Saturday, December 10, 2005

On Merit

Markos on Daily Kos is selecting new guest bloggers for the next year. His post on the topic said this:

I made my decisions, like I have in the past, based on two factors -- the first is merit. I don't concern myself with sex, race, ethnicity, or any of that stuff.

The blogosphere is different from real world in that neither Markos nor anyone else really knows a person's sex, race or ethnicity. Even those who state that they are, say, white men, may be lying. There is no way of knowing. I might be a thirteen year old boy with spots, typing away in my mom's basement.

So the gentle way of interpreting Markos's comments is that he can be objective because there is no data to bias him. A less gentle interpretation is that Markos believes merit to be easily distinguishable from "any of that stuff", even in contexts other than the internet. Sadly, this is also the way most discriminatory acts are justified. No bigot is ever going to state that he or she decided to bypass a minority candidate or a woman even though they had greater merit. I am not calling Markos a bigot, of course, far from it. But it's useful to remember that the merit-defense doesn't have the squeaky clean history he seems to assume by using it.

Orchestras hardly ever hired women until auditions used a screen that hid the auditioner from the judges. I very much doubt that the judges in the pre-screen days thought themselves biased. Rather, they probably felt totally objective and neutral in their choices. But the screens made a difference. This is a salutary reminder of the fact that bias can be unconscious.

The interesting question is whether the anonymity of the internet serves as a screen. I'd call it a screen with holes, because there are ways in which a person can provide information on his or her gender or race, and these ways may influence those who are judging. Consider, for example, the handle you adopt. Someone calling themselves "Kute Kitten" is going to be seen as a young woman, someone calling themselves "Terminator" is going to be seen as a militant man. And so on. I doubt that many men select feminine names for their internet cruising. But quite a few women do, and this may have an impact on someone judging the person's output.

Likewise, the topics that someone writes on frequently can offer cues about gender and race, and so can the way that "someone" comments on topics written by others. Our life experiences inform the points we make. A man is unlikely to comment quite like a woman on topics such as abortion or sexual harassment. Anyone really adamant on finding whether some blogger is a man or a woman could probably succeed. It might be a little harder to establish a person's race but with enough available material even that should be feasible.

Add to this the fact that most bloggers and commenters are quite open about their gender and ethnicity, and the possibility of bias on the internet grows. Once again, I'm not implying any bias on Markos's part, just noting that merit is a tricky thing to judge, even in the blogosphere, and the judgement itself may not be wholly unrelated to gender, race, ethnicity and "any of that stuff".

Friday, December 09, 2005

My Deadly Sins

This is my weekend sermon for all of you wonderful readers, so that you can feel better by hearing how poorly I am doing in the virtue-department.

The seven deadly sins are pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. I do excellently in all of them as you can see from the following confession:

1. Pride. I am full of sinful pride, pride about this blog, pride about my shining scales and my wonderful dogs, pride about being a goddess even if minor. I'm proud of being sane in an insane world, and proud of not being overly arrogant about my wonderfulness.

2. Envy. Yes, I'm green with envy. When I drive past a nearby area of McMansions I simmer in envy. When I read all those bloggers who write like angels and devils in one person I want them roasted and served in green curry sauce. I want them banned from the internets.

3. Gluttony. Well, me and chocolate could be used as the edifying story of gluttony. But I could do better in this department if I really tried. There must be some other food that I could get really excited about.


5. Anger. Anger is a good friend of mine. For a long time I believed in all that crap about feminine virtues, about avoiding anger and about turning the other cheek. Now I kind of like anger. Anger makes me write better and anger, when purified in the holy fires of righteousness, is what fuels my battles against injustice and bigotry. But it's true that anger turned inwards gnaws and gnaws until you go crazy.

6. Greed. Oh yes, greed. I'm so greedy right now. I want to have a bigger blog, a better blog, a famous blog. I want to have to wear shades for anonymity when I go outside, though the snake tail could be a giveaway. I hate my own greediness.

7. Sloth. Welcome to the Snakepit, Inc., the home of sloth. What more can I say? I really need to find someone who wants to vacuum and shovel snow and polish mirrors. But that someone is not going to be me. On the other hand, cobwebs are pretty and doghair has protein in it and life really is too short to feel guilt over every mortal sin as we will be dead soon enough even if we are sinless.

There! Now how do you do in all these categories?

Christmas is Coming!

And then it will be gone, like in a day. So try to catch the spirit and give some money to deserving people. Katha Pollitt gives an excellent list of deserving people in her column here.

If you don't celebrate Christmas you should have your head examined. Oops. That was wingnuttery slipping in. The point of the war against holidays is to make sure that all non-Christians (including pagan goddesses) will feel excluded during this holiday time. Because "holidays" is inclusive, it is bad. Get it? But I say that you can donate to Katha's list even if you believe in the great macaroni man or Echidne.

Mitt Romney's Pilgrim's Progress

Romney, the governor of that Sodom-and-Gomorrh of this Christian land, Massachusetts (where people stay married and stuff), is trying to convert himself into a fullblown wingnut just in time for the next presidential elections. But this is a tough path to hew (!) because he also has to keep governating the licentious lefty masses of his state. So he gets into teeny difficulties all the time, like the latest one where he was trying to arrange the emergency contraception for rape victims NOT to be available in catholic hospitals. But the Sodomans didn't like that:

Facing opposition from women, the Democratic Party and even his own running mate, Gov. Mitt Romney abandoned plans yesterday to exempt religious and other private hospitals from a new law requiring them to dispense emergency contraception to rape victims.

The governor had initially backed regulations proposed earlier this week by his Department of Public Health, which said the new law conflicted with an older law barring the state from forcing private hospitals to dispense contraceptive devices or information.

The interpretation would have allowed hospitals operated by the Roman Catholic church, which opposes abortion, to forego compliance with the new regulation. Opponents accused Romney, a Republican considering running for president in 2008, of trying to assuage social conservatives.

I think that Romney should be kicked out. Into the snow. On his butt.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

No More LA Times

For Barbra Streisand. She has canceled her subscription to protest the firing of Robert Scheer, a liberal columnist. Though the Los Angeles Times still has a few liberal columnists their stable is beginning to tilt heavily to the right. Consider the (awful) fact that they just hired Jonah Goldberg, whose virgin column was all about how lies don't disqualify Bush from being a Great President. So.

I have cancelled lots of subscriptions in bouts of righteous anger and have never regretted it. But I doubt that my acts improved anything but my own temper. Still, if enough famous people follow Barbra's example...

Paging Bill O'Reilly...

Via Atrios, I found this Townhall column by a Jewish humorist. It's not meant to be humorous, though:

My fellow Jews, who often have the survival of Israel heading the list of their concerns when it comes to electing a president, only gave 26% of their vote to Bush, even though he is clearly the most pro-Israel president we've ever had in the Oval Office.

It is the ACLU, which is overwhelmingly Jewish in terms of membership and funding, that is leading the attack against Christianity in America. It is they who have conned far too many people into believing that the phrase "separation of church and state" actually exists somewhere in the Constitution.

You may have noticed, though, that the ACLU is highly selective when it comes to religious intolerance. The same group of self-righteous shysters who, at the drop of a "Merry Christmas" will slap you with an injunction, will fight for the right of an American Indian to ingest peyote and a devout Islamic woman to be veiled on her driver's license.

I happen to despise bullies and bigots. I hate them when they represent the majority, but no less when, like Jews in America, they represent an infinitesimal minority.

I am getting the idea that too many Jews won't be happy until they pull off their own version of the Spanish Inquisition, forcing Christians to either deny their faith and convert to agnosticism or suffer the consequences.

This is what O'Reilly's war blabberings about Christmas mean, you know. Not secularism at all. Not many things could get me angrier right before Christmas, the celebration of new beginnings and the return of light (heh!), than plain old bigotry.

Come on, wingnuts, get a life. There are people killed in Iraq today, there will be people killed in Iraq tomorrow and for many Christmases to come if you get your way. Nobody is killing you if you wish someone Merry Christmas. Nobody is forcing you to shop at Macy's, you know, and nobody is going to take you seriously when you imply that the Jews are controlling this country. Look who is in charge of everything. It's you, my dear radical right-wingers, whatever your religion might happen to be. And however hard you may try you are not victims. Except perhaps of your own stupidity.

The Hubris of Humanities

Kristof has an interesting column in the New York Times (sadly, behind a paywall). He argues that the Americans are ignorant when it comes to science:

The best argument against "intelligent design" has always been humanity itself. At a time when only 40 percent of Americans believe in evolution, and only 13 percent know what a molecule is, we're an argument at best for "mediocre design."

But put aside the evolution debate for a moment. It's only a symptom of something much deeper and more serious: a profound illiteracy about science and math as a whole.

One-fifth of Americans still believe that the Sun goes around the Earth, instead of the other way around. And only about half know that humans did not live at the same time as dinosaurs.

The problem isn't just inadequate science (and math) teaching in the schools, however. A larger problem is the arrogance of the liberal arts, the cultural snootiness of, of ... well, of people like me - and probably you.

I kept nodding my head as I read until I came to the point where Kristof turns his scorn towards the liberal arts and the snootiness of those who are trained in them. That's where he lost me, for two reasons: first, I'm well educated in mathematics, very well actually, and I'm still extremely snooty, and second, the people who believe that Adam rode his dinosaur while he went to Bible Study are not trained in humanities, either. Kristof is erecting a false correspondence between the American science ignorance and the knowledge of T.S. Eliot's verses, probably so that he can whip the latte-sipping elites, too, but it really detracts from his message. In reality, the science ignorance is a problem that begins in high school. The hubris of the humanities (Kristof's term) touches a miniscule percentage of American university students.

It is true that many decades ago a university education may well have stocked the student's head with quotations from the classics and nothing else, but this time is long gone. What is more likely today is that a student leaves equipped with a degree and a head that contains nothing but platitudes about how to do business (including formulas). I wouldn't call such an education a liberal arts one.

It's a good idea to study science, of course, but there is no reason to pretend that students must choose between humanities and science. Both are important. Consider this example that Kristof uses in his article:

In this century, one of the most complex choices we will make will be what tinkering to allow with human genes, to "improve" the human species. How can our leaders decide that issue if they barely know what DNA is?

True, but does knowledge about the DNA suffice? Surely a more important field of study for a future leader would be ethics, and studying ethics is part of the liberal arts curriculum. Though of course it would be nice if the future leaders could first be persuaded to believe that the Earth is older than a few thousand years...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


The carmaker. It doesn't have the most liberal of histories:

In the 1921 screed "The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem," automaker and notorious anti-Semite Henry Ford observed that "most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth." He noted menacingly, "Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards."

Interesting, isn't it, when you consider the O'Reilly argument that Christmas is under attack now, too? And given this little news item about Ford today:

This is from, the publication that broke the Ford story last week, and it's owned by Primedia, it's a real industry publication:

Ford Motor Co.'s decision to cease advertising in gay publications for its Jaguar and Land Rover luxury brands is part of a truce between the auto maker and the American Family Assn. (AFA) to avert a threatened boycott by the right-wing Christian conservative group, Ward‚s learns....

As part of the latest agreement hammered out Nov. 29, sources confirm Volvo Cars will continue to advertise in the publications but will use generic ads not tailored to the gay community.

In addition, Ford has agreed not to sponsor any future gay and lesbian events but will continue to maintain its employee policies, such as same-sex partner benefits.

I'm not sure what to say. But Ford has certainly made it easier for me to decide on my next car purchase...

From Echidne's Mailbag

Yesterday was the sixteenth anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. This is a touching post on it.

Emily's List has announced its support for the following Democratic candidates:

· Francine Busby for California's 50th District

· Peggy Lamm for Colorado's 7th District

· Paula Hollinger for Maryland's 3rd District

· Patricia Madrid for New Mexico's 1st District

· Nancy Nusbaum for Wisconsin's 8th District

And the question of whether men should have a choice over a woman's pregnancy is discussed here, as in many other places in the blogosphere. This debate is another example of what happens to the women's bodies when we redefine the point at which a human being is born: they become something everybody wants to control.

Harold Pinter On Politics

This year's Nobel Prize winner in literature, Harold Pinter, has some tough words to say about both the United States and the United Kingdom:

On Wednesday his lecture, entitled Art, Truth and Politics, studied the importance of truth in art before decrying its perceived absence in politics.

He said politicians feel it is "essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives".

Pinter said the US justification for invading Iraq - that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction - "was not true".

"The truth is something entirely different," Pinter added. "The truth is to do with how the United States understands its role in the world and how it chooses to embody it."

I agree with Pinter about the politicians' desire to have us live in ignorance, and most people indeed live in almost total ignorance of the world events and their hidden underpinnings. Maybe there is no other way of enduring it all, but we probably would have a better society if more people had the time and energy to be informed and active. Maybe.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

American Diplomacy

Listen to this:

The United States snubbed a call by host Canada on Tuesday for 189-nation climate talks in Montreal to launch a two-year search for new ways to fight global warming.

"The United States is opposed to any such discussions," the U.S. delegation at the Nov. 28-Dec. 9 talks said in a statement, reiterating remarks by chief negotiator Harlan Watson earlier in the week.

Can you see why we are not exactly loved abroad? If the Bush administration insists on acting like the bully of the class, well, the other countries are going to react like you would towards the bully.

The evidence on global warming is pretty good. Even my gardening diaries show a change over the last five years. But I guess this administration thinks that Rapture will arrive before the earth becomes uninhabitable. Grrr.

The Real Hot 100

This is today's alert from

Know a younger woman that's breaking barriers, fighting stereotypes, and making a difference in their community or the nation? Nominate her today for the REAL hot 100*!

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The REAL hot 100 will compile a list of young women who are REALLY
hot, and publish it, in magazine format, in June 2006. Anyone can
nominate a young woman who is REALLY hot, and the REAL hot 100
selection committee will choose 100 women that best represent the
intelligence, drive and diversity of young women in the U.S.

By nominating a REALLY hot woman, not only will you help battle the
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Blog Stuff

Housecleaning before Christmas! I have gone through my blogroll and added some new blogs. Let me know if your blog should be there and is not, or if you want your blog taken off the roll. Right now I have mixed blogs and other types of sites but one day I may create separate categories. If I feel especially energetic or something. Not likely to happen.

You should also notice my excellent advertisers on the right, especially right before Christmas and other holidays, to remain unnamed. You might have to buy a gift to your wingnut relative and the firms on the right have many good ideas for that. See how commercial I have fallen!

The Christmas gift for this blog is broadband. Which you, my dear readers (or the choicest among you), have paid for. I just did my accounts for my blogging enterprise and I am only seven dollars in the red! Next year will probably be the year when I break into Big Time (not to be confused with Dick Cheney), and then you can tell your grandchildren that you were present when that happened.

Actually, the Big Time is right now, today, as is all of our lives. So carpe diem.

The Girl Reporter on Religion

That would be me, a sort of divine version of Nancy Drew, and you will get the benefits of this transformation.

First, the Catholic church is telling God that some changes will now be made to limbo, the place where unbaptized babies go to slumber:

According to Italian media reports on Tuesday, an international theological commission will advise Pope Benedict to eliminate the teaching about limbo from the Catholic catechism.

The Catholic Church teaches that babies who die before they can be baptized go to limbo, whose name comes from the Latin for "border" or "edge," because they deserve neither heaven nor hell.

Last October, seven months before he died, Pope John Paul asked the commission to come up with "a more coherent and enlightened way" of describing the fate of such innocents.

Nancy Drew has trouble with this. Either there is a limbo and God arranged it to exist or there is no such thing, and the church has been telling stories about it all these centuries. If there is one, how can the church find "a more coherent and enlightened way" of describing it? And if there isn't one, why all the lying?

This is linked to the questions Nancy Drew has about how saints are created. It seems to her that it's mortals on earth who decide on sainthood and that seems wrong. Shouldn't it be God who does the sorting of the sheep and the goats? And why is it only celibate men who decide on the quality of limbo and on what makes people saints?

I guess that is what faith means? Religions have done a lot of good but I (Nancy) really think that believers should make a distinction between gods and their followers.

Some of these followers don't actually believe in any divinities at all. They just cynically exploit religions to cause people to rise up and vote for them or even to rise up and kill for them. The first version of this is evident in the United States. As James Wolcott wrote recently:

"'A year ago, I asked Kristol after a lecture whether he believed in God or not. He got a twinkle in his eye and responded, "I don't believe in God, I have faith in God." Well, faith, as it says in Hebrews 11:1, "is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." But at the recent AEI lecture, journalist Ben Wattenberg asked him the same thing. Kristol responded that "that is a stupid question," and crisply restated his belief that religion is essential for maintaining social discipline. A much younger (and perhaps less circumspect) Kristol asserted in a 1949 essay that in order to prevent the social disarray that would occur if ordinary people lost their religious faith, "it would indeed become the duty of the wise publicly to defend and support religion."'

"Here we have a guy who plainly doesn't believe in God, but who thinks that well-padded intellectual elitists like himself ought to evade the issue in public for fear of demoralizing the proles and perhaps jeopardizing some padding thereby. I can't think of anything nice to say about that; and in fact, the only things I CAN think of to say would not be suitable for a family website...

Straussian stuff. And how exactly does religion work as a social discipline? Rorschach links to this piece of news about it all:

A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating.

University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki said that the two men who beat him made references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this spring.

Originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request.

The class was added after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.

"I didn't know them," Mirecki said of his assailants, "but I'm sure they knew me."

One recent e-mail from Mirecki to members of a student organization referred to religious conservatives as "fundies," and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face." Mirecki has apologized for those comments.

Lt. Kari Wempe, a spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Department, said a deputy was dispatched to Lawrence Memorial Hospital after receiving a call around 7 a.m. regarding a battery.

She said Mirecki reported he was attacked around 6:40 a.m. in rural Douglas County south of Lawrence. Mirecki told the Lawrence Journal-World that he was driving to breakfast when he noticed the men tailgating him in a pickup truck.

"I just pulled over hoping they would pass, and then they pulled up real close behind," he said. "They got out, and I made the mistake of getting out."

He said the men beat him on the head, shoulders and back with their fists, and possibly a metal object.

Wempe said Mirecki drove himself to the hospital after the attack.

This is what religion does in the little puddles of Kansas. What it does in the much larger waves of Iraq does not bear thinking about.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Today's Action Alert

Amnesty International USA and the Moving Ideas Network are hosting a webchat about women’s rights in Guatemala. Entitled Ending Violence Against Women in Guatemala, the chat will focus on the brutal killings of Guatemalan women and girls that have claimed more than 1,188 lives. People can submit questions in advance that will be answered by experts on this issue on Wednesday, December 7 from 1 – 2 PM EST.

If you are interested in participating, go to Moving Ideas for more information.

You Are Either For Us Or...

That is the shorter summary of Condoleezza Rice's message to the Europeans on the questions of rendition and the possible use of European countries as places to hide various terrorist suspects. She reminded those arrogant Old Europeans that whatever we are doing is saving their hides, too! Well, not in Madrid and not in London, but in principle.

But she didn't deny the existence of U.S. interrogation centers in Europe:

In her remarks, the Bush Administration's official response to the reports of a network of secret detention centers, Ms. Rice repeatedly emphasized that the United States does not countenance the torture of terrorism suspects, at the hands of either American or foreign captors.

She offered her remarks to reporters early this morning, in a departure lounge at Andrews Air Force Base, just before setting off for a trip to Europe, where she was certain to be asked about the growing controversy over the secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons believed to be located in at least eight European nations. Her statement is also to serve as the basis for the government's response to an official inquiry from the European Union over the secret prisons.

Noting that half-a-dozen international investigations are underway, Ms. Rice did not explicitly confirm the existence of the detentions center. But that was implicit in her remarks.

"We must bring terrorists to justice wherever possible," she said. "But there have been many cases where the local government cannot detain or prosecute a suspect, and traditional extradition is not a good option."

"In those cases," she added, "the local government can make the sovereign choice to cooperate in the transfer of a suspect to a third country, which is known as a rendition.

"Sometimes, these efforts are misunderstood," she said.

News reports starting early last month said the Central Intelligence Agency began holding dozens of terror suspects in secret prisons in as many as eight European nations shortly after Sept. 11. The Administration has not confirmed the reports but has repeatedly maintained that it is abiding by American law and international agreements. Officials have also repeatedly said that the United States and the European states share a common concern about terrorism.

I want to hear a lot more about "the efforts being misunderstood", a lot more. Like in what way are we misunderstanding them, exactly? Is it that the European interrogation centers were just chosen because they had excellent food and beer?

The U.S. administration doesn't understand the Europeans at all, which is not very surprising as this administration has shown itself incapable of understanding anyone who isn't a religious wingnut or a wealthy corporation. I think that someone should tell Rice about this:

An unnamed European diplomat who had contact with US officials over the handling of the scandals told Reuters yesterday: 'It's very clear they want European governments to stop pushing on this... They were stuck on the defensive for weeks, but suddenly the line has toughened up incredibly.'

Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative MP who will be chairing a Commons committee of MPs along with Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, has said Rice needs to make a clear statement. She 'does not seem to realise that for a large section of Washington and European opinion, the Bush administration is in a shrinking minority of people that has not grasped that lowering our standards [on human rights] makes us less, not more, secure'.

That's it, in a nutshell.

Flip-Flopping vs. Bull-Headed Stupidity

The manner in which the U.S. media describes the Democratic and Republican ideas about how to get out of Iraq could be summarized as done in my heading for this post, but only because I feel very generous today. In reality, the media contrasts Democratic disarray and flip-floppery and internal fights with the clear plan of Republicans (which happens to be a really stupid one, too). The neutrality of the media requires bashing of the Democrats:

It didn't take long for the Republicans to pounce. "Nancy Pelosi's flip-flop on troop withdrawal further demonstrates the deep division and chronic indecision that exist within the Democrat Party on the war on terror," New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, head of the House Republican Campaign Committee, told Reuters earlier this week. The Washington Times says Republican leaders are "delighted" by the "chaos" among Democrats. When the Democrat running against Tom DeLay in 2006 finds himself forced to say whether he supports the "Pelosi-Murtha" plan for Iraq, it's easy to see why the GOP might be pleased.

The Democratic Leadership Council's Marshall Wittmann tells the Post that the Democrats' response on Iraq -- and, in particular, Pelosi's public flip-flop -- plays right into the hands of Republicans who need to convince the public that the opposition still can't be trusted on matters of national security. "If Karl Rove was writing the timing of this, he wouldn't have written it any differently, with the president of the United States expressing resolve and the Democratic leader offering surrender," Wittmann said. "For Republicans, this is manna from heaven."

It is true that some Democrats are in deep shit because they voted for the war initially and now want to be publicly opposed to it. But we all know what lay behind the yes-vote. At the time of that vote a nay-vote was seen as political suicide. We were all firmly behind George Bush then, weren't we? The whole country wore little wingnut-masks and waved little American flags, and every single politician knew that voting against the war would probably be identical to retiring from politics. Yes, this was contemptible but such are human beings.

I prefer confusion and flip-floppery to a plan which just maps the shortest road to hell for more and more people. And no, the two parties are not in the wrong by an equal amount.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sunday Hank Blogging (and Henrietta, too)

Hank is doing very well. Her main tumor can't be felt anymore and the other is about one tenth of its original size. She is back to being an Everready Energy Bunny most days and making my life as difficult as usual. Yesterday she jumped down from a six foot tall wall and then Henrietta wrestled her into submission. Which means that even Henrietta thinks she is well enough to be beaten. So we are all happy.

But the oncologist has warned us that Hank still probably only has twelve months to go, though she also pointed out a couple of total miracle recoveries in the same situation. Every day is good, though, and none of us knows when the Last Mailcarrier knocks.