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No news is no news

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It's pretty remarkable what you can find on the island of Ocracoke, particularly at the end of April, when the village is quiet and the few springtime visitors spread out at wide intervals along 14 miles of pristine seashore.

You can spot dolphins right close to the beach, dancing into the air above the foamy surf, exorcising their winter doldrums. Parked in the sand absorbed in a novel, you can find yourself suddenly face to face with two elderly women clad in pink spandex, walking, between them, five matching white miniature poodles--well, walking four of them and taking turns carrying the fifth, all of them somewhat short of breath.

In the National Park Service campground nestled into the Hurricane Isabel-damaged dunes, you can listen to old men who spent the day competing in Ocracoke's annual spring fishing tourney bitch about how the damn gummint owns all the beaches on the whole damn island and it ain't fair that you can't just fish whenever, wherever and however you want, especially when the blues are running like they are.

All of this makes it pretty easy to forget that our president is waging war in Iraq, that we're just 11 weeks from important local primary elections, that elsewhere in America the baseball season is heating up and the stock market is cooling off, again.

It's a good thing to stop wondering about the rest of the world, though, because thanks to our handlers over at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, keeping track of all those things got a little harder in Ocracoke over the winter.

One thing you can't find on the island these days is a daily newspaper.

"It's 'cause of terrorism," the clerk in the Ocracoke Variety Store tells me with chagrin, while I jiggle my hopeful quarters in front of the bare spot where metal boxes had dispensed many a Raleigh News & Observer and Norfolk Virginian-Pilot into my hot little news-junky hands over the last decade. "They won't let them on the ferries."

At N.C. Department of Transportation ferry headquarters in the village, an official in a dirt-brown DOT uniform confirms the story. Due to new regulations handed down from the feds, newspaper bundles that used to get tossed on a boat in Hatteras and unloaded a half-hour later in Ocracoke can no longer travel unaccompanied. Since there's no throng of volunteers to catch a 6 a.m. boat to Hatteras, pick up the papers, and ride the 7 a.m. ferry back, all for little or no compensation, the daily news has evaporated off the island like so much sea spray.

Some of the locals joke that it's a good thing, that they don't much care to follow what's happening off the island, anyway, and a couple of Outer Banks weeklies cover their community. Those that do care watch CNN, surf the Internet or order mail subscriptions and read the news on a 24-hour-delay. For visitors camping without TV or Internet, like me, though, I guess it's down to scratchy radio from the mainland.

So much for homeland security. If the folks in charge of our damn gummint are treating newspaper bundles as a national threat, it's no wonder they think the best way to protect their troops and their citizens from the horrors of war is to beg CBS not to air photos of American soldiers mistreating Iraqis.

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