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Mind the Gap
20 most recent entries

Date:2004-01-17 01:27
Subject:Version 3.1 of my website is up...
Mood: accomplished

And it includes an integrated Blogger-based weblog. Which means that my days here at LiveJournal will eventually be waning. I would have liked to have taken my LiveJournal with me to, but it’s just too hard to customize the look of these pages, and I want a blog that is identical to my website’s overall look. Blogger makes that painless. So it is with Blogger I will go.

Check out version 3.1 of my website.

And don’t forget to read my weekly political column, which this week is about Americans going to Mars.

I won’t be ending my posting here entirely. As of right now, my new weblog has commenting features, but not an RSS feed. For those of you who subscribe to my Journal, I don’t want to leave you out in the cold. So I will continue to post “abstracts” here, every couple of days, that will let you know what’s being discussed at my new site, so you can come take a look.

I will also continue to use this LiveJournal to announce the topics of my new columns.

So please, check out my new Weblog, and watch both there and here for all the latest political, technological and entertainment-related opinion pieces from me, your friendly neighborhood pundit.

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Date:2004-01-15 02:00
Subject:Braun's out, Dean's down and the race is tightening!
Mood: accomplished

The bumpy election ride begins on Monday! Look for a major post on the situation in Iowa and New Hampshire early this evening!

Key points to know right now: Clark’s pulled within a few points of Dean nationally amongst Democrats, and is within 10 points of Dean in the critical New Hampshire race. Dean will pick up the endorsement of Carol Moseley-\ Braun today as she drops out of the race for the nomination. Gephardt is close on Dean’s tail in Iowa. Rumors of a Dean stampede to victory have evaporated. He’s in the political fight of his life.

And I don’t think he’s going to win it.

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Date:2004-01-12 22:26
Subject:And speaking of cold, hostile environments...
Mood: accomplished

Windows troll Paul Thurott has a unremarkably stupid (for him) posting on the announced HP-iPod at his website WinInfoDaily. Paul’s a thoroughbred Microsoft shill, but I still took the time to reply to his nonsense:

You claim to not care which codecs win, but the superlative adjectives you apply to WMA and any other Microsoft-backed format and pejorative adjectives describing other formats belay such a claim. You wear your bias on your sleeve, yet laughably try to pretend that you don’t. It’s a discredit to your journalistic integrity.

Funny that 70% of the customers for online music purchases don’t seem to share your concerns that AAC is somehow a “closed” standard. In fact, AAC files purchased from Apple are available for use in a wide variety of software programs — because they’re tied not to iTunes, but to the QuickTime media framework. Any program that can playback QuickTime content can playback AAC files purchased and authorized on that computer. That’s how Real is able to utilize M4P files from iTunes in its software.

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Date:2004-01-12 22:21
Subject:Mars is all wet
Mood: accomplished

Well, perhaps not wet, per se, but the Spirit probe is detecting what may be water vapor in the air. On the surface of Mars water boils, even in the frigid cold, due to the extremely low atmospheric pressure. The only permanent discernable-from-Earth water on the planet appears to be in the ice caps at the north and south poles. However, the Martian soil, which due to its fine granularity rolls like water in some places, may contain water in a type of clay, where the water is bonded in a semi-frozen form to granules of sediment. This was what the Beagle was going to check. Hopefully Spirit and Opportunity will be able to take a look at this issue as well.

And while on the topic of all things Mars, It’s a composite of images from Spirit’s landing site. Absolutely breathtaking.

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Date:2004-01-11 23:21
Subject:Response thread for "Racing Mars"
Mood: accomplished

Racing Mars. 1/12/2004. As Spirit coasts along the surface of the Red Planet, and more probes rush to join it, President Bush will soon announce a plan to put humans on Mars. But will his administration’s fiscal policies doom this mission before it launches? Read this column.

This LiveJournal entry was created to allow feedback to be posted for the column. If you do not have a LiveJournal, you can still post your feedback using an “anonymous” account, but please put some sort of moniker at the end of your post. Please keep conversation civil.

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Date:2004-01-09 03:09
Subject:The iPod: The Platform of Apple's Future?
Mood: anxious

It’s the 20th anniversary of the Mac, but all the news this week seems to be about the iPod. Jobs’ underwhelming Macworld keynote included almost an entire hour dedicated to new music-related products, and reached its crescendo not with a new Mac, but with a new iPod, the Mini. And to think folks were skeptical when Apple rolled out the device in November 2001. Nowadays, the Beatles’ Apple Corps’ concerns that Apple would become a major music player seem far less paranoid than they do prescient.

The iPod may be Apple’s great success story. After years of marginalization in a computer market built around paradigms they forged, Apple now gets to dominate a market — it’s larger in music players than Dell is in computers, and approaches Microsoftian levels of music store market share. And as this week’s announcements, both exciting and dispiriting, showed, Apple is not sitting on its laurels. Perhaps the company has heard a thing or two in the past 20 years.

The iPod Mini. The sad thing about the iPod mini is that it’s a great product. It’s the equivalent of the November 2001 iPod, though with a slightly smaller hard drive and batter life, in a product that’s strikingly smaller, more ergonomic and 38% less expensive. It should have been a home run product announcement, a real high note to end the Stevenote. But instead it bombed its big debut, and while the rumor sites share a degree of culpability, a lot of the blame for this failure to wow lies with Apple. Whether the iPod mini will survive having its first major press event be covered from the angle of “overpricing” concerns remains to be seen.

What did Apple do so wrong with the mini launch? They framed the product poorly. Jobs got up and talked about the flash player market, and made a big deal — a very big deal — about the price range for the high end of this market ($100 to $199). In doing so, he framed the iPod mini as a device designed to compete with this price bracket. And then he rolled out a product that’s 25% more expensive than the “competition.” And it landed like a lead balloon.

The “mini” in the new iPod’s name does not refer to its price, but to its form factor. But Jobs’ keynote framed the introduction in a way that focused on price. Poor writing, poor planning, poor little iPod. Pressure will be high on Apple to make this product actually live up to the positioning Jobs presented at Macworld — he framed this as a flash killer, and in every technical way it is, but he missed the main reason that people buy those flash players: they can’t afford an iPod. There’s a mental block at $200, where even a machine

The regular iPod already offers a 39-to-1 megabyte/dollar advantage over the flash players. People swayed by technology are already going to buy the iPod, it’s that much better a deal. The new iPod mini is less competitive, even at a $50 less price point. It’s advantage is only 15-to-1 over the flash players. Not that that should matter, because the iPod mini is clearly not a product designed to take on the flash market — at least, not until Apple gets the price down to $199. Then it’ll sweep up.

Had it been framed for what it is: the smaller iPod, for those who need something more durable, lighter and usable in a gym, the iPod mini roll out would have been much more impressive. Draw the product as, in effect, an iPod Duo (remember those PowerBooks), talk about how expensive it is to miniaturize things, and show how smaller laptops (in the WIndows world) are almost always more expensive, and how the smaller iPod is more expensive than heavier, larger MP3 players in its class — and then wow us with the fact that this micro iPod is also the least expensive. And then show, and hey, it’s also just a few bucks more than flash players, so maybe we’ll pull some sales from there. In other words, do everything Jobs did... backwards.

Sure, that wouldn’t have satisfied the folks expecting the impossible: like a flash-based 4 gig iPod for $199. Or a 2 gig hard drive model for $99. But then, those who get their hopes up based on rumors on websites deserve to be let down. Had the iPod been positioned correctly, Apple would be basking in the glow of praise, not drifting in a sea of confusion.

Daring Fireball takes the most cogent not-disappointed position I’ve seen so far.

The Hewlett-Packard iPod. Bigger than the announcement at Macworld, however, was the announcement at CES that HP has chosen to rebrand Apple iPods and bundle iTunes with all new HP PCs in coming months. This is huge. Amazingly huge.

One of the criticisms of the iTunes Music Store has been that it only works with Apple hardware. From a perception point of view, this announcement changes that situation. Yes, the HPod or whatever it’s called will be an Apple iPod with an HP decal and coloring (just like the old Apple StyleWriters were HP DeskJets), and I’m sure pricing will be held in line, but it’s still choice. And it could portend a possible future, where Apple builds tons of iPods that will never be iPods, but instead will be resold under different brands. The iPod then becomes a market unto itself, and a platform, not a product. Like a PC from Dell, the hardware seller’s name is on the outside, but when booting, the iPod clones will display an Apple logo. I’m sure “Apple iPod OS” will be somewhere on the box.

It will be interesting to see how many HP iPods sell versus Apple iPods. Will the players eat each other’s lunch, or will they help the iPod become even more dominant? I’m betting the latter.

The fact that Apple’s iTunes will be on every new HP PC dramatically increases the installed base for the software — though it’s strange that in the coming year more people will buy computers bundled with iTunes from Hewlett Packard than from Apple. Strange, but good. The iTunes deal expands the reach of AAC, and is a big, big loss for the Windows Media Audio camp (yes, I’m talking to you, Paul Thurott.

This is a win for HP’s customers. Not only can they keep buying HP goods, and still have the best music player in the world, they also get the best music store in the world right at their fingertips. They’re spared the trauma of using Windows Media Player, they get the ability to rip AAC and MP3 for free and QuickTime preinstalled to boot.

This is a win for Apple. It gives them a bulwark against WMA, a steady stream of income from HP, multiple players to list on the iTunes compatibility page, and a model to offer to other manufacturers. It’ll also make QuickTime even more ubiquitous. It’s a home run for both teams. Who’d have bet on that (aside from maybe Pete Rose)?

Apple’s iTunes bundling deal with HP appears to be a mutually exclusive arrangement. But what’s to stop Apple from working with other companies to market iPod OS devices that come bundled with iTunes 4? This could be it. Apple’s big chance to grab a sustainable market that will keep the Mac maker moving long after it someday stops making Macs.

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Date:2004-01-05 00:09
Subject:Afghani Constitution completed
Mood: anxious

It looks like the delegation overcame those last meant concerns and completed a document. I haven’t had time to skim even an abstract of the text, what with the hurried frenzy about launching the website. However, kudos to all of those in Afghanistan who have helped move their country one major step closer to a consodlidated democracy.

Let us hope things go as smoothly with the democratization of Iraq.

Now the only issues left in Afghanistan are those of implementation... which are daunting issues, to be sure. But at least now they have a formalized tune by which to march.

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Date:2004-01-04 19:09
Subject:Response thread for "The To-Do Over 'I Do'" (Part I)
Mood: anxious

The To-Do Over “I Do” (Part I). 1/5/2004. This year, despite being that of a presidential election, will be the year when America finally embarks on one course (liberty) or another (oppression) regarding the issue of gay marriage. Will America embrace its own, or cast out gays through a Federal Marriage Amendment? Part one of this series considers why Republicans should oppose this proposed law. Read this column. (After January 11, go here to read the column).

This LiveJournal entry was created to allow feedback to be posted for the column. If you do not have a LiveJournal, you can still post your feedback using an “anonymous” account, but please put some sort of moniker at the end of your post. Please keep conversation civil.

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Date:2004-01-04 00:15
Subject:Afghanistan Constitutional Convention stalls
Mood: bouncy

In what could be a blow to democracy in the Middle East, the Constitutional Convention in Afghanistan may collapse in coming days over a disagreement of how strongly to constitutionally ensure minority rights. Though no official word has come from convention leaders as to what has stalled the previously quick-moving process other than the fact that “a difference about one word” threatened to derail everything.

That one word may be Uzbek — the language of Afghanistan’s large Uzbeki minority. With no schools in the entire nation that even teach students how to read this prominently-spoken tongue, Uzbeki Afghanis may rightfully fear that their culture is imperiled. And no democratic Afghanistan can stand against the dual strains of the Warlords and the Taliban without uniting all strata of the nation.

Ethnic Pashtuns, the majority ethnicity in Afghanistan, are divided over whether supporting minority cultures will unify or balkanize their nation.

A democracy in the Middle East is sorely needed. Iraq will get there, but Afghanistan has the opportunity to get there first. And an Afghani democracy will be more politically potent, both domestically and abroad, than one in Iraq, since the Afghanis have mostly built their government on their own. The Iraqi nation is still controlled with a council dominated by American puppets.

Democracy spreads like a virus. That’s what scared the leader of 1900s Europe so much that they triggered World War I — and their fears were grounded. Once consolidated, liberal democracy enters a region, it spreads to surrounding principalities. Let us hope that Afghanistan helps infect the Middle East with the democracy bug as soon as possible.

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Date:2004-01-03 23:01
Subject:The Red Planet Beckons
Mood: bouncy

We’re on Mars!

The NASA Spirit module has successfully landed on the Martian surface. The Surround-The-Lander-In-Airbags system has worked. The Mars Global Surveyor, in orbit around the Red Planet, is receiving a very strong signal from the landing craft!

As the world learned last week, landing on Mars is rough. Congratulations to the team behind the Spirit for a successful deployment. Now, let’s see what she finds...

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Date:2004-01-03 18:32
Subject:Get "Panther Missing Manual" at Fry's! Total cost: $0!
Mood: bouncy

Fry’s, everyone’s favorite sorta-goofy technology store has a great deal going until Tuesday (January 6): buy a copy of one of four books (all O’Reilly books, two of their “Hacks” books, Windows Pro Missing Manual and OS X Panther Missing Manual) for $15, and get a mail-in rebate form to get $15 back from O’Reilly. You only end up paying sales taxes. Talk about a great deal.

A highly recommend the Panther book. I’ve owned both the Jaguar and 10.1 Missing Manuals and was always very impressed with Pogue’s conversational style and breadth of knowledge. And you can’t beat free!

So if you’ve got a Fry’s in your area, definitely check it out!

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Date:2004-01-02 03:56
Subject:Wow... I just *paid* for a web browser!
Mood: excited

I don’t think I’ve ever paid for a web browser before. Back in the mid-1990s, when Netscape Navigator actually cost money, I was a student and thus could get a copy for free. By the time I was in the real commercial market (hey, wait, I am still a student), all the really cool browsers were free: Microsoft Internet Explorer, Netscape Communicator, and later Mozilla. When Apple Safari, the best browser to date, was released last January, it, too, cost nary a penny.

So when I say I’ve bought a web browser, I’m saying that I am overwhelmingly impressed with a piece of software to the point of spending money on something that’ s normally free. It’d be like buying water... which, for some reason, I do, too.

Which browser is it? Opera? Give me a break. iCab? Do they still make that? No, the only browser I’ve ever met that’s worth buying is OmniWeb.

One of the web browsers for the original web browsing platform (NextStep), OmniWeb has always shone in terms of user interface. When Apple bough NeXT and OpenStep became Mac OS X, Omni was blessed with a massively-increased market in which to sell their wares. There was only one problem... while the company was good at creating beautiful NeXT and Aqua interfaces, it wasn’t so hot when it came to writing a browser engine.

Without a good engine, a pretty web browser is just nice window curtains surrounding a bad view of Hell. So, while Omni’s other great products -- particularly OmniGraffle and OmniOutliner (big into branding, aren’t they?) -- were dressed to impress, OmniWeb sputtered. Badly.

And then came Safari. Apple has made available to developers the HTML-rendering engine that powers their svelte and capable Safari browser, and the fine folks at Omni have put it to good use. The current release, OmniWeb 4.5, sports the classic, graceful Omni interface, but now beneath the surface is all the browsing power of Safari 1.0 (the Safari 1.1 engine is as of yet only available to Panther users).

And while that was enough to get me to take a (favorable) look at Omni, it wasn’t enough for me to open my wallet. Not until this was announced.

It’s not very often that screenshots of a coming product, particularly something as mundane as a web browser, make you salivate. OmniWeb 5 has that effect on me. I mean, just look at it. It is truly a thing of beauty.

Instead of tabs, thumbnails let you browse more than one page per window. Slick.

Now you can set text sizes, ad blocking and pop up blocking on a site-by-site basis. Wonderful!

You can also save workspaces so that you can open multiple windows, and multiple tabs, all at once, and save your current workspace at the end of the day so you can start back in on it tomorrow. Why hadn’t anyone done this before?

Going beyond Safari’s Google search field is a field that you can link to any search field you come across, on any site. No more browsing to IMDb to search for movie titles. Just link it in as an option and search from any web page. Impressive.

Going way beyond Safari’s neat-but-not-intuitive SnapBack feature is a “Page Marking” feature that lets you temporarily flag web pages and head back to them to back out of a browsing tangent quickly and efficiently. Brilliant.

And Omni finally addresses the RSS conundrum (how do you eaily bring RSS feeds into your reader?) by integrating an RSS feed reader into its bookmark manager, along with partial support for “Smart Bookmark” sets that live update based on preset parameters, Rendezvous sharing of all or some of your bookmarks and goodies Safari users have come to take for granted like Address Book linking and the iTunes-style management interface. Stunning.

And while most of those are just building and improving upon concepts found in other browsers, it’s the integration of them all, and the attention to detail, that gives them that superior Omni touch. It pains me that a beta of this browser won’t be opened up to the public until February. But until then I’ll vote my confidence in Omni’s talent by buying my third product from the company (not bad, since they only have five commercial products, and one of them is basically shareware).

A few days ago, I was interested in the news regarding the upcoming Safari 1.2. Now, I yawn. Welcome to the big leagues, OmniWeb.

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Date:2004-01-01 03:55
Subject:Website, Launched Early -- Column Coming...
Mood: excited

I’ve basically launched my website a few days early, There will probably be a minor update (spelling corrections, link behavior improvement) for the “official” launch date on Monday, when the first of my weekly columns (along with my attempts to promote the site) will be rolled out.

There is a column on the “Weekly Column” pages, but it’s just a truncated version of one of my old Daily Campus columns -- a placeholder until I get my new copy up there. The “Subscribe” button on the weekly column page also doesn’t work precisely the way I want it to, but it will before long.

So, wow, almost finished with this project. Now the hard part -- turning out 700 cogent words on events of the day every week -- begins.

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Date:2003-12-30 01:44
Subject:Election 2004: and Macs
Mood: excited

I’m tired and about to head to bed, but I noticed that the Clark04 website has a funny trait: all of the screenshots of computer-related windows or images on the site were taken on Mac OS X. Videos for Clark’s commercials look like OS X QuickTime windows. And the “featured grassroots site” preview image is a screenshot taken in Safari. Cool.

Clark: Beagles. Macs. If he were gay, it’d be like me running for president. Only, he’s older. And a war hero. And stuff.

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Date:2003-12-28 23:38
Subject:Election 2004: Last Prediction of the Year
Mood: excited

Based on a perusal of the major media and those few polls which are so far available, it appears to me that the shape of the Democratic Primary is shifting as General Clark finds his “sea legs” in the campaign. So, in my last indulgence of political posturing for the year, here are some potentially far-afield predictions based on the state of the race at the end of December 2003:

January 19:
Iowa: Dean over Gephardt by 10 points

January 27:
New Hampshire: Dean over Clark by 10 to 15 points

Kerry has lost his momentum in this race -- and given the way he’s run, he’s deserved to fall. A second place win by Clark places the General in the big leagues, and paves the way for a determinative showdown the following week:

February 3:
South Carolina: Dean or Clark in a tight race with less than a 5 point spread
Arizona: Dean or Clark in a tight race with less than a 5 point spread
Delaware: Dean over Clark by less than 5 points
Oklahoma: Clark over Dean by 10 points or more
Missouri: No data, but I’d imagine a tight race between Clark and Dean
New Mexico: Ditto
North Dakota: Ditto, but with an edge to Dean -- ND’s Democrats are sparse, but lefties

February 7:
Michigan: Dean over Clark by less than 5 points
Washington: No data

Dean’s support in the important February 3 & 7 primaries, which will determine if he’s unstoppable or not, is melting into a closely contested battle with the general. These numbers are based on various polls I’ve seen in the last two weeks around the Internet, and a lot of my own gut feelings.

In this time of introspection, on the eve of the election, the Democratic Party appears to be consolidating into two camps, just as we all knew it would. While Dean has sewn up victories in the opening battles, political posturing and the scent of inevitability with which the doctor’s campaign has suffused its candidate have diluted any political potency of those wins. For Dean to develop real legs, he needs to sweep, or come damn close to sweeping, on February 3.

And while he still might, concentrated efforts by the Clark campaign could derail the ascension of the man from Vermont. He’s vulnerable, now more than ever, in the very states he needs to win to prove he’s more than a regional candidate or someone who can win an organization-driven contest like Iowa. February 3 is where the real campaign begins, and if Clark plays his cards right (and gets enough financial support), he could kneecap the Doc in time to save the Democratic party from following Howard right over what very well may be a cliff.

Wins in South Carolina, Michigan, Missouri and Arizona by either candidate will crown them the frontrunner. Momentum will shift to whomever triumphs in these locales, and it will increasingly become time for all other candidates to drop out, and all Democrats to get in line for November. Which is why it’s critical for Clark, and Clark supporters, to get the word out about the general -- or a check if you don’t live in one of these important states -- so that the Democrats, whomever they pick, can make an informed choice, not just one handed to them by a media which has been smitten with Dean for nearly half a year.

A split decision in the first week of February pushes the battle back a month, with a victor emerging in the March 2 and 9 primaries (CA, CT, GA, MD, MA, MN, NY, OH, RI, VT and FL, LA, MS, TX). That means more money and more bruises to mend before November. Hopefully the Democrats will fall decisively into one camp or another by early February and spare their eventual nominee the stress of an extra month of campaigning.

And hopefully Clark will be able to derail Dean on February 3 and be that candidate.

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Date:2003-12-28 22:59
Subject:I (heart) Ben Folds
Mood: excited

Courtney and Clayton first turned me onto Ben Folds’ music, when he began releasing his EP albums direct to the Internet this past Fall. I, of course, remembered him from when he was part of Ben Folds Five, with their song Brick -- the happiest song ever written about taking your girlfriend to get an abortion on the day after Christmas. But his work since then is broad in scope and deep in talent. He’s embraced the online music distribution model, and though his non EP albums are all missing one track, there’s a lot of great content available from him on the Apple iTunes store.

I’m particularly fond of Eddie Walker as well as some of his riffs on other people’s work. Check Ben Folds’s stuff out.

Of course, you’ll need:

Download iTunes

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Date:2003-12-28 21:58
Subject:Back from Houston
Mood: excited

I’m back from my weeklong excursion to my parents’ home in Houston. Got DS9 Season 7, Firefly, several books and other assorted cool stuff for Christmas. Missed my home, my own bed and my friends. Glad to be home, but the trip from there to here was extremely stressful -- inclement weather, lots of bumps, long delays. Thanks to Nathan, who picked me up at Love Field and had dinner and ice cream with me on the way back to my place.

Up next: Back to work tomorrow.

One week until my website launches!

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Date:2003-12-19 01:33
Subject:Election 2004: American Son
Mood: excited

If you plan to vote in the Democratic Primary: Watch this video.

If you plan to vote in the general election, watch the video, and then vote in the primaries.

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Date:2003-12-18 20:49
Subject:Election 2004: Report From the Clark House Party
Mood: excited

I just got back from a house party for supporters of retired General Wesley Clark’s bid for the presidency. There was a fairly large crowd gathered. We watched “American Son,” Clark’s official campaign biography, and then participated in a conference call with the candidate where he took questions from guests assembled at similar parties around the country. Clark was lucid, focused and forceful — but not angry. He took task with Bush’s policies, but did not belittle Bush as a man. He was courteous, informed and extremely presidential.

The Democratic Party, if it wants to win, must nominate Wesley Clark for the presidency. He can offer voters a rational, logical choice. He can articulate the failures of the Bush presidency without coming off as acrimonious or supercilious. He can offer alternatives in a positive way, without seeming angry or acting like he’d just like to roll back the clock.

Dean may be a thrilling candidate to date, but when it comes time, Clark is the guy the Democrats should marry.

If you’re not satisfied with the way things are going in this country, if you want a positive change for America, if you want to back a president who won’t make you wince every other time he opens his mouth, then you should support Wesley Clark.

Check out Clark’s positions and profile

Help support the Clark campaign.

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Date:2003-12-18 13:19
Subject:Wanna get me something for Christmas?
Mood: awake

If you’re looking for the perfect Christmas gift for me, but don’t know what to buy, why not look here instead of a store? “” is a group that helps get supplies -- from more palatable food to books and DVDs -- to soldiers in Iraq. While not specifically focused on holiday-related items, I’m sure packages are especially appreciated during this time of year. They have a list of things that are always in need. I’d rather know a soldier in Iraq is has a book to read or a decent breakfast than another nick-knack any day of the week.

Regardless of anyone’s opinion on the war itself, let’s not forget that we should always support our country’s military men.

And a special thanks to the Howard Dean campaign for pointing me in the direction of this site in an email asking Dean supporters to help and back our soldiers in the Middle East.

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