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ITO'S HOURGLASSES ADD UP AS DAYS DRAG BY

Today we present a special Why column on the O.J. Simpson trial, direct to you from the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles, where a Why staffer in recent months has been masquerading as a real reporter. Here are some answers to a few questions that might have arisen if you are fascinated with the Simpson trial in lieu of having an actual life:

Question: Why is this thing taking so long?

Answer: The prosecution strategy is to leave no grain of sand unturned. The defense strategy is to question how the grain of sand got there and to raise doubt in the jury's mind about whether it's really a grain of sand or merely a very tiny rock. The judge's strategy is to make no reversible errors, even if that means indulging the two sides in a debate over the difference between mud and muck. By the time the two sides finish fussing over every little detail, the whole case has silted up.

(Note: These are metaphors.)

Question: Why does Judge Lance Ito have those hourglasses next to him?

Answer: Ito collects hourglasses. He's time-obsessed. He's put a clock on every wall. He starts the trial every day promptly at 9 a.m. Pacific time and breaks for lunch within a couple of minutes of noon. He had three hourglasses next to him at the start of the trial. People mailed in more. At last count he had seven.

Another reason for the hourglasses is that Ito likes things in general. He likes gadgets and tools. He's a skilled carpenter in his spare time and even in court keeps a Swiss Army Knife under his robe. He whipped it out recently to help Marcia Clark open an evidence envelope. (Ito, by the way, wears a shirt and tie under the robe, but not his suit jacket. We encourage all readers to spread the rumor that under the robe Ito is wearing pajamas.)

Ito's gadget fetish led him to install a $100,000 evidence presentation system in his courtroom. Ito has four switches that he uses to control what goes out to the rest of the world. One controls the evidence system video feed, another the audio feed, another his own microphone. The fourth switch is a master audio kill switch that can shut off every mike. He's practically like an airline pilot in a cockpit.

Now for an extremely rare and exciting who question:

Question: Who controls the camera?

Answer: Chris Bancroft, 31, is the most powerful journalist at the Simpson trial, because he sits in the back of the courtroom and manipulates two joysticks that control the camera. He works for a company called CG Productions, which has a contract with Court TV to operate court cameras in Los Angeles.

We caught up with Bancroft in the hall outside the courtroom. He was playing video poker on a small electronic game device. "All these years of Pac Man and Space Invaders may have paid off," he said.

One joystick is "zoom and focus," the other is "pan and tilt." "You have to have good eye-hand coordination." He said it wasn't his fault that a juror was shown one day in January. He was sick that day. His backup allowed the camera to pan too far left and tilt too far down. "They won't let him back in here," Bancroft said.

You may have noticed that you can't hear the attorneys when they talk to one another even though they have microphones right at their tables. That's because a second Court TV-contracted person, Sandie Pietz, controls the microphones. She's required to turn down the volume when the attorneys confab.

Question: Why does Judge Ito always say "back on the record in the, uh, Simpson matter"?

Answer: Ito has a subtle verbal twitch. He says the "uh" every time, even when he says the sentence fast. This is a good example of a phenomenon you may have experienced: Once you develop a way of saying something, it's hard to say it any other way, even if it's a misstatement. One day defense attorney Barry Scheck said "Nicole Brown System" three times in a row.

Big picture: Speech takes place too quickly to be consciously policed. We think of talking as a conscious action, but it's more like walking, an almost reflexive motor function, with the conscious mind providing the impetus but not micromanaging the muscular operations.

The best recourse when this happens is to abandon any attempt to say the difficult word correctly, and alter your word choice. Give up and say something different.

Question: Why does the state seal of California over Judge Ito's head show a Roman-looking person gazing at sailboats in a harbor as a miniature bear sits nearby?

Answer: Every time the jury comes in or out of the courtroom, the camera tilts up and shows the seal. Like all state seals it is a ludicrous jumble of symbolism. You got the bear (the state once had grizzlies), the sailboats (shipping), a miner (mining), a bunch of grapes and a sheaf of wheat (agriculture), and of course the Roman, which, as you've probably already guessed, is the goddess Minerva.

Why her? Because she sprang full grown from the brain of Jupiter. What does that have to do with anything? Because, according to a document we dug up at the public library here, "she is introduced as a type of political birth of the state of California, without having gone through the probation of a territory."

You see, back in those days (California became a state in 1850) most states were territories first. Not California. Hence, Minerva. A HUUUUGE stretch, if you ask us, but we didn't get to vote on that one. (We still suspect the Roman-looking person is the Goddess of Alternative Lifestyles.)