Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 18th, 2008

Friday afternoon relaxation

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A maze generator. (Solves them, too.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Setting a good example

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Read this post, and then go, thou, and do likewise.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 2:10 pm

Posted in Bush Administration, GOP, Government, Media

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12,000-year-old temple complex in Turkey

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Exciting news reported by Nicholas Birch:

As a child, Klaus Schmidt used to grub around in caves in his native Germany in the hope of finding prehistoric paintings. Thirty years later, representing the German Archaeological Institute, he found something infinitely more important — a temple complex almost twice as old as anything comparable on the planet.

“This place is a supernova”, says Schmidt, standing under a lone tree on a windswept hilltop 35 miles north of Turkey’s border with Syria. “Within a minute of first seeing it I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here.”

Behind him are the first folds of the Anatolian plateau. Ahead, the Mesopotamian plain, like a dust-colored sea, stretches south hundreds of miles to Baghdad and beyond. The stone circles of Gobekli Tepe are just in front, hidden under the brow of the hill.

Compared to Stonehenge, Britain’s most famous prehistoric site, they are humble affairs. None of the circles excavated (four out of an estimated 20) are more than 30 meters across. What makes the discovery remarkable are the carvings of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500 BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge.

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Federal Medical Marijuana Bill introduced

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Very good news:

Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced H.R. 5842, the “Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act,” earlier today.  This bill would make federal authorities respect states’ current laws on medicinal cannabis and end DEA raids on facilities distributing medical marijuana legally under state law.

Representative Paul, whose presidential campaign prominently featured the ending of the drug war as a platform plank, was joined by Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) in sponsoring this bill.

“I think marijuana is a helpful medical treatment for the people who have intractable nausea,” Paul said in a 2004 House debate regarding a similar measure.  “I would like to point out this is not something strange that we are suggesting here. For the first 163 years of our history in this country, the federal government had total hands off, they never interfered with what the states were doing.”

Twelve states have approved the use of medical marijuana, beginning with California in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 215. The DEA continues to raid and harass medicinal cannabis dispensaries operating within these states’ laws.  Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both indicated they would end such raids should they be elected.

Michigan will vote on an initiative to adopt medical cannabis legislation this November.  Minnesota and Rhode Island’s respective legislatures are also considering pro-reform legislation this year.

For more information, contact NORML Legal Director Keith Stroup at (202) 483-5500. Supporters should write their Representatives in favor of this bill.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 2:01 pm

That Condi!

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At this point one wonders whether Stanford wants her back.

Also, this article, indicating her failures as Secretary of State:

In a searing report, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, sharply criticized the administration for relying too heavily on Pakistan’s military to achieve American counterterrorism goals, while paying only token attention to economic development and improving governance.

Nearly $6 billion of the $10.5 billion in aid that Washington has provided to Pakistan since 2001 has been directed toward combating terrorism in the tribal areas, the report said. But about 96 percent of that aid has gone to reimburse Pakistan for its use of 120,000 troops in counterterrorism missions in that area that have shown little success.

In a rare acknowledgment, senior officials at the United States Embassy in Islamabad told the government auditors that they had received no strategic guidance from Washington on designing, carrying out, financing and monitoring a coordinated American strategy, the report said.

Read the entire article. That GAO report itself is interesting reading, as well.

UPDATE: From the previously blogged McClatchy article on the report on the Iraq War debacle:

The report also singles out the Bush administration’s national security apparatus and implicitly President Bush and both of his national security advisers, Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley, saying that “senior national security officials exhibited in many instances an imperious attitude, exerting power and pressure where diplomacy and bargaining might have had a better effect.”

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 1:18 pm

Public financing of elections

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If the US moved to public financing of elections, it seems likely that the wholesale buying of Senators and Representatives (through “contributions” to campaign funds) would be greatly reduced. Consider this proposal from Watchdog Blog:

Money, money, money.  It seems that’s all we hear in the news about the upcoming election.  It should be about ideas and leadership, not dollars.  Fortunately, there’s a solution: public funding of elections.

Now is a vital time to act. Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) will soon introduce a House version of the bill Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) introduced in the Senate: the Fair Elections Now Act. Under Fair Elections, candidates would no longer need to worry about chasing money from wealthy special interests.  They can focus on the voters and the critical challenges facing our nation today.

It is important that we get many representatives to sign on to support this reform.

During Fair Elections Action Week, April 14-18, 2008, let’s call on Congress to end the corrupting influence of money in politics. Actions and events will take place all across the country and you can be a part of the movement.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Meet with Your Representative – Meet face-to-face with your member of Congress to talk about why you support Fair Elections and why you think they should support it too.
  • Write About It – As Election Day approaches, your elected officials pay even closer attention to the opinion section of your local papers.  It’s easy to submit an opinion piece now by using our automated service.
  • Gather Signatures – Encourage others to add their name to our coalition petition for Fair Elections Now! You can tell your friends by e-mail, or print it out and collect signatures.

Let’s show Congress that the American people want elections to be about voters, not dollars.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Election, Government

CIA: lies and obfuscation

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They destroy tapes, contrary to a court order, and they decide that it’s okay. Mark Mazzetti reports in the Washington Post:

A records search by the Central Intelligence Agency has found no evidence that the agency violated a judge’s order when, in 2005, it destroyed videotapes that showed harsh interrogations, the C.I.A. said in a court declaration this week.

The agency destroyed interrogation videotapes in November 2005, months after a federal judge issued an order for the government to preserve all evidence relevant to the trial of Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah, a Yemeni challenging his detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

But in a court filing on Wednesday, Robert L. Deitz, a top agency official, said that a search of several thousand pages of documents had found no evidence indicating “intentional, accidental, or negligent destruction of records” falling under that order.

In a separate filing, an official from the C.I.A inspector general’s office told the court that no records from the agency’s watchdog office were destroyed that might have had an impact on Mr. Abdullah’s case.

The court filings do not explain how the C.I.A. reached its conclusion, or by what standard it judged whether documents were covered by the order.

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 11:58 am

DoD Report: Iraq War is a “debacle”

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From McClatchy, reported by Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott:

The war in Iraq has become “a major debacle” and the outcome “is in doubt” despite improvements in security from the buildup in U.S. forces, according to a highly critical study published Thursday by the Pentagon’s premier military educational institute.

The report released by the National Defense University raises fresh doubts about President Bush’s projections of a U.S. victory in Iraq just a week after Bush announced that he was suspending U.S. troop reductions.

The report carries considerable weight because it was written by Joseph Collins, a former senior Pentagon official, and was based in part on interviews with other former senior defense and intelligence officials who played roles in prewar preparations.

It was published by the university’s National Institute for Strategic Studies, a Defense Department research center.

“Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle,” says the report’s opening line.

At the time the report was written last fall, more than 4,000 U.S. and foreign troops, more than 7,500 Iraqi security forces and as many as 82,000 Iraqi civilians had been killed and tens of thousands of others wounded, while the cost of the war since March 2003 was estimated at $450 billion.

“No one as yet has calculated the costs of long-term veterans’ benefits or the total impact on service personnel and materiel,” wrote Collins, who was involved in planning post-invasion humanitarian operations.

The report said that the United States has suffered serious political costs, with its standing in the world seriously diminished. Moreover, operations in Iraq have diverted “manpower, materiel and the attention of decision-makers” from “all other efforts in the war on terror” and severely strained the U.S. armed forces.

“Compounding all of these problems, our efforts there (in Iraq) were designed to enhance U.S. national security, but they have become, at least temporarily, an incubator for terrorism and have emboldened Iran to expand its influence throughout the Middle East,” the report continued.

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 11:54 am

The 25 top colleges with free courses

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Here’s the complete list. Just to whet your appetite, the top three:

#1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

With more than 1,800 free courses, MIT has the best OpenCourseWare program. Courses cover nearly every topic imaginable and are translated into several different languages. Audio and video courses are also available.

#2 University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley webcasts hundreds of courses and lectures every semester. Current and archived courses can be experienced through on-demand replay. Course topics include everything from archeology to psychology.

#3 Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University makes a wide range of free online courses available through their Open Learning Initiative. The high quality courses are comparable to those offered on campus and cover topics like engineering, chemistry, biology, physics, statistics, economics and the French language.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 10:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

GOP = nontransparency and secrecy

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Boy, the GOP and the Right hates to have their doings exposed to the public. Wonder why that is. From the Watchdog Blog:

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) lost round one of their attempt to overturn the part of last year’s landmark lobbying reform law which requires it to reveal the businesses funding the goliath lobbying organization. Public Citizen, the Campaign Legal Center, and Democracy 21 filed an amicus brief [pdf] explaining how the disclosure requirement is constitutional, and should be kept intact. U.S. District Judge Kollar-Kotelly agreed with us.

Judge Kollar-Kotelly dismissed NAM’s constitutional challenge, stating in her opinion:

The Court has conducted a searching review of the NAM’s opening brief, the Opposition filed by Defendant Taylor and the Opposition filed by the Legislative Defendants, the two amici briefs filed in this case by Citizens for Reform and Ethics in Washington (”CREW”) and Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21, and Public Citizen (jointly the ”CLC Amici”), and the NAM’s Reply brief, as well as the relevant statutes and case law.

But NAM isn’t done yet. It issued this statement after the decision: “We are disappointed with the outcome and will immediately ask the court for a temporary stay of the law’s enforcement as we prepare an appeal.”

Just what do they have to hide? Plenty it seems.

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 10:22 am

Posted in Business, GOP, Government

The Bush Administration in inaction

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I can’t wait for January. From ThinkProgress:

In a remarkable show of contempt, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has flatly refused a House Global Warming Committee subpoena. The subpoena for documents relating to the EPA’s refusal to obey the Supreme Court mandate to regulate greenhouse gases was issued by a unanimous, bipartisan vote on April 2, a year after the Supreme Court decision. On April 11, the EPA requested and received an extension to respond, but today the agency has decided not to turn over the documents:

Go to the Wonk Room to read the full letter and learn more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 10:12 am

The Responsible Caucus

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A very interesting post in Open Left by Chris Bowers. Although he refers to “Congress” in the following, I believe that in all cases he means the House of Representatives.

In Congress, there are 48 members of the Blue Dog caucus. There are 64 members of the New Democratic coalition. There are 72 members of the Progressive Caucus. And now, 55 Democratic challengers have signed onto the Responsible Plan to End the War In Iraq. Given its increasing size, a full-fledged “Responsible Caucus” is emerging in the Democratic Party, of roughly equal size to the three other ideological congressional caucuses.

This is an extremely important event with real possibilities to change the Democratic Congress. While the Responsible Caucus is composed of prospective members of Congress rather than current members, it also distinguishes itself from the other caucuses by having a wider range, and longer list, of specific legislation it endorses. In fact, 17 pieces of legislation are listed in Appendix A of the plan. So, while its members are prospective rather than current, it actually already includes numerous current members of the House. Further, the sheer amount of specific legislation makes it a much more coherent caucus in terms of policy than most, or all, of the other ideological caucuses. Yet further, the ranks of the Responsible continue to grow, with forty new members joining in the last month alone.

Something very big is happening with The Responsible Plan. It might be happening somewhat under the radar, and it might not be directly related to the presidential primary, but this could be the most important development in the Democratic Party over the last two months. Large numbers of Democratic congressional challengers are organizing themselves around specific legislation without guidance or supervision of existing party committees or leadership. Effective, progressive leadership is emerging, and that is a very welcome development.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 10:01 am

Posted in Congress, Democrats

Do you feel safer now?

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Spencer Ackerman writes in the Washington Indpendent:

Everyone remembers that on Aug. 6, 2001, while President George W. Bush was clearing brush in Texas, he received an intelligence brief warning about Al Qaeda’s strategic intent to attack the U.S. homeland. After three years of denying this occurred, the 9/11 Commission’s Richard Ben Veniste treated us to this dramatic moment with Condoleezza Rice:

BEN-VENISTE: Isn’t it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6 PDB warned against possible attacks in this country? And I ask you whether you recall the title of that PDB [President’s Daily Brief]?

RICE: I believe the title was, “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”

Today we have a second round of the PDB. It’s a General Accountability Office report titled “The United States Lacks a Comprehensive Plan to Destroy the Terrorist Threat and Close the Safe Haven in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.” (pdf) Via Max Bergmann at Democracy Arsenal, take a look at this system-blinking-red passage, drawing off an assessment from the director of national intelligence:

al Qaeda is now using the Pakistani safe haven to put the last element necessary to launch another attack against America into place, including the identification, training, and positioning of Western operatives for an attack. It stated that al Qaeda is most likely using the FATA to plot terrorist attacks against political, economic, and infrastructure targets in America “designed to produce mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the population.”

This is what Iraq stops us from dealing with. If, God forbid, something happens, the blood will be bin Laden’s fault, but it will be on the Bush administration’s hands.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 9:55 am

More corruption in the military

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Sitting at the head of the table, Air Force Maj. Gen. Stephen Goldfein, the highest-ranking officer in the room, leaned forward and told the officers and others assembled before him that they should steer a multimillion-dollar Air Force contract to a company named Strategic Message Solutions.

“I don’t pick the winner, but if I did, I’d pick SMS,” Goldfein said to the seven-person group that was selecting a contractor to jazz up the Air Force’s Thunderbirds air show with giant video boards, according to a lengthy report by Defense Department’s inspector general. The head of the selection team almost immediately “caved,” giving in to what he believed was a fixed process, while another member of the team called it “the dirtiest thing” he had ever experienced.

It was during that meeting in November 2005, according to the 251-page report, obtained by The Washington Post, that a controversial $50 million contract was awarded to a company that barely existed in an effort to reward a recently retired four-star general and a millionaire civilian pilot who had grown close to senior Air Force officials and the Thunderbirds.

In a probe that lasted more than two years, investigators concluded that Goldfein and others worked inside the Air Force contracting system to favor SMS and its owners, despite an offer by the company that was more than twice as expensive as a competing bid.

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 9:42 am

Criminal action a possibility

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From ThinkProgress (video at the link):

ABC News recently revealed that President Bush’s most senior advisers convened in 2002 and approved the use of harsh interrogation tactics. Days later, Bush told ABC he “approved” of the tactics.

Questions have been raised as to whether senior officials, including Bush, could be prosecuted for approving torture. ThinkProgress discussed the issue with The New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Jeffrey Rosen, law professor at George Washington University. Lichtblau won the Pullitzer Prize for his December 2005 story breaking the news that Bush was illegally spying on Americans after 9/11. As legal affairs editor of The New Republic, Rosen is considered “the nation’s most widely read and influential legal commentator.”

Discussing the potential for criminal prosecution against senior advisers, Lichtblau argued that a more probable scenario is that low-level officers who executed the interrogation orders face prosecution:

I certainly don’t think it’s likely that you would see international war crimes or, even in a Democratic administration, criminal prosecutions. … I think more likely, if you’re looking at criminal action, the more likely scenario is against the low level case officers who may have actually been carrying out interrogations and using severe interrogation tactics bordering on torture. … If that could be established or of course we have now the destruction of the CIA tapes, and that cover-up could very well lead to, conceivably, I should say, lead to criminal action if it were found that that were done to withhold evidence from the courts or 9/11 Commission.

Rosen came to similar conclusions, but urged Congress to more strongly assert its constitutional oversight role to “haul” Vice President Cheney and chief of Staff David Addington to testify:

Congressional oversight, congressional hearings, censure, political pressure. … The time is ticking away, and they have the ability to haul these people up and ask Cheney and Addington what they were thinking when they endorsed these programs. That’s the appropriate remedy — not some hope of criminal prosecution.

Observing Congress’s aggressive and effective oversight during the U.S. Attorney scandal, Rosen argued that the ongoing debate over FISA and surveillance is lacking similar oversight, as Congress has not firmly drawn the line in the sand:

When it comes to oversight of FISA, both to refining the law in ways that would protect liberty and security and also holding Addington and Cheney accountable for having arguably broken it, they have not done so. … By contrast, Democrats are pretty undecided about exactly where the line should be on FISA and in fact many of them seem inclined to give the Administration far more than many in the civil liberties community think is appropriate.

Lichtblau has published a book, Bush’s Law: The Remaking Of American Justice, which details the development of the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program and the White House’s attempts to thwart Lichtblau along the way. Read an excerpt here.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 9:31 am

Friday cat-blogging: Megs in tunnel

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Megs in tunnel

Megs in tunnel

I never see Megs in the blue tunnel, but the other morning, there she was, comfy as a clam.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 9:28 am

Posted in Cats, Megs

Good news for us, bad news for Don Young

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At long last, some action being taken:

The Senate moved yesterday toward asking the Justice Department for a criminal investigation of a $10 million legislative earmark whose provisions were mysteriously altered after Congress gave final approval to a huge 2005 highway funding bill.

In what may become the first formal request from Congress for a criminal inquiry into one of its own special projects, top Senate Democrats and Republicans have endorsed taking action in connection with the earmark that Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, inserted into the legislation.

“It’s very possible people ought to go to jail,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees highway funding.

Young’s staff acknowledged yesterday that aides “corrected” the earmark just before it went to the White House for President Bush’s signature, specifying that the money would go to a proposed highway interchange project on Interstate 75 near Naples, Fla. Young says the project was entirely worthy of an earmark and he welcomes any inquiry, a spokeswoman said.

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 9:20 am

The continuing costs of war

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Blue Girl notes:

Human beings have limits.

And those boundaries have been breached where about 20% of our defensive forces are concerned. A new study by the RAND Corporation, released just today, pegs the number of veterans suffering from PTSD and depression at about 300,000 and the number of veterans who sustained brain injuries at about 320,000. With only one direction for those numbers to go, we are facing an immediate future where we have somewhere in the neighborhood of a million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan needing care that the VA is ill-equipped to handle — they are overstretched now, and only half of the soldiers struggling with depression, PTSD and TBI have sought treatment.

The new study gives us a glimpse at a cringe-worthy future if we don’t get our collective act together and deal with the issues facing these good men and women who stepped up and served. It also compliments and confirms an Army study on mental health that was released by the Joint Chiefs earlier this month that pegged the number of soldiers suffering from PTSD after one deployment at 12%, after two deployments at 18.5% and after three deployments at 28%.

Here is the cold hard truth that these studies tell – if the US Army was a distance runner, it would be hitting the wall about now, unable to go on one more step.

The Rand study, completed in January, put the percentage of PTSD and depression at 18.5 percent, calculating that approximately 300,000 current and former service members were suffering from those problems at the time of its survey, which was completed in January.The figure is based on Pentagon data showing over 1.6 million military personnel have deployed to the conflicts since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001.

RAND researchers also found:

– About 19 percent — or some 320,000 services members — reported that they experienced a possible traumatic brain injury while deployed. In wars where blasts from roadside bombs are prevalent, the injuries can range from mild concussions to severe head wounds.

– About 7 percent reported both a probable brain injury and current PTSD or major depression.

– Only 43 percent reported ever being evaluated by a physician for their head injuries.

– Only 53 percent of service members with PTSD or depression sought help over the past year.

– They gave various reasons for not getting help, including that they worried about the side effects of medication; believe family and friends could help them with the problem, or that they feared seeking care might damage their careers.

– Rates of PTSD and major depression were highest among women and reservists.

The report is titled “Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery.” It was sponsored by a grant from the California Community Foundation and done by 25 researchers from RAND Health and the RAND National Security Research Division, which also has done does work under contracts with the Pentagon and other defense agencies as well as allied foreign governments and foundations.

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 9:16 am

Free screen-capture programs

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Confessions of a Freeware Junkie has done side-by-side comparisons of a handful of free screen-capture programs and picked a winner. Worth checking out, especially if you’re inclined to annotate your screen captures.

Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 8:39 am

Posted in Software

Friday kitty guidance

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Written by Leisureguy

18 April 2008 at 8:37 am

Posted in Cats

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