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reports and thoughts on legal issues, music, Orthodox Christianity and/or whatever else strikes my interest

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Location: Houston, Texas, United States

My name is David Stone. I live in Houston, Texas. I am a 30-something single white male. I am an Orthodox Christian and am a member of an English-language parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

St. John of Rila and the Rila Monastery

Today St. John of Rila is commerorated on the Church Calendar. He is probably the best known Saint of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the founder of the Rila Monastery. A few years ago some friends of mine were living in Bulgaria and visited this Monastery. They sent me these beautiful pictures. Thank you Barbara and Bobby for the pictures.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Some Old Serbian Music

Dragoslav Pavle Aksentijevic is an iconographer and musician from Serbia. Some samples from his excellent recordings of traditional Serbian chant and folk music can be heard here. Some examples of his iconography can also be found here.

Photographs from Visoki Decani Monastery

Photo by Igor Jeremic from www.jwork.net/foto/decani/
A series of pictures of Visoki Decani Monastery in Kosovo, Serbia can be seen here. Visoki Decani Monastery was founded in the 14th Century by St. Stephen of Decani. More information on the history and current situation in Kosovo can also be found here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Icon of the Savior "not-made-by-hands"

Today, on the Church Calendar, is the Feast of the Translation of the Icon of the Savior "not-made-by-hands" from Edessa to Constantinople. The Prologue from Ochrid by Saint Nikolai Velimirovich relates:

"In the time that our Lord was preaching the Gospel and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people, there was in the city of Edessa, on the banks of the Euphrates, a certain Prince Avgar, who was riddled with leprosy. He heard of Christ, the Healer of every pain and sickness, and sent a portrait-painter, Ananias, to Palestine with a letter to Christ, in which he begged the Lord to come to Edessa and heal him of his leprosy. In the event of the Lord's not being able to come, the prince commanded Ananias to paint His likeness and bring it, believing that the portrait would heal him. The Lord replied that he could not come, as the time of His Passion was at hand, and He took a napkin and wiped His face, leaving a perfect reproduction of His most pure face on the napkin. The Lord gave this napkin to Ananias, with a message to say that the prince would be healed by it, but not entirely, and He would therefore send him later an envoy who would rid him of the remainder of the disease. Receiving the napkin, Avgar kissed it and the leprosy fell from his body, with just a little remaining on his face. Later, the Apostle Thaddaeus, preaching the Gospel, came to Avgar, healed him secretly and baptised him. Then the prince smashed the idols that stood at the city's gateway and placed the napkin with the face of Christ above the entrance, stuck onto wood, surrounded with a gold frame and ornamented with pearls. The prince also wrote above the icon on the gateway: 'O Christ our God, no-one who hopes in Thee will be put to shame'. Later, one of Avgar's great-grandsons restored idolatry, and the Bishop of Edessa came by night and walled-in the icon above the gateway. Centuries passed. In the time of the Emperor Justinian, the Persian King, Chozroes, attacked Edessa, and the city was in great affliction.The Bishop of Edessa, Eulabius, had a vision of the most holy Mother of God, who revealed to him the secret of the icon, walled in and forgotten. The icon was found, and by its power the Persian army was defeated."

A service commemorating the Feast of the Translation of the Icon can be found here. There are differing versions of what ultimately happened to this Icon. Many believe that it was looted from Constaninople during the Fourth Crusade. It is believed by some that this Icon now resides in the Vatican. Two years ago the Houston Museum of Natural History hosted the Exhibition "Saint Peter & the Vatican" at which the Icon which is held by the Vatican was displayed. This object is indeed on linen and was later attached to a wooden panel and mounted in a large standing frame of gold and silver. It is considered by many historians to be the oldest known visual representation of Jesus. A close-up picture of the image can be seen here.

I can say from personally viewing this image that the photograph does not do it justice. Whether this is the actual Icon or a very ancient copy I can not say. I do know that this Icon was the highlight of the Exhibit which was very impressive over all. There was something very emotional and powerful about the image that seemed to be noticed by most of the people who viewed it. There were long lines to view it and I saw many people get back in line to view it again. Some people were even moved to tears.

Troparion - Tone 2

We venerate Your most pure image, O Good One, And ask forgiveness of our transgressions, O Christ our God. Of Your good will You were pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh And deliver Your creatures from bondage to the enemy. Therefore with thankfulness we cry aloud to You: You have filled all things with joy, O our Savior, For You did come to save the world!

Sunday, August 28, 2005

The Feast of the Dormition

Today was the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos according to the Church Calendar. On this Feast Orthodox Christians remember the repose of the Theotokos. This event is commemorated in the Holy Land with a procession from Jerusalem to Gethsemane to the Church of the Dormition in which lies the empty tomb of the Theotokos. A sermon on the Dormition by Saint Gregory Palamas can be found here. A description of the icon of the Dormition can also be found here.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

The Fathers

This is a follow up to the last post. One of the positive aspects of Orthodox material on the internet is the wealth of the writings of the Fathers that can be found online. The "Fathers" in the Orthodox tradition are considered to be especially prominent exemplars, explainers, teachers and witnesses of the Orthodox faith. These were people who shone forth in their lives as living witnesses of the sacred doctrines and teachings of the Church. Often they appeared to the world as simple and uneducated. As Timothy Ware (now Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia) writes in his book The Orthodox Church:

"The Orthodox Church has never attempted to define exactly who the Fathers are, still less to classify them in order of importance."

The Fathers are also not only relegated to the distant past. Timothy Ware continues:

"In the eyes of Orthodoxy, the 'Age of the Fathers' did not come to and end...for many later writers are also 'Fathers'...Indeed, it is dangerous to look on 'the fathers' as a closed cycle of writings belonging wholly to the past, for might not our own age produce a new Basil or Athanasius? To say that there can be no more Fathers is to suggest that the Holy Spirit has deserted the Church."

The teaching of the Fathers is often presented in short segments or "sayings". While they may be brief the sayings contain volumes of wisdom.

It is important to have an understanding of how to read the writings of the Fathers. It is always important to bear this in mind while reading the Fathers.

There are a number of useful resources on the internet for collections of the sayings or writings of the Fathers:

Word from the Desert
Gleanings from the Holy Fathers
Lessons from the Fathers
The Early Church Fathers
The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers
The Ancient Fathers of the Desert

Friday, August 26, 2005

Orthodoxy and the Internet

Richard Barrett, who is a member of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, has written a very thought provoking article on becoming Orthodox in spite of the internet. In this article Mr. Barrett bemoans the fact that the internet is often a stumbling block to inquirers into Orthodoxy.

It is undoubtedly true that "googling", or looking up information on a search engine, has become an increasingly common way for inquirers to learn about the Orthodox faith. As Mr. Barrett rightly points out, the problem is that there are no standards regarding information on Orthodoxy that is posted on the internet.

He goes on to state that:

"There is a lot out there that the wide-eyed inquirer can easily encounter, which he or she simply will not have the spiritual maturity to deal with."

While this is true, an inquirer might also not have the spiritual maturity to deal with certain books, pastoral advice, teachings, etc. That they might encounter away from the internet as well. Not yet possessing an Orthodox mindset, which would be a normal and natural handicap to an inquirer, is also part of the problem alongside the sometimes questionable material on Orthodoxy found on the internet.

Mr. Barrett also points out that:

"no amount of information and no amount of reading is going to make one Orthodox. Knowledge will not bring one into the Church; the Holy Spirit has to do that."


"...The books and websites are, plainly, no substitute for prayer, going to services, establishing a relationship with and receiving instruction from a priest."

This is very well said and needs to be heeded by all inquirers into Orthodoxy. While it may be obvious this fact is sadly all too often overlooked or forgotten.

Mr. Barrett makes the statement that:

"If you want to learn more about the Church, go to church. It's that easy, and that difficult."

Right again. It is so much easier to simply type in a few phrases or words into a search engine than to make the effort to actually visit an Orthodox church. While this statement would hold true to anyone seeking to learn more about any Christian church it is especially true of Orthodoxy. One must experience an Orthodox service to begin to comprehend it. Orthodox services engage the physical senses as well as the spiritual.

Mr. Barrett continues:

"Are there good uses of the Internet for the inquirer and
catechumen? Of course. The home pages for the canonical Orthodox jurisdictions, as well as for most individual parishes, provide a lot of wonderful information, and the outside links they provide are, in general, quite trustworthy. There are excellent resources out there with respect to the Orthodox approach to prayer, liturgical texts, setting up the home icon corner, as well as a wonderful database of the writings of the Church Fathers. Other websites have made the acquisition of previously not-so-easy-to-find liturgical items a fairly simple matter -- prayer books, icons, prayer ropes, incense, home censers, candles, recordings of the music of the Church, and so on."

This is a good point to remember. There are indeed some very good sites on Orthodoxy on the internet. The internet itself is simply a tool. Like all technology it can be used for better or worse. Someone once explained to me that the internet is like fire. Fire can be used to warm your house but it can also burn it down. Likewise use of the internet can certainly aid an inquirer in their journey to Orthodoxy but it can also hinder it. Caution and the counsel of an Orthodox Priest are definitely essential to inquirers.

Mr. Barrett further states that:

"At most, an inquirer's Orthosurfing needs to judiciously supplement, rather than supplant, their attendance at services, prayer, and talking to a priest."

Again, an obvious maxim that is often missed.

While Mr. Barrett may have become Orthodox "in spite of the internet" this not to say that all inquirers will face this same stumbling block. It is, however, a common problem encountered by inquirers. A concscious effort should be made by inquirers to place any information found on the internet in the proper perspective. This can be done by attending services, studying the prayers and liturgical texts of the church and having conversations with an Orthodox Priest.

Those seeking for information on the Orthodox Church should remember that this is to be found first and foremost in the prayers and services of the church. It is these prayers and services that one will find to be the best "search engines".

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Should Merck have settled?

In this article from Smartmoney.com the question is asked: Why didn't Merck just settle this case?

The author points out that:

"The series of internal Merck documents casting doubt on the safety of Vioxx, which have been leaking into the media for months, put Merck in the vulnerable position of appearing to have ignored, suppressed or even covered up data that put patients' lives at risk. Even had Merck acted in accord with the highest medical standards then prevailing, the contest between a grieving widow and a giant pharmaceutical company earning billions while seeming to discount evidence of heart attacks was never going to be one Merck could expect to win."

The article goes on to detail the missteps of Merck's Defense Team including:

"Right off the bat, a Merck doctor conceded on the witness stand that she couldn't entirely eliminate the possibility that a heart attack had preceded and perhaps even caused the victim's irregular heartbeat. She deserves to be commended for such candor, but how could Merck have gone to trial knowing that its own employee would deliver a blow to its central defense? There was worse to come. The most persuasive support for Merck's defense was the coroner's report ascribing the victim's death to arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. But Merck's legal team appears never to have interviewed the coroner, surely one of the most obvious and important potential witnesses. It's no excuse that she had since moved to the Middle East. It was plaintiff's lawyer Lanier who had the common sense and persistence to track her down in Abu Dhabi, an effort that earned him what will surely be a fee of many millions. Undercutting her own death certificate, the coroner returned to Texas and readily testified that she believed the victim had suffered a heart attack. It's no wonder the jury spent less than an hour resolving this critical issue in favor of the grieving widow and against Merck. "

It concludes with an observation that is becoming increasingly common among market analysts:
"Surely it's time for Merck to rethink its strategy of fighting all 4,000-plus pending Vioxx suits on a case-by-case basis, not to mention the additional thousands that will no doubt be inspired by this verdict, and find a way to settle most of them. "

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Judge Jack strikes again

Judge orders return of silicosis records
Firm delivers 1,900 X-rays from Houston
By Neal Falgoust Caller-TimesAugust 23, 2005

This article details how U.S. District Court Judge Janis Graham Jack threatened to hold a Houston plaintiffs lawyer in contempt for removing medical records involving Silicosis claims from a secure depository.

The article states that:

"Jack then ordered federal marshals to escort the attorney, Scott Hooper, from her courtroom while he made arrangements to have the documents returned from Houston to Corpus Christi. Hooper also was ordered not to leave Corpus Christi until the documents arrived, which they did."

"By about 4:30 p.m., more than 1,900 X-rays had arrived back at a local attorney's office. It was unclear exactly how many X-rays Hooper had removed. "

The article continues:

"A federal grand jury in Manhattan is investigating the procedures doctors used in diagnosing those plaintiffs and have contacted Jack's court about reviewing discovery evidence in the depository. Jack had ordered those documents to remain in the depository because of the pending federal investigation."

Judge Jack quipped to the attorney "I have to be real careful about what happens to these documents," Jack said. "If you have to pilot a jet to get them back here, you will do that."

The article concludes by noting:

"A federal grand jury is looking into whether the doctors' behavior involved criminal misconduct. Jack has said the doctors' testimony during a February hearing raised "great red flags of fraud."

"A congressional committee also has written to the doctors seeking explanations of the diagnoses."

A Vioxx Timeline

Here is a detailed timeline of the introduction of Vioxx, along with the investigations and studies of its safety, and its subsequent recall.

The FDA Whistleblower

"On Nov. 18, an unassuming safety researcher from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sat down before a Senate committee and tore his bosses to shreds."

David Graham is a research scientist with the FDA. His career at the FDA has spanned over 20 years. As this article on Forbes.com states:

"Graham is an unlikely whistleblower. For years, he has toiled at the FDA's offices, presenting data to advisory committees but not putting his face before the public. He would seem out of place in the often secular world of academic science. A father of six, Graham is a deeply religious Catholic and taught himself biblical Greek so he would be able to read the New Testament in its original language."

The article continues:

"He has rarely cried wolf--most of the medicines he flagged were eventually pulled from the market. Graham can be credited to some degree with the withdrawals of Abbott Laboratories' Omniflox, Wyeth's Fen-Phen and Redux, Warner-Lambert's Rezulin, the over-the-counter drug PPA and, of course, Merck's Vioxx."

"But Graham says that for his entire career, he's been getting heat from his bosses. "You don't get rewards for doing the work that gets a drug taken off the market," he says. "

"At a 1999 advisory panel for Rezulin, a Pfizer diabetes drug that was eventually pulled from the market for causing liver problems, Graham's slide projector broke. His data helped identify a dangerous medicine, but he only received a letter of reprimand for not having backup slides on acetate. "Nobody ever said to me, 'Oh, good job,' " Graham says. "

Another article detailing Graham's thoughts on the Vioxx verdict on Forbes.com states:

"In Graham's eyes, the problem at the FDA is that the same scientists who approve drugs are the ones charged with deciding whether or not they are safe enough to remain on the market when problems crop up. "There is no feedback or review process to say, 'You guys have made a big mistake,' " he says. When problems are recognized by drug safety officers, it can be hard for the message to take hold. Graham says that he thinks there should be formal, periodic reviews of the safety of new medicines--and that the FDA should release documents that explain its reasoning. "

One could certainly make the argument that the $253 million dollar damages award in the Vioxx trial is excessive and was meant by the jury to send a message. On might also be able to make the argument that perhaps just such a message is needed. Hopefully the FDA is listening now.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Forgotten Hero?

In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother. - Richard Jewell

I did not see a single reference to Richard Jewell in today's articles on the sentencing of Eric Rudolph for the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Richard Jewell was working as a security guard at the Olympics. He was the first person to spot a suspicious package which turned out to be a pipe bomb planted by Eric Rudolph. Mr. Jewell alerted other authorities to the presence of the bomb and began moving people away from the area. The bomb went off shortly thereafter killing one and wounding over 100. Had it not been for the actions of Mr. Jewell it is quite likely that others would have been killed and many more injured.

In the following few days Richard Jewell was rightfully hailed as a hero. Then someone involved in the FBI investigation apparently leaked his name to the media as a possible suspect. The media went into a blind feeding frenzy and dug into every detail of Mr. Jewell's past. They began reporting many incriminating "facts" about Mr. Jewell now known to be completely false.

For the next 88 days Richard Jewell was followed everywhere by the media and placed under constant surveillance by the FBI. He always maintained his innocence and ultimately passed a polygraph examination. Reluctantly and belatedly the FBI formally cleared Jewell as a suspect in a statement that still fell short of an actual apology.

Richard Jewell has since tried to rebuild his life and even helped save a choking infant while working as an police officer in a small Georgia town. He also sued many of the same media outlets that were so quick to proclaim his "guilt". It has been reported that Richard Jewell obtained a monetary settlement to resolve these cases.

I am glad to hear that but I wonder if any apology, even if it had been given, or any amount of money can repay Mr. Jewell for the loss of his privacy and the defamation of his name and character.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Victorious Lawyer also an ordained Minister

Here is a link to an article in today's Houston Chronicle that profiles Mark Lanier. He was the lead attorney for Carol Ernst in the recent Vioxx trial. The article includes the following facts that may be surprising to some:

By the time he was in the ninth grade, Lanier said, "I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, a preacher or a politician." So far, he's done the first two.

At David Lipscomb College in Tennessee, he earned a degree in biblical languages, Hebrew and Greek, and was ordained a Church of Christ minister.

"I was voted most likely to succeed as a preacher," he said.

For 5 1/2 years, he worked in the Dallas office of Fulbright & Jaworski. He started the same year as Gerry Lowry, who headed up the Merck legal team in the Angleton trial. Lanier said he did well there as a defense lawyer but was shaken when he lost a case against an injured railroad worker.

"I felt really bad about losing the case," he said, "but then I realized that if I had won just because of my skill as a lawyer, that an injustice would have been done."

He decided to leave the big firm and represent plaintiffs.

Besides his courtroom successes, Lanier is probably best-known for his massive Christmas parties.

He, his family and 7,000 or 8,000 guests partake of all kinds of entertainment, games and food. "We have everything but liquor," he said. "This is a family thing."

Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Dixie Chicks, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire and Johnny Cash have all performed at the party.

One entertainer he said he's always wanted to get for his Christmas party is Bono. Lanier said if Bono would come, he'd donate $500,000 to an African relief fund backed by the singer.

Austin City Limits

I really don't watch very much television. Last night, however, I tuned in to catch Austin City Limits on the local PBS affiliate in Houston. For anyone interested in watching some great concert footage from a variety of different musicians this is a truly wonderful program. It has actually been around for 30 seasons already and will begin airing its 31st in October.

Last night's program featured the Blind Boys of Alabama and Robert Randolph and the Family Band in separate performances. The Blind Boys of Alabama led spirited renditions of several southern gospel influenced pieces that had the crowd up out of their seats almost all of the time. Their set featured one of their signature pieces Amazing Grace sung to the tune of House of the Rising Sun! Their set must also have set some kind of record for the number of times the word "Jesus" has ever been used on a PBS program. : )

Robert Randolph and the Family Band's set also featured songs influenced by southern gospel music. Their music is much more instrumental driven and Randolph is a true master of the pedal steel guitar. Once again the crowd was out of their seats and dancing as Robert Randolph launched into some amazingly intense solos.

Mining for Gold

The discussion on silicosis in the last post reminded me of the song Mining for Gold. This is apparently an old traditional song but I am unsure of its exact origins. The lyrics are:

We are miners, hard rock miners
To the shaft house we must go
Oil bottles on our shoulders
We are marching to the slow

On the line boys, on the line boys
Drill your holes and stand in line
'til the shift boss comes to tell you
You must drill her out on time

Can't you feel the rock dust in your lungs?
It'll cut down a miner when he is still young
Two years and the silicosis takes hold
and I feel like I'm dying from mining for gold

Yes, I feel like I'm dying from mining for gold

The version of the song that I know and love is sung by Margo Timmins. Margo Timmins is the lead singer for the band Cowboy Junkies. The core unit of the band is formed of three siblings (Margo, Michael and Pete Timmins) plus Alan Anton on bass. They are often joined by other musicians on their recordings and at their concerts.

Mining for Gold is sung completely a cappella by Margo and happens to be the first track on my favorite Cowboy Junkies album "The Trinity Session". This is one of my all-time favorite albums. The album was recorded during one day at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto, Canada. Only one microphone was used and some of the songs were recorded in a single take. The entire session cost only around $250 to record. This is one of those rare recordings where every song is just magical.

It is hard to describe the style of the band although they frequently use slower tempos and softer and more acoustic settings for their music. They have a very unique sound that fits perfectly with Margo's sometimes earthy, sometimes ethereal and always angelic sounding voice.

The "Trinity Session" and other Cowboy Junkie cds can be ordered here.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The Silicosis Debacle

Lawsuits from persons claiming to be suffering from Silicosis are nothing new. Silicosis cases have, in fact, been around for years. Recently, however, an apparent epidemic of Silicosis struck the state of Mississippi. Oddly enough, this sudden wave of illness in Mississippi did not seem to be noticed by most doctors, hospitals or the media.

No one seemed to notice that is until a Federal District Court Judge in Texas got involved. Judge Janis Graham Jack was put in charge of overseeing over several Silicosis cases, involving thousands of claims, which were filed in multiple states. Judge Jack is a former nurse and is married to a practicing physician. She is very familiar with medical procedures and terminology. As a former nurse she would also be very familiar with standard procedures in diagnosing illnesses.

Judge Jack's review of the medical reports and testing procedures in these cases raised "great red flags of fraud." In fact she even summoned the doctors involved to testify under oath. Once on the witness stand and facing Judge Jack's direct questioning the doctors suddenly started to change their tune. Over 3,000 Silicosis diagnoses were withdrawn by one doctor alone while another physician interrupted his testimony on the Witness stand to ask for a lawyer to represent him!

All of this eventually led Judge Jack to enter a scathing 249 page Order on these cases which blasted the doctors and plaintiffs firms involved. Judge Jack ended up remanding most of the cases back to the Mississippi State Courts they were originally filed in. It is now expected that the plaintiffs will have a much tougher time proving these cases should be allowed to continued. Many of these cases will undoubtedly be dismissed. Judge Jack went further and even sanctioned the Houston Law firm of O'Quinn, Laminack & Pirtle for their role in the fiasco.

The story does not end there, however, and now investigations are beginning as to possible criminal wrongdoing. Subpoenas from Congressional committees have been issued and the Attorney General's Office in New York has begun an investigation.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The lawyer behind the Vioxx verdict

Well the big news in the legal field today was the verdict in the first ever Vioxx trial. The fact that Merck was found liable for the death of Robert Ernst was not that surprising. The amount of damages awarded, $253.4 million dollars, was surprising to many. This amount will almost certainly be knocked way down due to a cap on punitive damages in Texas.

To be fair Angleton, which is in Brazoria County, is known as a plaintiffs friendly venue. This is also not the first time that Mark Lanier, the lead attorney for Carol Ernst has tried a major case there. In fact he lost his last big case there.

Mark Lanier is indeed an interesting person. He does not fit the usual profile of a plaintiffs trial lawyer. Mr. Lanier is a Christian and a self-described "Social Conservative" and "pro-life advocate" who "generally supports Republican candidates". He also is a Founder of a Christian Trial Lawyer's Association. Mark Lanier puts on one of Houston's biggest parties every Christmas season at his home in the Woodlands. He often has big name celebrities such as Bill Cosby come to perform. Due to his religious beliefs no alcohol is ever served at these events. To anyone familiar with law firm holiday parties this fact can seem mind-boggling.

One wonders what the future holds for Mr. Lanier. He has long since made himself a very wealthy man and could easily retire from practicing law at this point.


Welcome to my blog! This is my first try at a blog so please be patient as I am sure this will be a work in progress.

First, an introduction: My name is David Stone. I live in Houston, Texas. I am a 30-something single white male. I work as a Litigation Paralegal at an international law firm in downtown Houston. I am also an Orthodox Christian and am a member of an English-language parish of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia (ROCOR).

I intend to use this blog to post articles that I find interesting on a variety of topics. Topics may include anything from legal issues, music, religion in general and Orthodox Christianity in particular, beer or whatever else I happen to feel inspired about. : )

Well I hope you enjoy. I am not going to set up a message board for responses, at least initially, but comments and responses are encouraged so please email me your thoughts.

Thanks for taking the time to drop by.

David Stone