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Paperless Trail

Tailpipe thought about jumping on the conspiracy-theory bandwagon to explain the Dubya's unexpectedly breezy victory in Florida. But then the 'Pipe learned about that core of conservative Christian suburbanites up around Orlando. Nuts. Let the liberal bloggers wail about miscounts and computer foul-ups, the 'Pipe reasoned; there just wasn't any evidence.

Now here comes a University of California at Berkeley analysis of voting results concluding that the counties using electronic voting awarded Bush as many as 260,000 extra votes, with the largest anomalies occurring right here in Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties. In the absence of a paper trail, the statisticians said, their analysis is as close to a recount as it gets.

All right, all right, Bush carried Florida by 381,000 votes, more than the maximum number of votes the study found anomalous. Isn't this just another case of post-election niggling by a bunch of pointy-headed academicians? Significant or not, though, election tampering makes this cylinder sick, especially when the Big Dog in Washington is claiming he has an overwhelming mandate to turn back the clock. And what about next time? In light of possible electronic improprieties, will South Florida counties use the same voting machines?

The numbers were crunched by a group led by Berkeley sociology Professor Michael Hout. The prof answered critics of the study in an e-mail to the 'Pipe: "Which is more plausible, that the Bush campaign did best where Gore did best [in 2000] and Kerry worked hardest, or that the machines let the voters down?" He's got a point. The Berkeley model was designed to take into account such factors as Republicans' aggressive get-out-the-vote efforts and GOP gains among Hispanic voters, and it accurately predicted the election results in all the paper-voting counties. But in the Florida counties using e-voting, Bush consistently and inexplicably outperformed the model's prediction. Inexplicably, that is, unless the machines were rigged.

But maybe the biggest mystery of all was: How come Tailpipe had to read about this in an online version of a story in a Texas newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman? The study, which was released November 16 (you can find it at, has been virtually ignored by our local dailies. It got a passing mention in the Miami Herald on November 21 -- on page A13, midway through a 12-inch wire-service story. The national media was silent as well, unless you count Keith Olbermann wondering on his MSNBC blog why the media weren't all over the story.

Last week, a group of MIT professors who had initially questioned Hout's study independently verified his results -- and called for an investigation. That endorsement finally pierced the national media cone of silence, garnering a mention on ABC. But the Sun-Sentinel, the Herald, and the Palm Beach Post, the papers of record in the three counties where interest should have been most intense, didn't touch it -- which amounts to criminal journalistic neglect.

Pirates in the Crosshairs

It's the movie industry's equivalent of the Napster threat: rogue operators armed with small but powerful camcorders who buy movie tickets, record the latest Hollywood blockbuster, and then distribute the crude bootlegged version on street corners and on the Internet the following day. These mysterious movie pirates cost the big studios $3.5 billion in potential sales last year, according to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

So Tinseltown's next big action hero could be a company located on the edge of the Everglades. Trakstar, a small startup formed in September 2002, has developed a piracy detection system for the MPAA based on the same gear U.S. soldiers use to find snipers in war zones.

"Our technology can spot cameras in use in theaters and then notify staff of the exact location," company President Howard Gladstone says from his Weston office.

Trakstar's apparatus, called PrivateEye, functions in two ways: A small box set up in front of the screen sends out brief pulses of light that are almost invisible to the audience. Cameras then send back an incriminating reflection. Additionally, the technology transmits an encoded sound that can't be heard by the audience. That sound can then be extracted from bootlegged films, telling the studios exactly where and when the recording was made. "That's assuming we don't catch them in the theater first," Gladstone says.

The MPAA has commissioned a feasibility study of Trakstar's system. Gladstone says it's too early to say when this type of machinery could be rolled out worldwide and how much it might cost. "But it works," he says. "In a test last week, we even detected a cell phone camera."

And what about privacy, an increasingly elusive commodity these days? Gladstone brushes it off. Trakstar's PrivateEye captures only lens reflections, he says, not the young couple making out in row 20.

He Has Climbed the Mountain

After Hollywood's boisterous wrestling promoter Michael Rapuano was indicted on charges that he used other people's credit cards, he disappeared. If you're into the manglin' art, the silence has been deafening. Where is Rapuano, better-known by his nom de guerre, Bobby Rogers, today? He's chillin' at home. In fact, he pretty much doesn't leave unless he has an appointment with a doctor or a judge. (House arrest will do that to a guy.) The twist is, he's doing great. "I'm more mentally and emotionally healthy than I've ever been," Rapuano says. "Wrestling is a sickness, because we're addicted to the attention, addicted to the adrenaline rush."

The 30-year-old Rapuano has been hooked on the sport since he was 13 years old, and in the late '90s, he ran hands-down the most consistent, best-attended wrestling events in South Florida with his company Future of Wrestling. "At the time, from nothing, he became the biggest promoter down here," says Bruno Sassi, a Davie-based wrestler with a given name so good he uses it in the ring. "Nobody did anything like Bobby. His claim to fame -- well, I don't know how much fame there is -- he put over 3,000 people in the Davie Rodeo Arena. I think we outdrew the Marlins that night." In South Florida sports terms, that's huge.

Lately, though, Rapuano/Rogers has had his share of scrapes. He pleaded guilty to charges in 1998 that he stole $3,500 in lottery tickets and $3,000 in cash, both from shops where he worked. On a mischievous whim in 1999, he placed his kidney for sale on eBay and stirred an international media cacophony that grew so outsized, it generated a Jeopardy question. Two years ago, a Tampa man complained that Rapuano passed him a bad $9,500 check; sheriff's deputies sent to arrest him instead escorted him to a mental hospital, where he stayed for a week because he had made suicide threats. He was collared again last December, when the Secret Service and U.S. marshals delivered warrants. "When [the authorities] first came around asking me questions, my mistake was that I wasn't cooperative with them and was evasive," he admits. He was held, indicted June 3, and pleaded guilty last month. The feds have recommended he spend the next 70 months in the cooler.

As he awaits sentencing next month, he declines to fess up further -- "I pleaded guilty, I'll put it that way," he says -- but hasn't succumbed to cabin fever.

"Been sitting here working on a book," he adds. "I'd pretty much be a fool not to write one." The working title: Wrestling with the Truth. The movie rights still haven't been snapped up.

-As told to Edmund Newton

Reason number 324 why the City of Fort Lauderdale is going broke: The Deferred Retirement Option Program allows a member of the city's senior staff to collect a salary and a pension check.

John H. Kluttz Maintenance Chief

Reg. Annual Salary $59,076

DROP Annual Payout $60,624

Total Taxpayer Screwing $119,700

Michael A. Fay Landscape Architect

Reg. Annual Salary $68,532

DROP Annual Payout $62,820

Total Taxpayer Screwing $131,352

Richard Ulman Computer Operations Spvsr.

Reg. Annual Salary $70,224

DROP Annual Payout $61,164

Total Taxpayer Screwing $131,388

Arthur P. Saey Public Works Spvsr.

Reg. Annual Salary $70,224

DROP Annual Payout $66,732

Total Taxpayer Screwing $136,956

Stephen Person Recreation Superintendent

Reg. Annual Salary $89,880

DROP Annual Payout $61,452

Total Taxpayer Screwing $151,332