Charles Darwin's ecological experiment on Ascension isle

By Howard Falcon-Lang

A lonely island in the middle of the South Atlantic conceals Charles Darwin's best-kept secret.

Two hundred years ago, Ascension Island was a barren volcanic edifice.

Today, its peaks are covered by lush tropical "cloud forest".

What happened in the interim is the amazing story of how the architect of evolution, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem.

By a bizarre twist, this great imperial experiment may hold the key to the future colonization of Mars.

The tiny tropical island of Ascension isn't easy it find. It is marooned in the ocean, 1,600km (1000 miles) from the coast of Africa and 2,250km (1,400 miles) from South America.

Its existence depends entirely on what geologists call the mid-Atlantic ridge. This is a chain of underwater volcanoes formed as the ocean is wrenched apart.

However, because Ascension occupies a "hot spot" on the ridge, its volcano is especially active. A million years ago, molten magma explosively burst above the waves.

A new island was born.

Back in 1836, the young Charles Darwin was coming to the end of his five-year mission to explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no naturalist had gone before.

Aboard HMS Beagle, he called in at Ascension. En route from another remote volcanic island, St Helena, Darwin wasn't expecting much.

"We know we live on a rock, but the poor people of Ascension live on a cinder," the residents of St Helena had joked before his departure.

But arriving on Ascension put an unexpected spring in Darwin's step.

Professor David Catling of the University of Washington, Seattle, is retracing Darwin's travels for a new book. He told the BBC: "Awaiting Darwin on Ascension was a letter from his Cambridge mentor, John Henslow."

"Darwin's voyage of discovery had already caused a huge sensation in London," he explained.

"Henslow assured him that on his return, he would take his place among the great men of science."

At this fantastic news, Darwin bounded forth in ecstasy, the sound of his geological hammer ringing from hill to hill.

Everywhere, bright red volcanic cones and rugged black lava signalled the violent forces that had wrought the island.

Yet, thinks Professor Catling, amid this wild desolation, Darwin began to hatch a plot.

Out of the ashes of the volcano, he would create a green oasis - a "Little England".

Darwin's great buddy was Joseph Hooker, the intrepid botanist and explorer.

Only a few years after Darwin's return, Hooker was off on his own adventures, an ambitious slingshot around Antarctica aboard HMS Erebus and Terror. Mirroring Darwin's voyage, Hooker called in on Ascension on the way home in 1843.

Ascension was a strategic base for the Royal Navy. Originally set up to keep a watchful eye on the exiled emperor Napoleon on nearby St Helena, it was a thriving waystation at the time of Hooker's visit.

However, the big problem that impeded further expansion of this imperial outpost was the supply of fresh water.

Ascension was an arid island, buffeted by dry trade winds from southern Africa. Devoid of trees at the time of Darwin and Hooker's visits, the little rain that did fall quickly evaporated away.

Egged on by Darwin, in 1847 Hooker advised the Royal Navy to set in motion an elaborate plan. With the help of Kew Gardens - where Hooker's dad was director - shipments of trees were to be sent to Ascension.

The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich loamy soils. The "cinder" would become a garden.

So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina.

Soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, eucalyptus, norfolk island pine, bamboo, and banana had all run riot.

Back in England, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution were busily uprooting the Garden of Eden.

But on a green hill far away, a new "island Eden" was being created.

Yet could Darwin's secret garden have more far reaching consequences?

Dr Dave Wilkinson is an ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University, who has written extensively about Ascension Island's strange ecosystem.

He first visited Ascension in 2003.

"I remember thinking, this is really weird," he told the BBC.

"There were all kinds of plants that don't belong together in nature, growing side by side. I only later found out about Darwin, Hooker and everything that had happened," he said.

Wilkinson describes the vegetation of "Green Mountain" - as the highest peak is now known - as a "cloud forest". The trees capture sea mist, creating a damp oasis amid the aridity.

However, this is a forest with a difference. It is totally artificial.

Such ecosystems normally develop over million of years through a slow process of co-evolution. By contrast, the Green Mountain cloud forest was cobbled together by the Royal Navy in a matter of decades.

"This is really exciting!" exclaimed Wilkinson.

"What it tells us is that we can build a fully functioning ecosystem through a series of chance accidents or trial and error".

In effect, what Darwin, Hooker and the Royal Navy achieved was the world's first experiment in "terra-forming". They created a self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystem in order to make Ascension Island more habitable.

Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. In other words, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it "find its own way".

However, to date, scientists have been deaf to the parable of Ascension Island.

"It's a terrible waste that no one is studying it," remarked Wilkinson at the end of the interview.

Ascension Island's secret is safe for years to come, it seems.

Inside a toxic hellhole, Iron Mountain Mine

by Peter Fimrite

A strange chemical smell lingered in the stifling heat as a group of environmental scientists groped in the darkness through one of the most polluted places on Earth.

The Iron Mountain Mine, outside of Redding, is a hellish pit where acid water sloshes against your boots, greenish bacterial slime gurgles out of the walls, and stalactites and stalagmites of acid salt, copper and iron jut out like rusty daggers.

"You don't want to splash this stuff," said Rick Sugarek, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's project manager for the Iron Mountain Superfund site. "This is the concentrated stuff."

The water - so acidic it could dissolve fabrics and burn skin - lapped against the rubber boots of the scientists, toxic-substance specialists, geologists and EPA officials who slopped in the dark toward the source of the toxic stew that created what experts describe as the "world's worst water."

"It's really kind of creepy," said Jane Vorpagel, a staff environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Game, who was seeing the slime-dripping cavern for the first time.

The recent mine tour was, in part, an attempt to familiarize Jared Blumenfeld, the Environmental Protection Agency's recently appointed regional administrator, with the worst of the 128 Superfund sites in his district.

But it was also a lesson on the extent of the damage humans are capable of inflicting on their environment and the innovative methods of resolving those problems.

The EPA has taken extraordinary measures to neutralize the toxic mixture that polluted the Sacramento River and its tributaries for more than a century.

The flow of pollution, which killed thousands of fish and did untold damage to the river habitat, is largely being held at bay and the damage has been contained. But the journey through the vile dungeon of the mine showed clearly that the danger will always remain.

Iron Mountain, about 9 miles northwest of Redding, was once a majestic peak topped with red iron rust that suggested to miners in the 1860s that a little digging might reveal valuable copper.

A company called Mountain Copper established a 4,400-acre mine in the 1890s and began to supply sulfuric acid to refineries in the Bay Area. It became the largest copper mine in California by the turn of the century, and a small city of laborers lived on the mountain. Twenty cavities the size of office buildings were drilled into the rock.

The mining operation turned to rubble what was originally a 200-foot-thick by 3,000-foot-long underground deposit of pyrite, the metallic mineral known as fool's gold. The destruction of the mountain exposed the pyrite to oxygen, water and bacteria that combined to create poisonous runoff.

The result was the worst concentration of acid in the world, about 500 times more toxic than any other mine.

Today, dirt roads snake over and around the mountain. Treatment plants, holding ponds and dams are scattered about to catch the toxic runoff. The entire area is carved up. Rubble and large areas of bare reddish dirt pock the hills.

The primary source of the acid is inside a shaft on the side of a steep, barren hillside known as the Richmond Mine. The group that trekked into the bowels of this shaft was one of the first to ever go that deep; it included news media and other observers not directly involved in Superfund research.

Inside, the sound of bubbling and burbling is everywhere as water drips onto superheated rocks and turns into vapor. The chemical steam heats up the cavern and emits a strong odor. One visitor is told it might not be good to breathe the air there for extended periods of time.

This is what Sugarek calls "the belly of the beast," a place so hot and lacking in oxygen that it has to be pumped full of air so workers and visitors don't pass out.

The Richmond tunnel is mostly covered with a fiber concrete that protects against collapse, but the acid salts eat away at the material deeper inside, exposing rotting old timber beams. Iridescent green copper stalactites jut down from above, and sparkling black mineral deposits known as Voltaite multiply over the rock walls, much of which is made of pyrite.

The tour group wore rubber boots and gear to protect against ever-present water that is so acidic even a droplet would eat a hole in blue jeans or dissolve the stitching on boots, much like battery acid. Splashing it on bare skin would cause "exfoliation," Sugarek said with a wry grin.

"This certainly seems like the mother lode of contaminated sites," Blumenfeld said. "It is our job to learn from this and make sure it never happens again."

Over the past year, workers dredged much of the 170,000 cubic yards of copper, cadmium, zinc and iron that had flowed out of the mine and accumulated for 50 years at the bottom of the Spring Creek arm of the Keswick Reservoir. The sediments were piped up to a newly built treatment facility that separated out the solids and neutralized the toxic metals, which were then dried out and secured in pits on nearby federal land.

Sugarek, who has been in charge of the Superfund site for 20 years, said the management of toxic material will continue, but, to date, 98 percent of the toxic material has been captured and contained.

"Our main goal at the EPA was to protect the Sacramento River," Sugarek said. "A ton a day of copper and zinc used to hit the river. We have been able to reduce that to 2 percent of what it once was."

The flow from this chemical cauldron into the Sacramento River and its tributaries was devastating, EPA officials said. Before the creeping acid was contained, it was as bad for the environment as 100 oil refineries pouring petroleum into a salmon spawning stream would have been, Sugarek said.

The Bureau of Reclamation built an earthen dam in 1963 to block the steady flow of sludge, but it would often overflow during heavy winter rains and the copper and metals would get into the Sacramento River.

The mine was finally abandoned in 1966 and collapsed in on itself shortly after that, but the problem only got worse. By the time the EPA took over management of the area in the 1980s, a ton of acidic water a day was flowing into the river and the water in the debris dam was blood red from the mixture of iron and copper.

In 1988, a sudden surge of power at a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plant sent 2,000 cubic feet per second of metal-laden water flowing out of the Keswick Reservoir, turning the Sacramento River red all the way to Hamilton City, 100 miles away.

Desperate, the EPA built the Slick Rock Creek Retention Dam in 2004, which captured most of the red sludge. Now the EPA is concentrating on the leftover mess, which is expected to cost the government $200 million to manage over 30 years.

A federal court recently held the owner of the mountain, Ted Arman, and Iron Mountain Mines Inc. liable for nearly $27 million in past cleanup costs and some $30 million in interest accrued over the years. The former owner, Rhône-Poulenc, which later became Aventis CropScience USA Inc., agreed to pay the federal government $154 million over 30 years in future cleanup costs.

Sugarek said the runoff can be captured, cleaned and turned into landfill for up to 100 years if the money is available. The problem is that the toxic broth will continue pouring out of the mine for 3,000 years until the pyrite is used up or someone figures out a way to neutralize the chemical and biological reactions, scientists say.

"There is nothing that we have in the world today that solves this particular dilemma," Sugarek said. "What we can do is collect it and treat it and hope that in the next 30 years we have come up with new technology or techniques to resolve it."

At one point during the mine tour several members began edging into a cavern and were quickly alerted by EPA officials that it was not safe to go any farther. A sudden increase in temperature was immediately apparent at the mouth of this cavity.

The shaft leads into a place deeper inside where researchers recently found six unique strains of bacteria living in a bed of pink slime that are part of a little-understood biochemical cycle that devours iron, produces sulfuric acid, and creates a nightmarish broth of copper, zinc and arsenic.

There, the chemical reactions drive temperatures up to 130 degrees and the puddled water is sulfuric acid, concentrated enough to melt an aluminum ladder. Sugarek said the rocks inside this noxious horror house have been known to catch on fire from time to time.

NASA once sent a robot in - and nobody ever saw the machine again or collected any scientific data from it, Sugarek said.

Scientists at NASA and UC Berkeley have not given up. They are studying the pink slime and what they believe is a primitive form of bacteria inside the mine, a substance so unusual that it can survive in laboratory-grade acid.

It is a measure of success, Blumenfeld said, that this toxic concoction is no longer pouring into the river.

"We've come across to the other side of the mountain," he said. "It is great to see that we can get back to a place where the water again runs clear. If you can clean up the Iron Mountain Mine, you can clean up anything."

Westerners vs. the World: We are the WEIRD ones

by Adam McDowell

The Ultimatum Game works like this: You are given $100 and asked to share it with someone else. You can offer that person any amount and if he accepts the offer, you each get to keep your share. If he rejects your offer, you both walk away empty-handed.

How much would you offer? If it's close to half the loot, you're a typical North American. Studies show educated Americans will make an average offer of $48, whether in the interest of fairness or in the knowledge that too low an offer to their counterpart could be rejected as unfair. If you're on the other side of the table, you're likely to reject offers right up to $40.

It seems most of humanity would play the game differently. Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia took the Ultimatum Game into the Peruvian Amazon as part of his work on understanding human co-operation in the mid-1990s and found that the Machiguenga considered the idea of offering half your money downright weird — and rejecting an insultingly low offer even weirder.

"I was inclined to believe that rejection in the Ultimatum Game would be widespread. With the Machiguenga, they felt rejecting was absurd, which is really what economists think about rejection," Dr. Henrich says. "It's completely irrational to turn down free money. Why would you do that?"

It turns out the Machiguenga — whose number system goes: one, two, three, many — are not alone in their thinking. Most people from non-Western cultures introduced to the Ultimatum Game play differently than Westerners. And that is one clue that the Western mind differs in fundamental ways from the rest of humanity, according to Dr. Henrich. He and two other UBC researchers authored a paper shaking up the fields of psychology, cognitive science and behavioural economics by questioning whether we can know anything about humanity in general if we only study a "truly unusual group of people" — the privileged products of Western industrial societies, who just happen to make up the vast majority of behavioural science test subjects.

The article, titled "The weirdest people in the world?", appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. The UBC trio have come to the controversial conclusion that, say, the Machiguenga are not psychological outliers among humanity. We are.

"If you're a Westerner, your intuitions about human psychology are probably wrong or at least there's good reason to believe they're wrong," Dr. Henrich says.

After analyzing reams of data from earlier studies, the UBC team found that WEIRD people reacted differently from others in experiment after experiment involving measures of fairness, anti-social punishment and co-operation, as well as visual illusions and questions of individualism and conformity.

Others punish participants perceived as too altruistic in co-operation games, but very few in the English-speaking West would ever dream of penalizing the generous. Westerners tend to group objects based on resemblance (notebooks and magazines go together, for example) while Chinese test subjects prefer function (grouping, say, a notebook with a pencil). Privileged Westerners, uniquely, define themselves by their personal characteristics as opposed to their roles in society.

Moreover, WEIRD people do not simply react to the world differently, according to the paper, they perceive it differently to begin with. Take the well-known Muller-Lyer optical illusion, which uses arrows to trick the viewer into thinking one line is longer than another, even if both are the same length. (See the diagram on this page.)

"No matter how many times you measure those lines, you can't cause yourself to see them as the same length," Dr. Henrich says. At least that's true for a Westerner. For some hunter-gatherers, the Muller-Lyer lines do not cause an illusion. "You do this with foragers in the Kalahari [Desert] and they just see the lines as the same length."

WEIRD people, the UBC researchers argue, have unusual ideas of fairness, are more individualistic and less conformist than other people. In many of these respects, Americans are the most "extreme" Westerners, especially young ones. And educated Americans are even more extremely WEIRD than uneducated ones.

"The fact that WEIRD people are the outliers in so many key domains of the behavioral sciences may render them one of the worst subpopulations one could study for generalizing about Homo sapiens," the authors conclude. "If the goal of the research program is to shed light on the human condition, then this narrow, unrepresentative sample may lead to an uneven and incomplete understanding."

In other words, we do not know what we thought we knew about the human mind. We only know about the mind of a particular, unusual slice of humanity.

The UBC researchers also found that 96% of behavioural science experiment subjects are from Western industrialized countries, which account for just 12% of the world's population. Sixty-eight percent were Americans. The United States is dominant in the field of psychology, accounting for 70% of all journal citations, compared with 37% in chemistry. Undergraduate students are often used to stand in for the entire species.

"This is a serious problem because psychology varies across cultures and chemistry doesn't," says Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia.

The paper argues that either many studies' conclusions have to be retested on non-WEIRD cultural groups — a daunting proposition in terms of resources — or they must be understood to offer insight only into the minds of rich, educated Westerners.

If WEIRD people are indeed weird, it is the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution that have made them so. In the example of the Muller-Lyer illusion, the UBC team hypothesizes that growing up in an industrial-era environment with plenty of 90-degree lines and carpentered edges led to WEIRD people's sense of vision being susceptible to the deception.

"We live in this world with police and institutions and pre-packaged food, TV, the Internet, watches and clocks and calendars. Our heads are loaded with all this information for navigating those environments. So we should expect our brains to be distorted," Dr. Henrich says.

North American behavioural scientists were aware of the issues raised by the paper. "It confirms something that many researchers knew all along but didn't want to admit or acknowledge because its implications are so troublesome," says Dr. Haidt of the University of Virginia, who was on a panel of academics who reviewed the article before publication.

Dr. Henrich says the UBC team expected stiff resistance to its ideas. But overall the paper has been well-received, says Dr. Haidt, although, of course, it has been read mostly by WEIRD academics. But how would the other 88% of humanity react? Would they be surprised to learn that rich Westerners are, in a word, weird?

"I don't think so," Dr. Henrich says.

Some psychologists doubt whether privileged Westerners actually are the odd people out. Cultural psychologist Will Bennis of Northwestern University applauds the UBC team's call to widen the spectrum of humanity studied by behavioural scientists, but he doubts whether a more cosmopolitan subject pool will sustain the idea that WEIRD people are "more unique, more distinct, more different from all the other populations that have been targets of research."

"Why do they look like outliers? Is it because they are more weird than other populations? Or is it something methodological that's making it look like they're outliers," Dr. Bennis asks.

He notes a human tendency, throughout history and across cultures, to regard one's own group as unique. "There's a lot of reasons why we might mistakenly assume that our group is special," he says. "The point isn't that our group is not special, it's that each group is special in its own unique way. As WEIRD psychologists ... we happen to know what's special about our own group and we happen to focus on that in our psychological research."

The WEIRD hypothesis does not throw out the whole idea of human behavioural and psychological universals. The UBC team remains confident that displays of pride and some aspects of mating, for example, will turn out to be pan-human characteristics.

The UBC researchers acknowledge the limits of what is known about WEIRD versus non-WEIRD populations. Because data comparing how people from different populations think is relatively hard to come by, the authors write, "we cannot accurately evaluate the full extent of how unusual WEIRD people are."

"This is, however, precisely the point. We hope research teams will be inspired to span the globe and prove our claims of non-representativeness wrong."


Dancing at the Movies

A montage of movie dance scenes set perfectly to "Footloose" - A collection of dance clips from almost 40 movies from dance movies to comedies, from Fred Astaire to Micheal Jackson.

Google's Earth

By William Gibson

“I ACTUALLY think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions,” said the search giant’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, in a recent and controversial interview. “They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.” Do we really desire Google to tell us what we should be doing next? I believe that we do, though with some rather complicated qualifiers.

Science fiction never imagined Google, but it certainly imagined computers that would advise us what to do. HAL 9000, in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” will forever come to mind, his advice, we assume, imminently reliable — before his malfunction. But HAL was a discrete entity, a genie in a bottle, something we imagined owning or being assigned. Google is a distributed entity, a two-way membrane, a game-changing tool on the order of the equally handy flint hand ax, with which we chop our way through the very densest thickets of information. Google is all of those things, and a very large and powerful corporation to boot.

We have yet to take Google’s measure. We’ve seen nothing like it before, and we already perceive much of our world through it. We would all very much like to be sagely and reliably advised by our own private genie; we would like the genie to make the world more transparent, more easily navigable. Google does that for us: it makes everything in the world accessible to everyone, and everyone accessible to the world. But we see everyone looking in, and blame Google.

Google is not ours. Which feels confusing, because we are its unpaid content-providers, in one way or another. We generate product for Google, our every search a minuscule contribution. Google is made of us, a sort of coral reef of human minds and their products. And still we balk at Mr. Schmidt’s claim that we want Google to tell us what to do next. Is he saying that when we search for dinner recommendations, Google might recommend a movie instead? If our genie recommended the movie, I imagine we’d go, intrigued. If Google did that, I imagine, we’d bridle, then begin our next search.

We never imagined that artificial intelligence would be like this. We imagined discrete entities. Genies. We also seldom imagined (in spite of ample evidence) that emergent technologies would leave legislation in the dust, yet they do. In a world characterized by technologically driven change, we necessarily legislate after the fact, perpetually scrambling to catch up, while the core architectures of the future, increasingly, are erected by entities like Google.

Cyberspace, not so long ago, was a specific elsewhere, one we visited periodically, peering into it from the familiar physical world. Now cyberspace has everted. Turned itself inside out. Colonized the physical. Making Google a central and evolving structural unit not only of the architecture of cyberspace, but of the world. This is the sort of thing that empires and nation-states did, before. But empires and nation-states weren’t organs of global human perception. They had their many eyes, certainly, but they didn’t constitute a single multiplex eye for the entire human species.

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison design is a perennial metaphor in discussions of digital surveillance and data mining, but it doesn’t really suit an entity like Google. Bentham’s all-seeing eye looks down from a central viewpoint, the gaze of a Victorian warder. In Google, we are at once the surveilled and the individual retinal cells of the surveillant, however many millions of us, constantly if unconsciously participatory. We are part of a post-geographical, post-national super-state, one that handily says no to China. Or yes, depending on profit considerations and strategy. But we do not participate in Google on that level. We’re citizens, but without rights.

Much of the discussion of Mr. Schmidt’s interview centered on another comment: his suggestion that young people who catastrophically expose their private lives via social networking sites might need to be granted a name change and a fresh identity as adults. This, interestingly, is a matter of Google letting societal chips fall where they may, to be tidied by lawmakers and legislation as best they can, while the erection of new world architecture continues apace.

If Google were sufficiently concerned about this, perhaps the company should issue children with free “training wheels” identities at birth, terminating at the age of majority. One could then either opt to connect one’s adult identity to one’s childhood identity, or not. Childhoodlessness, being obviously suspect on a résumé, would give birth to an industry providing faux adolescences, expensively retro-inserted, the creation of which would gainfully employ a great many writers of fiction. So there would be a silver lining of sorts.

To be sure, I don’t find this a very realistic idea, however much the prospect of millions of people living out their lives in individual witness protection programs, prisoners of their own youthful folly, appeals to my novelistic Kafka glands. Nor do I take much comfort in the thought that Google itself would have to be trusted never to link one’s sober adulthood to one’s wild youth, which surely the search engine, wielding as yet unimagined tools of transparency, eventually could and would do.

I imagine that those who are indiscreet on the Web will continue to have to make the best of it, while sharper cookies, pocketing nyms and proxy cascades (as sharper cookies already do), slouch toward an ever more Googleable future, one in which Google, to some even greater extent than it does now, helps us decide what we’ll do next.

William Gibson is the author of the forthcoming novel “Zero History.”



After all these years, Beach Boys still sending out good vibrations


It's hard to think about summer music without conjuring up images of America's top pop band of all time, The Beach Boys. Songs such as "Surfin' USA," "Kokomo," "California Girls" and "Good Vibrations" have been part of the pop culture landscape for decades and it doesn't matter if you're 8 or 80, the songs seem to resonate with everyone.

Mike Love, along with his cousins Dennis, Carl and Brian Wilson and good friend Al Jardine comprised the original lineup from 1961 and Love continues the band today.

"I think the subject matter has a lot to do with the longevity of the songs," Love says. "We were writing about surfing, cars and great girls we lusted after. We really defined a Southern Californian lifestyle that could be vicariously enjoyed by people all around the world. There were great harmonies and fun lyrics and they became very successful."

With 36 top-40 hits, the Beach Boys have been on the American charts more than any other rock band and, although the band has gone through fights, hardships and adversity through the years, they continue to tour and put out best selling albums.

"Our last album -- 'Sounds of Summer' sold 3 million copies, which in the age of downloading, I think is really great," Love says. "It's incredible to us that we are still able to do what we love every day."

Touring hundreds of dates each year, Love and the band have probably sang each tune tens of thousands of times. Still, he says, the audience keeps the songs challenging and fun.

"It's a combination of the energy of the audience with the intricacies of the songs that keeps us on our toes as musicians," Love says. "Ninety-nine percent of the time we have a structured list, but we will drop in requests or different songs. The spontaneity of the audience and their singing along gets us all excited."

With two upcoming shows in Connecticut -- one at the Foxwoods casino on Aug. 6 and one a day earlier at the Live@Five outdoor event at Columbus Park in Stamford, the Beach Boys will be bringing their legendary harmonies to the state next week.

"The Stamford show is more of a party atmosphere with people eating and drinking and so it's slightly different," Love says. "Both shows will offer something great and people of all ages come to the show and have fun."

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the band that started as five California young lads harmonizing as good as anyone had ever heard.

It's just a special milestone. Not that many people have endured that long in the music field," Love says. "We started out in 61 and the Beatles and Rolling Stones came along later, and it really says a lot about the band as far as how much of an effect the band and the songs have had on people for so long."

Dennis and Carl Wilson have passed away and both Jardine and Brian Wilson continue to tour in their own bands, but as the 50th anniversary approaches, there is talk that all surviving members will reunite for a Beach Boys reunion in 2011, including early members Bruce Johnston and David Marks.

"I've had a few conversations recently with my cousin Brian about doing some musical projects together next year," Love says. "He's been busy but I think that we will get together and put a Beach Boys project together."

Love understands that the reunion would be big news. Looking ahead, Love says the group is also making plans to record some Beach Boys classics with some of the top contemporary artists.

"There are a lot of people I would like to work with and we are thinking about starting a new project next year to coincide with our 50th, and talking with Justin Timberlake for 'Good Vibrations" and Kenny Chesney for 'Kokomo,' and we are just starting to get in touch with people now," Love says. "We want to match up the artist with the proper Beach Boys song."

Another thing Love would enjoy is to continue bringing music to audiences both old and new.

"I'd like to play with some more symphony orchestras and I would like to do some new music," he says. "We were very fortunate early on that people liked our music and we had success and I'm looking forward to continuing doing what we love."



50 years of The Beach Boys - But Reunion or NOT?

It seems like no one knows for sure whether or not The Beach Boys will reunite for their 50th anniversary. The group, which started in 1961, hasn't confirmed one way or the other for 100%, and different stories contradict each other.

This story suggest a reunion :

The Beach Boys Plan 100-Date Anniversary Tour

by World Entertainment News Network

Al Jardine has confirmed the original The Beach Boys are planning a major reunion to mark the group's 50th anniversary in 2011 - and it will probably be a free extravaganza. Bandmate Mike Love recently suggested he'd be teaming up with the three original members of the group for shows in 2011 and now Jardine has more details about what could be one of the gigs of next year.

Jardine, who has been pushing for a full Beach Boys reunion for years, tells RollingStone.com the band will reunite for at least one concert. He says, "It's a big deal. I don't know where it will be yet, but it'll probably be free. Golden Gate Park (in San Francisco) was mentioned, as was the (National) Mall in Washington, D.C. and the north shore of Chicago, by the beach."

But band leader Brian Wilson has yet to confirm his plans for a reunion. His manager, Jean Sievers, says, "Brian has a big new album coming out in August, and that's what he's a hundred per cent focused on."

Jardine, however, has big plans: "I want to see a 100-date anniversary tour. I want to go all around the world... If we're going to rehearse and make this such a wonderful show, we should take it on the road. It's the next logical step."

While this story suggests no reunion :

Beach Boys' 50th anniversary reunion? Don't bet on it

by The Los Angeles Times 2010

(MCT) - Rolling Stone quotes former Beach Boy Al Jardine saying that the surviving original members of the group will reunite for at least one concert in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of the band's first release, "Surfin'."

But that's news both to Mike Love, the founding member who controls rights to the Beach Boys name, and to Brian Wilson, the group's creative mastermind who has pursued a variety of ambitious solo projects and tours over the last decade.

Wilson's manager, Jean Sievers, told the Los Angeles Times this week that he has no plans for Beach Boys reunion activities -- and Rolling Stone quotes her to that effect -- and that he is focusing his attention on his forthcoming solo album "Brian Wilson Reimagines George Gershwin," in which he has recorded his versions of several Gershwin classics and completed two song fragments left behind by the composer at his death in 1937.

Love also issued a statement recently regarding Beach Boys' 50th anniversary reunion rumors, stating:

"The Beach Boys continue to tour approximately 150 shows a year in multiple countries. At this time there are no plans for my cousin Brian to rejoin the tour. He has new solo projects on the horizon and I wish him love and success. We have had some discussions of writing and possibly recording together, but nothing has been planned."


"Myself, I would love to see one final reunion, Brian Wilson, Alan Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, and have one final tour, and hang up the lapels then. It's been 50 years of music that will last for the next 50,000 years. Enjoy your retirement, and have fun, fun, fun."


The Price of Innocence

by Erin Mulvaney

Christopher Scott and Claude Simmons were released from prison on October 23, 2009, after serving 13 years for a murder they didn’t commit.

But the euphoria of freedom quickly gave way to panic: How would they make their way as free men with little but jail time on their resumés? A state law designed to help exonerees readjust would help, but only after they untangled reels of red tape to get their due compensation, clear their criminal records and find employment, housing and identification.

“It felt so pitiful just being let out of prison and feeling like you have to fend for yourself,” says Scott, who is 39. “You can only rely on your family members so much.”

Simmons and Scott were two of the first exonerees to be eligible for the benefits of legislation that Gov. Rick Perry signed into law in 2009. The Timothy Cole Act, named for a posthumously exonerated inmate, increased the financial compensation for Texas exonerees from $50,000 to $80,000 for each year they were wrongfully imprisoned. It also provides a monthly payment from that lump sum to act as a steady source of income and an initial payment of up to $10,000 to help exonerees get established right after their release. The legislation “was a great step,” says Michelle Moore, a public defender in the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office. “They just didn’t give thought to how it would be handled.”

Simmons and Scott couldn’t agree more. The two men were convicted of capital murder in a 1997 shooting death linked to a Dallas-area home-invasion robbery after being misidentified as the assailants by an eyewitness: the victim's wife. The University of Texas at Arlington Innocence Network and the Actual Innocence Clinic at the University of Texas at Austin worked on the case for years and eventually built a case to help exonerate them.

The trouble started soon after they got out. First, they struggled to collect the $10,000 the Legislature had promised to help with their reintegration process. Then they were unable to collect non-monetary benefits like clothes, money, and temporary housing, which are available to paroled prisoners but not to those who never committed a crime in the first place. They finally received their compensation checks last week — six months after being freed.

“Exonerees aren’t given a dime when they leave prison. Many don’t have a place to lay their heads at night,” says University of Texas at Arlington Exoneree Project director Jaimie Page, who helped get Scott and Simmons identification and other staples after their release. “If they have no family — and many do not — they are essentially homeless.”

The $10,000 reintegration payment was meant to combat this issue, says Kelvin Bass, a spokesman for state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the lawmaker who added the reintegration language into the bill. Bass says West’s office has noticed some weaknesses with the Tim Cole law — namely, how that reintegration money gets paid.

The law calls for the creation of a new division within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide help and benefits to exonerees, including the initial $10,000 payment. But that division is not yet operational, Bass says. Meanwhile, while the measure says the comptroller’s office is in charge of dispensing the monthly compensation, it leaves the TDCJ responsible for paying the initial reintegration money.

The TDCJ acknowledges it is responsible. But agency spokesman Jason Clark says the $10,000 is deducted from the total sum awarded to the exoneree as restitution — which is overseen by the comptroller. He said the money doesn’t start to flow until the inmate is formally exonerated, not just directly upon his or her release. And even when the initial money does flow, Clark said, it can only be used for living expenses, though the department also offers case management services to link the wrongfully imprisoned with needed services.

“It’s a great idea, but there is nothing in place,” Bass says. “And even with being awarded the compensation, there is no structure. Just handing somebody money isn’t enough.”

Bass says the same lack of structure plagues elements of the bill designed to help exonerated prisoners get medical care and counseling, services they can count on in prison. The new law requires the TDCJ to help exonerees get both, he says, but the procedures and programs have yet to be established.

Few exonerees leave prison without physical or mental health problems, Moore says, and they don’t have easy access to medication or counseling when they’re released. Many become paranoid, and some aren’t ever able to recover. “It’s all the stuff we take for granted that they are terrified of,” she says. “Some guys won’t go out at night. Some won’t go outside the yard without somebody with them. They just don’t want to be locked up again.”

Scott is adjusting fairly well but says he feels nervous about the simplest tasks — even driving. It’s understandable: It was when he was pulled over for speeding more than 13 years ago that he was arrested and charged with a capital murder he didn’t commit. He says he avoids getting behind the wheel at all costs. “You don’t know how it plays on my mind,” Scott says. “Anything could happen. They say lightening don’t strike twice, but I don’t want to take that chance.”

"It's like putting dues on your life"

When a court rules that a prisoner has been wrongfully convicted and orders him freed, that’s only the beginning of the bureaucratic nightmare — not the end. Clearing one’s name is a next to impossible task, as is proving one’s innocence to potential employers who run background checks.

In Texas, expunction removes information about a felony or misdemeanor arrest from the records in every court or investigative agency where documents or files may exist. Once the record is expunged, the individual can deny the arrest ever occurred, and any information related to it is permanently deleted from his or her record.

But the process of getting a criminal record expunged can take up to a year. An exoneree has to petition the district court, wait for hearings to be scheduled, get orders granted and then wait for all the agencies to delete the records. Former inmates wait two to three months to receive either a pardon or a writ of habeas corpus from the Court of Criminal Appeals. Only then can they file for compensation, which can take an additional two to three months to receive.

What’s more, expunction is not automatic in exonerations, and it only removes criminal records from government agency files — not from private data-mining businesses. Inmates often must use their compensation money, when they can finally get their hands on it, to pay for lawyers to help them clear their records. Scott and Simmons still have capital murder and sexual assault charges on their criminal records, and Moore said it might be another three to four months before they are expunged.

In the next legislative session, West will re-file a bill that failed during the 2009 session requiring the district attorney who originally prosecuted the exoneree to represent that person for the expunction process — a surefire way to speed it up and to save the exoneree money.

In comparison to other states, Texas is fairly progressive on the wrongful conviction compensation scale. Roughly half of state governments pay exonerees for their trouble. And less than a third of all wrongfully convicted prisoners nationwide have received compensation, according to an Innocence Project study.

Still, Scott says no amount of money can compensate someone who has been wrongfully imprisoned. “It’s like putting dues on your life,” he says. “I was a good father; I was always home by 10 p.m. to see my kids and help them with their schoolwork. I would have been a married man by now. They took all that away from me.”

Scott, who has found housing in Carrollton and has begun to reconnect with his family, is taking advantage of another provision in the new law that allows for 120 hours of state tuition for education. He starts at Brookhaven Community College in the fall, and says he wants to study law and try to fight for other people who were wrongfully convicted.

“There are a lot more people in prison that need help,” he says, “and I want to do everything I can to help them.”


Food Stylists Put The Sizzle On Your Burger

Try to get through the day without seeing a photograph of food. You can't. Those images are everywhere, from the McDonald's billboard on the side of the bus to the box of cereal you grab off the grocery shelf.

But of course, the actual cereal you pour never looks as delicious as the picture on the box. That's because a food stylist has probably spent hours selecting the best-looking flakes and arranging them in the most appealing way for the photograph.

Food stylist Delores Custer tells NPR's Guy Raz that she looks for "flakes with character" and arranges them one by one on the spoon for maximum appeal. That pristine splash of milk? It might be sculpted acrylic. Or it might be a digital illustration or even Elmer's glue — but it's definitely not milk. Real milk would make the cereal soggy and unappealing on camera.

Yet surprisingly, most of what you see in the ads is real food. If you're looking at a McDonald's ad, that's really a Big Mac there — though someone like Custer has picked through thousands of buns, patties and lettuce leaves to find the most photogenic example of each. That milk in the cereal ad may not be real, but Custer says if the ad is for milk, then you'll see real milk.

Real food can be difficult to work with, Custer says. "Food is like children: It doesn't like to behave in front of company." So stylists have a vast array of tricks and tools for making it behave.

Slippery cutlery can be stuck in place with mortician's wax. Roast chickens tend to wrinkle and dry out after a few minutes, so Custer undercooks them and then paints the skin with a mixture of angostura bitters, yellow food coloring, and a dash of detergent for the perfect glistening roasted look. Tall sandwiches present a special challenge: How do you stack up all that ham and cheese and lettuce without flattening everything? Custer invented her own technique, using an armature of bolts and clear plastic discs to hold everything up.

Custer has spent more than 30 years as a food stylist. Her new book, Food Styling, has all the tips and tricks of a trade you see every day but never really think about. "You know when you were a little kid and you would hear, 'Don't play with your food'? We food stylists get to play with our food all of the time," she says.

But, she warns, "just because it's pretty doesn't mean that it's good."

"As food stylists, we're always looking for the pretty ones. We want the lemons that are just the right size, that have the right color yellow, the right texture on their skin." But that might be different from the lemon you choose in a grocery store.

"I know that the juiciest lemons have a certain look to them, and those would be lemons that I wouldn't pick for my food styling assignments."



What’s Up, Doc? New Looneys


LOS ANGELES — Ask a first grader to identify Bugs Bunny and the response more likely than not will be a blank stare. Dora, sure. Mickey, alive and kicking. But Porky who?

Worried that the low profile of the Looney Tunes cast of characters among children is the start of th-th-th-that’s all folks for the historic cartoon franchise, Warner Brothers is embarking on a five-alarm rescue effort.

A new 26-episode half-hour series, “The Looney Tunes Show,” is headed toward Cartoon Network in the fall and will star Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as odd-couple roommates in a contemporary cul-de-sac. Yosemite Sam, Tweety Bird, Sylvester, Marvin the Martian and Porky Pig are their neighbors.

Meanwhile, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote are going back to work in movie theaters in a series of 3-D shorts. The first of these shorts — Warner has approved three, and three more are in development — will play ahead of the movie “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” which arrives in theaters July 30.

The studio’s consumer products and home entertainment divisions are trying to do their share, releasing a new Nintendo game featuring the Tasmanian Devil in September and several new DVD compilations.

An expansion is also under way at LooneyTunes.com.

“We talked at great length about whether we were audacious enough to take on such iconic treasures,” said Peter Roth, president of Warner Brothers Television, who was recently given oversight of the franchise after a restructuring. “It’s both costly and risky, but I think an extraordinary opportunity.”

Warner declined to say how much it is spending on the initiative, but the television series alone carries a cost of about $750,000 an episode, according to industry estimates. “We want to reinvigorate the brand with the best possible execution — high-quality, high-end state of the art,” Mr. Roth said.

Improving the quality will not be difficult. “The bar had gone so low that we could only go up,” said Sam Register, who took over as executive vice president of creative affairs at Warner Brothers Animation two years ago, referring to previous efforts to reimagine Looney Tunes for a new generation.

Warner has a reputation, both with fans and inside the industry, for ham-fisted campaigns to breathe new life into the franchise. Steven Spielberg sparked things up in the early 1990s with “Tiny Toons Adventures,” a series in which new characters interacted with the originals. But a 2002 effort, “Baby Looney Tunes,” was a dud for the former WB network and later for the Cartoon Network.

Big-screen resuscitation efforts have not fared much better. “Space Jam,” a mix of animation and live action starring Michael Jordan, turned a profit back in 1996. But the most recent picture, the 2003 animation-live-action hybrid “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” left North American audiences holding their noses. The movie, with Brendan Fraser, cost an estimated $95 million and sold $25 million in tickets in North America, according to Box Office Mojo and adjusting for inflation.

More recently, big plans for an online Looney Tunes world fizzled amid the economic downturn. “The Loonatics Unleashed,” another television series, was yet another sprucing-up effort from 2005 that introduced futuristic-looking, anime-influenced versions of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, was a wipeout. Many parents hated the Loonatics, which had mohawks and menacing eyes, and the series was canceled in 2007.

This revival, Mr. Register and Mr. Roth promise, will be different. One major shift involves the DNA of the wisecracking characters — it’s the same as what first made them stars in the 1940s. Bugs, Daffy, Porky and crew for the first time in years will look and behave in a manner that is familiar to adults who grew up on the cartoons. No babies. No punked-out space adventurers.

“We really like the voice and the tone of the show, and the look is just magnificent,” said Stuart Snyder, who oversees Cartoon Network as chief operating officer of Turner Broadcasting’s kids media division.

With the Road Runner, who never utters a sound other than the occasional “beep, beep,” and Wile E. Coyote, Warner went directly back to the classic looks — although they will be rendered with computers, an appearance that is now most familiar to children. The speaking characters were more difficult to update, but even they will hew closely to the hallmarks of the past.

“The minute you start drawing Bugs Bunny exactly as he was drawn in 1949, you expect the same animation and the voice to be exactly the same,” Mr. Register said. “That’s obviously not possible, so you pull the best stuff from the characters and do something slightly new with it.”

He added that art from “The Loonatics Unleashed” is framed and hanging in Warner’s animation offices as a reminder of what not to do.

The new series, still awaiting a premiere date, will be broken into bite-size components. There will be three six-minute stories that relate to one another, along with a two-minute “Merrie Melodies” component — in which characters perform in music videos (one features Elmer Fudd singing a love ballad to a grilled cheese sandwich) — and a two-minute Road Runner chase.

Despite misfires, the Looney Tunes brand is a still formidable part of Warner Brothers’ consumer products business, especially overseas, where syndicated reruns of various incarnations still enjoy heavy play. Warner has tried to keep the brand alive in the United States in part by a healthy-eating partnership with Safeway and concerts nationwide called Bugs Bunny at the Symphony where orchestras play the music from classics like “The Rabbit of Seville.”

Sales of Looney Tunes merchandise have been sliding for about eight years, but still ring up over $1 billion annually on a global basis via 1,000 licensees. (To compare, Winnie the Pooh generates about $5 billion annually for Disney.) The hope is that “The Looney Tunes Show,” supported by the theatrical shorts, will fuel new product lines.

“We have to invest quite a bit of money in the content first,” said Brad Globe, president of Warner Brothers Consumer Products. “Once there is new content out there, then retailers will become more interested in it.”

Jerry Beck, an animation historian and the author of the coming “100 Greatest Looney Tunes Cartoons,” said that fans would welcome another attempt to bring back the brand and that Warner, having hired top animation talent to work on the project, seems to be on the right track this time.

“Bugs is down but not out,” Mr. Beck said. “It’s very, very difficult to reweave older characters back into the culture, but I’m glad that Warner is at least not giving up on these guys.”



The real reason we send our kids to French immersion

By Dan Gardner

Keep out the slow kids. Keep out the troubled kids. Keep out the poor and the crippled. Only admit the bright, well-behaved, hard-working kids from prosperous homes.

That's the ideal classroom. That's the one we want our kids in. And thanks to French immersion, we've figured out how to get it.

Oh, we'll never say so out loud. We may not even admit it to ourselves. But let's be frank.

Everyone knows why French immersion is so popular among the ambitious parents who drive high-end SUVs, serve on school committees, and draft detailed plans for getting their children into Harvard. It's because immersion is the elite stream.

The good kids are in immersion. The kids with parents like us. The kids we want our children to be around. And no one else.

In the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, more children (2,329 in 2007) start French immersion in Grade One than the English program (2,014). But in Grade Two, the numbers flip. In each successive grade, the gap gets a little wider as kids trickle from French immersion to the English program.

The rude word for this process is "culling." Immersion is tough. Kids who struggle are culled.

Slow kids are culled. Troubled kids. Poor kids who come to school with empty stomachs. Disabled kids who need teaching assistants. All the kids who could burden teachers and drag the class down and annoy the ambitious parents of future Harvard alumni.

Forget national unity. Making kids bilingual for the good of the country is as dead as Trudeau.

Job prospects? That's the reason most parents give when researchers ask why they choose immersion, but I think that's what we say in polite company. Chinese or Spanish would look much better on the résumés of future corporate executives, and ambitious parents don't dream of their children becoming assistant deputy ministers.

Not even in Ottawa.

It's about the streaming. We all know it. We just don't talk about it.

A neighbour in my pleasant, upper-middle-class neighbourhood recently agonized over where to place her son in Grade One. She wanted to put him in French immersion like all the other kids from nice neighbourhoods but she worried the boy wouldn't advance as quickly in core subjects. So she settled on the English program and went into the (very good) local school to have a look around.

The Special Ed teacher introduced herself immediately. Why wouldn't she? Here is an ambitious, engaged parent from a good neighbourhood who has decided her son will not start school in French immersion. Clearly, something's wrong with the child.

Given the importance of immersion in Ottawa, and the potential consequences of streaming students at the earliest ages, one would think the Ottawa-Carleton board would be deeply concerned. But one would be wrong. The board has no research on immersion and streaming.

Fortunately, the polite silence was recently broken by J. Douglas Willms, the Canada Research Chair in Human Development at the University of New Brunswick.

In the current issue of Policy Options magazine, Mr. Willms dissects the data on early French immersion in New Brunswick and shows conclusively that immersion is segregating students.

Kids with special needs are the first to go. Mr. Willms found that while 17 per cent of children in the English program "are in special education plans for the whole school year," that figure drops to seven per cent in French immersion.

But that is just the beginning. "The segregation associated with French immersion is much broader and deeper," Mr. Willms wrote.

Boys are modestly underrepresented in French immersion because boys are more likely to have trouble with reading. In a typical class of 20, Mr. Willms writes, there are 11 girls and nine boys.

There is also "some segregation according to ability." In each of five developmental criteria, Mr. Willms finds, "children enrolled in EFI have significantly higher scores. ... The differences are most pronounced in measures of cognitive and language skills, which are important predictors of academic success."

Meanwhile, "the proportion of vulnerable children in (core English) classes is more than twice that in EFI," Mr. Willms writes.

But the most startling of Mr. Willms' discoveries was the class divide. After grouping schoolchildren into five socioeconomic bands -- based on their parents' income, education and occupation -- Mr. Willms found enrolment in French immersion was heavily biased toward the top end. "Compared with children in the middle socioeconomic group, those from the highest socioeconomic group are nearly twice as likely to enroll" in French immersion, he writes. "In contrast, those in the lowest socioeconomic group are about half as likely to enroll in EFI. Well over half of all children enrolled in EFI are from the two wealthiest socioeconomic groups."

This is a stunning level of segregation. "The divide is comparable to or larger than the divide between non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans in the U.S.," he writes.

Not only is this unjust, Mr. Willms notes. It's bad for kids.

"Children from higher socioeconomic groups tend to do well in any setting," he writes, but not less fortunate kids. "When children with lower ability or children from lower socioeconomic groups are concentrated in particular schools or classes, they tend to perform worse than when they are in mixed ability classes."

This basic truth -- well-established by research -- is behind a move in the U.S. toward integrating schools by socioeconomic class. And not only there. "Many countries that practice early streaming are attempting to overhaul their school system to delay streaming until the later stages of secondary school," Mr. Willms writes.

But in Canada, we prefer not to discuss what French immersion is doing to schools. It's easier to say nothing.

And, entre nous, ambitious parents are just fine with keeping the lesser kids out of their child's classroom.



Suing Mohammed’s Heirs for Libel

by Baron Bodissey

In August of last year, a Saudi law firm brought legal action against all the Danish newspapers that published the Mohammed cartoons. It was a blatant probe of the infidel system of defenses, using lawfare to breach the virtual walls of Danish society in order to inflict maximum damage on the culture that dared to insult the prophet.

After pointing out the real purposes of this particular probe, I recommended that the Danes mount a stringent counter-probe to discourage any further similar lawfare:

And sending the Saudi lawyers packing after a stern judicial admonishment is not good enough. The Danish newspapers will by then have incurred substantial legal costs, and the time of judges, clerks, bailiffs, and innumerable government lawyers will have been consumed in pointless wrangling.

The only way to repel this probe successfully is to make it very, very expensive for the people who launched it. Only a painful result will discourage more of the same behavior later on, in other contexts.

Double indemnity is the only way to go. A finding against the plaintiffs with a levy of twice the court costs would send an unambiguous message and discourage further probing.

This past February it seemed that the Danish media might take the opposite tack, and begin a campaign of groveling apology and dhimmitude. Editor-in-Chief Tøger Seidenfaden of the Danish newspaper Politiken — “The New York Times of Denmark” — negotiated a settlement with the “descendants of the Prophet Mohammed”, apologizing for offending them and promising to be a good dhimmi in the future.

Fortunately, Mr. Seidenfaden was in the minority among the Danes. Even the employees of his own newspaper turned against him, publishing an open letter expressing their dismay and their opposition to his actions.

And now a new organization has sprung up to take exactly the action I was hoping for last year: it is countersuing the descendants of Mr. Mohammed Pbuh, Esq. Led by Hans Erling Jensen, a group called Eticha has filed a libel lawsuit on behalf of all the non-Muslims whom Mohammed defamed and insulted in the Koran.

Mr. Erling sent me a copy of the letter he sent to the Saudi law firm. The full text and his introductory explanation are included at the bottom of this post, but here’s the meat of his case:

You and your clients apparently continue to insist that Muhammed ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Hashimi al-Qurashi may not be portrayed or caricatured. This implies that you and your clients give your unconditional support to the text of the Quran, as it exists today, as well as to the Hadith that, combined with the Quran (and the Sirat) form the basis of Islam and Sharia.

The descendants of the people whom your clients’ forefather compared to apes, pigs and rats, and whose case we now represent, feel not only personally insulted, but also emotionally aggrieved by these denigrations, as their own ancestors have been ridiculed, persecuted and expelled from their lands, since the Quran and Hadith imply that non-Muslims are the enemies of Allah and therefore were and are to be treated as outlaws. Due to the fact that Muhammed ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Hashimi al-Qurashi claimed, that not he, but Allah was the author of this insult and thus ascribed the saying to him, we find this not only blasphemous but also a thinly disguised attempt to decriminalize Muhammed ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Hashimi al-Qurashi’s own misdemeanors. This will possibly be addressed in a later court case.

The lawsuit demands an apology, and also that the offending passages of the Koran be changed or removed from all publicly available copies of the book in mosques, libraries, etc., by the end of this year.

It divides the offensive material up into seven categories:

1. There are passages asserting that certain Jews are descendants of apes and pigs,
2. that there is only one god and that this god is Allah,
3. that Muhammed ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Hashimi al-Qurashi is his last prophet,
4. that everyone who does not believe this and the day of judgment are doomed to spend eternity in hell and here on earth they shall be persecuted, tortured or murdered unless they convert to the Muslims’ god Allah and approve the Muslims’ prophet Muhammed as god’s messenger
5. that Allah should furnish detailed revelations of certain people’s sex-life,
6. that Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Hashimi al-Qurashi seen in today’s light still is the best example people can have (in spite of his barbaric behavior).
7. We also claim that the said Muhammad is responsible for a century-old persecution of women by asserting that they are worth less than men in intelligence, in matters of inheritance economy and parentage. For that we need a major alteration to be made public.

Yes, that should do for starters.

More on this link....


Fatal Distraction: Forgetting a Child in the Backseat of a Car Is a Horrifying Mistake. Is It a Crime?

Winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing

By Gene Weingarten

The defendant was an immense man, well over 300 pounds, but in the gravity of his sorrow and shame he seemed larger still. He hunched forward in the sturdy wooden armchair that barely contained him, sobbing softly into tissue after tissue, a leg bouncing nervously under the table. In the first pew of spectators sat his wife, looking stricken, absently twisting her wedding band. The room was a sepulcher. Witnesses spoke softly of events so painful that many lost their composure. When a hospital emergency room nurse described how the defendant had behaved after the police first brought him in, she wept. He was virtually catatonic, she remembered, his eyes shut tight, rocking back and forth, locked away in some unfathomable private torment. He would not speak at all for the longest time, not until the nurse sank down beside him and held his hand. It was only then that the patient began to open up, and what he said was that he didn't want any sedation, that he didn't deserve a respite from pain, that he wanted to feel it all, and then to die.

The charge in the courtroom was manslaughter, brought by the Commonwealth of Virginia. No significant facts were in dispute. Miles Harrison, 49, was an amiable person, a diligent businessman and a doting, conscientious father until the day last summer -- beset by problems at work, making call after call on his cellphone -- he forgot to drop his son, Chase, at day care. The toddler slowly sweltered to death, strapped into a car seat for nearly nine hours in an office parking lot in Herndon in the blistering heat of July.

It was an inexplicable, inexcusable mistake, but was it a crime? That was the question for a judge to decide.

At one point, during a recess, Harrison rose unsteadily to his feet, turned to leave the courtroom and saw, as if for the first time, that there were people witnessing his disgrace. The big man's eyes lowered. He swayed a little until someone steadied him, and then he gasped out in a keening falsetto: "My poor baby!"

A group of middle-schoolers filed into the room for a scheduled class trip to the courthouse. The teacher clearly hadn't expected this; within a few minutes, the wide-eyed kids were hustled back out.

The trial would last three days. Sitting through it, side by side in the rear of the courtroom, were two women who had traveled hours to get there. Unlike almost everyone else on the spectator benches, they were not relatives or co-workers or close friends of the accused.

". . . the lower portion of the body was red to red-purple. . ."

As the most excruciating of the evidence came out, from the medical examiner, the women in the back drew closer together, leaning in to each other.

" . . . a green discoloration of the abdomen . . . autolysis of the organs . . . what we call skin slippage . . . the core body temperature reaches 108 degrees when death ensues."

Mary -- the older, shorter one -- trembled. Lyn -- the younger, taller one with the long, strawberry-blond hair -- gathered her in, one arm around the shoulder, the other across their bodies, holding hands.

When the trial ended, Lyn Balfour and Mary Parks left quietly, drawing no attention to themselves. They hadn't wanted to be there, but they'd felt a duty, both to the defendant and, in a much more complicated way, to themselves.

It was unusual, to say the least: three people together in one place, sharing the same heartbreaking history. All three had accidentally killed their babies in the identical, incomprehensible, modern way.

"Death by hyperthermia" is the official designation. When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just... forgets a child is in the car. It happens that way somewhere in the United States 15 to 25 times a year, parceled out through the spring, summer and early fall. The season is almost upon us.

Two decades ago, this was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child . . . well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?

The wealthy do, it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.

Last year it happened three times in one day, the worst day so far in the worst year so far in a phenomenon that gives no sign of abating.

The facts in each case differ a little, but always there is the terrible moment when the parent realizes what he or she has done, often through a phone call from a spouse or caregiver. This is followed by a frantic sprint to the car. What awaits there is the worst thing in the world.

Each instance has its own macabre signature. One father had parked his car next to the grounds of a county fair; as he discovered his son's body, a calliope tootled merrily beside him. Another man, wanting to end things quickly, tried to wrestle a gun from a police officer at the scene. Several people -- including Mary Parks of Blacksburg -- have driven from their workplace to the day-care center to pick up the child they'd thought they'd dropped off, never noticing the corpse in the back seat.

Then there is the Chattanooga, Tenn., business executive who must live with this: His motion-detector car alarm went off, three separate times, out there in the broiling sun. But when he looked out, he couldn't see anyone tampering with the car. So he remotely deactivated the alarm and went calmly back to work.


There may be no act of human failing that more fundamentally challenges our society's views about crime, punishment, justice and mercy. According to statistics compiled by a national childs' safety advocacy group, in about 40 percent of cases authorities examine the evidence, determine that the child's death was a terrible accident -- a mistake of memory that delivers a lifelong sentence of guilt far greater than any a judge or jury could mete out -- and file no charges. In the other 60 percent of the cases, parsing essentially identical facts and applying them to essentially identical laws, authorities decide that the negligence was so great and the injury so grievous that it must be called a felony, and it must be aggressively pursued.

As it happens, just five days before Miles Harrison forgot his toddler son in the parking lot of the Herndon corporate-relocation business where he worked, a similar event had occurred a few hundred miles southeast. After a long shift at work, a Portsmouth, Va., sanitation department electrician named Andrew Culpepper picked up his toddler son from his parents, drove home, went into the house and then fell asleep, forgetting he'd had the boy in the car, leaving him to bake to death outside his home.

Harrison was charged with a crime. Culpepper was not. In each case, the decision fell to one person.

With Harrison, it was Ray Morrogh, the Fairfax commonwealth's attorney. In an interview a few days after he brought the charge of involuntary manslaughter, Morrogh explained why.

"There is a lot to be said for reaffirming people's obligations to protect their children," he said. "When you have children, you have responsibilities. I am very strong in the defense of children's safety."

Morrogh has two kids himself, ages 12 and 14. He was asked if he could imagine this ever having happened to him. The question seemed to take him aback. He went on to another subject, and then, 10 minutes later, made up his mind:

"I have to say no, it couldn't have happened to me. I am a watchful father."

In Portsmouth, the decision not to charge Culpepper, 40, was made by Commonwealth's Attorney Earle Mobley. As tragic as the child's death was, Mobley says, a police investigation showed that there was no crime because there was no intent; Culpepper wasn't callously gambling with the child's life -- he had forgotten the child was there.

"The easy thing in a case like this is to dump it on a jury, but that is not the right thing to do," Mobley says. A prosecutor's responsibility, he says, is to achieve justice, not to settle some sort of score.

"I'm not pretty sure I made the right decision," he says. "I'm positive I made the right decision."

There may be no clear right or wrong in deciding how to handle cases such as these; in each case, a public servant is trying to do his best with a Solomonic dilemma. But public servants are also human beings, and they will inevitably bring to their judgment the full weight of that complicated fact.

"You know, it's interesting we're talking today," Mobley says.

He has five children. Today, he says, is the birthday of his sixth.

"She died of leukemia in 1993. She was almost 3."

Mobley pauses. He doesn't want to create the wrong impression.

He made the decision on the law, he says, "but I also have some idea what it feels like, what it does to you, when you lose a child."

So, after his son's death, Andrew Culpepper was sent home to try to live the remainder of his life with what he had done. After his son's death, Miles Harrison was charged with a felony. His mug shot was in the newspapers and on TV, with the haunted, hunted, naked-eyed look these parents always have, up against the wall. He hired an expensive lawyer. Over months, both sides developed their cases. Witnesses were assembled and interviewed. Efforts at a plea bargain failed. The trial began.

The court heard how Harrison and his wife had been a late-40s childless couple desperately wanting to become parents, and how they'd made three visits to Moscow, setting out each time on a grueling 10-hour railroad trip to the Russian hinterlands to find and adopt their 18-month-old son from an orphanage bed he'd seldom been allowed to leave. Harrison's next-door neighbor testified how she'd watched the new father giddily frolic on the lawn with his son. Harrison's sister testified how she had worked with her brother and sister-in-law for weeks to find the ideal day-care situation for the boy, who would need special attention to recover from the effects of his painfully austere beginnings.

From the witness stand, Harrison's mother defiantly declared that Miles had been a fine son and a perfect, loving father. Distraught but composed, Harrison's wife, Carol, described the phone call that her husband had made to her right after he'd discovered what he'd done, the phone call she'd fielded on a bus coming home from work. It was, she said, unintelligible screaming.

In the end, Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge R. Terence Ney found Miles Harrison not guilty. There was no crime, he said, citing the identical legal reasons Earle Mobley had cited for not charging Andrew Culpepper in the first place.

At the verdict, Harrison gasped, sobbed, then tried to stand, but the man had nothing left. His legs buckled, and he crashed pathetically to his knees.


So, if it's not manslaughter, what is it? An accident?

"No, that's an imperfect word."

This is Mark Warschauer, an internationally acclaimed expert in language learning and technology, professor of education at the University of California at Irvine.

"The word 'accident' makes it sound like it can't be prevented," Warschauer says, "but 'incident' makes it sound trivial. And it is not trivial."

Warschauer is a Fulbright scholar, specializing in the use of laptops to spread literacy to children. In the summer of 2003, he returned to his office from lunch to find a crowd surrounding a car in the parking lot. Police had smashed the window open with a crowbar. Only as he got closer did Warschauer realize it was his car. That was his first clue that he'd forgotten to drop his 10-month-old son, Mikey, at day care that morning. Mikey was dead.

Warschauer wasn't charged with a crime, but for months afterward he contemplated suicide. Gradually, he says, the urge subsided, if not the grief and guilt.

"We lack a term for what this is," Warschauer says. And also, he says, we need an understanding of why it happens to the people it happens to.


David Diamond is picking at his breakfast at a Washington hotel, trying to explain.

"Memory is a machine," he says, "and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you're capable of forgetting your cellphone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child."

Diamond is a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida and a consultant to the veterans hospital in Tampa. He's here for a national science conference to give a speech about his research, which involves the intersection of emotion, stress and memory. What he's found is that under some circumstances, the most sophisticated part of our thought-processing center can be held hostage to a competing memory system, a primitive portion of the brain that is -- by a design as old as the dinosaur's -- inattentive, pigheaded, nonanalytical, stupid.

Diamond is the memory expert with a lousy memory, the one who recently realized, while driving to the mall, that his infant granddaughter was asleep in the back of the car. He remembered only because his wife, sitting beside him, mentioned the baby. He understands what could have happened had he been alone with the child. Almost worse, he understands exactly why.

The human brain, he says, is a magnificent but jury-rigged device in which newer and more sophisticated structures sit atop a junk heap of prototype brains still used by lower species. At the top of the device are the smartest and most nimble parts: the prefrontal cortex, which thinks and analyzes, and the hippocampus, which makes and holds on to our immediate memories. At the bottom is the basal ganglia, nearly identical to the brains of lizards, controlling voluntary but barely conscious actions.

Diamond says that in situations involving familiar, routine motor skills, the human animal presses the basal ganglia into service as a sort of auxiliary autopilot. When our prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are planning our day on the way to work, the ignorant but efficient basal ganglia is operating the car; that's why you'll sometimes find yourself having driven from point A to point B without a clear recollection of the route you took, the turns you made or the scenery you saw.

Ordinarily, says Diamond, this delegation of duty "works beautifully, like a symphony. But sometimes, it turns into the '1812 Overture.' The cannons take over and overwhelm."

By experimentally exposing rats to the presence of cats, and then recording electrochemical changes in the rodents' brains, Diamond has found that stress -- either sudden or chronic -- can weaken the brain's higher-functioning centers, making them more susceptible to bullying from the basal ganglia. He's seen the same sort of thing play out in cases he's followed involving infant deaths in cars.

"The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant," he said. "The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it's supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted -- such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back -- it can entirely disappear."

Diamond stops.

"There is a case in Virginia where this is exactly what happened, the whole set of stress factors. I was consulted on it a couple of years ago. It was a woman named, ah . . ."

He puts down his fork, searches the ceiling, the wall, the floor, then shakes his head. He's been stressing over his conference speech, he says, and his memory retrieval is shot. He can't summon the name.

Lyn Balfour?

"Yeah, Lyn Balfour! The perfect storm."


It's mid-October. Lyn Balfour is on her cellphone, ordering a replacement strap for a bouncy seat for the new baby and simultaneously trying to arrange for an emergency sitter, because she has to get to the fertility clinic, pronto, because she just got lab results back, and she's ovulating, and her husband's in Iraq, and she wants to get artificially inseminated with his sperm, like right now, but, crap, the sitter is busy, so she grabs the kid and the keys and the diaper bag and is out the door and in the car and gone. But now the baby is fussing, so she's reaching back to give him a bottle of juice, one eye on him and the other on a seemingly endless series of hairpin turns that she negotiates adroitly.

"Actually," she laughs, "I'm getting better about not doing too much at once. I've been simplifying my life a lot."

Raelyn Balfour is what is commonly called a type-A personality. She is the first to admit that her temperament contributed to the death of her son, Bryce, two years ago. It happened on March 30, 2007, the day she accidentally left the 9-month-old in the parking lot of the Charlottesville judge advocate general's office, where she worked as a transportation administrator. The high temperature that day was only in the 60s, but the biometrics and thermodynamics of babies and cars combine mercilessly: Young children have lousy thermostats, and heat builds quickly in a closed vehicle in the sun. The temperature in Balfour's car that day topped 110 degrees.

There's a dismayingly cartoonish expression for what happened to Lyn Balfour on March 30, 2007. British psychologist James Reason coined the term the "Swiss Cheese Model" in 1990 to explain through analogy why catastrophic failures can occur in organizations despite multiple layers of defense. Reason likens the layers to slices of Swiss cheese, piled upon each other, five or six deep. The holes represent small, potentially insignificant weaknesses. Things will totally collapse only rarely, he says, but when they do, it is by coincidence -- when all the holes happen to align so that there is a breach through the entire system.

On the day Balfour forgot Bryce in the car, she had been up much of the night, first babysitting for a friend who had to take her dog to an emergency vet clinic, then caring for Bryce, who was cranky with a cold. Because the baby was also tired, he uncharacteristically dozed in the car, so he made no noise. Because Balfour was planning to bring Bryce's usual car seat to the fire station to be professionally installed, Bryce was positioned in a different car seat that day, not behind the passenger but behind the driver, and was thus not visible in the rear-view mirror. Because the family's second car was on loan to a relative, Balfour drove her husband to work that day, meaning the diaper bag was in the back, not on the passenger seat, as usual, where she could see it. Because of a phone conversation with a young relative in trouble, and another with her boss about a crisis at work, Balfour spent most of the trip on her cell, stressed, solving other people's problems. Because the babysitter had a new phone, it didn't yet contain Balfour's office phone number, only her cell number, meaning that when the sitter phoned to wonder why Balfour hadn't dropped Bryce off that morning, it rang unheard in Balfour's pocketbook.

The holes, all of them, aligned.

There is no consistent character profile of the parent who does this to his or her child. The 13 who were interviewed for this story include the introverted and extroverted; the sweet, the sullen, the stoic and the terribly fragile. None of those descriptions exactly fits Lyn Balfour, a 37-year-old Army reservist who has served in combat zones and who seems to remain -- at least on the subject of the death of her son -- in battle.

"I don't feel I need to forgive myself," she says plainly, "because what I did was not intentional."

Balfour is tall and stands taller, moving with a purposeful, swinging stride. She's got a weak chin but a strong mouth that she uses without much editing. She's funny and brassy and in your face, the sort of person you either like or don't like, right away.

It had been Balfour's idea to go to the trial of Miles Harrison, and it was she who walked up to Harrison in the hallway during a break, pushed past a crowd and threw her arms around his neck, pulling him close. For almost a full minute, she whispered in his ear. His eyes grew wider, and then he sobbed into her shoulder like a baby. What she had told him was who she was and that she knows he'd been a good, loving father, and he must not be ashamed.

Balfour grew up medium-poor in Michigan. There was a man she'd been told was her father and a close family friend who, she later learned, was actually her father. Her two sets of grandparents wound up divorcing each other, then switching partners. There was alcoholism, divorce, a battle for custody. When Balfour turned 18, she was ready for the discipline of the Army.

She served in Bosnia and twice in Iraq, where she specialized in intelligence analysis and construction management, and where she discovered a skill at juggling a dozen things at once. She won a Bronze Star for managing $47 million in projects without mislaying a penny. She got married, had a son, divorced, met Jarrett Balfour and within a month decided this handsome, younger man would be her husband. Eighteen months later, he was. Bryce was their first child together. Braiden, conceived with Jarrett's sperm when he was in Iraq, is their second. Today, in the same way, they're trying for a third.

Balfour has stopped at the fertility clinic for her procedure, and she's now driving to the JAG school, to demonstrate where and how her son's death happened. Down the road to the right is where she dropped Jarrett off at work, which was not customary, and which she theorizes put a subconscious check mark in her brain: Delivery made. Now she's pointing out the house of the babysitter she'd driven obliviously past as she talked to her boss about a scheduling snafu and to her nephew about helping to pay his gambling debts. And here is the parking lot of the JAG school, on the University of Virginia campus. She's pulling into the same spot she was parked in that day, the place where Bryce died.

"It was like this, except these two spots next to us were empty," she notes blandly as she gets out of the car, gathers her keys and leans in to get the diaper bag.

There is an almost pugnacious matter-of-factness about Lyn Balfour that can seem disconcerting, particularly if you have a preconception about how a person in her circumstances is supposed to face the world.

You might expect, for example, that she has gotten another car. But this black Honda Pilot with the pink Tinkerbell steering wheel cover is the same car Bryce died in, just inches from where Balfour is bending over Braiden to unstrap him.

"It didn't make financial sense to get a new car," she says.

Balfour's eyes are impassive. Her attitude is clear:

You got a problem with that?


Not all cases of infant hyperthermia in cars are like the ones this article is about: simple if bewildering lapses of memory by an otherwise apparently good parent. In other types of cases, there is a history of prior neglect, or evidence of substance abuse. Sometimes, the parent knowingly left the child in the car, despite the obvious peril. In one particularly egregious instance, a mother used her locked car as an inexpensive substitute for day care. When hyperthermia deaths are treated as crimes, these are the ones that tend to result in prison sentences.

Cases like Lyn Balfour's, when prosecuted, typically end in some sort of compromise: a plea to a reduced charge, sometimes with probation and a suspended sentence, sometimes with community service. Going all the way to trial is a relative rarity.

What happened to Balfour was even rarer. She was charged not with manslaughter, but with second-degree murder, carrying a possible prison sentence of up to 40 years. And as a condition of remaining free on bond, the court prohibited her from being alone with any minors, including her own teenage son.

So Balfour hired John Zwerling, a top-gun criminal defense lawyer from Alexandria. That meant that Jarrett Balfour, an employee of a civilian military contractor, had no choice but to take an assignment in Iraq. The extra combat pay would be needed for legal expenses. Lyn Balfour would have to face this alone.

That is when she began to move past grief and guilt and paralyzing self-doubt to a very specific, very focused anger.


John Zwerling presents a passable version of Nero Wolfe, Rex Stout's portly, eccentric genius hero of detective fiction. Zwerling's law offices are in a handsome Old Town townhouse with dark walnut molding and dark wooden shutters. The boss is the guy with the Santa beard sitting in the chair with a hole in the leather, in jeans and a shirt with a big stain, the front buttons laboring mightily to do their job.

Zwerling's first task, he says, was to make the case that second-degree murder was a preposterous charge in a case lacking even the faintest whisper of intent. That, he did. After a preliminary hearing, the charge was reduced to involuntary manslaughter. Zwerling's second and more daunting job was to craft a defense for a case that was being prosecuted with what at times seemed like theatrical zeal.

Here is how Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Elizabeth Killeen would sum it up before the jury: "This little boy's life did not have to end this way, on a hospital gurney. Deceased. Dead. His life squandered, and gone forever."

In the end, Zwerling had one key decision to make. In criminal cases, jurors want to hear from the defendant. Zwerling liked and respected Balfour, but should he put her on the stand?

"Have you met her?" he asks.


"Then you've seen that mental girdle she puts on, the protective armor against the world, how she closes up and becomes a soldier. It helps her survive, but it can seem off-putting if you're someone who wants to see how crushed she is." Zwerling decided not to risk it.

"I wound up putting her on the stand in a different way," he says, "so people could see the real Lyn -- vulnerable, with no guile, no posturing."

What Zwerling did was play two audiotapes for the jury. One was Balfour's interrogation by police in the hospital about an hour after Bryce's death; her answers are immeasurably sad, almost unintelligible, half sob, half whisper: "I killed my baby," she says tremulously. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry."

The second tape was a call to 911 made by a passerby, in those first few seconds after Balfour discovered the body and beseeched a stranger to summon help.

Zwerling swivels to his computer, punches up an audio file.

"Want to hear it?"


Balfour is reenacting her movements from that day after work. She walks from her cubicle in room 153A of the JAG school, out to the front of the building. By mid-afternoon she had finally checked her cell and discovered she'd missed an early morning call from her babysitter. She called back, but got only voice mail. It didn't worry her. She and the babysitter were friends, and they talked often about all sorts of things. Balfour left a message asking for a callback.

It came when she was standing where she is now, on a spacious stone patio in front of the JAG school, heading toward the parking lot. As it happens, there is a Civil War-era cannon that is aimed, with unsettling irony, exactly where she stands.

The babysitter asked Balfour where Bryce was. Balfour said: "What do you mean? He's with you."

It is 60 feet to the end of the patio, then a stairwell with 11 steps down, then two steps across, then a second stairwell, 12 steps down, one more off the curb and then a 30-foot sprint to the car. Balfour estimates the whole thing took half a minute or less. She knew it was too late when, through the window, she saw Bryce's limp hand, and then his face, unmarked but lifeless and shiny, Balfour says, "like a porcelain doll."

It was seconds later that the passerby called 911.


The tape is unendurable. Mostly, you hear a woman's voice, tense but precise, explaining to a police dispatcher what she is seeing. Initially, there's nothing in the background. Then Balfour howls at the top of her lungs, "OH, MY GOD, NOOOO!"

Then, for a few seconds, nothing.

Then a deafening shriek: "NO, NO, PLEASE, NO!!!"

Three more seconds, then:


What is happening is that Balfour is administering CPR. At that moment, she recalls, she felt like two people occupying one body: Lyn, the crisply efficient certified combat lifesaver, and Lyn, the incompetent mother who would never again know happiness. Breathe, compress, breathe, compress. Each time that she came up for air, she lost it. Then, back to the patient.

After hearing this tape, the jury deliberated for all of 90 minutes, including time for lunch. The not-guilty verdict was unanimous.


"I didn't feel this case should ever have been brought," says juror Colin Rosse, a retired radio executive. "It may have been negligence, but it was an honest mistake."

Jury foreman James Schlothauer, an inspections official for the county government, doesn't fault the prosecution; Balfour's case was complex, he says, and the facts needed an airing. But the facts, he says, also made the verdict a slam dunk. It was "a big doggone accident," he says, that might have happened to anyone.

To anyone?

Schlothauer hesitates.

"Well, it happened to me."

The results were not catastrophic, Schlothauer says, but the underlying malfunction was similar: Busy and stressed, he and his wife once got their responsibilities confused, and neither stopped at day care for their daughter at the end of the day.

"We both got home, and it was, 'Wait, where's Lily?' 'I thought you got her!' 'I thought you got her!' "

What if that mix-up had happened at the beginning of the day?

"To anyone," Schlothauer says.


There is no national clearinghouse for cases of infant hyperthermia, no government agency charged with data collection and oversight. The closest thing is in the basement office of a comfortable home in suburban Kansas City, Kan., where a former sales and marketing executive named Janette Fennell runs a nonprofit organization called Kids and Cars. Kids and Cars lobbies for increased car safety for children, and as such maintains one of the saddest databases in America.

Fennell is on a sofa, her bare feet tucked under her, leafing through files. Amber, her college intern, walks up and plops a fax of a new wire service story on the table. "Frontover," Amber says. "Parking lot, North Carolina."

There's a grisly terminology to this business. "Backovers" happen when you look in the rearview mirror and fail to see the child behind the car, or never look at all. "Frontovers" occur almost exclusively with pickups and SUVs, where the driver sits high off the ground. There are "power window strangulations" and "cars put in motion by child" and, finally, "hyperthermia."

In a collage on Fennell's wall are snapshots of dozens of infants and toddlers, some proudly holding up fingers, as if saying, "I'm 2!" Or "I'm 3!" The photos, typically, are from their final birthdays.

Fennell has met or talked with many of the parents in the hyperthermia cases, and some now work with her organization. She doesn't seek them out. They find her name, often late at night, sleeplessly searching the Web for some sign that there are others who have lived in the same hell and survived. There is a general misconception, Fennell says, about who these people are: "They tend to be the doting parents, the kind who buy baby locks and safety gates." These cases, she says, are failures of memory, not of love.

Fennell has an expression that's half smile, half wince. She uses it often.

"Some people think, 'Okay, I can see forgetting a child for two minutes, but not eight hours.' What they don't understand is that the parent in his or her mind has dropped off the baby at day care and thinks the baby is happy and well taken care of. Once that's in your brain, there is no reason to worry or check on the baby for the rest of the day."

Fennell believes that prosecuting parents in this type of case is both cruel and pointless: It's not as though the fear of a prison sentence is what will keep a parent from doing this.

The answer to the problem, Fennell believes, lies in improved car safety features and in increased public awareness that this can happen, that the results of a momentary lapse of memory can be horrifying.

What is the worst case she knows of?

"I don't really like to . . ." she says.

She looks away. She won't hold eye contact for this.

"The child pulled all her hair out before she died."

For years, Fennell has been lobbying for a law requiring back-seat sensors in new cars, sensors that would sound an alarm if a child's weight remained in the seat after the ignition is turned off. Last year, she almost succeeded. The 2008 Cameron Gulbransen Kids' Transportation Safety Act -- which requires safety improvements in power windows and in rear visibility, and protections against a child accidentally setting a car in motion -- originally had a rear seat-sensor requirement, too. It never made the final bill; sponsors withdrew it, fearing they couldn't get it past a powerful auto manufacturers' lobby.

There are a few aftermarket products that alert a parent if a child remains in a car that has been turned off. These products are not huge sellers. They have likely run up against the same marketing problem that confronted three NASA engineers a few years ago.

In 2000, Chris Edwards, Terry Mack and Edward Modlin began to work on just such a product after one of their colleagues, Kevin Shelton, accidentally left his 9-month-old son to die in the parking lot of NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The inventors patented a device with weight sensors and a keychain alarm. Based on aerospace technology, it was easy to use; it was relatively cheap, and it worked.

Janette Fennell had high hopes for this product: The dramatic narrative behind it, she felt, and the fact that it came from NASA, created a likelihood of widespread publicity and public acceptance.

That was five years ago. The device still isn't on the shelves. The inventors could not find a commercial partner willing to manufacture it. One big problem was liability. If you made it, you could face enormous lawsuits if it malfunctioned and a child died. But another big problem was psychological: Marketing studies suggested it wouldn't sell well.

The problem is this simple: People think this could never happen to them.


"I was that guy, before. I'd read the stories, and I'd go, 'What were those parents thinking?' "

Mikey Terry is a contractor from Maypearl, Tex., a big man with soft eyes. At the moment he realized what he'd done, he was in the cab of a truck and his 6-month-old daughter, Mika, was in a closed vehicle in the broiling Texas sun in a parking lot 40 miles away. So his frantic sprint to the car was conducted at 100 miles an hour in a 30-foot gooseneck trailer hauling thousands of pounds of lumber the size of telephone poles.

On that day in June 2005, Terry had been recently laid off, and he'd taken a day job building a wall in the auditorium of a Catholic church just outside of town. He'd remembered to drop his older daughter at day care, but as he was driving the baby to a different day care location, he got a call about a new permanent job. This really caught his attention. It was a fatal distraction.

Terry, 35, wasn't charged with a crime. His punishment has been more subtle.

The Terrys are Southern Baptists. Before Mika's death, Mikey Terry says, church used to be every Sunday, all day Sunday, morning Bible study through evening meal. He and his wife, Michele, don't go much anymore. It's too confusing, he says.

"I feel guilty about everyone in church talking about how blessed we all are. I don't feel blessed anymore. I feel I have been wronged by God. And that I have wronged God. And I don't know how to deal with that."

Four years have passed, but he still won't go near the Catholic church he'd been working at that day. As his daughter died outside, he was inside, building a wall on which would hang an enormous crucifix.


"This is a case of pure evil negligence of the worse kind . . . He deserves the death sentence."

"I wonder if this was his way of telling his wife that he didn't really want a kid."

"He was too busy chasing after real estate commissions. This shows how morally corrupt people in real estate-related professions are."

These were readers' online comments to The Washington Post news article of July 10, 2008, reporting the circumstances of the death of Miles Harrison's son. These comments were typical of many others, and they are typical of what happens again and again, year after year in community after community, when these cases arise. A substantial proportion of the public reacts not merely with anger, but with frothing vitriol.

Ed Hickling believes he knows why. Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.

Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.

In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. "We are vulnerable, but we don't want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we'll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don't want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters."

After Lyn Balfour's acquittal, this comment appeared on the Charlottesville News Web site:

"If she had too many things on her mind then she should have kept her legs closed and not had any kids. They should lock her in a car during a hot day and see what happens."


Lyn Balfour's Ruckersville home is fragrant with spice candles and the faintly sweet feel of kitsch. Braiden boings happily in a baby bouncer, the same one Bryce had, and crawls on a patchwork comforter that had been Bryce's, too. As Balfour is text-messaging Jarrett in Iraq, she's checking out Braiden's diaper, multitasking as always.

"People say I'm a strong woman," Balfour says, "but I'm not. It's just that when I grieve, I grieve alone . . ."

The pacifier pops out of Braiden's mouth. Balfour rinses it, pops it back in.

" . . . because deep down I feel I don't have the right to grieve in front of others."

Balfour says she has carefully crafted the face she shows the world.

"I would like to disappear, to move someplace where no one knows who I am and what I did. I would do that in a heartbeat, but I can't. I have to say my name. I'm the lady who killed her child, and I have to be that lady because I promised Bryce."

The promise, she says, came as she held her son's body in the hospital. "I kissed him for the last time, and I told him how sorry I was, and I said I would do everything in my power to make sure this will never happen to another child."

Balfour has done this in a way suited to her personality; she has become a modern, maternal version of the Ancient Mariner, from time to time brazenly bellying up to strangers in places such as Sam's Club and starting a conversation about children, so she can tell them what she did to one of hers. An in-your-face cautionary tale.

Unlike most parents to whom this has happened, Balfour will talk to the media, anytime. She works with Kids and Cars, telling her story repeatedly. Her point is always consistent, always resolute, always tinged with a little anger, always a little self-serving, sometimes a bit abrasive: This can happen to anyone. This is a mistake, not a crime, and should not be prosecuted. Cars need safety devices to prevent this. She seldom seems in doubt or in particular anguish. No one sees her cry.

"The truth is," she says, "the pain never gets less. It's never dulled. I just put it away for a while, until I'm in private. "

Balfour doesn't like to think about Bryce's final ordeal. A kindly doctor once told her that her son probably didn't suffer a great deal, and she clings to this resolutely. In her mind, Bryce died unafraid, surrounded by consoling angels. The deity Balfour believes in loves us unconditionally and takes a direct hand in our lives; this delivers comfort, but also doubt.

"When I was 16 in high school," she says, "I was date-raped. I had an abortion. I never told anyone, not my friends and not my mother. As the abortion was happening, I prayed to God and asked Him to take the baby back, and give him back to me when I could take care of him."

So . . .?

"So, I do wonder, sometimes . . .

Balfour wipes a tear.

" . . . It's there in the back of my mind, that what happened to me is punishment from God. I killed a child, and then I had one ripped away from me at the peak of my happiness."

On the floor, Braiden is entranced by an Elmo doll.

"Sometimes," Balfour says, "I wish I had died in childbirth with him . . ."

She's weeping now. For the moment, there's no soldier left.

" . . . that way, Jarrett could have Braiden, and I could be with Bryce."


Miles Harrison is in a Leesburg Starbucks, seated next to the condiment station, pulling napkin after napkin to dry his eyes.

"I hurt my wife so much," he says, "and by the grace of whatever wonderful quality is within her, she has forgiven me. And that makes me feel even worse. Because I can't forgive me."

In the months after he was acquitted in the death of his son, Harrison's public agony continued. His mug shot was back in the newspapers after the Russian Foreign Ministry officially protested his acquittal and threatened to halt the country's adoption program with Americans. It was something of an international incident.

For months, Harrison declined to speak for this article, but in early February, he said he was ready.

"I pray for forgiveness from the Russian people," he said. "There are good people in this country who deserve children, and there are children in Russia who need parents. Please don't punish everyone for my mistake."

Harrison is a Roman Catholic. Weeks after Chase's death, he returned to his local church, where priest and parishioners left him to grieve in solitude. Afterward, the priest embraced him and whispered in his ear: "I will always be here for you."

The church is St. Francis de Sales in Purcellville. The priest was Father Michael Kelly. On New Year's Eve, on a windswept road after a heavy rain, as Father Michael stopped to move a tree that had fallen across the road, he was struck by another falling tree and killed.

Harrison doesn't know what to make of this; nothing entirely holds together anymore, except, to his astonishment, his marriage.

In their home, Carol and Miles Harrison have kept Chase's nursery exactly as it was, and the child's photos are all over. "Sometimes we'll look at a picture together," Harrison says, "and I will see Carol cry. She tries not to let me see, but I see, and I feel such guilt and hurt."

Harrison says he knows it is unlikely he and Carol will be allowed to adopt again.

He leans forward, his voice breaking into a sobbing falsetto, as it did in the courtroom at his worse moment of shame.

"I have cheated her out of being a mother."

In Starbucks, heads turn.

"She would be the best mother in the world."


The first time, someone answers the phone but doesn't say anything. There is just the sound of a TV turned up way too loud, and after a little while, the phone clicks dead. A few days later, he answers, but the TV is not lowered. Call back later, he says. On the third day, he takes the call.

Are you doing okay?

"I don't even know. Tryin' to take it day by day."

Andrew Culpepper's voice is a flat monotone, like a man in a trance. His sentences are short and truncated. This is the sanitation department electrician in Portsmouth, the lucky one. He was the man who wasn't criminally charged when Miles Harrison was. He never had to legally defend himself.

Are you alone now?

"Yeah. "

She left you?

"Yeah. She's hurt and stuff. Dealing with it her way, I guess."

Are you thankful you weren't prosecuted?

No answer.


"Not for myself, for my parents. Doesn't matter what they do to me. Nothing I don't do to myself every day."

Are you sure you're okay?

"I try to take my mind off it. When I start thinking about it, I get like . . ."

Like what?

Silence for the longest time.

"Like this."


As part of her plan to simplify her life, Lyn Balfour has quit her job. It's going to get a little more complicated soon, because she's pregnant again: The insemination that she had on that day in October was successful. The baby is due in July.

Balfour's laywers petitioned the court to get the record of her prosecution expunged. Such a request is usually unopposed after an acquittal, in recognition that a legally innocent person has a right to start again with a legally clean slate. But in this case, Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman challenged it and, unusually, argued the relatively small legal battle himself.

Outside the courthouse, Chapman ex-plained: "It's very rare to oppose expungement. But we are, because of the enormity of this case, because it is the sole public record of the death of a completely defenseless and helpless infant."

After a half-day hearing, the judge ruled for the commonwealth, saying Balfour had failed to prove that she would suffer a "manifest injustice" if the court records remained unsealed.

Afterward, Balfour calmly answered questions from the news media, as always. She was unemotional, unapologetic, on message. She will consider an appeal. She will continue to speak out for greater public awareness of the dangers of leaving children alone in cars. She sounded, as always, just a little bit cold.

Jarrett Balfour finally made it home, after 18 months in Iraq, where his job was to analyze seized explosive devices made by insurgents and try to identify their technology and trace their origin. He extended his tour of duty twice, as the legal bills kept mounting. Jarrett is 30. He's tall, lanky and strikingly handsome, with sandy hair brushed straight back. He looks like a man leaning into a strong wind.

Initially after he got home, Jarrett says, things were awkward, with "hiccups" in communication. He would make an innocuous statement about something Braiden was doing, and Lyn would overreact, as if he were second-guessing her parenting skills. It's getting better, he says.

Braiden is 91/2 months old, exactly the age Bryce was when he died. Lyn has been having nightmares again.

Just before the tragedy, she had two dreams that seem to her, in retrospect, like foreboding. In one, she accidentally drowned Bryce; in the other, it was death by fire. Balfour believes these dreams were sent by God to help prepare her for what she was about to endure.

Recently she dreamed she lost control of Braiden's stroller, and it rolled out into traffic. No, she doesn't think it's the same thing, happening again.

"I couldn't take it again," Jarrett says quietly.

So, there are tensions. They are working it out. Both of them say they are confident this marriage will last.

After Jarrett leaves for work, Lyn talks about how much the presence of Braiden has helped them heal. She considers her family blessed because they've been able to have other children:

"Can you imagine losing your only child and not having a hope of having another? Can you imagine that despair?"

That's why, she says, she's made a decision. She's checked it out, and it would be legal. There would be no way for any authority to stop it because it would fall into the class of a private adoption. She'd need a sperm donor and an egg donor, because she wouldn't want to use her own egg. That would make it too personal.

What is she saying, exactly?

Miles and Carol Harrison deserve another child, Balfour explains measuredly. They would be wonderful parents.

This is the woman you either like or don't like, right away. She is brassy and strong-willed and, depending on your viewpoint, refreshingly open or abrasively forward. Above all, she is decisive.

Balfour says she's made up her mind. If Miles and Carol Harrison are denied another adoption, if they exhaust all their options and are still without a baby, she will offer to carry one for them, as a gift.