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I’ve got a number of friends on Facebook today who have jumped on the question of “why is [insert media outlet name here] ignoring Ron Paul in their Iowa Straw Poll coverage when he took second?” It seems that there are a number of people who, if not being Ron Paul supporters, are at least giving Ron Paul a look (and seeing the tone of his media coverage as something sinister) after his performance in the latest debate.

Looking at his positions over at On The Issues, there are some things I can appreciably get behind. Of course, there are also things that it’s hard to get behind as well, at least for a number of people. Still, I suspect that for a number of the positions he takes, Ron Paul at least carries the same positions as some of the other groups – Tea Partiers, Republicans, Democrats and his actual home party, Libertarians.

Why, then, would media outlets not want to bother covering him? Well, for one, a Straw Poll is completely nonscientific. It’s not a ballot-box primary. It’s not even a caucus. It’s a matter of figuring out how to bus your supporters in, drive them in, or convince them to show up and either pay their $30 ticket or convince them to pay for it themselves. According to the indicated figures, there were ~4000 people who took tickets provided by the Bachmann camp and voted for somebody else. I’m willing to bet a good number of them went over to the Ron Paul camp.

Second, Ron Paul’s supporters have a reputation for being a little… ahem… cuckoo. As in, they have a history of hijacking straw polls and unscientific, uncontrolled online polls and making a mockery of them, even using hijacked computers to spam online polls. In many ways, the Ron Paul supporters remind me of the Lyndon LaRouche supporters who used to pop up in various places on the SoTech campus trying to sell buttons, coffee mugs, reading material, and above all else, entry into the Cult of LaRouche. In 2004 and 2008, LaRouche supporters heckled the Democrat party debates before being escorted out of the auditorium; in the last debate, the Fox “chatroom” for the online stream was so spammed by Ron Paul supporters that no other discussion other than “why isn’t every question directed at Ron Paul” could be had.

The sum total of this is that I don’t really think the media are giving Ron Paul a disservice or failing in their duty by not giving him wall-to-wall coverage. Ron Paul’s been in the position of “winning straw polls, never gaining real traction” before. His supporters are highly motivated, more than enough to spam and tip straw polls and unscientific online polling. At the same time, they aren’t very numerous, and we eventually have to look at what they are selling – Ron Paul.

Here’s where it all falls apart. Ron Paul, while sincere, is sincere in the same manner that makes people look at the Lyndon LaRouche crowd, or the Al Sharpton crowd, or the Tea Party, or any other fringe movement and say “wow, there goes a nutcase.” He’s almost an octegenarian, but he can go into incredibly manic periods during interviews. He may make some good points, but he has a habit of making them in the worst possible way – that “blowback principle” audioclip, where his voice went squeaky/creepy, was on talk radio stations for months afterwards.

At the end of the day, they’re selling “Crazy Uncle Ron in the Tinfoil Hat.” And few people are buying, media coverage or not.

{In keeping with the policies of Hit Coffee: this post is about judicial impropriety, the appearance of same, and its contributions to public loss of faith in the judiciary. Please keep your comments to those grounds. No license to slag upon republicans, democrats, gay, straight, lgbt, polka-dotted, or anyone else is warranted or implied.}

Over in Slate, an article by Dahlia Lithwick regarding why Vaughn Walker’s late-breaking announcement that he is gay should not be used as a reason to re-try the Prop 8 case on the grounds that Walker should have either (a) recused or (b) revealed his preferences pre-trial so that the question of recusal could at least have been brought up in court.

Meanwhile, the recent revelations that Clarence Thomas’s wife is/was a lobbyist with Tea Party organizations and other right wing groups making sizable sums per year, and that Clarence Thomas himself has direct links to the Citizens United group… who he happily helped rule, in a 5-4 decision, were entitled to spend unlimited money influencing elections in the US.

As a third point impugning both Thomas and Walker: Judicial Code of Conduct, Canon 2, adopted in the Federal courts as well as every State court system: A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in All Activities.

The appearance of impropriety is a strong problem. Politicians are regularly brought down, forced to resign or failing to re-elect, on the strength of an “appearance” of impropriety even if the letter of the law is not broken. Public officials of unelected nature often die on the vine in similar situations, forced to resign lest the elected officials who appointed/hired them face the same fate. When it comes to judicial impropriety, appearances do far worse; they make the citizenry distrust the courts. On a day-to-day basis, this much resembles the Badged Highwaymen conundrum, whereby citizens feel they do not get a “fair shake” without at least spending money on lawyers… who happen to be friends of judges and lawyers and cops… who, in essence, become the “gatekeepers” to actual justice, whether the facts are on the side of the citizens or not. In a larger picture, impropriety usually comes to the fore through stings: the cases of Thomas J Maloney and Mark Ciavarella come easily to mind.

More subtle, however, is the corrupting influence – whether payments to a spouse, or preferential treatment at events, will prejudice a judge. The comings and goings of other governmental employees, or spouses, routinely draw calls of corruption. The habit of lawyers for the almost-universally-despised RIAA to come and go from government positions, where they make often rulings that benefit the RIAA at the expense of common sense, and then leave to go to cushy, overpaid jobs at RIAA firms, certainly violate the appearance of impropriety. So, too, do the comings and goings of Wall Street personnel from Federal financial jobs, whether legal or accounting in nature.

And so we get around to Clarence Thomas and Vaughn Walker. Had Clarence Thomas and Antonio Scalia recused from the Citizens United case, what would the outcome be? We don’t know for certain, but it’s hard to imagine that those who believe CU was wrongly decided don’t have thousands of dollars worth of justification for their suspicion of impropriety. Likewise, despite Ms. Lithwick’s arguments – carefully constructed though they are – about why Vaughn Walker shouldn’t have recused, two things bug me. The first is that this argument should have been able to be brought before the trial even began; instead, the courtroom got its own annoying little sideshow whereby the judge’s supporters shouted an annoying cacophany of “he’s not” and “it doesn’t matter anyways.” Given how “revolutionary” his opinion was, given the accusations even from the beginning of the trial that he was trying to tilt the playing field… the appearance of impropriety, of bias, is a strong thing. Almost any other federal judge could have written the opinion Vaughn Walker wrote, and not had the appearance of impropriety that is fueling the current round of litigation. For the best results, a trial needs to be as evenhanded as possible. In the case of the Prop 8 trial, it seems that one side felt the tables were being tilted going in. Give them a “reason” to believe it was tilted, and you’ll never shake their faith that the game was rigged again. For this reason, I submit that Vaughn Walker was the wrong man to handle the trial.

Category: Courthouse

Will’s post regarding the Hellspawn reminded me of something I haven’t thought of a lot in recent memory, save for an incident out a couple weeks ago when I was verbally savaged for using the “r-word” (for the uninitiated, there is a major movement to treat the word “retard” the same as the N-word; since the site speaks for itself, I offer a balancing opinion from the Washington post).

My precise wording: “in American classrooms, class proceeds at the pace of the slowest retard.” The person in the discussion who took offense, took great offense because she has a brother who is “developmentally challenged” and she really, really, really doesn’t like the use of that word.

In the larger scope, however, I refer back to my 3rd grade English class. In my grade school, we had a couple of “developmentally challenged” individuals. Not enough to constitute their own classroom, as Will had in his day minding the Hellspawn; instead, there was a special-ed teacher on staff for them who had them most of the day. To “innovate” around the difficulties of minding them (she couldn’t eat during normal lunch periods, instead having to mind her charges at the “special table” in the cafeteria/gym), the school decided to kill three birds with one stone. Bird #1 was that she needed a special lunch period. Bird #2 was that when she was eating, someone else had to “mind the hellspawn.” Bird #3 was that, due to state regulations, each of them had to spend “one class period with age-appropriate peers for socialization.”

In other words, the class period right after lunch was when her charges were farmed out to the other teachers of the school, dropped into their classes for “socialization” while the special ed teacher ate her lunch.

My 3rd grade year, we got “Ricky.” Ricky was one of the types who if you put his problems into a neat dossier, would doubtless generate sympathy. His parents were poor. Kenny McCormick-level poor. He was one of several (as in, “poor people who don’t get the idea of birth control or are religiously opposed to it” numerous) children, at least half of which were also “developmentally challenged.” He had physical deformities in addition to mental, deformities which if you got him to “smile for the camera” would, again, lead towards a sympathy reaction. His level of developmental problems meant that most of the day, he was barely doing preschool-level tasks instead of 3rd-grade tasks. He really, really liked the stuffed animals his parents tended to give him (rather than giving him breakable toys or anything that could be used as a weapon). It is not impossible, and indeed quite likely, that his health and development problems and those of his siblings were related to or exacerbated by the fact that his mother was a chain-smoker and alcoholic who had neither refrained from, nor limited, her usage of either during any of her pregnancies.

What the dossier would leave out is the following: he fit the definition of “hellspawn” almost perfectly. He was verbal without being understandable, communicating in a combination of grunts, groans, moans, and screams. He had severe impulse control issues, in that he had no impulse control at all. He would, when feeling balked or ignored, throw temper tantrums that involved physical violence with the strength of body that somehow seems to be a trademark of certain “developmentally challenged” individuals who never, ever, ever hold back from maximum. He had a predilection for throwing things – HARD. The stuffed animals didn’t really hurt. The hardcover books he liked to throw more, did. He was not above biting, and did in fact bite our teacher on at least two occasions hard enough to draw blood. He was such a disruption that for purposes of our English class over the course of that year, we probably got through 20% of what we were supposed to get through, and that only because after the second biting incident, the school actually did manage to remove him from the socialization aspect and found a teacher (the gym teacher, it turned out) who they could assign to watching him 1-on-1 during the time the special ed teacher was getting her lunch. His “socialization time” the remainder of the year was limited to the gym teacher keeping a 1-on-1 eye on him during recess periods, where he generally ran in circles off to one side while everyone else was on the playground equipment.

Admittedly, Ricky is an extreme case. However, when confronted with people who in the educational system insist that “mixing classes” is the “fair way” to get scores up and insist that the slower kids will “learn from the advanced kids”, I cannot help but remember the year my English class was saddled with Ricky, and the fact that even with lesser students in the class who are not such extreme cases, class must necessarily move at the “pace of the slowest retard” and one sufficiently disruptive student can ruin the school year for up to 29 other kids.

Category: Elsewhere, School

Slate is running a series this week on cases where the justice system got it wrong; somewhat spurred by the Illinois legislation abolishing the death penalty, partly just a good conversation.

The author, Brandon L. Garrett, is a bit pimping his new book but is also providing a good look at two of the most widely believed – but at the same time not entirely reliable – types of evidence on which many criminal cases rely. The first is eyewitness accounts and identification, the second is the confession of guilt.

Now that we know—with the benefit of the DNA tests—that Sterling is innocent, one wonders how an innocent man could have guessed at incredibly specific crime scene details? Sterling later explained it this way: “They just wore me down.” “I was just so tired.” “It’s like, ‘Come on, guys, I’m tired—what do you want me to do, just confess to it?””

In a pair of videos I link to very often, there’s a great answer to how someone “knows unreleased details” – the cops slip them to the accused in one form or another, or lead the accused into guessing until they have them “guessing right” on tape.

More interestingly to me, however – Garrett finally comes up with some hard numbers. I’ve chided the Innocence Project before about this, because they make a habit of releasing only their “number of innocent people freed” number, rather than giving us the chance to see the total number of cases they’ve examined. Will has said – and I agree – that even this may not be an exact figure, since IP only takes cases “likely to exonerate” on their early examination before proceeding all the way down the line, but it at least would give us something to work with.

Garrett, however, gives us a gem.

In 16 percent of the first 250 DNA exonerations, or 40 of the 250 cases I studied for my book, Convicting the Innocent, innocent defendants confessed to crimes they did not commit. (Additional DNA exonerees did not deliver confessions in custody, but they made incriminating statements or pleaded guilty to crimes they did not commit).

The false confessions pose a puzzle. All but two of the 40 DNA exonerees who falsely confessed were said to have confessed in detail.

Now, this is not perfect. His study is only on those cases that are proven false convictions. But we at least have a hard number here – 250 cases of proven innocent, 40 cases of false confession, 38 of which are said to be an “in depth” confession. And every one proven innocent almost-definitively by DNA evidence. This leads to at least a reasonable suspicion that confessions in districts across the nation are contaminated or even coerced by the cops – perhaps by cops who don’t know what they are doing, or perhaps by the type of behavior we commonly associate with not-so-honest cops who start and stop the recording on TV shows, only recording the parts of the interview they want to be available in court.

Over on youtube, there’s a video from a school in Australia, of a kid who fights back against a bully. A website covers it here in a lot of depth. The Daily Mail covers it as well… including what I find outrageous, that the stupid idiots in charge of the school suspended both Casey and the bully for four days.

Why does this piss me off? Because the bully is clearly trying to start a fight. Casey doesn’t throw the first punch… or even the first several. The bully has two of his friends there to “back him up.” Even after the one bully is taken care of, the others are there trying to step in and pull Casey into another fight.

And if you listen to the audio and read some of the other coverage, you find out that the attack was brought on by the fact that Casey had tried to report the ongoing bullying to school officials. They were attacking him specifically to try to make him shut up and not report their behavior. A subtitled version (rechecked) makes it clear:

When I was younger, I went through situations precisely like this. Cornered “out of sight” of the teachers (who didn’t WANT to be involved because it meant paperwork and potential lawsuits for them no matter which kid “won”), then physically attacked. There was no video to show what happened to me. After defending myself against a worthless shit of an F-level student who didn’t care if he went in and out of detention on a revolving door schedule, I found myself in a 3-day suspension from our fuckwit of a vice principal who believed “there’s no such thing as a bully” and who demanded my parents see about “counseling” me for being in a fight rather than “walking away” (where the FUCK was I supposed to get to, being cornered by 3 kids?) or “calling for help” (which I had done, but no teacher responded until I was already physically attacked). I failed a test based on in-class handouts in science class because I wasn’t given the study materials by the science teacher, who said “students who miss class don’t get the handouts so there” (despite the fact that if you were out sick, he’d have it prepared for you when you got back).

I applaud Casey. I agree wholeheartedly with this comic. It takes a lot to stand up to a group of bullies, especially when it’s 3 on 1.

Oh, and to Tina Gale, the crocodile-tear-spewing mother of the bully who got what he deserved: I am sorry you inflicted your genes on the next generation by spawning that reprehensible bully. Now grow the hell up and change the way you’re raising your brat.

This is about that former teacher. Specifically, one Melissa Petro – an ex-prostitute turned grade-school art teacher whose news coverage has been pretty extensive.

Oddly enough… as long as she isn’t in the classroom singing the praises of her former career, as long as she isn’t dressing inappropriately, I don’t see her former career as a big deal. If she’s a good teacher, then she’s a good teacher. Apparently, the school’s administration – despite Ms. Petro no longer working in the industry – have decided she is “insufficiently contrite” about her former career (as noted in her Huffington Post piece regarding the shuttering of that particular section of Craigslist) and that she violated some “morals clause”, aka “conduct unbecoming a teacher”… by exercising her first amendment rights.

Meanwhile, what amazes me is the sheer amount of vitriol directed at Ms. Petro. You’d think she was a real nasty criminal or spreading germs around or something. And of course half of the politicians (including Michael Bloomberg) who were calling for her ouster have, let’s face it, their own long laundry list of nasty sex scandals that make anything Ms. Petro may have done look pretty tame.

Ms. Petro has resigned rather than go through the kangaroo court hearings process. CNN Video reports indicate that there may have been some “plea deal” or monetary offer from the Dept of Education for her to resign, which involves a prohibition on her filing a civil rights lawsuit against them – probably because the Dept of Education saw the case as generating nasty, bad publicity for them.

Category: Elsewhere, School

CHD vs Fat Consumption... or not?

As anyone who follows food will doubtless be aware, the nightly news is a terrible thing. Scares over “this food”, “that food”, “that other food”… you name it, there’s probably been a scare over it at some point or another.

And yet, for some reason, an oddity persists in that people – or should I say, Americans – have been taught over the years to treat the word “fat” as if it were the devil incarnate, something to be driven away with pitchforks and torches. Now, certainly, there are definitely some things that if eaten every day can cause you problems.

But then again, the second link I just posted is a combination of HFCS and water… no fat at all. Tricky, aren’t I? Of course, sugar is something that it’s been argued Americans eat (or drink) way too much of, and the argument over sugar is nothing new.

To his credit, Mr. LaLanne doesn’t tell people they “can’t” eat sugar, just that hey, they should watch how much of it they eat. And his selling of a juicer in his later years (fruit juices are mostly sugar) may seem slightly hypocritical, but I’d still rather see people having fresh grapefruit juice than HFCS-laden sodas, and he himself was in dang good shape right until his final days.

The joke of the graph above is rather obvious. If you – as a “scientist” (I use quotes for a reason, since cherry-picking data isn’t science) – were to take a large number of data points and throw out anything that disagrees with a foregone conclusion, you’d be laughed at. Yet somehow, Encel Keys, the guy who is also the father of the Meal Rejected by Everyone (then called “K-rations”), and who along with his wife was relentless in pushing the “Mediterranean Diet” later in life, got away with this. The graph at the top of this blogpost is important for a reason; on the left side is Keys’ “research” graph, while on the right is a graph putting back in all the data Keys just threw out.

Notice the difference. If you plot “Japan vs USA” on the “Fat vs Heart Disease” curve, you get this wonderful, sky-is-falling, “correlation” between fat intake and heart disease. But if you start putting other nations in… the French, despite eating an “alarming” amount of fat, have no greater heart disease risk than the Japanese. The Swedes eat as much fat as the US, yet have 1/3 the risk of heart disease. Plot the data another way, cherry-picking a different 7 countries, and you could easily come up with the Atkins Diet.

Go further and widen the study, and you wind up with other studies… the most credible of which, the Framingham Study, concluded after 22 years of observation of a wide variety of subjects: “There is, in short, no suggestion of any relation between diet and the subsequent development of CHD in the study group.” The World Health Organization in 1983 came to the same conclusion in the European Coronary Prevention Study.

So why the deal with food in the US? Fishy and/or stupid health claims on the label of a “food” seem to draw people in. Candies that are essentially 100% refined sugar label themselves as fat free in order to sucker people in. A rush of shoddy studies regarding fish oil led to everyone labeling their products as “enhanced with omega-3”, “high in omega-3 oils”… you get the idea.

Chasing a particular nutrient, avoiding a particular nutrient or food, is the result of fads. Eating according to fad isn’t going to help you.

In the end it comes down to… well… the same old story. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Category: Elsewhere, Kitchen

{Editor’s warning: the topic of discussion here is in regard to the “third rail” and the popularity, and possible implications thereof, for Joel Osteen and other new-agey type preachers. Despite the particular rail in question being homosexuality, in keeping with Hit Coffee’s continuing guidelines, please do not feel this is an excuse to write anything that is heavily derogatory towards homosexuals, heterosexuals, or persons on either side of the argument concerning the moral or ethical status thereof.

Our friend Wesley occasionally sends in some tip stories; today’s brings up a nationally famous pastor whose congregation lives in his city, a televangelist-type by the name of Joel Osteen. The last time he made big national news, his wife was having a few issues regarding her enormous ego.

Part of the discussion of what makes Osteen so popular is that, until this point, he’s basically stayed well under the radar when it comes to anything controversial. Rather than being a hellfire-and-brimstone hardcore Baptist-type, a “follow the rules” Catholic type, Osteen is very much a new-agey, “do what feels good”, “peace love dope=god”, welcome to the Bible TV Hour type pastor, the kind of man who wouldn’t be out of place making a cameo on quite possibly the worst TV show that has ever been made.

That being said, apparently Osteen has had a change of heart, or else he’s decided he has a big enough flock to take the risk of going into some third-rail topics, and so he is openly switching away from his previous “I don’t talk about sin” stance into beginning to say, on the air, that certain things are in fact sinful. On the other hand, apparently this stems at least partially from a lower-profile altercation back in November in which Osteen got into it with Joy Behar; then again, Behar seems to have an ongoing need to generate “controversy” to keep View viewership up, and she definitely isn’t above engineering a segment where she’s trying to put words in someone’s mouth while not letting them get in a word of their own edgewise.

Popularity is a hard thing to follow. Someone can be very popular, and then do something incredibly stupid, and turn most of their fanbase against them in one fell swoop. Osteen’s carefully crafted public image is about avoiding that if at all possible; certainly, he tried to sweep his wife’s temper tantrum under the rug, and he’s been very circumspect about discussing other “third rail” issues – divorce (then again his own father had been divorced, politics, or many other controversial topics. Even in the Behar transcript, he seems to be trying to get to a “well we believe homosexuality is a sin but we don’t condemn people for it or kick them out of church for it” stance, while Behar’s very hung up on berating him for using “homosexuality” and “sin” in the same sentence.

At the end of the day, it’s going to be interesting to see where this one goes. Osteen may very well go quickly into the new-agey, self-help-book writing, “Stuart Smalley“-style preacher he’s been to this point, or maybe he’ll start getting a little more into “well this is what the book says, we would love to help you stop sinning” territory. Only time will tell.

Category: Church, Coffeehouse

Slate carries a column on the aging and senility of the federal judiciary, a topic that could very well be related to the US Supreme Court, where the current average age is 65 (this doesn’t sound so bad till one realizes that it’s the arithmetic mean and that the “I stayed till I was too damn old and finally retired” crowd are often deputized back into courts of appeals).

One major problem is that the federal judiciary is where much of the law concerning new technology is being made, and as Slate’s article makes plain, the elderly/senile judiciary is chock-full of people who have major issues understanding, much less ruling on, technology. To wit:

Some of the lawyers figured that Owen, whose chambers came with a mimeograph machine when he became a judge in 1973, was just behind the times. Others wondered if the judge’s memory was failing him. After all, the most famous case in his long career—the back-to-back trials of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone—had revolved around a single e-mail. Yet he now acted as though this was the first he was hearing about it. “He didn’t understand what was happening in his own courtroom,” said one lawyer present that day.

The implications of a senile judiciary are staggering. For instance, some lawyers have taken to sticking a boilerplate “copyright phrase” in the signature for each of their emails, and there’s surprising debate on whether you can, legally, do things like publish the Cease-and-Desist letter some shyster snake just sent you claiming a blog entry ‘s fake name is too close to his non-trademarked, imaginary trucking company’s name; imagine the chilling effects on public discourse should some 85-year-old fool actually decide that someone letting the world know when, say, The National Pork Board do something stupid constituted a “criminal act.”

It goes beyond that, however. Consumer rights are constantly eroded thanks to overbroad “copyright laws” that forbid going around “Digital Rights Management” and shrinkwrap-licenses, the net effect of which is to put pretty much nothing but a speedbump in the way of those who will copy various things (the term “Piracy” being not quite apt, and perhaps the term “Jesusing” after the parable of the fishes and the loaves being a better choice for creating multiple copies out of nothing), but offers all layers of annoyance and nuisance for people who want to do very legitimate things like load an alternate operating system into a computer-system such as the Sony Playstation 3.

If the federal judiciary were not so ancient, senile, and easily bamboozled, consumer rights might not vanish quite so rapidly. As it stands, though, the senile fools on the US Supreme Court could not even be convinced that the US Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws would block things such as Bill Clinton’s retroactive tax increases or Congresses repeated, retroactive “copyright term extensions.”

Category: Courthouse

Hu Jintao, the President of the illegitimate Chinese mainland “government”, is visiting the US today.

At these meetings, US corporations are supposed to be talking with Jintao about “access problems” of getting their products into the Chinese markets. Meanwhile, nothing is going to be mentioned of China’s human rights abuses, spying, and constant theft of just about anything they can get their hands on.

I’m pretty sure there will also be no mention of the myriad crappily made, dangerous, poisonous (also here and here products that constantly flood into the US, as well as the various knock-offs and product fakes that flood our shores every year.

In an era when the US still had some trade barriers to work with, we lauded the “opening” of Chinese trade paved by on Richard Milhouse Nixon. Since then, however, the rush of “global free trade” has shown what a mockery “free trade” really is; completely unfair trade in which dangerous products regularly are sent around, in which products can be made in factories where workers are driven to suicide with shocking regularity, paid slave wages, have no safety, no protections, and no environmental protection whatsoever.

By all rights, we should be sticking up tariffs on Chinese goods until they learn to behave themselves like civilized people as far as worker protections and environmental protections go. This is doubly so when considering they are a communist nation which pays lip service to the “worker” constantly. Instead, for the past couple decades our government have been committing the error of handing a despotic communist dictatorship economic trade incentives in exchange for their turning around and dropping trou at us in UN security council meetings, and this week they’re going to compount the mistake by kissing the ass of a despotic criminal named Hu Jintao. Yeah, I’m a little sickened.