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  • Archive for May, 2004

    Giving – And Getting – An Education In Central Asia

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 11th May 2004 (All posts by )

    There’s an interesting article by Elinor Burkett in The Chronicle Review about her experiences as a Fulbright Professor teaching a journalism class in Kyrgistan and the hostility and misinformation she was faced with overcoming.

    Over the past three years, I have often wondered how I would have explained such suspicion if I had arrived in Kyrgyzstan after September 11, 2001. Would I have simply assumed that the hostility was a result of the United States’ bombing of Afghanistan or its invasion of Iraq?

    Nathan, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan, comments on her experiences in The Argus.

    And you’d be asking the wrong question. There’s a very strong temptation to treat Central Asia as “like Afghanistan” or “like the Middle East.” Sure, it’s Muslim, but if you want to understand the structure of the society the Central Asians, especially urban ones, grow up in, look to the Soviet Union.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

    Another Time Machine: More 1930s/1940s Color Photos

    Posted by Jonathan on 11th May 2004 (All posts by )

    A slide show of depression-era Kodachromes made by government-sponsored photographers appears in the NYT Sunday magazine. Like the images in the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection, to which I linked in a previous post, the NYT images are remarkable for showing in color scenes we are accustomed to seeing only in monochrome.

    UPDATE: The complete photo collection at the Library of Congress is here.

    Posted in Photos | 3 Comments »

    Too Much for Just One Man

    Posted by Lexington Green on 11th May 2004 (All posts by )

    No new ideas here, but if I can’t think out loud on my own damn blog, where can I?

    It is an interesting coincidence that just as the Boyz are recruiting our splendid new personnel, the mighty Glenn Reynolds finds himself reaching a physical limit on what one guy can do. In his post he notes that both Lileks and Sullivan are similarly hitting a wall. Iain Murray, busy with work and family, has recruited assistance. And, the creation of blog-collectives, beyond even a “group blog” is epitomized by The Command Post.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

    The EU Constitution, the Chunnel — Two Bad Ideas From France

    Posted by Lexington Green on 10th May 2004 (All posts by )

    The military historian Anthony Beevor (author of this and this) has a good op-ed in today’s New York Times. Beevor notes that Blair is facing the biggest political challenge of his life with a referendum on the EU Constitution, with 70% of the electorate opposed to it:

    The decision over the Constitution is probably the most important Britain has faced since World War II. I will vote against it for several reasons. Most important, a genuinely democratic constitution, like that of the United States, defines the limits of power of the state over the individual. Yet the draft European Constitution is almost entirely about amassing power for a superstate. It is antidemocratic, dangerous and throughly out of date.

    Beevor also has strong and sensible criticism of the Brussels regime:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

    From Chicago’s East Side — Blogging the Democratic Convention

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on 10th May 2004 (All posts by )

    One nice thing about receiving home delivery of the Boston Globe is that our carrier inserts it into a handy plastic bag which can be used to pick up dog poop. Too often, the packaging is far better than the contents, and the comparison is not much better after I’ve walked the dog. Today the newspaper featured an article on how the authorities at the Democratic convention are grappling with the issue of weblogs as legitimate press. It looks like they will be issuing some press credentials to some bloggers.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

    Spam As Entertainment

    Posted by Jonathan on 10th May 2004 (All posts by )

    Sure, why not? Everyone dislikes it, but some of the senders and subject lines that get through the filters these days are not unamusing. For instance, I just received a urgent missive from “Ahmad Mcneill.” Maybe I should create a new folder and start saving the best examples.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

    Cui Bono

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th May 2004 (All posts by )

    Stable price levels in the real-money betting markets at Intrade.com and Iowa Electronic Markets suggest that the Abu Ghraib revelations haven’t hurt Bush’s reelection chances, which have been >50% at Iowa and around 60% at Intrade for the past several weeks. These markets aren’t crystal balls, and Bush’s reelection odds aren’t a perfect proxy for public support for the war, but I think the markets are pretty good indicators that the POW-mistreatment scandal isn’t the confidence-shaking earthquake that some of the press and Democrats make it out to be. Glenn Reynolds is absolutely right that public demoralization is the goal here. People should take notice of who benefits politically from it.

    UPDATE: As of May 11 the midpoint of the bid/ask spread on Bush’s reelection odds has dropped by a couple of points. I don’t know if this is a significant shift but it suggests some weakening in the Administration’s public standing.

    UPDATE 2: EconoPundit compares Intrade’s odds estimates to those derived from conventional opinion-polling.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

    Time for Rumsfeld & Wolfowitz To Go?

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 9th May 2004 (All posts by )

    What is the role of the SecDef? For one, to define a vision for the DOD; a roadmap to the future, a strategic plan. In this, Secretary Rumsfeld has provided the vision of ‘transformation’. In short, it’s a plan to make the armed forces lighter, more quickly and easily deployable, and simultaneously, more lethal. Laudable goals. Hence, we have the cancellation of the Crusader, a behemoth of a self propelled howitzer. Too big, too heavy. We also have the promotion of the Stryker armored vehicle. It fits into the network-centric warfare scheme of the future quite nicely. So far, so good.

    Finally, on the ‘vision’ thing, we have the light-mobile force concept. Special forces types, acting with forward air controllers, use combined arms techniques to leverage modern telecom capablities and precision weapons synergistically. They’re ‘force multipliers’, as Rummy likes to say. The war in Afghanistan was a demonstration, if you will, of how light forces can bring precision firepower to bear to create battlefield effects formerly reserved for heavy armored divisions. Again, no quibbles.

    That brings us to the SecDef’s other primary duty, the strategy and management of warfare. And that brings us to Iraq.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

    VOTING WITH YOUR FEET

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 9th May 2004 (All posts by )

    First, a little backstory.

    The Canadian government has very strict price controls on prescription drugs. Canadian citizens are rather proud of this, since they claim that it shows that evil greedy uncaring corperations can’t reap undeserved profits while callously allowing people to die simply because they can’t help the bottom line.

    This is a matter of pride in Canada. The idea is that they’ve proven that they’re caring and compassionate while being efficient and fiscally responsible.

    US pharms sell to Canada because they do get some profit and it’s a big market, even though they claim that they’re not realizing a fair return for the product.

    Now consumers and government agencies here in the US are getting into the act. They’re ordering drugs over the Internet from Canadian firms to realize significant savings.

    US pharmas are calling foul. They say it costs an enormous amount to develop new drugs, and the high prices they charge are just an attempt to earn a fair return on their investment before the patents expire.

    So which view is the correct one? Who has the closer line on the truth?

    This report by the Frasier Institute goes a long way towards debunking claims that the Canadian system is more efficient. (Hat tip to Innocents Abroad.) According to the report, Canada provides one of the worst level of care amongst other countries with universal health care, and at significantly higher cost.

    Thomas Sowell has an op-ed that’s pretty interesting. (Hat tip to No Watermelons Allowed.) Sowell points out the enormous costs that is required when developing any medical resource, from drugs to your family doctor. He also says that one of the really big expenses that many people ignore are various liability concerns, either lawsuits themselves or insurance to protect from same. Canadian pharmas don’t develop their own products so they dodge this bullet.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

    Drezner on Outsourcing

    Posted by Lexington Green on 8th May 2004 (All posts by )

    This topic has become a hardy perennial amongst the Boyz, and has generated much heated commentary. In “The Outsourcing Bogeyman,” Drezner does a nice job of shedding the light of common sense into this often smoke-shrouded topic. Drezner provides authorities and a bibliography (found here). This material is good if you want to dig into this topic even further.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Drezner on Outsourcing

    Investing for the Cheap and Timid

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on 8th May 2004 (All posts by )

    Not everyone has In-Cog-Nito’s tolerance for risk. For those of us not equipped with brass appurtenances, reducing investment risk is often a goal. To increase risk, including upside risk, you issue debt, either by buying on margin or selling short, which is really just borrowing shares of stock instead of cash. To reduce risk, you acquire debt. Here is one way to do it for free.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

    Investment Journal Update

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 8th May 2004 (All posts by )

    Here are the latest efforts in the In-Cog-Nito Needs Money Fund.

    Ameritrade sucks, don’t use them. They may be fine once you get up and running, but the initial process to get up and running is too slow for my taste. The main complaint I have is that they won’t let you short stocks without the funds clearing. And with ACH transfers (they claim it’s fast in their ads), it takes a good five days for the funds to settle. Starting without the ability to short in this market is like boxing with one hand tied behind your back; it takes away half your arsenal. Their interface is also too cluttered for my taste. I was a huge fan of Datek when I first started: clean web interface, excellent value in terms of commission costs and margin interest, fast and responsive customer service. Ameritrade bought Datek a few years ago. I tried also going the route of re-opening my old Datek account. It was nice to see my old trading history still preserved there – a stroll down memory lane. Other than that, being a part of Ameritrade, their customer service seemed to have gone down hill as well. Obviously, I’m a more demanding user than your average investor, but it never hurts to have the best available tools at your disposal eh? So learn from my first mistake, don’t go with Ameritrade.

    I opened an account with Scottrade today, and so far so good. They remind me of what Datek was about five years ago. Clean interface. Good fast service. Super easy forms – they have the shortest options form I have seen of any brokerage (1 page). Their web interface is something else. Technology and competition have really upped the ante in what is available to the general public in terms of information, execution, and trading tools. One nice bonus is that you get free Dow Jones real time news. It’s not really that important for most investing purposes unless you day trade, but it’s nice to have nonetheless. Seven bucks a trade and relatively low margin rates are more pluses.

    The positive of not getting up and running fast is that it’s a week off to get up to speed on the feel of the market. I’ve set up a free trial subscription to Realmoney.com – part of Jim Cramer’s Thestreet.com. It was my go-to site for news when I first started. They still put out good articles, but Cramer seems to have lost some of his luster – i.e. his performance isn’t that good now, based on his Action Alert Portfolio. My biggest thing is that Nortel (NT) makes up about 6% of his portfolio. It seems Nortel’s comeback was based on accounting shenanigans. I remember one of Cramer’s constant sayings years ago was that he kept a post-it on his screen saying accounting troubles = sell. Seems he is not keeping to his own advice, and it’s hurting him. Scott Moritz over there is still putting out good articles, primarily because he seems to be a natural skeptic, or at least he writes with a healthy dose of skepticism – something you always want in the market. One thing I really don’t like about Realmoney.com now is that they try to nickel and dime you on all their services. If you want to read articles from so and so, you have to pay this much each month. It’s good for their business obviously, especially if the writer has built up a loyal audience. But it’s quite a sticker shock for new investors. The best thing I liked about them back then was that a newbie can get strong opinions, and everything they had to offer about the market for twenty or thirty bucks a month. An excellent value proposition. But if you want everything now, it’s going to cost ya.

    So what to do? One thing I liked back then was the Yahoo message boards on stocks. They’re easily available and are strong opinions for free. Most of it is garbage, but I like to think of them as pre-cursors to blogging. People literally write whatever they’re thinking, and if you take it on the merits of their arguments backed up by facts and links to relevant articles, it’s useful. The main thing, as with all news, is you have to pick up the ability to filter out the good, and toss the bad. Don’t get me wrong, message boards shouldn’t be your main source of information. But there’s more than one way to look at it.

    A couple of stock specific thoughts: VIP and MBT are getting hammered. Their charts aren’t too pretty. I would let it play itself out before going long on these two.

    BOBJ (I pronounce it Bob-Jay): I’ve been itching to short this one. Their being a French company is reason enough. But the chart ain’t too pretty, and it looks like they’re starting to have some accounting problems. They’re a business software firm, and from what I know, software firms tend to be aggressive in their revenue recognition to boost sales. BOBJ has close to 80% gross margins, but only 1% of their revenues make it to their bottom line. This says to me there’s a lot of waste going on. The SEC has an informal probe with regards to their deferred revenue, or backlog. It won’t be a fast short, but it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. I’m guessing if there’s smoke, there’s a fire somewhere.

    Cheers.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

    More on Mead

    Posted by Lexington Green on 8th May 2004 (All posts by )

    I received a notice from a worthy-seeming entity called the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. They are presenting a series of lectures entitled “Repairing the Rift: Reconstructing the Transatlantic Relationship in the Wake of the Iraq War.” (Details here.) It is on Friday, May 14, 2004 and Walter Russell Mead will be speaking. It sounds like a cool event. Sometimes I do wish I lived in DC.

    Incidentally, I finished WRM’s new book, Power, Terror, Peace, and War : America’s Grand Strategy in a World at Risk. It is very good. Details to follow.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself

    Posted by TM Lutas on 7th May 2004 (All posts by )

    Somehow the Chicago Boyz have decided to seriously lower their standards and allow me to stop flitting about and join in their fun.

    I’m TM Lutas, your local Romanian, Byzantine Catholic, minarchist, Windows, Mac, Linux, and visionary blogger. And I intend to defend this blogging niche against all comers. B-)

    Seriously, it’s a real joy to gain exposure to the wider audience of the Chicago Boyz group blog and to have a place where I can talk about local and economics issues. My general rants will continue to be exposed over at my main blog Flit(TM) hosted by Bruce Rolston of Flit (and I’ve never really figured out why he gave me a blogging platform either).

    Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments »

    Outsourcing

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 7th May 2004 (All posts by )

    Excellent speech by Don at The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor & Stupid. Proud to say, one of the smartest people I know.

    The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the volume of offshore outsourcing will increase by 30 to 40 percent a year for the next five years. Forrester Research estimates that 3.3 million white-collar jobs will move overseas by 2015. Gartner estimates that by the end of this year, 1 out of every 10 IT jobs will be outsourced overseas. Deloitte Research estimates the outsourcing of 2 million financial-sector jobs by 2009.

    These aren’t even really “estimates.” They’re forecasts. No, they’re S.W.A.G.’s — stupid wild-ass guesses.

    Remember, these consultants are the same geniuses who said, four years ago, right about the time when the NASDAQ was at 5000, that Internet traffic would grow at 90% a year forever, and that by 2002 every American citizen would have digital video-on-demand beamed via low earth orbit satellite to his cell phone. Hey, if that were true I could be watching “Friends” right now.

    Let’s get real. Suppose Forrester is right, that 3.3 million white-collar jobs will move overseas by 2015. That’s eleven years, folks. That’s 300,000 jobs a year, or 25,000 a month. Today there are 130 million jobs in the United States.

    So the cost is 2/100 of 1% of jobs each month. Don’t worry about it. On average the US economy generates job growth 10 times that much every month.

    But it’s not just that even the wild-ass guesses are actually quite small in the grand scheme of things. The worst part of it is that these forecasts inevitably just look at costs, and never benefits.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

    Contrarian Tax Policy

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on 6th May 2004 (All posts by )

    At the risk of inciting a riot, let me propose that the alternative minimum tax may not be the worst idea since the designated hitter rule. Bear with me a little while before you start looking for something to throw.

    The alternative minimum tax is widely unpopular for good reason. It obliterates itemized deductions, including state taxes and mortgage interest not directly related to the purchase or construction of one’s home. It comes as a surprise to the unwary individual taxpayer. Originally intended to keep rich people with clever accountants from escaping income tax, it applies at income levels that hardly qualify for tycoon status ($40,250 for single filers, $58,000 for married couples). The capital gains rate has been temporarily lowered to 15%, but will revert to 20% unless new legislation is enacted. So what is there to like about the AMT?

    There are actually a couple of things to like about this tax. First, it is almost perfectly flat. The rate is 26% up to $112,500 for single filers, $150,000 for married couples. Above that, the rate increases, but only to 28%. Depreciation schedules are either straight-line or at least not as accelerated as the MACRS tables used for regular income tax. This brings the cost of tangible assets closer to the way they are presented for financial purposes. Elimination of the state tax exemption keeps the effect of state taxes inside each state’s borders.

    The hidden beauty of the alternative minimum tax is that it is almost free of the effects of using tax law for social engineering. There is no income redistribution effect. Most of the rewards and penalties for economic behavior are removed, leaving it an essentially neutral revenue-raising device. It is nearly everything Jack Kemp or Steve Forbes could have asked for. If no legislative remedy is applied, it will slowly become the most common tax regime. Rather than abolishing this tax, perhaps we should consider abolishing all the others.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

    Management Inefficiencies

    Posted by Jonathan on 6th May 2004 (All posts by )

    Today’s WSJ has a front-page article (subscription only) about women who return to paid work after taking years off to raise children. The women profiled in the article are having a tough time.

    Some of these women may have unrealistic expectations. They want to resume their careers at their old pay and responsibility levels, but they seem not to understand that the business world changes rapidly and that career skills decay if not maintained. People who want to remain employable at a high level, even if they already have jobs, have to keep learning and updating their skills. (The article’s example of an ex-securities trader who took 14 years off to raise kids, and wants another finance job but goes to an interview without being familiar with current industry terminology, is telling.)

    (And of course there’s bias in the selection of the women interviewed for the article. The writer didn’t interview women who had kept up their career skills and found jobs easily. Nor does she give more than passing recognition to societal changes that create other options besides conventional employment. Surely there are now more instances than ever of mothers who, upon returning to the work force and finding conventional options wanting, make their own opportunities by starting businesses, telecommuting or otherwise taking advantage of new technology.)

    But another thing struck me about this issue, and that was the attitude of some of the people who do the hiring.

    Many women quit work in their 30s, prime career-building years. By the time they think about going back, they’re into their 40s, or older. Women like this “are going to have to be a little realistic — they don’t have the perfect package,” says Kevin Ryan, CEO of DoubleClick, a New York computer company. “They’re going to have to take a step back” from the salaries and positions they left.

    That’s one way to look at it. Another way is to realize that good people who lack recent job experience can be trained, and that mature but out-of-practice workers may be bargains for employers. The reluctance of some managers to hire competent women who are returning to the work force creates opportunity for employers who are more flexible, and for the people they hire.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

    New Boyz on the Block

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th May 2004 (All posts by )

    You may have noticed some new names around here. The Conspiracy welcomes Michael Hiteshew, Mitch Townsend and the mysterious “Carl Ortona” (about whom I can reveal only that he is a true-blue Chicago boy).

    Thanks for joining us, guys.

    Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

    Walter Russell Mead, Closet Anglospherist?

    Posted by Lexington Green on 4th May 2004 (All posts by )

    There is a very good interview on the Council on Foreign Relations site with Walter Russell Mead. (Interview here.) Mead is pitching his new book entitled Power, Terror, Peace, and War: America’s Grand Strategy in a World at Risk. (Order from Amazon here.) Mead was the author of the brilliant book Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World, which brought us the word “ Jacksonian,” which may be the most powerful meme in all blogdom.

    Another widely blogged-about meme is the Anglosphere. I notice that Mead makes a few points which are noteworthy to those of us who are interested in the present and future of the Anglosphere.

    On the economic dynamism of the Anglosphere, Mead offers this:

    [O]ne of the things that I think has made the English-speaking world–kept it kind of in an economic leadership role for centuries now–is that there’s a kind of the trade-off between accepting the risks and rigors of free-market capitalism on the one hand, and that causes a lot of social discomfort and unpleasant change; on the other hand, it brings you benefits in terms of new technologies, higher productivity, faster progress.

    The English-speaking world, and especially the United States, has usually been pretty comfortable with pushing that trade-off in the more free-market direction, which, on the one hand, gives us historically a kind of a lead, often, compared to the rest of the world, but, on the other hand, means that our society is sometimes pulling the world in directions it doesn’t really want to go.

    (I think “English-speaking world” is the way you say “Anglosphere” in polite society.)
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

    It’s >Not

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 4th May 2004 (All posts by )

    Presidents have little effect on the economy.

    That isn’t me speaking, that’s every professional economist who’s ever remarked on the subject. At best, they can influence things like federal spending, tax policy and trade policy. That’s about it. So why did the USA enjoy an economic boom in the 90’s under Bill Clinton and a recession under George Bush?

    In the 1980’s a revolution swept through American business. The following were a few key changes.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

    Hedy Lamarr: Film Star, Inventor

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 4th May 2004 (All posts by )

    There’s a fascinating article in the NYT about the 1940’s era, Austrian born film star Hedy Lamarr. Not only was she widely considered one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood, she’s one of the patent holders of the idea of ‘frequency hopping’ communications. This breakthrough idea is now widely used in everything from cell phones to military satellites to jam-resistant radar.

    Neither Lamarr nor her co-inventor, composer George Antheil, ever received a penny for the idea. Their patent expired before it became technologically possible to implemet it.

    The Patent
    Hedy Lamarr Photo Gallery

    Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

    Investment Boyz

    Posted by In-Cog-Nito on 2nd May 2004 (All posts by )

    The thing with writing about politics is that statistically you’ll piss off half the people all the time. So I thought I would go to something more controversial – writing about investments. Nothing gets people going as when they have an economical stake in something. If you’re right, you’re on top of the world. If you’re wrong, you’re a bum and no one listens to you. That’s one thing I love about the markets, it cuts out all the b.s. and boils it down to what matters and what doesn’t.

    Speaking with Jonathan, there aren’t many blogs about investing. Ventureblog is a good one, but it’s not very actionable unless you are also a venture investor. There are plenty of “model” portfolios out there, but they’re not very actionable either unless you have a cool million or at least $100k to throw around. To me, it always looked like a cop out since the writer can always point to the high performers in the portfolio. They can say, “Well Joe, if you had invested in ABC like I said on 1/1/95, you’d be doing pretty well.” To which, someone might say “gee thanks a-hole, I invested in XYZ like you said on 1/1/96 and lost my shirt.” Diversifying is well and good, but you gotta have enough assets to diversify in the first place. Way back when, when I first started investing, I’ve always wondered what an average Joe like me can do with a few thousand bucks scraped together.

    So let’s start a little experiment. I will personally invest $5,000 in the market and keep an online journal of what happens. It represents my entire liquid net worth, so it will definitely have my undivided attention versus some academic exercise without consequence. Who knows, it may be the shortest investment journal in history – ie blow it all on one trade and call it a day. Otherwise, it’ll be a good learning experience all around.

    Let’s go get’em. Ding ding ding…

    Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments »

    FDR

    Posted by Lexington Green on 1st May 2004 (All posts by )

    My friend whom I’ll call “Carl Ortona” sent me, amidst much recent email traffic, a “mini-review” of Conrad Black’s recent biography Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom. Since my occasional favorable comments about FDR on this blog have provoked so much (admittedly thoughtful, articulate) outrage, I decided to pass it on. (OK, I admit it is a little like trolling on my own blog, but what the Hell):

    Black’s FDR is very good. Black can seem precious, and in places, his precocious, arrogant yet eager-to-impress schoolboy attitude comes through; e.g., he latches onto the word “pulchritudinous” and uses it throughout in place of fetching, pretty, elegant, etc. — ditto for saturnine, and latin legal phrases — when he describes FDRs sisters dress as p., I said, that’s it, make a mental note and mention it to everybody. Having said all of that, it is a good book and Black demonstrates his thesis amply, that FDR is one of the greatest, arguably the greatest American president, ever.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Uncategorized | 34 Comments »