Archive for September 2005

Agenda for UN Internet Conference

COYOTE BLOG EXCLUSIVE!!  We have obtained the preliminary agenda for the upcoming UN Internet Conference in Tunisia.

AGENDA

Day 1

Dinner
Benon Sevan has generously offered to supply dinner from a selection of
the food provided to the Iraqi people under the UN Oil-for-food program.
Unfortunately, it was found at the last minute that no one in the
oil-for-food department has any contacts with companies that actually sell food.
The French delegation has generously stepped in the last minute with
chicken and Vichy water for everyone.

After-Dinner Keynote Address:  Fighting Hate Speech
Wen Jaibao
Premier, China

All of us are concerned with the growth of hate speech on the web.  Spread by foreign anarchists and CIA operatives called "bloggers", these lies present a constant danger to all of our governments..  Premier Wen, whose country under Chairman Mao broke Germany's and Russia's records for the most people sent to government-sponsored sensitivity training, outlines some of the technologies China is using to protect Chinese citizens from foreign deception.  He also will discuss how he got US companies like Cisco and Microsoft to abandon their public principles in exchange for promises of large contracts

Day 2

Pricing for Domain Names
Kojo Annan

Kojo will discuss a number of technical issues associated with domain name pricing.  Among the topics discussed will be "how large a kickback should be demanded of large US companies renewing their domain name registrations", "how should kickback money be distributed between general assembly members", "how can sub-contracts be funneled to key family members", and "how Paypal can be used to facilitate 'courtesy' payments".  Kojo will also discuss the mechanics of Swiss banking as it applies to government Internet supervision.

Pornography on the Web
Hassan al Saud
Saudi Arabian Security Service

Director al Saud will discuss approaches for limiting pornography on the web, such as photos showing NFL Cheerleaders, hot protest babes, or any woman with tattoos, body piercings, or a bare midriff, including nearly the entire UC-Santa Barbara female population.  Al Saud will review his groundbreaking work filtering news service web pages for the names of women and women authors and replacing them with men's names.  Afterwards, al Saud will be signing copies of his bestseller "Gone with the Wind".

Lunch
Robert Mugabe has generously offered to supply lunch from the fine
farms of Zimbabwe.  Unfortunately, unforeseen...technical problems will
make that impossible.  We ask that all delegates go outside the meeting hall and fend for themselves for lunch.

Future of email scams
Dr. Hamzu Kalo
Lagos Nigeria

Many of us are concerned with the growth of email scams.  In this important discussion, Dr. Kalu will discuss topics including "How can other countries get a piece of Nigeria's lucrative email scam business", "how can UN imprimatur be used to increase email scam returns", and "how should government's tax email scam revenue".  Working papers from Dr. Kalo's last conference can be found here.

Shortsighted Nationalization
Hugo Chavez
President, Venezuela

Mr. Chavez will argue his controversial hypothesis that it is shortsighted to immediately nationalize US corporate assets when taking office.  His premise is that it is better to wait 6-12 months, after companies have become complacent, before seizing their operations.  Mr. Chavez will also address the difficult issue of how to attract new foreign investment when every successful foreign enterprise in the history of your country has been nationalized.

Snack Break
Sponsored by Cisco and Microsoft to introduce their joint Internet initiative with the United Nations entitled "We are for freedom and democracy, except when we're not."

Promise of the Internet for Managing elections
Jimmy Carter
ex-President, United States of America

Everyone should be familiar with President Carter's outstanding work courageously certifying the election in Venezuela while challenging corrupt elections in Florida and Ohio.  President Carter will address the topic of using Internet technology for elections.  He will show that paper ballot technology can still leave a potentially dangerous paper trail, while Internet voting allows for nearly total ability to manage elections to make sure that the will of the people is not thwarted by CIA-financed lying upstarts.

Farewell Dinner
Dinner was to be provided by the United States delegation, but US authorities could not provide documentation that no genetically modified foods were used to prepare the meal.  It has been decided that it is better for the meeting delegates to go hungry than risk eating any GM crops.

Transportation
No transportation has been arranged, but officials are encouraged to nationalize any assets they need to reach the conference.

Email
In the spirit of promoting the
Internet and Tunisia's leading role in it, all participants will be
allowed full access to email while in the conference.  All email will
be downloaded by our WIFI (Working-group Investigating Foreign-corruption via the Internet)
and printed out for our guests.  Conference participants should note
that emails with language directly threatening the state** will not be
passed on.

**Note that this includes any references derogatory to the Tunisian government, its officials, and its ruling party, as well as any comments defaming the governments of Libya, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, or any ally of Tunisia or in fact any other country that is not the United States.  It also includes any references to women without clothes, women working, women driving a car, or women doing anything outside of the house or their male family members' control.  It also includes mentions of provocative terminology and hate speech, including the words freedom, free press, free speech, democracy, property, capitalism, non-Muslim religions, George Bush, the state of Texas, Shiner Bock Beer, or the Dallas Cowboys.  Making fun of the Arizona Cardinals, however, is always OK.

Update:  This column is obviously a failed parody, because to be ironic you have to exaggerate reality at least somewhat.  I may have actually fallen short of reality:

As Tunisia prepares to host the controversial
World Summit for the Information Society in November, Tunisian opposition activist Neila
Charchour Hachicha
informs Global Voices that the online freedom of speech protest site launched by
Tunisians on Monday, www.yezzi.org has
already been blocked by the Tunisian authorities.

The online protest, called "Freedom
of Expression in Mourning
," is organized by The Tunisian Association for the Promotion
and Defense of Cyberspace
(Association Tunisienne pour la Promotion et la
Défense du Cyberespace).

More on the UN Internet conference here as well.

 

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My Wife's Handbags up For Rising Star Fashion Award

I tried to warn you to buy one of my wife's designer handbags before she got famous.  It may be too late.  Next week she will be a finalist in the Phoenix Rising Star Fashion Awards:

Phoenix may not be an international center of fashion, but it is a hotbed of design.

The Valley brims with independent designers who make everything from
purses to baby clothes to yoga wear, all available at local boutiques
and/or online.

Three promising Valley designers will receive Rising Star awards on Thursday, given by the Phoenix chapter of Fashion Group International,
a networking organization for fashion professionals. Awards are given
in three categories: clothing, accessory and interior design.

Kategrovespurses2
(click image to enlarge)

Sorry, newspaper photos really don't scan very well.  They just had to use the chick with the guitar for the online article, so my wife's photo didn't make the online edition.  Many of her funky handbag designs are online, and I posted here about the last exposure of her designer purses in Yes Magazine.

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Thank Goodness

The US has refused to turn control of the Internet over to the UN.  Thank Goodness. (via Instapundit)

A senior U.S. official rejected calls on Thursday for a
U.N. body to take over control of the main computers that direct
traffic on the Internet, reiterating U.S. intentions to keep its
historical role as the medium's principal overseer.

"We will not agree to the U.N. taking over the management of the
Internet," said Ambassador David Gross, the U.S. coordinator for
international communications and information policy at the State
Department. "Some countries want that. We think that's unacceptable."

Beyond the potential fortunes UN officials could make in bribes and kickbacks with such control,

Many countries, particularly developing ones, have become increasingly
concerned about the U.S. control, which stems from the country's role
in creating the Internet as a Pentagon project and funding much of its
early development.

Too bad.  If you don't like it, band together and create your own.  This is classic socialist thinking - don't bother to invest or try to compete, just confiscate the assets of whoever is already successful.

Meryl Yourish, by the way, brings us this delicious irony:  Tunisia, whose government actively censors the web and restricts its people's access to the web, will be hosting the next UN Internet summit:

Facing heated protest, the United Nations on Wednesday defended
Tunisia's hosting of a U.N. summit about Internet access in the
developing world, even though the north African nation has been
repeatedly accused of rights abuses that include blocking Web sites it
dislikes....

the government has blocked access to Web sites belonging
to Reporters Without Borders, other human rights watchdogs, and the
independent press, while police monitor e-mails and Internet cafes.

"It
does question to some extent the U.N.'s credibility that a world summit
on the information society is taking place in a society where access to
some Web sites is restricted," said Alexis Krikorian, of the
International Publishers' Association. "It's amazing that such a summit
would take place in a country like this."

No kidding.  When you think of turning tasks over to the UN, remember that over half the membership and the bureaucracy is dominated by officials from dictatorships.  Turning the Internet over to the UN means turning it over to Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro and Kim Il Sung.  And to Syria and Saudi Arabia and Iran.  And don't forget China, currently in the middle of the largest and most aggressive government Internet censorship project in the world.

New Chinese regulations governing Internet
news content tighten the noose on freewheeling bloggers and aim to rein
in the medium that is a growing source of information for the
mainland's more than 100 million users.

The day we hand the Internet over to the UN is the day we should start building a new one.

Don't Get Your Hopes Up

Via Glenn Reynolds:

Rep. Mark Udall has joined Republican budget hawks on legislation
that would give the White House new authority to pare congressional
spending bills. . . .

It would authorize the president to pull specific items out of
massive appropriations bills and then force Congress to hold up-or-down
votes on the proposed cuts. It would apply to fiscal year 2006 spending
bills, plus the huge, multiyear transportation plan that critics have
said is loaded with wasteful, pork barrel projects.

Doesn't mean a thing.  A)  Congress will never pass it.  B)  There is no evidence that Bush cares one whit about spending control and C)  There is absolutely no evidence that Bush is willing to veto anything out of Congress, since he already holds the veto pen rust award.

You Readers are Getting a Bargain

Apparently Yale's Econ 109 Microeconomics class has been assigned my post on Business Relocation and the Prisoner's Dilemma as part of this week's reading.  They are paying tens of thousands of dollars to read this site, while my 17 regular readers are getting it for free!  I'm not sure I am a huge Yale fan, given I attended Princeton and later Harvard, but I may have underestimated them now that I know what discriminating taste they have in blog reading.

Interesting Arcana:  The actual reason I think the professor found my article is probably because he used the spelling "dilemna" rather than "dilemma" when Google searching, as I did in the post title.  For some reason, I have always gravitated to this funny spelling with an "n" rather than a second "m".  I don't seem to be the only one - Google has hundreds of thousands of hits for dilemna.  What is the deal here?  I can't find dilemna as an alternate spelling anywhere in a dictionary, but it gets used a lot.  Hell, its in a CNN headline here.  A bunch of the Google hits for "dilemna" are in articles written by university professors.

So here is where you really have to love the web.  It turns out that this has actually been a discussion board topic in a number of places.  Here is part of a thread, for example, on dilemna vs dilemma.

John's note about being certain the word was spelled "dilemna" really hit home for me. It's almost as though at some point in my life I learned that was indeed the correct spelling and somehow had an edge on the masses. As with John, when I write I tend to pronounce words in my mind the way they are spelled - ie. FebRUary, WedNESday, etc. And as a champion speller in my younger days, it only seemed natural that I would be in the know.

As it happens, I'm writing a book right now, and the word came up. Though I spelled it the way I always knew was correct, I decided to double check with the dictionary and suddenly it was as though I was in the Twilight Zone. It was gone. Since dilemna is not as the word sounds, I can't figure out how the situation developed. I'm still convinced the spelling has changed somewhere along the way (ha!). I also recently had this same revelation with the word "pom-pom" (as in cheerleader's) which I always thought I was so smart in spelling as  "pompon." At least pompon is in the dictionary, though it has a slightly different meaning as the head of a chrysanthemum.

The only thing I can conclude is that I must have been living a parallel life in which these words were indeed spelled this way, and somehow made a crossover in recent years ....  (Twilight Zone Theme: do-do-do-do do-do-do-do)

There is a whole string of conjectures like this, but no real answer.  I will admit, now that this guy has, that I too had a certain Ivy-League-smarter-than-the-masses confidence that I had it right.  Ooops.

Happy Birthday

Coyote Blog is one year old today.  I see below that the coyote must be working on a gift for me...

Birthday  Christmas2

I didn't really have any expectations when I started, but I am pretty sure that a quarter of a million page views to date is more than I would have guessed.  I also seem to have recently made "large mammal" status, meaning that NZ Bear probably gives me more credit on the evolutionary scale than does my wife.  Thanks to all my readers.

Fact: Government Failure. Conclusion: More Government?

Frequent readers of this blog, all 12 or so of them, are probably tired of my recent obsession with Katrina examples of how government values control over results (posts here, here, here, here, here, and here, lol).  So I will let someone else say it now:

There has been a lot of political and ideological discussions surrounding
Katrina. Clearly the political sector handled the disaster with great
inefficiency. Yet many people, including (as usual) most of the media, seem to
believe government failure somehow proves we need bigger government.

This is an odd conclusion. If the voluntarily sectors (market and civil
society) fail we hardly conclude that government must shrink. To put it another
way, if Katrina had been handled with great efficiency by the state the same
people would conclude this was an argument for even stronger government. But now
the exact opposite is also taken as meaning we need greater government. I am
curious to know if there is any world development the NYT does not see as
evidence for expanding the welfare state, at the expense of individuals and of
the civil society.

There is much more, from Truck and Barter.

Exhibit #1 for the FEC v. Club for Growth

The FEC is suing the Club for Growth for campaign finance violations, basically arguing that they are controlled by the Republican Party and therefore not an independent political group (or whatever, I can't really be bothered to understand just what argument the FEC is using to trash the First Ammendment).

So I have Exhibit #1 for the trial.  Yesterday I published a blog piece blasting the Republican Party, concluding:

The Republicans are lost.  Combine this kind of spending with their
Patriot Act and Sarbabes-Oxley driven Big-Borther-Is-Watching
intrusiveness, luke-warm committment to free-trade, and bizarre obsession with pornography, and I find nothing at all attractive about the party.  Only the economic insanity of the opposition party continues to keep Republicans in power.

If the Club for Growth is a subsidiary of the Republican Party, then why are they linking my post today from their home page? 

Water: The Only Market the Government Screws Up Worse than Oil

Arizona Watch makes a great observation about water use here in the desert.  All-too-often, the anti-growth folks use the water issue to try to make us feel like Phoenix is heading toward some parched apocalypse.  Arizona Watch makes the following point:

Scott Patterson's "Swimming in the desert," is dangerously miss-informed. To
advance his anti-growth agenda, he predicts future water shortages in Arizona
due to urban population growth. Urban growth is not to blame.

Nearly 70% of Arizona's water is used for agricultural purposes. What's more,
the cost of water for agricultural use is significantly lower than for
industrial or household use. The problem is not that people live in this desert,
it's that people inefficiently grow crops in this desert, and the inefficiency
is encouraged by price controls on water. If water costs for agriculture were
not subsidized, then market pricing would ensure a plentiful supply of water for
generations to come.

Read the whole thing for the cites to the actual statistics.  I cannot understand why water can't be sold at a market rate.  If you subsidize water prices, and more people then come to the desert than the water supplies can support, is it the fault of the individuals who show up, or is it the fault of the government that can't seem to allow markets to operate when it comes to water?  This is yet another example of the government creating a problem with regulation, blaming the adverse results on the free market, and using the ensuing mess to justify more regulation.

Farmers in particular are getting paid by you and me, in the form of subsidized water, to try to grow wet-country crops out here in the desert.  This water subsidy is on top of the huge farm subsidies Arizona farmers get, including over $100 million a year in cotton subsidies alone.  The government is paying farmers to dump tons of water on cotton plants in the desert that grow perfectly well without irrigation in many other states. 

Postscript:  Farmers really have done an amazing job lobbying for themselves in this country.  They are particularly succesful here in Arizona, where the largest farms are owned by Indian tribes, that have the added lobbying strength of protected-group status.  The other night I was serving out my painful 7 hours or so in drivers ed. class when it was mentioned that us urban dwellers will get a huge fine for not having our 4 year old strapped down in a car seat, but rural pickup truck drivers in Arizona can legally have a 6-month-old rolling around in the back of a bouncing pickup truck without any restraint and be perfectly legal.  Why the difference?  Because the farmers wanted it that way.

The Death of Small-Government Republicans

My liberal in-laws always give me this strange condescending look whenever it comes up that I have voted for a Republican at some point in time, that same look you might give the otherwise beloved family dog that keeps pooping on the front lawn.  As a libertarian, I seldom fully agree with any political candidate of either party.  Every election is a tradeoff:  Do I vote for the unelectable and perhaps truly odd Libertarian candidate?  Or do I vote for a mainstream party with which I disagree with about half of everything they promote?

So here is how I normally make the decision:  On pure self-interest.  Since, as a small business owner, I am much more likely to need strong protection of property rights than I am going to need an abortion, a gay marriage, or legal marijuana, I end up voting Republican more often than I vote Democrat.  For this reason, the Republican party has generally garnered a good many libertarian votes, and the two most identifiable libertarians in Congress (Flake and Paul) have both called themselves Republican, though I am sure with some reservations.

This relationship, however, may be at an end as Republicans are disavowing their libertarian wing, and returning to their large government tendencies of the 1970's.  Bush and his buddy Tom Delay are turning out to be classic Nixon Republicans.  The most recent evidence comes from the fact that the following is not from our Republican President, or our Republican Speaker of the House, but from the for-god-sakes Washington Post:

But this spirit of
forbearance has not touched the Louisiana congressional delegation. The
state's representatives have come up with a request for $250 billion in
federal reconstruction funds for Louisiana alone -- more than $50,000
per person in the state. This money would come on top of payouts from
businesses, national charities and insurers. And it would come on top
of the $62.3 billion that Congress has already appropriated for
emergency relief.

Like looters who seize six
televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana
legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly
spend usefully. ...

The Louisiana delegation has apparently devoted little thought
to the root causes of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans was
flooded not because the Army Corps of Engineers had insufficient money
to build flood protections, but because its money was allocated by a
system of political patronage. ...

The Louisiana bill is so preposterous
that its authors can't possibly expect it to pass; it's just the first
round in a process of negotiation. But the risk is that the
administration and congressional leaders will accept the $250 billion
as a starting point, then declare a victory for fiscal sanity when they
bring the number down to, say, $150 billion. Instead, Congress should
ignore the Louisiana bill and force itself to think seriously about the
sort of reconstruction that makes sense.

The Republicans are lost.  Combine this kind of spending with their Patriot Act and Sarbabes-Oxley driven Big-Borther-Is-Watching intrusiveness, luke-warm committment to free-trade, and bizarre obsession with pornography, and I find nothing at all attractive about the party.  Only the economic insanity of the opposition party continues to keep Republicans in power. 

More on the Louisiana money grab here.

Playing for Matt Leinert

I will pat myself on the back and say that I called it, way back in week 4 of the preseason and again after week 1:  The Cards, as usual, suck.  The only reason that this is news is that some national sportscasters were drinking the kool-aid and had predicted that this will be a turnaround year for the Cards.  One quarter of watching the Cards get manhandled by Denver's second team in pre-season convinced me that while the Cards had some interesting skill position players, they had no Offensive or Defensive line.  And now, their top player on each line has gone down with an injury. 

This is a team that has never given a crap about its lines, as illustrated by the brilliant trade a couple of years ago of the draft rights to Terrell Suggs (despite his being a hometown ASU hero), perhaps the best young DL in the game, for two mediocre receivers.  Here is Coyote's draft rule number one:  Teams like the Cards that draft receivers in the first round several years in a row are going to suck (hear that, Detroit?)

I said previously this is maybe a 5 win team.  Did I overestimate?  It looks like the Cards have a shot at the Matt Leinert sweepstakes, otherwise known as the first draft choice.  Of course, the Cards being the Cards, they will probably pull out some last second win in the last second of the game to drop out of the first pick, like they did two years ago against the Vikings.  If they do get the first pick, they should trade the pick for linemen or more picks to draft lineman.  Here's why:

  • There is no point in having a good QB and a bad O-line (see Houston Texans in their first year)
  • You can get more value by trading the top 3 picks for lower picks
  • Matt Leinert is going to be uniquely valuable.  Some team will see him as a once in a generation type player and will give up many goodies for him (see Mike Ditka and Ricky Williams)
  • Like Eli Manning and San Diego, Leinert will probably refuse to come play in Arizona anyway

Media Malpractice

Kevin Drum passes on this Times-Picayune story that apparently, New Orleans in general and the Superdome in particular were not quite the post-apocalyptic-mad-max killing zone they were portrayed as:

"I had the impression that at least 40 or 50 murders had occurred at the two
sites," he said. "It's unfortunate we saw these kinds of stories saying crime
had taken place on a massive scale when that wasn't the case. And they (national
media outlets) have done nothing to follow up on any of these cases, they just
accepted what people (on the street) told them....It's not consistent with the
highest standards of journalism."

....The picture that emerged was one of the impoverished, masses of flood
victims resorting to utter depravity, randomly attacking each other, as well as
the police trying to protect them and the rescue workers trying to save them.
[Mayor Ray] Nagin told [Oprah] Winfrey the crowd has descended to an "almost
animalistic state."

Drum has an odd way of introducing the story, saying that "conventional wisdom about the Superdome and Convention Center was wrong" and introducing the story as an "urban legend".  Conventional wisdom? Urban legend?  This isn't a story that was created around water coolers, this is a story that was reported like this by the major media.  If the Times-Picayune story is right, then a better lead would be "Major Media Greatly Exaggerated Deaths and Disorder at Superdome". 

What Drum is so coy about pointing out is that this is yet another example of the media falling in love with a story line and selectively choosing facts, and where necessary, suspending disbelief, to support that story line.  First, the media wanted what it always wants in a disaster:  the big story that will draw viewers  (Did anyone else notice last week during Rita that when the hurricane went from category 3 to 5, all the media said it was much more dangerous at 5, but when it went back down to 3, they all said its just as dangerous at 3 as 5).  As the days progressed, the media fell in love with a new story, the story of a racist administration that was abandoning blacks to chaos.

OK, well here is my new story line:  Its about a media that won't even trust General Honore when he announces the location of the hurricane Rita evacuation site without peppering him with 20 useless questions but is willing to believe, without evidence, that a mostly black population would in a period of two days descend into Lord-of-the-Flies level violence, murder, and yes, they even mentioned cannibalism.   Message to blacks from the media: The elite media types feel your pain, support litmus test issues like affirmative action, but they will assume that at your heart you are all murderers and cannibals.   Who are the freakin' racists here, anyway?   Heck, a black "social justice advocate" started the cannibalism rumor in print.  With leaders like these, do African-Americans need enemies?

And, by the way, there is a second really interesting story line here about how the major media's desire to portray the situation in New Orleans as bad as possible, even if the facts did not support it, actually slowed the pace of help to victims.  Any number of volunteers shied away from entering the damaged area, afraid for their own safety.  Many more were turned away from the area by authorities who were afraid they could not protect them.  There is no doubt in my mind that the media's fact-free coverage, skewed to make things look as bad as possible, made things worse for victims in the early days after the hurricane, all in the name of higher ratings.  If Walmart or Haliburton had done something to impede the rescue in the name of higher profits, they would be hung out to dry.  OK, I am waiting for a similar outcry against ABC and CNN and FOX, because it seems that that is exactly what they are guilty of.

Update:  From the LA Times:

"If the dome and Convention Center had harbored large numbers of
middle class white people," [New Orleans Times-Picayune Editor] Amoss said, "it would not have been a
fertile ground for this kind of rumor-mongering."

A lot of the blame, though seems to also fall at the footsteps of the Mayor and Chief of Police:

Mayor C. Ray Nagin told a national television audience on "Oprah" three
weeks ago of people "in that frickin' Superdome for five days watching
dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people."...

Some of the hesitation that journalists might have had about using the
more sordid reports from the evacuation centers probably fell away when
New Orleans' top officials seemed to confirm the accounts.

Nagin and Police Chief Eddie Compass appeared on "Oprah" a few days after trouble at the Superdome had peaked.

Compass told of "the little babies getting raped" at the
Superdome. And Nagin made his claim about hooligans raping and killing.

Mayor Nagin has for some reason chosen the strategy, which seems insane in retrospect, of hoping that making the situation look as bad as possible would somehow enhance his personal reputation.  This strategy seems nuts, but I will say that it is one that has worked well for black politicians for years, making political hay by pointing out how bad their black constituents have it because of outside racist forces and powers outside their control.  In this case, though, the chickens come home to roost as Mayor Nagin has been unable to shed that nasty, nagging question that African-Americans should have been asking of their black leaders for years: "Uh, but in this case weren't you the one in charge?"

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Louisiana Reconstruction Disaster

If you didn't see it on Instapundit, LSU professor Jeffrey Sadow has a great post on the huge corrupt porkfest that is being proposed in Louisiana:

  • The $250 billion [in proposed federal aid] is not far behind the $350 billion
    estimated spent on the military aspects and their aftermath of the war
    of terror since Sep. 11, 2001 "“ which means in reconstruction terms
    (leaving out the actual war-making expenses), Louisiana actually is
    asking for more than countries with 10 times its population which face
    far more damage.
  • The $40 billion [in proposed Corps of Engineering spending for Louisiana] is ten times the annual
    Corps budget, and 100 times the annual amount typically received by
    Louisiana which gets more such funding than any other state.
  • Also, it is nearly three times the size of the entire request for coastal restoration efforts in the state.
  • He concludes:

    So, let's get this straight. Louisiana, from some of her federal officials through some state officials all they way down to city and other local governments,
    countenanced negligence from benign to irresponsible in ensuring proper
    flood protection and in dealing with hurricanes. And now these same
    people have formulated a plan wanting the country to pay an incredible
    sum of money to the state controlled by people from the state to deal
    with the aftereffects and, apparently, Louisiana's past inability to
    utilize our resources efficiently in other areas?

    The rest of the country is going to look at this and think we're still stuck on stupid.

    Glenn Reynolds also has a long post with other good links on the topic here.  I particularly liked this bit he quotes from John Fund:

    Put bluntly, the local political cultures don't engender confidence
    that aid won't be diverted from the people who truly need and deserve
    it. While the feds can try to ride herd on the money, here's hoping
    folks in the region take the opportunity to finally demand their own
    political housecleaning. Change is past due. Last year, Lou Riegel, the
    agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans office, described Louisiana's
    public corruption as "epidemic, endemic, and entrenched. No branch of
    government is exempt."

    Louisiana ranks third in the nation in the number of elected
    officials per capita convicted of crimes (Mississippi takes top prize).
    In just the past generation, the Pelican State has had a governor, an
    attorney general, three successive insurance commissioners, a
    congressman, a federal judge, a state Senate president and a swarm of
    local officials convicted. Last year, three top officials at
    Louisiana's Office of Emergency Preparedness were indicted on charges
    they obstructed a probe into how federal money bought out flood-prone
    homes. Last March the Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered
    Louisiana to repay $30 million in flood-control grants it had awarded
    to 23 parishes

    Update: Lots more at Porkopolis

    Louisiana population is 4,468,976, not all of which was
    affected by the hurricane. A reasonable assumption is to say that half the
    population was in the path of the hurricane
    . That would be about 2,234,488,
    but to keep calculations simple we'll round up the affected population to 2,
    500,000. That 2.5 million of affected Louisiana residents will make for an easy
    calculation

    $250 billion divided by 2.5 million affected residents
    results in a disaster relief request of.....(drum rooooooooooll)...$100,000 per person!

    And these juicy details:

    • $100 million for "psychological trauma response early intervention,
      prevention, and disorder treatment by culturally competent counselors and mental
      health professionals for children who are 0 to 5 years of age; see page 38, line
      1.
    • $100 million for mosquito abatement; see page 39, line 12.
    • $1 billion "shall be used for a program to aid the travel and tourism
      industry"; see page 45, line 17
    • $5 million for Project Serv under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and
      Communities Act; see page 49, line 13
    • NOAA weather radio for every eligible person; see Sec. 526 .

    Occasioning this statement:

    "It's all vital," said Landrieu. "There's not
    anything in here that we would consider a wish list or pie in the sky. This is
    what we really believe is essential."

    This is just the macro-scale version of this, business as usual in Louisiana:

    Police found cases of food, clothes and tools intended for hurricane
    victims in the backyard, shed and rooms throughout the home of a chief
    administrative officer of a New Orleans suburb, officials said
    Wednesday.

    Police in Kenner searched Cedric Floyd's home Tuesday because of
    complaints that city workers were helping themselves to donations for
    hurricane victims. Floyd, who runs the day-to-day operations in Kenner,
    was in charge of distributing the donations.

    The donations, including lanterns, vacuums and clothes with price
    tags attached, had to be removed in four loads in a big pickup truck,
    Kenner police Capt. Steve Caraway said.

    "It was an awful lot of stuff," he said.

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    Porkbuster Letter

    Porkbusterssm

    Here is a copy of the letter I sent to my representative John Shadegg as part of the PorkBusters campaign:


    Representative
    John Shadegg
    Arizona
    3rd District

    306
    Cannon H. O. B.

    Washington,
    DC  20515

    Congressman
    Shadegg:

    I
    am a blogger who lives and runs a business in your district.  I know
    that you were one of only 8 people in Congress to vote against the
    recent pork-laden highway bill, something I congratulated you for on
    my blog.  I now want to encourage you to continue fighting to reign
    in government spending.  I am frankly flabbergasted to see the
    current Republican leadership in Congress working so hard to resist
    fiscal sanity, and am amazed that the Republican Party could have
    drifted so far from its philosophical roots.

    I
    know that there are tremendous pressures on you to play the game with
    everyone else in Congress, and bring home your share of pork to your
    district.  Often those in your district will root for you to cut
    other people's pork but not their own.  Let me say that I am totally
    supportive of your cutting our 3rd district pork first, as
    a message that everyone needs to contribute to the spending cuts the
    President has called for to pay for Katrina-related expenses.  You
    are probably aware that many of us in the blogging world have banded
    together in the "Porkbusters" effort to signal our desire to cut
    pork by identifying our own local earmarks for cuts first.

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    ACME Featured Product XIII

    This is a revival, in honor of our upcoming 1-year anniversary, of what used to be a regular feature on this site, and is explained here. Many of our ACME products come courtesy of this site.

    In the spirit of what will probably be known as natural disaster month, comes this coyote favorite:

    Tornado

    Report from Houston

    My mom, who lives in Houston, spent much of today trying to get out.  Getting on Interstate 10 about 4AM, she doesn't seem to have made even 60 miles my 8PM at night, where she just plain couldn't drive any more.  Since she somehow got separated from my sister in their driving convoy, she pulled to the side of the road to rest.  Fortunately, a local minister and a fireman took her to a local shelter at a fire station to sleep tonight, where she reports all is well (many props to those folks).  Hopefully she can make it to San Antonio tomorrow, and hopefully they have not given away her reservation.

    She reports that gas availability seems to worry folks the most.  No one was running their air conditioning, to save gas, and traffic was moving so slow that several were pushing their cars with the engine off down the road rather than running the engine.  There is apparently gas in inventory in the area, but tank trucks can't get to stations since inbound traffic is blocked.  Also, cars seem to be taking literally hours just to get to the next exit.  Yuk.

    Since I grew up in Houston and know the people there fairly well, I can make one prediction:  They will evacuate this time, if only as part of the post-Katrina panic, but if the city is not leveled they are not going to do it again any time soon, no matter what is coming at them.

    Update: Mom is back on the road this morning, and traffic is moving much better.  She reports she is 99 miles from San Antonio and has a half tank of gas.  That means in her first 27 hours of travel she made less than 100 miles of progress.  She says that there are hundreds of cars by the sides of the road that have run out of gas.

    Final Update:  Mom reached SA OK, and in fact as of Monday morning is back at home in Houston.  The power is on, the cable is running, and the house is fine.  Mom lives does not live in a low-lying area, and her house has survived many hurricanes.  I know that Rita veered off from Houston, but was it really safer for her to be on the road for 30 hours, with no place to sleep at night, worrying every minute about running out of gas?

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    In Case You Don't Understand Louisiana

    Whether it is the French influence or the long shadow of Huey Long's patronage driven socialist experiment, Louisiana has a tradition of bad government.  I remember several years ago the governor's race featured a Nazi running against a convicted felon (convicted in office of bribery and influence peddling, if I remember right).

    So one of the problems with the management of Katrina problems is that Katrina hit Louisiana, the US's own version of Haiti.  Don't believe me?  This is already coming out, and you can be sure there is more:

    Police found cases of food, clothes and tools intended for hurricane
    victims in the backyard, shed and rooms throughout the home of a chief
    administrative officer of a New Orleans suburb, officials said
    Wednesday.

    Police in Kenner searched Cedric Floyd's home Tuesday because of
    complaints that city workers were helping themselves to donations for
    hurricane victims. Floyd, who runs the day-to-day operations in Kenner,
    was in charge of distributing the donations.

    The donations, including lanterns, vacuums and clothes with price
    tags attached, had to be removed in four loads in a big pickup truck,
    Kenner police Capt. Steve Caraway said.

    "It was an awful lot of stuff," he said.

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    Trying to Leave MS Office

    I mentioned in a post previously that I didn't like what Powerpoint was doing to presentations.  In fact, I have actually abandoned Powerpoint entirely even
    for the few slides I do use in favor of the presentation package from the
    free Open Office applications suite.
    This package, which has really come into its own with the version 2
    beta, opens and writes MS Office applications and is a pretty good
    substitute, sometimes better, occasionally worse, for MS Office. 

    I am
    stress testing the whole package this winter, plus Thunderbird for email and of course Firefox
    on which I am already sold for browsing, as a way to begin migrating
    our company to having no MS Office at all.  I am tired of paying
    hundreds of dollars per seat for applications that overwhelm and
    confuse my employees.  Because of our need to interchange files with a
    number of other entities, we need to be able to work with .xlw and .doc
    files, so this makes for a nice solution for us.  My experience has
    been very very good so far - let me know in the comments if you have
    experience with these products.

    Update: Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.  I continue to have very good luck in my stress testing.  Thuderbird is great, except that the spam filter sends to many good mails to spam - I would like the control to dial it back a notch.  OO Writer is good, with only some small formatting changes on tables from MS word.  I actually find its formatting and outlining tools better than MS word, and like the built in export to pdf.  The excel clone is working fine, and I can hardly tell the difference between the presentation package and powerpoint.  I have not played with the equation editor yet, but my daughter likes the draw package.  I had trouble with the database, but I find it is always hard to migrate to a new DB.  I never was able to switch from access to filemaker, and everyone tells me that filemaker is easier but I just got used to doing things in access.

    One of my worries about migrating this to my employees is that many of my managers are computer noobs, and tend to go out and buy excel and word books from Barnes and Noble when they get the computer on the first day.  There are no such reasources for Open Office, and it is different enough from MS Office that the books don't really apply well.

    Shortcomings of Powerpoint Presentations

    For nearly six years I was a consultant at McKinsey and for another six I held corporate staff roles and marketing leadership roles.  In these twelve years, I did a lot of presenting.  By the end of those 12 years, I felt like I knew about functionality in PowerPoint that the guys in Redmond didn't know about.  But by the end of those 12 years, I had nearly abandoned Powerpoint as a medium and I avoid it like the plague today. 

    The main reason is that I don't like to be a slave to my slides.  So many presenters become trapped by their slides, redefining the presentation as getting through the slides in a given amount of time rather than getting their message across.  Today, I like to present to people, looking them in the eye, without any other visual effects to take their attention away from me or my message.  I will use a flip chart or a computer projector from time to time - there is always a need to punctuate your points with data and charts and pictures, but I don't leave them up there after they have had their impact.  The projector goes off and focus is back on me and my message. 

    At one company we made presentations using 2 or even 3 projectors
    simultaneously, projecting multiple slides all at one time.  I remember
    several key strategy presentations I gave using a hundred or more
    slides.  Today, I know I could give those presentations better with
    just 5 slides showing the key market research and cost data that drove
    the decision, and then explaining the logic of our plan without any distractions behind me.

    There is nothing I hate more than bulleted text slide after bulleted text slide.  There are only two possibilities from these slides:  Either they are easy to read, but then their message is so generic as to be meaningless; or they contain real content, making them hard to read in a presentation.  I prefer the latter, but save them for a leave behind that people can flip through after I am done.

    Anyway, so much for my patented 20 minute semi-off-topic introduction to the real point of this post.  Via gongol.com comes this interesting analysis of how the use of PowerPoint might be affecting the quality of scientific presentations, and specifically looks at how PowerPoint may have impeded quality understanding of the risks that led to the Columbia accident.

    Postscript: I must give credit where credit is due.  McKinsey takes the art of presentation very seriously, and did more for me than anyone in making me a good presenter of complex information, either in verbal or written form.  Their pyramid principal for writing was more useful to me than anything I learned in six years at Princeton and Harvard about the subject of communication.

    Birth of a Meme

    Its not very often that you can tell, right at birth, that a new meme or catchphrase has been created, but General Honore's "Your Stuck on Stupid" seems to be such a case.  Radio Blogger has the context and transcript.  I will quote the key part, but its good to read the whole thing. 

    The General had been trying to explain the evacuation approach so the press could get the message out to citizens who needed to know where to go.  Actually, the mayor had been trying to do that first, but was getting eaten alive by a press who were less interested in getting information out on the new storm than with scoring points** about the last storm. Both the mayor and the general kept getting peppered with questions like "why didn't we do that last time" and "That didn't work before".  At this point, General Honore was clearly frustrated with reporters who wanted to have a political finger pointing discussion when he was trying to communicate evacuation information.  So then there was this:

    Honore: ...Right now, to handle the number of people that want to leave, we've got the
    capacity. You will come to the convention center. There are soldiers there from
    the 82nd Airborne, and from the Louisiana National Guard. People will be told to
    get on the bus, and we will take care of them. And where they go will be
    dependent on the capacity in this state. We've got our communications up. And
    we'll tell them where to go. And when they get there, they'll be able to get a
    chance, an opportunity to get registered, and so they can let their families
    know where they are. But don't start panic here. Okay? We've got a location. It
    is in the front of the convention center, and that's where we will use to
    migrate people from it, into the system.

    Male reporter: General Honore, we were told
    that Berman Stadium on the west bank would be another staging area...

    Honore: Not to my knowledge. Again, the current
    place, I just told you one time, is the convention center. Once we complete the
    plan with the mayor, and is approved by the governor, then we'll start that in
    the next 12-24 hours. And we understand that there's a problem in getting
    communications out. That's where we need your help. But let's not confuse the
    questions with the answers. Buses at the convention center will move our
    citizens, for whom we have sworn that we will support and defend...and we'll
    move them on. Let's not get stuck on the last storm. You're asking last storm
    questions for people who are concerned about the future storm. Don't get stuck
    on stupid, reporters. We are moving forward. And don't confuse the people
    please. You are part of the public message. So help us get the message straight.
    And if you don't understand, maybe you'll confuse it to the people. That's why
    we like follow-up questions. But right now, it's the convention center, and move
    on.

    Male reporter: General, a little bit more about
    why that's happening this time, though, and did not have that last time...

    Honore: You are stuck on stupid. I'm not going
    to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public
    information that people are depending on the government to put out. This is the
    way we've got to do it. So please. I apologize to you, but let's talk about the
    future. Rita is happening. And right now, we need to get good, clean information
    out to the people that they can use. And we can have a conversation on the side
    about the past, in a couple of months.

    Awesome.  The press does a great job, and I couldn't do what I do as a blogger without them gathering the basic facts on which I comment***.  However, I think a lot of people are tired of their self-righteous shtick.

    Footnotes:
    **  While I am convinced that reporters seem more interested in scoring points in these press conferences than obtaining facts (have you ever watched a White House press briefing?), it is interesting to ask "score points with whom?"  With each other?  With CSPAN viewers?  Are either of these really a sustainable constituency?

    ***  Vodkapundit has a great analysis that I think is dead-on about the NY Times putting their editorial copy behind a paid firewall.  The WSJ charges for news, but puts out opinions for free.  The NY Times does the opposite. 

    Look. I usually suspect any New York Times story to be biased - but I can
    expect it to be researched and fact-checked. And in this day and age, I can rely
    on some smart blogger somewhere to tell me exactly what the NYT got wrong. But
    what I can't expect blogs to do - at least not yet - is to do the dreary,
    day-in-day-out work of getting the news in the first place. For all its faults,
    the MSM is still far better than blogs at reporting.

    Given all that, do recent decisions at the New York Times make any sense?
    They're forcing people to pay for opinions they can get most anywhere else for
    free, while cutting back on doing the one thing they can still do better than
    anyone else.

    And I Thought OUR Governor Was an Idiot

    Cafe Hayek has a fabulous fisking of Missouri governor Matt Blunt's letter to the editor explaining why his call for price controls on gasoline is consistent with his free market principals.  Its all good, I can't pick out any one quote.  Read it all.

    But wait!  This just in!  Maybe our governor IS this dumb.

    Our great benevolent leader, Janet Napolitano, has stated in press conference
    the she is going to investigate these fuel prices of ours. Mostly she was
    ruffling her feathers right after Hurricane Katrina shutdown a good 30% of the
    domestic supply source. So of course prices increased slightly to account for
    the lack of supply. This trend that followed exactly what even very simple
    supply and demand theory would predict was not enough to convince miss Gov. J.No
    not to call for yet another investigation. No way! She was not going to be
    swayed by facts, reality or "assurances from the oil industry" that these were
    fair market prices. Nope. An investigation was needed.

    A little over a year ago, a pipeline broke and the only source of gasoline into Phoenix was stopped.  Due to EPA regulations, Phoenix requires a special gas blend made in only one refinery coming to us through one pipeline, so it is not surprising that if that source is interrupted, gas might be short here for a while and prices might spike up.  Which they did.  Governor Napolitano at that time blamed the whole situation on the oil industry and called for investigations.  Tellingly, she took only three policy actions:

    • Temporarily waived regulations for a special blend of gas in Phoenix
    • Temporarily waived regulations on truckers that were preventing them from filling in for the broken pipeline
    • Considered circumventing regulations that were preventing a local refinery to serve the Phoenix market from being built.

    So the rhetoric at the time was "its all the oil companies faults" but the solution was "repeal government regulations".  Hmmmmm.  By the way, the Commons Blog created a nice chart showing how those filthy rich oil companies are making, uh, ahem, lower profits than average for US industry (click to enlarge).  I wish they were more profitable- we would probably have a lot more oil.

    Margins1a

    My Urban Plan for New Orleans

    Cafe Hayek points out that Rep. Earl Blumenauer wants to make sure that New Orleans is rebuilt with a strong urban planning vision.  Since Mr. Blumenauer represents Portland, Oregon, the city beloved of planners that has been planned into having some of the highest priced housing and worst traffic of any city of its size in America, I presume he wants something similar for New Orleans (Portland was also the city that thought it had solved global warming).

    Here is my urban plan for New Orleans:  Every person who owns property can build whatever the hell they want on it.  If other people want something else built on that property, and value this outcome enough, they can buy the property from its owner.  This novel concept is called "private property rights" and falls under the broader category of what are called "constitutionally protected individual rights" or even more broadly, "freedom".  It is a concept that used to be taken for granted in this country and but now is seldom even taught in schools. 

    For the property owned by the government, well, they are going to build whatever dumbshit thing they want to on it anyway, so I'll just root for their choice to be fairly inexpensive.  We here in Phoenix built a half-billion dollar stadium for the for-god-sakes Arizona Cardinals that is used for its core purpose 3 hours a day for 8 days a year.  It couldn't be worse, could it?

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    A Nice Irony

    With a hat tip to Cafe Hayek, comes this article from the Las Vegas Weekly:

    The shade from the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market sign is minimal around noon;
    still, six picketers squeeze their thermoses and Dasani bottles onto the dirt
    below, trying to keep their water cool. They're walking five-hour shifts on this
    corner at Stephanie Street and American Pacific Drive in Henderson"”anti-Wal-Mart
    signs propped lazily on their shoulders, deep suntans on their faces and
    arms"”with two 15-minute breaks to run across the street and use the washroom at
    a gas station....

    They're not union members; they're temp workers employed through Allied
    Forces/Labor Express by the union"”United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
    They're making $6 an hour, with no benefits; it's 104 F, and they're protesting
    the working conditions inside the new Wal-Mart grocery store.

    "It don't make no sense, does it?" says James Greer, the line foreman and the
    only one who pulls down $8 an hour, as he ambles down the sidewalk, picket sign
    on shoulder, sweaty hat over sweaty gray hair, spitting sunflower seeds. "We're
    sacrificing for the people who work in there, and they don't even know it."

    The union accuses Wal-Mart of dragging down wages and working conditions for
    other grocery-store workers across the nation. "Whether you work or shop at
    Wal-Mart, the giant retailer's employment practices affect your wages. Wal-Mart
    leads the race to the bottom in wages and health-care," says the UFCW's website.
    "As the largest corporation in the world, Wal-Mart has a responsibility to the
    people who built it. Wal-Mart jobs offer low pay, inadequate and unaffordable
    healthcare, and off the clock work."

    But standing with a union-supplied sign on his shoulder that reads, Don't
    Shop WalMart: Below Area Standards, picketer and former Wal-Mart employee Sal
    Rivera says about the notorious working conditions of his former big-box
    employer: "I can't complain. It wasn't bad. They started paying me at $6.75, and
    after three months I was already getting $7, then I got Employee of the Month,
    and by the time I left (in less than one year), I was making $8.63 an hour."
    Rivera worked in maintenance and quit four years ago for personal reasons, he
    says. He would consider reapplying.

    LOL.  Frequent readers will know that I usually feel the need to restate the moral of the story to insure everyone gets it.  I don't think thats necesary here.  More on Walmart and wages here and here.

    FEC Suing Club for Growth

    In the first of what promises to be the first of a number of lawsuits against 527 groups under the horrendous McCain-Feingold act, the Federal Election Committee is suing the Club for Growth for its television adds in 2000 and 2002.  Essentially, the FEC is attempting to declare the Club for Growth to be under the control of and an arm of the Republican Party, and therefore subject to McCain-Feingold spending and donation limitations. 

    This is absurd.  First, current election law and McCain-Feingold are a brazen assault on the first amendment, and shouldn't apply to anyone.  Second, to the extent that they are allowed to be applied to the two major political parties, their reach should be limited as much as possible to allow private citizens full freedom of political speech.

    While the Club for Growth often supports Republicans over Democrats, browsing their web site makes it clear that they are by no means a shill for the Republican party.  They are strong supporters of reduced regulation and taxes, and have been just as hard on Republicans of late when Bush, Delay and Company have apparently abandoned these goals.  I have supported The Club for Growth for years and I am by no means a Republican.

    Several lefty blogs have gleefully piled on because they don't like the Club for Growth.  This is very very shortsighted.  My sense is that the case against CfG is no better or worse than the case they can have against MoveOn or Soros or whatever.  The CfG suit may well be a Trojan Horse first case to immunize the Bush Administration and the FEC against charges that they are going after the President's critics.  Once immunized, under this theory, lefty organizations will be next. 

    Bloggers represent one of the strongest and most vocal constituencies for freedom of speech -- we should be united in opposing this kind of action, whoever it is against.

    Update:  More from Reason's Hit and Run

    Government: Control over Results

    Following up on posts here, here, here, here, and here is yet another in a series on government preference for control over results, this time via Overlawyered.com:

    In the midst of administering chest compressions to a dying woman
    several days after Hurricane Katrina struck, Dr. Mark N. Perlmutter was ordered
    to stop by a federal official because he wasn't registered with the Federal
    Emergency Management Agency. "I begged him to let me continue," said Perlmutter,
    who left his home and practice as an orthopedic surgeon in Pennsylvania to come
    to Louisiana and volunteer to care for hurricane victims. "People were dying,
    and I was the only doctor on the tarmac (at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans
    International Airport) where scores of nonresponsive patients lay on stretchers.
    Two patients died in front of me.

    "I showed him (the U.S. Coast Guard official in charge) my medical
    credentials. I had tried to get through to FEMA for 12 hours the day before and
    finally gave up. I asked him to let me stay until I was replaced by another
    doctor, but he refused. He said he was afraid of being sued. I informed him
    about the Good Samaritan laws and asked him if he was willing to let people die
    so the government wouldn't be sued, but he would not back down. I had to
    leave."

    In a formal response to Perlmutter's story, FEMA said it does not accept the
    services of volunteer physicians:

    "We have a cadre of physicians of our own," FEMA spokesman Kim Pease
    said Thursday. "They are the National Disaster Medical Team. ... The voluntary
    doctor was not a credentialed FEMA physician and, thus, was subject to law
    enforcement rules in a disaster area."

    So for those of you who draw the conclusion from Katrina that we need more big government rather than less, that would help.... how?

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