James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association, a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, and a professor of communication studies at Whitworth University.

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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Fields of screams: political commentary and kids’ soccer

Posted by James McPherson on August 27, 2010

I read a fair number of political blogs, both liberal and conservative, and a lot of news stories that now allow anonymous nitwits to post comments. It just occurred to me recently, however, how much those comment sections resemble a game of soccer involving 5-year-olds. Both involve:

  1. lots of pointless screaming and wailing
  2. juvenile pleas for attention, especially from one or two players who seem to be everywhere
  3. uncoordinated and often pointless back-and-forth that generally goes nowhere
  4. little planning or evidence of thinking
  5. almost no paying attention to others on either side
  6. bad grammar

Both also quickly become so boring that, unless they have a kid in the game, most people quickly wander off. At least with the kids’ game, you get some fresh air, rather than stale old B.S.

Posted in Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Out with the bad … and in with the worse?

Posted by James McPherson on December 31, 2008

Despite the election of Barack Obama, and largely due to economic issues, obviously 2008 has been a rough year in the worlds of politics and media (including movies, though I’m more concerned about the news media–thinking that my journalistic friends may need a New Deal-style program to be able to keep reporting the news).

Cable news networks may be doing OK, but more comprehensive (and therefore more useful) media are suffering. Just spend a half hour or skimming through the stories shared by Poynter’s Jim Romanesko and you’ll see at least a year’s worth of bad media business news.

And with even Obama promising that “things will get worse before they get better”–and some very smart people such as James Howard Kuntsler (author of The Long Emergency) and my ecologist brother saying much, much worse–it’s no wonder people are afraid to make New Year’s resolutions.

As for me, I resolve to keep writing as long as I can, blogging as long as the power is on, and teaching as long as my employer stays in business. I have good neighbors and a range of skills that might keep me fed. Besides, as my wife has reminded me, at various times in my life I’ve lived in a bus, a pickup camper and a tent.

Perhaps it’s simply denial (an oft-underated tool), but I trust that whatever happens, my family and I will be “fine in ’09.” I hope you will be, too. Happy New Year!

For a funny review of the year that’s about to be gone, check out the JibJab video below:

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

If you’re going to write anything stupid in the future, don’t come to my class

Posted by James McPherson on December 21, 2008

Though the event boasted about as much security as Barack Obama’s inauguration will (and probably was even more expensive), Iraq’s public Christmas celebration yesterday was a good sign. Despite the security, chances are good that Bill O’Reilly or some other right-wing self-appointed “protector of Christmas”  will make some ludicrous comment tomorrow about it supposedly being easier to celebrate Christmas publicly in Baghdad than in Washington.

I expect that O’Reilly will overlook the fact that it may be more dangerous to be a Christian in Iraq today than at any time in history, and that millions of Christians have fled the country or been killed for their religious beliefs. Still, I was struck by a quote from an Iraq Interior Ministry official at the Christmas party, attended by many Muslims, that “All Iraqis are Christian today!”

The quote and the party are nice symbols of unity (though I didn’t see anything about the event on al-Jazeera today). Unfortunately, here at home, George “I’m a Uniter, not a Divider” Bush has again gone the divisive route by apparently deciding that conservative Christians should be allowed to dictate health policy for America as a whole.

That might explain why among his various lame-duck actions–which so far include attempts to ease offshore drilling, weakening the Endangered Species Act, trying to rewrite the history of his administration while dodging shoes (and perhaps other objects to come), and perhaps wondering whether to pardon Dick Cheney or just shoot him in the face–George W. Bush on Thursday announced its new “conscious protection” rule to keep health care workers from doing jobs they find “morally objectionable.”

The regulation is set to take effect the day before Bush leaves office (I guess he thinks there’s no real hurry), giving Obama’s administration one more thing to work on overturning one day later. Of course assorted feministes, rape victims, those in favor of legalized abortion, those concerned about teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, and other assorted people concerned about women’s health in general hate the new regulation.

My immediate reaction was similar to those in opposition–that this is yet another stupid, petty Bushian effort to impose the Religious Right’s beliefs on everyone else–but then I realized that, taken to its natural conclusion, this decision could make my own job as a college professor teaching journalism classes a lot easier.

See, I normally ask students at the beginning of a semester to write a short paper telling me why they’re in my class, what they hope it will teach them, and how they hope to use it in the future. I do the assignment mostly so that I can tailor the class to students’ needs, where appropriate. If I have several students in my media writing class who plan to enter public relations, for example, I’ll spend a little more time on that topic than if I have a class full of future broadcast journalists.

My obvious mistake is that I’ve made the assignment about them, instead of about me. In the past I’ve thought that it was my job to teach them the necessary skills to succeed in their chosen profession, and, if possible, to get them to look at things from a variety of perspectives. Since they’re adults, albeit young ones, I assumed that they might be capable of making the decisions that were right for them.

Yet many of those students eventually go on to write conservative columns, work for conservative politicians, or do public relations for conservative organizations. Despite the wailings of David Horowitz and similar fear-based donor-funded nuts, and to the probable dismay of some egotistical academics, we liberal professors just don’t have all that much political influence on our students (neither do the conservative profs, which, though outnumbered, still are relatively common).

So now when when I ask my opening questions I’ll be on the lookout for students who might plan to someday use any writing or editing skills picked up in my classes for evil purposes. Since I teach at a Christian university and most of my students are political conservatives, if we can get the latest Bush doctrine expanded, this might greatly reduce my workload.

A Christian myself, of course I’ll continue to teach journalism basics to the “right kind” of believers–those opposed to war and torture and in favor of tolerance, telling the truth, and helping the poor.

But as soon as a student suggests (as many have, over the years) that she hopes to go on to work in government or church activities, maybe even in a way that will help promote her own conservative views, I’m obviously going to have to know a lot more before I agree to share the wonders of the summary lead or the inverted pyramid.

Christmas Day update: Chrismas has been named a national holiday in Iraq for the first time, though there are far fewer Christians left in the country to celebrate it.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Blasts from the past: Sixteen selected posts

Posted by James McPherson on December 3, 2008

I realize that people find their way here at various times, and if you’re like me you’ll rarely go back and read many earlier posts. But I also think you might find some of those posts interesting, so here are 16 of my favorites:

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

2012 predictions for GOP: Jindal, Huckabee, Romney, Palin or relative unknown?

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

Ignorance and the electorate

On-the-mark election predictions, and why Obama won

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Veterans Day: Thank the slaves who let you shop and spew

Speaking for the poor

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Modern ‘poll tax’: Long lines hurt working class & democracy

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Warku-go-’round: A 20-part history of Bush’s War

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Poetry, Politics, Religion, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Klein sweep: No room for lying ‘Joe the Columnist’ on campaign plane

Posted by James McPherson on October 21, 2008

Time magazine’s Joe Klein has apparently been banned from the John McCain’s campaign plane, a ban that apparently bugs the liberal bloggers at the Huffington Post, Politico and Think Progress more than it does Klein himself.

The McCain camp’s reasoning seems obvious: Klein has regularly criticized the campaign, for example noting that the candidate had a “fabulously loony weekend, flipping out charges like a mud tornado” while criticizing Obama for supporting ideas that McCain himself has supported. Still, others argue that in some cases, if any bias exists, it’s because Klein has been too kind to McCain.

Regardless, in this case perhaps the blame in the campaign plane isn’t mainly on McCain, so to speak. Frankly, if I were a candidate I wouldn’t let Klein on my plane (or, given a choice, in my bus, my car, my office, my gym, or even on the same elevator), either–but not because he’s hypercritical (as opposed to hypocritical). Usually he’s not, and even if he were, there’s something be be said for the old adage about keeping your enemies close.

I also wouldn’t ban Klein because he has been criticized for not being friendly enough toward Israel (too big a concern for many modern politicians, in my view), or because of the quality of his writing, which often is more interesting and wittier than that of many of his cohorts–even if, in overly broad but telling words of John Cook in Radar magazine, “Klein’s body of work amounts to little more than a festival of projection and poorly disguised vanity.” (And who am I, or almost any blogger, to criticize that?)

No, none of those reasons would keep Klein (with whom I often agree, by the way) as far away from me as possible. I’d keep him at a distance because I know him to be is a sneak and a liar, if not insane (though maybe no crazier than journalism as a whole). I’m guessing that literary forensics expert and Vassar College professor Don Foster feels same way, and not because of how Klein and Time butchered their coverage of FISA wiretapping rules last year. That coverage favored conservatives, incidentally, one more reason McCain might want “Joe the Columnist” on his plane.

Sixteen years ago, Klein covered Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. Four years later, during Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign, a fictionalized version of that campaign became a bestseller during Clinton’s  at least in part because its author–listed only as “Anonymous”–provided an obvious inside look at Clinton’s life and politics. Parts of Primary Colors (which then became a popular film) the book were fictionalized, but no one knew exactly which parts, and “Guess the Author” became a favorite Washington game.

New York magazine hired Foster to crack the case, and CBS (which also employed Klein at the time) then interviewed Foster about his conclusion that Klein wrote the book (a conclusion previously reached by former Clinton speechwriter David Kusnet in the Baltimore Sun). Klein adamently denied authorship until a handwriting analysis proved that he had lied even to his bosses at CBS and Newsweek.

Klein was forced to resign from CBS, but Newsweek merely made him apologize to readers whose trust he had betrayed. Even afterward, Klein showed no meaningful remorse and had no trouble finding subsequent media gigs–no surprise, since even after Oliver North lied under oath to Congress and the American people he became a network program host, even if it was on Fox News.

So there you have it, why I as a candidate would keep Klein off of my plane–along with the likes of fellow dissemblers George Will (read my book for a further discussion of Will’s lies), Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. Of course I also have this fantasy that if I were a candidate I’d actually talk to real reporters.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Conservative media endorsing Obama; McCain’s options dwindle

Posted by James McPherson on October 18, 2008

I wrote earlier this month, a couple of times (here and here) last month, and even back in May about how the John McCain campaign has managed to turn off conservatives. The trend continues, as a number of newspapers and at least one conservative talk show host (who actually worked for George H.W. Bush) that traditionally support Republicans have come out in support of Barack Obama.

I’ve noted elsewhere how most of the newspapers that make up much of the so-called “liberal media” have endorsed Republican presidential candidates in every election this century except three: 1964 (when Barry Goldwater was viewed as too extremist; incidentally, now he’d be a moderate Republican); 1992 (when then-candidate George H.W. Bush was known to be involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and had shifted attention away from discussion of that issue by bashing the media); and very narrowly in 2004 (after George W. Bush and a Republican Congress had brought us the Iraq War, a spiraling deficit and the Patriot Act).

This clearly will be the first time this century that in back-to-back elections the majority of newspapers will endorse the Democratic candidate. Arguing that “McCain put his campaign before his country” and comparing Obama to Abraham Lincoln (making previously cited comparisons to Ronald Reagan, FDR and Goldwater and seem small), the Chicago Tribune is endorsing a Democrat for the first time in its long history (endorsing Lincoln, for example) as a proud conservative newspaper. Another nod came from from the Los Angeles Times, which last endorsed a candidate–Richard Nixon–in 1972.

Other key endorsements received by Obama include those from the Denver Post, the Miami Herald, the Kansas City Star, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Boston Globe, El Diario, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle (at least the last two of those would be expected in virtually any election year, of course) and newspapers in Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

Some Republicans and media talking heads now are atwitter because the national polls seem to have tightened a bit. But as I’ve pointed out previously, national polls mean little–and Obama continues, at least for now, to control the national electoral map. As expected, most Hillary Clinton voters recognize that Obama better represents their interests than McCain. And both campaigns are hitting traditionally Republican states, Obama to try to expand his lead and McCain as a last-ditch strategy to try to eke out a narrow win.

There still is time for the election to swing toward McCain, of course. Perhaps Sarah Palin will be so impressive tonight on “Saturday Night Live” that she’ll trigger a wave of GOP support. Maybe she’ll start answering questions from the media, and manage to do so in a coherent fashion.

Maybe the don’t-look-at-the-economy-please negative attacks on Obama or on the media by the McCain camp and various nutball supporters like Michelle Bachman will start to take hold–or maybe the McCain folks will figure out that those attacks aren’t likely to depress the turnout enough to help their candidate win, so they’ll go back and dust off the kindler, gentler McCain.

Maybe Colin Powell will endorse McCain instead of Obama tomorrow morning on “Meet the Press,” and maybe he retains enough credibility despite helping lie us into the Iraq War to have an influence. Perhaps a new “terrorist attack” will occur just in time to chase fearful ignoramuses toward McCain. Perhaps Republicans will manage to simply steal another election, though their voter suppression tactics probably are more likely to prevent a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate than to keep Obama out of the White House.

Still, even if some of those factors come into play, it’s probably too late for a McCain victory–and, sadly, perhaps too late to save his reputation.

Next day update: Powell did endorse Obama this morning (prompting Pat Buchanan to question Powell’s loyalty just minutes ago on “Hardball“–saying the endorsement smacked of “opportunism”–while suggesting that Powell was basing his decision on race and that the most-respected military man in America was not a real Republican, anyway). Perhaps less importantly, Fareed Zakaria, Cleveland’s Plain Dealer (the biggest newspaper in Ohio, the state that gave the 2004 presidential election to Bush), and the Houston Chronicle also endorsed Obama this weekend.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

‘Joe the Plumber’ steps into spotlight, gets singed

Posted by James McPherson on October 16, 2008

We heard about “Joe the Plumber” more than two dozen times during last night’s debate, when John McCain talked far more about Joe (though not always honestly) than he did about his own running mate, Sarah Palin. (I thought the oddest comment, said twice by McCain, was, “Joe, I’m glad you’re rich.”) McCain plans to spend some quality time with him, and Fox News refers to him as “every man,” and “a metaphor for the state of the American psyche.” For her part, Palin talked about “Joe the Plumber and Jane the Plumber” in her stump speech today, while Joe himself–whose real name is Samuel “Joe” Wurzelbacher–met the media.

I watched Wurzelbacher for a bit this morning on MSNBC, and he seemed clearly torn between enjoying the attention and being uncomfortable and afraid to say the wrong thing, asking at least twice if the interview was going to be national–pretty much like most of us would be on camera. Of course in a YouTube world, we should all assume that anything we do might turn into an international video. Wurzelbacher refused to endorse McCain, though his views obviously are conservative. More so than McCain’s actually, since he did say he would like to do away with Social Security. Somehow I don’t think that proposal will make it into the McCain/Palin plan.

Now it seems that Joe isn’t actually a plumber, or at least not one with a license (he says he doesn’t need one), he’s behind on his taxes, and he votes under the wrong name. I wonder if the GOP will seek to have his name purged from the electoral rolls?

I do feel a bit bad about what may end up happening to the guy. He came to public attention because he wanted to ask one of the candidates (Barack Obama) a meaningful question. Then, because of Obama’s answer, Wurzelbacher became a tool for the conservatives–and, as the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein wrote, the plumber has been more forthcoming with the media than Palin has. Of course, unlike Palin he doesn’t have the Secret Service to keep reporters away.

On the other hand, Wurzelbacher is taking advantage of his newfound celebrity. He’s already been on Fox, ABC, CBS and MSNBC, and is scheduled to appear on Fox’s “Huckabee” Saturday. Unfortunately he has no idea how brightly the spotlight might shine, or how soon conservatives will leave him alone in the dark if other potentially embarassing problems surface.

Below you can see the original comment and a Fox follow-up, in which Wurzelbacher refers to Obama having “kind of a socialist viewpoint.” The clip concludes with Neil Cavuto calling him “my kind of plumber.”

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Warku-go-’round: A 20-part history of Bush’s War

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Here is the complete 20-part series chronicling the history of George W. Bush’s Iraq War, perhaps the most astoundingly stupid presidential event in American history.

—————

Axis of evil

For sake of definition

Can’t beat the devil

—————

God’s soldiers attack

Saudi pilots slam towers

Time to hit Iraq

—————

They ripped out our heart

We must avenge them all

Chickenhawks are thrilled

_______

 Three thousand were killed

Nine-eleven is the call

We win at Wal-Mart

———

Yes, we must attack

We can’t find bin Laden’s cave

So we’ll bomb Iraq

_______

Bray it long and loud

Bush’s war will protect us

From a mushroom cloud

_______

Why attack Saddam?

Weapons of mass destruction

None there? We’ll be damned

_______

Please world wish us well

And God bless America

Killing infidels

_______

Flags throughout the land

Jingoistic fervor reigns

Don a black armband

_______

Let’s not be out-Foxed

Lapel flags in great demand

How about those Sox?

_______

Don’t count on the press

To learn what’s fact or fiction

The real truth? Just guess

_______

Soldiers bravely toil

Thousands come home draped with flags

From their war for oil

_______

 God save George the King

Chinese car magnets for troops

Who don’t mean a thing

_______

War is hell, he said

As if he had ever been

Your kids go instead

_______

Shake bittersweet Rice

From a sheltered brittle Bush

Harvest has its price

_______

Watch for terrorists

Those who’d offer civil rights

Must be communists

_______

They’ve not hit again

Three-fourths as good as Clinton

Check back in oh-ten

_______

Now the country’s broke

Try to change the rationale

Use mirrors and smoke

_______

Go to war we can

If we must we must, they say

What about Iran?

_______

Politicians’ game

Spin the bottle or the truth

Ending up the same

_______

 

 

Posted in History, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Palin, Pakistan & the press: ‘Cheez Whiz, people, don’t you know she doesn’t mean what she says?’

Posted by James McPherson on September 28, 2008

Republicans are trying to keep Sarah Palin from speaking to the press, even as she makes the rounds of traditional campaign stops. As I noted in the comments section yesterday, with last night’s Tina Fey “Saturday Night Live” appearance, considering how tightly scripted and hidden away Palin as been, lately most of us will have seen more of Fey as Palin than we’ve seen of Palin as Palin.

Now GOP operatives apparently will need to simplify the instructions even further: “Sarah, don’t speak unless you’re on a stage, with a teleprompter, repeating things we’ve let you practice. Smile and nod and wave, but don’t speak. And for God’s sake, don’t ever answer a question. From anybody. Anywhere.” That might make Thursday’s debate a bit tricky.

Just one day after John McCain criticized Barack Obama for saying he would strike inside Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden–a view, incidentally, that McCain himself and most other Americans likely would support, and which goes along with what has become Bush administration policy–Palin (on a Philly cheesesteak run) had a Temple University grad student ask her if American troops should go from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Her response: “If that’s what we have to do stop the terrorists from coming any further in, absolutely, we should.”

Though she said she had watched the previous night’s presidential debate, and praised the performance of McCain (whom she may believe once walked the earth with dinosaurs), she apparently missed one of her running mate’s strongest statements: “You don’t say that out loud.”

As a result, today the campaign was forced to retract one of the few things Palin actually has said out loud in public. With no apparent irony intended, McCain (talking this morning to George Stephanopoulos) said Palin was a campaign asset in large part because “She knows how to communicate directly with people.” That comment came almost directly on the heels of McCain weakly blaming her latest misstep on the existence of microphones at what was clearly supposed to be another beauty queen-style photo op:

“In all due respect, people going around and… sticking a microphone while conversations are being held, and then all of a sudden that’s—that’s a person’s position… This is a free country, but I don’t think most Americans think that that’s a definitve policy statement made by Governor Palin.”

Of course he’s right about that. Most Americans likely no longer believe that the McCain can offer a “definitive policy statement” about virtually anything. No wonder even many conservatives and their media supporters are jumping ship. One newspaper, endorsing its first Democrat since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 (during the last Great Depression), noted accurately:

McCain, who has voted consistently for deregulation, started off two weeks ago declaring the U.S. economy fundamentally sound but ended the week sounding like a populist. Who is he really? …

While praiseworthy for putting the first woman on a major-party presidential ticket since Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, his selection of Palin as a running mate was appalling. The first-term governor is clearly not experienced enough to serve as vice president or president if required. Her lack of knowledge is being covered up by keeping her away from questioning reporters and doing interviews only with those considered friendly to her views.

At the risk of repeating myself, Thursday night’s debate could be tricky, and I’ll again offer my recommended debate strategy of yesterday for both candidates: Try to let your opponent talk. Don’t complain if s/he goes over the time limit; you’ll probably benefit more from it.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some “family crisis” forces Palin to postpone or cancel the debate, if not withdraw from the race altogether. Whether anyone would buy that, after McCain’s recent erratic behavior, remains to be seen. And by the way, isn’t it long past time to stop calling McCain a maverick, and to start calling him simply a compulsive gambler?

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

McCain continues ‘suspended’ campaign

Posted by James McPherson on September 25, 2008

Though John McCain announced yesterday that he was suspending his political campaign to go where he was neither wanted nor needed, to join a process where he has relatively little knowledge and even less influence, he and his surrogates are apparently trying to have their cake and eat it, too.

They say they won’t campaign, but then do it, anyway. Both McCain and Sarah Palin submitted to interviews with CBS, and McCain even tried to bring a campaign staffer to his meeting/photo op at the White House today. By contrast, Barack Obama, who made no pretense of being unable to do two things at once, was taking along just a Senate staffer.

McCain ditched (and apparently lied to) David Letterman to talk to Couric, prompting one publication to recall earlier comments about why he liked to appear on Letterman’s show: “One reason I like to go on those shows, particularly ones like Leno or Letterman, is that they help you reach a wide viewing audience that otherwise would not be paying attention to the political scene—people who would never be exposed to the Sunday-morning shows or other programs that politicians are traditionally on.”

Not only have McCain and Sarah Palin largely avoiding the media (the CBS interviews providing rare exceptions), they apparently aren’t talking enough to each other. Last night Palin did her third interview since becoming the VP nominee, and it’s hard to believe she couldn’t be more specific about something her party’s presidential nominee has done (especially since her major point seemed to be to criticize Barack Obama’s lack of specifics).

I’ve posted much of the Palin interview below–the most enlightening (and perhaps the scariest) part comes at the end of the clip, with this response to a question about specific McCain actions regarding economic oversight: “I’ll try to find some and I’ll bring ’em to ya.” Below that is a clip of last night’s David Letterman highlights.

Posted in Journalism, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »