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Why You Should Watch Drones For Free Online

By: David Swanson Monday July 21, 2014 6:52 pm

 

There’s a chance to watch Drones, the movie, online on July 30th and then to join a discussion with filmmakers and experts.  There’s a preview video below. The movie’s website is at http://dronesthefilm.com and the free screening is at http://demandprogress.tv/drones

I saw a screening of this film back in November at the drone summit in DC. It’s wonderful. I was a bit put-off and staggered, to be frank, at the time, because someone involved with the film bragged about how inexpensively it had been made, and yet the budget was so unfathomably huge that I knew that if an anti-war organization had that kind of money we could hire organizers all over the world and quite possibly make the abolition of war a major mainstream force.

And, of course, you can’t simply ask if the money was well spent, because no one will say that it was spent to end the practice of drone murder. The director and the cast, of course, say they wanted to make a socially important film about a serious issue, but not what they wanted to accomplish, beyond raising questions and being entertaining. Everyone’s always happy to say that a film opposes racism or cruelty to animals or bullying, but not war.

But, you hundreds of millions of odd-balls who, like me, happen to give a damn whether your government is murdering people in your name with your money will, in fact, want to make this film a huge viral success.  I’m telling you, right now, it’s a good one. It is indeed entertaining. It’s not simple, predictable, pedantic, or preaching. But neither is the film itself reluctant to face head-on the banal, evil, arrogant mass-murder engaged in by these young people who dress up in pilots suits to sit at desks in trailers taking orders from military bureaucrats and private contractors, and ultimately from a president who reviews a list of potential men, women, and children to murder on Tuesdays.

Drones look like a golden opportunity to war makers who don’t want to ask Congress or the U.N. or the public, don’t want to send in armies, just want to target people and groups for death anywhere in the world and obliterate them with the push of a button from an air-conditioned — or, sometimes not so air-conditioned — office.

But drones also look like a golden opportunity to those of us who have been trying to point out that murder and war are distinguished only by scale. I suspect that many who cannot see the bombing of a city as murder will see the drone-targeting of an individual as nothing else — particularly if they watch this film.

If you can watch the film and not want to Ban Weaponized Drones, watch it again.

 

Planning for a Day of Peace

By: David Swanson Sunday July 20, 2014 9:33 pm

 

A few years back, prior to the International Day of Peace on September 21st, a school board member here in Virginia said that he would back a resolution marking that day as long as everyone understood that in doing so he was not opposing any wars.

Wars for peace, like sex for virginity, appear contradictory to some. But what about militarism for peace? What about war preparations and peace? A so-called “defense” department that arms the world; can that be compatible with peace?

We need our governments to begin planning for a day of peace. Instead of investing everything in planning for war, preparing for war, and proliferating enough weapons to fuel plenty of wars, governments could invest in alternatives to war, nonviolent means of conflict resolution, moves toward justice that reduce conflict, international standards of law that make negotiations and diplomacy effective.

One of the tools that we can use to move our cultures and our governments toward planning for a day of peace is to ourselves plan for a day celebrating peace — peace understood precisely as the elimination of war.  September 21st, the International Day of Peace, is one such day. WorldBeyondWar.org is organizing events here. And here is a list of events in the U.S. arranged on a map by Campaign Nonviolence.

Groups and individuals interested in planning events this September can work with Campaign Nonviolence and Global Movement for the Culture of Peace and Peace One Day and A Year Without War. Advocates of peace and environmental sanity who grasp the connections between the two may want to participate in a People’s Climate March in New York City, September 20-21, and bring this flyer: PDF.

Some resources that can be used to create events of various types are here:

At some events already planned for September 21, 2014, people will begin marking 100 years since the Christmas Truces of World War I. You can find great information on World War I at 100 on NoGlory.org

You may want to screen Joyeux Noel: a film about the 1914 Christmas truce. Or use this script for reenactment of a Christmas Truce: PDF. Here’s more Christmas Truce information and videos. And if you’re in the Northeast U.S. or the U.K. you might be able to attend or even set up a production of The Great War Theatre Project: Messengers of a Bitter Truth: Info in PDF.

Peace deserves more than empty platitudes compatible with the preservation of war as our largest public project. Sometimes bringing truth back from propaganda is so jarring as to be humorous. “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” said Woody Allen. “I want to achieve immortality through not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen; I want to live on in my apartment.” We should not want peace only in our hearts or in the press releases of the Pentagon; we should want peace through the ending of war and the abolition of the institutions that continue to plan and create more wars even while they pretend to a sight degree of outrage that each new war has been successfully created.

Worth Fighting For?

By: David Swanson Thursday July 17, 2014 9:54 am

I was not sure I would like a book called Worth Fighting For by a former soldier who walked across the United States to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. The website of that foundation celebrates military “service” and the “higher calling” for which Tillman left professional football, namely participation in the U.S. war on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. Rather than funding efforts to put an end to war, as Tillman actually might have wished by the end of his life, the foundation hypes war participation, funds veterans, and to this day presents Tillman’s death thusly:

On the evening of April 22, 2004, Pat’s unit was ambushed as it traveled through the rugged, canyon terrain of eastern Afghanistan. His heroic efforts to provide cover for fellow soldiers as they escaped from the canyon led to his untimely and tragic death via fratricide.

Those heroic efforts happened, if they happened, in the context of an illegal and immoral operation that had Tillman defending foreign invaders from Afghans defending their homes. And the last two words above (“via fratricide”) tell a different story from the rest of the paragraph, page, and entire website of the Pat Tillman Foundation. Tillman was shot by U.S. troops. And he may not have died a thorough-going supporter of what he was engaged in. On September 25, 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tillman had become critical of the Iraq war and had scheduled a meeting with the prominent war critic Noam Chomsky to take place when he returned from Afghanistan, all information that Tillman’s mother and Chomsky later confirmed. Tillman couldn’t confirm it because he had died in Afghanistan in 2004 from three bullets to the forehead.

Rory Fanning’s book — Worth Fighting For — relates, however, that Tillman looked forward to getting out of the military and sympathized with the actions of Fanning, a member of his battalion who became a conscientious objector and refused to fight. According to Fanning, Tillman “knew his very public circumstances forced him to stick it out.”

That’s obviously a different use of the word “forced” from “gravity forced the weight to drop” or “the missile striking the house forced the people inside to split apart into fragments of flesh and gore.” Imagine the benefits to the cause of peace if the one troop who had a name, face, and voice had shattered the bullshit choruses of “Support the Troops!” by doing what Fanning did, and thus living to tell the tale? Instead Tillman stuck it out and left many believing that military propagandists had either become quite fortunate or something worse, when Tillman did not live to quite possibly oppose — better late than never — what he had been doing.

When I worked with a number of talented people to draft articles of impeachment for George W. Bush that were introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich, they included this:

The White House and the Department of Defense (DOD) in 2004 promoted a false account of the death of Specialist Pat Tillman, reporting that he had died in a hostile exchange, delaying release of the information that he had died from friendly fire, shot in the forehead three times in a manner that led investigating doctors to believe he had been shot at close range.

A 2005 report by Brig. Gen. Gary M. Jones reported that in the days immediately following Specialist Tillman’s death, U.S. Army investigators were aware that Specialist Tillman was killed by friendly fire, shot three times to the head, and that senior Army commanders, including Gen. John Abizaid, knew of this fact within days of the shooting but nevertheless approved the awarding of the Silver Star, Purple Heart, and a posthumous promotion.

On April 24, 2007, Spc. Bryan O’Neal, the last soldier to see Specialist Pat Tillman alive, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he was warned by superiors not to divulge information that a fellow soldier killed Specialist Tillman, especially to the Tillman family. The White House refused to provide requested documents to the committee, citing ‘executive branch confidentiality interests.’

What made Pat Tillman a particular hero to many in the United States was that he had given up huge amounts of money to go to war. That he had passed up the evil of hoarding wealth in order to engage in something even more evil does not register with supporters of war. And had the U.S. Army not killed him, and had he not subsequently killed himself (the leading cause of U.S. military deaths now being suicide), Tillman might have lengthened his life by leaving the NFL, which abandons its players to an average lifespan in their 50s and in some cases dementia in their 40s — an issue that arises in Fanning’s book as he meets with former NFL greats to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Tillman was, by all accounts, kind, humble, intelligent, courageous, and well-intentioned. He clearly inspired many, many people whom he met, and whom he never met, to be better people. Fanning would, I think, include himself in that list. But when Fanning decided to walk across the country raising funds, and finding support and shelter for himself along the way, in the name of Pat Tillman, he was playing on the beliefs of a propagandized public, beliefs that he himself had ceased to fully share. A sheriff, in a typical example, takes Fanning’s empty water bottles, drives 12 miles to refill them, and hands them back to Fanning with tears in his eyes, saying, “What Pat did for our country is one of the bravest, most admirable things I can remember anyone doing. Take this for your cause.” And he handed Fanning $100.

If Iraq Were in Central America

By: David Swanson Monday July 14, 2014 9:02 pm
A young boy holding a toy stands in front of a tent in a refugee camp

What if the refugees of our Middle East wars weren’t so far away?

Just as in discussions of bombing nations for women’s rights it’s hard to bring up the subject of the right not to be bombed, in discussions of shipping so-called illegal children away from the border where you’ve been terrorizing them in reenactments of Freedom Ride buses it’s hard to bring up the subject of not having your government overthrown and your nation turned into a living hell.

Imagine, however, if Iraq were in Central America.  Most people in the United States don’t realize how convenient it has been to have millions of Iraqis made homeless so far away from the United States, fleeing to places like Syria, and then fleeing Syria when it’s Syria’s turn to be destroyed.

If, during the past decades of war and sanctions and war on Iraq, Iraq had been located closer to Miami and San Antonio than New York or Seattle is, wouldn’t it have been a bit harder for people to tell pollsters that Iraq was benefitting from the war? Wouldn’t it have been a bit harder to continue pretending immigrants are something different from refugees? Wouldn’t immigrants rights groups have been compelled to notice the military and the wars that create the justification for abuses in the United States but also the motivations for fleeing homes where the wars happen?

If Gaza were in Maryland, would the United States still provide the weapons for bombing the homes there? Would CNN still blame Gazans who remain in their homes? Or would it, rather, scream at them to get back home where they belong?

Well, Honduras is closer to Florida and Texas than much of the United States is. The U.S. government facilitated the overthrow of the government of Honduras with a military coup in 2009 and has supported, funded, armed, and trained the military and the police that have turned Honduras into the most violent and dangerous place on earth, beating out Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, and other top contenders in the World Cup of Hell Holes. The President of Honduras was yanked out of bed and flown to a U.S. military base and out of the country. The military that replaced him has been trained in torture and assassination at the School of the Americas in Georgia.

And now President Obama is ordering Honduran toddlers flown home from the United States where they are disturbing good democratic citizens of the land of liberty. Perhaps this is a moment, after all, in which to unite the movement for the rights of immigrants with the movement for peace and the rule of law in foreign relations.

Imagine the strength of those two movements combined. Words like Hope and Change might actually mean something.

Until then, forgive me if I’m simply disgusted with the level of evil imposed on the world by those in power and the failure of those abused to unite against it.

Counting the Presidents’ Bodies

By: David Swanson Monday July 14, 2014 12:19 pm

“If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged,” said Noam Chomsky prior to the last few presidencies, none of which is likely to have changed his analysis.

Cover of Presidents' Body Counts

Presidential warmongering by the numbers.

But what if you applied such principles retroactively back to George Washington and every U.S. president since? What if you graded presidents, not on personality or style or popularity, but on how many deaths they caused or prevented?

Al Carroll’s new book is called Presidents’ Body Counts: The Twelve Worst and Four Best American Presidents: Based on How Many Lived or Died Because of Their Actions.

I think this is a model for how history ought to be examined, despite serious flaws. Carroll’s project may ultimately be impossible.  How do you score presidents on the areas of criminal enterprise they opened up for their successors? Could you have really had a Nixon without a Truman? Carroll is aware of these difficulties, and also of the overarching lesson that giving single individuals such royal powers as presidents have been given inevitably leads to disaster. But I think he still falls short.

Carroll attempts to step outside his own biases and look at the facts. But how does one include sins of omission? How does one score numbers of deaths across centuries, given dramatic growth in populations? And what about the deaths that Carroll happens to approve of? He gives Lincoln and FDR credit for the Civil War and World War II while marking all other presidents down for their wars (although marking FDR down for certain atrocities during his war); he has swallowed the humanitarian war advocates’ mythology about Bosnia; and he omits dozens of smaller military operations from any mention at all. And Carroll’s current day partisanship seems to be showing as he credits Obama with ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite the fact that the war in Afghanistan has not been ended and the war in Iraq, which Obama was forced to end, he has now found a way of restarting.

I said this book was a model, not the ultimate achievement of the genre. Carroll is of course right to denounce historians who examine “leadership” and “presidential caliber” as little better than celebrity tabloid writers. And his book, whether one agrees with his selections and rankings, makes illuminating reading that would benefit any classroom. Simplistic, it is not. Much of each section is devoted to who else gets the blame for particular horrors. To pretend that in blaming a president for something Carroll has asserted that nobody else is to blame for it would require cutting out a large percentage of the book. Carroll also devotes space to what plausibly could have been done by each president rather than what that president did.

Our airports, cities, and states are named for butchers, Carroll writes, and correcting that does not require that we get the butchers into the perfect ranking.  Yet, for what it’s worth, here is Carroll’s ranking of the worst of the worst, beginning with the very worst of them all: Nixon, Reagan, Jackson, Buchanan, Polk, Filmore, Clinton, Ford, Truman, McKinley, Bush II, Andrew Johnson. And here’s his ranking of the best, beginning with number 1: Lincoln, Van Buren, Carter, Grant. Carroll includes positive deeds by Nixon, and negative deeds by Carter, etc. But this is where he comes out.

The Kill Team Movie: Show It in Schools

By: David Swanson Monday July 14, 2014 10:00 am

 

Kill Team is not just a video game anymore, not just the inevitable pairing of two of the most popular words in American English. “Kill Team” is now a movie, and against the odds it’s not a celebration of killing, but a particular take on an actual series of events made widely known by Rolling Stone.

Movie poster for The Kill Team

A new film looks at a culture of unprovoked murder in war.

U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan developed the practice of killing civilians for sport, placing weapons beside the bodies or otherwise pretending to have been attacked, keeping body parts as trophies, and celebrating their “kills” in photographs with the corpses.

For months, according to Rolling Stone, the whole platoon knew what was going on. Officers dismissed complaints from the relatives of victims, accepted completely implausible accounts, and failed to help victims who might still be alive (instead ordering a soldier to “Make sure he’s dead.”)

A key instigator, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, arrived in Afghanistan recounting a successful murder of a family in Iraq and bearing tattoos recording his kills. “Get me a kill” soldiers asked who wanted to participate in the kill team. Killers were treated as heroes, and the widespread understanding that they were killing civilians who’d never threatened them didn’t seem to damage that treatment.

“Drop-weapon” has been a common term among vets returning to the United States from Afghanistan and Iraq for over a decade, referring to a weapon used to frame a victim. “We’re just the ones who got caught,” says Pfc. Justin Stoner in the film. He also raises an important question that the film does not seriously pursue, remarking: “We’re training you from the day you join to the day you’re out to kill. Your job is to kill. You’re infantry. Your job is to kill everything that gets in your way. Well, then why the hell are you pissed off when we do it?”

Eleven soldiers have been convicted of crimes as part of the kill team, including Gibbs who has been sentenced to life in prison. Why were these kills crimes and others not, wonders Stoner. It’s a question worthy of consideration. The cover stories for the kills, including claims that people made some threatening movement, don’t seem enough to justify these murders even if they had been true. What were the soldiers doing in these people’s villages to begin with?

That’s the question the movie opens with the soldiers asking themselves. They’d been trained for exciting combat and then sent to Afghanistan to be bored, hungry for action, eager to test out their training. This is a point often missed by those who advocate turning the U.S. military into a force for good, an emergency rescue squad for natural disasters, or a humanitarian aid operation. You would have to train and equip people for those jobs first. These young men were trained to kill, armed to kill, prepped to kill, and left to kick sand around.

They began premeditating the worst sort of premeditated murder. They openly recount their conversations in the film. They had weapons to drop, grenades that weren’t “tracked,” they’d pretend someone had a grenade and kill him. Who? Anyone. They saw everyone as fair game.

And they did as planned. And they were welcomed back to the “FOB” as heroes. And they did it again. And again.

A Finger in My Soup

By: David Swanson Sunday July 13, 2014 6:58 pm

I’d heard of such horror stories and assumed they were mostly fictional or concocted as the bases for lawsuits, and then I was actually served a bowl of soup that had a finger in it.

A white van covered in yellow Support The Troops decals.

On war and drinking the Kool-Aid …

I’m not going to name the well-known chain restaurant where I was dining, but I am going to tell you how its staff reacted when I complained. I mean, once I’d determined that there really was a fucking finger in my bowl of soup, and once I’d fished it out with a fork and a spoon, and splattered it on the table so that Joseph, my dining companion, could see it, and once the people at the surrounding tables were staring and remarking rather loudly, and in one case I think beginning to vomit, well, it wasn’t hard to get the waiter’s attention.

He came rushing over when I waived. “There’s a finger in my soup,” I said.

“There’s one on your table, too,” he pointed out.

“That’s the one,” I said.

“And it’s not your finger?”

“No, it’s not my fucking finger. Let me talk to your manager.”

He smiled. He actually smiled and pointed to a little tag on his uniform that read “Manager.”

Joseph spoke up: “How did the finger get in his soup?”

“The cooks must have put it there,” said the manager.

“And are you going to do anything about it?” I yelled.

“Well,” he replied, calmly, but a bit as if I were the one who’d done something wrong, “if the cooks put it there, they had a reason. I support the cooks, don’t you?”

“Support the cooks?” I gasped. “I’ll tell you what I will do is I’ll take down your name and each of their names, and the names of each of the witnesses in this room, and you’ll be hearing from me.”

From the waiter’s reaction to that statement, I at first imagined I was beginning to get through to him. He looked shocked. But he turned from side to side and addressed the whole room. “He’s against the cooks!” he said with great outrage. “He doesn’t support the cooks!”

And I swear to god the people in this place seemed to be with him. The rather menacing reaction of several people led Joseph to grab my arm and pull me out of my seat and toward the door.

Thirty seconds later we were sitting in Joseph’s cheap used car, which he was trying in vain to start, turning the key, pumping the gas, and cursing.

“Where did you get this piece of junk?” I asked.

“I bought it,” he said, as he punched the dashboard and tried again. “I bought it yesterday at Victory Vehicles.”

“I wonder who’s declaring victory,” I remarked.

“What’s that supposed to mean? Ugh! Damn this thing!”

“Did you give them more than $10?” I asked.

Joseph gave me a look eerily similar to the look the waiter had just given me in the restaurant. “Are you doubting the salesmen?” he asked.

“Doubting them?” I said. “I’m not fucking doubting them. I’m doubting you. They ripped you off, and . . . ”

“Don’t you SUPPORT the salesmen?” Joseph screamed at me. He seemed possessed.

I opened my door and got out of the car.  It wasn’t going anywhere anyway. People were inching their way cautiously out of the restaurant, but they weren’t looking at me. They were looking past me.

I turned and saw the flashing lights of countless police cars, plus all kinds of vans, trucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles. They appeared to be surrounding the restaurant and its parking lot and to be erecting almost permanent looking barriers. In fact there was an effort underway to construct a wall around the area.

I looked back, and Joseph had gotten out of the car as well and was staring, horror-struck at a pair of people in something resembling astronaut suits walking swiftly and directly toward us.

They halted a few feet away, and one of them spoke, her voice amplified by something in her space suit. “This area is quarantined,” she said. “Some or all of you have been infected by a curable but highly contagious and highly destructive virus. We’ll need to determine the state of the infection and administer a remedy. Please speak with one of our emergency personnel.”

Tables were being set up in neat rows through the parking lot, with pairs of chairs at each table, and a person in an astronaut suit in one of each pair of chairs.

“Where have you been during the last 48 hours?” asked a quite polite and friendly gentleman across a metal table from me, as we both sat in folding chairs in the parking lot of a restaurant that I will still leave unnamed. I was not feeling as friendly as he.

CNN’s Jake Tapper: Palestinians Want to Die (Update: Tapper Responds)

By: David Swanson Friday July 11, 2014 6:33 am

 

In this latest assault on Gaza, Israel had by Thursday already killed 69 Palestinians including 22 children and 13 women, plus 469 wounded including 166 children and 85 women, and 70 houses destroyed. These numbers have since increased significantly.

Jake Tapper speaking at a microphone before an audience

On Palestine, Tapper echoes the rhetoric of warmongers throughout history.

In this video from Thursday on CNN, Jake Tapper interviews Diana Buttu, a former advisor to the PLO. After failing to persuade her of Israel’s complete innocence, he tells her that Hamas is instructing women and children to remain in their homes to die as Israel bombs them. She responds by expressing doubt that people want to die. Oh no, says Tapper, Palestinians live in a culture of martyrdom; they want to die.

William Westmoreland once remarked on Vietnam, where the United States killed 4 million men, women, children, and infants: “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.”

Banastre Tarleton stood up in Parliament and defended the slave trade on the grounds that Africans did not object to being slaves.

President William McKinley said little brown Filipinos appreciated being conquered and dominated.

The view that the people you are abusing don’t mind it has a long history of being employed to distract from the evil being done.

Just as powerful, if not more so, is the view that no evil is being done at all.

ABC News’ Diane Sawyer told her viewers that scenes of destruction in Gaza were actually in Israel, and was later forced to apologize, but did not note that scenes like those she’d shown do not exist in Israel, rather leaving the impression that a simple mistake had swapped out similar scenes from one country for the other.

Polls have found that people in the United States believe Iraq benefited from the war that destroyed it and that Iraqis are grateful, while the United States itself suffered.

If people cannot be depicted as evil, because we see images of them, and they are 3 years old and have their limbs ripped off, and if our cruelty cannot be depicted as for their own good, then the cruelty must itself be denied. We must completely avert our eyes or invert the facts. Or we must blame someone else for it. Blame Israel for getting a bit carried away after so many years of innocent suffering.

But it is with billions of dollars of weaponry provided free of cost courtesy of U.S. taxpayers that the Israeli military is bombing civilian neighborhoods in occupied Gaza. The ongoing occupation is at the root of the crisis, but this new turn to large-scale violence was produced by fraud. The Israeli government learned that three Israelis had been killed, falsely blamed Hamas, and falsely claimed to believe the young men might still be alive. This fraud was used to justify a search-and-rescue operation that left numerous dead and hundreds under arrest.

Small-scale violence by Palestinians is not justified by Israel’s ongoing brutality. It is deeply immoral as well as absurdly counterproductive. But if individual murders justified the mass killing of war, the United States would have to launch a full-scale war on itself every day of the year. And it is the United States’ weaponry, provided under the euphemism of “aid,” that is pounding the homes of the people of Gaza.

Jewish Voice for Peace says, in an open letter that you too can sign:

In this time of tremendous suffering and fear, from Jerusalem to Gaza, and from Hebron to Be’er Sheva, we reaffirm that all Israelis and Palestinians deserve security, justice, and equality, and we mourn all those who have died.

Our unshakeable commitment to freedom and justice for all compels us to acknowledge that this violence has fallen overwhelmingly on Palestinians. And it compels us to affirm that this violence has a root cause: Israel’s illegal occupation.

We are united in our belief that:

The denial of Palestinian human rights must end.
Illegal settlements must end.
Bombing civilians must end.
Killing children must end.
Valuing Jewish lives at the expense of others must end.

Only by embracing equality for all peoples can this terrible bloodshed end.

Editor’s Note: Jake Tapper responded to MyFDL when we tweeted out the headline of this story.

In the interview, Jake Tapper says the following:

It’s horrific but I can’t believe you tell me people don’t want to die. There is a culture of martyrdom that we hear about all the time. One of the big differences between the horrific incident of Mohamed Khedair being killed and the three Israeli teens being killed is that whoever killed the three Israelis, it’s possible that they’ll have streets named after them and they will get money from Hamas …

We encourage readers to listen to the full exchange at the top of this post. -MyFDL Editor