Friday, August 28, 2009

redirected cargo cult

via wood s lot

How long is everyone going to deny just how fucking crazy mainstream Republicanism has become? And when are people going to start asking seriously where this is headed? Digby

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The magical mirror of consumer pricing, commodity enslavement, and unprepossessing fecklessness

A lot of recent books, films and other media commodities have lambasted corporations, often with eloquence and holy rage. (I'll append some later to this post-in-progress, but I should mention I've not read most of them).

Let's start with, there's something to be said for devices dedicated to accumulating wealth. And that is my definition of "corporation," for now. A corporation in USia is merely a mechanism whose entire function is to accumulate wealth, an enterprise that takes many enterprising forms.

I realize the definition is under-developed, but it has the virtue at least of ruling out the possibility of confusing such wealth attracting mechanisms with those entities who are envisioned, under the Constitution, as "men."

We USians have been very good at figuring out how to build these giant machines, how to manipulate them, and at discovering how they can further manipulate their environments to expand power, "brand," and control. They have made possible economic effects unimaginable in earlier ages (except perhaps at times of moments of massive slave labor) or within other, more regulated, national platforms. Without corporations, we'd still be pissing in the wind hoping it'll bring rain.

We have been rather less good at understanding that simply because something is good at something, that does not mean it's good at everything. Instead of seeing that there's a lot about corporations that, left to their own devices, will be destructive to life, liberty and the pursuit of whatever happiness money can't buy, we have caved to the gods of unregulated motion, and only now are beginning to glimpse some of the rewards of our craven largess. Many of the recent studies of the evils of corporations appear to make this argument in one form or another.

Someone recently said the USian economy is 70% consumer-driven. Let's just accept that for now. As we witness the debacle involving thousands of retailers throwing good merchandise at us at ludicrously low prices, pleading that we take their giant TVs, SUVs, Home Entertainment Centers, indoor dog restrooms and the like for next to nothing, (it's like an engine screaming millions of RPMs and getting no traction, like some sort of behaviorist experiment gone seriously awry "come on, little chinchilla, you liked your dopamine + testosterone + meth shot before, have your 5 millionth dose of pleasure" [vide supra]), we, lacking money, jobs, healthcare, communally centered systems of value, practice and security, grow pale, bloodless, and dumb.

I want to look at an aspect of the "consumer-driven economy" that I, haven't seen explored (perhaps because I'm an entirely unlettered non-student of economics).

The thought occurred to me today as I listened to a tape of the late Ted Kennedy, in a radio interview, talking about the out-of-control way in which corporate interests use money to influence elections: this present time people say, look, I don't want my tax money used into politics. They just don't want it, but at the end of the day they're getting it because they're paying for it with these lobbying activities. And it's something that, as I have said too often, we're getting the best Congress that money can buy, and I think it's a real disgrace. link

Kennedy is noting something that we all know, but that we resist acknowledging at too intelligent a level: When we avoid using money directly for public purposes, our money gets used indirectly to subvert public purposes.

The particular transaction of interest here is the consumer's purchase of a product. When a new product hits the market, its price is a compound reflection of the costs that put it there - materials, labor, marketing, transport, etc. When we buy products, we make them whole -- we pay for the recovery of those costs. The price re-presents a stacked set of various kinds of purposively organized activities, energies and materials laid out with the promise of redemption upon the consuming of the commodity.

It's naive to assume a simple or direct relation of price to costs in a capitalist system. Let's face it, the sellers (vendors, supply chain, point of sale etc) all have to take their piece, it's what justifies -- or at least enables -- their being there at all. Like a magical mirror, price "reflects" certain costs, and it conceals certain surpluses. The same number is both an indicator of certain actual cost values and a misdirecting gesture hiding an uncertain quintessence of value.

What specifically interests me is the engagement of this quintessence in the logistics of brand power. Because it's clear that in the end, a brand becomes Huge Brand by exerting power over the marketplace and the "consumers." How does it acquire that dominance?

In part through marketing. In part, as well, through rear-guard actions that do everything possible to defeat litigation, defuse interest in competitors, and defeat any contenders to brand supremacy. Or maybe that's still marketing?

Now, the dollars for marketing come from the consumer. They're built into the price structure. So when we "buy a product," we're not simply buying a product. We are entering into a complex campaign, a campaign which may not be in our best interest, particularly when, for example, it uses our dollars to pay certain officials to look the other way in certain unfortunate product liability situations.

This suggests that in typical commodity transactions, "price" isn't a simple compound of representation and concealment. It's a conflicted engagement of the interests of "the consumer." We are paying in part for the power of the seller to deceive us as to the value, or liability, of the thing we're buying. An enforced collusion, resulting from a delusion of innocence. Of course we're innocent -- how could we possibly know?

The purchase of a commodity then is itself a battleground that comes complete with its own potential conflict of interest. We are investing in the power of the corporate seller to gain ascendance over the market. As the corporation's power increases, we are left with less market command: less reliable information and fewer choices -- products that tend to cost more, and are probably less well made.

Or could it actually be worse than a conflict of interest? Because as we continue to buy what we are sold, we should try not to forget that corporations, according to our current world view, are also citizens.(1) These civic actors network with elected representatives, trade groups, and regulators to assume more power over the market, over the range of choices, over the regulatory system, over who gets elected to rule.

Thus their costs include large expenditures for contributions to media campaigns, for lobbying efforts, and presumably for all sorts of less visible effects.

In order to have the wherewithall to spend on buying houses of congress, corporations need to generate ever larger surpluses. Pricing has to include costs to the end user that pay for the agents charged with diverting lawmakers from the Public Interest to private interests, in order to guarantee that prices can be set to incorporate larger "citizenly costs" with impunity.

This is known as "building brand."

As we (consumers) buy commodities, we lose freedom, cede power. Markets narrow, monopolies grow stronger, brands appear on shirts, skin, and soon, doubtless, on DNA.

Put another way: built into the pricing of the commodities that corporate citizens sell is a component which is allocated to the abridgment of our rights as citizens. Brands build in part by deforming marketplaces, depreciating the quality of your engagement while appreciating theirs.

I suspect it's this claustrophobic predicament that causes USians to feel helpless, dull, powerless. Every day in every way, we pay. For the privilege of our own expropriation.

The economy is indeed consumer-driven, only the consumers are posing as corporate citizens. We who were supposed to be the citizens are merely the consumed.

(1) A corporation is legally a citizen of the state (or other jurisdiction) in which it is incorporated. #

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Opener access

Wed. Aug. 26th: ... starting today, Google Books will offer free downloads of these and more than one million more public domain books in an additional format, EPUB. Inside Google Books.

Of course, it can be difficult and costly to reproduce and transport the information that older physical books contain. Some can't afford these works. Others who might be able to afford to purchase them can't unless they can find a physical copy available for sale or loan. Some important books are so limited in quantity that one must fly around the world to find a copy. Access to other works is only available to those who attend certain universities or belong to certain organizations. Link.
Once we convert atoms from physical books into digital bits, we can begin to change some of that. (cough).
{{{Ok, I've tried opening a couple of epub files with different programs, including notepad - nuthin' but code. Suggestions, kind readers?}}}

O'Reilly also tweeted these efforts to make more US Government data accessible and fluid:

DataMasher Mash up state data

This We Know US Gov't data about communities.

govpulse the federal register, beautifully organized.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Healthcare in nations that don't perpetrate fraud upon their citizens

If you're a Native American or a veteran you live in Britain. They get government health care and government hospitals from government doctors and they never get a bill.

If you're an employed person sharing your health insurance premium with your employer, you live in Germany. That's the Bismarck model that was invented in Germany and used in many countries.

If you're a senior and you buy Medicare insurance from the government and go to private doctors, you live in Canada. That's the Canadian model. As a matter of fact, the Canadian health care system is called Medicare, and when Lyndon Johnson provided it for our seniors in 1965 he borrowed both the model and the name from Canada.

And if you're one of the tens of millions of Americans who can't get health insurance, well, you live in Malawi or Madagascar or Mali or something...

A clarifying look at healthcare systems.

Get the short version here (NPR interview) or here (transcript of same).

Also: 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World

add: Another Interview with Reid: Sick Around the World

"This is a brutal system..."

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Roberto Benigni said it best

The Interrogation Report appears to require interrogation:

The Times invites help.

Benigni: "It's very healthy to read uncomprehensible things."

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Poll up your arse?

an NBC poll last week found that 45 percent of those surveyed believe the measure would allow the government to make decisions about cutting off care to the elderly -- a figure that rose to 75 percent among Fox News viewers. Kurtz.
As if anyone still needed to disabuse themselves of the discovery value of polling. Some elements that factor into polls:
  • Sampling method
  • Topic
  • Wording of question(s)
  • Wording of possible responses
  • Timing of poll vis a vis media coverage, other events
  • Body language of pollster (including tone for telephone)
Doubtless there are more. And the weight of each element all goes to the work of innuendo, social manipulation, etc. For the tweeterers: Do social media help or hinder our awareness of the limitations, distortions, of broadcast polls?

Afterthought: It is with commercial products like polls that one can, I think, make advances toward enlightenment by invoking David Weinberger's notion of Transparency (see his post, Transparency is the new objectivity).

For years I've ignored polls. Instead of providing objective evidence, they are mostly about serving some insect lord's nefarious agenda. That's a reasonable inference, since they usually fail to provide any of the transparency David calls for.

I.e., knowing all about how the poll was conducted: seeing the questions, watching the questioner speaking them, looking at temporal context, understanding the sampling method, and knowing who paid for the poll -- all this can give the dumb, silent public (which is always what's posited as the receiver of broadcast commodity information) a means of gauging the "objectivity" of any particular poll. So long as that information is withheld, the poll is useless.

With that in mind, I'm tempted to modify David's formula. Transparency might not be co-terminous with objectivity, but without what might be called genetic transparency - how a thing was made - we will never begin to gauge the complex bearings of political media messages.

So, given that all news programs are, before anything else, performances (shows), it stands to reason that what we end users want is not the show itself, but a window into the making of the show - the places where the story choices, emphases, editorial decisions, reportorial obsessions, advertorial repercussions - are made manifest. Again, like polls, news commodities are designed to hide the very things that would help customers reach informed judgments.

What we need less of is the stage. The fourth estate needs no fourth wall. Stop re-porting what you think is the news, and start bringing us into the news Room, the space of the news. That might not ensure objectivity, but it could provide a vantage from which a useful evaluation of your reportorial and analytic skills could begin.

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Trainer and Teacher

Friday, August 21, 2009

In honor of the 10th anniversary of Napster

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tom {T'i qifsha trut?} Friedman, "Fuck You"

Thomas Friedman (see preceding post for new editorial policy regarding certain proper names) regarding how it came to pass that he chose to say "Fuck you" to a roomful of people (at the Freedom to Connect Conference) trying to understand journalism:

"I believe passionately in the New York Times, a place I have worked at my whole adult life. Lord knows, it has made its mistakes. Which newspaper or blogger hasn't? But I believe that when it is at its best it plays a vitally important role in our democracy, and flippant, denigrating remarks about it, at a time when it is in economic peril and our country desperately needs serious journalism to sort through this crisis, struck me as deeply unserious. That said, when I'm trying to make a point, especially a heartfelt one, and my choice of words ends up getting in the way of that point — even if for just one person — then I chose the wrong words."
(From David Weinbergers's most recent edition of JOHO, which has much more of interest about new notions of news).

This is Dan {viech d'ase} Ratherism, only rather worse. Mr. {Bousse to la gueule}Friedman has chosen high seriousness and the priestly essence of Journalism to believe in, at a time when what one might wish to do is to look very honestly and dispassionately at the New York {Moor Kwas} Times, the falling industry it clings to, the social crises making it a reasonable question whether, given the current state of social rationality, journalism continues to be what it originally was, or whether it has degenerated, genealogically, into the opposite of its original idea,
social rationality appears to produce normative ideals, however these normative ideals are subject to historical change. Their existence in the present may have little relation to their genesis. That is, what was once normative may have over time come to be instruments of domination. (We can think of a totally administered society or the irrational consequences of rationalization.) Thus, previously normative ideals could lose "the normative kernel" over time. link
and, if so, why.

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Editorial Policy Change for IMproPRieTies

Effective immediately: Going forward, all proper names belonging to the raving hind end of the US population - Senate Republicans, Sarah Palin, Mr. Limbaugh, Thomas Friedman, etc. that appear anywhere in the text of IMproPRieties shall be understood to contain, by way of tmesis, unmarked expletive infixation.

E.g., "George Bush" will = George {expletive infixation} Bush, where the particular expletive is to be supplied by the luxuriant imagination of the reader.

In cases where some raving hind end will for some unimaginable cause be spared the infixation, the name will be marked to tmetically so specify.

~ E.g., Max {no expletive infixation} Baucus ~

For those wishing to expand their expletive horizons beyond English - for example,

~ Rush Lee Sok Limbaugh ~

see here, here, here, and, well, via the (vas faire foutre a la vache!) excellent, here:

Arabic egyptian
Arabic kuwait
Arabic syrian
Cantonese (Chinese)
Cantonese (chinese)
Cape Verdean Creole
Creole (sierra leone)
Dari (Farsi)
Dari (farsi)
Dutch (Holland/Belgium)
Dutch (holland/belgium)
Flemish (Belgium)
Flemish (belgium)
Francais (Quebec)
Fujianese (chinese)
Haitian Creole
Hokkien (Chinese)
Ilocano (philippines)
Irish Gaelic
Irish gaelic
Jinan (Chinese)
Kazakh (shymkent)
Kreole (seychelles)
Kreyol (Haitian Creole)
Kurdish (Sorani)
Libyan Arabic
Libyan arabic
Lowland Scots
Lowland scots
Manx Gaelic
Mauritian Creole
Mauritian creole
Persian (Farsi)
Persian (farsi)
Scottish Gaelic
Shanghai (chinese)
Spanish (cuban)
Swiss German
Tagalog (Philippine)
Te reo maori
Toisanese (Taishan)
Tunisian Arabic
Venician italian

Saves keystrokes! More Interactive! Tell all your friends!

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

strange beasts file

Monday, August 17, 2009

Compliments of the public good

via Gracchi

There is a worrying trend in which the resources that you can use to do proper scholarship are falling behind subscription curtains - JSTOR, EEBO, the RHS bibliography- are all beyond access for members of the general public to inspect. I don't like this because I think scholarship should be open to access to everyone and I also think that if it isn't there are risks - there are risks to making access to knowledge conditional on holding an institutional subscription (step forward JSTOR) - I understand that there has to be an economic model to support such things - but on the other hand there is a complementary public good, that access to knowledge ought to be free.

Whether you call them academics or priests, exclusive castes who dominate access to knowledge are not healthy for society and the internet ought to be about opening knowledge to everyone- not just to those with a university login.

[Added later:] A glimpse into how one academic library (Hanover College's Duggan Library) values JSTOR:

In 2008, the Duggan Library subscribed to a total of 825 (and still growing) archived titles covering almost 26 million pages of content. This represents 6, 300 linear feet of shelf space. To put that last number in perspective, just imagine all of the periodical shelving behind the reference desk/collection on the first floor.

During the year there were more than 22,000 searches performed, and more than 62,000 viewed pages, with 4,857 full text articles downloaded representing about 5 downloaded articles per student FTE. Based on the cost of our combined JSTOR subscriptions we paid the equivalent of $1.84 per article. Compare this to customary interlibrary loan article fees of $10 to $20 and it is easy to see that we are certainly getting a good return on investment while helping ensure that our users are getting the academic support they require.

Comment: More data like this could lead to a sense of what might be a fair pricing mechanism for open, worldwide micropayment access to JSTOR. It would also be helpful to know how many people attempt to access information hiding behind JSTOR's walls, who are blocked, and how many have somehow hacked in.

My guess is that when all these numbers are brought into relation, we're looking at a low, eminently affordable micropayment scheme that would bring in revenue to JSTOR and its ilk, and permit everyone to use the research which it now wrongly hoards.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cognitive blindness

Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves Dept.: The more I look at it, the more it seems that the reason most USians do not have a problem with a patently schizoid internet economy (all $$ to Big Pipe, $0.00 to Content) is that they don't see it. Things that serve merely a use value function are green-screened out in the USian Capitalist, branded, techno-social economic delusion. If it ain't a snazzy business model complete with huge brand and tits, it n'existe pas.

Business Model

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Withholding knowledge is also power

via INSIDE Higher Ed:

JSTOR -- which until now has been a repository for back issues of nearly 800 journals -- will, beginning in 2011, provide current content from the 50-plus journals that the UC Press publishes, meshing the new releases seamlessly with the journals' back files and primary content from libraries increasingly found on JSTOR. ...

...libraries would buy access to both current and archival journals in a single transaction, though the pricing models would be different. Users would continue to pay for JSTOR's archival material in roughly the same way they do now, paying for collections of journals at prices set by JSTOR, but publishers will set their own prices for the current journals, which while provided through JSTOR will be clearly branded by journal and publisher.


"The important issue here is whether or not other publishers will get on board with the UC Press," Steven J. Bell, associate university librarian for research & instructional services at Temple University, said in an e-mail message. "As they say, this agreement could be a 'game changer,' but not if the other publishers don’t buy in to the change."

"Aren't we at a point where we should be moving forward more to integrate monograph with journal content online, rather than allowing this new 'digital divide' to grow even further?" ...

[Oh yes - the digital divide.]

"It would be a natural extension of this platform to have that content. Eventually, it won't matter what the traditional carrier was -- it will be 'content,' in a variety of presentations, that represents the whole scope of the research endeavor."

JSTOR's method of digitally packaging academic knowledge seems to be maturing into a richer model. What's unclear is why the expansion of "content" is not yet matched by similar efforts to broaden audience access. Why not set as a goal the chance for anyone, anywhere to access articles for minimal micropayments? Or is that not within "the whole scope of the research endeavor." What's the down side of sharing knowledge?

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

So does social media augment or inhibit catholicity?

In our age, when men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering, there is coming into existence a new kind of provincialism which perhaps deserves a new name. It is a provincialism, not of space, but of time; one for which history is merely the chronicle of human devices which have served their turn and been scrapped, one for which the world is the property solely of the living, a property in which the dead hold no shares. The menace of this kind of provincialism is that we can all, all the peoples on the globe, be provincials together; and those who are not content to be provincials, can only become hermits.
Eliot, "What is a classic?" - helpfully culled here.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Given infinite supply, there is no economic leverage

"Nature is an infinite sphere of which the center is everywhere and the circumference nowhere." Blaise P.
The text of Whitman acts this out.

I was more or less making the same point here with regard to content and moolah. And here. One track mind these days.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Prof. Pluggy explains it all to you

The old man is sound, hearing. Lear, ear. The daughter is the image, what is seen. The father insists on words: he has specific things he wants to hear. But the daughter will say only "nothing." Link

I know less about economics than Godard did about King Lear:

I would have thought that there was something I was missing if Sellars had not told me that Godard had in fact never read King Lear.

That didn't stop him him. Therefore I humbly offer my solution to two conundra of the current Internet economic predicament. Which, in brief, is:

This is one of Godard's many films in which he attempts to reconfigure the cinema from a razed ground zero.

Zero Re-set

On one side, the USian telcos and ILECs -- the service providers, in short -- are raking in huge bucks for essentially doing nothing except enjoying Proprietorship of the Pipes. They are the Landlords of the IntarTubes. Now, granted there were some costs associated with putting those pipes in, and turning on their systems, and selling them to a generous assortment of would-be content creators, thieves, and middlemen. And a few customers. If these costs haven't been recovered by now, some stockholders ought to be asking why. So for doing pretty much nothing beyond maintaining their system, and (some expansion where they see fit), yer lordships be making billion$ every quarter.
Professor Pluggy might be an absurd concoction — a cinematic prophet with hair made of audio-visual cables, a cigar perpetually in his mouth, and a mumbled, slurred diction that makes him sound like he's narrating the film while eating breakfast — but he's the one who introduces Shakespeare's descendant to the idea of the image.
This is not enough, however, for the telcos. In the movie they're making of reality, they get to charge customers for the privilege of using free capacity on their systems. Free to the telcos. Unused part of the band. By limiting text messages to 160 bits, it costs virtually nothing to let trillions of text messages swim through the vasty and deep inane of their pipes.
The image shows, unequivocally, Shaksper meeting Edgar, but the voiceover suggests something stranger, something surreal and impossible to visualize: Shaksper meeting Edgar and a girl who isn't there.
Essentially the landlords are charging us tenants to write to each other even though it costs them nothing when we do so.

  1. "Lear: Speak.
  2. Cordelia: Nothing, my lord.
  3. Lear: Nothing?
  4. Cordelia: Nothing.
  5. Lear: Nothing will come of nothing. Speak again."

The landlords, not unlike Mr. Bernanke and Señor Tetragrammaton, have mastered creation ex nihilo.

On the other side, the tenants are freely appropriating tons of alleged intellectual "property" in the form of mp3s etc., except in this case, other landlords, such as the RIAA, are not afraid to use the courts to collect their pound of Mr. Tenenbaum.

Norman Mailer: I knew Godard was going to destroy any script I wrote for King Lear; he hated scripts. He considered them his personal antagonist. But it was worth it. So I wrote a script of King Lear, which I called Don Learo. Godard and I got along 24 hours before we went our separate ways. I will say, for the record, he may be the second or third most awful man I've met in my life. And that's saying a lot."
So, in brief, I propose a return to good form, say, a cutaway two and a half somersault half-twist. The Telcos will continue to charge the texters for using nothing and paying something. The profits realized from this bonanza will be put into a {{{{pool}}}} to supplement the paying of nothing for the alleged IntelProp something. Kind of like hair plugs. Any time Mr. Tenenbaum steals a song he happens to like, some record co. executive with bad hair gets $.0007 from the proceeds of the Telcos' movie about texting.

"I don't know if I made this clear before, but this was after Chernobyl."

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

Chirac rhymes with Iraq - must be a sign

You are surprised? A dozen times (this makes a baker's dozen), we noted what is now becoming evident to all (except the mainstream press(1)): Bush is insane. See @#$%#@$@# and @#$#@$@#$@#

(1) Note to Mainstream press: Indeed, USians had a whackjob as president, and you covered his every move for eight long years as if he were a scientific instrument, a veritable Asstrolabe of Human Reason. You'd look pretty non-credible to start running stories of this sort now. Your work offered less adequate representations of reality than, say, the novels of Dick (2). We understand. This is not about Bush, it's about you. Give yourselves another Pulitzer, five tabs of meth, and call me in the morning.

(2) (Phil K.)


Friday, August 07, 2009

Briefly noted

IMproPRieTies may not be at the top of the blogospheric world, ma, but note of it does get taken.

Bill Thayer found my note about his Antiquary's Shoebox, and expanded upon his project in his comment here. He says, in part,

Not all the items, especially in the latter, are from JSTOR, either. At any rate, a lot of these old journal articles are every bit as good now as when they wuz written, and can still keep us from reinventing the wheel, or even parroting nonsense long since proved such
Antiquary's Shoebox

And this, from the blog with the great name, Blog Populi Blog Dei:

Y el blog llamado Improprieties en donde se mezcla el arte, los medios sociales, observaciones y preguntas. Para ejemplo el post “Miracle of Qana” (en relación a la boda de Caná). O este otro ” Haque and Doc on news, evolution, and bucks” en donde explora los diarios y su problema de sobrevivencia en la era de Internet.
Don't miss this image from that site, based in Monterrey, Mexico.

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