Arranology

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The Myth of Christmas

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Reprinted from 12.24.06 – And it will continue to be printed until the O’Reilly-originated “War on Christmas” BS ends. There’s no antidote to lies except truth.

This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.

Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival

It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950′s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.

The truth is somewhat different.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

December 18, 2009 at 2:04 pm

Afghanistan: Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Pot

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David Horsey

No outside invader has ever “won” in Afghanistan. What makes Obama think we’re the exception to an ironclad historic rule?

Written by Mick

December 8, 2009 at 2:02 pm

For Teddy

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Paul Szep

paul szep

Written by Mick

August 31, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Posted in Democrats, History

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Defining Politics from Scratch

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aristotleIf Plato’s Republic is a third-grade civics primer of limited value in a democracy, Aristotle’s Politics is fundamental source material for PoliSci 101. About a third of it is dedicated to quietly dismantling most of The Republic with understated common sense, and it’s probably unnecessary for a modern audience to bother with (unless that audience has plowed through Plato’s simple-minded and unworkable ideas and feels it has earned the reward of seeing this philosophical “giant” get a well-deserved drubbing) but the other two thirds are Required Reading for anyone interested in how we got where we are. And maybe where we go from here.

Aristotle, a mathematician and scientist (mostly a biologist), supplants Plato’s childhood wishful thinking with a quasi-scientific examination of the types of governments he saw in the ancient world. Like a scientist, he first defines each of them according to their salient or dominant characteristics, then classifies them by which characteristics they share, and finally, after all that, (sort of) begins the process of comparing them as to which might be better for men to adopt.

Like a scientist, he does his best to be objective. Though in the course of reading this book it isn’t hard to figure out which sort of govt he favors, he bends over backward to keep from defaming those not his favorites, arguing over and over again from the beginning of the book that each of his govt types might be best for some people in some place at some time and that our job as citizens is to decide which form would suit us best. It’s a refreshing change from Plato’s one-size-fits-all autocracy.

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Written by Mick

July 30, 2009 at 6:40 pm

Against Naivete

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naivete_is_not_the_answer_bumper_sticker-p128095221857341748tmn6_210Also known as “innocence” or “prolonged ignorance”, it is often encased in infantilism.

Shortly after the First World War, John Dos Passos declared in his seminal novel 1919 “the death of  innocence in America”. It became a catchphrase, the summation of America’s sudden blasted knowledge of a world – Europe – from which it had always considered itself safely distant. The world had shrunk, Dos Passos was saying, and the USA had finally been drawn into it. We were part of a global reality whether we liked it or not. American men, after all, had died fighting a war that had started in Europe over European beligerences.

Needless to say, Dos Passos’ declaration of the death was premature and greatly exaggerated. It may have been clear to him and to the rest of that post-war generation of writers and political thinkers that the nation could no longer afford the luxury of the isolationism we had practiced with relief since the War of 1812, but as a people it turned out we had no intention of religuishing the useless but comforting ignorance that allowed us to escape responsibility for anything that happened on the world stage.

“Innocence”, either the loss of or the retaining of, became a major theme of the Roaring 20′s. Rather than embrace our new knowledge, we turned our backs on it and…played. From the self-involved if indistinct longing of Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby for easy pickings and no regrets to the open admiration of Capone and the Wild West he made of the Chicago streets as if the consequences could be shrugged off as easily as a viewing of a Hollywood gangster film, we clung to our native “innocence” as if it were armor plating against adulthood. We shrugged off responsibility, if anything, much more casually than our attachment to films and their stars. We shut our eyes and turned up our noses whenever “serious people” warned that Wall Street was having us on and the whole thing was going to come crashing down. When it finally did, we felt hurt, betrayed, as if a parental promise of an endless playtime had been reneged on without reason. We pouted.

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Written by Mick

July 19, 2009 at 3:37 pm

The Myth of Christmas

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Reprinted from 12.24.06

This would be the time, if ever there was one, to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, but before we can do that to any purpose we need to clear away some of the dead wood by exploding a couple of the myths that have built up around it since the holiday became popular in the late 19th century. Chief among these is the legend that Christmas is Christian, or even religious.

Myth #1: That Christmas used to be a religious holiday but has been turned into a consumer carnival

It may seem obvious that Christmas is a Christian holiday. The very name of the day suggests a celebration of Christ, and certainly many have bemoaned the fact that Xmas seems to have lost its religious meaning under a barrage of commercialism. Back in the 1950′s the satirist Stan Freberg released a classic record called “$Green Christmas$” which savagely criticized what Christmas had become even then; its chief sound effect was the ringing of a cash register. Behind all the criticism was then – and is now – a belief that Christmas had once meant something it no longer means, that what was originally the celebration of a religious figure has been twisted into a callous, materialist frenzy of buying stuff.

The truth is somewhat different.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mick

December 26, 2008 at 11:45 am

Theocrats Never Quit: Vouchers and HS 888

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Two recent posts at Talk to Action, the website that specializes in tracking the religious right, show quite clearly that despite our overwhelming rejection of mixing religion and education in the public arena, Xtian theocrats not only haven’t given up the effort to make the US a “Christian Nation” governed by Biblical rather than secular law, they’re surrounding their failed attempts with new arguments possibly scarier than the last bunch. Don Byrd opens yesterday’s post on Bush’s latest school voucher proposal by saying, “If there is one thing we should have learned from the Religious Right by now, it’s that they never give up.” Something we should remember always – you can’t take your eyes off them for a second.

Witness Bush’s latest excuse for proposing school vouchers yet again even though it’s been proved repeatedly that they don’t work. Under the typically Orwellian name, “Pell Grants for Kids”, misleading and inaccurate to say the least, Bush’s rationale verges on the creepy.

Non-public schools, including faith-based schools, have helped to educate generations of low-income students; however, they are disappearing at an alarming rate.

The buried assumption that it is the appropriate business of govt to rescue religious schools in financial trouble is directly contrary to our Constitutionally-mandated neutrality toward religion in a secular society. Byrd disposes of this argument in a few words.

Of all the stated reasons I’ve heard to offer school vouchers, propping up religious schools has got to be the worst. Religious institutions should make their own case for being, and should be supported by like-minded believers, not by taxpayer money. If they are “disappearing”, that is a concern to be addressed by the church, not by the government.

We certainly don’t want the mechanisms of the state to stand in the way of the church. But, we can’t be promoting them either.

(emphasis added)

Bush’s inability to either understand or accept that relatively simple concept is one of the hallmarks of his presidency and a key reason why it has failed. His “thinking” is so ideological, so limited, so shallow in nearly every respect that even patently improper ideas are never questioned. No matter how absurd they are or how much evidence exists that they’re wrong, ineffective, or even harmful to American society, he cannot see their flaws simply because he’s decided not to look for any. Anything he chooses to believe is true, and any evidence that it isn’t must have been faked or twisted. Like most ideologues, he always assumes that everyone else is also an ideologue. Like most corrupt Republicans, he assumes that everyone else must also be corrupt. Like most conservatives, he finds it easier to foster simple-minded beliefs than to do the work it would take to find the truth.

Which brings us to Chris Rodda’s post on HR 888.

HR 888 is a bill introduced by Cong Randy Forbes (R-VA) that would try to force the phony “history” of our Founders’ supposed Christianity into the school system.

This resolution, which purports to promote “education on America’s history of religious faith,” is packed with the same American history lies found on the Christian nationalist websites, and in the books of pseudo-historians like David Barton. It lists a total of seventy-five “Whereas’s,” leading up to four resolves, the third of which is particularly disturbing — that the U.S. House of Representatives “rejects, in the strongest possible terms, any effort to remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our Nation’s public buildings and educational resources,” a travesty of the highest magnitude, considering that most of the “history” this resolve aims to promote in our public buildings and schools IS NOT REAL!

(emphasis in the original)

In his latest post, Rodda catches us up on what Forbes has been saying to sell his bill and, true to form, he’s lying, this time about who he claims is against the bill.

The first is Mr. Forbes’s implication that the ACLU is somehow at the forefront of the fight against his resolution:

“You know it’s amazing to me — we get groups like the ACLU that are fighting so hard against this resolution, and yet you know some of the things that they have fought to allow people to do and say which so undermines the strength of this country, but yet they’re right out there fighting saying that we don’t even want these words discussed — we don’t even want ‘em put out there for the American people to talk about ‘em and see ‘em, and you know, it just isn’t a lot of intellectual honesty that goes around.”

The ACLU? As far as I know, the ACLU has had nothing to do with the fight against this resolution.

But the ACLU is a favorite – and therefore easy – target for the Right, so why not another lie? After all the others, one more will hardly be noticed.

Dan Barton’s influential – and very short – book, The Foundations of American Government, purports to prove that the Founders intended America to be a Christian Nation ruled by Biblical principles through a combination of seriously warped interpretations, out-of-context quotes, and just plain invented “history”. It has been debunked by both legitimate history scholars and experts in religious history so often that it’s astounding there’s anyone left who doesn’t know how bogus this “information” is. Yet that is the version of history that Forbes wants to foist on the country’s educational system. By force of law, if necessary.

And at no moment do any of these clowns, from Bush to Barton, have a moment’s hesitation when confronted by facts. They believe what they believe and facts are what they say they are, even when they make them up. Despite overwhelming evidence that Americans don’t want a theocratic govt, they’re going to shove it down our throats anyway, even if they have to do it under the radar when we’re not looking.

They’re fanatics, and fanatics NEVER QUIT. Neither can we.

Written by Mick

February 8, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Bush and WMDs

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Memories in America, trained by tv, are remarkably short even when they belong to otherwise intelligent reporters. Two recent articles – one by Sidney Blumenthal in Salon, the other by Fred Kaplan in Slate, both usually reliable – made it clear to me that we need to go back over some fundamental history of the Second Gulf War, key elements of which both seem to have forgotten or lost track of. We’ve covered this ground already but it was several years ago, so it bears repeating.

If you ask, “Why is it important to go through all this again? And why are these picayune details significant anyway?” The answer is, “Because we need to get it into our heads once and for all that conservatives are naive, gullible children, easily led over cliffs by anyone who feeds them what they want to hear.” The real story of the twisted intelligence that led to the SGW and idiotic decisions like de-Ba’athification isn’t just about arrogance, incompetence, and ignorance. It’s also – and crucially – about misplaced trust and a dangerously juvenile credulity that allows conservatives to believe demonstrably false ideas and foist them on the rest of us just because those ideas are appealingly melodramatic.

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OK’s Idea of a Good Time: Bury a Belvedere

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Oklahoma, a state which, it’s been claimed, once revered common sense and had both feet planted firmly on Mother Earth, seems in the last 25 years to have completely lost its collective mind. For example, it has foisted such outstanding examples of political and intellectual looneyism on an unsuspecting nation as Sens Jim “Global Warming Is a Liberal Scam!” Inhofe and Tom “There Are Lesbians in the Lavatories!” Coburn. Whatever common sense existed in OK has clearly fled, looking for less arid pastures.

But the CW may be wrong yet again, for it seems Oklahoma has always nursed a strain of loopyism comparable to that found in the lesser films of the Ritz Bros. Case in point:

In 1957, Oklahomans buried a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere wrapped in a sheet. Why? Ah, to celebrate their 50th anniversary as a state, of course.

If the connection between a 1957 Belvedere and Oklahoman statehood doesn’t immediately leap to mind, join the crowd. There isn’t one. If they’d buried a John Deere, that would at least have reference to their farming history. But no. They buried a car that was built in Michigan and named after an English butler in Connecticut. They thought it would be “fun”.

On Friday, in a paroxysm of long-suppressed glee and amidst a carnival of news photographers and media attention the likes of which we haven’t seen since Paris Hilton got into a car last week, they dug it up again. It’s the 100th anniversary of statehood, you see, and when they celebrate great moments in their history, that’s what Oklahomans apparently do. They bury things and then dig them up.

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Written by Mick

June 17, 2007 at 11:56 am

Bush in Albania 2: That “Hero’s Welcome?” He Wasn’t the Hero

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Like everybody else, I found it amusing – and sad – that the current president, persona-non-grata in 90% of the world’s countries and merely tolerated by the rest, had to flee to the home of an infamous dictator like Enver Hoxha to find a sympathetic audience. But then today, Peter Lucas – a political reporter who just finished a book about Albania – pointed out in a Globe Op-Ed that it wasn’t really Bush they were cheering. It was the US – and Bill Clinton.

Albania’s love affair with the United States did not begin overnight. It started when President Woodrow Wilson, after World War I, stood up to the victorious nations of Europe and insisted that Albania, made up of one of the oldest peoples of Europe, was a true nation and that its borders had to be preserved and protected.

Back then the so-called victorious Great Powers — Britain, France, and Italy — wanted to divide Albania up among its neighbors, as a sort of reward for fighting and defeating the German/Austrian coalition.

Serbia was slated for a piece here, Greece a chunk there, and Italy a section of the coast. But for Wilson standing up for Albania, the tiny, poor and defenseless country would have disappeared. So it is no small wonder than many an Albanian boy born after 1919 was named Wilson.

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Written by Mick

June 14, 2007 at 11:56 am

Hey, Ma! Who the Hell Are You?

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My mother – “Ma” to us kids – died 24 years ago. I was 35 at the time, old enough, you’d think, to have a pretty fair handle on who she was. Certainly I had a better understanding of her than if she had died when I was a teenager or in my early 20′s. I had a family of sorts – the love of my life was a woman with a daughter by a previous marriage and that daughter was 11, for a girl the most tempestuous and disdainful age of all – and I’d been beat around by life enough to appreciate, at least somewhat, the perspective of a woman who had been 11 in the depths of the Great Depression, fallen in love in the middle of the worst war in human history, and married on sheer hope almost as soon as her love’s boat docked in the first uncertain year after the war.

Actually, I hadn’t been beat by life so much as batted around like a cat toy. On one of my periodic visits home to rest and recoup, she asked what I had been up to and I told her – some of it, not all – and she said, with one of those uncharacteristic flashes of insight that unsettled us whenever they appeared, suddenly and without warning, like heat lightning, “You don’t have to live my life over again, you know. I already did.”

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Written by Mick

May 13, 2007 at 12:42 pm

Only in Massachusetts: Moby Dick and the 40 Years’ Poetry War

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I don’t usually write much about local news. Neither Dispatch nor Witness could be considered a Mass blog much less a Boston blog. My readers tend to range the globe, I suppose because I write about national news. But there are exceptions to every rule and this is one of them.

I live in west-central Mass, maybe an hour or so from Pittsfield in the Berkshires of western Mass. It’s unusual for anything we do out here in the boonies to attract the attention of easterners, so I perked right up when I saw this editorial in today’s Globe about my neck of the woods. And wouldn’t you know it? It concerned something that could likely only happen here.

We’re about to have a vicious fight over the naming of a State Book.

State birds we’re familiar with. State mottoes are often the bane of our existence. State animals have provoked legislative rumpuses of monumental proportions (making the mule the state animal of Missouri in the 90′s caused a rift in the Missouri lege that has yet to be healed). But a state book? Where else would they argue about something like that but the home of Harvard and Boston Univ and Boston College and Northeastern and Clark Univ and Smith and on and on and on? We have more colleges in this state than drive-in movies or topless car washes. If you count the state colleges – four of them within a half-hour of here, and I live in the sticks – we may have more institutions of higher learning than we have donut shops.

Which is why the proposal by Pittsfield State Rep Chris Speranzo to make Herman Melville’s Moby Dick the official Mass State Book is bound to ignite a firestorm of criticism and competing candidates. The Globe editors came up with a partial list that boggles the mind.

[L]et the debate begin. In Berkshire County itself, fans of Edith Wharton could make a case for any of the novels written while she lived in Lenox. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who temporarily lived in the Berkshires and socialized with Melville, will have advocates for “The Scarlet Letter” or “The House of the Seven Gables.” Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” will deserve a hearing as possibly the state’s most influential book. “The Poems of Emily Dickinson” has to be in the mix. The Pittsfield students admit that none had read “Moby-Dick” but some might have read Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” Bostonians will put in a vote for Edwin O’Connor’s “The Last Hurrah” or George Higgins’s “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”

A state as steeped in politics and history as this should also consider Henry Adams’s “The Education of Henry Adams,” John Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage,” and the histories of Samuel Eliot Morison, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and David McCullough. Roger Tory Peterson published his beloved “A Field Guide to the Birds” while a teacher in Brookline.

Granted this has just surfaced and no one is actually contesting Speranzo’s choice. Yet. But, as the Globe points out, in a state like this, a “donnybrook” is almost inevitable as soon as he makes the request on the House floor. It may already be in train after the publication of this editorial.

We take literature far more seriously than other states (with the possible exception of Minnesota, birthplace of F Scott Fitzgerald, which can’t seem to get over the fact that it once, a hundred years ago, sired a writer where cows ruled the Earth and the only thing St Paul was known for was its being too far up the Mississippi to be of interest to riverboat gamblers). Mass is a place where political contests (except in Southie, of course) usually generate less interest than your average tractor pull. Literature – especially locally grown literature – and where to get the best thin-crust pizza are the only two topics capable of starting a riot here (I understand that in NY, the Yankees/Mets dichotomy performs the same function).

If you believe I exaggerate, I call your attention to an event little known outside Mass but famous here as The 40 Years’ Poetry War of 1883-1924.

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Written by Mick

May 6, 2007 at 1:54 pm

Kent State Shootings Were Ordered

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The Associated Press reports today that one of the people injured when the National Guard shot and killed 4 students at Kent State University in 1970 has obtained proof that the Guard was ordered by an officer to fire into the crowd.

A man who was shot in the wrist when National Guard troops killed four Kent State University students during an anti-war demonstration says he has found an audiotape that reveals someone gave a command to fire.

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Written by Mick

May 1, 2007 at 1:17 pm

Posted in History

Why the News Media Sucks 4: Shoot the Messenger (2)

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At the Chicago Tribune blog, The Swamp (what is it with this name? TIME Mag’s blog is called Swampland, fairly revealing, not to mention unflattering, names for blogs staffed by professional journalists), Frank James writes of Bill Moyers “Buying the War” documentary:

Bill Moyers’s PBS program “Buying the War” which was broadcast this week was the latest in a line of examinations of the mainstream media’s complicity in spreading what amounted to Bush Administration propaganda.

Its thesis was that too many journalists at big news outlets uncritically bought the White House spin, communicating it to the American people who accepted it as truth.

It’s indisputably true, especially with hindsight’s clarity, that many journalists too readily accepted the White House’s version of the potential Iraqi threat, that there wasn’t enough skepticism. Journalists certainly should take responsibility for this, learn from it and vow not to repeat the same mistakes.

The problem with Moyers’s take and so many other criticisms of the media’s role in the run-up to war is that they excuse a major player in what happened–the American people.

After pointing to a few of the major media stories that expressed doubts and still made it to the front page – and he admits there weren’t that many – he concludes:

The stories that aired such skepticism about the administration’s case, however, were running against a very strong tide — the public’s desire to retaliate for 9/11 however. And as we all know, revenge often trumps reason.

Then, in a country where more people probably know who Sanjaya is than the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and who are untroubled by that fact, it isn’t surprising that more of an effort wasn’t made by many Americans to explore more deeply the arguments for and against going to war.

So, yes, while we in the media did make the mistakes Moyers pointed to, the fault also lies not just with our media stars but in ourselves as American citizens.

His point isn’t terribly clear (he doesn’t write all that well, actually) but I take him to mean that the papers didn’t do a better job of covering the deceptions that led us into war because a majority of us, bent on “revenge”, didn’t want to hear about it. In response, commenter perlewhite wrote:

Yes, Frank, most of the American public are compliant sheep, content to be led by the nose by those we believe have our best interests at heart – out elected officials and the news media we assume will do it’s job as a watchdog. Yes, we also dropped the ball on this one, according to your view. But tell me, Frank, short of storming the White House ala the French Revolution, just how was the American public supposed to stop this lie-based juggernaut???

What I think James is trying to say is that being an American means being a citizen and it’s a citizen’s duty to demand truth instead of pillow-talk. If we refuse, then we have to shoulder a share of the blame for whatever follows our dereliction of that duty. I’ve said the same thing many times.

But perlewhite has put his/her finger directly on the key question arising from James’ post: even assuming we, as citizens, had done the work, seen through the Bush Administration’s avalanche of lies and propaganda, resisted the drumbeat of justifications and cult-like sycophancy exuding like pus from 95% of the nation’s press, and reached the conclusion that the invasion was a mistake and shouldn’t happen, what could we then have done to stop it?

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Written by Mick

April 29, 2007 at 10:01 pm

David Halberstam Dies in Car Crash (Updated)

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David Halberstam died in a car accident yesterday. He was 73.

Given our current discussion on how the news media got that way, it’s particularly fitting that we honor Halberstam here. After all, he wrote two seminal books bearing closely on the subjects at hand – Viet Nam and the nation’s press establishment.

I used to have a first edition hardcover of Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, and by the time circumstances forced me to sell most of my books, it was in pretty rocky shape. I took good care of my books, but when you read something 20 times and lug it around with you everywhere and lend it to anyone who shows the slightest interest and then have to hound them to get it back because they either don’t want to give it up or have passed it along to someone else, things happen.

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Written by Mick

April 24, 2007 at 11:54 am

Posted in History, Media, Obits

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