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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Aaaaand we're back

Immediately after I published this morning's lame excuse journal entry, I managed to forget...

  1. ...to kiss my beautiful wife goodbye.
  2. ...to take my trusty Starbuck's travel mug full of 'Sumatra's finest' out to the car.
  3. ...that one of my regular passengers had told me before the weekend that he was taking the day off today... so I woke him up to ask 'where are you?'

Results:

  1. My first conversation with Zahava today is bound to be a little, er, frosty.
  2. I had to drink two cups of liquid cat sh*t Israeli instant coffee before I could manage to focus on the computer screen.
  3. When I go to pick up this regular passenger tomorrow, his demeanor is bound to be a bit, er, frosty.

Well, it's lunch time and the day can only get better from here, right?

Wrong! I made the mistake of taking lunch at my desk and reading the news.

It seems that overnight a naive imbecile budding young student journalist went and got his-stupid-self kidnapped in Nablus (Shechem).  Don't worry... he's OK now.

This 20-year-old exchange student named Benjamin Bright-Fishbein (don't get me started about the flashing neon arrow pointing to an ultra-liberal upbringing inherent in his hyphenated name... or the irony, under present circumstances, of one half of that name being 'Bright') is an undergraduate at Brown who decided to split his year abroad between the American University in Cairo and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Funny thing is, I went to Hebrew U. back in the 80s with a naive young Ivy leaguer who had chosen exactly these two schools for his year abroad.  This classmate of mine was so far to the left that most of my liberal friends thought he was loony.  He failed to realize that the American University in Cairo was a protected little bubble which effectively insulated him from the harsh realities of Egyptian politics and street crime.  And upon arrival in Jerusalem he felt that his brave forays into the Cairo souk entitled him to affect a world-weary persona... not to mention the right to look down his nose at any of us provincials who failed to realize that Israel was indeed the last evil colonial power left left on the planet.

I mention my old Hebrew U classmate because during those far safer times he made a regular practice of 'going native' (translation; frequenting the Arab coffee houses of east Jerusalem and Nablus) late at night.  He continuously tried to ingratiate himself with the locals by buying rounds of coffee and leaving extravagant tips.  But for his trouble he ended up getting rolled on numerous occasions on the way home by those 'natives' who were unable to resist parting this young American fool from his substantial money clip.

In short, though he would never admit it (even to himself), my old classmate looked upon Arabs in general... and  Palestinians in particular... as noble savages that he could sooth/join at will simply by singing a few bars of his ultra-liberal song. 

What he failed to realize is that the Arabs/Palestinians are neither noble nor savages.  They are a complex/diverse population made up of good, bad, rich poor, honest and criminal people.  And no amount of fawning and saying 'I soooo get your suffering and oppression' will mean a whit to someone who sees a strange American as a meal ticket or political hostage.  There are a lot of these 'natives' around these days who haven't received their promised paychecks in a few months!

I've had a version of this conversation with a journalist friend of mine. I once joked with her about wanting to drive a Joo-hater we both loathe into the center of Nablus and throw him out of the car just to see him pleading to the advancing crowd, "No, wait... I'm not a Jew... I hate the Jews more than you do!!!" 

Naturally my journalist friend, who has spent a great deal of time in Nablus and other Arab cities, was appalled at the implied prejudice in my statement and chided me for assuming that any white face in Nablus would automatically become a target.

I reluctantly agreed that I was simply indulging in a little schadenfreude fantasy, and that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians who might glimpse such a person being thrown from a car in Nablus would have no interest in him... for good or for bad.

But I did bite my tongue just a little.

What I really wanted to tell her is that as a journalist, most (if not all) of her visits to Nablus and other Arab locales are carefully coordinated with Palestinian politicians and/or journalists.  She is nominally escorted to and from most of her interviews, and as a known journalist, she represents arguably the only segment of the Israeli/international population to whom it would be expedient to show one's best face.

Young Benjamin (of the hyphenated name), on the other hand, possessed no such contacts or immunity from harassment.  Though right up until the moment he was blindfolded and tossed into the car he surely fancied himself a seasoned newsman because of his political punditry with that august publication; 'The Brown Daily Herald'... what he failed to realize is that Nablus is no safer for an unescorted outsider than Falujah (or some parts of Holon/Bat Yam for that matter).

During his captivity our hero made the obligatory video claiming that he would be executed unless a bunch of Palestinian terrorists scumbags murderers activists were released from Israeli prisons.  But by the time he was released this morning, any threats torture undue pressure that might have been applied to force him to broadcast such a provocative statement seem to have been both forgotten and forgiven.

I honestly don't know if young Benjamin got himself released by flashing his Brown University press credentials, or if someone in a position of authority in Hamas decided that holding an American hostage might not go very far towards swaying congress to release funding to Hamas just now. 

But once he was free, our intrepid young reporter seems to have decided to let bygones be bygones and was able to sum up his feelings about his captors in the following cheery sound bite:

"I had the feeling they were in over their heads."

Ah yes, our worldly veteran emerged from the belly of the beast without a single negative word for his captors other than to say that they didn't seem up to the task.  No mention of being denied liberty for several harrowing hours.  No mention of the death threats.  No mention of kidnapping/execution as an accepted tool throughout the Muslim world.  Just a one line 'boys will be boys' type statement in an attempt to laugh the whole thing off like some fraternity prank taken too far.

I'd have to say that 12 hours has to be a new world's record for developing Stockholm syndrome!

Anyhoo...

My journalist friend will doubtless continue to visit with her friends and press contacts around the region... and so she should.  Her access to 'the other side' provides everyone an essential conduit for information.  This isn't to say that all of the information she gleans is accurate or perfectly objective.  But it is far better than the information vacuum that would exist without such orchestrated contacts.

Look, I don't wish anything bad on this young idiot for pulling this stunt... particularly not a 'Falujah shave'.

But think about all the bad stuff that could have happened as a result of his stupidity. If he hadn't been released in a timely manner, a bunch of IDF commandos (i.e. husbands, brothers, sons of regular Israelis who do understand the potential dangers of going into Nablus without an invitation) would have had to risk their lives to go in and get him. 

I can think of almost a dozen student bloggers I've read this past year who think they've earned their 'liberal street cred' by wrapping a kafiyah around their neck and going into Nablus late at night to drink coffee with the natives.  That they lived to tell the tale has given legs to the misconception that rumors of the 'dangerous Palestinians' are simply so much Israeli propaganda.

The truth is, in every society there are dangerous elements.  It is foolish to 'go native' if you really aren't a native.  With the exception of one ill-conceived bar-crawl through Manhattan's Alphabet City and East Village (remember 'King Tut's Wawa Hut' at 4:00AM, Alan?), I can honestly say I have never attempted to ingratiate myself with a crowd to which I had no real claim of membership.

A perfect example of this concept is the scene from Animal House where the Deltas, out on a road-trip, make an unscheduled stop at 'The Death Delay Club' to see their favorite frat-house party band; 'Otis Day and the Nights'.  They realize only as they are running for their lives that the love was not exactly reciprocated by 'Otis' and his core fan base.

Add to this lesson the growing anarchy in PA 'controlled' areas, and one can't help but realize that unescorted travel by westerners (regardless of their genuine affection for the plight of the Palestinians) is simply an invitation to disaster.   

Did Mr. hyphenated-Bright really think his presence would somehow help the Palestinian cause?  Did he really think Palestinian/Israeli relations couldn't get any worse? 

Just think about what would happen - especially in light of the current tensions over the tragedy in Gaza this past Friday - if this Jewish American college student had gotten killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time... or if some Israeli soldier had lost his life going in to rescue said student. 

Yes, things could get far worse for both sides... and very quickly at that.

So do me a favor:  If you find yourself prancing around campus wearing your oh-so-trendy kafiyah and you suddenly get the urge to take a road trip into Nablus to commune with your Palestinian cousins... either find yourself a reliable escort who REALLY knows the lay of the land... or stay in your dorm room and email another 'scathing and controversial' editorial about the evil Israeli occupiers to your classmates back home.

Thanks.

219_76

Posted by David Bogner on June 11, 2006 | Permalink

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This kid was in my archaeology class, and you assessed him well.
He and some others were always bragging about the intensity of Cairo and his excursions to the West Bank.

Posted by: Seth | Jun 11, 2006 2:34:17 PM

Something else - he never wears a kippa. This must have been a special kippa-wearing Nablus adventure.

Posted by: Seth | Jun 11, 2006 2:36:14 PM

Seth... I so see this self-important putz parleying his little adventure into a lifetime full of blurbs and cocktail party stories.

In fact, I'm sure he's already updated the bio in his head... you know, the one he is sure will appear on the dust cover of all his books (right below the glowing vanity quote from Thomas Friedman) as well as next to his name whenever and wherever he is quoted by the press... the one that will forevermore include the line, ..."who endured captivity at the hands of armed gunmen during a stint working for the Jerusalem Post". He will studiously downplay the fact that the gunmen were Palestinian, and soft-pedal the fact that he was an unpaid intern off on a foolhardy jaunt at the time of the incident. Yes, I see this line as an 18 point, bold, italicized pull quote on his application to the Columbia School of Journalism.

Putz!

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 11, 2006 3:17:37 PM

Lucky for you he is majoring in archaeology.

To me it sounded like the whole time this was happening he felt like he was in some kind of action movie , an opportunity to not only experience first hand violence, but to prepare some nice hostage scene cliches for the camera once he reasoned with his desperate guerilla fighters. It was also a good chance to unnecessarily show off his level 1 Arabic to the people he was showing solidarity with/ the people who were eager to stuff a grenade in his mouth.

Posted by: Seth | Jun 11, 2006 3:35:19 PM

It used to be that going to university was a sign og how intelligent one was. But it seems the rarified air of campus life and upbringing has left off one important detail, common sense.

Thank goodness it all worked out okay for that foolish young man.

Posted by: seawitch | Jun 11, 2006 3:51:54 PM

This whole stoy reminds of that Billy Joel song "you may be right I may be crazy"..."you told me not to drive but I made it home alive"..The guy is nuts but I bet the moron is bragging to everyone of his buddies how he made it out etc. absolutely reckless and stupid!

Posted by: Jewish Blogmiester | Jun 11, 2006 5:14:41 PM

When I studied in Jerusalem, my visits to East Jerusalem were definitely done so out of naivity but not because of solidarity or compassion towards the "natives." I was always scared, even going to the Shuk, I never went alone, but somehow, in my mind I felt safe venturing out to the restaurants or in the winter finding some delicious dessert drinks at the little stands outside the Old City. It's not that I was clueless to the dangers, I was too well aware of them, but I guess I just pretended to myself it would be ok.

When I was Hebrew U, I dated a US Marine (I know, with all the Jews in Israel, I find the Goy). Their home was in East Jerusalem, with arab drivers, arab guards, and arab compound employees. Instead of learning Hebrew, they would learn arabic, instead of enjoying what Israel had to offer, they would stick in arab towns, and then complain how awful and polluted Israel is. Of course most of these guys (including the one I dated) were ignorant rednecks, but it still got under my skin how loyal they were to their arab "brothers", but avoided learning and getting to know the Israeli society.

Posted by: jaime | Jun 11, 2006 5:35:57 PM

Nice try, David, but, em, no cigar.

Yes, I do have a "connected" driver in Gaza - as do all journalists in that area - because things are a bit unstable over there lately.

But in the West Bank I get around on my own - in Palestinian taxis, mostly. I also travel by Palestinian "sherut" from East Jerusalem to Qalandiya checkpoint, which I cross on my own by foot. I would like to emphasize that none of this is unusual, by the way. That's the way lots of Israeli journalists travel to and around the West Bank. I ain't special.

I've got the "inside" story about what happened to silly Benjamin, and as usual most of the details that were rerported are incorrect. There was a lot more going on than the public knows.

And, as a Palestinian journalist asked me today, What would happen to a Palestinian Arab guy with a long, orange beard a la Muhammad Abu Tir, and a keffiyeh wrapped around his neck, if he wandered into the Kikar Shabbat neighbourhood of Jerusalem?

Oh and David, I'm not mad or anything - but seriously, you know I would never try to bring you down on my blog. Not even indirectly, and certainly not by linking to your site.

::playful punch to the shoulder::

Say it to my face, man.

Yalla, bye.

Posted by: Lisa | Jun 11, 2006 6:02:04 PM

Seth... Little tip for ya. Guys who do internships with a newspaper instead of going out to get time in the field on a dig are not majoring in archeology (or at least aren't serious about working in that field). He so has his sights set on being an ace reporter. :-)

Seawitch... actually, in my experience University is usually where people check their brains at the door. But this guy took that to a whole new level.

Jaime... This misguided individual falls into a completely different category than you.

Lisa... Whoa there cowgirl. You completely missed my point! Even if I am wrong about how you and your professional journalist chevre get around in PA territory, I mentioned you to point out that there was good reason for some people to be going to these places. I also did so to emphasize how this yoyo had NO business being there!

As to the link to your site, I have you on my blogroll and also in this post because I want people to go and read you. No ulterior motive. No trying to take you down. You should know by now that the surest sign that I think poorly of someone is to mention them in a post but offer no link.

With that said, I think the comparison to Kikar Shabbat is only apt if one considers the seat of the PA government and the home of Israel's most extreme religious sects to be roughly analogous. To make the comment more fair it would have to compare silly Benjamin with a bearded Muslim with a kafiyah around his neck walking into Jerusalem's Merkaz ha-Ir. Yeah, he might get noticed (and not in a good way) by the police... but nobody is going to kidnap or assault him! Sheesh!

And lastly, if you have the inside scoop on what happened would you mind sharing? Seriously, I'm in a generous mood and if you are going to tell me he was on a secret mission for the Mossad I will happily print a retraction. :-)

~[harder] brotherly punch in the shoulder~

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 11, 2006 6:25:35 PM

Guys like this one get me SO mad, you have no idea. I mean, if he wants to go out and get himself killed that's his own business, but it's the fact that he was potentially putting other people's lives in danger that really raises my ire. It was extremely irresponsible and thoughtless... and the worst part is that he apparently learned no lesson from his little "adventure". : (

Posted by: Irina | Jun 11, 2006 6:33:58 PM

YIKES! Saw this over and didn't have time to send my "Oh!Oh!" meter response. But I see Lisa has already done that for you....

Lisa: I know him well enough to know that he really was trying to point out potential "the ripple-in-the-pond" effect of this guy's decision to go where the Israeli (general) public has been warned not to go. As someone whose has volunteered to put the safety of others as a top priority, I think that this "event" struck a hard nerve for David -- I think at the heart of his post is how he would personally feel to be asked to protect someone who'd unnecessarily risked his life, and the life of others.

Each person who volunteers his time and energy to protect others -- be it a citizen's patrol, an anti-terrorist squad, a volunteer fire department or EMT team -- each of these guys does so hoping that though they are trained, that they will never need to use their training. And if they do, they sure hope it wasn't over a raging case of the "stupids."

Posted by: zahava | Jun 11, 2006 6:57:56 PM

"don't get me started about the flashing neon arrow pointing to an ultra-liberal upbringing inherent in his hyphenated name..."

I gotta say, David, that wasn't really fair. There are a number of reasons why people have hyphenated names. More importantly, it doesn't even need to be his parents who chose to do the hyphenation.

There's plenty to criticize of this guy's stupidity without dragging unnecessary chaff into the argument.

Just my .02.

Ender

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 11, 2006 7:09:11 PM

3 things:
1) That Benjamin hyphen guy is an absolute idiot and lucky to be alive. Is there any law under which he can be deported back to Rhode Island?
2) The King Tut's trip was for purely medicinal purposes
3) Do you mind if we dance with your dates?

Posted by: Alan | Jun 11, 2006 7:15:35 PM

BTW... for anyone thinking David was a bit... um... STRIDENT in expressing his opinion today.... Bear in mind, he had neither SLEEP nor COFFEE....

NOT pretty, not pretty at all.....

Posted by: zahava | Jun 11, 2006 8:07:25 PM

David, I think it is interesting that Jameel and I also wrote about this idiot today. It really strikes a nerve. Personally, it pisses me off when people assume that I am violent because I am a settler, and completely ignore the real dangers that some Arabs pose to Jews. I mentioned the Ramallah lynching in my post to show the contrast between the two worlds - two soldiers accidentally wander into Ramallah and are torn apart by a mob, and Arabs are free to work, shop, and enjoy cafes in Israel without being afraid. Yes, they may be hassled by security personnel, but you know what? I'm also asked for ID and have my bag checked at the entrance to malls. Big deal! It sure beats being killed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Posted by: westbankmama | Jun 11, 2006 8:15:39 PM

At 20 I was a bit unsufferable. I knew more than virtually everyone I encountered.

We can only hope that with a little bit more life experience this guy grows up a little.

OTOH, this comment of his makes me shake my head and wonder if he has any sense of how much danger he put himself in.

"I had the feeling they were in over their heads," the former Jerusalem Post intern told Israeli security officials..."

Posted by: Jack | Jun 11, 2006 8:17:13 PM

Aha! Thank you Lisa for confirming my suspicions that its all been wrongly reported... that Kippa looked completely out of place too, thank you Seth for confirming that one. I really should come here more often!

(I tried to write about this and ended up ranting like a fool.)

Posted by: PP | Jun 11, 2006 11:11:10 PM

What's with the liberal bashing? Especially here where plenty have been taken to task for stereotyping settlers and right wingers.
His actions weren't "liberal", they were stupid and naive.

Posted by: lisoosh | Jun 11, 2006 11:12:22 PM

Irina... I think the point is that he wasn't thinking. I'll even go so far as to say that this guy hasn't consciously made a decision of any import since he picked his major.

Matlabfreak... OK, mea culpa. I was on a rant and let myself get carried away. I apologize.

Alan... Technically it is only illegal for Israelis to go into PA areas without permission, so no... he is only guilty of gross stupidity. Glad you remember the King Tut crawl. We killed a lot of brain cells that night. :-)

Zahava... Thanks for taking my back sweetie, but not all of this can be chalked up to lack of coffee and sleep. :-)

Westbankmama... I won't even respond to people who try to equate security checks with being attacked, kidnapped or killed. Anyone who really sees these as morally relative needs to sit and take a puff of young Benjamin's nargila some time soon.

Jack... the only thing he learned from this episode is that he is invincible.

PP... "...its all been wrongly reported." Um, no. Actually only small details were misreported or omitted. The real numb-skull aspects of this kid's adventure still hold water. Whether or not he wore the kippah in the cafe or just in the video is really here nor there. But I agree that you need to come here more often. ;-)

Lisoosh... Relax. I apologised to Matlabfreak and I'll apologise to you. I still stand by the meat of my rant but I could admittedly have done a better job of keeping my ax and grindstone hidden. Still friends? :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 11, 2006 11:48:42 PM

I want to hear more from Lisa! I was WAITING for her to comment! And now, I also don't think the analogy holds.

If a mainstream guy in a kippah walks by himself into a mainstream Nablus cafe, my bet is that he is risking his life. MAYBE nothing will happen, but MAYBE something will.

And if a mainstream Arab in a kaffiyeh walks into a MAINSTREAM Jerusalem cafe, I can tell you exactly what will happen: He'll get a lot of looks. And security will keep an extra eye on him. And he'll drink his coffee. And then he'll go home.

And if any Jews harass him, THEY are the ones who will be hauled out by security. But he'll walk out alive. That I can pretty much guarantee. Because I see Arabs in cafes, and at Malcha Mall, and at Hadar Mall, ALL THE TIME. And no one bothers them.

Posted by: sarah | Jun 12, 2006 12:57:13 AM

I agree with Sarah's point. I'd doubt very highly that even an Arab dressed to the T with a Taliban-beard and a Keffiyah would get anything more than second glances (esp. in meah shearim/kikar shabbat, the use of that neighborhood is just funny when u think about it. A tourist dressed in a bikini... well that might be another story, though im sure there have been numerous falsehoods when it comes to those stories)Anyway, without any way to possibly bring proof, i totally deny the accuracy of that assessment. As far as I know there are tons of arabs who work in that area and dont fear for their lives. I think the comparison is totally off and even if it were not it would still not make the fact that the Arabs who live in Nablus kidnapped a person bc he was...Jewish?American?living in Israel? any less of an outrage. Any attempt to compare it to imagined/conceptual/theoretical crimes on the other side is totally unacceptable.

Posted by: brad | Jun 12, 2006 2:53:05 AM

David - Eh, we all have off days. But your primary point was spot on, as usual.

*grins*

Posted by: matlabfreak | Jun 12, 2006 5:54:12 AM

Sarah... Your comment reminded me that I had wanted to ask a rhetorical question in my response: 'Who do they think is doing the construction and concrete work in Geula and Mea Sha'arim, Yeshiva bochorim? ' :-)

Brad... Moral relativism/equivalency is the last gasp of a weak argument. It is the adult version of 'I know you are but what am I?' Basically it is a frontal assault intended to try to reduce the shock factor of any given atrocity by saying it is roughly analogous of another atrocity perpetrated by the other side.

There are two problems with this approach to examining behavior honestly and objectively:

1) We're not talking about the immutable laws of physics (.e.g. for every action there is an equal/opposite reaction), but rather the premeditated actions of sentient beings.

and

2) If a comparison between behaviors is made then a unified standard of morality must also be present. One can't compare the actions of the Palestinians and Israelis yet grant only one side (the Palis) a lower moral bar to clear. Yes, it offends the world (and us) that a democracy like Israel is being stretched in order to accommodate the necessary apparatus of security. But it is insane that there is less moral outrage over kidnapping, random and targeted acts of deliberate Palestinian terror /outright murder than there is for inconveniencing and even humiliating Palestinians who have to navigate the maze of Israeli checkpoints and roads.

Matlabfreak... Thanks for giving me a pass. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 12, 2006 1:00:22 PM

I think the fact that he goes to Brown tars him as a liberal more readily than a hyphenated surname...

Posted by: ralphie | Jun 13, 2006 2:01:29 AM

A perfect example of this concept is the scene from Animal House where the Deltas, out on a road-trip, make an unscheduled stop at 'The Death Delay Club' to see their favorite frat-house party band; 'Otis Day and the Nights'.

Nitpick: it's the Dexter Lake Club.

As long as I'm commenting -- I've noticed that all the guidebooks to Israel and the PA wildly overstate the attractions and safety of PA cities. Meanwhile, they make places like Umm-el-Fahm and Majdal Shams sound as dull and dangerous as Nablus actually is. Both are actually well worth seeing (Majdal Shams is fascinating) although I'd watch my step in the back streets there, as well.

Posted by: JSinger | Jun 13, 2006 4:20:17 AM

But he meant well, doesn't that confer immunity? *clears throat*

Anyway, he lost me at Fishbein = Fishleg. Brain to match. Exceedingly small one, at that.

Posted by: Lioness | Jun 13, 2006 5:22:37 AM

WHERE IS LISA?

Posted by: sarah | Jun 13, 2006 2:01:10 PM

Ralphie... Oh come now... there's still a little 'old money' at Brown. :-)

JSinger... that is so funny! I had never seen it written out and it sounds just as I wrote it!!! Hilarious. :-)

Lioness... Cute. actually his actions are enough to make even the most dyed-in-the-wool creationist take a second look at natural selection. :-)

Sarah... She's probably out trying to find out once and for all who is really responsible for the explosion on the beach in Gaza last Friday. That, or perhaps she's off helping OJ find the real killers. [that should elicit a comment from her.] ;->

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 13, 2006 3:25:00 PM

Late as usual, but here goes: When I was studying in Israel about 20 years ago (during the Lebanon war), there was a big international flap over some news cameramen being killed by Israeli soldiers. Fact was, they were in an area that was restricted by the Israeli army. The media was warned that anyone moving in that area would be assumed an enemy & be shot. (This was a war zone, remember.) Of course, the stupid idiots thought it didn't apply to them, & they paid the price. Of course, Time & Newsweek & etc. went postal about the "trigger-happy Israeli soldiers". Punch line - there was an article in one of those esteemed publications, proudly detailing an intrepid reporter's journey through THE VERY SAME RESTRICTED AREA! Moral of the story - you don't have to be a college student to be an idiot - any ultraliberal media blowhard with an immortality complex will do quite nicely, thank you.

Posted by: Psachya | Jun 13, 2006 10:22:06 PM

I was going to chide you on the hyphenated name thing, but I'm so far behind on reading, that it's been taken care of. (~T~'s last name is hyphenated.)

Posted by: jg | Jun 17, 2006 6:47:44 AM

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