how a Marie Claire reader negotiated a respectful relationship with a new sister-in-law who was a lesbian. Marie Claire gets with the times, but a little more slowly than more cutting-edge magazines.

But Marie Claire can't be dismissed as slick women's fluff, or as devoid of substantive journalism. Women exist, they have a culture that's as important to them as guns and football are to men, they have unique worries and fears, and Marie Claire will move heaven and earth to be on top of any story of interest to a woman. If you wanted to stay on top of cutting-edge developments about breast and cervical cancer, for example, subscribing to Marie Claire would be a very wise choice, and scrupulously following MC's health advice just might save your life.

Color me entirely shocked by this Marie Claire article.
It's a stunning journalistic coup, wholly ignored by the top-tier cutting-edge media of North America. After Lynndie England became famous / infamous / notorious and was promptly convicted and led off to military prison, the media community of the United States flushed her down the toilet of oblivion and forgot her. If her strange story had any lessons for any of us, our journalism establishment relentlessly didn't want to learn them or share them with their readers and viewers. With her prison sentence, we flushed and forgot, and moved on to other headlines.

Relax. It's not a Media Conspiracy of Silence.

It's a media conspiracy of the mass failure of imagination. Not Evil, just Stupid.

Marie Claire, the magazine gently, respectably and boringly waiting for you in a gynecologist's waiting room, had the courage and the imagination to bring you Lynndie England's story.

Another woman in an American Army unform, Janis Karpinski, is in this story. Abu Ghraib also flushed her down the media oblivion toilet, seemingly forever. But this week Karpinski has chosen to return to the media spotlight in a remarkably unexpected way.

In America's wartime military chain of command, from Private E-1 to Secretary of Defense, who's toilet fodder and who's permanently golden and untouchable ... well, surprise, that's more up for grabs than I'd ever have imagined. The little people have more surprises up their sleeves than I'd have thought, and they're unexectedly kicking the Great Golden People in the balls. And it hurts.

For years my professional and emotional life lived and died, rose and fell on great, imaginative, unexpected stories. I'm profoundly envious of Tara McKelvey and of Marie Claire. This is a great fucking story and a tremendously important story.

Maybe you don't have a gynecologist, so here it is on Vleeptron.

~ ~ ~

Marie Claire (magazine, Canada)
November 2006

A Soldier's Tale

by Tara McKelvey

She's the face of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib.
Now serving 36 months in military prison, Lynndie England breaks her silence about what happened in Iraq, and how it all started with falling for the wrong man.

Lynndie England smells like soap. She rubs her hands constantly, and her cuticles are raw and bleeding. Her hair is pulled back in four tortoiseshell clips, and it's streaked with premature gray. She is no longer the waiflike girl with a devilish grin who appeared in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos. On this warm fall afternoon, England, 23, now 30 pounds heavier, wears short-sleeve Army fatigues and black, waffle-soled boots. Her name is stitched across her chest. Dangling from her waist is a yellow-and-white badge that reads, "PRISONER."

This is England's 332nd day of a 36-month sentence. She's serving time in a flat, sandy-colored building surrounded by a 13'4" fence topped with concertina wire at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in San Diego. Since her arrival, she hasn't had a single visitor -- not even from her family.

Not that people haven't tried. England receives requests every week, according to her lawyer, Roy T. Hardy, who says that she doesn't give interviews. If she did, though, the first step would be reaching out to her family, with whom she is extremely close.

Which is how I'd wound up, four days earlier, in a trailer park situated off Route 46, behind a sheep farm, next to the windowless Roadside Pub in Fort Ashby, WV. I didn't know which home belonged to the Englands, so I chose one at random, then saw a cooler that said CSX -- the name of the railroad company England's father, Kenneth, works for -- next to the front steps. I knocked on the door. A skinny woman in her mid-40s, clutching a pack of Bronco 100s, answered. After some coaxing, Lynndie's mother, Terrie, invited me into her trailer. Maybe it was an article I showed her that I'd written about female soldiers killed in the war. Maybe it was because I'd come all the way to Fort Ashby (population 1354) to see her. But three days later, I was on a US Airways jet bound for San Diego with Terrie; England's older sister, Jessie, 26; and England's 2-year-old son, Carter Allan, who hadn't seen his mother in almost a year.

By now, people all over the world have heard of Lynndie England. She's the "Small-Town Girl Who Became an All-American Monster," as one Australian newspaper headline described her, or "the girl with a leash," as Mick Jagger calls her in the song "Dangerous Beauty." Yet England remains a mystery. Is she a torturer? A pawn? Another victim of the Iraq war? While the world weighed in, England said very little. She was only 20 when many of the Abu Ghraib photos were taken -- so young that her then-boyfriend, Charles Graner, 35, had to buy her drinks for her at an officers' club where they used to hang out in Fort Lee, VA, before their deployment to Iraq. She's lived in near-seclusion since the photos first appeared on 60 Minutes II in April of 2004, speaking to no one but her family, and then only by phone, since going to prison.

The lawn at the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar is golf-course thick, and rosebushes are planted alongside the prison's exterior walls. An American flag, hanging from an anchor-shaped pole, ripples in the breeze. Jessie, Carter, and Terrie, a former housekeeper who carries her daughter's metal dog tags in her purse, sit in the prison visitors' room, behind thick, reinforced glass doors guarded by military officers. I wait for England, who has agreed to give her first print interview ever. A few minutes later, she walks down a narrow hallway toward us. Terrie, who is holding Carter, raises him up high. He's quiet -- not wiggling or hollering, like he usually does. Mother and son reach their hands toward each other. No tears, no drama. England takes Carter in her arms; he hugs her tight, and England breaks into a smile.

Inside the visitors' room, mothers, sisters, and wives of prisoners sit at plastic tables, holding hands with inmates as they catch up on family gossip. Nobody seems to notice England. But she's used to being overlooked. That's how things were in Fort Ashby, at least according to the locals. "How many people pay attention to the grocery store cashier?" says Lorraine Boles, 71, a clerk at Fort Ashby Books, not far from the IGA where England worked as a checkout girl during high school. "I have a vague picture of one of the girls who worked there -- the one I think was Lynndie. She had a pretty smile."

Fort Ashby is nice enough; there's just not much to it: a 7-Eleven, two bars, Evan's Dairy Dip, and '70s songs by Kansas and Heart on the local radio. The median family income is $32,375, but many earn far less. England's father, a night-shift railroad-utility worker, makes $1500 a month, not counting overtime. No one in the family has earned a college degree, though Jessie got the closest, finishing half a semester at Potomac State College in Keyser, WV. These days, the IGA where Lynndie worked is shuttered. An "Authorized West Virginia WIC Vendor" sticker on the front door is faded and peeling. Nearby, the Englands' $200-a-month trailer sits on a dirt-and-gravel patch of land. On hot summer afternoons, the park smells faintly of manure from the neighboring farm. A rooster crows, and sheep bleat in their pens. Jessie, her husband, James, and their 2-year-old daughter, Allee, live in a mobile home a few yards away.

Growing up, England wore her hair short and no makeup. She hit softballs with her sister, joined the Future Farmers of America, and played cops and robbers, firing off pop guns as she ran through the uncut fields around her home. "Lynndie was always the cop. That was her big thing," says Jessie. "Guess that didn't work out too good for her."

Her ticket out of the trailer park was the U.S. Army. At age 17, England signed up in a Pittsburgh recruiter's office, over the protests of her mother. "I honestly didn't think there would be a war. But I was ready to go if there was one," England tells me. "I joined because I wanted to. And I wanted to pay for college."

The army put England on its reservist list. In the meantime, she hung out with James Fike, a former IGA stock boy who now worked at Pilgrim's Pride, a chicken-processing plant in Moorefield, WV, where England also got a job, for $10.50 an hour. (Jessie worked at the plant as well.) At Pilgrim's, England helped oversee the marinating and packaging of chicken. "Not long after I started working there, I noticed some chicken parts were discolored and diseased-looking, but the workers still sent them down the line at the plant," she tells me. "I told my supervisors." They ignored her. One night in July 2001, several months after she'd started her job, England got fed up. She walked over to her sister and took off her smock.

"What are you doing?" Jessie asked. "We've only been at work for an hour."

"I quit," England said, and walked out the door. "I didn't like the way management was doing things," England explains. "People were doing bad things. They'd let bad chicken go through the line -- chicken that still had blood on it -- and look the other way. Management didn't care."

Three years later, employees at England's plant were secretly videotaped throwing live chickens against a wall, twisting the neck of one until its head popped off, stomping on the animals, and suffocating them, according to a PETA investigation. "Besides being overly gross," says Jessie, "it was, like, morally wrong." Several employees were fired. England, then, was a whistle-blower. "A lot of people complained about it," she says defensively when I point this out. "It wasn't just me." Did it ever occur to her, I ask, to protest two years later, when things seemed wrong on the job at Abu Ghraib? She looks down at her hands and doesn't answer.

"Yeah, I thought it was weird," England says eventually. She's describing the human pyramid that was built in the hallway of Abu Ghraib and then photographed. As she talks, she's watching Carter play with a picture book. "We were told we were supposed to do those things. They said, 'Good job. Keep it up.'"

"Most people don't make up their excuse until after they are in trouble," says lawyer Hardy. He explains how England told him, four-and-a-half months before the scandal broke, that things weren't right at Abu Ghraib. It was December 2003, when England walked into his office, across the street from the courthouse in Keyser, WV.

Hardy, a tall, flirty, dark-haired Gulf War vet with an imposing gut who offers a discount to members of the military, greeted her in his office. England was home from Iraq on a two-week leave and wanted legal advice on getting a divorce from Fike, whom she'd married in March of 2002.

Apparently, she'd fallen for another man -- a soldier. That afternoon, England and Hardy talked about Iraq. She spoke of Abu Ghraib, and how they would "smoke" the detainees -- the code word for forcing prisoners to exercise until the point of collapse -- as well as making them walking around wearing women's underwear on their heads and other unusual disciplinary measures.

"She told me their job was to keep them awake: Let them sleep a little bit and then wake them back up. I said, 'Are you allowed to do that?' And she said, 'Oh yeah, that's what we're told to do,'" says Hardy. "She told me the officers were involved; they knew what was going on. There were a lot of what she called 'OGAs.'"

Officially, OGA stands for "other government agency." But everyone in the army knows it means the CIA. It also means, don't ask questions.

"It's a different situation than just working at McDonald's," says Jessie. "If you're told to do something by someone who's higher-ranking in the military, you do it. If you don't, you're going to be court-martialed. Lynndie basically found out you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. And being in love with Graner, that made it even harder."

It's mid-afternoon. In a playful mood, England lifts her son in the air. Carter, a husky toddler with the same chin as his father, Spc. Charles A. Graner, Jr., rips the prisoner badge from his mother's uniform and hurls it toward the wall. England stares at it, lying on the floor. Her mother and sister stare, too, trying to figure out what to do. Picking up the badge is against the rules. In fact, if England touches anything her family has handled, she'll be subjected to a full-body cavity search. As it is, she goes through a strip search after each of our four visits: "If you have your period, and you have a visitor, they make you take your tampon out afterward and squat and cough," she says. "You think those are mirrors?" England asks me, pointing to a row of reflective glass panes on the side of the room. "Those aren't mirrors. There are people on the other side, watching us the whole time."

Not surprisingly, rules are strict: Inmates have to rise at 5 a.m.; they have no choice in what they eat (tonight, macaroni and cheese); and they must perform chores like mowing the lawn, tending vegetable gardens, and folding the American flag. England, however, isn't allowed to take the flag down at the end of the day, "because I'm high-profile," she says. "Somebody might be on the golf course [nearby] and see me touching it" -- and maybe even snap a picture. She illustrates, clicking an invisible camera in the air.

Prisoners who break the rules -- "push buttons," England calls it -- are sent to "DeSeg." (Button-pushing includes such things as engaging in sexual activity with another prisoner.) "In DeSeg, they make you sit in isolation in a windowless room. You can't watch TV or read," she explains. "You have to sit at a desk. You can't sleep from reveille to nighttime." Sleep deprivation -- it sounds like one of the methods used on prisoners in Abu Ghraib. "Like a time-out," I add lightly, sensing England's tension. "You have no idea," she says, giving me a stony look.

And what about Graner? Make that "Shithead." That's what England calls him. She met him while processing his paperwork for the 372nd Military Police Company after he arrived in Cresaptown, MD, in November 2002. He was 15 years older. He used to follow her out to the smoking area. Graner didn't smoke, though; he just wanted to see her. "He was funny, the jokester," she says. "Was he too old for me? I didn't think about it at the time. He acted like he was 3 years old." He was loud, raunchy, and bad to the bone. "An outlaw," she calls him. Their affair started in March 2003, while they were stationed in Fort Lee.

"When Lynndie joined the army and was working at the reserve center in the U.S., she didn't know anybody. She was a really quiet girl," says former Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib during England's stint. "Enter Charles Graner. Their paths cross for the first time. He's much older, and he's full of himself. He's just got that kind of personality."

"She was blown away," Karpinski continues. "She felt like someone was finally talking to her. Paying attention. He seemed far more experienced and worldly than anyone she knew. It only took a few short conversations. She was enamored with him."

"Graner was the total opposite of Jamie [Fike, England's husband]," says Jessie. "Lynndie told me, 'He's real open. He likes to do stuff. Wild things.'" England didn't know about his past. According to court documents, Graner beat his former wife, Staci Morris, and dragged her by the hair across a room. A former civilian prison guard, he'd also been accused in a federal lawsuit of assaulting an inmate at Pennsylvania's State Correctional Institution-Greene in 1998 and putting a razor blade in the inmate's mashed potatoes.

England brought Graner home with her to Fort Ashby in early 2003. With a foul mouth and pierced nipples (they saw those later), he didn't make a good impression. That day, recalls Terrie, he stood in their living room and slowly looked around.

"Charles, you're more than welcome to sit down," she told him.

He remained standing.

"He couldn't wait to get out of there," says Terrie. "I don't know if he thought we were nothing or what. I said, 'You're nothing but trying to get into my daughter's pants.' He said, 'No, ma'am, my intentions are honorable.' He was blowing smoke up her ass. I said, 'Here's the door and don't let it hit you on the way out,'" she recalls.

"We were just like, 'There is something wrong with this guy,'" says Jessie. "I don't know what. Maybe when he was born, something fell out of his ear that was supposed to be attached to his brain."

But England refused to give him up. In March 2003, she went with Graner and another soldier to Virginia Beach. During the trip, Graner took pictures of himself having anal sex with England. He also photographed her placing her nipple in the ear of the other soldier, who was passed out in a hotel room. Soon, it became their new game: Whenever Graner asked her to, England would strike a pose.

"Everything they did, he took a picture of," says Hardy, her lawyer. "I asked Lynndie why she let him. She said, 'Guys like that. I just wanted to make him happy.' She was like a little plaything for him. The sexual stuff, the way he put her in those positions, that was his way of saying, 'Let's see what I can make you do.'"

After the Virginia Beach expedition, England and Graner rented a car and drove to eastern Kentucky, where her parents and grandfather were turkey hunting in Daniel Boone National Forest. Sitting between Graner and her parents at a picnic table, England asked Graner to share some scenic pictures from their trip to Virginia Beach. Graner handed an envelope to England's father, who opened it and scanned the images, then handed them to Terrie. They showed nudity and sexual scenes. Apparently, Graner had given them the wrong vacation shots. "I was really bent out of shape," Terrie says.

It's early afternoon. England looks out the prison window at a grassy area bathed in Southern California sunlight. Two people are sitting outside at a table. A golden retriever lies nearby on the lawn. "That's Evelyn," England says. "She's one of the dogs we work with in the prison program. We start them at eight weeks, and we train them to help the handicapped. They work in nursing homes, or help deaf people. Some of the dogs live with people who have panic attacks. The dog knows beforehand that a panic attack is coming on, and they can make a signal so the person can get their medication before it's too late."

When she describes the dogs, England's face lights up. Her mom, Terrie, has two cats, Sadie and Piggy. Until she gave birth to her daughter, Jessie had three. As kids, she and England used to watch "Where the Red Fern Grows," a film based on a Wilson Rawls novel about a 10-year-old and his two hunting dogs in the Ozarks during the Depression. The video still sits on a shelf in her parents' trailer.

"We love animals -- cats, dogs," says Jessie. "We're real tender with them."


In June 2003, a group of about 20 soldiers, including England, Graner, Specialist Sabrina Harman, Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick II, and Specialist Joseph M. Darby, were deployed for duty in Iraq. The first stop: the Hilla camp, 58 miles south of Baghdad, where the army was training new Iraqi police officers. The American forces took up residence in an abandoned date-processing factory, a big, open space, like an airplane hangar, but screaming hot and full of bird shit.

Not long into their stay, two of the soldiers appeared at the base one day with animal carcasses. They'd found a dead goat and a dead cat somewhere and started slicing them up. Someone took a photo of a soldier pretending to have sex with the goat's head. "Then they cut off the cat's head and shoved it on the top of a soda bottle," England says.

For several weeks, the decaying animal heads provided entertainment for the soldiers. "Someone put sunglasses on them, and put the rifle next to the heads and took a picture. Some soldiers put a cigarette in the cat's mouth," she says. The soldiers stashed the severed heads in their rooms.

"It was funny," England says. "So funny."

During that time, Graner instigated another kind of amusement: sexually charged weekly theme parties in the barracks. "Naked Chem-Light Tuesday," he called it. A Chem-Light is a light stick used by soldiers that's akin to a flashlight, containing hydrogen peroxide and a fluorescent dye packaged in a small plastic tube. Break it open, and the stuff glows for hours. One night, Graner pulled his shorts down, poured the contents of a Chem-Light onto his penis, and walked around naked.

In October 2003, the soldiers set aside their games and headed for their next assignment: Abu Ghraib.

Janis Karpinski remembers the day England arrived at Abu Ghraib in 2003. "She came in a carload of 20 soldiers," she recalls. "On their way to the prison they hit an IED [improvised explosive device]. It didn't hurt them, but it was a real 'welcome to Baghdad' moment." England and the other soldiers climbed out of the vehicle. Karpinski greeted them. "I shook her hand -- it was very small. She's small, you know. Not assertive or aggressive. Honestly, she was young and innocent. I know those words don't seem to apply to the pictures she was in. But when I touched her, I felt fear."

England arrived in the thick of intense fighting. Insurgents launched mortar attacks at night. During the day, snipers trained their weapons on guards. In between, prisoners threatened to riot, walking in circles, chanting in protest. England worked in a processing office. She had no real business being in Tier 1A, where Graner worked, the wing of the prison where suspected insurgents were held. But she'd slip over there at 10 p.m. and wait for Graner in his cot. "In situations like Iraq, the first thing some young female soldiers look for is a protector -- a senior male, let's say, who's sitting in a vehicle with her," says Karpinski. "She says, 'I'm really afraid.' And he says, 'Don't worry.' A closeness develops. It's intentional on his part. And naive on hers. Graner is a big, hunky guy. He can probably put his arms around England and still touch his shoulders. Does she feel safe with him? Yes. And all she has to do is be sexually wild with him."

And pose for more pictures. In a supply room, Graner takes a shot of England performing oral sex. England adds a flourish for the photos: a thumbs-up sign. In another photo, England is standing near a detainee, Hayder Sabbar Abd, a 34-year-old taxi driver, as he is being made to simulate masturbation. Again, she gives a thumbs-up.

Why did she let Graner take all those pictures? Wasn't she afraid he'd show them to people? "I didn't want him to take the pictures," England tells me. "But he took pictures of everything. He kept a camera in his cargo pocket. He was always taking his camera out. Sometimes he took the pictures for himself. Sometimes he took them for documentation."

According to Frederick, who was deposed during the military trial, "[Graner] always talked about being in Desert Storm, and the things he saw and did, and he had no way to prove these things happened. So this time around, he said he was going to take pictures to take back home as proof."

England remembers one detainee, "Gus." (The prisoner's real name has not been released.) "He didn't like Americans," she says. Gus was a "small man weighing approximately 100 pounds," according to government documents. He was mentally ill; he had smeared his own feces on his body and threatened to kill some of the guards. One autumn night, Graner went into his cell with a leash (a "tie-down strap," according to the documents). Gus was submissive. Graner put the strap around his neck, led him out of the cell, and handed the strap to England. Then he took a picture -- and sent the jpeg to his family in Pennsylvania.

"Look what I made Lynndie do," Graner wrote in the email.

Another prisoner, Hussein Mohssein Mata Al-Zayiadi, testified he was beaten and forced on top of a human pyramid. The abuse took place at night and into the early morning hours of November 8, 2003, England's 21st birthday.

Who came up with the idea?

"It wasn't us, it was his daddy," England says, nodding at Carter, who's sitting next to her. She reaches over and kisses him on the forehead, while he grapples with a plastic airplane and then shoves it across the table.

Where did Graner get the idea?

"He said it was because it was a narrow corridor, and it would be better to put them all together and that it would keep them busy. He didn't tell us what he was going to do before he did it. He just told us as we were doing it."

A photograph of the human pyramid was used as a screen saver on a computer at the prison, according to a military investigation. Testifying in court, Al-Zayiadi said he'd believed Americans were good when they removed Saddam Hussein from power in April 2003. The events that November changed his view.

"What occurred that night has humiliated him so much so that he has wanted to kill himself," according to England's court-martial. "But he does not have the means to do so, because he is still in Abu Ghraib."

Karpinski remembers when she first saw the photos. It was late one evening at Camp Victory, a military base in Baghdad. "A colonel came into my office with a folder. When I opened it, the first thing I saw was a human pyramid. There's little Lynndie England, looking like some two-bit prison-marm with that cigarette dangling out of her throat and her thumbs-up. I was shocked."

England has taken the tortoiseshell clips out of her hair now, letting it fall around her cheekbones. She doesn't like the feeling. But her military attorney has advised her to grow her hair longer, to try and look more feminine. Softer. She shakes her head and makes a face. England is up for parole this fall, but chances are, Hardy says, she'll serve out her term. She was found guilty of mistreating detainees, conspiracy, and committing an indecent act. Although she was not found guilty of actual physical abuse, she received one of the harshest punishments of those implicated in the debacle.

It's been two-and-a-half years since the scandal broke. Does England feel bad about what happened at Abu Ghraib? Guilty? Has her opinion about what she did changed?

"Yeah," she says, nodding her head. "I can't explain why."

She looks at the floor and is silent. When she speaks, she does so carefully -- the way she's been coached.

Clearly, England has confided in her lawyer about things she saw or did that never came up in court, and Hardy wants to protect her from any new charges. So he has counseled her to say, "I heard," or "There were rumors," or "I was told," when she describes things.

"Some of them were nice," she says, referring to the detainees. "Some of them spoke English. Some of them hated Americans."

Is it true that an American contractor sexually assaulted an Iraqi boy in prison?

"I heard rumors he did things to boys in the cell," she says.

Were men hung in their cells with their arms tied behind their backs?

Hardy gives England a stern look. "Remember what I said," he tells her.

"I was told there were hangings of people in the doorways of cells," she says.

England doesn't flinch when she mentions them. It reminds me of her reaction to the mutilated animals in Hilla -- so strange, from a self-described animal lover. In both cases, she seems utterly detached, a slight, awkward smile fluttering across her face.

Terrie and Jessie are sitting in a McDonald's off I-68 near LaVale, Maryland, one day after their visit with England. Carter is there, too, chugging a container of chocolate milk, oblivious to the drama his family is caught up in.

Graner, England had told me back at the prison, never admitted to being Carter's father. "He's not on the birth certificate," she said. "In order to get that, we'd need a paternity test. That would give him rights, and I don't want him to have any. I don't want him around Carter."

What will she tell him about his father?

"I don't know."

Has he asked about him?


Inside the McDonald's, Carter reaches for a fistful of Chicken McNuggets. "Daddy!" he shouts, trying out a new word. Terrie explains that's what he's taken to calling Ken, England's father. Usually, the family just lets it slide. Nobody wants to tell Carter his father is a prisoner in the U.S. Army Disciplinary Barracks in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas -- and that he doesn't want to see his son.

I figure now is as good as any a time to mention that some people say England must have been abused as a child. That it would help explain her abhorrent behavior. Terrie and Jessie have heard it all before. They say England was never mistreated, sexually or physically. They are an exceptionally close trio: playfully teasing, quarreling, protecting one another. When they were children, Jessie looked out for her little sister, pulling other kids aside in the school cafeteria and telling them to knock it off when they made fun of England's wandering eyes (a medical condition that has improved as she's gotten older). These days, Terrie worries about England incessantly; on one afternoon alone in San Diego, she popped at least three Xanaxes. ("I love my mom, but I'm like, 'Breathe!'" says Jessie.)

Neither does it seem right to call England "overly compliant," as a court psychologist suggested during the trial. She did, after all, stand up to her mother when Terrie didn't want her to join the army; she stood up to her family when they disapproved of Graner; and to the Pilgrim's Pride supervisors when they looked the other way.

One thing, though, is certain. England was a small-town girl, not even of legal drinking age, when she found herself halfway around the world, in an amoral place, surrounded by violence and infatuated with a volatile, manipulative man.

"You have to understand that it builds into a crescendo," says Karpinski. "Lynndie is away from the flagpole, in Abu Ghraib -- the most terrible place. You're being mortared every night. You are breathing dust and broken concrete. It's hot. You feel dehumanized. You're drained of every bit of compassion that you have. She did it because she wanted to come back from this godforsaken war and be able to say, 'We did this for the government.' She was made to believe that this was of such importance to national security. It was, you know, 'You stick with me, kid, and you might even win a medal.'"

"Graner was her protector," Karpinski continues. "She wanted to please him, and she'd do anything he told her to do. She's thinking, 'Graner would never tell me the wrong thing. I'm sleeping with him. I trust him.'"

Now England can't take any of it back. She seems resigned. "They're never going to clear my name," she told me earlier. "Everybody knows who I am." These days, she's trying to prepare for a future with her son -- learning to repair computer and electronic equipment, so she'll have a trade when she gets out. "Now I can fix anything," she said.

She's been checking on salaries for electricians in Fort Ashby through a software program that prisoners are allowed to use: "Thirty-five thousand a year." England has also been taking a parenting course. She and the other inmates role-play: One person acts like a parent, and another is the child. A third inmate writes down strategies the "parent" uses.

"Although," she said as our last prison visit came to an end, "after spending time with Carter this weekend, I went back to my cell last night and was like, 'You can throw all the stuff I've learned in my parenting class out the window.'"

Finishing up a cup of black coffee at McDonald's, Terrie shares her own perspective on how hard it is to be a mother. "People say they understand what I'm going through," she says, keeping an eye on Carter as he bats at his McNuggets.

"I want to say, 'You have no idea what it's like to have your daughter be the cause of a worldwide scandal.'"

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