A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

BPCP Update

The Blogosphere Political Compass Project has been updated. Go to the BPCP permalink page for a complete list of participants and links to their sites.


BPCP Graph for March 2005 Posted by Hello

As everyone can see - especially if you look at the main BPCP page - this update was huge. The biggest one we've had, ever. Part of the reason I haven't been posting is because I've been spending my blogging time updating the spreadsheet and chart for the BPCP ... the other is that we've been very busy at work opening a new training center, and I just haven't had time during the day to pop in and post stuff like I used to. We're just about finished over there, though, so I hope to get back to posting two or three times a week pretty soon. Thank heavens karakatoa has been so loquacious recently; he's just about been running the place by himself all month and deserves a pat on the back.

*Pats krakatoa on the back*

Okay then. Hope all is well with you fine readers, and by next week you should be seeing more of me.


S

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Monday, March 28, 2005

Who's the bigger Fool...

...The fool, or the fool that loses (and loses badly) an argument with him?

From Jay Reding reporting on the latest rumblings in Iraq:
Force[s] in Iraq are seeking an exit strategy after months of deadly attacks have utterly sapped morale, shrunk the pool of new recruits, and left the movement rudderless and isolated among a large group of utterly unsympathetic people who have firmly rejected them.

That group is the Iraqi “insurgency”.

I can completely understand a principled argument against war. Indeed, I think you'd easily find that most people are anti-war. It's just that some of us accept that sometimes, war really is the answer.

What I cannot understand is the head-in-the-sand approach to arguing against the Bush doctrine on the basis of believing the very worst of President Bush and the vilified neocons and the very best of our fascist enemies.

I'd like to believe our politicians are more responsible than all that. Those like Kennedy, Kerry and Dean make it hard to hold that belief.

It's not that it's just a difference of opinion where you can agree to disagree. It's a total separation from reality. I suspect it comes from the abdication of moral principles in the pursuit of power.

Post-modern thought and the moral-relativism it advocates has wrought this. It is a remarkable theory, but what most liberals seem incapable of realizing is that, like quantum mechanics, moral-relativism works nicely at a micro (individual) level, but simply does not apply at a macro (societal) level.

Jay ends with an observation that is becoming cliched in that it seems to occur regularly:

It appears that the vision and will of the “idiot” from Texas was far greater than the narrowmindedness of his critics.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

It's not Immigration, so much as Assimilation

Ruth from Freudian Slippers left a link in the comments on the previous entry, and I think it's worth a read.

The verbiage of war is a bit strong for my tastes, but perhaps it is exactly the prism through which we should view this problem, if for nothing else than to highlight the seriousness of the issue.

Mexico’s Undeclared War on America by Alan Caruba, writing on The Autonomist.

In it, Mr. Caruba reports the following statistics:

US Border Patrol Agents, according to a January 10 article in The Washington Times, “apprehended 1.15 million illegal aliens last year trying to sneak into the United States between the nation’s land ports of entry, more than 3,100 a day—a 24 percent increase over the year before.” Among them, 23,000 people with criminal records were identified and arrested. They included 84 murder suspects, 37 suspected kidnappers, 151 who were wanted on charges of sexual assault, 313 robbery suspects, and 2,630 others implicated in drug-related charges.

“There were 8,577 drug seizures that confiscated 1.4 million pounds of illegal narcotics with an estimated street value of $1.62 billion,” according to the Times article by Jerry Seper. In all, the US Customs and Border Protection agency’s inspectors and officers processed 428 million passengers and pedestrians, including 262 million aliens, “denying entry to more than 643,000 aliens under US law.” They were in addition to those trying to steal across the border illegally.


He goes on to note that despite the openly illegal nature of border crossings, the Mexican Foreign Ministry published "The Guide for the Mexican Immigrant.”

The Command Post did a great round-up of articles on this booklet back in January here.

Politicians seem to think this is a complicated issue.

It is not at all. The issue is whether we obey the laws of our land or we do not. If the laws we have written are to be ignored at whim based purely on an ethnic basis, what business do we have calling ourselves civilized?

When you look at the growing threat to civilization in Europe by a large population of unassimilated Muslim immigrants, you are drawn irretrievably to the position that allowing a society to evolve within and yet so fundamentally apart from the existing society is simply a powderkeg waiting for a spark.

The murder of Theo Van Gogh, and the subsequent withdrawal of his movie from a film festival, shows that Europe is terribly resistant to the lesson of un-checked immigration the Dutch learned, and to their credit, have apparently learned relatively quickly.

With respect to Mr. Caruba, I disagree with calling illegal immigration an act of War by Mexico. In my estimation, Mexico's motives are less hostile than economic. I think it is accurate however to wrap it up into the context of a War on Terror.

We either need to enforce the laws as they exist, and get serious about stopping illegals, or we need to legally allow more immigration. Either way, we need to ensure these immigrants, legal or otherwise, are assimilated into the U.S. culture. This should be home for them, not a means to an end.

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Friday, March 25, 2005

Illegal Immigration: The Next BIG THING

Some pundits have suggested the Terri Schiavo controversy will drive a wedge into the Conservative movement.

I agree with Jay Reding's opinion. I don't think the Schiavo case is a deal-breaker by any means. It is a focal point for high passion, but I don't see it creating any real and lasting breaks in the disparate groups who have voted for Bush's policies.

I think Bush's policies on immigration could have that effect though.

I am as amazed as any that we haven't had a terrorist attack within America since 9/11, and have no problem crediting Bush with a lot of that by his taking the battle to the enemy.

If we do have another attack, and it is done by terrorists who have crossed our borders illegally, the backlash against the current Republican commitment to loose borders will be enough for them to lose control of the White House and Congress.

All it will take is for Democrat challengers to make the case for strong defense abroad AND on our borders, incidentally a position Hillary has been moving towards, and the Conservative resurgence will be broken.

And Rightfully so. I simply cannot understand President Bush's blindness on this issue. His characterization of the Minuteman Project in Arizona as vigilantism is so far off the mark of their stated goals and procedures as to descend into the realm of demagoguery for the sake of pandering to Hispanics.

I'm no fan of Bill O'Reilly, but he has put together an online petition on this issue. Please sign up here.

I think a comment from Strangelove on the topic at Little Green Footballs puts it at its succinct best:

If we are attacked again, and it is proven they slipped in through Mexico (most likely due to racial characteristics)..Bush will be looking at serious impeachment threats from both sides of the aisle, and rightly so.

We re-elected you George, now do your goddamned job.

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Friday, March 18, 2005

Turtle gets Mark of Satan

He said the turtle is not possessed but is very tame.


Obviously this poor fool hasn't seen any horror movies in his life, which are widely accepted as definitive source material on all things evil. He should call a priest ASAP before the inevitable occurs.

Behold: the bloody carnage of evil unleashed in the form of reptile on the half-shell.

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Senators Gone Wild

I can't believe I'm not seeing this on any conservative blogs.

This is, to me anyway, yet another breach of faith to go along with the border issue, and I'm only going to call out the Republicans, because if they had any balls, they'd have made the case to their constituents that spending must be reigned in.

The President and the House (barely) have shown the courage to cinch their belts.

Enough Republican senators have shown once again their single-minded resolve to loot the public coffers. I expect better of the people I hire.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Islamic Reformation

Jack Risco @ Dinocrat has a very nice summation of the history and future of extreme fundamentalist Religiosity versus Empirical rationalism.

He makes many fine points I do agree with on the way to a conclusion that I think is debatable.

Philosophy retreats along the border advanced by science. So does theology, as Copernicus and Galileo have shown.

The idea that man’s observations and logic can discern God’s rational and mathematical design of the universe, as does revelation, is ultimately very subversive: what happens when the two disagree?

...Islam began its Reformation on January 30, 2005, with the Iraq vote.

...religious reform takes centuries, even for relatively straightforward matters. Moreover, it take centuries even if the intellectual groundwork has been carefully laid...

We should expect no better of the Islamic Reformation.


I may quibble with that last one, his conclusion. Given the fact that communications today is near-instantaneous, the ability for an idea to gain traction across large swaths of people has risen exponentially in comparison to the pamphleteer methods of Martin Luther.

What we will see is the competition of ideas across these new mediums of internet and satellite television. It is going to be of endless fascination to me to note which ideas win over the hearts and minds of people who have lived so long in the dark cave of theocratic and patriarchical oppression.

It may indeed take centuries for a true liberal reformation to mature, but there is reason to hope it could happen much quicker.

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Friday, March 11, 2005

Petition for the First Amendment

It is sad that I've seen this coming for a long while now.

McCain/Feingold is an abomination, and it will only get worse.

This petition requests a direct ruling by the courts on the status of online commentary vis-a-vis political contributions banned by McCain/Feingold.

Captain Ed is all over this.

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Morality as a Determinitive Force

Following up on Can Morals Matter?, I'd like to extend on the idea of morality as a determinitive force.

I think that Morals do more than just create the guidelines for how we act individually. Indeed, I believe they are the framework by which we as a species have separated ourselves from the beasts. Morals provide us the rationale for doing things that may seem counter-intuitive at the time.

I submit the following premises:

A: All morals can be distilled down to one fundamental principle.

B: That principle is so important, that it trumps all other moral principles that may conflict with it.

C: That principle is, simply, Preservation of the Species.


The driving influence to my moral framework is simply a recognition of that penultimate moral imperative: Humanity must survive.

Where are we going? As a species, as a sentient, diverse, introspective, inquisitive, and yes contentious animal, what is our destiny? As is often the case, it helps to look back and see where we've come from.

***

It is estimated, under the weight of geological evidence, that this planet suffered a catastrophe some 75,000 years ago. A super volcano we call Toba exploded in the area that would later be Sumatra. This event brought the world to its knees. Mitochondrial DNA evidence further supports this estimation, in concluding that about the same time frame, the people of the world numbered between two and ten thousand.

As little as 75,000 years ago, humanity almost went extinct from the global effects on our climate of a volcanic eruption most experts agree was smaller than what will happen when Yellowstone pops sometime within a 200,000 year window that started, give or take a few millennia, 20,000 years ago.

From a population of ten thousand people, we have the world today, in all its glory and its horror. Incredibly, we have an opportunity to immunize our species against those things that almost destroyed us entirely, and that did wipe out a succession of dominant species on the planet in its past. We have the resources and we have the technology. Fortuitously, we have these during a window of relative world peace in which to pursue that immunization.

Can we afford to put that off and instead spend our resources and time on pursuing the root causes of every dysfunctional human mechanism on this planet? Can we afford to put humanity at risk on the bet that our enemies aren't serious about imposing Sharia? Can we risk putting off taking the extinction vaccine another fifty or a hundred or a thousand years until humanity finds the way to allow Sharia and Secular societies to live in peace?

I say No. I say that we should have our eyes on the Ultimate prize of humanity's survival past the bounds of this Earth. If from a do-over consisting of no more than a few thousand individuals we humans still found a way to tyrannize each other, then I say that this propensity for violence and domination is hard-wired into our systems and it will likely be a struggle against our baser instincts until the Universe whimpers out its last rattling breath.

There are those among us, indeed one of my dearest friends is fairly adamant on this point, who believe that humanity does not deserve to survive. That if we visit such horror upon the world with such unrepentant regularity, we have failed the test to be worthy of continued existence. They are horrified at the idea we could spread such constant conflict outside of the cosmic quarantine delineated by this globe we treat like romper room, and we so many ADD children of priveledge. I can deeply and sincerely empathise with this point of view, and indeed, at one time in my past, I shared it.

But I learned to love humanity despite all its faults. Because as evil as we can be, as backwards and as inhumane our actions sometimes are, we are equally capable of the sublime. I believe that as long as a human being exists with the ability to be stunned by a sunset, to smile unconsciously at the antics of a child, or to just simply act on the hope for a better tomorrow, that humanity has a chance to transcend our violent tendencies.

Do we not owe it to ourselves, our ancestors and our progeny to permit that chance to exist?

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In my mind, we have two ultimate destinies.

One is to suffer inaction in the face of conflicting ideologies and the uncertain results that paralysis may bring. The most likely end in my estimation being a never ending cycle of tyrannies imposing an absolute roof on the advancement of the species.

The other is that humanity breaks the inertia of endless debate as well as the bonds of gravity and leaves it's nest, taking wing in the broader skies of our universe.

Many idealists argue that eventually, and despite the aggressive tendencies of despots, the meek would indeed inherit the Earth and, united in our peaceful intentions, our advancement would then be assured. I find this to be uncertain at best.

I propose, quite bluntly, to grab this world by the balls, and drag it kicking and screaming into a far more certain end; to give it a chance at survival if the worst, which is inevitable, occurs. We don't have to give up any of our precious freedoms to achieve this. We do have to take action however. I shudder to think the last environmental impact study we may ever see is the one that stymies the first launch of a seed-ship just prior to a global catastrophe.

See, in the end, all the arguments about methods and all the pleas for endless talks to resolve differences become irrelevant in the face of one very hard and very certain fact: This planet is a dead man walking. Be it tomorrow in the eruption of Yellowstone or a disease we can't cure fast enough or a planet buster impacting Earth; or be it 3 or 4 billion years from now when the Sun uses the last of it's hydrogen, starts eating it's helium, and expands until Earth is burned to a crisp, This Planet Is Doomed.

I am an idealist just like my brethren on the left. I believe the people of the world can live in peace and prosperity, and that we can achieve great things, and that yes, indeed, the human spirit can overcome any obstacle and survive any indignity. We have proven that throughout our colorful history.

But I am also a pragmatist. Being so demands action when faced with problems. Being so recognizes that actively participating in solutions is far a more expedient and efficient practice than patiently waiting for organic fixes, especially when there is no organic fix within the realm of understood physics that fixes the problem of Yellowstone, of a Planet Buster, or of an Expanding Sun.

Before our November election, I said we face a turning point. The choices we faced were far larger than the narrow focus of turning back the rise of 7th century barbarism. Indeed, the choice we took highlighted that there is a place for Morals as a determinative force for the betterment of humanity.

This whole exercise started on the moral underpinnings of the Bush Doctrine, but President Bush's vision is far bigger than world peace. He aims to not only help the world find peace, but to also help the world find a higher purpose.

The next line I'm about to say is heresy to today's Democrat: President Bush is far more a man in the mold of John F. Kennedy than any popular democrat today.

Fiscally, the comparisons are inevitable. There is a direct link from Kennedy to Reagan to Bush II on the issue of taxation.

There exists the same link on the issue of the American Military, and its use in America's foreign policy.

And there is the same link on those transcendental visions of what America's destiny is.

Kennedy faced down Kruschev in the Cuban Missile Crisis and took us to the moon. Reagan funded the Space Shuttle and led the world in ending the Cold War.

George W. Bush, in his turn, has led the world in challenging terrorism, and voiced the goal of putting human beings on Mars. Just like Kennedy and Reagan, he has championed the idea that we can achieve great things simply by setting our sights high enough.

And in the end, it really doesn't matter if you believe Bush can achieve this, or even whether it's really what he wants. All that matters is that we Americans dare to make such goals our own. The power still resides in we, The People. If we decide that we want to become more than simply Earthlings, and if we voice that desire steadfastly, Our votes will accomplish the rest.

I want humanity to survive independent of Earth's destiny. I dream of High Flight. We are This Close to achieving that goal.

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Staring into the Abyss

Bill @ INDC noted in a series of posts that the Religious Right (as opposed to the Secular Right or those on the Right whose faith isn't the driving force behind their politic) does possess the capacity to short-circuit the Conservative movement, beginning here, then following up here and here. If you have the time, read the comments for lively and often eloquent debate.

I have to say, I definitely find the attitude by many of the Religious Right to be bordering on the exclusivist "my way or the highway" approach that is in ascendancy on the Left. Witness the echo-chamber atomosphere of the Daily Kos or the Democratic Underground.

I sincerely hope that they are in a distinct minority with no real power to manipulate policy, because what Brent Bozell has just written is nothing less than a fundamentalist's call-to-arms against non-believers entitled NBC flushes the sacred.

"Not just Catholics, not just Christians, but anyone who reveres God should be outraged"


Very nice. So now it's Us against Them, with Us being anyone who believes in the Christian god (and yes, as an agnostic, I use the small-g often), and Them being anyone who does not.

"Mocking God isn't funny. It's evil."


Thank you so very much Mr. Bozell, for neatly labeling people such as myself as evil. You have just put yourself on the same plane as Howard "it's a battle between good and evil, and we're the good" Dean. Granted, it's not quite as far as Islamofascists sawing off the heads of infidels. But how big a step is it really, from labeling someone as an evil-doer, and acting against those offenders who don't share your beliefs.

The sad thing is, Brent Bozell has served a useful purpose in highlighting the bias in Media. He has taken that hard-earned capital, and used it up completely (as far as my continued reading of his column goes anyway) with this extremist screed against a sit-com.

That's right. A sit-com. A freaking show on tv that by definition is NOT a reflection of real life. A farce. A satire.

I haven't seen the show in question. I don't watch much tv anymore. But I suspect that I would have been amused by the episode.

To the stocks for me, eh Mr. Bozell?

We are witnessing the demise of the Democratic Party. It has been overcome by a determined minority of intolerant purists.

The Republican Party could soon follow if people like Brent Bozell are given undue influence.

Being a conservative means in part being resistant to change, which I often am. If something is working reasonably well, I do like the precictability of the existing system and I have over the years come to believe our 2-party system is the best thing going. If both parties are overtaken by extremists, the survival of the U.S. as a nation united could well depend upon a strong third party.

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The Ugly Italian

After reading the latest Associated Press article about the death of Nicola Calipari and the release of hostage Giuliana Sgrena, I had to remind myself of something: No matter how vile and baseless the accusation, the opinion of one person is not representative of an entire country. It saved four boxes of Bertoli pasta and a good bottle of Malvasia di Bosa from getting flushed down the toilet. Sgrena, you see, is now speculating that American soldiers intentionally fired on her car because “the happy ending to the negotiations must have been irksome” to US officials. Since we’re against negotiating with terrorist hostage-takers our troops are, according to her, perfectly willing to murder innocent people to see that others don’t do it either.

Must … not … flush … expensive … wine.


Sgrena Giuliana (AP Photo) Posted by Hello

First of all, I’ll say that the accidental killing of Mr. Calipari is an unmitigated catastrophe. A brave guy died needlessly, the coalition is up in arms over it, and the US military looks woefully quick-triggered at best. There’s no upside here; the situation just sucks all around. I cringe when I think about it, and I feel awful for Mr. Calipari’s family. For whatever it’s worth, they have my condolences.

But let’s get two items out of the way real quick. They’ll help us understand from whence the accusations of intentional murder come:


1) Giuliana Sgrena is a communist. I know, I know, it sounds almost laughably like an attempt at cold war-era political slander, but it’s actually true. The “newspaper” she writes for – which is really little more than a mouthpiece for Italy’s far, far, far left – is called Il Manifesto. Its owners and editors are self-avowed communists, as are most of the staff. They are no friends of capitalist, democratic America and our achievement-oriented culture.

A quick look at archived Il Manifesto articles – Sgrena’s in particular – reveals a rabidly vitriolic hatred of US policy and an outright paranoid view of our motives. I exaggerate not at all when I say that reading this woman’s work gives one the impression that the US went to Iraq specifically to murder innocent people and increase the amount of general suffering in the world. She doesn’t even bother with the tired, disproven “It’s all about oil!” nonsense like her counterparts here in the US; to Sgrena, America is simply evil incarnate and we need no reason or excuse for our war of predation in Iraq.

Honestly, I find it hard to consider people who believe such things sane, much less responsible or impartial.

2) Even if she weren’t a lifelong America-hater, Giuliana Sgrena is undoubtedly experiencing Stockholm syndrome to one degree or another. After more than a month in captivity she has come to identify with her kidnappers and their cause (given that she was friendlier to their cause than to ours all along, I doubt seeing the terrorists as heroes was too far a leap for her to make anyway). They took her hostage at gunpoint. They held her prisoner under threat of death. They absconded with who knows how much money, which they demanded in exchange for her life (and I suspect the only reason she was released at all is because the terrorists realized what an excellent anti-US mouthpiece she was).

But in her mind, they’re the good guys. The ones who pointed AK-47s at her head for a month or so. The appropriate reaction, I think, is a mixture of annoyance and pity … I feel the same way when I think about Patty Hearst.


So, keeping in mind Sgrena’s extreme left ideology, her hatred of the US and US policy, and the tendency for kidnap victims to become sympathetic to their captors, her latest ravings of paranoid anti-Americanism aren’t really so surprising. They are, however, utterly baseless speculations being made by someone who admittedly despises the US. And she has not the slightest shred of evidence to support them.

You know what? I can speculate like that, too:

Perhaps the kidnapping of Giuliana Sgrena has been a sham from the very start. Maybe she was contacted by and became friendly with members of the insurgency during her work in Iraq. Maybe, being sympathetic to their opposition to anything the US wants, she furthermore agreed to help them. With the understanding that neither she nor her bodyguards would be harmed, Sgrena agreed to become a “hostage” in order to win ransom money for the insurgency and embarrassment for the coalition.

Sgrena was never in any danger; she was cooperating with the kidnappers all along. Even the video of her pleading for her life was an act designed to hasten the payout to the insurgents and further demoralize those working to bring democracy to Iraq. Then, when the appeasers and apologists in Italy finally won out and secured a ransom for her release – a ransom which, by the way, will fund more kidnappings and a variety of other mayhem – she and her cohorts had one last mission: Provoke the Americans into an act of violence that would turn public opinion in Italy further against the occupation of Iraq.

The Italian communists made sure that one of their people was driving the vehicle; both he and Sgrena knew the plan. He’d speed towards a checkpoint, refusing orders to stop and ignoring warning shots, and the two of them would duck down while the other occupants of the car were vulnerable to fire from US forces. It was risky, but she was willing to take chances to help her friends in the insurgency and further the goal of seeing Italian troops leave Iraq. And if someone in the vehicle got hurt – someone innocent who was just trying to help win the release of a woman he believed to be an innocent hostage – well, you’ve got to break a few eggs, you know. All for the greater good. And their plan worked perfectly.

Now, do I believe any of that? Nope, not a bit. But it’s no less plausible than the idea that the US administration was so enraged by a ransom payoff that they ordered American troops to kill the released hostage and everyone in the car with her (or that American soldiers would obey such an order if it were given). Both stories are entirely speculative and pretty nearly absurd. But the difference here is that we are not making the ridiculous claim that I outlined above; its pure fiction that I simply made up. Sgrena and her leftist supporters, however, are actually saying that their ludicrous story is true.

The official position of US authorities in Iraq is that the shooting was an accident. Either our soldiers or her driver – or maybe both – screwed up. They have said repeatedly that there will be a full investigation. On our end, the response has been sober, thoughtful, and contrite. On theirs it has been recklessly speculative and accusatory. When weighing the facts to formulate your opinion on this matter, I would ask you to consider that very salient fact.


S

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Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Book Meme (Blogger’s Redux)

From a post at Misplaced Keys, via News From the Great Beyond, comes a blogger’s version of the book meme:

Instructions:

1. Grab the nearest book.

2. Open the book to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the text of the next 3 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.

5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.


“The editor, by selecting and arranging the contributions included in the work, adds another layer of authorship. As author of the collective work, the book as a whole, he or she should sign an agreement similar to the standard author agreement described above. In dealing with the chapter contributors, a publisher may in some circumstances use an agreement of the same type, especially if the contributors are to recieve royalty shares.”

- From The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition


Give me a break, I’m at work. Feel free to do your own "book meme" entry in the comments.


S

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Unlike me lately, These guys have NOT been procrastinating.

I tell ya. Pictures like these just fill me with pride.

Is this a great time to be an American, or what?

(Link found on Ace o'Spades.)

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