Begin the Blog (Part II)

This was supposed to have been written almost three years ago. (Shows you how hard it is to write about it.) I was about to tell you why it mattered if the job was in walking distance.

See, I don’t live in New York or Chicago or one of those big places that has commuter trains. And not a lot of bicycle paths or pedestrian-friendly areas, either. After you get about a mile away from the center of town, even the main drag gives up on sidewalks,  and the shoulders are only a couple feet of eroded gravel between the asphalt and the drop-off of four- to six-foot ditches. Some driver zips by a little too close . . .

And of course, that’s where most of the jobs are. There or the industrial park, which has wider shoulders, and plenty of semis going in and out at all times of the day needing to use the wider shoulders. That’s where the paying jobs are in my town.

And that’s why it’s common in my town for every household to have a car, or two, or three. And while people don’t seem to have that much of a problem with someone who doesn’t drive–either didn’t get a license or can’t afford a car–they aren’t willing to accept that someone might find motor vehicles an unacceptable means of travel. “Don’t have a car? I’ll pick you up. Problem solved.”

I’ve always feared getting stuck. I know I watched a lot of Captain Kangaroo when I was little, but the only thing I remember today is a skit where the Captain ha a jar of glue on the counter, and for some reason, managed to stick first one hand and then the other into it. Then he had to answer the phone (so he couldn’t put down the receiver), and then a visitor stopped by and wanted to shake his hand. The Captain kept shaking his hand. I don’t know how it ended becuase I think I must have changed the channel, having had all I could take of someone being stuck to something.

When I was little, I feared riding with anyone other than my parents. What if they made me wear a seatbelt? I couldn’t wait to grow up and have an adult’s right to say “no.” In the early 1980’s, they started with the child seat laws. I made a morbid game with myself: If they started increasing the maximum age of choice by two years every year, would I make it to adulthood before the mandate? (It never occurred to me that I would be able to mount any kind of legal fight before I reached the age of majority.)

When I was twelve, the game came to an end. Though unpopular in the Wisconsin legislature, enough thought the statistics were more important than individual’s rights to pass That Bill.

Tommy Thompson signed it into a sunset law. And vetoed a measure that would have ended it early. And signed a bill to extend the sunset. And signed the bill that made it a permanent law. And that’s all I know about Tommy Thompson’s time as Governor of Wisconsin.

Not long after the law went innto effect, our band director wanted to take a lot of the jazz band to some event (don’t remember if it was a concert or some kind of workshop) he thought would be good for us. I didn’t ask for a permission slip. He thought so highly of me he put one in my hand and asked me to go. I “lost” the permission slip without ever taking it home.

I wondered how I would deal with the rest of my life. I thought I could tolerate them a few times a year, rent a car when I really needed it and walk the rest of the time, but then the 1990’s came along. Power windows and locks, which I though would always be an option like “leather seats” or “alloy wheels” suddenly became standard on a lot of vehicles, but now they were suddenly becoming standard. Not only that, but the cars were starting to lock the doors without even asking!

Suffice it to say, my interest in ever having a “new car” died in the 1990’s. The 1990’s were also when the PTD generation of seatbelts made their appearance. The first time I heard about pre-tensioning devices, the were described as a system to “pull down” on the seatbelt to prevent ejection from too-loose seatbelts during a rollover. I assumed that mean there was some kind of system, probably between the lab belts and their anchors, that would shorten the length of the lap belt from “confortably snug” to “crash tight.” The system I thought PTD belts were wouldn’t stop you from, say, ducking to avoid a massive object hurtling through your windshield, or leaning forward to get a better vantage if you had to corner hard, even if the system engaged.

Wht PTD belts actually do is reel the spool, pulling UP on the shoulder belt, and by extension, tightening the lap belt. That’s a big difference for two reasons. One, since the belt is fairly free to slide between “lap belt” and “shoulder belt” roles, the lap belt is never at a higher tension than the shoulder belt (unless you’ve got some after-market gadget to keep it cinched). The reverse is not true. Since people thrown forward tend to do so head first, the PTD has to pull the torso back before it can cinch the hips down. So for a brief moment, the shoulders are held back more than the hips. This increases the likelihood of submarining, where the lap belt, instead of acting against the hips bones as it should, ends up acting against the soft abdomen.

Problem number two occurs because the car is making the decision to pull you tight to the seat. If it decides to cinch you while you’re leaning forward for some reason or another, it will disturb your control of the car. I remember a local news station giving advice about what to do if you were caught on the road without visible shelter during a tornado warning. Their advice was to stay in your car, put your seatbelt on, and lean forward so your head was below the level of the windshield/windows. I remember wondering what genius came up with that advice, since if anything happened to cause the car to think it was crashing, the first thing it would immediately cinch you upright.

And it will stay cinched after the car stops moving, if it stops in some position other than “rubber side down.” With manufacturer’s preference for burying the buckles in the seat, you likely won’t be able to reach it with your non-buckle-side hand and there’s a not-insignificant chance that your access to the release will be obstructed. That leaves hoping you 1) haven’t been anywhere that doesn’t allow you to have a pocket knife or remembered to retrieve it from where ever you put it while you were there 2) Haven’t put it in your front pants pocket, where it can slide below the lap belt and be rendered inaccessible 3) Haven’t put i tin your back pocket, which is probably as inaccessible as your front pants pocket 4) haven’t laid it on the dash or had it thrown somewhere you can’t reach with your shoulders as good as glued to the seat.

And now in this brave new millennium, we have cars that not only ding at you on startup, but periodically during the drive if they think there’s a seat with enough weight to be an unbuckled human being.

For me, this was the last straw. I haven’t been in a car since before I started this blog. I couldn’t trust them as shelter from a storm. I certainly couldn’t work any job that put me in a position of daily dependence. So my career is in a death spiral. Instead of leaving college with a starting salary of $30,000-$60,000, probably rising to $60,000+, I started at $10,000 and fell from there.

I used to have dreams of travel. When cars became not-so-nice, I fantasized about bus trips. Now the belts have invaded buses, so those dreams are dead. I’m too young to be regretting all the things I didn’t do, but what’s worse, I can’t imagine any scenario that would have made them possible. And even now, the suffering of getting there would outweigh any enjoyment I might find.

I worry about what’s going to happen to me when cars get worse and less avoidable. Sometimes I pray a heart attack will spare me–I cartainly have enough stress for one, but then I think, “The sooner I die, the sooner I could be reborn as some helpless babe who can’t do anything about being stuffed into a carseat,” and then I get really miserable.

What’s been taken out of my life cannot be returned, and my suffering is unlikely to be compensated. If I knew how to destroy my soul so it could never return to this world, I would. Because thanks to the seatbelt Nazis, hell is a place on Earth.

(If you’ll excuse me, I need to go drink something. My mouth got very dry typing this. And my nose is running.)

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Explaining Evolution in terms Bible-thumpers Can Understand

An open response to Christians who argue that evolution can’t be correct because their translation of the Bible doesn’t use the word “evolution”:

(Quotes are from the New International Version, simply because it was the first return in my search)

You think that because the word doesn’t appear in a 1,500-word narrative (Genesis 1 & 2, give or take your translation) means it isn’t happening? That’s like saying that the (original) Constitution didn’t mention slaves, so slavery must not have existed!

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. . .—the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters . . . —the second day. 

.And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.”—the third day.

Notice He’s making the next day from the results of the previous day; in other words,  the world is evolving.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.”. . .” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

Evolution says life began in the seas. Evolution and the Bible are in agreement.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.”

Anything here that says God didn’t make them out of what came before?

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

So, if you’re taking the Bible at face value, that means hemlock tea and rhubarb leaves are good to eat, right? Oh, now you’re not taking the Bible at face value?

As to the “How old is the Earth?” question, I leave you with this tale (author unknown):

One day God is walking on Earth and a man approaches him.
Man: “Hey God, isn’t 1 million years like a second to you?”
God: “Hm, that’s pretty accurate. 1 million years is like a second to me”
Man: “Then 1 million dollars would be like… a penny to you, wouldn’t it?”
God: “Yes, a million dollars would be like a penny to me.”
Man: “Can I have a penny as it means to you?”
God: “Sure. Just a sec.”

(Bottom line: If the Bible didn’t mention “evolution,” it definitely never said the “day” of Genesis was 24 hours as we measure “hours” today. According to this joke, God needed 518.4 billion years to make the world.)

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“If the unemployed don’t have a job, let’s give them something to do!”

Any time you get into a discussion about requirements for people to get something, like voter tests, or unemployment compensation, somebody will trot out the prospect of requiring continuing education and/or volunteer work as a condition for welfare/unemployment compensation.

While this may seem like a good idea on the surface, I’m willing to bet that proponents of this theory have never collected a string of “thank you for you interest, but we will not be pursuing you application further,” letters and unanswered applications. Truth is, job-hunting takes time. Paper applications can take over 20 minutes each to complete, on-line applications can take over an hour. Then you’re all over town, looking for “help wanted” signs in the windows and hopefully, interviewing for jobs. If you’re spending 30 hours (a number suggested by a certain poster as a requirement to receive benefits) a week on volunteering and continuing education, when are you going to look for a job?

Another problem is the perception that people are unemployed because they either lack any job skills or their skills are specialized for an industry that has suddenly shrunk. In many cases,  the unemployed may have perfectly useful skills, but may be consistently getting edged out by someone who’s just a little better fit for the job, or suffers from having skills that are quite useful for the job, but simply don’t show through given the checklist approach many employers are putting into their job applications. As an example, Ive been an avid shutterbug for over twenty years, with experience in several types of film as well as digital. You would think that would be something a photo lab would like to know, right? Well I applied to a photo lab. The on-line application had many questions about how I would feel about abandoning my own duties to help a customer or fellow employee, how cheerfully I would deal with rude customers or blab Corporate’s latest script, but the only thing they wanted to know about me that had anything to do with photography was whether or not I had worked in a photo lab before. (Shall I mention that this photo lab was unable to identify an unmounted 35mm slide, and was unable to provide some customers with a media card for their camera, despite the fact that the camera clearly indicated the type of card required and they had it in stock?) And if you’re thinking there was somewhere in the application I could bring this knowledge up: Nope. No blank field where you could write in “any other skills that may be useful to this job.”

Then there’s this business of education. Some skills, like “card punch operation,” get outdated. Some, like “frying hamburgers,” don’t. Some can get a little stale, like “tax preparation,” but you don’t have to go out and get a new degree,  just a refresher that you have no reason to take unless you’ve got a job to use it with. Sometimes the same skill set can be adapted to jobs that may not seem to be related, say a “catalog designer” reapplying their skill of “concentrating information into a format the average person can absorb” into “adult education.” (Both of those are entirely within the education of a technical communications major, but many perspective employers don’t even know such a major exists.)

Consider this: You’re a garage looking for a new mechanic. Most of your customer base has mid-century Fords and Dodges. You figure since cars have so many electronics nowadays, perspective applicants should be able to fill out an on-line application. You set up the application with the usual fields (personal data, education, previous employers). Candidate A has a recent degree from a Ford-certified course and an apprenticeship with the service department of a new-car dealership. Candidate B has no education beyond high school or any employment related to cars. Who do you hire? Oh, by the way, Candidate B was raised on a farm (yes, he mentioned this in his job history, but he only had enough room to say they raised corn and milked cows, not that the tractor was an ornery pile of manure they had to fix weekly)  and drives a 1974 Ram that he rebuilt from little more than a hulk (He didn’t mention it because he didn’t do it as a hobby, it was something he was given, and he fixed it up because he couldn’t afford to buy a car.) Does that change your answer?

And what if you’re trying to produce things on your own, with something that could be a business if you can get it going, but you can’t find enough time because you’re so busy “volunteering”? Tying strings like this actually becomes a well-intentioned trap that leaves people with no time to get out of their situation.

I’ve worked for no pay, at jobs that they could have paid me for–if I was a senior citizen. But because of the non-profit rules they operated under, they couldn’t pay me, being able-bodied and in prime working years.

And for the record, I am unemployed and NOT getting unemployment, welfare, or any kind of government assistance. I might end up on Medicare thanks to Obamacare, since I obviously have no money for insurance. Not that I want it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to checking my inbox for any job opportunities via my ten-year-old laptop on my library’s hit-and-miss Wi-Fi. It takes me 3-5 hours a day. Every day.

Oh, yeah. And check the royalties on my first book. I’m working on the second, but it’s hard to find time when you need 4 hours a day (and “sunny” hours, to boot, because that’s when the library’s open, so that’s fewer hours of light to be photographing illustrations for my books) just to get through your email, and the rest of the world is snatching pieces of your time here and there, thinking you’re “free” because you don’t have a “job.”

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Got religion? Got spirituality? Know the difference?

I thought Herman Cain was my man and was disappointed he dropped out of the running before the primaries got to Wisconsin, even though I wasn’t too thrilled with his “9/9/9 tax plan,” but after getting “Atheist libertarian Nick Gillespie horrified Bobby Jindal wants U.S. to ‘turn back to God'” in my inbox, I’m glad I didn’t vote for him. “Spiritual revival” does not necessarily mean “Christian population explosion,” and there aren’t a lot of countries more Christian than America, so why is America so screwed up? Answer: Because America is so dumbed-down they don’t think for themselves anymore, and they take the particular translation of the Bible they grew up with at face value, too uneducated to understand anything about the languages it was written in or the context of the times the various books were written in, and too stupid to realize how such lack could completely change the interpretation of a passage. Maybe not fanatical enough to highjack a plane and drive it into a building, but just as convinced that their own particular worldview is the only correct one and not sorry to project it on everyone about them.

Many say that Islam is the fastest-growing religion on the planet because it’s “easy” to practice. Some Christians parishes are closing due to loss of membership, others are surging. Which ones are surging? The mega-churches that provide a feel-good “you’re special” show every Sunday with a thin veneer of Christianity. People only have the “obligation” (or not) of showing up. How’s that for “easy”? And for attending an entertaining sign-a-long (or just clap your hands, or just listen, or even sleep if you’re the kind who can sleep when everyone around you is jumping and clapping), where nobody critically examines anything that’s being said, you get a little flag to wave that says you’ve got religion. Talk about opiates for the masses.

The ultimate purpose of any true religion is to develop oneself as a spiritual being. Unfortunately, too many interpretations of too many religions–Christianity and Islam chief among them–encourage a sort of spiritual neoteny by providing a set of scripted external actions to be rewarded with some kind of paradise if faithfully followed, bonus points for dragging someone else into the herd. It’s not unlike children trying to understand a magic trick; they think if the coin didn’t appear under the cup, it’s  because they didn’t tap it with their wand hard enough and not because they didn’t realized the magician had slipped the coin in with his pinky the last time he picked it up. And in religion, we have adults scolding other adults for the equivalent of not bothering to use a wand at all!

Here’s another way to look at it: many say that prayer is the act of talking to God, while meditation is listening to God’s answer. Having been raised Catholic, I can tell you: The Church taught me to pray, it never taught me to meditate. And although I am aware that many saints and more notable folk of the cloth did in fact meditate, I did not come by that knowledge from my catechism classes.

My apologies to the educated, understanding, spiritual beings who find the teachings of Jesus most appropriate for their own personal path to enlightenment and respect those who tread a different path, knowing that “all roads lead to Rome,” so to speak.

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Having more Christian movies than any other religion isn’t enough for Christians

Over the past few decades, Christians (in movies) have been made to look like raving lunatics, fear mongers, and borderline terrorists. This treatment is the same from Hollywood as it is from the front pages of mainstream newspapers.


Here it is again: yet another Bible-thumper whining about “Christians have been made to look like raving lunatics, fear mongers, and borderline terrorists.” According to Bible-thumpers, we’re supposed to fight tooth and nail (and suffer) for the longest achievable life on this plane of existence because the Christians say (according to spin-doctored interpretations of spin-doctored translations of the Bible) we only live once. If Christian lawmakers would stop forcing everyone to stand in awe of death, we might actually get around to living.

Now, as to movies out of Hollywood: Apparently, we’ve already forgotten “The Passion of Christ,” and are conveniently ignoring “softer” Biblical treatments, such as “Bruce Almighy” and it’s sorta-sequel “Evan Almighty.” Not to mention Christian leading roles such as those in “The Blind Side” (I guess if you’re not telling one of the better-known Bible stories or thumping the Bible ever few minutes, it doesn’t count as “Christian”). Didn’t think that was Christian?  “Bullock initially turned down the starring role three times due to discomfort with portraying a devout Christian.”

Try connecting films to any other sacred texts: Let’s see, anything about the Prophet Mohammad? Not that I can remember. A significant Jewish viewpoint? Not since Fiddler on the Roof,   unless you want to count WWII movies, but they’re more about Nazi oppression for being Jews than anything about how Jews look at the world. Buddhism? Maybe every now and then a zen swordsman or kung-fu monk will talk about their worldview, but most people watch for the fighting. Hinduism? Bet you can’t name a movie that even mentions one of the Hindu gods, unless it’s being used as some codename for an operation or black tech.  Wiccanism? Either “evil” witches to be hunted down, or fantastic, Potter-esque magic far removed from the reality. Any of the native/tribal religions (often called “Shamanism,” for lack of a more precise name, and don’t exactly have “texts” because knowledge is passed by oral tradition)? Only if it’s reduced to “ouga-chucka, ouga-chuck,” fanciful masks, and dancing with rattles. In other words, made such a farce of, one can’t really say it reflects the religion at all. I bet, taken together, they won’t match the number of movies with strongly Christian overtures. So STOP WHINING ALREADY.

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Libertarianism and Morality: What a Hornet’s Nest is the NFL

Jason Sorens on Pileus commented on “a nice, thoughtful piece” about the morality of watching football by Stephanie Slade on Reason (Is Watching Football Unethical?)

An interesting point Stephanie makes in her “prostitution” analogy is:

” But we aren’t required to accept or encourage her behavior if we believe what she is doing is objectionable.”

This is the exact argument liberals are using to take away our freedoms, one by one. “I object to banning gay marriage; I will not accept a baker that refuses to make a gay wedding cake.” “I object to people getting thrown out of cars; I will not accept people who won’t use seatbelts because they fear being killed by them.” “I object to people who aren’t responsible enough to buy insurance; I will not accept an argument that they can’t afford it.” See?

In her defense she also says,

“The wrong solution, most Reason readers would probably agree, brings to bear the heavy hand of government, attempting to regulate away the danger or to end the game completely through brute coercive force.”

But how much difference is there really in a government-mandated “solution,” and one imposed by some other aspect of a society? After all, Saudi Arabia has no law against women driving. If you can’t accept a swinging fist that’s nowhere near your head, then you can’t truly say you’re a libertarian.

Sorens takes this stance:

“But I agree that there are some moral obligations that have nothing to do with respecting rights, like being kind and considerate to people, acting with beneficence toward those whom one can help, and, yes, respecting one’s own body and mind. If it’s immoral to do heroin, then a fortiori it’s immoral to play football, because football does much more damage to the mind than heroin, and the mind is what really gives us personhood and moral worth.”

Hera again, a liberal socialist stance creeps in. What is immoral about doing heroin?  One the surface, a single act of taking heroin has no moral content. The danger of heroin is the “slippery slope”: it can quickly alter the user’s mind to cause him to act in ways he would not without the drug, and those ways often result in a higher instance of the user bashing other people’s noses (stealing to get the money for his next fix, abandoning his job to do have it). So it’s a bad example to begin with, and holding it up against football is a false comparison, too boot. Playing is a player’s job: he’s not paying to do it, and he’s not going to play hookey from it in order to play it.

He goes on to say:

“Would you watch a consensual gladiator show in which someone is killed? Or would you think it barbaric and wrong? If a gladiator show is barbaric and wrong, why not a football game?”

Is it wrong to jump off a cliff wearing a wing suit? How about climbing a mountain for the sake of achieving it? In watching football, at least a good chunk of society gets a benefit (entertainment) from it, with very little cost (cost of ticket/running the TV, minor diversion of medical resources that the NFL pays for). But thrill seekers (yes, they post videos to YouTube, but the vast majority would still do it if there were no recording equipment) engage in an activity that provides few benefits to others, but runs the risk of incurring a high cost (rescuers retrieving them from remote locations, critical body trauma without pre-arranged medical support) to people who gain no benefit for the successful completion.

Personally, I have no moral objection to two people who agree, of their own free will, to battle without quarter to the death. My only issue is whether or not it is truly free will, as we can all find stories of people taking outrageous risks out of financial desperation or physical force, opportunistic third parties trying to manipulate the outcome for their own gains, or more subtle powers of compulsion.

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Any Click’s a Good Click?

Few things online frustrate me more than clicking a link and then landing on a page I already saw–ad nauseam–because they just relabeled the link, or turned out to be some list that may or may not include the link for what I wanted in the first place–if I could find it.

Because truth is, the text that a link is connected to doesn’t have to have anything to do with where the actual link links (victims of “accidental child porn” can attest to that). Pay to click and all that. Great for advertisers (they think even if 99 out of 100 people go away angry, the 100th might just bite, and that’s enough), outright aggravating for folks with limited connectivity.

Another thing that irks me is the “race to the bottom” going on with pay rates for articles. Doing a 1,000-word article off the top of your head, running a spell check, and reading it over once or twice to check that it makes sense takes at least forty minutes–realistically closer to two hours (these posts take me over an hour to write, and I usually end up editing them a few days later for typos I didn’t see when I wrote them), depending on how fast you can type. Researching a topic you can’t write about off the top of your head takes longer. So assuming $5/hour, which isn’t even minimum wage, an article should be making it’s author at least $10, $25 if you want to make a living at it. But the going rate is often less than $5/hour. Word-gererators (not fair to call them “authors”) respond by writing bulleted lists instead of true articles, not bothering with revisions, and even omitting the time to do a single spell/grammar check. If they want to make minimum wage doing this, they can’t spend more than 20 minutes per so-called article. Then the “publisher” slaps it on a web page with a stock photo that contributes nothing to the story, a few breaks in the flow for ads and links to other stories on the site (or even the same story–they can’t bother to write a few lines to check that the story they’re plugging isn’t the same story the reader’s looking at) to make it look bigger, or even get it big enough to justify a second page, because the more pages the real content takes up, the more opportunities to throw ads at the reader.

It’s all a matter of getting the most ads in front of the reader with the least effort (and money) expended on actual content.

But the most egregious transgression of all is when a “news” source decides that click counts are worth more than fact-checking. What may be a prime example seems to have come forth in the Tallahassee Democrat, a Gannett paper in Florida that’s calling for a Constitutional Amendment to ban all handguns and “assault weapons” (excepting Government entities such as police and military, of course). The debate isn’t about whether columnist Gerald Ensley’s words reflect true idiocy or just Statist brainwashing, but whether his motive was to state the case that he believed or the one that would generate the most clicks. Since Gannett’s restructuring plan places “passion topics” that generate more clicks over in-depth factual reporting (you know, the stuff newspapers–web or print–are supposed to be generating so we don’t confuse them with the fiction coming out of Hollywood).

What’s really telling is that, for all the clicks they want their stories to get, they don’t really want to hear from their public. I was going to give them a piece of my mind for this, but–surprise, surprise–while they have contact emails for shareholders, perspective employees, and perspective suppliers, they offer no contact emails for the general public. Oh, the hypocrisy. They really don’t want to know about what their readers think.

Apparently Gannett went through a round of layoffs they called a “restructuring plan.” Wonder why?Maybe because they’re trying to hang on to the label “newspaper” without actually delivering any news? How’s that working?

If America’s got any sense left, Gannett deserves another round of layoffs (apologies to the real journalists getting Gannett paychecks), if they’re going to demote themselves from the Fourth Estate to supermarket tabloids. If we aren’t willing to rise up against click-baiting, the whole “net neutrality” argument is going to become a moot point. Who’s going to pay to get on the World Wide Ad?

Makes fax ads sound like a bargain.

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