Space from the cheap seats

by lestro

A couple of students over at MIT apparently took this picture with a rig that cost them less than $150 total:

The two students (from MIT, of course) put together a low-budget rig to fly a camera high enough to photograph the curvature of the Earth. Instead of rockets, boosters and expensive control systems, they filled a weather balloon with helium and hung a styrofoam beer cooler underneath to carry a cheap Canon A470 compact camera. Instant hand warmers kept things from freezing up and made sure the batteries stayed warm enough to work.

Of course, all this would be pointless if the guys couldn’t find the rig when it landed, so they dropped a prepaid GPS-equipped cellphone inside the box for tracking. Total cost, including duct tape? $148.

Ridiculous.  So that shot above, what’s the deal with that?

The picture you see above was shot from around 93,000 feet, just shy of 18 miles high. To give you an idea of how high that is, when the balloon burst, the beer-cooler took forty minutes to come back to Earth.

And just in case you want to try this at home, they will be posting instructions here.

Amazing. Who needs NASA anyway?

The final frontier

by lestro

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Apollo 11 mission, the absolute apex of the human scientific and engineering experience, the 20th century and American achievement all rolled into one.

To celebrate the event, the NY Times has a long, but exceptional article written by the man who covered the space race the first time around, John Noble Wilford, including details of the run-up to Apollo 11 and what it meant to the country and world, as well as the explanation for how he arrived at one of the single most perfect ledes in the history of print:

I get up and read the articles I have written about the mission up to now. Reporters may feel impelled to write of the next day’s events as the culmination of the space race, the achievement of an ambitious national goal, a historic triumph. I swear to myself that I will not use “historic” in my top paragraph.

I reach for my notebook and try several opening sentences. They must be put on a strict diet. I cross out adjectives. I eliminate clauses that are superfluous and sound too much like heavy music for a movie soundtrack. I begin again: “American astronauts landed.” No, too restrictive and chauvinistic; it will be clear soon enough that the astronauts are American and the goal of a decade has been achieved.

I finally get to the irreducible essence in one short sentence: “Men have landed and walked on the moon.”

Literally, the entire world watched and shared in the joy as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on a planetary body that was not our own.

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banksy! banksy! banksy!

by twit

“He’s got an attractive method of perking up a blank wall…”

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There’s got to be a better way

by lestro

From the Seattle PI on May 14, 2009:

The nation’s new drug czar looks like he has no interest in being the commanding general of a war on drugs.

Gil Kerlikowske, Seattle’s former police chief, says in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that he wants to end using the phrase “war on drugs.”

“Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” Kerlikowske said in his first interview since being confirmed for the federal post. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

Damn right.

We are never going to “defeat” drugs and Kerlikowske is right about it being a war on the American people. We should change our language to reflect that we are trying to reduce abuse and help those locked in a cycle of addiction.

I don’t know what that word is, but I am 100 percent sure it is NOT “war”…

Make Trek, Not Wars

by lestro

I love this:

Inside the White House, a tight circle of advisers has already been selected and office space has been set aside in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. But aides said their surroundings would purposely not be called a “war room,” because of the combative image that the term suggests.

“We would like to put the confirmation wars of the past behind us,” one White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the confidentiality of the selection process, “and have signaled that with our consensus-oriented, non-confrontational approach to appellate court nominations.”

LOVE it.

I absolutely hate all of the war metaphors we use in this country.  Everything is a war: war on drugs, war on terror, war on poverty, etc.

This creates an adversarial tone and belittles what an actual war is.  Besides, the government is losing the war on drugs and the war on poverty.  Which means stoners and the starving are winning!

That’s bad.

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Bessie made it! There’s hope for us all!

by lestro

or “headline of the day

The news came over the radio in the clipped jargon of police officers:

Queens. Loose cow. 103 Precinct. 109 Avenue. E.S.U. reporting a loose cow at the location.

And, by getting loose in Jamaica, Queens, on Wednesday afternoon, this cow may have earned herself a reprieve from the slaughterhouse from which she escaped, officials said…

It seems due to her quick thinking escape, she is now going to be transported to a vegan farm Upstate that takes in animals found running loose in the City (something I thought was simply a story you told kids when their dog had to be put down…)

The spokesman confirmed that officers handed the cow over to Animal Care and Control officials.

“The cow did not go to the slaughterhouse,” said the police spokesman, who said the details of the capture were still being analyzed.

The police spokesman — apparently as uplifted as anyone about the cow’s new lease on life — said he suspected the cow, by escaping, had acted to save its own life.

“I think it’s because it made it out,” he said.

Let that be a lesson to us all. Just because it has been determined that we are to be slaughtered and fed to the masses does not mean we can not all change our destinies by trying to break free from our bondage.

All those other cattle who didn’t bother to question the bloody grate under their feet are now burgers, but this one – this radical cow who refused to do what she was told –  will live out her days in peace.

We can all learn something from that.

Swine Flu! Swine Flu! Swine Flu!

by twit

Finally, some good-sounding news from the Associated Press on May 1, 2009:

CDC flu chief Nancy Cox said the good news is “we do not see the markers for virulence that were seen in the 1918 virus.” Nor does swine flu virus have the virulence traits found in the H5N1 strain of bird flu seen in recent years in Asia and other parts of the world, she said.

However:

It’s too soon to draw any definitive conclusions about what this variation of the H1N1 virus will do. Experts say the only wise course is to prepare for the worst.

this pandemic needs some theme music:

and a handy site to answer the question “Do I have Swine Flu?

The Hawkeye State gets it

by lestro

There was a great article in Sunday’s New York Times about Iowa and the reaction of the citizenry to the Iowa Supreme Court’s allowance of gay marriage. I’ll be honest with you, it was not what I expected, but it really sounds like Iowans get it; they understand the whole idea of America.

I am not sure of the history of Iowa and have only been through there once (I spent a great night in the Quad Cities where I attended a BYOB strip club where I was actually told by the stripper to “grab some titty, boy”), but there seems to be a real libertarian streak that runs through the countryside.

Take this woman, for example, from the town portrayed in the painting “American Gothic.”

“To be honest, I would rather not have it in Iowa,” said Shirley Cox, who has spent most of her 84 years in this old railroad town. Ms. Cox said she had always been proud to tell people what state she was from, but now was not so sure.

“But the thing is,” she went on, “it’s really none of my business. Who am I to tell someone how to live? I live the way I want, and they should live the way they want. I’m surely not going to stomp and raise heck and campaign against it.”

Because I think the visual only adds to it, this is Shirley:
isn’t she great?

What a truly American view on life: it’s not right for me, but what business is it of mine?

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The Bracketologist-In-Chief

by lestro

The greatest American sporting event of the year tips off this week as the NCAA 64-team, anything-can-happen-and-often-does-happen men’s college basketball tournament gets underway.

For the next few weeks, every idiot in the country – including me – gets to be a basketball expert and brackets will be studied and analyzed everyday, costing the American economy billions of dollars in lost productivity as everyone ponies up their $5 to get into their office pool and then spends a few days huddled around a radio or television hoping to win their money back and hoard over winning brackets over their co-workers.

It’s also the time of year in which uninterested girlfriends or quiet, mousy officemate nerds tend to piss off sports fans by out-picking us based on the color of the teams’ uniforms or strength of the cities’ symphonies (shout out to “Cheers!”). There really is nothing more annoying than losing the office pool to someone who happily admits to not knowing shit about shit while picking up their winnings.

But that’s part of the fun: Damn near everyone gets involved this time of year. Including the president, whose brackets were officially released today by the White House.

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Biomusicology, indeed

by twit

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists:

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The page finally starts to turn

by lestro

from a Fox News poll:

fox poll q14 3.4.09

Reagan, as a reminder, is the Republican Godhead of the Trickle Down Theory, which stated that cutting taxes on the rich would then trickle down to create more jobs for the not-as-rich.

It didn’t work.  At all.

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No President Left Behind

by lestro

The former president has some time on his hands these days, so he dropped by a local elementary school’s open house:

Ducking in one room, Bush asked, “Hey, kids, do you know who I am?”

Gasps all around, then someone blurted, “George Washington!”

“That’s right!” the visitor said. “George Washington Bush!”

Well, the middle initial was the same, anyway.

In a dual-language class, Bush tried to introduce himself in Spanish. But it came off a little too twangy. He tried again. Blank looks. Even held up three fingers. You know, a “W.” Still nothing.

Finally, Pershing’s energetic principal, Margie Hernandez, stepped in with a proper Spanish introduction.

Ohhhhhhh.

The kids laughed. The former president laughed. The principal laughed, out of relief, mostly.

… relief that this guy no longer has his finger on the button or at the helm of the education system.

Darwin wins again

by twit

Barreleye1-350

via Discovery News

update! now on video:

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It’s a turn-around jump shot

by twit

It’s everybody jump start

The Obama administration reversed years of U.S. policy Monday by calling for a treaty to cut mercury pollution, which it described as the world’s gravest chemical problem.

It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts

The statement represented a “180-degree turnaround” from policy under the Bush administration, said Michael Bender, co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group, a global coalition of 75 environmental organizations working to reduce mercury exposure.

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our crowded galaxy

by twit

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/2/23/Marta.jpg/200px-Marta.jpg

via the BBC on February 15, 2009:

There could be one hundred billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy, a US conference has heard.  Dr Alan Boss of the Carnegie Institution of Science said many of these worlds could be inhabited by simple lifeforms.

… based on the limited numbers of planets found so far, Dr Boss has estimated that each Sun-like star has on average one “Earth-like” planet. This simple calculation means there would be huge numbers capable of supporting life.

… Recent work at Edinburgh University tried to quantify how many intelligent civilisations might be out there. The research suggested there could be thousands of them.

actually, tens of thousands:

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a “pleasurably tactile experience,” interrupted

by twit

so close!

image via Rhodia Drive

From a PBS interview with the founder, Joshua Karp:

In theory, the paper would be able to cater to the demographics of each neighborhood and the readership would become the editor (he would then be able to sell cheap, hyper-local advertisements)

so close!

The idea is to print not one uniform issue but to allow the readers in each of the paper’s distribution neighborhoods to vote online on which blog content they prefer.

um… you have to read it online, then vote for it, so you can print it out and read it again? or take your chances that the local social media community has found blog posts that you want to read?

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fun with evolution

by twit

although this video styles itself as a history of the internet…

The First Dance

by twit

of a new era:

Inauguration Day!

by twit

the text of President Obama’s Inaugural address:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.

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Hail Kiwi

by The Kiwi

birthday-kiwi

“in a move without modern precedent”

by twit

feel that?

With its benchmark lending rate effectively at zero, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Tuesday, in a move without modern precedent, publicly laid out an aggressive agenda for the nation’s otherwise secretive central bank and suggested that he’s hardly out of ammunition to fight the global financial crisis.

that’s a new era being born…

In a lengthy speech to the London School of Economics, Bernanke also gave explicit support to efforts by Congress and President-elect Barack Obama to create the largest short-term economic stimulus plan the nation’s ever seen.

The Year Anything Was Possible

by lestro

To me, 2008 was The Year Anything Was Possible. I remember the moment it dawned on me. I had been thinking it all year long, but at about 8:27 p.m. (pacific) or so Oct. 29, I realized without a doubt that in 2008 the rules were being re-written and Anything Really Was Possible.

It had been a year of Believing and Hoping and doing the math over and over, but that night, I knew.

By the end of 2007 it seemed as though there was real potential on so many fronts. And as 2008 dawned, the depression and gray cloud that had hung over the US since the USSC handed Bush the White House finally began to peel back.

The end was finally in sight. His time was over. There really was light at the end of this tunnel. We only had to make it through 12 more months, 12 months in which we would see his influence wane as the next presidency began to take shape right before our eyes. On January 1, that still seemed like either Hillary Clinton (most likely) or Rudy Giuliani (equally as likely, really).

But just three days later, the rest of the country caught up to what many of us saw: a new candidate, who not only talked about change but actually, himself, seemed to represent the very shift this country needed – away from the bickering, away from the personal politics, away from the Boomers.

When, on January 3, Barack Obama, a half-black intellectual with a funny name shocked just about every pundit in the country by thrashing both Hillary and John Edwards in the Iowa Caucuses, the buzz began to build: this guy is different.  This guy could actually do it. Was it really possible?

On the Republican side, John McCain, the one-time Maverick who stood up to the establishment in 2000 and gave George W. Bush all he could handle in the primary (before Bush’s people [allegedly] started planting ugly rumors in South Carolina about Mac’s adopted orphan daughter and knocked the real war hero and bipartisan right off the map) was lagging. But thanks to Rudy’s ridiculous and ultimately suicidal decision to entirely forgo the first two contests, there was no clear leader, allowing smiley unknown Arkansas Conservative Mike Huckabee to sneak in and eke out a victory amongst the corn. Anything was Possible.

A few days later, Hillary came roaring back in New Hampshire, a state that was leaning heavily in Obama’s favor until he picked up the victory in Iowa – Anything Was Possible – and Johnny Mac once again found his name at the top of the pile and the buzz began to once again build behind the former war hero who at one time spoke his mind but had since become a Bush apologist. After being all but left for the wolves in late 2007, Mac was once again the guy to beat, especially after Rudy – whose decision to skip NH and IA meant no one had heard a peep from him in the media for weeks – finally folded like an off-suit 7-2 after Florida. Anything was Possible.

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It is no longer illegal to be gay in America

by twit

via Slog, there is a flickr stream from the Courage Campaign, in protest of the attempts to nullify the marriages of thousands of gay and lesbian couples in California.  For example:

100_4241 by courage.campaign.

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The Dogma of the Apocalyptic Kiwi

 by The Kiwi

As the reach and scope of the Apocalyptic Kiwi continues to grow, it is high time to further articulate the role of the Kiwi in the grand scheme of things.

To this end, a new page has been added detailing the Dogma of the Church of the Apocalyptic Kiwi.

beginning

Hail Kiwi.

A Wish For Wings That Work

by lestro

Well, today is Christmas Eve.

Or, if you are a non-Christian, today is Wednesday.

Either way, I love the Christmas season.  I am non-religious, but love that all major and most minor religions celebrate some kind of holiday during this time. Solstice, Ramadan, Hanukkah and Christmas all roll into one big holiday season.

But I love the season. I love the vibe and I love the whole Peace On Earth Goodwill Toward Men thing. Which I think is great advice and a wonderful thought, no matter which god you believe in or don’t.

And I love the specials. The cartoons, movies and other holiday programming help give this whole season a festive feel. But because I am non-religious, I am more of a “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” guy than a “Charlie Brown Christmas” type.  In the former, there’s no mention of why the Whos are celebrating, just that they are, whereas in Charlie Brown, Linus gives his Reason For the Season soliloquy straight out of Luke.

But my favorite Christmas special is “A Wish For Wings That Work,” starring Bill the Cat and Opus. Based around characters from Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County and Outland comics, the special was made in 1991 and ran that year and maybe the one after that before being yanked from the network holiday canon.

But that doesn’t stop me from taking the time to watch it every year.

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Gay penguin celebrities and their kids

by twit

via Neatorama, the recently notorious gay penguins in China have turned out to be great parents:

A pair of gay penguins thrown out of their zoo colony for repeatedly stealing eggs have been given some of their own to look after following a protest by animal rights groups.

… ‘We decided to give them two eggs from another couple whose hatching ability had been poor and they’ve turned out to be the best parents in the whole zoo,’ said one of the keepers.

‘It’s very encouraging and if this works out well we will try to arrange for them to become real parents themselves with artificial insemination.’

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while we are waiting…

by twit

The Blue Ribbon Glee Club performs “Waiting Room” by Fugazi:

circuitously via Your Daily Awesome

truth, justice and punk fucking rock

by lestro

Punk rock is the true American art form.

In its purest forms, punk rock is simply a rage of personal freedom and anti-authority that is at the very heart of the American idea. That simple reflex – “fuck you, I don’t have to do what you say” – is what not only founded the nation, but continues to permeate every aspect of American life.

That challenge, that question, that pushback against being told what to do and how to live, it IS the American experience.

Every culture that comes into the melting pot comes here for the same reason: the simple freedom to question.

And no matter what, through even the tightest of home cultures, America – the idea of America – persists and infects.

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Cheney charged with organized criminal activity

by twit

update! From the AP on November 19, 2008:

A Texas judge has set a Friday arraignment for Vice President Dick Cheney, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others named in indictments accusing them of responsibility for prisoner abuse in a federal detention center.

So says the AP on November 18, 2008:

Cheney is charged with engaging in an organized criminal activity related to the vice president’s investment in the Vanguard Group, which holds financial interests in the private prison companies running the federal detention centers. It accuses Cheney of a conflict of interest and “at least misdemeanor assaults” on detainees because of his link to the prison companies.

Gonzalez, too!

The indictment accuses Gonzales of using his position while in office to stop an investigation in 2006 into abuses at one of the privately-run prisons.

and this is cute:

Regarding the indictments targeting the public officials, [District Attorney] Guerra said, “the grand jury is the one that made those decisions, not me.”

but before we get too excited:

The indictment returned Monday has not yet been signed by the presiding judge, and no action can be taken until that happens.

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My Selfish Racism

by the squid

I am not a sentimental person; but Tuesday night I was rocked to the core.

My wife and I are raising three mixed-race children; I am the black, she is the white.  We have a nice life, but sometimes I worried. I worried about how our children were going to identify themselves to others and I wondered how they will feel about me and their mother while growing up.

In our community, I am still a minority; however there is a wide range of people and experiences with which my children interact; but to know going forward, for the next four years, they will see a man of color – one the same hue as their father and uncle – being articulate, being vigorously debated, having state dinners, making decisions that matter for millions of people and who has a wife which reminds them of one of their grandmothers really affected me.

After Obama was elected, my wife and I spoke about race (as it occasionally comes up in our lives) and she said, “He is not African-American, he is half white…”  For the record, she said the same thing years ago when Halle Berry won the Oscar.

My wife’s point asks: What about the mother?  My wife doesn’t consider our children Black, but hers, and she feels the mother’s genes should be considered as well.  So my wife and I came up with a name for my wife’s condition: White woman with Black kids syndrome.

For the first time, Wednesday night, my five year old daughter said she was African-American; but to be accurate, our kids may have to identify themselves as half Black, a quarter Irish and a quarter Italian.

However,  America considers them Black because of me.

Now my children will see someone, who looks like me and who is not an actor, or a sports star or an entertainer, but as a person who has to make important decisions about life and limb much like their father, but only on a smaller scale.

It was a selfish racism which, I felt, would deter America from electing a person of color. There have been times in my life where, as a father, I have held myself back with feelings of inferiority and hoped that my fear would not translate or be seen by my children.

Now I feel I have a little bit of help from Mr. Obama.  He won’t be able to pay my mortgage, but he may be able to alleviate a burden my children would have to bear because of me – and that was a point on which both my wife and I agreed.

The next chapter of American history

by twit

begins with record-breaking voter turnout…

FTW

image via Wonkette

via Politico on November 5, 2008:

More than 130 million people turned out to vote Tuesday, the most ever to vote in a presidential election.

With ballots still being counted in some precincts into Wednesday morning, an estimated 64 percent of the electorate turned out, making 2008 the highest percentage turnout in generations.

via MSNBC on November 5, 2008:

The percentage of Americans who voted was unmatched in at least a generation and perhaps since 1908, according to election experts. Secretaries of state estimated turnouts approaching 90 percent in Virginia and Colorado and 80 percent or more in big states like Ohio, California, Texas, Virginia, Missouri and Maryland.

via CNN on November 5, 2008:

Obama snared about 63 million votes to McCain’s 55.8 million, according to totals early Wednesday.

via MSNBC on November 5, 2008:

Obama won the popular vote, 52%-46% — the first time a Democrat won more than 51% since LBJ did it in 1964.

You Can Vote However You Like

by twit

via Breitbart:

Time: “You Can Vote However You Like,” inspired by rapper T.I.’s hit “Whatever You Like,” has swept across the Internet over the past few days, amassing nearly 300,000 hits on YouTube and booking them upcoming appearances on ABC’s Good Morning America and BET’s 106 & Park.

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Postcard from Colorado

by twit

From the Associated Press on October 26 2008:

Local police put the crowd estimate at “well over” 100,000 people.

sounds familiar

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A United States of America

by twit

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., bottom right, at a rally in St. Louis, Mo., Saturday, Oct. 18, 2008. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Associated Press

via McClatchy on October 18, 2008:

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Democrat Barack Obama drew his largest U.S. crowd to date on Saturday – an estimated 100,000 people who came to hear him speak at the Gateway Arch — as he campaigned in battleground Missouri just 17 days ahead of the election. [...]

Saturday evening, a crowd estimated at more than 75,000 thronged the Liberty Memorial near downtown Kansas City for another Obama rally.

via McClatchy on October 18, 2008:

Thursday’s first day of early voting drew record numbers across North Carolina, election officials said, as more than 100,000 people turned out.

[...] Across the state, Democrats showed the most first-day enthusiasm. Of the nearly 114,000 first-day voters, 64 percent were Democrats, 21 percent Republicans and 15 percent unaffiliateds

but wait, there’s more…

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The Boss for Obama

by twit

via the Viral Video Chart

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