Friday, January 27, 2006

If you can make it here

New York as a "green" city? It's hard to think of my beloved concrete oasis in that way, but it's apparently happening:
For years, New York has been the city that not only never sleeps, but the city that hardly ever remembers to turn the lights out. On the coldest days of winter, New Yorkers raise their windows to let out the heat. In the dog days of summer, a husky could freeze in the open doorway of a Fifth Avenue boutique.

But now, measures like more efficient traffic lights and refrigerators are speeding up a long trend making New York one of the most energy-efficient cities in the nation - and officials in cities like Portland and Seattle that might, in the public mind, seem more environmentally conscious are taking notice.

Environmentalists and urban planners from around the nation hail some of New York City's efforts at energy efficiency as models for doing more with less and, importantly, doing it without asking sacrifices of anyone.

One of the enduring memetic legacies of the popular environmentalist movement is the equation of "green" with bucolic rural countryside, and that connects to the yearning to leave the city and live in an area which resembles more closely that ideal. But the flight to the suburbs leads to the flght to the exurbs and that leads to the extremes of sprawl which characterize not only the outskirts of the older cities like New York, but the entirety of younger cities such as Los Angeles and those in the Sun Belt. The desire for space inexorably results in the ruination of that space.

It's the older cities, with their density and relative compactness, which are actually better suited for being "green":

"Counter to what most non-New Yorkers might think, New York is a very progressive city for green building," said Jim Himes, director of the Enterprise Foundation office in New York. The mass transit system, multifamily housing, mixed neighborhoods and the fact that developments never go up on virgin land anymore, all make building in New York very energy efficient.

"It's easier to be green here," Mr. Himes said.

(Of course, newer cities which recognize the dangers of sprawl and take steps to control and minimize it could be even greener.)

[New York Times (12/11/2005)]

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/27/2006 11:28:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Alito filibuster

A Democratic filibuster of Alito's nomination may not be possible, the votes just may not be there, and if they are, it may not hold, and if it does, the Republicans may change the rules and institute the "nuclear option". But even if it doesn't work, even if they drop the bomb, it's worth the fight, and the fall-out could be far less bad than some imagine. (Consider how going nuclear would play in Peoria at the same time as the Delay and Abramoff scandals are going down, and Bush's approval ratings continue at their lowest levels.

[Note: Link to dKos diary entry on Bush approval added in update. Take a look, we're going blue! -- Ed.]

I was not in favor of filbustering Roberts, but Alito on the Court would be very bad for this country.

Sign John Kerry's filibuster petition.

Update: My friend Peggy pointed me to this post on Orcinus in which David Neiwert quotes from Raw Story columnist Nancy Goldstein:
Effective immediately, the Democrats will be known as the lyin'-ass boyfriend party - the perfect date for progressive voters looking to be stood up, bullshitted blind, or left holding the tab.

For five years now it's been "Please baby, baby, baby, please! I'm sorry I was a no-show last time, but hey, that was because I was working overtime to save up to do something extra special for next time, which is the really big event - right, baby?"

Last April, when the Democrats backed away from filibustering extremist appeals court nominees, it was, "Don't you fret, baby. We're not going to go to the mat over small fry like Owen, Pryor, and Brown because we're saving the filibuster for the big one - you know, the Supreme Court, baby." Months later, Democrats folded rather than fight John Roberts, the young-ish yes man with a penchant for executive privilege and a wife who used to head an anti-choice organization. After all, they said, they needed to save their energy, and the filibuster, for the next Supreme Court nominee, who would undoubtedly be worse.

Well, baby, the moment of truth has arrived. It's Alito-time, and the lyin'-ass boyfriends are backpedaling again. Why aren't they going to raise a ruckus this time? Aw, baby... the filibuster is just so darned hard to use with only 45 senators! And what's the point of trying to do anything until we've recaptured the Senate or the White House?

Neiwert then commented:

I broke my longstanding policy of not donating money to political parties last fall when the folks from the DNC called and asked for money to help gird them for the upcoming fights over judicial seats. I was assured that indeed they would fight to keep right-wing extremists off the Supreme Court.

And now, faced with a clear-cut extremist (and dissembler) who is about to not only overturn the right to obtain an abortion, but also to pave the path for an imperial executive branch with limitless powers ... nothing.

I'm not terribly inclined, as my readers know, to use profanity in my posts. But if the Democratic Party wants any more of my money, they can just go fuck themselves.

To that, my friend added her suggestion, a strategy for putting some pressure on the leadership of the Democratic Party to get behind the filibuster:

Together with emailing/phoning/faxing the Dem senators, we should all be contacting the DCCC, the DNC and whatever other alphabet soup organizations raise money for this bunch: NOT ONE MORE THIN DIME UNTIL THE PARTY PROVES IT CARES ABOUT PRESERVING THE REPUBLIC!

I've taken her advice and have contacted the DNC and the DSCC.

We need to see some concerted effort from the Democratic leadership. They need to get behind the filibuster.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/27/2006 03:11:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, January 26, 2006


A few years back there was some lively conversation on an online discussion group I'm a member of about the recent resumption of whale hunting by the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. I was reminded of this while reading a portion of Jared Diamond's book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed which deals with the failure of the Viking (Norse) colonies in Greenland. Diamond examines the reasons why the Inuit, who moved into Greenland while the Norse were still there, were able to survive, while the Viking colonies collapsed. One of the reasons was that the Inuit had the ability to hunt bowhead whales, which provide large amounts of food and other products, which enabled the Inuit to support a much larger population. (An earlier "native" population, the Dorset people -- who also overlapped with the Norse -- did not have this capability, which may have contributed to their demise.)

Regardless of what one thinks about whales, or hunting, the ingenuity of the techniques Diamond describes is, in its way, a breathtaking example of the human ability to solve difficult problems.

(Bear in mind that the Inuit aren't hunting an endangered species, or killing whales for sport, they're simply doing what all human civilizations do, which is to exploit the natural resources available to them to allow their society to survive and prosper.)

Anyway, here's Diamond's description (all typos are mine):
Unlike the Norse, the Inuit represented the climax of thousands of years of cultural development by Arctic peoples learning to master Arctic conditions. So, Greenland has little wood available for building, heating, or illuminating houses during the months of Arctic winter darkness? That was no problem for the Inuit: they built igloos for winter housing out of snow, and they burned whale and seal blubber both for fuel and for lighting lamps. Little wood available to build boats? Again, that was no problem for the Inuit: they stretched sealskins over frameworks to build kayaks, as well as to make their boats called umiaqs big enough to take into unprotected waters for hunting whales.

Despite having read about what exquisite watercraft Inuit kayaks were, and despite having used the modern recreational kayaks now made of plastic and widely available in the First World, I was still astonished when I first saw a traditional Inuit kayak in Greenland. ... Nineteen feel long ... much longer than I had ever imagined, the deck of the slim kayak was packed with ... weaponry: a harpoon shaft, with a spear-thrower extension at the grip end; a separate harpoon head about six inches long, attachable to the shaft by a toggle connection; a dart to throw at birds, with not only an arrow point at the tip but three forward-facing sharp barbs lower on the dart shaft to hit the bird in case the tip just missed; several sealskin bladders to act as drags on harpooned whales or seals; and a lance for delivering the death blow to the harpooned animal. Unlike ... any other watercraft known to me, the kayak was individually tailored to its paddler's size, weight, and arm strength. It was actually "worn" by its owner, and its seat was a sewn garment joined to the owner's parka and guaranteeing a waterproof seal so that ice-cold water splashing over the decks could not wet him. ...

... Not even an Inuit can stab to death at one blow a healthy whale, so the whale hunt began with a hunter harpooning the whale from an umiaq rowed by other men. This is not an easy task ... [--] an untrained man no matter how strong cannot drive a harpoon deeply. Two things made that possible for the Inuit: the harpoon's spear-thrower grip that extended the throwing arc and hence increased the hunter's throwing force and the impact; and ... long practice. For the Inuit ... that practice began already in childhood, resulting in Inuit men developing a condition called hyperextension of the throwing arm: in effect, an additional built-in spear-thrower.

Once the harpoon head became embedded in the whale, the cleverly designed toggle connection released, allowing the hunters to retrieve the harpoon shaft now separated from the harpoon head embedded in the whale. Otherwise, if the harpooner had continued to hold a rope tied to the harpoon head and shaft, the angry whale would have dragged underwater the umiaq and all its Inuit occupants. Left attached to the harpoon head was an air-filled bladder of sealskin, whose bouyancy forced the whale to work harder against the bladder's resistance and to grow tired as it dived. When the whale surfaced to breathe, the Inuit launched another harpoon with yet another bladder attached, to tire the whale even more. Only when the whale had thus become exhausted did the hunters dare bring the umiaq alongside the beast to lance it to death.

Diamond goes on to describe the similarly clever techniques the Inuit used to hunt ringed seals.

I am not a hunter, I'm personally repelled by the idea of killing animals for sport, and I'm the type of over-civilized guy who really doesn't want to know the details about how chickens or cows or pigs are slaughtered to provide food for my table. I even avert my eye from scenes in movies in which fish are cleaned or game is gutted to be cooked.

I admit it, I'm a wuss -- but I'm a meat-eating wuss.

But, as I said, the cleverness of these hunting techniques is so terribly profound that it all but takes my breath away. I can imagine the tens or hundreds of hunters lost to drowning before the toggled harpoon-head was developed, or the numerous whales who outlasted their pursuers and got away before someone came up with the idea of attaching air-filled sealskins to the whales to slow them down and tire them out. It's a whale-hunting system that took many, many years to develop, and which could easily stand for the intelligence and cleverness of humanity in any alien interstellar court of inquiry.

It's one of those things I occasionally come across which really makes me proud to be human -- and I say that in full understanding that what I've described is a technique for systematized killing, killing that is necessary for the survival of a people living in harsh circumstances. (That it really was necessary is one of Diamond's points -- the Norse didn't hunt whales or ringed seals because they couldn't, and their colony ultimately failed.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/26/2006 04:39:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Katrina's damage

It's one of my wife's pet peeves when hurricanes are rated for their destructiveness on the basis of the monetary damages they do: her point being not only that constant dollars aren't generally utilized for these comparisons (at least in media reports), but also that hurricanes widely separated in time have their effect on landscapes which are vastly different in their development.

The preliminary results of a new study by Roger A. Pielke Jr., director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, go some way to redressing that problem:
[The study] retraced the path of hurricanes from the past 105 years and calculated the havoc they would wreak on the present-day United States landscape.

Dr. Pielke said the traditional way of looking at the damage inflicted by past hurricanes - calculating the value of property destroyed and adjusting for inflation - was misleading. "Something else is going on," he said. "That something else is society is changing underneath."

Using a database of information about property and people in 168 counties along the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Seaboard, Dr. Pielke and his collaborators, Christopher Landsea of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Joel Gratz of the University of Colorado, calculated the damage that would occur today from the winds and storm surges of past hurricanes. Their numbers, all adjusted for inflation to 2004 dollars, generally do not include damage from inland flooding.

Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and southwestern Mississippi in August, is No. 2 on the list, with an estimated $80 billion in damage. The researchers plan to refine their numbers on this year's hurricanes before publishing their study.

No. 1 is a storm that received little attention in the historical comparisons that followed Hurricane Katrina: the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926. Similar to Hurricane Katrina in size and ferocity, it caused about $760 million in damage, in 2004 dollars. But if a hurricane of that magnitude followed the same track today, it would leave behind $130 billion of devastation across a Miami area that is far more crowded than it was in 1926, the scientists said.

Similarly, the hurricane that hit Galveston, Tex., in 1900 would cause $53 billion in damage today, and Hurricane Andrew, which caused a record $25.5 billion in damage when it hit Florida in 1992, would cause $51 billion in damage if it hit today.

The study is an update of similar calculations that Dr. Pielke and Dr. Landsea published in 1998. In that study, they found that a storm on the scale and path of the Great Miami Hurricane would cause $63 billion in damage, in 1998 dollars. The doubling in losses, to $130 billion now, largely reflects a growing population and greater individual wealth.

"I was quite surprised at the magnitude of increase of losses," Dr. Pielke said. "Not only are there more people, but they all have more possessions."

If current trends continue, a Great Miami Hurricane would cause $500 billion in damage in 2020 - the rise consisting only of additional property, not any consideration of inflation.

Dr. Pielke said he hoped the numbers would help officials make decisions about how to rebuild from hurricane damage and help them understand that disasters of similar magnitude were all too likely in the future. "This is not a one-off type of event," he said. "It's not just Katrina."

Here's an approximation of a chart which accompanied this article when it appeared in the New York Times on December 11, 2005:

1. 1926 Great Miami $129.7
2. 2005 Katrina 80.0
 3. 1900 Galveston          53.1
4. 1992 Andrew 50.8
5. 1915 Storm 2 50.2
 6. 1938 New England        35.0
7. 1944 Storm 9 34.3
8. 1928 Lake Okeechobee 30.3
 9. 1960 Donna              23.9
10. 1969 Camille 19.2
Source: Roger Pielke, Univ. of Colorado

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/26/2006 01:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


ElBaradei's vision

Several months of limited surfing and consumption of news has caused me to overlook a number of important and interesting occurences. I hope to catch up with a few of them in the coming days.

For instance, on December 10th, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Emergy Agency, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize he shared with his organization, and gave his Nobel lecture. Here's part of what he said:
[W]hy has [the security of humanity] so far eluded us?

I believe it is because our security strategies have not yet caught up with the risks we are facing. The globalization that has swept away the barriers to the movement of goods, ideas and people has also swept with it barriers that confined and localized security threats.

A recent United Nations High-Level Panel identified five categories of threats that we face:

1. Poverty, Infectious Disease, and Environmental Degradation;
2. Armed Conflict – both within and among states;
3. Organized Crime;
4. Terrorism; and
5. Weapons of Mass Destruction.

These are all 'threats without borders' – where traditional notions of national security have become obsolete. We cannot respond to these threats by building more walls, developing bigger weapons, or dispatching more troops. Quite to the contrary. By their very nature, these security threats require primarily multinational cooperation.

But what is more important is that these are not separate or distinct threats. When we scratch the surface, we find them closely connected and interrelated.

We are 1,000 people here today in this august hall. Imagine for a moment that we represent the world's population. These 200 people on my left would be the wealthy of the world, who consume 80 per cent of the available resources. And these 400 people on my right would be living on an income of less than $2 per day.

This underprivileged group of people on my right is no less intelligent or less worthy than their fellow human beings on the other side of the aisle. They were simply born into this fate.

In the real world, this imbalance in living conditions inevitably leads to inequality of opportunity, and in many cases loss of hope. And what is worse, all too often the plight of the poor is compounded by and results in human rights abuses, a lack of good governance, and a deep sense of injustice. This combination naturally creates a most fertile breeding ground for civil wars, organized crime, and extremism in its different forms.

In regions where conflicts have been left to fester for decades, countries continue to look for ways to offset their insecurities or project their 'power'. In some cases, they may be tempted to seek their own weapons of mass destruction, like others who have preceded them.


Today, with globalization bringing us ever closer together, if we choose to ignore the insecurities of some, they will soon become the insecurities of all.

Equally, with the spread of advanced science and technology, as long as some of us choose to rely on nuclear weapons, we continue to risk that these same weapons will become increasingly attractive to others.

I have no doubt that, if we hope to escape self-destruction, then nuclear weapons should have no place in our collective conscience, and no role in our security.

To that end, we must ensure – absolutely – that no more countries acquire these deadly weapons.

We must see to it that nuclear-weapon states take concrete steps towards nuclear disarmament.

And we must put in place a security system that does not rely on nuclear deterrence.


We still have eight or nine countries who possess nuclear weapons. We still have 27,000 warheads in existence. I believe this is 27,000 too many.

A good start would be if the nuclear-weapon states reduced the strategic role given to these weapons. More than 15 years after the end of the Cold War, it is incomprehensible to many that the major nuclear-weapon states operate with their arsenals on hair-trigger alert – such that, in the case of a possible launch of a nuclear attack, their leaders could have only 30 minutes to decide whether to retaliate, risking the devastation of entire nations in a matter of minutes.


Since the beginning of history, human beings have been at war with each other, under the pretext of religion, ideology, ethnicity and other reasons. And no civilization has ever willingly given up its most powerful weapons. We seem to agree today that we can share modern technology, but we still refuse to acknowledge that our values – at their very core – are shared values.

I am an Egyptian Muslim, educated in Cairo and New York, and now living in Vienna. My wife and I have spent half our lives in the North, half in the South. And we have experienced first hand the unique nature of the human family and the common values we all share.

Shakespeare speaks of every single member of that family in The Merchant of Venice, when he asks: "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"


Imagine what would happen if the nations of the world spent as much on development as on building the machines of war. Imagine a world where every human being would live in freedom and dignity. Imagine a world in which we would shed the same tears when a child dies in Darfur or Vancouver. Imagine a world where we would settle our differences through diplomacy and dialogue and not through bombs or bullets. Imagine if the only nuclear weapons remaining were the relics in our museums. Imagine the legacy we could leave to our children.

Imagine that such a world is within our grasp.


ElBaradei's vision has elements of wishful thinking about it: he acknowledges that warfare is an integral part of human interaction, but still believes it possible to eradicate it. I don't think that's true, but I do believe that it's possible to minimize warfare through international cooperation. That means strengthening international organizations such as ElBaradei's, and the UN, and the International Criminal Court, not weakening them as has been Bush's overriding policy throughout his time in office.

Addenda: I failed to make clear, I think, that while aspects of what ElBaradei said can be thought of as pie-in-the-sky thinking, his essential point is correct: that knee-jerk militaristic adventurism such as that practiced by Bush does not in the long run make us any more secure. It might if we had the wherewithal, the inclination and the willingness to suppress those who might oppose us throughout the world, and keep them suppressed for the foreseeable future -- but we don't. Not only don't we have the ability to do that, our political culture wouldn't stand for it after just a short time. Worse, the Chinese, who at this point are underwriting our deficit society through their purchase of massive amount of US government bonds, would at some point step in and stop us once our activities started to be a danger to their regime.

And more importantly, and besides all those practical objections, it would just be morally wrong thing to do. Purchasing our own freedom at the cost of the majority of the world's would be, well, unAmerican, in that it goes entirely against everything this country was founded to stand for.

So, absent keeping the third world under our thumb, the real answer to becoming more secure would seem to be to work towards minimizing the vast disparity in wealth between different regions of the world, and bring everyone into the fold. In the meantime, there would still be instances where we might need to use military force when we are attacked, or in imminent danger of it, which would be the only morally justified reason for doing so.

(Of course, an administration which works so hard to increase the gap between the rich and the poor in its own country would hardly be open to the argument that minimizing the gap between poor societies and rich ones might be a useful policy to implement.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/26/2006 12:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hillary and dynasticism

Josh Marshall makes a very good point about the threat of dynasticism that a Hillary Clinton presidency represents:
George H. W. Bush left office to be followed by two terms of Bill Clinton. He in turn was followed by two terms of Bush's son. If those two terms of the son are followed by the election of Clinton's wife, I don't see where that's a good thing for this country. It ceases to be a fluke and grows into a pattern. It's dynasticism.

I'm not a supporter of Clinton running in 2008, not because I don't think she's qualified to be President (she is, and I think she's done a good job as my Senator), or because I disagree with her politics (I agree with some of her stances and disagree with others), but because I don't believe she can win. The time is near when a woman can win the Presidency, but it's hard to tell whether it has quite arrived yet. Still, whether it has or not, a woman with the baggage that Hillary brings with her (a large bloc of rapid anti-Clintonistas) certainly will not win -- and I don't believe we can afford to lose in 2008.

The point that Marshall makes has entered into my thinking as well -- with so much of our poltical, social and economic culture currently running against the values we reached as a result of the Reformation, the American and French Revolutions, the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, it would be very dangerous to take another step down the path of dynasticism, which would help to make even more permanent our continuing division into the rich, powerful elite and the have-not rabble.

If I thought she could win, and was the best chance we had of winning, that would be another story, and might tip the scales enough for me to support her, but I don't believe, at this moment, that either is the case. We have better candidates available to us (where "better" isn't a value judgement about ability -- it's about winning the damn election), and we should go with our best shot.

Update: Chris Bowers explores why the liberal blogosphere doesn't like Hillary. Me -- I like her, I voted for her, and if it turns out that she's the Democratic candidate in 2008

Update (2/5): Ths post ends abruptly, but I'm not sure if I didn't finish it, or if some other factor (a Blogspot burp?) swallowed what I wrote. I don't recall now what I specifically said or was going to say, but it was probably along the lines that if Hillary is the candidate, I will, of course, support her enthusiastically.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/25/2006 10:15:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Air traffic animations

There are some fascinating animations showing air traffic over the entire US in September of 2001 at this site. Especially compelling is the animation showing air traffic on September 11th, when the number of planes in the air goes from 4012 down to 537 in a matter of hours.

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/25/2006 05:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, January 22, 2006

A meeting in Mecca

Ed Brayton reports:
A potentially important meeting took place last month in Mecca, a meeting involving the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of leaders from 57 predominately Muslim nations. It was important because it was the largest and most important gathering of Muslim leaders to unequivocally condemn terrorism and extremism, and to call for an Islamic renaissance.

More here.

It's not only a Islamic Renaissance that's needed, it's some equivalent of the Reformation and the Enligtenment as well. (And let's hope they achieve that before Western Fundamanetalists have succeeded in destroying all vestiges of our own Enlightenment, as they are clearly attempting to do.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 1/22/2006 03:23:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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11/23/2003 - 11/30/2003
12/07/2003 - 12/14/2003
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10/21/2007 - 10/28/2007
10/28/2007 - 11/04/2007
11/04/2007 - 11/11/2007
11/11/2007 - 11/18/2007
11/18/2007 - 11/25/2007
11/25/2007 - 12/02/2007
12/02/2007 - 12/09/2007
12/09/2007 - 12/16/2007
12/16/2007 - 12/23/2007
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12/30/2007 - 01/06/2008
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01/20/2008 - 01/27/2008
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02/17/2008 - 02/24/2008
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03/16/2008 - 03/23/2008
03/23/2008 - 03/30/2008
03/30/2008 - 04/06/2008
06/01/2008 - 06/08/2008
09/21/2008 - 09/28/2008

search websearch unfutz

Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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