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New Terror Threat: Unitarian Jihadis

Can you actually wage jihad for tolerance? John Carrol @ SFGate "reprints" the manifesto of the Unitarian Jihad [fwd courtesy Amy]:

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone.

Brother Gatling Gun of Patience notes that he's pretty sure the world is out to get him because everyone laughs when he says he is a Unitarian. There were murmurs of assent around the room, and someone suggested that we buy some Congress members and really stick it to the Baptists. But this was deemed against Revolutionary Principles, and Brother Gatling Gun of Patience was remanded to the Sunday Flowers and Banners committee.

It would be funnier if powerful and highly educated men didn't believe that there's some kind of "anti-christian conspiracy", or think that judges who have the integrity to make objective judgements are just asking to be shot. Those folks should try being a non-christian for a while, and see what that feels like.

â??Loonaticsâ?

â??Look what they did to the wabbit.â? Adam Nichols of the New York Daily News writes:

What's up with Bugs Bunny, Doc?

The carrot-chomping smart aleck is making a comeback - as a futuristic, slimmed-down superhero.

Some superhero. Doesnâ??t the new version look just plain mean? Smart-alecky is one thing, but an animal turned into raging robot confounds me.

And will we still see a carrot? I canâ??t imagine Bugs (or rather Buzz) Bunny without a carrot. Horrors. Those new laser eyes didnâ??t come from thin air. Years of chomping carrots have their rewards.

Then again, has Bugs been â??clearly wigginâ??â? all these years? Are the automatonâ??s new ophthalmic powers the result of superior nutritional engineering or rather a terrifying, carotene-induced genetic mutation?

In any case, some people voicing opinions donâ??t appreciate the Loonatic makeover.

Lisa Lopez, 26, a Brooklyn resident who works for a car hire company, said, "That's some makeover. I recognize them, but only just. They look robotic. I'm not sure I like it at all."

"Looney Tunes is outdated," said Robert Katz, 28, a dog walker from the lower East Side. "But they shouldn't take classic characters and try to change them. Come up with something new."

The juryâ??s still out for me; I havenâ??t seen the show. But I would disagree with Mr. Katz that â??Looney Tunes is outdated.â? Classic characters are ever fresh in my book.

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Poetry for the Day

For any of you who donâ??t exhibit a deep-rooted cynicism on this Valentineâ??s Day,.. or even if you do,... Guardian Unlimited has taken the stress out of choosing suitable poetry for your loved ones. Just take their easy quiz.

This year, say it with words: a carefully chosen poem can spark tender feelings in your chosen valentine. But who to go for - Sappho or Marvell, Yeats or Shakespeare? Just answer a few simple questions about your valentine, and we'll find an appropriate poem to touch their heart.

My various selections included this one from Rumi:

The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.

Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along.

(Itâ??s getting a bit warm in here. I think I need a fan...)

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Seventy-Three Percent

I am nerdier than 73% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!Still another nerd quiz. This one seems slightly tougher on some axes -- for example, you need to be able to recognize a couple of old dead scientists based on their picture, and you're supposed to notice the pointed ears on a pretty girl before you notice her face -- so I thought I'd end up looking normal. Yet I'm still 73% nerdy by their reckoning.

Not that I'm complaining. Last time I checked, nerds for some reason are still regarded as cool -- the world of my childhood is still upside down in at least that regard.

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Party Central

Reykjavik is featured in the Travel section of The New York Times today. Iâ??ve certainly been hearing about the party scene there. But Iâ??m beginning to wonder if anyone over 40 lives in this haven of festivity.

Around the corner at the Rex Bar, another artfully
designed, upscale disco attracts a well-heeled older crowd.
"The younger people have a lot more places to go," says a
Reykjavik woman named Tinna, who can't be a minute over 30 and is wearing jeans with seven-inch pilgrim cuffs over
black boots, a popular look in Reykjavik. Nearby, a group
of four tall and bejeweled, elegantly dressed women in
their late 30's boogie to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"
under a crystal chandelier in a small, tightly packed dance floor off the main room.

Late 30â??s -- â??older crowdâ?? Would I seem like an ossified relic to those â??bejeweled women in their late 30â??sâ?? And whatâ??s with Michael Jacksonâ??s â??Billie Jeanâ?? *yawn* Even in my â??advancedâ? years, Iâ??d rather boogie at the â??rave sceneâ? â??up the street at Pravda.â?

Needless to say, I heaved a sigh of relief when running down some stats on Reykjavik. At least back in 2001 there were 532 people between the ages of 90 and 99 living there, not to mention 13 others over 100 years old. I wonder where theyâ??re allowed to party? If I should ever live that long, Iâ??d just boogie wherever I wanted to. Reykjavik does look like a beautiful place to visit.

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Red or Green Light?

Are holiday office parties â??inâ? or â??outâ?? The Guardian recently reported:

A survey of nearly 4,000 managers showed that fewer were planning to organise a staff bash this year, often complaining that office parties were "long and boring".

Is this just a British phenomenon? Probably not entirely. I remember attending boring parties on this side of the Atlantic.

Interestingly, just three days later The Guardian ran a story about â??24-hour party people,â? giving a different take on the British Christmas party scene. And yesterday, Reuters conveyed a message from Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents:

Don't dance on tables at the office Christmas party and resist the temptation to photocopy body parts in a drunken attempt to amuse colleagues.

Well, that sounds like sound advice. Of course, if you insist on table dancing, it wouldnâ??t hurt to have a few professional Polish dancers around.

Now, whatâ??s all the hullabaloo again about â??boringâ? staff bashes?

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Andrei Codrescu's Exquisite Golf Course

Andrei Codrescu is thinking of taking up golf.

"I used to be philosophically opposed to golf, and said mean things about it. I said that the homeless of the world could be housed on America's golf courses. I proposed moving Calcutta to Palm Springs. That was wrong. ... It's just that, at the time, in the late '90s of the last century, I didn't understand the game: It's played it in the daytime, with your pals, not at night with loose women."
-- Andrei Codrescu (on All Things Considered, 2004-12-02) (Listen via RealAudio)

I respect a man who can change his mind. Especially when I know he also appreciates games played at night, with loose women. And hey, after all, he's considering the Kabul Golf Club for his first game.

Eye of newt and toe of frog...

While this famous recipe from Shakespeare's Macbeth sounds like a grisly combination of animal parts, almost all the references are probably to herbs. It has been a longstanding tradition in magic and sorcery to refer to spell components obliquely; often the real recipe resembles very little what the uninitiated conjure in their minds' eye. [Gothic Gardening: The Secret Names of Plants]

Oh, but it is fun to conjure, regardless of Shakespeareâ??s herbal code. It is Halloween, after all.

"Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,

Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,--

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

-- From Macbeth (IV, i,) by William Shakespeare

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Adam Felber Truly Loves Big Brother (Or: Newspeak In One Easy Lesson)

Adam Felber is a little puzzled:

I've returned to LA to find some very confusing news. Apparently, Osama Bin Laden is alive and living in Pakistan. At least, that's what CNN says.

This is perplexing on many levels. For one, isn't Pakistan our ally? Coulda sworn they were.

But mainly, who exactly is this "Osama bin Laden?"

It's not a name you read about very often, and the article doesn't really tell you much about him. He appears to linked to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda, you might remember, is a group that might have assisted Saddam Hussein in planning then 9/11 attacks. But they're based in Iraq now, and there's only a few of them left, fighting our forces hopelessly as the nation marches relentlessly towards freedom, peace, and democratic elections. This much I'm pretty sure of.

....

I've just Googled this "Osama bin Laden," and there seems to be a lot of articles in the liberal media claiming that it was him who was responsible for 9/11 and thus the entire War on Terror. Also, there's nothing in these yellow journals about him ever even visiting Iraq. What?

My memory's not what it once was, but this seems pretty implausible. I mean, wouldn't he be in the headlines a little more often if he was the guy responsible for the entire War and he was still out there, alive and plotting against our country?...

Fortunately, the other news services aren't leading with this story, and that strikes me as a rare instance of journalistic responsibility. ...

9/11 was three years ago, after all. To say that we would have left its so-called "main architect" free to gambol around the hills of Pakistan and Afghanistan all this time while committing hundreds of thousands of troops to an area where he'd never even been seen, allowing thousands of our young, brave American soldiers to sacrifice their health or their actual lives in a place that was totally unrelated to the real war and its real villians - well, that's just plain ridiculous, and I think that what this sort of story really shows is that the Kerry camp is getting desperate.

....

In Defense of Dedicated Dilletantes

.... there's a very dismissive British phrase, "Jack of all trades and master of none." But who wants to be the master of one trade, rather than having fun doing lots of things? The best evidence is that we're all just going to be on this planet once. So we might as well taste as many fruits of as many trees of as many orchards as there are in the world. If we're finally presented to St. Peter, I'm sure he would be extremely disappointed if he said, "So, what did you think about that particular fruit on that tree?" and you said, "Oh, I never tried that. I was too busy in the other orchard." "Well for heaven's sake, why didn't you try everything?" I think that's a good attitude. It's all about not closing off, not bourgeoisie-fying. Not saying, "This is what I think about this, and that's what I'll always think. I've made up my mind." I like the idea of every morning suddenly thinking, "You know what? I've suddenly decided I'm a fascist." I don't think that will ever happen, and I hope it doesn't, to be perfectly honest. But I do think it's important not to be absolutely sure, so sure that you can't reinvent yourself in some way, or at least rediscover the truth of why you think what you think, and not just take it as an assumption.

[Stephen Fry, speaking in The Onion AV Club]

The Real Paris Underground

"La [société] Mexicaine de la Perforation" (roughly "the Diggers from La Mexicaine") are "...a clandestine cell of 'urban explorers' which claims its mission is to 'reclaim and transform disused city spaces for the creation of zones of expression for free and independent art'...." Earlier this summer, they ran a seven-week film series in an underground cinema complex (including restaurant and bar) of their own construction. [Guardian, "Paris's new slant on underground movies"]

And boy, were the gendarmes pissed.

Not that they've been able to quite figure out what they're pissed about. Paris police still don't know what to charge whem with. After all, the group adheres strictly to its rule of leaving each "crime"-scene "cleaner, if anything, than when we found it".

"They freaked out completely," Lazar, their spokesman, said happily. "They called in the bomb squad, the sniffer dogs, army security, the anti-terrorist squad, the serious crimes unit. They said it was skinheads or subversives. They got it on to national TV news. They hadn't a clue."

....

[The cinema] was constructed in a series of interconnected caves totalling some 400 square metres beneath the Palais de Chaillot, across the Seine from the Eiffel tower. Former quarries, they were partly refurbished during the 1900 Universal Exposition when one of the galleries was clad with concrete to represent a future Channel tunnel and a wall was artfully terraced.

But the caves were sealed off for the last time at least 20 years ago and subsequently "ceased to exist officially", Lazar said. "We knew them well because we used them to get into the Palais de Chaillot every Bastille Day. The roof is the perfect place from which to watch the fireworks."

Indeed most of the LMDP's underground happenings are organised in places the city authorities are not aware of, he added. "There are so many underground networks - the quarries, the metro, the collective heating, the electricity, the sewers - and each is the responsibility of a different bureaucracy," he said.

"Urban explorers are the only people who, between us, know it all. We move between each network. We know where they link up - often, it's us who made the link. The authorities, the police, town hall, they don't know a hundredth, a thousandth, of what's down there."

There's something really appealing about all of this -- and it only gets more amusing when you learn that the police were so upset about it. It's hard for me to imagine a major police department in a U.S. city getting so upset about such a thing (at least, until some security mom pointed out that they could have been TERRORISTS).

Then again, it does give one pause: Maybe the London Underground really is a terrorist movement....

(Link courtesy two rather pedantic discussions of the proper translation of "La Mexicaine de la Perforation" at LanguageLog.)

The Lewd Damon Method of Pedestrian Warfare

Sometimes you've just got to bring out the big guns:

Me: "Excuse me, Ma'am...but I must warn you that there has been a 12 subway stop donnybrook regarding the unwanted intrusion of religious beliefs into our morning commutes."

Preacher Lady 2: "I got freedom of speech! And GOD TELLS ME THAT THE GAY DEVILS ARE CONTROLLING NEW YORK."

Me: (standing up) "If you do not cease and desist fouling the air with homophobia, I must singâ?¦SHOW TUNES."

There are now 3 or 4 gay men on the train. They start laughing.

...

I say, Preacher Lady had it coming. "You don't look so bad -- how about another? 'When I take you out, tonight, with me, / Honey, here's the way it's goin' to be: / You will set behind a team of snow white horses,
In the slickest gig you ever see!'...." [thanks, Mr. Crash]

Where's George?

I've heard of the Where's George?, The Great American Bill Locator website, but never investigated it... until yesterday. When counting money received from a bank teller, I found myself in possession of a one-dollar bill with a carefully placed ink-stamped invitation to check out where this well-worn bill had traveled during its journey.

So, I went to www.wheresgeorge.com stamped on the bill and plugged in the denomination, serial number and bill series year and found out that I was the first one to enter this particular bill since it began its journey from Seattle 76 days, 9 hours, and 55 minutes ago. It traveled approximately 1,938 miles at an average speed of 25 miles per day.


Wow. Over 76 days unaccounted for. I wonder where it's been? Grocery store check-out lines? Change machines? Countless wallets? Passed on by any drug users? Better wash my hands...


Interesting to see how involved some people become. I'll check the tracking report occasionally to see if another sucker, er, interested party records my bill's journey. Occasionally. Just the one bill.

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Whitehouse.Gov's Robot Exclusion File

A friend (who shall remain nameless) just learned about Robot Exclusion Files; these are wide open and you can look at them for a number of very public sites. Being the curious sort, and being particularly mindful of the current administration, it occurred to her to see what happened when she tried to look at the robots.txt file for Whitehouse.gov.

Surprise!

[Since these are paranoid times, I think I should point out pre-emptively that by its very nature, the robots.txt file is intended to be read -- that, in fact, it's read many many many times a day (just not usually by humans). So while the massively secretive and paranoid current occupants of the White House might wish otherwise, there is no conceivable legal reason why I shouldn't be able to look at it. OK?] (The preceding paragraph, and my friend's insistence on anonymity, by the way, are examples of the "chilling effect" in action.)

Typically these things are pretty short. CNN's is an exception, and an educational one. In fact, the four commercial examples I give above seem to all be pretty good examples of when a big site would use them:

  • To exclude highly dynamic content that really just shouldn't be indexed, anyway.
  • To exclude stuff that just plain doesn't need to be indexed, like login pages.
  • To prevent indexing of non-text content like images, audio/video files, amd Shockwave movies. (CNN's web geeks have some fun with this. Hell, why not?)

What's immediately interesting to me on the White House's robots.txt is how superficially mundane a lot of the links are -- and how suggestive others are. If you actually plug in some of those links, you'll find that they run the gamut from broken pages to 404s; the broken or ill-formed pages seem to be static, for the most part, and often old. My friend wondered why the list was so long; I set that in the back of my mind and had a much more mundane and plausible answer flash into my head as I lay my head down last night: Sloppiness. Their web admins are too lazy to set up a sandbox or set passwords, or they don't have the clout to get White House staffers to actually use passwords, so they're opting for security by obscurity.

Maybe someone should tell the Bushites that "security by obscurity" is an oxymoron....nah, let 'em figure it out for themselves.

Now You can have Nicolae Ceaucescu on your First Class Stamps!

The Smoking Gun used the USPS's new personalized postage stamp service to create a bunch of stamps featuring infamous figures including Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Ted Kaczynski (twice), Romanian ghoul Nicolae Ceaucescu, and Monica Lewinski's stained black dress.
They seem to think this is a big deal:

.... (the image, of course, must not be deemed objectionable by the folks at Stamps.com, the online firm handling the trial run of Uncle Sam's postage gambit). But since objectionable is such a subjective term, TSG sought to determine what kind of interesting stamps we could actually create. While the image censors rejected our request for stamps featuring mug shots of Lee Harvey Oswald, Salvatore "Sammy Bull" Gravano, and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, they did green light other equally, um, distinctive postage.... TSG, of course, will not actually be using our personalized postage. This was just an exercise to point out that the only people truly worthy of stamps are statesmen (George Washington, Benjamin Franklin), civil rights leaders (Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall), and cartoon characters (Wile E. Coyote, Jiminy Cricket).

(AHEM. Do I detect a bit of tounge-in-cheek mumbling?)

I say, let 'em put on whoever they want. Better than than having a Stamps.com censor (or a Postal Service censor, for that matter) determining that George Bush is a-ok, but Bill Clinton is lewd and unacceptable. Or vice-versa, for the paranoid conservative crowd out there. I think the college/high school photos of Kaczynski are kind of poignant, for that matter.

Think of the marketing potential: The RNC can raise funds by selling Reagan stamps to the suckers at a healthy markup; obsessives and stalkers can creep out still more effectively by putting the object of their, er, affection, on everything they send by post; grandmothers everywhere will be getting flats covered with images of their grandbabies; midlife-males will be showing off their Vettes and Harleys. It's brilliant marketing....

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Vlieg Urinor

One more note for today. The first fruit of adventures with del.icio.us, a story about a novel and innovative bit of user interface design in Dutch public toilets:

I have seen one of the finest instances of user interface design ever, and I saw it in the men's room at Schipol airport in Amsterdam.

In each of the urinals, there is a little printed blue fly. It looks a lot like a real fly, but it's definitely iconic - you're not supposed to believe it's a real fly. It's printed near the drain, and slightly to the left.

(... so, no, that's not bad Latin, it's Dutch.)

I have nothing particularly clever to add to this, except that it's one of those things that makes a light click on over your skull...

BTW, I found this on my very first experiment with using del.icio.us for serendipitous browsing. I bookmarked the site diagramming story, then looked at the bookmark lists for two of the three other people who had it marked; on the second one, near the top of the list, I found this.

Cool; I think I'd better stop, now, or this will eat the whole day, and I really do have work to do...

Matt, meet Paula....

Scientists say the right name can make you sexier.

Linguist Amy Perfors, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, posted photos of men and women on the U.S. Web site "Hot or Not," which lets viewers rate pictures according to how attractive they find them.

When she posted the same pictures with different names, she found that the attractiveness scores went up and down depending on the vowels, the London-based magazine New Scientist reported.

Men with "front vowels" in their names -- sounds formed at the front of the mouth like the "a" in Matt -- were considered sexier than men with "back vowel" sounds like the "au" in Paul, she concluded.

The opposite held for women, who were sexier with back vowels than front ones. ["Matt Is Sexier Than Paul?", Reuters, August 12, 2004]

Matt might be sexier than Paul, but Paula could be sexier than Mattie. Hmmm, wonder if I should ditch "Peggy" for something more alluring.

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Some of them have to share a circle...

... guess I'm just feeling mean today... Back from the dead to exhort you to "Design Your Own Hell" (Courtesy slagman this morning on MeFi):

Bill Clinton, The New York Yankees, Hipsters
Circle I Limbo

Democrats, Oakland Raider Fans, PETA Members
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

The Pope, Greens, DMV Employees, Gray Davis
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Rednecks, Parents who bring squalling brats to R-rated movies
Circle IV Rolling Weights

Bill Gates, General asshats, Republicans, Creationists
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

George Bush, Saddam Hussein
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Libertarians, Militant Vegans, Objectivists
Circle VII Burning Sands

Osama bin Laden, Anne Coulter, NAMBLA Members
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

Scientologists, Qusay Hussein, Uday Hussein
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Quotes for the moment

"Some kids my age experiment with drugs, I experiment with music." [Renee Olstead]

Sample listening from her new album is here. Bluesy jazz.

Another quote:

``I'm sorry to disappoint science fiction fans,'' Hawking, speaking via a specially-constructed computer, told a conference of 600 scientists from 48 countries, ``but . . . there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes.

``If you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our universe, but in a mangled form,'' he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. [â??Hawking upends own theory on black holesâ? by Jim Dee, Boston Herald, July 22, 2004]

So much for ego preservation.

And, ooooooh,... possible fodder for future quotes:

â??Washington Wivesâ? on A&E tonight at 10, Eastern and Pacific times; 9, Central time.

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"How Shit Happens"

Today's reading is from the Book of Corporate Life,
Chapter 1, Verses 1-15:

  1. In the beginning there was the Plan.
  2. And then came the Assumptions.
  3. And the Assumptions were without form.
  4. And the Plan was without Substance.
  5. And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.
  6. And the Workers spoke among themselves saying, "It is a crock of shit and it stinks."
  7. And the Workers went unto their Supervisors and said, "It is a crock
    of dung and we cannot live with the smell."
  8. And the Supervisors went unto their Managers saying, "It is a container of organic waste, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it."
  9. And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying, "It is a vessel
    of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength."
  10. And the Directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another,"It
    contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong."
  11. And the directors went to the Vice Presidents, saying unto them, "It promotes growth, and it is very powerful."
  12. And the Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him, "It has very powerful effects."
  13. And the President looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good.
  14. And the Plan became Policy.
  15. And that is how shit happens.

[Truly, I say unto you: A parable for our times....I saw this years ago, and mislaid it; probably a couple of times a year since then, I've gone looking for it, but I could never remember enough to get a fix on it. Well, here is it, courtesy of my friend Lynne...]

Flame Warriors

Someone recently left this link at, wouldnâ??t ya know,... a discussion forum. Maybe Iâ??m reeeeally slow here because the website creator, Mike Reed, claims to have had MILLIONS of visitors, but I hadnâ??t seen this site before. Too funny. I had to take a break here before resuming my reading, â??cuz I was laughing so hard.

The â??Talking Politics in 2004â? link is pretty good, too.

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Heart health

A recent article in Utne magazine has offered readers a test, â??How Optimistic Are You?â?. Okay, Iâ??ll get suckered into taking yet another Internet test. I scored a â??31.â? Whoa. An optimist am I? Iâ??ve never thought of myself as a Pollyanna, but then again, being optimistic doesnâ??t have to mean blindly clueless. I consider this world imperfect, but I donâ??t let that get me down for more than the short term, I suppose. I figure Iâ??ll take charge of my outlook, thank you, and not leave it to others to permanently determine that for me.

Still,... hmmm, looks like they offer another quiz, â??How cynical are you?â? Might be a good way to check the results of the other quiz. I scored a â??4.â? Really. Looks like my cynicism level is very low. My heart isnâ??t at risk? Well, at least from a heart attack, anyway...

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