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The Media The Internet

snopes.com's David Mikkelson Interviewed 268

pipingguy writes "Online Journalism Review interviews David Mikkelson of the Urban Legends Reference Pages. While the Internet has taken its share of knocks for helping scammers perpetrate e-mail and Web hoaxes (the Bambi hunt reportedly was staged to sell videos on the proprietor's Web site), not enough credit is given to the folks who are using the Internet to debunk them. Snopes.com is the work of the husband-and-wife team of David and Barbara Mikkelson, who have taken their passion for urban myths to the Web since 1995."
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snopes.com's David Mikkelson Interviewed

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  • A matter of trust (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:51PM (#6597954)
    There's a matter of trust I'm wary about, when it comes to sites like snopes.com. How easy would it be for them to be 'infiltrated' somehow by a hack attempt or by bribery and the like, and pass off something that is a hoax or scam as being 'real'. or perhaps pass off something that's a real and present danger as being just another net hoax?.

    I know about half the mindless net followers will believe everything they read in email. Most of those who follow up to check if something is valid or not turn to snopes. That's a big responsibility.
    • Gee, I don't know.
      Anyone who admits to having both cats and rats for pets is pretty impressive.

      Besides, if you RTFA, you'll see they engaged in a little leg-pulling themselves, just to see how much people will swallow.

    • Re:A matter of trust (Score:5, Informative)

      by wiggys ( 621350 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:24PM (#6598072)
      For starters Snopes show you what references they've used when hunting down the facts (makes it possible to check that Snopes are at least reporting the facts correctly, even if you don't like their conclusions).

      I guess at the end of the day you make up your own mind. Snopes don't force their opinions down your throat, they simply present their findings and leave it up to you.

      • Re:A matter of trust (Score:5, Interesting)

        by indros13 ( 531405 ) * on Sunday August 03, 2003 @12:55AM (#6598561) Homepage Journal
        Snopes.com is an example of what distinguishes free speech from journalism. There are hundreds of radio shows, newspapers, and even TV programs that will pass off anything that someone else has said as news or information (even major news networks are caught in the act occasionally). Snopes makes sure they actually have it right.


        Interestingly enough, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis recently addressed [startribune.com] the issue of corrections and accuracy. Ironically, newspapers that report more corrections are perceived as less trustworthy, even though they are often more accurate for the effort! Another story on this issue found here [msn.com].

    • Right Now I am looking at my email. 75% of whats come in today is spam. Mozilla mail has caught 95% of that, classified it and moved it into my junk folder.

      My Point is if you know people that believe half of what they read in their email do them a favor. Unplug their computers and reacquaint them with reality Its the kind thing to do before they start taking HGH, Viagra and herbal estrogen mixtures.
    • There's a matter of trust I'm wary about, when it comes to sites like snopes.com. How easy would it be for them to be 'infiltrated' somehow by a hack attempt or by bribery and the like, and pass off something that is a hoax or scam as being 'real'. or perhaps pass off something that's a real and present danger as being just another net hoax?.


      snopes, along with his wife, little gator, are well known in the online urban legend neighborhood going back to afu and are pretty dedicated to debunking urban legen
    • by skryche ( 26871 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:53PM (#6598165) Homepage
      No, dude, you're on to something. My cousin was saying just the same thing, and she's David Mikkelson's babysitter's boyfriend's best friend.
    • by Thing 1 ( 178996 ) on Sunday August 03, 2003 @01:28AM (#6598643) Journal
      I know about half the mindless net followers will believe everything they read in email.

      Those are my relatives, you insensitive clod!

    • This is funny; not insightful, informative, or troll. Dumbass moderators, should be automatic one-year banishment from slashmod.
  • uhhh (Score:5, Funny)

    by gfody ( 514448 ) * on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:53PM (#6597962)
    holy animated gifs and midi soundtracks.. snopes.com looks like my mom's first website
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:55PM (#6597975)
    It's still useful. They've been debunking articles hours after they've started, especially handy in the recent "Metallica sues Canuck band for the use of E and F chords".

    You want to learn how to troll? GO HERE [freewebs.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:57PM (#6597981)
    DEFINATELY an URBAN LEGEND.
  • by Limburgher ( 523006 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @09:59PM (#6597990) Homepage Journal
    I'm still trying to find that channel. I'd love to see it.

    Really.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:27PM (#6598080)
      California is a desert land roughly the size of Iraq. It is also an object lesson in the dangers of trying to impose democracy in a culture that is not ready for it. California "is degenerating into a banana republic," writes former Enron adviser Paul Krugman in his New York Times column. Leon Panetta, himself a Californian, writes in the Los Angeles Times that California is undergoing a "breakdown in [the] trust that is essential to governing in a democracy." Newsday quotes Bob Mulholland, another California political activist, as warning of "a coup attempt by the Taliban element." Others say a move is under way to "hijack" California's government.

      What isn't widely known is that the U.S. has a large military presence in California. And our troops are coming under attack from angry locals. "Two off-duty Marines were stabbed, one critically, when they and two companions were attacked by more than a dozen alleged gang members early Thursday," KSND-TV reports from San Diego, a city in California's south.

      How many young American men and women will have to make the ultimate sacrifice before we realize it isn't worth it? Is the Bush administration too proud to ask the U.N. for help in pacifying California? Plainly California has turned into a quagmire, and the sooner we bring our troops back home, the better.
  • by AbdullahHaydar ( 147260 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:00PM (#6597998) Homepage
    from the interview:

    MG: "What about the role of the Internet in hoaxes?"

    DM: "I think in general, nothing's changed but the technology. There's a lot on the Internet that you can't trust. But frankly, there's a lot on your bookshelf and the library shelves that you can't trust either. There are books on UFOs and alien encounters that require some examination. There's never been a medium that you could inherently trust. You still have to look at who's telling you this and why are they telling you this. Is there anything else they should be telling you? That concept hasn't changed. The Internet has made it easier to debunk hoaxes while at the same time making it easier to perpetrate them. Nothing's really changed but the technology."

    The only other thing he could have mentioned is that people trust TV news and newspapers way too much also. 'nuff said.
  • hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by wiggys ( 621350 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:04PM (#6598013)
    "Snopes.com is the work of the husband-and-wife team of David and Barbara Mikkelson, who have taken their passion for urban myths to the Web since 1995."

    Or so they would have us believe... what if Snopes is a secret CIA plot to spread deliberate disinformation (the same CIA which is run by Masonic Lizards who would love nothing better than to enslare the world's population using advanced psychic mind-control tactics)

    • Re:hmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by PakProtector ( 115173 ) <cevkiv&gmail,com> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:30PM (#6598090) Journal
      Oh, stop spreading such disinformation.

      Anyone who's in the know knows that the Masonic Lizards are just a front for the secret organization of International Bartenders.
      Bartenders are the most powerful people in the world! Just think about it. I've told many deep, dark secrets to bartenders! They must know absolutely everything!

      Even now, they sit in their secret base, plotting the overthrow of the world's governments, using those same governments' leaders as their willing dupes!


      Of course... I could be crazy.



      Where's the +1 Paranoid mod?
      • Re:hmm (Score:3, Funny)

        No, you're not crazy.

        However, the International Bartenders are controlled by the Boy Sprouts, who in turn are controlled by the Fnord Motor Company who in turn is controlled by the Fred Birch Society.

        Ultimately, to find the real source of the power you have to follow the tiny yellow lucre. Of course, the real problem with world domination is that if someone sneezes, everything is reduced to anarchy.

      • Re:hmm (Score:5, Funny)

        by NickFitz ( 5849 ) <slashdot AT nickfitz DOT co DOT uk> on Sunday August 03, 2003 @12:24AM (#6598482) Homepage

        I used to be a bartender.

        Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.

        That's right, I heard the same thing.

        Do you want ice in that?

  • by questamor ( 653018 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:10PM (#6598029)
    Or the false nostradamus prediction, debunked on snopes.com:

    In the City of God there will be a great thunder,
    Two brothers torn apart by Chaos,
    while the fortress endures, the great leader will succumb,
    The third big war will begin when the big city is burning.
    *NOSTRADAMUS 1654


    Written by a student to show how vague prophecies can be misinterpreted easily. Popped up after Sept11... now applies only a couple of years later to Uday and Qusay Hussein.

    Just thought that curious :)
    • Actually I don't think you understand the predictions very well. Nostrodamus was coming from the background not of Islam but in a society very much in the control of christianity, so the statement

      In the City of God there will be a great thunder,

      cannot apply to Baghdad, as it's never had great religious significance for christians. It may have been a great city but Nostrodamus would never have described it as a City of God.

      Two brothers torn apart by Chaos

      Another opposite where the brothers Odai and Q
      • Can be another way of phrasing "two brothers ripped to shreds by chaos".

        I'm not clear on how they died, so I don't know if they were literally 'torn apart' or not.
      • In the City of God there will be a great thunder,

        cannot apply to Baghdad, as it's never had great religious significance for christians. It may have been a great city but Nostrodamus would never have described it as a City of God.

        Christians and Muslims both believe in the same God, just disagree in the nature of Jesus Christ. Chrisitians believe he was the Messiah. Muslims believe he was just another prophet. The two, combined with Judaism, are referred to Abrahamic, because they all worship the God of A

        • Christians and Muslims both believe in the same God, just disagree in the nature of Jesus Christ

          That's not the question; the question is, would Nostradamus have described Baghdad as "the City of God"? Given the particular views on God and religion that Catholism of the era put forth, I would seriously doubt, especially given as I don't remember any of the people of the book who would consider Baghdad "the City of God". Jersulem, yes. Mecca, yes. Rome, yes. Constantinople - mmm, maybe. But Baghdad, the cap
        • by Anonymous Coward
          "Christians and Muslims both believe in the same God, just disagree in the nature of Jesus Christ. Chrisitians believe he was the Messiah. Muslims believe he was just another prophet. The two, combined with Judaism, are referred to Abrahamic, because they all worship the God of Abraham."

          The Gods are different, the religions are different. They are logically contradictory. The Muslim god has a prophet Mohammed, the Christian god does not. The Christian god is in a trinity with his only Son Jesus. The Musli
          • The Gods are different, the religions are different. They are logically contradictory. The Muslim god has a prophet Mohammed, the Christian god does not. The Christian god is in a trinity with his only Son Jesus. The Muslim god, of course, is not.

            They cannot be the same, as they contradict each other.

            By that logic (always a tricky thing to apply logic to religion, since it's inherently based on faith, not logic) the Christian God and the Jewish God are different too, since the Christian God has a Son, Wh

      • That is not one of Nostradamus' predictions. Some student wrote it in an attempt to show how easy vague predictions are to make. Also, as another poster noted, the alleged prediciton is credited to have happened after Nostradamus died.
      • Actually I don't think you understand the predictions very well. Nostrodamus was coming from the background not of Islam but in a society very much in the control of christianity, so the statement

        I think you missed the point; that verse wasn't written by Nostrodamus. It was written by a student to demonstrate how vague predictions might be interpreted to mean anything.

      • Actually, that area is considered to be the birthplace of civilization, and therefore of organized religion in general, so it is of some significance even to the Canadian student who wrote those lines (as well as in the context he was writing them for of Nostradamus's text). Baghdad makes sense for the site of the city that God lived in when Adam and Eve were in Eden.

        "Major combat" is over. Unfortunately, the US military is really best at major combat, and has not been doing nearly so well at the war since
      • In the City of God there will be a great thunder,

        cannot apply to Baghdad, as it's never had great religious significance for christians. It may have been a great city but Nostrodamus would never have described it as a City of God.

        The Hebrew name for Baghdad, Babel, comes from two words: "bab"=gate and "El"=The Most High. That was actually a good call by the guy who forged that quatrain...Nostradamus was very fond of making puns from things he translated out of Hebrew or Latin. "The Gate of God" could ea

    • by Anonymous Coward
      NOSTRADAMUS 1654

      Ah yes, this would be Michel de Nostradame (1503-1566)?

      (Which makes it even more amazing that people fell for it)
    • There was a show that appears some times on TLC or Discovery (I think)that is hosted by the late orson wells. It was made in the early 80's and it talks about Nostradamus's predictions and there was one that they interpretted as possibly being New York. But it was the man from "Persia" in the blue turban. I'm still trying to figure out who he is. I mean he predicted "Hister" (Hitler) so where is this blue turban "antichrist"?
  • by useosx ( 693652 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:10PM (#6598034)
    A good article [commondreams.org] at CommonDreams.org [commondreams.org] about how the fact that it turned out to be a hoax seemed to make it 'acceptable' according to mainstream news sources.

    Right-wing misogynists need not apply....
    • I disagree, he's claiming that a (fictional!!!) movie about hunting women is equivocal to spouse abuse, or actually hunting women. First, there's a serious disconnect here, between fantasy and reality. A person who fantasizes about things that may not be politically correct, or even socially acceptable doesn't harm anyone so long as he doesn't force his fantasy upon anyone else.

      Second, there's he's trying to claim fiction is the same as reality. His argument would have us banning movies like American Histo
    • What about leftist egalitarians?

      My interpretation is that this man was simply hoping to get reactions from people like this man. I've heard rumor that it's actually an unliscened escort service, but I'd like to see more evidence of that before I decide either way.

      I figure he was trying to get people to be enraged, a la a shock jock. He seems to have succeeded.
    • What's priceless was that Fox News ran a sensational story on their channel, asking women rights groups and showing video footage of these hunts. Boy, they sure got egg on their faces when this emerged to be phony. I remember it being shown as an outfit conducting hunts for men who pay "thousands of dollars" to participate.

  • Interview (Score:3, Funny)

    by dicepackage ( 526497 ) <dicepackage&gmail,com> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:13PM (#6598041) Homepage
    Its not a real interview its a hoax.
  • by Just Some Guy ( 3352 ) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:24PM (#6598069) Homepage Journal
    I read one of their articles debunking the myth that Marilyn Monroe had six toes [snopes.com]. The only issue I had with it was one of their "counterproofs":
    There is no record of Marilyn's having had an operation at that point in her life, and no contemporary references to anyone's noticing her walking with a bandaged foot or a limp for a period of time. (One doesn't simply get up and start trotting around after having a toe removed -- the missing digit affects one's balance, and it takes some time to adjust to the change and "relearn" how to walk.)

    The problem is that according to my wife, a podiatric (foot) surgeon, the recovery period following a phalangectomy (ampution of a toe (or finger)) is almost nil. The big toe, let alone a vestigial "pinky toe", is not crucial for balance or stability. You can verify this yourself; lift up your big toe and walk around. Bet you can still do it, can't you? Sure you can, especially if you're wearing a shoe with a sole that is even moderately stiff, which would replace some of the big toe's stabilizing influence.

    I reported this via the Snopes.com comment form. After a couple of days, I received a reply that basically said "everyone knows you can't walk right if you have a toe cut off", and my wife's qualified medical opinion was pretty much ignored. Now, I really don't think that Marilyn Monroe had six toes. However, I stand by my assertion that at least one of the reasons they give opposing such an idea just doesn't work.

    Why do I think that's important? Because I don't know anything at all about a lot of the subjects that they speak authoritatively about. Since I know of at least one topic where they discarded the opinion of a subject matter expert, I have no reason to believe that they haven't done so elsewhere.

    An old saying, paraphrased, is that "the news is accurate, except for the parts you personally know about", and I now kind of feel the same way about Snopes.com. I agree with a lot of their findings, but I have to take it all with a grain of salt.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Very true. I've seen half a dozen casses where Snopes makes an assumtion that someone with real expertise about the given subject could tell you is just plain wrong.

      I've also seen a few too many cases where they take the most far fetched claims of a story and after disproving those claims state that the whole thing is false. Even most true stories get mangled somewhat after only a few retellings.

      That said, they are doing a good job at a herculean task. They just need to talk to the experts in the given
      • I think the AC more or less nails it. The snopes people have very limited expertise and limited funding, and as it seems from the above email limited patience.

        >That said, they are doing a good job at a herculean task.

        This is spot-on. Any site that deals with countering disinformation on a wide scale has to contend with its own bias, laziness, and limitations. Look at the skeptdic or straightdope.com, they often revise after someone presents them with more information and some of the conclusions reac

      • Is Jan Brunvand [cnn.com] good enough for you? As you mention, "talking to experts in the field" would be nice, but expensive. Plus, that would open the door to subtle manipulation.
    • I wanted to provide a little evidence to my statement that they scoffed at my statement. Here's a quote from their reply; my original words are in <> brackets:

      <<Are there other photographs of a young Marilyn without shoes or socks? There very well may be; I've not done the research.>>

      Yes. But even if there weren't, lack of negative evidence is not the same as positive evidence. It's up to those who make the claim to establish that Marilyn had six toes; it's not up to others to dis

      • David correctly said that "lack of negative evidence is not the same as positive evidence", but then contends that she couldn't have had the surgery because "no other friend or relative of Marilyn's knew this mysterious 'friend' or surgeon". It works both ways; lack of postive evidence is also not the same as negative evidence, and to see those two statements back-to-back bothered me.

        You introduced the assertion that there could have been "a pro-bono helping hand from a family friend or compassionate su

        • To paraphrase his first response: it's up to those who make the claim to provide proof.

          But isn't that what he does? He claims that she did not have surgery, in part because she didn't know any surgeons. I was only trying to explore the posibility that she might have known a doctor willing to do some fancy footwork. Doesn't he have to provide positive evidence for his claim? It seems like he pretty a rather broad and hard-to-prove claim, and used that as evidence for his case. That's the part that b

    • Actually, your "proof" of lifting a toe to prove you can walk without it is NOT actually proof. If you need it to walk, and simply lift it, it is still there. And by lifting it, you will automatically compensate for the lift.

      Now, as someone who has had a relative (grandfather) lose a toe due to diabetes related gangrene, and having seen him walk awkwardly afterwards for a while until he was used to it, I would say that your "proof" is false based on my own observations.

    • The problem is that according to my wife, a podiatric (foot) surgeon, the recovery period following a phalangectomy (ampution of a toe (or finger)) is almost nil. The big toe, let alone a vestigial "pinky toe", is not crucial for balance or stability.

      While this may be true, one would think that the actual act of having an operation would cause that foot to be a bit tender/sore for a while, which would cause someone to walk awkwardly. After such a surgery, I would be very surprised that she could walk "n
    • Not so sure about that. When I was 17 I cut my 4rd toe on my right foot on a peice of glass. Deep cut right on the joint. Painless, due to the sharpness of the glass. I had it stitched up and went about my bussiness with some painkillers for good measure. Despite my toe being all there, it no longer functions quite properly, I can't bend it as redily since the tendon was partiall severed and a reattachment was too risky and costly for such a generally useless digit. It did, however, take me a few weeks befo
  • by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:31PM (#6598095) Homepage Journal
    Claim: Linux can replace Windows as a desktop OS

    Status: False

    Example: Somebody installed Linux where they work and found they could answer email and visit Slashdot, thus claiming that the OS can replace the ever popular Windows.

    Origins: Slashdot is the home of a number of self-righteous Linux zealots who...

    Ya know, I really wanted to continue writing this but I'm not sure how to dodge a Troll moderation!
  • Strangest TRUTH (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 403Forbidden ( 610018 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @10:41PM (#6598129)
    What is THE strangest story that you thought couldn't POSSIBLY be true, but upon further research, was?

    BTW excellent site, been reading it for years :)
  • Come on now (Score:2, Insightful)

    by skryche ( 26871 )
    Dagnabbit, how hard is it to make your links sensible? I spend way too much time (~3 sec!) trying to figure out which of your links is the link and which are backstory.

    "Online Journalism Review", links to that periodical's site, which is logical enough -- but why would "David Mikkelson" link to anything but a page about Mr. Mikkelson? "Interview" should be the link to the interview.

    Am I a crank? Or do I make sense? (Or both?)

    • Re:Come on now (Score:2, Interesting)

      by tommertron ( 640180 )
      Dagnabbit, how hard is it to make your links sensible? I spend way too much time (~3 sec!) trying to figure out which of your links is the link and which are backstory.

      I have to say I really agree.

      I think some of the poster are better than others. Sure, link the parent site, but if you link the interview, the link should be embedded in the word 'interview' or better yet, 'interview with ###'. If you link somebody's name, that link should point to a bio or vanity page of that person.

      Hey editors, maybe


    • I humbly apologize for my apparent inability to clearly link.

      Are you a crank? I can't tell.
  • by bstadil ( 7110 ) on Saturday August 02, 2003 @11:00PM (#6598189) Homepage
    James Randy [randi.org] is another person that has dedicated his life to debunking paranormal claims, notably religious charletans.

    Look at his lecture Series [randi.org], If he comes to your city it is well worth attending the lecture.

  • Snopes rocks. I was particularly impressed by the explanation of the "police radar causes missile to be launched at it" urban legend. Where I've seen mainstream media utterly fail at describing the details modern weaponry (vagueness, flat-out inaccuracies or both), snopes.com provided a refreshingly detailed explanation that I found no errors in. It's nice that the author chosen for it was very informed in the subject.
    • Re:Snopes rocks (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday August 03, 2003 @02:28AM (#6598759) Homepage
      "police radar causes missile to be launched at it"

      The closest I know to this was a radar system that used to sit on top of the Ford Aeroneutronic building in Newport Beach, CA in the 1980s. This was the development test unit for the DIVAD gun system (a disappointing weapon), and it had a powered gun mount, but no gun. Instead of a gun, the test system had a telescope and a TV camera, and would produce good pictures of aircraft flying into LAX.

      The DIVAD was supposed to engage low-flying helicopters, so the system could look down to the horizon. where it could see a freeway. It was usually set to ignore ground traffic below 100mph, but occasionally at night, some speeder would exceed the threshold and be identified as a possible target.

      I heard that once the system picked up a speeding car and identified it as hostile. Apparently the car had a "radar jammer" to fool police radar. To a military radar, that helps mark the target better; it's like waving a flashlight around.

      But that test system couldn't do anything more than videotape cars; it had no weapons whatsoever.

  • by dtfinch ( 661405 ) * on Sunday August 03, 2003 @01:07AM (#6598595) Journal
    I visit it every few days to see what's new.

    Though I was startled to find that there's a transsexual model out there who appeared in a James Bond film and is married to someone who has the same name as I do. I hope that if I ever become famous nobody will look back on that article and draw the wrong conclusions.
  • by Montag2k ( 459573 ) <jgamage@nOSpam.alum.rpi.edu> on Sunday August 03, 2003 @03:30AM (#6598900) Homepage
    I don't know how many times I have referred my friends to snopes.com after hearing them recite to me an urban legend. Their response to me is "you believe this crap? You can't believe everything you read on the internet!"
  • Bizarre coincidence (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sydney Weidman ( 187981 ) on Sunday August 03, 2003 @05:33AM (#6599116) Homepage
    I stumbled upon snopes.com for the first time while trying to determint whether the Peter Lynds [slashdot.org] story above was a hoax. I was searching for info about his publicist Brooke Jones, an Independent Communications Consultant. The google search leads to numerous links [google.ca] about urban legends. One site in particular http://www.truthminers.com/truth/jones.htm [truthminers.com] has a further link to snopes. Cool, eh? 6 degrees of internet separation.
  • Before I was introduced to Snopes by my humanities teacher 2 years ago, I had found a "Straight Dope" book that had some questions like those addressed by Snopes: urban legends & "my friend said" kind-of-stuff. Cecil Adams (no relation) and his crew publish their stuff online @ http://www.straightdope.com [straightdope.com] By the way, I've also been known to my friends to send them to Snopes on a regular basis for the "crap" they love to fill my email box with. There's a lot of disinformation floating around out there.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. -- Winston Churchill

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