Hi! How are you? I am fine, except that my email box exploded, so I may be unable to receive any offers for “Barnyard Fun” in the next 12 hours. I will fix the situation as soon as possible, since I’m sure the world of “Barnyard Fun” is a rich, constantly renewing environment, and I don’t want to miss out on any new forms of amusement. I still don’t know what “Barnyard Fun” is, anyway; should I bring the family? I do remember the barnyard at the farm, and wasn’t fun at all. We saw a decapitated chicken run around for a while, and it was interesting, but I wouldn’t call it fun, especially if you were wearing white sneakers and he got too close.

Okay, well, now I’m curious. Let’s read the email and see what “Barnyard Fun” is all about. I’m guessing pony rides.


Okay, well, pony rides do seem to be involved, but not in the usual sense. Let’s move along.

First order of business: thank you. Thank you all, even the ones who  channeled their inner Nelson and gave me a hearty HA HA. But mostly thanks to everyone who sent letters on behalf of the column – many of which, oddly enough, were longer than the column whose loss they were lamenting – and wrote words of encouragement on their blogs. And large blushing thanks to Hugh Hewitt, who spent about sixteen hours on the subject on his coast-to-coast radio show.

That said: jeez, folks, it’s not like they gutted Mencken in front of his family, or anything. The internet – and journalism – abounds with great talent in increasingly large quantities, and I am honored that you regard the work so well. But honestly, you’re embarrassing me. Please keep it up.

Today was fun. I woke with the same combination of peculiar elation and jangly-brain fever I’ve had since Friday. First I went to church to drop off things for the big garage sale; I gave them Gnat’s first trike. I remembered buying it, and how bad I felt that it wasn’t adorned with a licensed, trademarked character. It was just a generic Little Girl Trike, and it tried to make up for its deficiencies with words. Sparkle Pink Princess! Or something like that. If I’d been smart I would have called her Sparkle Pink for a few weeks before her birthday. I think it was a Huffy, which always struck me as an odd name: it’s as if they were anticipating the reaction when the kid realized it wasn’t a Schwinn. And Schwinns were the schwinnnizzle, back then:

Mine was a later model from the seventies, Mine was gold. It was the best bike ever and I put one of those faux-motors on the back that made it sound like it had an engine; it had headlights, which required four D cell batteries, the cumulative weight of which exceeds the weight of a modern bike entirely.    I developed a skill for riding it side-saddle -  you swing your leg over while traveling at a skull-cracking rate of speed, then balance on one pedal. You do this until you drive over a sewer grate, lose control, and mash your head into the unyielding curb. I recall that moment with unusual clarity – the sense of panic was matched in my short life only by the day when I put a pebble too far up my nose to be dislodged by traditional means. (Years later, it fell out when I lost control of the Schwinn in a sewer grate.)

Anyway. I took a picture of the bike in the back of the Element, looking like a dog who thinks we’re going on a great adventure instead of being dropped off in the country (it’s okay, a farmer will take him in. He’ll have Barnyard Fun!). Off to work.

I usually write at home, since it’s easier, and I can pace and talk out loud and listen to music. But I didn’t think I’d have any writing in me today. (Although I filed a column in the morning.) The office atmosphere was a bit charged; think the morning of the day they tested the first atom bomb, and you have an idea. I had lunch in the cafeteria, something I never do, and was reminded why: you hope there’s a measurable difference between the consistency of the turkey burger and the Styrofoam plate on which it rests, but you can’t have everything. You could, however, have Salsa, this being a Southwestern Turkey burger, and I watched as the cook got out a giant industrial-sized bottle of Pace and glug out a portion with a sound like a rich, ripe beany fart. I ate at my desk and walked around talking to people, collecting rumors – they’re going to fire everyone and raze the building and publish via mental telepathy! – until I realized that I had a big feature on the 30th anniversary of Star Wars due in two days, so I wrote that.

Ninety minutes to the Big All-Company Meeting. Let’s walk! I put on my headphones and walked around downtown, and I must have looked like a madman. See, I know what’s going to happen to me, and it has its own liberating quality. So I just put on show tunes from the very limited selection of show tunes I can bear, and when “Singin’ in the Rain” came on I almost hopped up on a lamppost. Which is really the sort of thing you ought to do more often, anyway.

Then the meeting. Bar graphs were displayed. Some of them looked like basement steps built by a drunkard, unfortunately. The bad news was released: 145 positions would enter the ether. They would be pushing up daisies. They would be ex-parrots. After the meeting was over everyone regrouped according to profession, and the plans for the future were laid out. Buyouts were extended. Questions were posed. I can’t speak for all, but it seemed like people were looking at others and seeing White Star Lines caps on everyone’s head. Which is to be expected, I suppose; this sort of thing is unknown at the paper. This was the first time the blade had fallen in a long time; not since the papers were merged, the Star absorbed into the body of the Trib, had the Reaper roamed the halls, laughing loudly.

I should also note that there’s no reason we should be immune to this sort of thing. I’ve seen all my friends go through this, no matter which industry they’re in. I should also note that if I’d been fired outright, well, that’s life. If I’m not producing enough to justify my salary, make me write one or two features per week in addition to my column. And make me write longer columns! My dismay had to do with the nature of the specific reassignment, not the fact that I’d come hard up against Reality. Just so we’re clear.

After the announcement the phones began to ring; I got a call from a local TV station. They were going to be outside and wanted a reaction on the end of my column. Good Lord. Television cares? Of course, it doesn’t – but Strib cutbacks were a story, and as far as anyone knew I was the only public casualty thus far. I said I could only confirm the fact, and that was about all I had to add. Fine! So I went down, stood in front of the camera, and when the tape rolled I said:

“I regret that after 30 years of writing columns in this market, including ten with this newspaper that I love very much, this local conversation has come to an end. However, I believe that if the newspapers of the country pool their resources, we can send an Arnold-Schwartzenegger-style robot back in time to kill the inventor of the Internet, and then our future will be much brighter.”

The reporter looked at me and said “I’m sorry, I didn’t get the first part? Your column is cancelled?”

Jeebus on a Vespa. They did get a shot of me walking into the building, though, because nothing says “end of column” like someone walking back into the building.

So where do we stand? Well, I had some conversations about things, and things may happen. Other, different things may happen as well. I just know that the column ends on Friday, and now I have to write the last one.

I know how to do that. I’ve had it in my head all weekend. I still can’t quite believe it’s over, and ended in this fashion. But I guarantee you that this situation has caused far greater unhappiness and uncertainty for my fellow workers, and they don’t have email campaigners on their side. They have to worry about being shifted around to a different time of day – who will pick up the kid? They have to worry about losing their beats for something new, and wondering whether the convulsions will shake the place anew a year or two down the road. I’ll always have other outlets, no matter what happens at the paper. But there are people who’ve given their professional lives to newspapers, and not just because it was something they fell into by chance. They loved the medium.

But that’s not enough alas. Things chang. I still remember the first day I saw a web browser; it was in the offices of the Washington Post. I swear the fellow who showed me how it worked said “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”


Can't let this action-packed week go by unnoted: It's "24" time.

Okay, where were we? Oh. Right. Flashback to 17 hours or so ago, when Jack was talking to Piglet’s Hot Wife; we notice that their son looks a lot like Agent Doyle. Possible Luke-I-Am-Your-Father moment coming up next year. Or maybe Luke I am your Uncle. That one’s never been tried. Meanwhile, the Russian President has threatened to nuke America to cover up the fact that their entire defense grid can be compromised by using codes embedded in 1980 computer boards. If that’s the case, you could probably make all their nukes explode in the silo by using an old Atari and a whistle that simulated modem tones.

We are reminded that last week guns were pointed, and Audrey looked like a sorority girl slipped some horse trank during “Black Light Night” at the weekly showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Oh, right: her father has informed Jack he can’t see Audrey again, because everything he looks at bursts into flames, or something like that.

UPDATE: Jack has been on the case for 16 hours. He does not need a shave. Whatever they did to him after he got off the plane from China, it was some serious shaving. CTU probably has access to seven blade razors. Two of which are reporting back to the electric-razor industry consortium.

Nadia tells Jack that there might be a lead at “the old copper refining facility.” Well, let’s git up a posse and head ‘em out at the pass. Dang varmints.

UPDATE: Editors, take note. When two people are six inches from each other, speaking face to face, it is not necessary to show the scene in split-screen.

UPDATE: AUGH! Jack has turned into a mess of strangle blurry squares! Either he has succumbed to Ancient Chinese Secret, or the HD feed from the dish is fubared by the clouds. Switching to dull muddy network feed  . . . acquired. Did I miss anything?

UPDATE: hold on, people: a ranking section chief is coming over to replace Nadia. This is more exciting than a subsection non-com demi-colonel with a level 46G clearance factor coming over to change the urinal cakes. You can almost feel the excitement at CTU Human Resources: new employees? At 3 AM? Well, he’s going to wait until tomorrow if he wants his medical and dental to follow him over here, because I am done for the day. My house was nuked this morning and I have to go to my sister’s, and she lives way the hell out in the Valley. Damn.

UPDATE: Morris has located a green glowing object, which appears to be an enemy from Space Invaders, and the team of Grim-Jawed Expendables suits up to head out. Destination:  a warehouse deep in mysterious LA, where Chinese men are so intent on their objective that they stop speaking Chinese entirely, and switch to English without knowing it. This may be a weakness Jack can exploit.

UPDATE: Lisa, the blonde Presidential spy-enabler, is instructed to go back to spy, and peck his eyes out with her nose.

UPDATE: CTU’s team of Grim-Jawed Expendables approach the Ol’ Abandoned Copper Mine, and enter the compound with all the stealth of someone feeding cymbals into a jet turbine. Clever editing, however, has foiled them again; they’ve burst into one location, when the Chinese are really operating out of Buffalo Bill’s basement in another state.

UPDATE: Chloe is having a hard time about something Morris said. It makes you realize what was missing from all those dramatizations about the Cuban Missile Crisis: JFK never took time out to argue about china patterns with Jackie.

UPDATE: Beakie is in; Spyboy suspects her instantly.  Garrotting seems imminent. What is the point of this operation, exactly? Why not arrest him and give him the chemical overhaul in CTU’s Shriek Central Funhouse Talky Room?

Spyboy has a gut.

UPDATE: FLASH ALL AGENCIES / CC EMBASSY SUBNETS COPY TO MILINT: Milo suspects there is something going on between Nadia and Ricky

UPDATE: Were in ur sewerz, resettin yt permissions. The Chinese have managed to seize control of America’s primary anti-terrorism unit by typing on a computer conveniently located by the sewer lines.

UPDATE: Well, Ricky, the path is clear now. On the other hand, Milo raised the bar for what it impress Nadia.

UPDATE: It appears that China is willing to risk demolishing the diplomatic relations and the lucrative trade relationship to retrieve The Boy. I suspect that Jack’s Father might have a hand in this.

Which leaves Jack with someone to shoot in the last episode, at least.