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March 26, 2016


You got the stuff by commie means, now you have to get rid of them again the same way. ;-)

Hey, it's your guys fault!

Eisenhower was so impressed by the autobahns that he came back, after WW II, and pushed through our Interstate Highway System. (Which admittedly, if someone tried it today, would get denounced as rampant socialism, and unacceptable intrusion of the Federal government.)

Although Hitler claimed the idea as his own, the plans already existed years before when the country was still run by godless social democrats.
On the other hand, Stalin would have lost the war, had the infrastructure between the German border and Moscow not been so bad, slowing the Germans down significantly. Stalin also did not fear the first generation of nukes since Russia could have survived easily without big cities (unlike the US).

The stuff about Ike and the US interstate highway system is well known. But I heard some interesting backstory.

I'd heard that Ike, as a young army officer around WWI, was tasked with taking a road convoy across the US, and was appalled by the experience. One result was the US highway system (pre-interstate), like US66, etc.

Then, post-WWII, came the interstates.

All because of ONE GUY.

Well, it's a good story at least.

Part of the problem is that decades of experience show that expanding roads is at best a short-term fix. In the longer term, people factor road capacity into their decisions and wind up driving more until all the added capacity is used. You really can't build your way out of traffic.

OTOH, the Bay Area has been working to expand its public transit infrastructure. BART now can get you to both SFO and OAK, and they're actually building into the South Bay. Public transit actually works better with more traffic over a fairly large range of usage, since increased traffic requires more frequent service.

Southern California is expanding public transit, too. The new Gold Line to Azusa opened earlier this month- I've been commuting on daily since it came into service- and the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica is scheduled to open in May. Construction is also underway on the Purple Line extension, the Crenshaw Line (which should finally connect to LAX!), and the Regional Connector. I'd say simultaneous construction on five different rail lines shows fairly impressive commitment to infrastructure construction.

Ah, flame fest.

When 60 Minutes did a story on crumbling US roads and bridges, they included one example outside of the NE urban corridor and Rust Belt -- a small bridge north of Seattle that collapsed after a large truck smashed one of the main supports.

The other day I came across the EPA's map of the almost 800 combined sewer systems remaining in the US, all of which spew E. coli and other nasties into rivers and lakes periodically. The very large majority of those are in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

The American Society of Civil Engineers regularly issues its estimates of the infrastructure costs faced by different parts of the country. From the NE urban corridor, across the Rust Belt, and wrapped up around the Great Lakes, the per capita needs are very substantially greater than in the rest of the country. (At the level of individual states, West Virginia is far worse than anyone else.)

I've lived in one of the suburbs west of Denver for almost 30 years now. Over that period, increases in fees, tariffs, and taxes have paid for a new water treatment plant, ongoing expansion of the sanitary sewer system, large flood control construction, heavy improvements in the local electric grid, our share of expanding electricity generation in the state, substantial improvements in at-grade crossings and other road needs. Light rail arrives this year. Denver built a lovely new airport.

There are days when I read infrastructure pieces and feel like I live in a completely different country. And fear that the parts of the country that have let things go to hell are going to demand, after I've paid for my own local infrastructure upgrades, that I pay for theirs as well.

Ranking Each State's Highway Conditions and Cost-Effectiveness: Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota Are Best; Hawaii, Alaska and New Jersey Are Worst

Maintenance is a hard sell everywhere. In the Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia (Thailand particularly, but also Laos, Cambodia, and Burma, I believe) there are lots and lots of temples/pagodas, many of them in a state of considerable disrepair.

I was told that one reason for this was that in Buddhist theology - at least as it is understood at the popular level - you could acquire merit for building a new temple, but not for repairing one!

Ah, and you could also get merit by applying gold leaf to (existing) statues of the Buddha, so they wound up with gilded Buddhas atop a crumbling edifice.

Any similarity between this and American practices of paying to have one's name put on a building or stadium is purely coincidental.

As an aside on Thailand: Thailand, with a population of about 66 million, is second only to the US in domestic sales of pickup trucks. Most of the sales are for midsize, one ton, double cab or four door pickups. For almost ten years, Thailand has been exporting more pickups than the US.

Yes, the Thai loves their trucks. It was 50 years ago when my (American) professor of Thai history told me that Japanese trucks were far outselling American trucks in Thailand. (This was still big news in the post-WWII era.) When he asked a Thai driver why, the guy told him: "Your American truck, it says 2 tons, it carries 2 tons. This Japanese truck says 2 tons, it carries 4 tons!"

Or so the story went.

Perhaps a contributing factor to failing infrastructure is our historical policy of building economically unsustainable suburbs.

@Roger -- heard on BART last week: "No train service between North Concord and Bay Point. Shuttle buses are running. Also, we will be running at reduced speed through the Transbay Tube all day. Owing to a medical emergency at Orinda, Pittsburg-San Francisco trains are running on a ten-minute delay." And then, a few minutes later, "Owing to a track problem, trains between Fremont and Hayward are currently delayed up to 20 minutes." BART may be extending its service, but much of that service is fairly horrible.

And with respect to the OP, I see the incredibly crowded trains on Caltrain, that have to slow in places because of the poor quality of the track and bridges, that continually sway back and forth because of the poor quality of the track, running between San Francisco and San Jose, and think, "Here we have two cities whose combined GDP is larger than that of most countries in the world . . . and they can't even have a decent train line running between them."

One of my personal issues with BART's expansion plans: the folks out in eastern Alameda and Contra Costa counties have been paying county-based taxed for BART for 4-5 decades, with no sign of expansion to actually give them service. Whereas 4-5 decades ago the folks in the South Bay voted not to be included, haven't paid anything since, but are getting service now anyway. Somehow the fairness in that eludes me.

Synchronicity, I think. (eyes are failing, did someone else post this?)


Not a particular Top Gear fan, but this episode, about killing at Toyota Hilux, is pretty amazing



It's not clear from the link how Reason measures cost-effectiveness.

I do see that the rankings correlate fairly well with low population density, so that is likely to be a factor.

Heavily traveled roads get more wear than lightly traveled ones, after all.


There's a weak correlation between population density and rank(Rank = 18.2 + 0.032*Density [r=0.56]). I suspect the correlation would be quite a bit stronger if they had used scores instead of ranking. The top ranked states are pretty close together in cost-effectiveness whereas in the lower ranking states, the gaps between them can be pretty large.

The 21st Annual Highway Report(pdf) has a breakdown on how well the states did in different areas.


I understand the frustration with places joining the system late, but the south bay did approve new taxes to pay for the BART expansion and operations for the new routes. And it is important to build the track to where the people and jobs are.

One of the things that I think we've done well here in LA County is to make sure that money for public transit isn't all getting spent in one region. Some of that is a matter of practical politics- we need a 2/3 majority to approve taxes to pay for the system, so we need to offer something to everyone to get the money to build anything- but it's also important from a fairness standpoint. There's a lot of resentment that some parts of the county generally get more attention than others, so it's nice to see construction get spread around.

It would be easier to take that site seriously if the final four in their "strongest town" bracket didn't have the following description: (1) three of four are small cities that haven't had significant population growth for decades, and have lower population densities than my suburban zip code; (2) two of those three have tourism as a major part of their economy; and (3) the fourth is a highly-gentrified bedroom community for Manhattan.


Thanks for the response. I don't follow the contest, and Hoboken is certainly in the throes of a rather brutal gentrification (a gentrification the methods of which seem to be pretty much at odds with the listed Strong Town principles!).

I was referring more to this. I would tend to agree that our vast suburban enterprise since WW2 has created some rather substantial problems.


I read the link you provided. I think that for the large part, their assumptions are such that they so the unsustainability of the current local government financing of the US. Everything they present is calculated in terms of real estate taxes. They do not take into account the income or value added tax. Thus, their calculations are too pessimistic. There is a way to recovery but it must be paid by other forms of taxation than real estate tax.

Could well be. I am not familiar with many city, county, or other tax assessing districts, but it is my experience (Washington State) that they cannot assess income tax. Sales (VAT) taxes are also capped by the State Legislature. Certainly other revenues would have to be tapped to raise the funds, but that would mean a state or federal effort, would it not? The politics of such a funding effort will be messy.

I believe the main point holds. With low density this repair effort is too expensive to pull off without outside assistance.

So just how badly do we want to maintain our suburbs?

Thanks for looking it over.

So just how badly do we want to maintain our suburbs?

Is this a serious question? Beyond the millennials initial rejection of owning almost anything, is there a widespread feeling that we should cram ourselves back into crime ridden, filthy cities where even the gentrified parts are less safe and way over priced? Where our children need a park once a week to see grass? or a tree? T-Ball is stick ball and not even that safe anymore?

Pretty badly.

NAR Generational Survey: Millennials Increasingly Buying in Suburban Areas

Well, this isn't that surprising considering that housing in cities ("crime ridden, filthy" -- that's a golden oldie, isn't it?) can't easily be purchased unless you've got a substantial trust fund that you can liquidate.

Well, it's also pretty easy if you have a high-paying high-tech job. (Admittedly, no children also helps.) In fact, one of the (loud!) local complaints is that those folks are buying up all the housing and displacing those with less high paying jobs. But no trust fund seems to be required.

Here's an interesting take on the Presidential election:

The salient point: whoever we elect is going to be all over the airwaves for a whole term. So, totally ignoring their positions on any particular issue, which one can we stand to listen to for the next 4 years?

I have to admit thinking about the voice we're going to be listening to for 4-8 years.

At the moment, I'm sick of all of the sound of all of the candidates.

Could be worse though. Think a President Gilbert Gottfried or President Edith Bunker.

I'd like to try the dulcet intonations of female dj on the all-night jazz radio station as the voice of the President.

"For all you hep cats out there in sleepyland, I'd like to give a laid back head's up that I've ordered our Strategic Air Command to commence the nuclear annihilation of Mecca, Jerusalem, Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Peking, Moscow, and South Carolina. You stay cool out there now. Time for a little Miles Davis ... let's ankle, kids, and that is no applesauce."

Look at this way. They have to listen to us for four years too. Has there ever been collectively a bigger bunch of whining, loudmouthed, shoot em up, now or never, hog calling, jackass, electoral, rasping, know-it-all windbags with access to every method of amplification in the history of give and take?

Christ, the weather people on the air, when they get done announcing the incipient blizzard, now reveal what the viewers think about it via AboutFaceBook, and Twaddle.

"T'other day, you said it was gonna be party sunny and good for planting the azaleas. Now, it's blizzards forecast up and down the land. I want me some fair weather, lady, or I'm coming down there and grabbing that graphics clicker out yer hand and rearranging the map my ownself!"

Shadup. Who cares what the viewer thinks?

As the comedians note, do we show up at your place of work or your living room and tell YOU how to do whatever it is that you do?

Depends on "what" they say too.

Clinton and Sanders could talk like Donald Duck and that would be OK compared to the alternative.

Trump is going to need duck tape fastened over his mouth.

As for Cruz, he could lipsync like Julie London (look her up)into my near ear, and I'd still want to remove his larynx with a Sawzall.



Even better:


I think I'll write her name in for President.

So just how badly do we want to maintain our suburbs?

Consider my state, Colorado, where I worked as a budget analyst for the legislature. State/local general funds have three main sources: income tax, sales tax, and property taxes. While the local governments/districts aren't allowed to levy income taxes, the largest single line in the state budget, at almost 40% of the GF, is K-12 education. When you look into the details of the revenue flows, the suburbs are large tax donors, the one large city a modest tax donor, and the outlying areas are net tax recipients. Everyone in the General Assembly knows that's how it works -- debates are not over whether the isolated towns and rural areas will get subsidies, but rather how big the subsidies will be. To pick a specific subsidy example, look at "Denver's" light rail system: if you dig into the finances, a more accurate description is "Denver's suburbs are building a light rail system, and (intelligently) chose to put the central hub in Denver proper."

This isn't atypical. New York State, in a completely different part of the country, is in much the same situation. The small cities and rural areas are subsidized, mostly by the five suburban counties closest to NYC, then to a lesser degree by the city proper. If the suburbs aren't maintainable, there's a real problem, because right now they're not only paying for their own maintenance, but for the rural areas (and to some extent the urban cores) as well.

Not that "business as usual" can proceed forever. My particular thing is energy, which will become more dear. No one knows how energy-efficient the suburbs can be, though, because it's never been necessary to try. My own guess is that the suburbs, with their wealth, will be better able to deal with energy problems than either rural or urban areas.

When it comes to energy, what we are increasingly seeing in the suburbs in California is people putting solar panels on their homes.

The main overall effect is that extra power gets generated on summer afternoons. Just when everybody has the A/C running full tilt. Which means that the energy utility has a lower peak load to deal with. It's not a large percentage of the total power usage (although enough by now that it is showing up on the graphs). But cutting down the peak load makes a serious difference in costs.

As for the individual, it depends on exactly what government and utility kick-backs** were available when you did your install. But generally your system pays for itself in 6-7 years. Which is a pretty good ROI -- expecially once your system is paid off.

Also, anyone who has gone to the trouble of getting a solar system is more aware than they were before of just how much energy they use. So personal efforts at conservation pick up as well.

** The utilities are willing to offer incentives precisely because it reduces their peak load. The (state) government does so primarily for ideological reasons. Although it also helps deal with NIMBYism on siting new power plants. ;-)

How about President Wolfman Jack?

President Harry Caray would be great....


You say,

When you look into the details of the revenue flows, the suburbs are large tax donors, the one large city a modest tax donor,

I wonder what happens when we take into account the amount of suburban taxed income that is earned in the city, as well as the effect on suburban property values of being near the big city.

Marty, you provoked me into considering what President Howard Cosell would sound like.

From the good state of Upper Agitated Neurasthenia, the home of the Shebangs and foremost producer of WTFs, and for your long-term listening pleasure, I nominate this two-in-one grand statesman combo as President and Vice President of the United States of America:


Still laughing, Cosell and Caray announcing Charlie Callas Presidency.

I wonder what happens when we take into account the amount of suburban taxed income that is earned in the city, as well as the effect on suburban property values of being near the big city.

There's a whole bunch of interesting questions. Personally, I think that considering the suburbs and the urban core separately is a waste of effort. Both have their strengths and weaknesses -- it's the metro area that counts. Some are horribly dysfunctional -- Detroit comes to mind, where there's a crumbling inner city next-door to Oakland County, one of the richest suburban counties in the country. Some are not -- I think that Denver is an example that ought to be held up, but am no doubt biased because I live here.

I'm a fan of measuring density across the Census Bureau's ~500 "urban areas", which includes not only core cities but the (IMO, very necessary) adjacent suburbs. Put that in a sortable list


and it's interesting to note that Western cities dominate. Not particularly surprising to a westerner who thinks about it -- most western cities are hemmed in by either geography or cultural factors. Denver is an example of the latter. The metro area could sprawl to the east without practical limit, but no one wants to live too far from the mountains.

One lesson from Michael Cain's link is that an urban area's population density is not necessarily reflective of its core city's population density. FREX, sort the list by population density and compare Vegas to Chicago.

I'm personally very familiar with both Phoenix and Philadelphia. It's mind-boggling to me that the Phoenix-Mesa urban area would have a significantly higher density than that of the Philadelphia urban area. But the land area for Philadelphia's urban area is about 2/3 larger than that of Phoenix-Mesa, which is completely at odds with the land areas of the cities proper. The City of Phoenix covers about three times the square mileage of the City of Philadelphia.

Compared to the other areas, Phoenix--Mesa AZ has 14.1% more population than expected for its size. Philadelphia PA—NJ—DE—MD has 29.4% less.

(Population = 1,572.53*Area + Area^2 [r = 0.9258])

Well, okay. That's a different way of expressing the same thing, as opposed to an explanation. I'm just wondering why so much more of the area around Philadelphia is considered to be within its urban area, and so much less of the area around Phoenix, particularly in relation to the land areas of the cities themselves. And, if that much area around Philadelphia is considered to be part of the Philadelphia urban area, why does Trenton, NJ have it's own urban area rather than being part of Philadelphia's (or, alternatively, NYC's)?

and, somehow, Atlanta only has a population of 400K

I'm trying to figure out how you include San Francisco and Oakland in one metropolitan area, but put San Jose in a seperate one. (For that matter, how do they seperate Concord and Antioch. And exclude them from the overall SF-Oakland-San Jose area.) People here routinely live in one of these cities (or an immediately adjacent city) and work in another. And often go to yet a third of these cities for entertainment, dining, etc.

You can make a case for the North Bay being outside the metro area (for all that folks there commute here, too). But the East Bay, the South Bay, and the Peninsula are pretty much all integrated together.

Is there supposed to be a coefficient on the area-squared term? I can't get anything close to those percentages for Phoenix or Philadelphia using the formula as is.

City limits of Atlanta only 133.1 sq. miles land area compared to 2645.4 for metropolitan Atlanta. So at a rough approximation city proper accounts for 10% of population on only 5% of area. Lots of residential in-fill going on, as well as development projects turning former industrial areas into mixed-use residential retail, so the density will creep up.



P = 1572.53350995833*A + A^2

will make it a little more accurate.

A coefficient for the area-squared only makes it marginally more accurate.

P = 1722.46029352577*A + 0.756658407251864*A^2 [r=0.92760927]

Of course, anything after the first four or five digits are largely meaningless anyway.

I'm calculating the percentage that the formula value is above or below the actual population.


I think I got my percentages backwards.

Philadelphia PA—NJ—DE—MD actual population is 22.7% less than expected.

Phoenix--Mesa AZ is 16.4% more.

Ignore previous percentages. :}


So I take the area for Phoenix-Mesa, 1,146.6 square miles. I plug it into your first formula and get an expected population of 1.8M. Actual population is 3.6M, about 100% over. Philadelphia, 1,981.4 sq miles, expected population 3.1M, actual population 5.4M, about 75% over. The modified version is even worse, since it decreases the estimate for population and increases the error.

I'm sure I'm mis-interpreting something, I want to understand what.


Are you leaving off the second term? For Phoenix:

3,117,758 = 1,572.53350995833*1,146.6 + 1,146.6^2


My bad, forgot what language I was typing the formula into.

Those numbers match pretty well with my personal experience. When I moved from NJ to Denver almost 30 years ago, the first thing I noticed was that Denver-area developers packed the houses onto much smaller lots, and built a lot more townhouses, than developers in NJ. My time in the Mountain West has taught me that Denver isn't an exception. I can't speak to NJ today, but Denver is still building a lot of townhouses, and my suburb is putting in a lot of high-end apartments and condos along the the new light rail lines. Density is increasing steadily.

I'm trying to figure out how you include San Francisco and Oakland in one metropolitan area, but put San Jose in a seperate one.

San Francisco has been and is the glittering core. Where are the rail and truck terminals, the petroleum product storage, the refrigerated warehouses, the cement and the bricks and the steel, all the stuff that makes that glittering core possible? Across the Bay, in Oakland and the other blue-collar cities over there. Has been for a very long time. Not an unusual pattern -- for the most part, Manhattan's equivalents are across the Hudson in NJ.

San Jose is, to use Garreau's term, a shiny new "edge city" organized around a completely different set of industries.

This here is all the infrastructure America needs:


First of all, a round of hearty fuck yous to the republican vermin who foist this shit on the oiled-up and butt-ready foistable citizenry, but I'd like to observe that in my experience, there is no steadier object on which to rest an elbow and forearm attached to the trigger finger than the Holy Bible to scope out the enemies of America with a Barret M82 sniper rifle.

That they think they are the friends of this country makes for the surprise ambush factor.

you think that link shows anything more stupid than PA trying to declare the Mushroom the "State Vegetable"?

Sure, voters were kept in the dark and fed bullsh!t, but that's just insulting.

Clearly, state legislators have too much time on their hands. Instead, they should be hiding under their desks while "open-carry" citizens roam the capitol. Because, FREEDUM!

I can't speak to NJ today, but Denver is still building a lot of townhouses, and my suburb is putting in a lot of high-end apartments and condos along the the new light rail lines. Density is increasing steadily.

It makes a bit more sense when you put it that way. Western city centers (except maybe for SF) don't have the kind of density that Eastern cities do, which is what I tend to think of. I think of a core of high-rises surrounded by a sea of row-homes (or something similar by another name) when I think of Eastern cities. Western cities have smaller downtowns and almost immediately become what seems generally suburban to me. (I might describe Phoenix as a big suburb of itself.)

But it is true that in the outer, newer areas homes are closer together with much smaller yards, at least in the Phoenix area. (You can't play football in your back yard.) In NJ, the bigger the house is, the bigger the yard is, and they tend to scale up together as you get further out and the as the construction is more recent.

I guess what we're seeing is that in the West, it's more of an all-or-nothing proposition - the land is either empty, and not counted, or it's full and it counts. In the East, much of the areas outside the cities are occupied enough to be counted, but still not close to being full.

Another way of putting it might be that density varies wildly over urban areas in the East and results in a lower average, despite the highest densities being higher, whereas density in urban areas in the West is more uniform, remaining closer to a higher average.

That is my new theory.

Count at 12:20 - I would've gone with this one: http://youtu.be/-oSpe0BAV-k

I don't think I would've ever thought of singing that tune in that fashion. But then again, my voice isn't sultry.

Two communities on opposite ends of the stats and the country:

Atlanta has only 40.5% of the population that might be expected for its size.

San Jose has 213.2%.

San Francisco has been and is the glittering core.
. . .
San Jose is, to use Garreau's term, a shiny new "edge city" organized around a completely different set of industries.

Michael, that cetainly used to be true. (I remember that, when I was growing up, if the Mayor of Oakland spoke of "the City" he meant San Francisco.) It was even arguably true 25 years ago.

But today? People routinely commute between San Jose and San Francisco . . . in substantial numbers, and in BOTH directions. The industries for which San Jose (and the cities immediately adjacent, i.e. Silicon Valley) is noted are now flourishing in San Francisco. (Not in Oakland, at least not yet. Although Pixar is located in Emeryville, right adjacent to Oakland.)

The San Francisco 49ers' stadium is in . . . San Jose. (Just like the New York Giants actually play in East Rutherford, which is part of the NY metro area.)

I suppose what this means is that the definition, and boundaries, for metro areas need to be revised from time to time.

List of Metropolitan Statistical Areas

Did anyone happen to scroll down to the list of agglomerations at the urban-areas link?

A poem:

From Elkton, Maryland
To Springfield, Mass
Thirty million souls
I did pass

The NE urban corridor, past 40M and headed for 60M within 15 years or so. California, pushing 40M. There are an amazing array of maps like this one


that split the country down the center of the Great Plains... I personally think that whether it's Hillary or Bernie, the national party really needs to pay attention to putting someone from the other "pole" on the ticket.

The thing is, I'm not sure how much people (outside, perhaps, the South) think of themselves in regional geographic terms. Especially widespread geographic terms.

We all use terms like Mid-West or New England or Pacific Coast. But do people who live there actually think of themselves that way? Or do they see themselves, to the extent that geography is a factor, in terms of their state? Or metro area?

That being the case, it may be more useful to focus on factors other than geography in attempting to "balance the ticket."

I think the effects are more pronounced amongst the politicians. For example, I can pretty much guarantee that in the 11 Mountain West and Pacific Coast states, every session the state legislature will bang its head up against something that should be simple, but is horribly complicated because the largest land owner in the state is the federal government that doesn't have to pay attention to state laws. I have been told that the non-partisan motto of the Western Governors Association could be "Do you know what those d*ckheads at BLM have done now?"

Wu: "The salient point: whoever we elect is going to be all over the airwaves for a whole term. So, totally ignoring their positions on any particular issue, which one can we stand to listen to for the next 4 years?"

Ah, the old 'who would you rather have a beer with?'.

That has drawbacks.

can any of you lawyerly types tell me if "31 CFR 130.121" exists?

Trump seems to think it does, but i haven't been able to find it.


He's transposing numbers. 103 CFr 130.121

what's "103 CFr 130.121", then? i can't find that either.

31 CFR 103.121 maybe ?

31 CFr 130.121. I'm an idiot


sorry this gets you all of 121 http://www.sec.gov/about/offices/ocie/aml2007/31cfr103.121.pdf

i guess it has to be 31 cfr 103.121, since that at least makes sense with his text.

his inability to correctly cite the rule one his whole plan is based on feels ... telling.

rule one = one rule

(the relevant law here is Skitt's law)

Cleek, regs get mis-cited all the time. Or Mis-typed. There's a lot wrong w Trump, but if zero defect is the standard, no one is qualified.

Trump getting that one citation right would've put him at whatever the opposite of zero-defect is.

instead, he maintains his perfect record.

Wisconsin Republican accidentally tells the truth:

I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up. And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.


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