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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.
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"....The truth is out there."

-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer






Friday, May 30, 2008

 

-- On Not Getting a Picture --

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Since she dedicates it to "all the Ivory-billed Woodpecker seekers out there" I ought pass along this recent post from Julie Zickefoose over at her blog:

http://www.juliezickefoose.com/blog/2008/05/i-didnt-get-picture.html

Maybe more news will come before the weekend's over; or, maybe not!
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Thursday, May 29, 2008

 

-- June Approaches --

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"Newcomb's Paradox" is a famous, interesting, and long-unresolved thought puzzle. In fact, it's often said that any roomful of people, hearing this paradox, will split down the middle between those fiercely defending one possible solution and those just as assuredly supporting the alternative possible solution --- and no amount of arguing or persuasion will change many minds. If you're not already familiar with it, here is one intro to the paradox (but there's a lot of other available literature on it) :

http://members.aol.com/kiekeben/newcomb.html

Why do I even bother bringing it up... a space-filler ;-) and, because, yes, I think it has something to say about the nature of the Ivory-bill debate (where the species' existence at the present moment is either 100% true or 0% true and not some number in-between). In fact, it might be interesting to know if there is any correlation between where IBWO atheists, agnostics, and believers come down in their response to the paradox, or simply no pattern at all.


In other news, members of the Bush Administration (who appear not to walk upon the Earth, so much as slither), express surprise, shock, and anger, once again, at truth managing to get out, despite unremitting countermeasures taken to prevent it....
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

 

-- Butler Film --

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Another film review of George Butler's "The Lord God Bird" here.

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"The fact that human intuition is ill suited to situations involving uncertainty was known as early as the 1930s, when researchers noted that people could neither make up a sequence of numbers that passed mathematical tests for randomness nor recognize reliably whether a given string was randomly generated. In the past few decades a new academic field has emerged to study how people make judgments and decisions when faced with imperfect or incomplete information. Their research has shown that when chance is involved, people's thought processes are often seriously flawed....
Random processes are fundamental in nature and are ubiquitous in our everyday lives, yet most people do not understand them or think much about them."

-- Leonard Mlodinow, from "The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives" 2008
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Link

Monday, May 26, 2008

 

-- Biding Time --

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While biding time, some past articles on the Madagascar Pochard, the Caatinga Woodpecker of Brazil, and Imperial Woodpecker of Mexico.

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"We all start from 'naive realism,' i.e., the doctrine that things are what they seem. We think that grass is green, that stones are hard, and that snow is cold. But physics assures us that the greenness of grass, the hardness of stones, and the coldness of snow are not the greenness of grass, the hardness of stones, and the coldness of snow that we know in our own experience, but something very different." -- Bertrand Russell
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Sunday, May 25, 2008

 

-- A Lil' More History --

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"Despite pronouncements [~1900] that the Ivory-bill was going extinct --- then despite pronouncements that it was extinct --- the species held on, unbeknownst to America's amateur and professional ornithologists. Its life largely had been a secret to naturalists and its apparent death a premature conclusion.
None of this became clear until well after the turn of the century, when the Ivory-bill, so everyone thought, existed only in the cabinets of natural history and on the pages of Wilson and Audubon.
In 1924, for a moment, everything changed. In spring of that year, Cornell University's Arthur Augustus Allen --- a distinguished ornithologist and popularizer of bird-watching --- was traveling with his wife, Elsa, in Florida. A guide named Morgan Tindle transformed their lives and the course of American conservation when he pointed out one particular nest to the Allens.
A nest of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. The astonishment of the rediscovery --- almost like a resurrection --- soon turned to bitter disappointment after the Allens briefly left the nest. Two taxidermists, apparently with permission from the state of Florida, shot the nesting Ivory-bills. In his articles on the Ivory-bill in "The Auk" and in "National Geographic," Allen does not discuss his personal reactions to this tragedy. Though slow to anger and almost always optimistic, Allen still must have felt the loss sharply. Even with Elsa to comfort him, he wondered if they had seen the last two Ivory-bills in the world, now irrevocably gone.
The Ivory-bill suddenly had returned, then departed almost as quickly. The sighting, however, raised the possibility that other Ivory-bills might yet be found in some remote part of the deep South, in some swamp that had escaped the sharp blades of progress. Would there be --- could there be --- another resurrection of the Lord God Bird?"


--- from Christopher Cokinos' "Hope Is the Thing With Feathers," 2000

[ ...and 8 years later, in Louisiana, there was another resurrection, at the Singer Tract along the Tensas River. ]
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Some recent books of interest:

Leonard Mlodinow -- "The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives" here and here.

Julian Havil -- "Impossible?: Surprising Solutions to Counterintuitive Conundrums" here and here.

Stuart Kauffman -- "Reinventing the Sacred" here.
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Friday, May 23, 2008

 

-- Approaching Summer --

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Couple of e-mailers inform me that official searches continue in certain areas at least into next month, and one of them suggests, since I've lately been posting some historical info, mentioning the tree species IBWOs were most often observed nesting in.
So, again with the precaution that Tanner's data is based on a very limited sample size, most Ivory-bills historically in Florida were found to nest in cypress trees (both live and dead, and most often bald cypress). Outside Florida, with the exception of a few reports of birds nesting in pines, Ivory-bills were observed nesting in a variety of hardwoods: sweet gum, elm, red maple, oaks. Nests tended to be 40-70 ft. off the ground.

Again, it is somewhat ironic that most IBWO searches take place in the winter and during the breeding season when the birds were known to be the most quiet and hardest to find, sometimes traveling great distances, and then end by summer when forest visibility is much reduced (and human safety/comfort more compromised as well), but the birds move in family groups that might be more apparent.
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Elsewhere:


Compelling author Richard Preston ("The Hot Zone," "The Wild Trees," et.al.), has a
new volume of essays on diverse scientific topics out entitled "Panic In Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses and other Journeys to the Edge of Science." Ahhhh yes, the edge of science, great place to hang out ;-)
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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

 

-- Fledging Time --

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Taking a cue from "Fangsheath," who recently posted some historical dates for Ivory-bill nest-incubation, over at Ivory-bill Researchers Forum, I thought it might be interesting, given the current time of year, to note the dates for actual IBWO fledglings to be seen. Between 1931 and 1939 Tanner reported (based largely on J.J. Kuhn's observations) a total of 2 young being seen (outside the nest) in the month of March, 1 in April, 4 in May, 2 in June, and 8 in July. Young Ivory-bills were known to hang out with their parents for many months after fledging. The previous numbers represent a small sample size of dubious meaning, but nonetheless might indicate that groups of Ivory-bills (as family units) may just now be emerging and foraging through the swamps just as searches have wound down (at least some automatic cameras remain up, though I'm not certain how many at this point).
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Elsewhere:

Pretty amazing nestcam video here of two Bald Eagle chicks taken from nest and tossed aside by a "rogue" juvenile eagle (semi-happy ending with injured chicks retrieved by humans and taken to a rehab center) --- causes one to wonder how often this occurs in the wild; not a behavior I've previously heard of humans witnessing, despite a lot of eagle nests kept under observation.

Science/nature-writer Chet Raymo has a new book coming out in the fall, check here and here.

And for your further reading entertainment a slew of 'Murphy's Laws' catalogued here (be sure to check out all the left-hand categories):

http://www.murphys-laws.com/murphy/murphy-technology.html

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Monday, May 19, 2008

 

-- Tanner Redux --

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While awaiting summary info from this season's searches, may be worth reviewing some old quotes from James Tanner's 1942 monograph on the species (all italics added):

"The chief difficulty of the study has been that of drawing conclusions from relatively few observations, necessary because of the extreme scarcity of the bird. My own observations of the birds have been entirely confined to a few individuals in one part of Louisiana... the conclusions drawn from them will not necessarily apply to the species as it once was nor to individuals living in other areas. The difficulty of finding the birds, even when their whereabouts was known, also limited the number of observations. Especially was this true in the non-breeding season. With these considerations in mind, one must draw conclusions carefully and with reservations."

"The dominance of cypress in the bird's [Florida] habitat is a condition not found outside of the Florida region. Another difference is that Ivory-bills in Florida frequently fed in the pine woods bordering the swamps, something that has never been recorded in the region of the Mississippi Delta and only rarely elsewhere."

"There is no one type of forest that is the habitat of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker; it varies greatly in different sections of the bird's range."

"Hunting for localities where Ivory-bills were, and in those localities trying to find the birds, was like searching for an animated needle in a haystack."

"Winter and early spring are the only good seasons for investigating Ivory-bill habitats. Leaves are then off the trees, allowing good visibility and hearing, the birds are quite active and noisy, and the cooler weather makes work in the woods pleasant. Work in the summer is practically a waste of time because of the dense vegetation, silent birds, and depressing heat."

"Ivory-bill sign shows as bare places on recently dead limbs and trees, where the bark has been scaled off clean for a considerable extent. Pileateds do some scaling too, but it is usually confined to smaller limbs and to those longer dead. Freshness of sign can be judged by any appearance of weathering, which will soon turn bare wood a grayish color. Extensive scaling of the bark from a tree which has died so recently that the bark is still tight, with a brownish or reddish color to the exposed wood showing that the work is fresh, is one good indication of the presence of Ivory-bills."

"All the Ivory-bills that I have ever seen I located first by hearing them call and then going to them."

"Considering the maximum abundance of the Ivory-bill to have been one pair per six square miles, of the Pileated to be six pairs per one square mile, and of the Red-bellied to be twenty-one pairs per one square mile, the relative abundance of these birds would be one Ivory-bill to thirty-six Pileated to 126 Red-bellied Woodpeckers."

"Considering all the evidence, I believe that Ivory-bills were not sedentary birds, but sometimes wandered considerable distances....
Furthermore, the Ivory-bill is well adapted to traveling for long distances. It is a strong flier with a fast flight for a woodpecker, and individuals have been observed feeding over several square miles."

"The Ivory-bill's habit of feeding and living almost its whole life in and near the tops of trees makes it very unlikely that any mammal could prey on one."

"The flight of the Ivory-bill... is strong and usually direct, with steady wing-beats. They can take flight quickly either from a perch or from a hole, springing into the air with very little descent before getting up to speed. They often fly above the tree tops, dodging the trees with very little deviation from their course. In the thick woods it is ordinarily difficult to tell how far the Ivory-bills fly, but I am quite sure that their flight is often extended for half a mile or more... They end their flights with a quick upward swoop and a few braking wing-beats, usually landing on a vertical tree trunk or slightly inclined limb."

"The wing-feathers of Ivory-bills are stiff and hard, thus making their flight noisy. In the initial flight, when the wings are beaten particularly hard, they make quite a loud, wooden, fluttering sound, so much so that I often nicknamed the birds 'wooden-wings'; it is the loudest wing-sound I have ever heard from any bird of that size excepting the grouse. At times when the birds happened to swoop past me, I heard a pronounced swishing whistle."

"The notes of the nuthatches are the only bird calls I know that sound like the voice of an Ivory-bill; the Ivory-bill's calls are much longer and pitched higher than the calls of a White-breasted Nuthatch, are more in the range of a Red-breasted Nuthatch."

"Ivory-bills are not social or gregarious birds; they have apparently always lived in solitary pairs, and as long as the birds can mate, they are capable of reproduction and increase. With small numbers, inbreeding could occur, but there is no evidence that this would be harmful. Large numbers are not necessary for the continued existence of the Ivory-bill. Even though it would be better and more promising if the birds were more abundant, still they are not, and if we are to make any attempt to save the species, we must be satisfied in starting with a few individuals."

--- May it be so. . . .
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Thursday, May 15, 2008

 

-- Cornell Summary Upcoming --

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At their website, Cornell is promising to "soon" post a summary of the past search season (...of course in the Ivory-bill arena the word "soon" often seems to be used in a way sharply different from common parlance ;-). I assume this will be a preliminary summary, primarily involving info from the Arkansas teams regarding that state and various stops in Tenn., MS., Fla. Any info from other searches in S.C., Texas, Choctawhatchee, LA., GA., IL., likely not included, but that's just a guess.

BTW, George Butler's independent film, "The Lord God Bird" is showing (appropriately enough) at the Little Rock, Ark. Film Festival which begins today for 4 days. (Simultaneously, it's also playing at the Tallahassee (Fla.) Film Festival).

Elsewhere:

Another SAAAAAD bird story here regarding white-faced ibis in Calif. DON'T read if you're prone to depression!!
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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

 

-- Tall Tale --

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Well, there's not much else IBWO-wise to link to at the moment, so for your reading entertainment this tale of an IBWO encounter farther
(than usual) up the Pearl River in mid-Mississippi a decade-or-so-ago:

http://www.clarionledger.com/misc/blogs/Outdoors/pjohnson/2008/05/peckerwood-big-foot.html

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Elsewhere on the Web:

Martin Gardner, one of the best science-oriented essayists around, has a new volume, "The Jinn from Hyperspace: And Other Scribblings--Both Serious and Whimsical," another collection of various of his writings from other publications.

And in case you missed The World Series of Birding... well... ComedyCentral DIDN'T:
(hat tip to DC Birding blog for this old clip)

http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=106128&title=the-world-series-of-birding

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Monday, May 12, 2008

 

-- Just A Note --

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Bad luck continues....
Dr. Hill's talk in Macon, GA. tonight has been cancelled due to severe storm damage in that area. It will be rescheduled for the fall.
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Sunday, May 11, 2008

 

-- Memphis Article --

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A Memphis article recounts the Ivory-bill debate here.

With this search season winding to a close, Dr. Jerry Jackson, who possibly more than anyone is responsible for keeping hope alive for Ivory-bills into the 1990's (though a critic of recent claims), is increasingly pessimistic, saying, "I think it would be something short of a miracle if it is there," and adding, "I think that any betting person would have to say that it's probably extinct."
Allan Mueller of The Nature Conservancy and others involved with the search counter with their belief that recent claims are real and only the elusive photograph or video is yet to be achieved.

Addendum:

p.s. -- I recommended another nestcam site of storks in Germany to readers a few days back, and apparently most folks using Internet Explorer cannot pull the site up (without getting an additional plug-in or some-such) --- puhhleeeze, do yourself a favor and download the Firefox browser here, and give Internet Explorer a quiet funeral.
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Link

Saturday, May 10, 2008

 

-- Around the Web --

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Some more nice bird photography here :

http://www.richardettlinger.com/


Not that we didn't already know it, but UN affirms that migratory bird populations are plunging here :

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=26605&Cr=biodiversity&Cr1=

And more bad news here (Whooping Cranes abandoning nests) :

http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=749206

We'll end on a positive note with this wonderful story of an American Avocet rescue here (worth a read if you're a bird-... or... a dog-lover).
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Friday, May 09, 2008

 

-- Couple a Notices --

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Notice here that Auburn's Dr. Geoff Hill will be speaking on Monday to a Georgia Audubon chapter about "recent possible sightings and what is being done to find any remaining [IBWOs]."

And here it's noted that Nancy Tanner (James' widow) will be "sharing her experiences from the 1940s observing the behaviors of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers among the Louisiana bayous," as keynote speaker of the Camp Sherman, Oregon Woodpecker Festival June 6-8.
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Thursday, May 08, 2008

 

-- Thursday Rambles --

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Entertaining story of woodpeckers breaking into jail here.

And not-so-entertaining story of possible things to come here.

Pretty pics (digiscoped images) from Mike McDowell starting here :

http://www.birddigiscoping.com/avian.html

...or, re-visit (I've listed this site before) Kim Steininger's stunning photography here:

http://www.birdsbykim.com/

And finally, as a non-avian pick-of-the-day these stories on the duck-billed platypus genome being decoded here and here. (...Talk about a creature whose existence is improbable!)
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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

 

-- In the Meantime... --

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Not expecting much in the way of IBWO news prior to release of any preliminary summaries from this year's searches. Several search groups probably won't have public releases (only reporting their results directly to the IBWO Working Group), and the timetable could be slow for the few that do. In the meantime, this blog may simply revert to being 'just another bird blog' reporting on other avian matters if IBWO news is lacking.

For starters, here are a few more nestcam sites to hold your interest during this lull (the California Great Horned Owls have now fledged and left from camera-view; it was fun watching them grow into juvenile delinquency prior to departure, but here are some others) :

Barn Owls here.
Bald Eagles here.
Storks in Germany here.

Some books of possible interest:

"The Wisdom of Birds" by Tim Birkhead; a British-based volume and another historical look at ornithology that looks intriguing, to be published later this year.

And a non-avian book recently recommended by Julie Zickefoose (that's good enough for me) :
"Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants" by Katy Payne
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Monday, May 05, 2008

 

-- Final Search Team Post --

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Yaaaaaawn....

Final post from Cornell's Arkansas 2007-8 Search team now up here (I assume the final Mobile Team post will be forthcoming as well). Again, nothing of note IBWO-wise --- indeed one is almost left to wonder what was the purpose of these logs, given how little IBWO-related comments/conclusions were offered. Even simple negative information that would be worth knowing (i.e., 'Area B showed no signs of possible Ivory-bill activity and isn't deemed worth further exploration') was rarely rendered. Assuming the prior newspaper report of 20+ IBWO "encounters" earlier in season is accurate(?), were all of these from non-team members (independent searchers or members of public, and if so, of what level of credibility???), and what will be made of them. Will be interesting (or maybe not) to see what the take-home message from Cornell's Arkansas summary report will be this season. Reiterating my own guess from a prior post, I think 2 or 3 states may have some interesting things to report, but Arkansas is likely to not be among them.
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Link

Sunday, May 04, 2008

 

-- Ark. Followup --

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A poster over at IBWO Researchers Forum notes an Arkansas Democrat Gazette article (requires subscription) which cites an Ivory-billed sighting by David Carruth of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation from about a month ago (if I understand the timing correctly), as well as 23 "encounters" from Oct. 2007 to Feb. 2008 in the Big Woods search area.
This was all part of the evidence presented in the case against the previously-referred-to irrigation project proposal. Until Cornell fleshes it out with more details, difficult to tell if this is simply information as part of a complete legal brief, or substantive claims that will be given significant weight in their final summary report. Apparently, no pics accompanying that legal brief :-(

On a sidenote, I'm hoping to have Bob Russell write up an updated list of the most promising Ivory-bill search locales for use on my blog since his previous 'Top 10' list is no longer available at the 'BirdingAmerica' website that Mary Scott has taken down. Maybe available later this month.
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Saturday, May 03, 2008

 

-- Arkansas Season --

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Today on the state birding listserv, Alan Mueller of the Cornell team responded to an inquiry about this season's Arkansas' searches as follows:
"The IBWO searches this year were hampered by the high water, but they did go
on. We had to skip some areas we wanted to search because 1. it was not
possible to get to sites early in the morning or to stay late in the evening
because of increased travel time caused by high water, or 2. the high water
made trips too dangerous. We searched spots we could get to, not the best,
but the best that could be done under the circumstances."
Maybe by month's end we'll get some sort of preliminary summary of sightings and signs from this season that were considered significant.
Meanwhile a $420 million Arkansas irrigation project remains on hold while Ivory-bill matters continue to be sorted out.
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-- Weekend Follies --

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Little IBWO news so just some miscellany for the weekend:

Something for all you Puffin lovers (i.e., EVERYone) here.

Article on potential effect of lead shot on humans here.

Webcam of Peregrine Falcon nest with chicks at University of Pittsburg here.

...and don't forget the rapidly-growing California Great Horned Owls here.

Martin Collinson, on his blog, first made me aware of this list for (in)sanity-maintenance that's apparently been humming around the internet for awhile in slight variations.

Oh yeah, and lastly this bumper sticker seen recently on a car in front of me:

"I called Bush a moron, before it became cool to call Bush a moron"
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