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What if Airport Screeners Checked Your Square Root?
Mother Nature Network ^ | November 17, 2010 | Kerry Sheridan

Posted on 11/20/2010 4:27:54 PM PST by Diana in Wisconsin

(A computer scientist argues that racial profiling is less effective than random searches, but says simple math could offer an even better solution.)

What if airport screeners looked at would-be passengers and instead of assessing the color of their skin, asked: "What's the square root of your likelihood of being a terrorist?"

Such is the world imagined by an American computer scientist who argues that racial profiling to root out potential terrorists is actually less effective than random searches, but says some simple math could offer a better solution.

"When you have any profiling at all, it quickly becomes less effective than random sampling," said University of Texas professor William Press, whose paper appears Wednesday in the journal Significance, a publication of Britain's Royal Statistical Society.

Profiling does not work because "you end up screening the same innocent people over and over again, just because they happen to be in a profiled group," Press said.

Previous studies have shown that any apparent rise in success due to racial profiling is actually due to increased levels of law enforcement. More police focusing on one group will catch more criminals since fewer police and resources are focused on other groups.

"It is simply better to do uniform random sampling, which means everyone who shows up at the airport should have the same chance of being screened in the same way," said Press, who has written on the topic before for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But he has come up with an idea that just might be even better.

"It is this thing called square root sampling," he told AFP.

That way, screeners would approach a given group deemed to be, say 100 times more likely to be harmful, and then check them the square root of that number, or 10 times, more often.

"That actually would be better than uniform (random) sampling. The trouble is there is no good way to do that."

Press teaches university-level statistics and uses the example for his students, who do not argue with his mathematical formulas but do puzzle over practical ways to solve the problem in real life.

"One could imagine a system in which people's risk factors are evaluated and as you show up in airport you know, in some computerized automatic way the computer flashes either red or green and does this square root business which would be some form of optimal profiling," he said.

"But I don't know anyone who actually thinks you could make such a system work."

And when it comes to the latest controversy roiling U.S. airport travelers — systems that can peer through clothing and show bodily details — Press has just one hope in mind for any new screening technology.

"That it not slow down the lines," he said.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Government
KEYWORDS: computerscience; tsapervs
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1 posted on 11/20/2010 4:27:59 PM PST by Diana in Wisconsin
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Israel profiles and it works. It works because Islam is at the bottom of most of it.


2 posted on 11/20/2010 4:32:40 PM PST by Nateman (If liberals are not screaming you are doing it wrong!)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

And the struggle between theory and practice continues.


3 posted on 11/20/2010 4:34:11 PM PST by Flightdeck (TANSTAAFL!)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Don’t they profile before handing out food stamps?


4 posted on 11/20/2010 4:35:45 PM PST by Hoodat ( Don't touch my junk, Bro !)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Tell Israel that.


5 posted on 11/20/2010 4:36:10 PM PST by freekitty (Give me back my conservative vote; then find me a real conservative to vote for)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Here’s a better idea. Take the money we’re spending on TSA and other useless federal programs and secure the boarders, round up those who over stay their student visas, deport foreigners who preach and teach hate in Mosques, and stop invading the privacy and rights of honest, hard-working Americans.


6 posted on 11/20/2010 4:41:07 PM PST by hometoroost (Protect the change! He spent all the folding money.)
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To: Hoodat
Go into a Food Stamp office wearing a coat and tie and apply for public assistance.

What will be the outcome?

7 posted on 11/20/2010 4:41:16 PM PST by pointsal
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To: Diana in Wisconsin
Profiling does not work because "you end up screening the same innocent people over and over again, just because they happen to be in a profiled group," Press said.

But they're already doing that. They search old people in wheelchairs, nuns, screaming kids, and blonds. Anyone who looks like an Arab is hurried right through.

I think maybe this guy should stick to computers. People are a bit too much for him to understand.

8 posted on 11/20/2010 4:41:30 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius.)
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To: pointsal

No food stamps for you.


9 posted on 11/20/2010 4:44:55 PM PST by Hoodat ( Don't touch my junk, Bro !)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

I am a HUGE believer in profiling, however, El Al has between thirty and fourty flights a day. Compare that to American Airlines that has over 2400 flights per day. The biggest issue with instituting profiling here in the USA is the personnel working for the TSA are, collectively, as intelligent as a box of breakfast cereal-Corn Flakes at best.

Where can we find GOOD people to train for profiling several million people a day? Perhaps ex-military types?


10 posted on 11/20/2010 4:46:04 PM PST by GRRRRR (He'll NEVER be my President, FUBO!)
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To: freekitty

The argument is against racial profiling which is not the type of profiling Israel does.


11 posted on 11/20/2010 4:46:15 PM PST by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Statistics is the math you use when you don’t have a real mathematical solution to a problem. And statistically speaking statisticians are attracted to solutions involving randomness. :o)

If this guy were a game theorist he’d approach the problem as a two person non-zero-sum game and would probably come to the conclusion that you should profile about 80% of the time and throw in a 20% random sample just to keep everyone honest.


12 posted on 11/20/2010 4:46:25 PM PST by InABunkerUnderSF (Anyone who has read Roman history knows a barbarian invasion when they see one.)
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To: Cicero

He raises an interesting question. What’s the overall outcome? If the outcome is efficiency, he’s probably right that searching to the square root of the likelihood is more effective, in that you search 10x fewer people, but at a greater risk of missing the correct person.

If your overall goal is to minimize the total risk, then profiling is the best way to go.


13 posted on 11/20/2010 4:46:50 PM PST by BenKenobi (Don’t worry about being effective. Just concentrate on being faithful to the truth.)
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To: Cicero

Exactly. Not counting muslims in burkas being excused to pat themselves down.


14 posted on 11/20/2010 4:48:54 PM PST by rlmorel (TSA's new motto: "You don't get on, Until we get off.")
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To: Diana in Wisconsin
Simply show everyone the cartoon of Mad Mo' with the pyrotechnic Turban.

Don't let those who go postal fly.

15 posted on 11/20/2010 4:50:08 PM PST by Paladin2
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To: BenKenobi

Few Muslims are terrorists. But nearly all terrorists are Muslims.


16 posted on 11/20/2010 4:50:34 PM PST by mkmensinger
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

I’d like to see the assumptions he makes about the population to be screened.


17 posted on 11/20/2010 4:50:46 PM PST by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Look, let’s stop using the cover-up word ‘terrorist.’ IT’S MUSLIMS THAT ARE EVIL. MUSLIMS WHO ARE KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE, BOMBING AIRPLANES, FLYING AIRPLANES INTO BUILDINGS, BEHEADING INNOCENT PEOPLE, STONING WOMEN TO DEATH. MUSLIMS ARE DANGEROUS PSYCHOTIC MURDERERS WHOSE FANATICAL ZEALOT GOAL IS TO KILL EVERY MAN, WOMAN, AND CHILD INFIDEL (that would be you!!).

Christians aren’t trying to kill me. Jews aren’t trying to kill me. Buddhists aren’t trying to kill me. MUSLIMS ARE TRYING TO KILL ME! Stop calling them terrorists and making sure you caveat that there are good muslims. THERE ARE NO GOOD MUSLIMS. PERIOD!


18 posted on 11/20/2010 4:51:31 PM PST by Doc Savage (Stay Thirsty My Friend!!)
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To: Paladin2
Another solution:

Offer folks the opportunity to get X-rayed, fondled or eat a delicious ham and swiss on rye.

19 posted on 11/20/2010 4:51:44 PM PST by Paladin2
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To: Diana in Wisconsin
Profiling does not work because "you end up screening the same innocent people over and over again, just because they happen to be in a profiled group," Press said.

Previous studies have shown that any apparent rise in success due to racial profiling is actually due to increased levels of law enforcement. More police focusing on one group will catch more criminals since fewer police and resources are focused on other groups.

The people responsible for the threats on the airplanes in question tend to be from a particular group. I fail to see the problem with focusing resources on them when the threat from other groups is next to nonexistent. Americans tend not to hijack and/or blow up American aircraft.

Stop searching Americans without due cause and start focusing on searching foreign enemies. They are the ones trying to kill us.

20 posted on 11/20/2010 4:52:51 PM PST by MWS
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To: FourPeas
The confidence in frequent fliers can be built over time along with observing their patterns to look for anomalys.

Treating every flier as though they have no history is acting stupidly.

21 posted on 11/20/2010 4:54:00 PM PST by Paladin2
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To: Diana in Wisconsin
it's not just about effectiveness. I want every single muslim flying in this country to be reminded every time they fly what their religion has caused in this country.
22 posted on 11/20/2010 4:54:16 PM PST by paul51 (11 September 2001 - Never forget)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin; Lazamataz; martin_fierro
What if airport screeners looked at would-be passengers and instead of assessing the color of their skin, asked: "What's the square root of your likelihood of being a terrorist?"

Isn't that like dividing by zero???????????


23 posted on 11/20/2010 4:55:12 PM PST by raybbr (Someone who invades another country is NOT an immigrant - illegal or otherwise.)
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To: BenKenobi

Yep, part of the weirdness that is statistics is concerned with how certain one wants to be that the answer is the correct one. Stopping all the terrorists 99% of the time just isn’t good enough.


24 posted on 11/20/2010 4:56:36 PM PST by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

The solution is smimple; Don’t let muslims fly.


25 posted on 11/20/2010 4:56:49 PM PST by umgud
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To: Doc Savage

Better yet — Americans in general aren’t trying to kill us.

The American people make up the bulk of travelers within this country. It’s extremely silly to focus the majority of our security efforts on the very group that isn’t trying to do harm to our country.

Profile foreigners and those within our country with questionable backgrounds. Leave the rest of us alone. That really is the only sensible course of action on this matter.


26 posted on 11/20/2010 4:57:59 PM PST by MWS
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To: Paladin2
Treating every flier as though they have no history is acting stupidly.

Indeed. There's also the matter of how to weigh that history, but then we find ourselves in the neighborhood of the Israeli model.

27 posted on 11/20/2010 5:00:19 PM PST by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

America has stupidly become dependent on its technology, and now EVERY problem seeks a technological solution (something about if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail). Israel profiles and interviews. They never let the bad guys get on the plane and they can do it without looking at race or other stupid factors. This is a human problem, and no tech will ever solve it.


28 posted on 11/20/2010 5:03:26 PM PST by Clock King (Ellisworth Toohey was right: My head's gonna explode.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin
What if Airport Screeners Checked Your Square Root?

As if groping my junk wasn't bad enough, now they want to look-up my square root.

29 posted on 11/20/2010 5:04:19 PM PST by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: raybbr; Diana in Wisconsin; Lazamataz

I get profiled all the time when I wear this.

30 posted on 11/20/2010 5:08:44 PM PST by martin_fierro (< |:)~)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

It's very difficult to tell who is a terrorist, but it turns out to be trivially easy to figure out who is probably not a terrorist. If I look you up in a public-records database and a credit bureau, and I find out that you own a $300,000 house, you've had a Visa card with the same bank since 1983, you've had a succession of car loans going back 20 years, you graduated from high school in Rhode Island... I'm wasting time to even mess with you. A computer program could "score" such data in well under a second, resulting in 75% of the travelers being waved right on through.

The trick is to keep the algorithm a secret so that The Bad Guys can't recruit people who would be known to score well on "probably not a terrorist."


31 posted on 11/20/2010 5:10:41 PM PST by Nick Danger (Pin the fail on the donkey)
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To: Nateman

This lib idiot is a prof @ UT Austin. miles left of Berkely. Talking out is a$$ cause his mouth knows better.


32 posted on 11/20/2010 5:15:57 PM PST by dusttoyou (Let the other side get all wee-wee'd up, Foc nobama)
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To: BenKenobi; Cicero
The situation is that with air carrier safety being at stake we can view the customers a being the risk factor.

Which turns out to be a mistake ~ but TSA and other federal agencies are tied to a belief in "random sampling" that assumes uniformity in the flow of passengers is the normal condition.

W. Edwards Deming once observed that over a long enough period of time ANY sampling scheme will tend toward randomness ~ so you don't need to say "Hey, let's hit every n'th item, or person". Instead, you can say "I feel like it's time to hit someone" and do it, and with enough customers you'd end up with something that's arguably "random".

I prefer to think of air carrier safety being a QUALITY CONTROL question ~ not at all a safety question. After all these are airplanes, they're going way high in the air, they are full of all sorts of volatile fuels, even their engines could blow up under NORMAL CONDITIONS.

They are not inherently safe, and bomb carrying passengers may well NOT increase anyone's level of risk enough to measure ~ fur shur 9/11 didn't cause all of us to give up commercial air travel.

As a quality control question we can look at the customers as something other than IDENTICAL ITEMS that we need to polish, buff and gussy up to make them fit right in the airplanes. We can, in fact, view them as nothing more than different items whose relationship to air travel is simply one of volume (affecting absolute capacity limits within the airframe) and weight (affecting absolute lifting capability of the aircraft).

Fur Shur, TSA is not measuring size and weight of the full passenger load for the purpose of detecting a FALSE TRAVELER ~ that is, someone carrying a bomb. They are instead selecting PLACE IN LINE, which on the face of it is a factor of absolutely no consequence to the quality of the coming flight ~ except under special circumstances.

For example, I was once standing toward the end of a line at the Frankfort airport waiting to get on a shuttle to London's Heathrow ~ and a bus to the downtown terminal. A steward comes up and asks me if I'd give up my place in line for this other passenger who needed to jump on that shuttle to link up with a further overseas connection. He assured me I could get on the next segment in 15 minutes.

So, I said "Yeah, sure, whatever".

Wouldn't you know it the first segment crashed and burned at Heathrow. My flight landed. You could look over at the wreck already pushed off the runway.

That's how "place in line" works ~ but rarely. TSA's current approach would have retroactively blamed the crash on my having changed my place in line for air service.

Weight and size can be estimated electronically for each and every passenger with in-motion equipment now widely available. Profiling by skin tone, shape of nose, shape of ears, hair characteristics, and skeletal proportions can be as easily determined by existing modern equipment then matched to weight and size tables to determine if "somebody is amiss" or in a physical category known to be highly correlated with the presence of explosives, bombs or bad attitudes.

Instead of selecting people on "place in line" shifting to a physical profiling system that evaluates weight, volume, reflectivity, and shape of external organs, we can probably reduce the working samples to a very low number of folks for whom we can reserve even BODY CAVITY SEARCHES. That's when we'll start discovering the modern bombs.

33 posted on 11/20/2010 5:18:33 PM PST by muawiyah (GIT OUT THE WAY ~ REPUBLICANS COMIN' THROUGH)
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To: Paladin2

LOL! Very creative! Me likes!


34 posted on 11/20/2010 5:19:10 PM PST by RushIsMyTeddyBear (Not under the influence of Hope-nosis.)
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To: Paladin2

Just have the first TSA agent have his “Bomb Sniffing Pot Bellied Pig” with him.

The second agent has his “Bomb Licking Dog” with him.

Neither is anywhere near as offensive as the “grope gauntlet” they have now.


35 posted on 11/20/2010 5:21:11 PM PST by BwanaNdege ("a comeuppance is due the arrogant elites" - Charles Krauthammer)
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To: FourPeas
Hmm ~ yeah, finding 99% of the terrorists is quite OK ~ that will deter the 1% who weren't caught.

If we simply took any individual actually carrying an explosive device and shot him or her on the spot at the airport and hung the body up for public viewing, we could probably get away with a less than 1% detection rate.

Alas, that would generate additional inefficiencies in the system that would make air travel about as inconvenient as it is now.

Check my earlier post where I advocate moving away from mind-numbingly uniform evaluations of place in line to actual evaluation of statistically correlatable physical charateristics to identify probable terrorists.

36 posted on 11/20/2010 5:24:34 PM PST by muawiyah (GIT OUT THE WAY ~ REPUBLICANS COMIN' THROUGH)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

“Profiling” has never been “racial” profiling, or “fixed set of attributes” profiling for what’s worth. You take your samples, see what’s common among them and dynamically work with it. It’s just that race, for several reasons, comes up often as a red flag.


37 posted on 11/20/2010 5:25:14 PM PST by Moose Burger
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To: muawiyah

Your reward for doing the right thing. Or good luck.


38 posted on 11/20/2010 5:26:59 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius.)
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To: RushIsMyTeddyBear
I'd really have a tough decision unless the bread was lightly toasted (and still warm) and each slice had a light coating of a different, but quality mustard.

Wait, .... I got to go to the kitchen, I'll be right back.

39 posted on 11/20/2010 5:29:12 PM PST by Paladin2
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To: Cicero

I’m always polite, and if you want my seat on the plane, go to it.


40 posted on 11/20/2010 5:30:39 PM PST by muawiyah (GIT OUT THE WAY ~ REPUBLICANS COMIN' THROUGH)
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To: Paladin2

Mmmmm. Don’t forget the mayo for moi! ;-)


41 posted on 11/20/2010 5:33:45 PM PST by RushIsMyTeddyBear (Not under the influence of Hope-nosis.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

Profiling does not work because “you end up screening the same innocent people over and over again, just because they happen to be in a profiled group,” Press said.

So what? Statisticlly you have a much higher percentage of likelihood of finding a terrorist.

Also, We are talking of small group of people here. All Islamists cannot be more than 5% of the population no matter what color. And skin is not as important as religious affiliation.


42 posted on 11/20/2010 5:35:40 PM PST by Chickensoup (In the Leftist protected species hierarchy, Islamics trump Homosexuals trump Women trump Blacks)
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To: FourPeas
"Yep, part of the weirdness that is statistics is concerned with how certain one wants to be that the answer is the correct one. Stopping all the terrorists 99% of the time just isn’t good enough."

The problem is TSA batting average is zero. The number of terrorists detected by TSA = 0, the number arrested = 0, the number convicted = 0.

The number of terrorists detected by passengers on an airplane and missed by TSA = 3 (or similar number)

43 posted on 11/20/2010 5:35:57 PM PST by RDasher ("El Nino is climate, La Nina is weather")
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To: Chickensoup
We don't need to know anyone's religion if we know what their ears and noses probably look like, what the reflectivity of their skin is in various colors, and their weight and volume compared to their apparent skeletal proportions.

We'd get down to that 5% instantly with FEW exceptions ~ and even the American from California who "went over" is from a Jewish family so he'd probably fit that physical profile himself.

44 posted on 11/20/2010 5:51:48 PM PST by muawiyah (GIT OUT THE WAY ~ REPUBLICANS COMIN' THROUGH)
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To: muawiyah

I had an interesting flight one time, coming back from a conference in Houston to New York. A young lady also flying back from the conference was in the seat next to me, and she asked if I minded if she held onto my arm when we landed, because she had had a very bad experience earlier that year, and she felt very nervous about landing.

It seems that her plane crashed at the airport in Rome. It broke in two, and everyone in the other half was burned up.

I said, yes, of course, by all means take my arm.

So, as we came in for a landing, she held my arm and buried her face in my jacket. And just as we were touching down, she bit my arm. Hard.

Oh, well, glad to be of service.


45 posted on 11/20/2010 5:54:44 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius.)
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To: GRRRRR

It is NOT just EL AL in Israel! We flew out of Israel on Continental and were GRILLED....I think because we had gone to Jordan also.....man it was Close Contact Grilling, but I was OK because there was No touching...just asking questions and looking us in our eyes...and my husband is JEWISH!!


46 posted on 11/20/2010 5:55:10 PM PST by Ann Archy (Abortion......the Human Sacrifice to the god of Convenience.)
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To: umgud

Bingo!! BINGO!!!!! Don’t let Muslims FLY!!


47 posted on 11/20/2010 5:56:09 PM PST by Ann Archy (Abortion......the Human Sacrifice to the god of Convenience.)
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To: muawiyah
Hmm ~ yeah, finding 99% of the terrorists is quite OK ~ that will deter the 1% who weren't caught.

Were this a case of "logical" terrorists, the 1% might be deterred. But when talking about religious fanatics, the same logic doesn't apply.

48 posted on 11/20/2010 5:56:09 PM PST by FourPeas (Pester not the geek, for the electrons are his friends.)
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To: Hoodat
Don’t they profile before handing out food stamps?

Yes, if you consider advertising the food stamps program on AM radio as profiling. The program has either been over-funded or its demand over-estimated, so instead of cutting back on the service they are advertising for more customers.

-PJ

49 posted on 11/20/2010 6:01:37 PM PST by Political Junkie Too ("Comprehensive" reform bills only end up as incomprehensible messes.)
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To: Diana in Wisconsin

This would be a good thread for a link to the video series about cats and engineers...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHXBL6bzAR4


50 posted on 11/20/2010 6:02:46 PM PST by Cyber Liberty (We conservatives will always lose elections as long as we allow the MSM to choose our candidates.)
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