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Walter Murphy--The Argument From Authority:

With regard to Prof. Murphy's claims about himself and the TSA, discussed previously by Orin, I've noticed several comments on blogs and discussion lists suggesting that we should presumptively credit both his account of the event and his interpretation of it because he is a respected emeritus professor at Princeton. Without getting into the merits of the claims [acknowledgment: I do tend to agree with Orin's take], I find it interesting that some would think Prof. Murphy's academic position is meaningful evidence of credibility. Academics, it seems safe too say, often believe strange things, even (especially?) academics with prestigious positions at top universities. Whether or not they believe strange things less often than the average person, but it's certainly not exactly unheard of.

Putting aside the bizarre attraction "scientific" Marxism has had among prominent academics for generations, consider, for example, that one of the leading opponents of the accepted theory that HIV causes AIDS is a professor of molecular biology at University of California at Berkeley and a (former?) member of the National Academy of Science. Then there's the Harvard psychiatry professor who has become a leading academic advocate of the view that people have been abducted by aliens flying "UFOs."

More generally, in my work on expert witnesses and junk science, I've seen that it's not at all unusual for well-credentialed experts with impressive academic titles to sincerely believe (and testify to in court) all sorts of ridiculous nonsense.

Of course, the fact that some professors at prestigious universities have not been paragons of believability does not mean that Prof. Murphy isn't 100% right. But, on the other hand, contrary to what some have argued, the fact that he taught at Princeton isn't evidence that he's right, either.

Steve:
You could have made this point even more strongly by linking to some of your past posts.
4.11.2007 9:58pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Hah, I was wondering who be first to make the obvious, lame, comeback.
4.11.2007 10:14pm
Steve:
Oh, it wasn't THAT lame. Be a sport. :)
4.11.2007 10:14pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Well, I've admittedly seen lamer. And my post basically tested readers' self-control...
4.11.2007 10:23pm
Thomas Alan (mail):
What amuses me more than the professor thing is that he's using his past as a retired marine as some sort of cover. Apparently he even flashed them as credentials when trying to get through security.

What, exactly, is relevant about that? As much as we love our armed services, it's a stretch to say that being in the military means that you can't possibly be on a watch list or even become a terrorist. Has anyone ever heard of Lee Harvey Oswald (marine) or Timothy McVeigh?
4.11.2007 10:28pm
Enoch:
we should presumptively credit both his account of the event and his interpretation of it because he is a respected emeritus professor at Princeton.

Why sure... that makes sense... somebody with a PhD in political science from the University of Chicago, who taught at an ivy league school, could never be wrong about anything, could he?
4.11.2007 10:34pm
Bob_R (mail):
One word: Unibomber
4.11.2007 10:51pm
Jacob T. Levy (mail) (www):
I think that what you're often seeing is much more individualized respect for Murphy, who has been a major mentor, teacher, scholar, and intellectual forcein public law for decades. Many bloggers who've written about the story have some presumption in favor of the credibility of Walter Murphy, not of prestigiously-appointed academics as such. I certainly have that presumption even though I suspect Orin's got the story right in the final accounting.
4.11.2007 11:41pm
Mark Field (mail):

Putting aside the bizarre attraction "scientific" Marxism has had among prominent academics for generations


And then there are those of us who had Phil Johnson as a professor....

At least he wasn't a libertarian, though.
4.12.2007 12:06am
neurodoc:
I've seen that it's not at all unusual for well-credentialed experts with impressive academic titles to sincerely believe (and testify to in court) all sorts of ridiculous nonsense.

Why believe that it is always, or even usually, the case that they "sincerely" believe what they are testifying to as experts? In medical malpractice cases, for example, I have seen "well-credentialed experts with impressive academics...testify to in court...all sorts of ridiculous nonsense," and I did not believe they were "sincere," since I could not imagine them maintaining the same things back at the university among their peers. If they would maintain exactly the same things back there or testify in court without remuneration, then I would be more willing to believe them "sincere" though foolish or mistaken.
4.12.2007 12:09am
The Shadow:

Then there's the Harvard psychiatry professor who has become a leading academic advocate of the view that people have been abducted by aliens flying "UFOs."


That should be in the past tense, since he's dead.
4.12.2007 12:12am
Eli Rabett (www):
You can't be a former member of the National Academy once elected, however do you have any evidence that Duesberg is leftist, let alone Marxist, or are you merely trawling the red herring?
4.12.2007 12:14am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Shadow. Are you sure? Did you see the body?
4.12.2007 12:34am
James Dillon (mail):

You can't be a former member of the National Academy once elected,

Didn't Feynman voluntarily resign from the National Academy? But I don't think you can be removed other than voluntarily.
4.12.2007 2:26am
Stephen C. Carlson (www):

[D]o you have any evidence that Duesberg is leftist, let alone Marxist, or are you merely trawling the red herring?


Bernstein isn't claiming that Duesberg is a Marxist. In fact, he's "putting aside" the scientific Marxists and bringing up a different example of an academic believer in "ridiculous nonsense."
4.12.2007 2:30am
SP:
My God, the size of that Wolfowitz .jpg is positively Orwellian.
4.12.2007 2:52am
PhilK (mail):
The argument that one should give credence to Murphy's claims just because he is a professor at Princeton seems like a strawman to me. I would think most of the readers of this blog would know more about this than me, but I got the impression during my few con. law classes at Princeton that Murphy was a pretty highly respected guy (certainly among my professors), hardly similar to one of the fringe weirdos who just happen to be at respected universities that Prof. Bernstein mentions. And as far as his military service goes, making colonel in the Marines and then subsequently becoming a major constitutional scholar is pretty impressive if nothing else. If a guy seems like he's really smart and respected, it's not that crazy to at least lend some initial credence to what he says. I can't say I find his claims tat plausible anymore either, but I don't think it's time to start comparing him to people who believe in rampant alien abduction.

Phil
4.12.2007 6:19am
Ron Hardin (mail) (www):
Then there's the Harvard psychiatry professor who has become a leading academic advocate of the view that people have been abducted by aliens flying "UFOs."

There's actually an interesting explanation. One of the reasons that you don't remember anything about infancy is that you have no words as hooks to hang memories on. They sort of free-float.

If you do somehow remember (say) being cleaned and dressed in public as an infant, this memory needs a hook to regularize it, and the UFO abduction hook is available.

On the other hand, Southwest Radio Church was flogging my favorite book many years ago, in which, ``by a process of logical elimination,'' it was determined that UFO's are piloted by fallen angels trying to get the attention of the media. This is thinking that's more political.
4.12.2007 6:21am
Eli Rabett (www):
So why did he bring up "scientific Marxism" in the first place. This is a common rhetorical trick. It is also bankrupt. Leaving aside that backers of President Bush have been known to acknoledge Duesberg, the interesting thing about him is that he made important early contributions to the study of retroviruses. The disasterous thing is that his later opinion has been used to block effective treatment in places like South Africa.
4.12.2007 9:34am
itshissong:
If you are interested in knowing more about Duesberg and the effect that he has had on AIDS denial in Africa there was a great piece about it in a recent issue of the New Yorker. Here is a link to the abstract of that article.
4.12.2007 11:01am
Mark S. (mail):

Another curious strain of comments is that the Left-blogger hype on Murphyesque paranoia is understandable because in the last year or two we have learned the administration's design to set up a police state. Apparently, until 2005 or so, there was no discussion like this. Or if there was, it was only among the wild-eyed "fringe" left.

But this sort of chatter has been going on since way before the Palm Beach butterfly ballot naughtily settled on Bush--to say nothing of Michael Moore's fringe-consecrated Truth showing in fringe movie theaters around the world and collecting various fringe awards along the way. The left has been working hard at turning fantasy into reality for years. Some make a good living in it. But it's a bit rich to pretend this effort is new; the Murphy episode is in fact par for the course.
4.12.2007 11:23am
Adeez (mail):
Mark S.: so what do you feel about the very close relationship between the Saudis and this administration? Or are you saying no such relationship exists?

Were you the least bit suspicious by Bush's reaction to the public's response to the port sale to a Dubai company? Forget about the actual sale; did the fact that Bush felt so strongly about this transaction before even knowing the details bother you just a bit?

Is it leftwing paranoia to assert that this admin. is pushing a "unitary executive" theory that attempts to thwart separation of powers and checks &balances?

When Bush "joked" that it'd be a heck of a lot easier if this were a dictatorship, so long as he's the dictator, there was no truth behind that statement?

As a concerned citizen, do Cheney's ties to Haliburton and their recent move to Dubai worry you at all? Or perhaps these ties don't even exist, but are lies concocted by the leftwing spin machine?

Regardless of your answers, I just wanted to clarify one point: it's not just those crazy leftists who are suspicious of this administration. On the other hand, many do like to use the term "liberal" or "leftist" (as if they were intrinsic insults) to refer to anyone who's critical of this administration, which is the majority of this country.
4.12.2007 11:57am
pete (mail) (www):
"When Bush "joked" that it'd be a heck of a lot easier if this were a dictatorship, so long as he's the dictator, there was no truth behind that statement?" I suspect that pretty much every president has thought this at some point.

Just because many of the critics of the administration are not paranoid nut jobs does not mean that all of his critics have a firm grasp on reality or that many of the critics complaints of civil liberties violations are accurate. I first read that George Bush was going to start rounding up his critics into camps about six years ago. I am still waiting on that. There has been so much "boy who cries wolf" from his critics that I tune them out about civil liberties violations unless they come up with pretty concrete examples (name, date, place, who was responsible, what right was violated, etc.). Saying that there are obvious "suspicions" do not cut it for me.

Murphy is a fine exmple of this wolf crying. He has a anonymous airline clerk with no access to the actual reasons why people are on the no-fly list as his primary source. He claims he is on the no-fly list (although it looks like even this claim is probably false) because of a minor inconvenience. He did not even miss his flight. He claims with no actual evidence besides the annonymous clerk that this was a politically motivated action. He claims with no evidence at all that the NSA is listening in to his phone calls and taking him off the no fly list that he was probably never even on in the first place. So obviously this is all a plot by Bush to silence his critics.

After six years of critics saying Bush is silencing his critcs I am still waiting for one of them to actually be silenced.
4.12.2007 1:00pm
theophylact:
Would an obituary of John Mack do? You can find them here.
4.12.2007 1:08pm
Adeez (mail):
"After six years of critics saying Bush is silencing his critcs I am still waiting for one of them to actually be silenced"

Pete: What about the fact that journalists are being jailed at an unprecedented rate? What about the deception, early on in the admin., about the real cost of the Medicaid bill? What about the fact that lawyers are editing NASA global warming reports? What about preventing the media from shooting pictures of flag-draped coffins? What about the classifying of documents that were once de-classified? Sure, while these might not all be instances of "critics" being "silenced," so to speak, it's all part of the same game. Do these not bother you either?
4.12.2007 3:21pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Adeez. Ref the coffins: The reporters are free to attend funerals. And the issue about not photographing them at Dover is a Clinton legacy.
The jailed reporters consist of Judy Miller--at the behest of a prosecutor investigating a supposed crime of the administration, and a video guy on the west coast who had pix of demonstraters assaulting a cop. I think that's it.
The rest of your stuff is no doubt as lame as the stuff I know better than already.
4.12.2007 3:29pm
Adeez (mail):
Richard Aubrey: I do not have the time right now to lookup all of my prior assertions. I mean, I thought the NASA stuff was common knowledge. But you're welcome to debunk them with proof of your own, and I'll be happy to read/see it.

Tell ya what: throw me a bone. Gimme the benefit of the doubt and assume for purposes of this discussion that my assertions are true. Do they bother you? If so, then perhaps I'll get to work on cites and get them to you on another thread.
4.12.2007 3:47pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Adeez. I can tell myself I can fly, too, by flapping my arms.
I could tell myself that Bush is a limb of Satan. But since he's not, I'd be wasting my time on a counterfactual.

Tell you what. Throw me a bone. Tell me something that's true.

Or, just so I can keep my mind agile, tell me a lie that I have to work to refute. You know. Don't insult me by telling me something only an idiot would believe.
4.12.2007 3:59pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Holy crap! Adeez, Bush misled people about the real cost of the Medicare prescription drug bill? A politician understated the costs of (and probably overstated the benefits of) a government program?

I'm going to love it when the new GASB rules about recognizing pension liabilities, etc. kick in. However, I bet the public outrage won't be 1% of what Kenny Boy and his ilk faced.
4.12.2007 4:20pm
pete (mail) (www):
"What about the fact that journalists are being jailed at an unprecedented rate?"

Adeez see my comment above: "There has been so much "boy who cries wolf" from his critics that I tune them out about civil liberties violations unless they come up with pretty concrete examples (name, date, place, who was responsible, what right was violated, etc.). Saying that there are obvious "suspicions" do not cut it for me."

To pick just one of your examples: What are the names of the reporters jailed? When were they jailed? Who put them in jail? What was the context: Did they commit a crime or did jack booted thugs break down their doors in the middle of night for no other reasson than they wrote something bad about Bush? If it is an unprecidented rate, what were the rates under previous administrations?

Most importantly, if Bush is jailing reporters, then why is Dan Rather still a free man?

Unless you bring in more evidence than this baseless accusation I tune you out. Not only that, it makes me more sympathic to Bush who has had to put up with these wild accusations for over six years now.
4.12.2007 5:05pm
rarango (mail):
Other than Judy Miller, I think there was a blogger jailed under a local contempt order in SF for not turning over pics of a demonstration. I can't think of any other reporters being jailed by federal authorities.

Is there an alternate parallel universe? are we on a cosmic mobius strip?
4.12.2007 5:20pm
Justin Levine:
I'm tempted to bring up global warming theory here. Too many people falsely believe that the proclamations of scientists are the functional equivalent of science.
4.12.2007 5:38pm
Adeez (mail):
Richard Aubrey, Pete, DRWN, and Rarango: We are not enemies. My posts are not intended to insult any commenters, and I hoped to have a serious dialogue about the issues raised. Unfortunately, you've chosen to cherry-pick some of my comments (I guess that means you all have no problem with the administation's associations with the Saudis, for example, despite their country being one of the biggest supporters of Wahhabism [sp?]) and respond with sarcasm to my others.

The following took me 30 seconds to find. Perhaps it'll shed light on my concerns. But who are we kidding? If you can't see the forest through the trees at this point, I really don't think anything will change your minds. But just for fun, here it is:


"Resolution
of the Association for Education in Journalism
and Mass Communication

A Motion to Object to
the Bush Administration's Anti-Press Policies and Practices

Moved by Dr. David T.Z. Mindich, St. Michael's College
Passed: Aug. 4, 2006
AEJMC convention, San Francisco

Preamble

The relationship between the presidency and press has always been uneasy. This tension is both unavoidable and generally salutary: When each side conducts its duties with honesty and integrity, both hold the power of the other in check. It is difficult to find a period in American history in which this mutual opposition did not exist.

However, it has come to pass that the current administration has engaged in a number of practices and has enacted a series of severe and extraordinary policies that attack the press specifically and by extension, democracy itself.

A working democracy requires a free press that is muscular in its reporting. It requires a press that holds leaders accountable for their actions. It requires a press that contrasts leaders' words with their actions. It requires a press that uncovers errors and wrongdoing by employing named and unnamed sources. We believe the actions of the current administration compromise these press functions.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, American press history has been marked by periods in which press freedoms have retreated. The Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s represented one such period. Another was during the Civil War, in which journalists were jailed en masse because of dissent. The Espionage Act of 1917 paved the way for encroachments on press freedom (see Schenk v. United States). In each of these periods, politicians, judges, and scholars came to see, at least in hindsight, that anti-press policies in the name of national unity produced real harm to democracy itself. We believe that the Bush administration's anti-press policies and practices represent another major period.

Whereas the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication's membership is troubled by the following policies and practices:

1. The Bush administration's response to press requests for information. While we do not take sides on the issue of whether "enemy combatants" should be detained without charges by the United States government, we are troubled by the administration's failure to provide names and other vital information. When a democratically elected government holds people indefinitely without charges, it is the press's role to shine light on the practice so that citizens and their elected representatives can debate that policy and decide its merits. Until the AP won a FOIA request in March 2006, names and other vital information about Guantanamo detainees were withheld by the Bush administration. Around the time the AP won its FOIA request, other news organizations were reporting on an even more secretive prison run by the United States, in Bagram, Afghanistan.

2. The Bush administration's use of staged town meetings. One of the most important responsibilities of the nonpartisan press is that it should include a wide range of political opinions so that the views of political leaders can be held up to scrutiny. That way, citizens can debate the merits of these views and choose one over others or develop policy based on a combination of ideas. Part of this process involves an open exchange between citizens and their elected representatives. While every administration since the birth of the 20th century has sought to manage the photo opportunities of its leaders' interactions with citizens, a practice that increased markedly in the presidencies of the TV era, the current administration has taken this practice to an unprecedented level. During the 2004 presidential campaign, for example, the Bush campaign frequently excluded non-supporters from campaign events. This practice continued through Bush's trips to promote his Social Security agenda. Even "informal" discussions with soldiers have been staged.

3. The Bush administration's vision of the government as a private domain. From the start of the administration's tenure, when Dick Cheney's office refused to reveal industry leaders who attended a meeting about energy policy, the administration maintained a practiced silence about many aspects of government. In March 2006, the Associated Press reported that many FOIA requests are unanswered or needlessly delayed.

4. The Bush administration's practice of massive reclassification of documents. A February 2006 article in the New York Times outlines a secret plan to reclassify documents, many of which had been declassified and publicly available for years. While national security dictates that some documents be secret, the wholesale reclassification of documents makes it more difficult to understand and evaluate the workings of government.

5. The Bush administration's support of policies that weaken the multiplicity of voices on a local and national scale. The administration, through its appointees at the FCC, has sought new rules that allow large corporations to consolidate local media outlets under one corporate umbrella. We call on the administration to support FCC rules that preserve local ownership and competition.

6. The Bush administration's policy of not allowing photographs of coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq to be released. An essential part of a public's deliberation of the worth of any war is the consideration of the human costs involved. Denying the images essentially denies the humanity of the U.S. servicemen and servicewomen who made the ultimate sacrifice. Their lives should be part of the public debate.

7. The Bush administration's use of propaganda, including video news releases. We support the language of Boston University's Journalism Department's 2005 resolution "condemning fraudulent use of video news releases": "[We] condemn the use of 'phony' reporters hired by the government to perform in VNRs where their affiliation with government is unstated, and urge the Administration to translate the President's words into action by ceasing this practice at once." [see Appendix]

8.The Bush administration's use of bribes and payments to columnists and other opinion makers, both in the United States and abroad. We believe, as the nonpartisan General Accounting Office found in October 2005, that the payments to columnists, including a reported $400,000 to Armstrong Williams, violated laws against "covert propaganda." The White House even credentialed James Dale Guckert, a phony reporter, under a pseudonym, Jeff Gannon. The fake journalist, granted extraordinary access by the White House, in turn asked softball questions of the administration, including, "How are you going to work with people [the Democrats] who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?"Recent reports have shown that the administration has also bribed journalists in Iraq and has planted fake news stories there. The administration claims that the war is being fought in part to promote democracy in the Middle East, but these practices are antithetical to that aim. We believe that the Bush administration's policy of bribing reporters and using fake journalism is a threat to democracy.

9. The Bush administration's manipulation of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. When the Bush administration appointed a new chairman of the CPB and supported his efforts to correct the "slant" of the broadcasts, what it was engaging in was essentially a putsch of responsible journalism. Responsible journalism of the left, right, and center seeks to interrogate power and hold the ideas of the various political parties up to scrutiny. When powerful interests seek to neuter responsible journalism, democracy itself suffers.

10. The Bush administration's using the courts to pressure journalists to give up their sources and to punish them for obtaining leaked information. According to a March 2006 article in the Washington Post, recent actions by the Bush administration have included "several FBI probes, a polygraph investigation inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws." We believe that attacking journalists in this way can upset the power relationship between the government and the press, and could eventually turn reporters from watchdogs to lapdogs.



As educators of the next generation of American journalists, we the journalism faculty at the College of Communication, Boston University:

Recognize the need of citizens in a democracy for information that is accurate, unbiased and independently gathered and presented;

Recognize the vital need of government to communicate with its citizens and the useful role print and video news releases (VNRs) can play in this process;

Recognize the obligation of news organizations to identify clearly the origin of any editorial material provided by government, business, interest group or any source other than their own news gathering or that of affiliated news organizations;

Recognize the obligation of government to avoid using VNRs for purposes of political advocacy or propaganda;

Recognize the need to avoid presenting the material in a way that invites public confusion as to its source;
Note the President's recent statement that acknowledges the need to maintain a clear line of distinction between journalists and members of the government or Administration;

Condemn the use of "phony" reporters hired by the government to perform in VNRs where their affiliation with government is unstated, and urge the Administration to translate the President's words into action by ceasing this practice at once;

Urge the Administration to identify and cease other practices with respect to VNRs that run a substantial risk of misleading the public;

Condemn the deliberate use by television news outlets of material knowingly obtained from the Administration without clear identification of its origin, and urge all members of the media to cease this deceptive practice at once.
We invite colleagues at other journalism schools and departments to endorse the Boston University Resolution."

Nope. Nothing to see here. Just more liberal paranoia. Keep heads firmly embedded in sand.
4.12.2007 5:41pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Adeez.

Yeah. Cherrypicked. As in paid attention something you said. If you don't want to be cherrypicked for something false, don't say something false.
Or maybe you can blame Clinton for "this administration" and its refusal to let you drool over dead soldiers--which, of course, the lefties now pretend to care about. Since it was Clinton's idea.

The rest of the crap is somebody's opinion that they don't like something.

"private domain". Try hillary's secrecy about her health care initiative. Ring a bell? Firing the travel office folks to make room for buddies, and, then, just to make it suck, have the FBI fake up some charges.

So we have it on your own authority--by your own cherrypicking--that you don't care about the issues, you make them up to use against Bush.
4.12.2007 5:57pm
pete (mail) (www):
Adeez, when you post comments that are 1,703 words long or ones that include a half dozen asorted accusations do not be surpised that people do not chose to respond to every point you make. Once again: "Unless you bring in more evidence than this baseless accusation I tune you out." And not once in that entire 1,703 word long post is there any actual evidence to back up your claim "journalists are being jailed at an unprecedented rate?" Again, what are the names of the journalists in jails etc.

You have, however, successfully proved that a bunch of journalism professors do not like George W. Bush.

Congratulations.
4.12.2007 5:58pm
rarango (mail):
Adeez--I agree we are not enemies and I don't doubt the sincerity of your beliefs nor your concern about the direction of the country. Those are questions that our political system decides. Honestly, though, I believe some of your assertions seem to me to be a bit over the top. Re jailed reporters: We have cited two and you quote a resolution that fails to list any jailed journalists. We will stipulate that journalists dont like the Bush Administration--the question remains: how many reporters have been jailed?

You mentioned the Saudis--they have been US allies for geostrategic reasons (read oil) since FDR met with King Abdul Aziz in the 1940s; all subsequent American Administrations have allied themselves with Saudis (Full disclosure: I think that's a stupid policy and we should cut them loose; they are dangerous to our interests--but the relationship with the saudis, KOS and DU nothwithstanding, it is most clearly not a Bush Family or Bush administration anomoly--it is long standing American foreign policy. Re Halliburton: yes VP Cheney was their CEO; as for halliburton contracts, it is perhaps the ONLY major contractor in the US that has the reach and scope that can accomplish what the contracts call specify. Now you can argue we went to war to get Halliburton those contracts--we will disagree on that. As for the Dubai ports deal, there is NO american firm that manages ports the size of what was being asked to operated; right now, there are several ports in the US operated by firms who are HQed in foreign countries. And except for the fact that Dubai happens to be located in the middle east it was a totally phoney issue.

Two points: I, for one, do not attack people for their political views--we have a political system to resolve those kinds of things; I do take issue with some of your assertions, and I have listed them above. There is a difference.
4.12.2007 6:02pm
Taltos:

10. The Bush administration's using the courts to pressure journalists to give up their sources and to punish them for obtaining leaked information.


Last I knew, leaking classified information was a crime and prosecuting it was one the justice department's jobs. No matter how hard the newspapers wish it were so, there is no press shield in the constitution. Journalists are citizens just like everyone else and required to cooperate with criminal investigations like the rest of us riff raff.
4.12.2007 7:26pm