Incredibly we are back for another installment of the midday column, which has already become a veritable cultural institution, like Radio City Music Hall, the Peanuts comic strip and Bob Dole's Viagra ads. Embodying the principles of "durability, dependability, and constancy` has been our goal since we began this column Tuesday.

The basic idea here is that, at 1 p.m. EDT, we give you the Zeitgeist, so deftly leavened and frosted and puffed and powdered that you can instantly digest it, and then forget it all by 2 p.m. In that brief window, you can tell yourself that you're on top of things, you're wired, you've got your talking points. You can turn to someone you want to impress, and say, in your grooviest, most omniscient voice, "Hurricane Dennis at 1100 hours was at 24.3 degrees North latitude and 74.0 degrees West longitude. For more information go to,` at which point you will completely vanish and be replaced by a different person.

The tropical storms are, indeed, the lurking big news this morning, with Dennis and Cindy both upgraded to hurricane status and Emily out there somewhere, all of them fairly feeble as these things go, but strengthening. Dennis, according to the National Weather Service, "still appears ragged on satellite imagery.` (Everyone's a critic.)

Meanwhile, a sudden deluge virtually shut down New York City's streets and subway system this morning, and forced NBC's Al Roker to dash outside in a lightning storm and lead to safety a bunch of fans who were risking death on the off chance of getting their faces on the Today Show.

Yesterday in this space, it was noted briefly that Bill Hillsman, a Minnesota advertising executive who helped get Jesse Ventura elected governor, met last week with possible presidential candidate Warren Beatty and his wife Annette Bening. Since that posting, I spoke to Hillsman, and he said that Beatty is thinking that, if elected, he would probably be only a one-term president. Hillsman said Beatty's idea is to "get in for four years, get things back on track, and turn it over to somebody else.`

In other words, Beatty is a realist. He knows he's a Hollywood actor, director, and producer, not a professional politician. So, four years as the most powerful person in the world - that's enough. Beatty still hasn't decided if he'll run. "The strongest comment that he made is that there has to be a better candidate than him out there. But that candidate is not in the race right now,` Hillsman said. He said he told Beatty, "If you're going to run, run to win.` At some point, this cute August story is going to become slightly ominous.

Here in Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno is furious - "very, very upset,` as she put it. She reacted this morning to the revelation by the FBI that six years ago it may have fired flammable tear gas canisters into David Koresh's compound in Waco before it went up in flames. She had been previously told, she said, that no incendiary devices had been used. "I don't think it's very good for my credibility, and that's why I am going to pursue it until I get to the truth,` she said. She plans to talk to the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, this afternoon. That should be pleasant.

Now, in keeping with our commitment to up-to-the-nanosecond news, let's get the very latest, zippiest report on what's happening with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

You remember the scrolls - portions of the Hebrew Bible, ancient songs, wisdom, and historical narratives, written on animal skin (goat? cow? ibex? - the DNA testing is ongoing), and found in a cave by a Bedouin boy in 1947. This morning I called Professor Emanuel Tov, editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project, a multi-decade endeavor to produce the definitive, 35-volume edition of the ancient material.

`They're ancient texts being studied rather frantically these days, since we are working on the final stage of the publication. Modern technology helps us to relay information very fast,` said Tov.

Tov normally works in Jerusalem, but I reached him in Sydney, Australia, where he is teaching for a few weeks, and which is 14 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast. When we spoke it was almost midnight - almost Friday morning - and thus was news so fresh it practically came from the future!

Many of the scrolls are in small fragments, Tov said. Reconstructing them is a challenge, he said, akin to reassembling "an unknown quantity of a text of a novel which we really don't know.` But he is quite pleased with the progress.

`The headline is, I would say, good progress in the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In September, three volumes will be released from Oxford University Press. That's a good headline,` he said.

Consider it posted.

We are eager to hear your comments, contributions, rainfall measurements, theories on the mysterious roller-coaster accident phenomenon, etc. E-mail to