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Slavishly:

Republican Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele, who's black, is taking umbrage at Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer's comment that Steele has had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party." The comment is "racist," Steele says.

This isn't quite L.A. County's demand that the terms "master" and "slave," used to refer to computer equipment, be expurgated from County-owned computers. It's at least possible that Hoyer was trying to make the "oreo" charge (which had been made by a staffer for Steele's opponent); such a charge is indeed racist, because it holds black candidates to a "loyalty to his race" standard that white candidates are not held to (and that nobody should be held to).

But that's all it is -- possible. Before you make an accusation of racism, it seems to me, you should have more evidence than just that someone had used the word "slavishly" (or "niggardly" or whatever else), coupled with the possibility that maybe he had bad intentions. That's true if you're someone on the Left who's trying to cast what is facially a perfectly legitimate, nonracist substantive argument as having racist motivations or being filled with supposed "racist code words." And it's true if you're someone on the Right who's trying to do the same.

Derrick (mail):
I hope that a party that's favorite talking point about African-American support for the Democrat party is that they are on the "plantation" aren't too offended. Mainstream white Republicans use the phrase all of the time, so maybe he should be a little more willing to confront these slavery references in his own party.
10.18.2006 3:29pm
FantasiaWHT:
My first two thoughts when looking at that sentence were

#1) Did he mean "lavishly"

and

#2) Were the Slavic people upset by this comment?
10.18.2006 3:31pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
I don't see any problem with using the word "slavishly" in this context, but in the end, I suppose, you reap what you sow.
10.18.2006 3:33pm
chrismn (mail):
What if Hoyer had said "Michael Steele acts as if he's a slave, and his master is the Republican party." Here, it would be clearer that by slave he meant, literally, slave - the kind Steele's ancestors were. And such a statement would be racist since no one would say such a thing about a white candidate.

So the question is how much is the statement that Steele had "a career of slavishly supporting the Republican Party" like my made up quote above? It all comes down to whether the word slavishly was used with forethought. I would say at first blush that it probably was used with forethought. Slavishly is not that common a word. It would be more common to hear that Steele had a career of "toeing the Republican Party line" or some such. A google search of "slavishly supporting" does bring up a good number of hits not related to race, but this really does have a "you're acting like a slave" ring to it.
10.18.2006 3:37pm
John (mail):
EV is of course right that there should be some standards here, and that they should apply equally to all speakers. The trouble is that theyt don't. God forbid if a Republican candidate referred to a black opponent as "slavish."
10.18.2006 3:46pm
Steve:
This seems to me like the kind of episode you make a big deal out of when you're trailing in the polls, kind of like the made-up Oreo throwing incident. Pretty sad.

What's less sad is the hilarious notion that Democrats have some kind of oft-repeated talking point about Congress being a "plantation" - when I can recall exactly one instance of that reference being made, by Hillary Clinton to an African-American audience which was so offended that they cheered wildly. Of course, no Republican would ever use such an offensive analogy.

Again, while I certainly agree with Prof. Volokh's take, the fact is that this is simply the kind of game-playing one routinely sees in the closing weeks of an election, and thus commenting on the propriety vel non of the statement is virtually irrelevant. Of course Steele supporters are going to be outraged or at least pretend to be, and Cardin supporters are going to act like it's no big deal.
10.18.2006 3:46pm
A.S.:
you should have more evidence than just that someone had used the word "slavishly" (or "niggardly" or whatever else)

This comparison seems to me to be completely inapt.

The word "niggardly" has nothing at all to do with race or any racial epithet. The word "slavishly", however, refers directly to to the racially-charged term "slave".

The better comparison is, as EV posted above, to the complaint over the use of the term "slave" when referring to computer equipment. However, even with such comparison, there is a crucial difference: in the case of Cardin, he was referring to a black person as acting in the same manner as a slave; that is quite difference than referring to a piece of computer equipment as acting in such manner.

Accordingly, I think that EV misses the mark, somewhat, with this post. The term "slavishly" both refers directly to the racially-charged term "slave" (in a way that the term "niggardly" does not) and refers to a black person (which the slave-as-computer-equipment does not). Crucial, crucial differences.
10.18.2006 3:56pm
steveh2:
The same thing happened here in Salt Lake City in early September. President Bush came to town, and SLC Mayor Rocky Anderson (a Democrat) led a protest rally against Bush and the general incompetence, dishonesty, and criminality. Well, of course people in this uber-Republican domain were upset that Rocky would be such a bad host, etc. Among others, James Evans, the head of the county Republican party, who is black, was all over the media complaining about Rocky and his protests.

During his speech at the protest, Anderson accused Bush followers of "slavish, blind obedience and deference" to the administration. Evans asked the City Council to censure Anderson for his obviously racist speech.

I have no idea if the link still works, but the story was reported here: http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,645199479,00.html.
10.18.2006 3:59pm
A.S.:
Also, agree with the above comments that this is just another instance of Democrats' racism which is not covered by the media. Hardly surprising that the media would cover up Cardin's racism and exploit Allen's racism; if this were a Republican, it would be front page in the WaPo for weeks. But it needs to be said.
10.18.2006 4:00pm
frankcross (mail):
But what if he had called him a global warming denier?
10.18.2006 4:09pm
A.S.:
Speaking of Democrats' racism, I wonder whether EV would defend Jim Webb's (the Democrat running against George Allen for VA Senator) use of the word "towel-head".
10.18.2006 4:15pm
Arbusto Spectrum (mail):
A.S.

Hardly surprising that the media would cover up Cardin's racism

Perhaps you could enlighten us as to the evidence of Cardin's racism, as the comment that started this thread was made by a third party.
10.18.2006 4:17pm
JRL:
It is a difficult chore to maintain the high road.

Unfortunately, it's "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." These charges score points and thus the Rs are forced to stoop to that level as long as the media will run with it.
10.18.2006 4:22pm
Arbusto Spectrum (mail):

Speaking of Democrats' racism, I wonder whether EV would defend Jim Webb's (the Democrat running against George Allen for VA Senator) use of the word "towel-head".

Given the context in which Webb used that phrase, on what ground would you criticize it?
10.18.2006 4:22pm
Rob Johnson (mail):
The term "niggardly" means nothing close to the "N" word. It is perfectly appropriate and bears no resemblance to use of the term "slavishly."
10.18.2006 4:23pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):

#2) Were the Slavic people upset by this comment?


I'm not upset.

I will admit that I clicked this post to read expecting to see something about Eastern Europeans.
10.18.2006 4:29pm
WHOI Jacket:
It could have been worse. He could have said macaca-esque.

That would warrant about a week of front page coverage in the Washington Post, at least.
10.18.2006 4:34pm
A.S.:
Perhaps you could enlighten us as to the evidence of Cardin's racism, as the comment that started this thread was made by a third party.

Exactly right. I should have said Hoyer's racism. My apologies.
10.18.2006 4:34pm
James Ellis (mail):
Well, Hoyer just apologized: "If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense, let me assure him that none was intended," Hoyer said. "But Mr. Steele continuously tries to divert attention from the fact that he is an unwavering supporter of the Republican agenda and of President Bush and Vice President Cheney."
10.18.2006 5:02pm
Seamus (mail):

The word "niggardly" has nothing at all to do with race or any racial epithet. The word "slavishly", however, refers directly to to the racially-charged term "slave".



I presume that it's "racially-charged" because of its derogatory and demeaning refernce to Slavs.
10.18.2006 5:03pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
These allegations of racism are bogus. The Dems aren't the racist party. It's not like anybody on the D side called anybody Macaccawitz or anything, and as we know they'd never put anybody in blackface who didn't deserve it...

BTW, that wasn't an apology Hoyer issued. Translated into English, If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense, let me assure him that none was intended" actually means "Steele shouldn't be offended by my racial slur because I meant it in good humor." The words "I'm sorry" don't have any bearing on Hoyer's non-apology.
10.18.2006 5:21pm
Rich B. (mail):

These allegations of racism are bogus. The Dems aren't the racist party. It's not like anybody on the D side called anybody Macaccawitz or anything,


You mean like this?
10.18.2006 5:32pm
A.S.:
BTW, that wasn't an apology Hoyer issued. Translated into English, If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense, let me assure him that none was intended" actually means "Steele shouldn't be offended by my racial slur because I meant it in good humor."

No, no, no.

Translated into English, "If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense, let me assure him that none was intended" actually means "Steele shouldn't be offended by my racial slur because I am a Democrat and, by definition, only Republicans are racists."
10.18.2006 5:36pm
SimonD (www):
I agree with A.S. and Rob Johnson's points that "niggardly" will not bear comparison to "slavish", insofar as the former has no historical or etymological connection to the word "nigger" (they are not even close cousins, linguistically), while the word "slavish" precisely and specifically connotes a condition of servitude. As far as Hoyer is concerned, he might receive the benefit of the doubt if he were not a member of a political party suffused with the racist expectation that one can ascribe and assume political views based on race, that sees deviation therefrom as heresy, and which therefore singles out black conservatives for particular abuse, as Clarence Thomas would doubtless attest.
10.18.2006 5:36pm
CJColucci:
Politicians say racist things for one or more of three reasons: (1) they really are racists and they can't help blurting out things that prove it; (2) whether they're racists or not, they are trolling for racist support; (3) they just don't get out enough to know any better. When a politician uses a phrase like macacca, tar baby, niggardly, or slavish, there is usually independent evidence relevant to whether (1) or (3) is true, and political realities determine whether (2) is true. I don't know enough about Stoyer to size up the evidence for (1) or (3), but it does seem unlikely that (2) is in play, for obvious enough reasons.
10.18.2006 5:37pm
Aultimer:
Anyone who can't distinguish between a racial slur and a word with potentially race-related origins need to be looking up "slur" rather than "slavish". Slavish is a perfectly polite word that has origins well prior to the founding of Euro colonies in America. (for the lefties - think about the HBO series Rome, for the righties - think Ephesians 6:5).
10.18.2006 5:37pm
CJColucci:
"Stoyer" -- I must have been starting to type the full name and shifted gears into typing the last name. I refer, of course, to Steny Hoyer.
10.18.2006 5:39pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
CJColucci: Your 4:37 post falsely assumes that the word "niggardly" is racist. I'll leave the other three alone, but you're dead wrong on niggardly.

Can we please get past this? Whoever first got offended by the word "niggardly" should be a punchline and nothing more. Do we have any recent examples of people STILL offended by this? If so, laugh and move on.
10.18.2006 5:47pm
Ricardo:
I hope everyone criticizing the use of the word "slavish" will never again engage in any kind of anti-PC criticism. Then again, I hope for a lot of things that will never happen.

The term slavish is a common term in English and does not only mean "acting like a slave." Calling someone slavish is much more mild than calling him a slave. Pick up any dictionary and you will find several definitions including "servile" or "not displaying freedom of choice." For instance, here's a sentence I came up with by googling slavish: "Britain should be 'solid but not slavish' in its friendship with America."

Given the mild nature of the term, this is not hyperbole -- it's just expressing the view that Britain is in danger of showing too much deference to the U.S. So does this mean that it is acceptable to use the word slavish unless you are referring to a black person, in which case it is racist and inexcusable? That is the very nature of political correctness.
10.18.2006 5:52pm
Henri LeCompte (mail):
Look, we live in a time of ridiculous hypersensitivity about the issue of race. Republicans are constantly accused of racism, generally with no more evidence than exists in this case. The Democrats, and their friends in the Black community (Sharpton, Jackson, etc.), are the architects of the verbal minefield that surrounds race. It is about time that they were held to the "standard" that they so zealously apply to others.

Yes, of course, it is a silly point, and a mountain being made of a molehill. But that's politics today. Just ask George Allen.
10.18.2006 5:55pm
Steve:
Henri just articulated what I took to be the conservative view on this. When you've had the race card played against you so many times - sometimes fairly, sometimes not - it's hard not to take satisfaction from watching your own side play it for once.

Still, Republicans need to work on their form lest they be docked style points. During the nuclear option fight, various Republicans were simultaneously pushing the lines that 1) Dems oppose Janice Rogers Brown because she's black; 2) Dems oppose Priscilla Owen because she's a woman; and 3) Dems oppose William Pryor because he's a man of faith. My friends, yes I know it's fun, but you really mustn't overdo it.
10.18.2006 6:03pm
Chris Bell (mail):
If I was Steny Hoyer....

"If Mr. Steele did in fact take offense, let me assure him that none was intended. In the future, I'll use the word 'mindlessly' to prevent confusion."
10.18.2006 6:07pm
CJColucci:
Daniel Chapman: I don't actually disagree with you on the general use of "niggardly." But I do happen to know of a case where the user went out of his way to use that word, not consistent with his usual manner of speech, for the specific purpose of upsetting the black folk to whom he was conspicuously directing it. That, I think, would count as racist talk.
10.18.2006 6:09pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
If he used it properly in context, it would be PC Baiting, not racism. Don't get upset about it and it loses all its power over you. There's NOTHING racist about the word!

Not that I'd have a hard time imagining someone who thought he was clever walking around using the word "niggard" to refer to every black person he saw... that would not be using it properly in context.
10.18.2006 6:13pm
SimonD (www):
Daniel Chapman:
Can we please get past this? Whoever first got offended by the word "niggardly" should be a punchline and nothing more. Do we have any recent examples of people STILL offended by this? If so, laugh and move on.
I was actually asked to remove the word niggardly from a document I wrote for a client, on the grounds that managers in my company were concerned that the client would assume, as did CJColucci, the connection to the similar-sounding racial slur.
10.18.2006 6:14pm
Steve:
I was actually asked to remove the word niggardly from a document I wrote for a client, on the grounds that managers in my company were concerned that the client would assume, as did CJColucci, the connection to the similar-sounding racial slur.

I can't top that, but my secretary did yell at me once for dictating a brief that referred to a "hoary precedent."
10.18.2006 6:22pm
Tra la la (mail):
"master" and "slave" in the computer context has always made me feel queasy. i don't think that's a politically correct thing. there's a pretty giant weight of history here.
10.18.2006 6:52pm
Houston Lawyer:
The "slavish" debate is silly. It reminds me about people who wanted to ban "master bedroom" from real estate ads.

Towel-head is not the proper term. The proper term is rag-head, unless he's making a reference I don't understand.

We should probably object to the term redneck, but I have discovered lately that it covers people of all races.
10.18.2006 7:32pm
Toby:
More than a few stated that Republicans were *fairly* held to a higher standard in the Foley affair that Democrats were in the Gary Studs affair, citing that the Republicans past statements about family values were important in assessing the proper level of outrage.

I am not surprised that several seem to have forgotten that position this week.
10.18.2006 7:57pm
Adam K:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but it occurs to me that I remember reading somewhere in some history book or another that one time someone had slaves who weren't black. But I might be mistaken.
10.18.2006 8:10pm
KeithK (mail):

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it occurs to me that I remember reading somewhere in some history book or another that one time someone had slaves who weren't black. But I might be mistaken.

No! That can't be! Everyone knows that the only people who ever been enslaved or victimized are people of color!

The whole discussion os silly. People need thicker skins. Sticks and stones, sticks and stones.
10.18.2006 8:28pm
Brian Garst (www):
Perhaps if Hoyer and others haven't already shown a clear pattern of racial attacks on Steele and any other blacks who dare to adopt a philosophy that isn't liberal, I would be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. As it is, however, I am not.
10.18.2006 9:03pm
jim:
It really would be nice if Republicans took the high road and tried to maintain a reasonable standard by which to judge these sorts of claims. But Republicans aren't doing very well with finding the high road these days.

Slavishly seems like a pretty common word that is appropriate for the sentiment being expressed. If one is specifically not allowed to use the term innocuously with respect to people of African ethnic origin, that seems like a double standard.
10.18.2006 9:06pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
"High road" is relative, Jim. We STILL get "macaca" references here occasionally. I guarantee this ambiguously offensive little slip will be forgotten before the election.
10.18.2006 9:44pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
I'm not generally a member of the ultra-PC crowd, but I actually find this kind of comment pretty offensive. No, the problem isn't that Steele is getting a criticism that a white person wouldn't get. The problem is that he is being taunted for the fact that his descendants were slaves. How is that remotely ok? If it is ok, then I think we've officially completely forgotten why racism is such a huge concern in America.

To me, a better analogy than niggardly would be to someone who made a critical comment of a Jewish politician, insinuating that they may as well be in a concentration camp. Would that be ok?

I agree that if a Republican made the comment, it would probably cause a bigger stir. I'm not sure about the reason, though. Probably it has less to do with the media than the hesitancy of Republicans to loudly raise that fuss.
10.18.2006 10:15pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
I think you've REALLY missed the point, Marcus. It's not that it's racist, but we shouldn't make a big deal of it. The problem is we're making a big deal of it when there's a very good chance it's NOT RACIST. The word has an innocent meaning, you know.
10.18.2006 10:42pm
hey (mail):
The problem is that Steny has a history of racist attacks against Steele, in the past calling Steele a "token". In light of this it is much harder to give Hoyer a pass on his choice of words. Thanks to the continued taunts from Cardin supporters about how Steele isn't authentically black because he's a Republican. The fired campaign worker and the oreo jokes, Stoyer's remarks, the other constant oreo whispering... I smell a trend and something that needs to be taken seriously!
10.18.2006 11:40pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The problem is that the word does have serious racist overtones. Dictonary.com defines "slavishly" as:
1. of or befitting a slave: slavish subjection.
2. being or resembling a slave; abjectly submissive: He was slavish in his obedience.
3. base; mean; ignoble: slavish fears.
4. deliberately imitative; lacking originality: a slavish reproduction.

And gives its origins as:
[Origin: 1555--65; slave + -ish]

The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as:
1. Of or characteristic of a slave or slavery; servile: Her slavish devotion to her job ruled her life.
2. Showing no originality; blindly imitative: a slavish copy of the original.

In other words, Hoyer, whether he meant to or not, was saying that Steele was acting as a slave to the Republicans. And, given Steele's race, and that race's long experience of slavery in this country, that is about as racist as you can get.
10.18.2006 11:47pm
Nate F (mail):
I will now summarize 2/3 of the comments in this thread: Waaaahhh waaaaaahhhh liberal bias waaaaaaahhhh. Also, this situation isn't AT ALL similar to Allen's, because Allen's intent could not have been innocuous. Either he used an ethnic slur, or he made up a ridiculous ethnic-sounding name for a foreign looking guy, neither of which is appropriate behavior for a public figure. Hoyer merely used a word that is used semi-frequently in regular speech to which one MIGHT, maybe, ascribe racist implications; moreover, he represents a VERY ethnically mixed part of Maryland and knows better than to play the race card.
10.18.2006 11:52pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
No... I can think of several things more racist than this. Even if we could be sure the racist interpretation was his intention, which you also seem to be presuming.
10.18.2006 11:53pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
See what I mean, Jim? Just look at Nate and ask who's taking the "high ground." :)
10.18.2006 11:55pm
Nate F (mail):
Fair enough. But seriously, most people's experience of the modern media is not liberal bias. I concede that there was a time where that might have been true, but today? Nah. I am very sick of that charge, and frankly I can't take anyone seriously who makes it.
10.19.2006 12:23am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Just so you know, you were the first person to use the words "media" or "bias" in this entire thread. I think you're imagining things.
10.19.2006 12:49am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Daniel Chapman,

Well, maybe you can call Michael Steele slavish without even realizing what you're saying, but I can't see it.

I wasn't saying Republicans should raise more of a fuss though. I was simply suggesting that if Republicans want to make this into a big issue, they're going to have to do it themselves, not just blame the media. For various reasons, though, I don't think Republicans actually want to do that. Why not? Basically, because racism just isn't their issue. That's fine (well, it's complicated), but my point was simply that it makes their complaints against the media bogus.
10.19.2006 12:53am
Nate F (mail):
I hate to continue an off-topic sidebar, but Daniel, that's not really fair. Several people here have suggested that the response would have been of a different magnitude if a Republican had made the offending remark. The suggestion that the magnitude of response would have been different clearly evokes the media, since the media has a great deal of control over the magnitude of public response to events; likewise the "Republican" aspect implies a liberal/conservative divide. Anyway, I am not commenting further here; I hate to be the guy who leads a discussion off-topic.
10.19.2006 1:36am
Caliban Darklock (www):
@ Rob Johnson:

A gay black friend of mine is of the opinion that saying "the N word" is more racist than saying "nigger". He has two reasonably convincing arguments, which I will attempt to present here without mangling them too badly.

1. When you say "the N word" instead of "nigger" because of your skin color, you perpetuate the idea that you can only use certain words when your skin is a certain color. This is fundamentally a racist idea, and if we are serious about ending racism, we have to oppose ALL racism - not just the racism we don't like.

2. Whenever you say "the N word", you still thought "nigger", and you still meant "nigger", and everyone who heard you still got "nigger" out of it. So while you can pretend you didn't say "nigger", you actually did, and you shouldn't expect to win any points for it.

An interesting little exercise he suggests is to pull out any racist speech, replace the word "nigger" with "N word", then read it out loud and see if it sounds any less racist. It made a believer out of me: the resulting speech inevitably sounds MORE racist.

Not that this in any way means people should merrily run around saying "nigger" all the time, but certainly food for thought.
10.19.2006 1:37am
Seamus (mail):
In other words, Hoyer, whether he meant to or not, was saying that Steele was acting as a slave to the Republicans. And, given Steele's race, and that race's long experience of slavery in this country, that is about as racist as you can get.

If I take this to mean what it says, then Mr. Hayden believes there's really nothing more racially offensive Hoyer could have said, short of something like "I wish all those goddam niggers would just up and move back to Africa." That of course, is nonsens.

And speaking of nonsense, Caliban Darklock's gay black friend is full of it. No one would say (to alter the hypothetical racist Hoyer statement above), "I wish all those goddam the N-words would just up and move back to Africa." Pace Caliban, the substitution doesn't make the statement "MORE racist"; it just makes it sound silly. (In fact, about the only time some uses the term "the N-word," it's to refer to *someone* else's use (actual or hypothetical) of the offensive term.)

Of course, we've gotten to the point where the actual term, even is quoted for the most innocent of reasons, calls forth reactions like this one to the use of the word "Jehovah."
10.19.2006 11:07am
Aultimer:
Bruce hayde wrote:
In other words, Hoyer, whether he meant to or not, was saying that Steele was acting as a slave to the Republicans. And, given Steele's race, and that race's long experience of slavery in this country, that is about as racist as you can get.


Baloney. It's not racist in the least to call Steele "slavish" for acting like a unthinking party loyalist. It's racist (as in "predjudiced belief of racial superiority") to say that Steele isn't capable of anything more, or that he could be expected to behave that way with the white Republican leaders.
10.19.2006 11:59am
CJColucci:
"The problem is that he [Steele]is being taunted for the fact that his descendants were slaves."

I think we have a bigger story here than the one we have been posting on. Steele sold his children into slavery!
10.19.2006 12:29pm
markm (mail):
"No! That can't be! Everyone knows that the only people who ever been enslaved or victimized are people of color!" Sure - white is a color!

"[Origin: 1555--65; slave + -ish]"

In truth, every civilization has a history of enslaving people who looked just like them, if not of actually enslaving their own. Race-based slavery is a historical anomaly, caused by the coincidence of vast new agricultural lands opening up in the Americas and requiring a labor force with the discovery by explorers along the African coast of people willing to sell their neighbors, cheap. Although the Portuguese were slavetrading on a small scale in the 1400's, I don't think English speakers were much involved in this trend until the 1600's, and the first slaves in the English colonies were white bondservants and kidnapped Indians.
10.19.2006 3:09pm
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
There's a form of wordplay called a ``Tom Swifty,'' ("Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily.) which is what this offense-taking claims to have spotted. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Swifty

Of course, you can observe that this is in fact much, much better. This is an Uncle Tom Swifty, a rare, precious and never-before-seen subcategory.
10.19.2006 3:35pm
Daniel Chapman (mail):
You win, Ron Hardin.
10.19.2006 4:33pm