Sean LaFreniere

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Sean's Political Dictionary
So that YOU know what SEAN is talking about when he opens his big mouth:



Date: 1831. From Latin conservare, for "to keep", "guard", or "observe". A Conservative relies upon family traditions and figures of authority to establish and maintain values. 

A Conservative puts group security above personal freedoms. 

A Conservative believes that successful use and maintenance of power proves God's favor for the government. 

A Conservative believes that social values, religious rules, and forms of governments may only be altered gradually. 

Stability and continuity are the goals of government.



Date: 1820. From Latin liberalis for "free". A Liberal uses reason and logic to set personal, social, and religious values. 

A Liberal places personal freedom above group security. 

A Liberal believes that governments rule by the consent of the governed. 

A liberal believes that governments may be changed or removed at the will of the people.  

A Liberal supports rapid change in the pursuit of progress and reform.

Freedom and Justice are the goals of government.


Note: a nation, and an individual, may move back and forth between these positions often. They rarely sum up a personality completely. And they should never be permanent blinders for anyone to view the world.

When a people succeed in a Liberal revolution, for instance, they often find themselves in the Conservative position protecting these gains. Similarly a person might have a Liberal view on public financial assistance and then move into a conservative position once these demands are met.

One might say that Affirmative Action is a prime example. At one point instituting Affirmative Action was a Liberal position, it was needed to reverse decades of discrimination following the end of Slavery. However, today the Liberal position might well be the ending of Affirmative Action, as it has largely completed its task and now stands as a stumbling block to truly moving the nation beyond race as a discriminatory trait. Meanwhile, the position of defending AA is now actually a Conservative stance (whether its so-called "liberal" defenders realize it or not).

Another way to think about this is that these terms describe a way of thinking about issues, not the positions on those issues. That is a Conservative might support a war because politicians they respect urge it, because the enemy scares them, and ultimately because it just "feels right". A Liberal might also come to support the war in spite of the position of authority figures and celebrities, not because it feels right, but because hours of research and consideration support the cause.

Neither is a "better way" of coming to a position, necessarily. Sometimes too much thinking interferes with a solid moral judgment, such as on the Abortion issue. And then other times only rational examination can skip over the emotional baggage and come to the most reasonable decision, as we see in the Abortion issue.

I realize this might be difficult for some people to accept after a long time of hearing party dogma on the issue. Personally I find value in BOTH positions. On some issues I am myself rather Conservative and on others I am quite Liberal. The same with the terms Radical and Reactionary, noted below. I found that stepping beyond these labels opened up my thoughts and cleared my head of a lot of bs.



Date: 1840. From Latin reagere for "to act". A Reactionary uses government pressure as a means of containing and responding to changes in society.



Date: 14th century. From Latin radicalis from radix for "root". A Radical supports social movements and political pressure groups as a means of affecting change in government.


The Right:

Date: early modern. The term comes from  English Parliamentary Rules; which place the party in power on the right of the Speaker. As the Conservatives held sway for a long time, the term Right came to be associated with the "Establishment" and thus with Conservative politics.


The Left:

Date: early modern. The party in Opposition sits on the Speaker's left. The Left came to be associated with labor movements, the lower classes, and socialist politics. It has also come to be associated with Liberalism. This was useful for Conservative politicians, and Socialists as well, during the 60's. But I find this to be a big intellectual and political mistake.


Capitol Goods:

Date: circa 1639. From the French from Latin capitalis for "top", used in French for "principal" or "chief". (1) : a stock of accumulated goods; especially at a specified time and in contrast to income received during a specified period (2) : accumulated goods devoted to the production of other goods (3) : accumulated possessions calculated to bring in income



Date: 1877. An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market



Date: 1837. From Latin socialis for "friend" or "companion" or "associate". Any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods; usually there is no private property; in Marxist theory this is also considered just a transitional stage between capitalism and communism and it is distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.



Date: 1840. From French communisme, from Latin communis for "common". A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxian socialism and Marxism-Leninism in which goods are owned in common and are available to all as needed. It is the final stage of society in Marxist theory in which the state has withered away and economic goods are distributed equitably. In its only examples of practical application, in the USSR, China, and Cuba it became a totalitarian system where a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production and the people are enslaved in production geared to support the power of this party.


Note: in Marxist theory these three systems represent a sliding scale, with Capitalism on the Right, Socialism in the middle, and Communism on the Left. A nation was supposed to move from one to the other over time. However, in practice few systems in the world have ever been purely one or the other. Most national economic models employ some of all three.

While the US and Europe are considered the paragons of Capitalism, they both retain many Socialist elements. Both the US and Europe offer state sanctioned monopolies of public utilities. The American Postal Service is a state owned enterprise, as are the European aerospace entities. Europe offers state run healthcare, as do many American states, and both regulate the health industry heavily.

Through out history Europe and the US have also held some Communist elements. The common grazing lands of town centers and the great unfenced Western plains were both representative of these traditions. One might say that Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Dole are also holdovers from our more communal days.

On the other hand, while China has long been a paragon of Socialism / Communism, it still has many elements of free enterprise. They allow small farmers and craftsmen to sell excess production on the open market, they have private telecoms and industrial companies, and now they have a stock market, the ultimate symbol and apparatus of Capitalism.

When one system or the other fails to serve a nation, many proponents argue that actually the system simply was not implemented purely enough. However, attempts to purify these systems require a heavy hand in government, education, and economic practice. And this has led to oppressive regimes and brutalized citizens.



Date: 1576. From Greek dEmokrati, from demos "people" + kracy "rule". A government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections; usually accompanied by the absence of hereditary or arbitrary class distinctions or privileges.



Date: 1604. From Latin respublica; from res "thing" + publica "of the people". A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who is elected by popular vote.


Note: that the root of the word Democracy is Greek, while the root of the word Republic is Latin. These terms are NOT antithetical, they do not even derive from the same language.

In common use they both have come to describe types of Liberal governments, specifically the one is a type of the other. It is possible for a nation to be a Democracy, but NOT also a Republic. However, a nation that is a Republic is ALWAYS also a Democracy. A Republic is a TYPE of Democracy.

The UK is a Democracy, but not a Republic, because of the Queen. Ireland became a Republic only after it dropped from the Commonwealth and replaced the Queen with an elected President



Date: 1921 From Latin fascis for "bundle" or group. Last, but not least, is this term, which actually combines the economic system and the political system entirely. In this system the state and large corporations merge, the rights of the individual are subordinated to the glory of the State, and all dissent is suppressed. It often utilizes a racial or religious cause to motivate the people into giving up their rights in the first place. These states usually rise out of an economic collapse or hardship with high inflation and unemployment.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Controversial Niall

My father was quite pleased to see Spangler's big book "The Decline of the West" mentioned in a recent article in Vanity Fair. However, the author's perspective on history is more of my generation than my fathers and might confuse or even upset many readers... which is why I like him.

Niall Ferguson is a Harvard history professor who specializes in economics. Nial was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1964. His grandfather, a journalist and author, spent WWII in India and Burma. His father was a doctor and moved the family to Kenya in the 60's to minister to the locals.

In the 70's Niall stayed with an uncle in Alberta, Canada and then went to England and Oxford University. From the beginning Niall's liberal education was at odds with his childhood experience of a "magical time" in the British Empire.

He has spent his early academic years wondering about "what if" scenarios in which the Empire never faded. In recent books he has transferred the title to America and argues for greater international involvement rather than continued isolation.

In his article in Vanity Fair this month he seems to have turned his own paradigm on its head and worries if Spangler was right to predict the decline of the West.

His main fear is similar to Mark Steyn, as repeated by Wretchard at the Belmont Club this month, that the West has lost its vigor. By comparison to the time of the British Empire the West is not in as strong a leadership position today. The West is literally declining, in demographic terms, as well as aging.

I usually balk at Millenarianism. I read Arthur Herman's "The Idea of Decline in Western History" and found his criticism of this idea to be enlightening. Herman notes there has been a long tradition of worrying about the destruction of one's own culture going back probably to the birth of the nation-state. In many ways it is an inherently racist fear and lead directly from French republicanism to German Nazism. So, I am always skeptical when people predict the end of days (for the West or for anyone else).

The truth is a lot more complicated. The United States is not Rome. Western Civilization is not limited to England or the US, or even Europe. Much Westernism found a permanent home in places like India and Brazil. These are two of the largest countries in the world, growing rapidly, and now looking for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Japan has certainly come to appreciate many Western qualities and is tightly entwined with America as both a market and a labor force in automobiles, entertainment, and advertising.

If America is a Colossus, as Niall has most recently designated us, it is certainly not an Empire, as Niall once hoped we would be. As he notes in his VF article our constitution stands in the way of a true empire, as does our own public opinion and sentiment on the concept.

We have mediocre personalities as Presidents who could never cut it as a dictator. We vote with our feet after regular installments of sensationalist media footage from around the world. We are provincial and selfish, we will never invest much money or personnel in the fate of other nations.

We are also not racially homogenous as the British Empire or the Second Reich were. We do not have a sense of racial superiority or a divine mission. And we do not need an empire to sustain our economic model as England and Japan needed theirs.

This is hardly the stuff of a globe trotting super power. And yet, we are not declining as Europe is today. Our population continues to boom (we are the number one destination for immigration and asylum seekers despite the reports of poor global public opinion polls). Our cultural exports continue to impact the local scene in India and China. Hong Kong martial artists, Ballywood actors, and Latin musicians are not considered truly successful until their first big American hit.

What do you think of the model and the worry? Is America an empire and should it be? Is the West doomed to decline or do individual nations experience varying periods of success and failure even as overlapping religions and fads rise and fade around the globe? Niall seems to be pondering these questions with an omnivorous interest and I look forward to his latest book.

Sean: Tuesday, September 26, 2006 [+] |
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Terror And The Inquisition

I was concerned when Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI. Ratzinger was formerly the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the formal name for the Holy Inquisition.

This body was made infamous as the violent arm of the Catholic Church and the Spanish crown as it hunted down Jews, Protestants, and Muslims during the 15th century.

As would be expected, Cardinal Ratzinger was famous for taking a hard line on issues of faith and this seemed like trouble in today's tense international climate.

Well, I was right about the trouble. However, I might have been wrong about the Pope.

The Pope was invited to discuss the relation of reason and faith with scholars at the University of Regensburg in Germany (the pope was born in Germany).

As part of this discussion he related a quote from the 14th century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus as told by Professor Theodore Khoury.

The Emperor argued that God is reasonable and reason dictates that violence in His name is unacceptable. And in his conversation with a Persian scholar he complained that Islam was being spread by the sword.

In his retelling of this scene the Pope notes that the Emperor was "brusque" in his language and that the quote is "itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself" but that it was interesting for touching on both reason and faith.

Surely the Pope, or his advisers, should have phrased things differently, chosen a different quote, our couched it better. However, the Pope repeated twice that this quote was not his own and criticized its style and content.

The real issue is the conflict between Christianity and Islam, the West and the East. In this conflict the West has engaged in an internal discussion of the values and qualities of Eastern faith and in an attempt to reach some kind of accord.

Both Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have repeatedly reached out to their Eastern counterparts in both Orthodox and Muslim communities, calling them brothers. They have apologized for the Crusades, the Inquisition, and for the persecution of scientists such as Galileo.

However, some people do not want peace and they do not see the Western effort as a strength, but as a weakness. They use the Western traditions of free speech and tolerance against each other to end the dialogue and stop the process of reconciliation.

The Inquisition was itself an attempt by the Catholic Church to crush free thought and free expression through terror. However, it was doomed to failure and half a millennia later it is mocked by British comedians and reviled by its own (hence the improved name).

If Danish journalists (cartoonists and editorialists) cannot discuss the state of Danish journalism in Denmark and a German pontiff cannot discuss religion with German scholars in a German university then the terrorists will have won.

UPDATE: A great internal dissent against the Eastern response can be found at Winds of Change yesterday.

Sean: Wednesday, September 20, 2006 [+] |
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Global Warming Debunked?

A good friend of mine points out that there are still people arguing about global warming. However, I find that most scientists agree that global climate is warming and humans contribute to this change. Regardless, we should be concerned about our environmental impact even with out consensus about the consequences.

In 1999 NCPA, an Exxon backed Dallas think tank, released an article by political economist H. Sterling Burnett attempting to refute the original 1988 global warming fears of NASA's Dr. James E. Hansen.

Burnett sites a series of articles in the journal Science in 1998. He notes that scientific opinion of the extent and cause of climate change vary widely. He even suggests that the regrown forests in the eastern US will absorb more C02 than we produce.

However, two years late Science published an article by Colorado researchers showing that carbon uptake by US forests is far less than our production, that C02 uptake lessens with warmer temps, and warning that the regrown forests might be cut again.

In 2003 Capitalism Magazine ran an article in which James M. Taylor, of Exxon backed Heartland Institute, sites Science in 2001 claiming that the polar ice caps were actually growing, rather than shrinking.

The BBC's Paul Rincon, author of dozens of articles on science news for major publications, explains that while interior ice may be growing due to warmer and wetter weather, it is not growing nearly as much as the edges are melting.

In his article Mr. Rincon notes that a US research team writing in the Journal of Glaciology about satellite data from 1992-2002 shows a net loss of ice to the Greenland and Antarctic ice fields.

Another scientist, from NASA, used radar altimeter data from two EU satellites and NASA's airborne topographic mapping plane to confirm the conclusion that Antarctic ice is in decline.

In 2003 NASA released satellite images from 1979 to 2003 showing sea ice shrinking by 9% per decade and that in 2002 summer sea ice was at record low levels.

In 2001 David Tenenbaum from the Why Files quotes Ohio State geologist Lonnie Thompson who finds that tropical glaciers have lost nearly a third of their ice in the last decade.

Thompson examined tropical glaciers and found plants frozen for more than 5,000 years now being exposed. “This means that the climate at the ice cap hasn’t been warmer than it is today in the last 5,000 years or more,” Thompson said. “If it had been, then the plants would have decayed.”

Mt. Kilimanjaro has lost 82% of its ice cap over the last 88 years, in another 20 years ALL the ice will be gone. The last of the ice in North America's Glacier National Park should be gone by then as well. Even the Himylayas are melting.

The loss of these glaciers will release massive amounts of trapped methane gas and removes a major reflective surface from the globe (bioth would further increase global warming).

Changing salinity levels in the north Atlantic and North Sea may shift the Jet Stream, removing the warm current that keeps Northern Europe inhabitable, even with global warming these areas may revert to frozen wastes.

Global warming will bring other areas more droughts, expanded desertification and increased sand storms. Roads and infrastructure are a risk, along with coastal flooding of urban areas. More than 70% of the world lives in areas at risk.

Why would any good scientists try to spin the facts on global warming? Money.

In 2003 Jeff Nesmith of COX News Service wrote for the Seattle Post Intelligencer regarding the recent "controversy" sparked by a study claiming that global warming was higher in the medieval warm period from 900-1300 ad.

Nesmith quotes a former Republican congressional staffer and current president of the Climate Institute, who notes that "this study illustrates the strategy adopted by energy companies in the late 80's to attack the credibility of climate science...

By relying on the news media's inclination to include both sides of a story, [and the scientific process that itself encourages debate] the industries were able to create the impression that scientists were deeply divided over climate change".

Nesmith traces the ties of the scientists and journalists who have contributed to the contrary side of the global warming debate.

He found that while some researchers are affiliated with organizations like the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, many of the same scientists are also supported by the likes of the George T. Marshall Institute, the American Petroleum Institute, and the Exxon Mobil Foundation.

While major news organizations have largely avoiding running these biased and junk science papers they have been unwittingly distributed by quasi-science outlets such as the Discovery Channel or openly fronted by conservative think tanks and congressmen.

Nesmith quotes Ross Gelbspan, a former Boston Globe editor, who notes that the conclusion that greenhouse gases are causing the planet to heat up are the result of the "most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history. [While] the contradictory statements of a tiny handful of discredited scientists, funded by big coal and big oil, represent a deliberate -- and extremely reckless -- campaign of deception and disinformation."

Big Oil's bestfriend H. Sterling Burnett suggests that since the scientists cannot agree on a single truth public policy should ignore them entirely.

The constant rise and testing of new ideas is how science works, it does not suggest a lack of confidence in current theories.

Other sources of global warming exist, but we know that humans are the largest single environmental factor today.

Failing to act until all the world comes to a single conclusion is like refusing to get out of the way of a train until all bystanders can agree on a speed estimate.

Sean: Thursday, September 14, 2006 [+] |
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Inside The Mind Of Al Queda

Lawrence Wright and Wretchard give us a peak into the mind of the world's most famous terror group.

They think that Al Queda's plan is to drive countries like Egypt and Iraq into anarchy, chaos, and barbarism. The people would then willingly turn to a tough Islamic regime to restore order.

This theory dovetails with the dark forebodings of Big Pharaoh and Michael Totten. They worried that these countries would need to pass through a period of Islamic rule in order to learn to hate it.

Read more at Belmont Club.

Sean: Wednesday, September 13, 2006 [+] |
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
The Myth Of The Shale

Every few months links appear on Fark and other news list-serves to articles touting the vast oil sands of Colorado as a solution to US dependence on foreign oil. Will the oil sands, shale oil, or organic marblerock -as it is alternately called- save our SUV driving hides?

Shale oil is actually an organic material called kerogen trapped in sedimentary rocks. Burnable carbon can be yielded from these rocks after it is de-bonded from the rock, usually after being super heated (to 500-700 degrees) and enriched with hydrogen.

The normal process of extraction is surface mining, either "open-pit" or "strip mining", which is extremely environmentally damaging as it involves removing many millions of cubic tons of earth and vegetation and depositing large dumps of refuse material contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins (the super heated soil expands by roughly 30%, so you need a larger area to dispose of the slag than it came from). Large quantities of water are also required for the creation and transport of the fuel.

Royal Dutch Shell has an experimental process code named "Mahogany Research Project" in which the ground is first super frozen using ammonia, to limit environmental damage, and then super heated with an electric element. The soil is baked for roughly four years, then water is pumped into the well, and fuel is pumped out.

Shell claims to get a return of about 3:1 with this method (as compared to less than 2:1 for most methods, conventional oil returns about 5:1). In most models at least 40% of the potential energy is spent in the recovery, modification, and transport of the fuel -sometimes much more.

The drawback of relying on shale is that the price per barrel of oil must be above $70 permanently in order to justify extraction. However, once production commences the addition of shale to the market immediately lowers the price.

Significant investment was lost in the 80's when the price dipped at the end of the first Middle East Oil Crisis and current investors are still skittish (an Exxon joint venture in Australia collapsed in 2003 and cost them nearly half a billion dollars).

The Shell plan proposes to bake a 1,000 ft deep, 6 mile by 6 mile, chunk of Colorado and would consume nearly all of Colorado's available ground water. It would also require "the largest power plant in Colorado history." The plant would cost about $3 billion, it would consume 5 million tons of coal each year, and produce 10 million tons of greenhouse gases, with an annual electric bill of about $500 million.

Shell hopes to produce about 10,000 barrels a day from shale after four years of production. According to The Energy Bulletin that is about 1% of current US consumption and China and India hope to consume even more than the US over the next decade (World consumption may be around 26 billion barrels of oil a year). And in the last 150 years humans have used 1 trillion barrels of conventional oil and will use another trillion in the next 30 years. So how much will shale oil help?

From The Energy Bulletin:
Producing 100,000 barrels per day of shale oil [is possible]. But the nation currently consumes that much oil every seven minutes. Improving the efficiency of our automobiles by 2 miles per gallon would save 10 times as much fuel... a more efficient fleet could save 20 times as much petroleum as oil shale is likely to ever provide. -Randy Udall, director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency, and Steve Andrews, a Denver-based energy expert.

Alternative energy that comes from renewable sources is much more promising than just putting off peak oil another few years or even decades. However, they are extremely capital intensive and unreliable. They also usually turn out to have unforeseen environmental consequences (many states are now removing river dams in order to save fish runs and respond to sedimentation problems).

And in they end all such power schemes produce usable power, in the form of electricity, but not storable power such as petroleum and coal. This wont help a Boeing 777 or a Caterpillar bulldozer on a job site.

Our only answer is the disappointing realization that the world cannot continue to consume as it does now, let alone when the Chinese "catch-up". We must all do with less of the major lifestyle-enabling technologies.

We can probably keep our I-pods and laptops, probably. But we will not be able to farm where there is no water, or live in either the desert or the sub-arctic, and we wont be able to drive our current SUV's to work.

Sean: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 [+] |
Monday, September 11, 2006
Remembering 9/11: the Arab Version

This year I did nothing special on the anniversary of the terror attacks in NY and Washington. I have no new comments about it, just these old thoughts...

It sucked. Terrorists are jerks. What they did was wrong. It did not make me scared or want the US to pull out of the Middle East.

It made me angry - this should always be the response to terrorism.

And I am not alone. Arabs respond the same way.

Our 9/11 was mirrored on their 11/9 (in Arabic the numbers would be reversed, so Nov 9th is actually written as 9/11).

On Nov 9, 2005 four Iraqis blew up three hotels in Jordan. They didn't get any Americans (not really). But they did kill a lot of Arabs from around the world.

Why did they do it? Because Jordan gave tacit support to the US invasion of Iraq and because these hotels were often frequented by Westerners.

But who cares? Most of the workers and most of the guests in these hotels were Arabs and Muslims who probably did not favor the West. This is who died.

No one wants to fear death in the streets, at weddings, or anywhere else. If you do something like this, expect anger as the response, not fear.

In fact, as the Washington Post reported at the time... the people of Jordan did respond with anger.

A video arcade erupted in a street brawl between Iraqi refugee/guest workers and Jordanian locals (who were probably themselves Palestinian refugees or their descendants).

The families of the Iraqi Al Queda leader took out full page ads denouncing him "until Doomsday". Muslim people everywhere recoiled in horror.

Terrorists are stupid as well as evil. We will all remember 9/11 or 11/9 with contempt. That's why I didn't do a darned thing different today.

Sean: Monday, September 11, 2006 [+] |
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Mt. Rainier

I wrapped up summer term this last week and jumped directly into the old convertible with Michael Totten and blasted up into the mountains to unwind. Patrick Laswell brought along his dog Bruce in his big green Jeep.

Rivers and state borders have a great deal of psychological power. In Portland many people never think to cross the Willamette for dinner and many hikers think of Mount St. Helens and Mt. Rainier as being Washington's mountains. But Mt. Rainier is only 154 miles from Portland, OR (as compared to 104 from Seattle).

Mount Elbert (14440), Mt. Massive (14,421), and Mt. Harvard (14,420) in Colorado; Mount Whitney (14505) in California; and Mt. McKinley (20,320) in Alaska are taller.

But Mt. Rainier (14,411) has the greatest geographic prominence, the difference between the start of the rise in elevation and the peak, (13,211), in the lower 48 states (as compared to the Colorado peaks 9,000 and Mt. McKinley at 20,137).

We drove to Paradise Inn on the south side and hiked a ways up onto one of the shoulders of the peak. Below are some snap shots photoshoped to give you a good idea of the area. Enjoy.

First sighting of the peak.

Mazama ridge.

Pat and Bruce.

Bruce corners us a deer.

Mike on the trail.

A redtailed hawk spots us.

Here is a webshot of Paradise Inn. The architecture firm Flecther Farr Ayotte is doing a big rennovation and adding a visitor's center. This puts the building and parking lot off limits to visitors today, but someday it will be great. Right?

Sean: Sunday, September 10, 2006 [+] |
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Thrust Vectoring

No, not a politician in the Whitehouse, a Mig-29 doing the most amazing things to defy all laws of aerodynamics. Wow. (thanks fark).

Sean: Tuesday, September 05, 2006 [+] |

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