Bicycle Diaries: September 2007

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Manly skills?

where are
the brakes, cables,
cranks & chains?

Popular Mechanics, the übersource of all things DIY, has compiled a master list of 25 Skills Every Man Should Know. The effort is laudable given the ever-increasing tendency of Americans to outsource even the simplest mechanical tasks.

Unfortunately, it's also an unintended testament to the dominance of cars in American life. Almost 25% of the skills involve auto repair or maintenance. Only Skill #24 - Fix a Bike Flat deals directly with our under appreciated transport choice. Of course you could add the cross-over #10 - Use a Torque Wrench. Though that's only 8% of the list.

I could even add Skill #7 - Build a Campfire (why not gobble some smores at the end of a long, tough ride?), Skill #9 - Navigate With a Map and Compass (it always helps to know where you are), and finally, Skill #18 - Mix Concrete (lay your own DIY bike path when the local municipality cuts funding). But bike relevant skills remain a little less than 20% of those manly, manly skills.

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The news of CCM's demise

is it greatly exaggerated?

The CCM Grand Finalé Daley Plaza Ride drew an estimated 3,800 participants last Friday. So the Hooded Cabal has issued this timely obituary for immediate press release.
Chicago Critical Mass, a contentious monthly bike ride that indelibly changed the streets of the City, passed away Friday evening after suffering a long decline.

The Chicago Critical Mass Delay Plaza Rides were born in 1997 as a demonstration which brought out 150 cyclists with the goal of affirming cyclists' right to the road. Over the years, the ride steadily grew, routinely turning out thousands of riders and paving the way for numerous citywide bike-friendly reforms, including:
  • the establishment of a network of 100 miles of on-street bike lanes and the installation of 10,000 bike racks, more than any city in the United States;
  • winning transport for bicycles on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) trains and equipping their fleet of 2,000 buses with racks that carry bikes.
  • the re-election of bicycle advocate Mayor Richard M. Daley to a 6th term by a margin greater than 70 percent.
Critical Mass began showing signs of decline around mid-2005, beginning with recurring bouts of irritability, forgetfulness, and self-destructive behavior. Some believe alcohol may have played a role in the ride's demise.

On Friday evening, the ride passed into the final stages of dementia, becoming unable to care for itself, as thousands of riders limped through the the loop and Chicago's near north side, often unable to even mount and pedal their bicycles. The Chicago Police stepped in, blocking traffic, redirecting wandering participants, and attempting to keep the ride on course as the somber, wounded procession slowly made its way to Rosehill Cemetery.

Sarah Kaplan, a 51 year-old computer programmer from the Bucktown neighborhood, complained, "riders were swerving all over the place-- I started to fear for my safety." Kaplan reports that she rounded up her immediate friends and convinced them to leave the ride after about 30 minutes.

Chicago Critical Mass is survived by the Pilsen, Evanston, Oak Park, and Wicker Park Critical Masses; Chicago Bike Winter; and Cycling Sisters. Chicago Ghost Bikes is planning an installation of a memorial bike on October 5th at 8 P.M. at the intersection of Armitage and Kedzie.


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what can you do?

Please use your liberty to promote ours.
Aung San Suu Kyi

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it's FINALLY here!

Do not ride gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

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Hoofin' it

how walkable is
your neighborhood?

Another cool application of Google Maps is Walk Score. It was originally intended for home buyers. Now it's making the rounds of the bike blogs since The WashCycle first discovered it. Essentially the site measures neighborhood walkability. Top points go to those where you DON'T need a car. It's also a great way to find out exactly what's near you. My own humble 'hood gets an 85 - Very Walkable! Just pop in your street address to get the score.
90 - 100 = Walkers' Paradise: Most errands can be accomplished on foot and many people get by without owning a car.

70 - 90 = Very Walkable: It's possible to get by without owning a car.

50 - 70 = Some Walkable Locations: Some stores and amenities are within walking distance, but many everyday trips still require a bike, public transportation, or car.

25 - 50 = Not Walkable: Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must.

0 - 25 = Driving Only: Virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range. You can walk from your house to your car!

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I'm doing this for democracy...

it isn't over yet

Hey bikers! While we debate the minutiae of new bike lanes or whether the critical mass is ending, this is happening...

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If you meet the Buddha...

pray for him

Over the past month, thousands of Buddhist monks and civilians have been protesting in cities across Burma. They're demanding an end to injustice. The protests have now grown into the largest public demonstrations since 1988.

Peaceful protesters took to the streets of Burma on 19th August following fuel price increases of up to 500 percent. The dictatorship responded to the first protests with a brutal crackdown on democracy activists. On the eve of a major protest in Rangoon on 22 August, the regime arrested 13 leading democracy activists in midnight raids. Despite intimidation, including brutal attacks on protesters by regime thugs, hundreds of demonstrators have continued to protest.

More than 150 people have been arrested and most remain in detention. The regime has accused peaceful protesters of involvement in terrorism, and is threatening jail terms of up to 20 years. Those arrested face torture, including beatings, electric shocks, burning, and the iron rod where a rod is run up and down on the shins until the skin and flesh are removed and the rod is grinding on bone. High profile members of the 88 Student Generation of democracy activists Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Mya Aye, Ko Yin Htun and Ko Jimmy are among those arrested.

Thousands of monks have joined the protests and are organizing marches in towns and cities across Burma. Monks began their protest after the junta failed to offer an apology for violence used against monks in Pakkoku on 6 September. Monks have marched with their alms bowls turned upside down, a symbol of a boycott of alms from the military regime and its supporters. Thousands of people have come out onto the streets to show their support for the monks.

More here at the BBC's Burmese Service.

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The end draws near...

Chicago should save
Critical Mass

From the Chicago Critical Mass website:
It’s been a long and sometimes strange trip, but after ten years of Critical Mass, Chicago’s streets will never be the same.

What began in 1997 as a demonstration by 150 cyclists to affirm their right to the road, Chicago Critical Mass has steadily grown over the years into a raucous mass movement that routinely turns out thousands of riders and has resulted in numerous citywide bicycle-friendly reforms, including:
  • Establishing a network of 100 miles of on-street bike lanes and 50 miles of off-street trails;
  • Installing 10,000 bike racks, more than any city in the United States;
  • Permitting bicycles on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) trains and equipping their fleet of 2,000 buses with racks that carry bikes.
Although Critical Mass has much to celebrate, a growing number of cyclists feel that the ride may be a victim of its own success. As Critical Mass has grown, so has unruly behavior. What was once an activist ride now more often resembles a fraternity party, complete with excessive drinking, loud music, littering and public nudity.

As a result, many longtime riders have declared that the September 28th ride will be Chicago Critical Mass’s swan song—a Grand Finale ride to celebrate the past ten years and reaffirm the ride’s original activist values.

Rumors have been circulating that the City may move to save the monthly ride by taking it over and administering it through the Mayor’s Office of Special Events, with title sponsors such as Chase Bank and Old Style Beer as possible underwriters of Critical Mass.

With Chicago Police routinely facilitating the ride by clearing intersections and preventing cars from breaking up the group, official City sanctioning could be a natural progression for Critical Mass. Some say that Mayor Daley may join the September 28th ride as the honorary mass marshall and make an announcement about Critical Mass’s new direction.

Regardless of whether Critical Mass continues to roll in Chicago, one thing is certain: the September 28th Grande Finale ride, with three live bands and more than 5,000 riders expected, will be a ride to remember!

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... Aussy style

Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, "Excuse me, can you ride?"

"See here, young man," said Mulga Bill, "from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy's Gap to Castlereagh, there's none can ride like me.
I'm good all round at everything as everybody knows,
Although I'm not the one to talk - I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There's nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There's nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I'll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I'll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight."

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above Dead Man's Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But 'ere he'd gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver steak,
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man's Creek.

It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dean Man's Creek.

'Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, "I've had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I've rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I've encountered yet.
I'll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it's shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It's safe at rest in Dead Man's Creek, we'll leave it lying still;
A horse's back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill."

A.B. Banjo Paterson

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Big Apple traffic taming

cagers to protect bikers
with new avenue design

Dave Hogarty reports in The Gothamist, 22 September 2007:
A proposal for 9th Ave. in Manhattan will utilize cars themselves to protect cyclists from vehicular traffic. The seven-block stretch of road in Chelsea will run from 23rd St. to 16th St. and designers are calling it the street of the future. It will feature a ten foot-wide bike lane adjacent to the sidewalk that will be separated from traffic by a parking lane. To prevent motorists from using the wide-open curbside lane for parking, it will be buffered by physical barriers like planters.

The remade 9th Ave. will also include a feature known as a pedestrian refuge, which juts laterally across the road and reduces the length of the pedestrian crossing from 70 to 45 feet. The design has been used in Europe for some time but it will be a first for New York City. Work on the road rehab is expected to be complete next month. Streetsblog has more details on the plan with enhanced graphics illustrating the concept.

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Beijing traffic taming

the city marks car-free day
for the first time

The city join 1000s of other cities today in this year's World Carfree Day. Although it's the first time the city council has signed on for this global event, the first time would seem to be a cause for rejoicing, the ploticos aren't bending over backwards. They'll ban private cars from only two stretches of a downtown street, each about 250 yards long. That's 0.003 per cent of Beijing's roads. Peter Ford reports in The Christian Science Monitor, 21 September 2007:
Wang [Yong, owner of the Beijing Bicycle Rental Co.] says he is confident the Chinese will eventually get savvy enough to get out from behind their steering wheels and onto two wheels. "We used to be poor and look forward to owning a car as a status symbol, but we have to get over that," he insists. "The government moves slowly, slowly, but I see things getting brighter. We just have to be patient."

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Boston traffic taming

potholes, narrow roads,
...and mean drivers

Matt Viser reports in The Boston Globe, 20 September 2007:
Stung by national criticism and hoping to take a bite out of traffic and air pollution, Mayor Thomas M. Menino is vowing to change that. A newly converted cyclist himself, Menino will announce today the hiring of a bike czar, former Olympic cyclist Nicole Freedman, and a first phase of improvements to include 250 new bike racks across Boston and an online map system.

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Protest or
Object &


Three citizens removed from a Bush event in Denver because of an offensive bumper sticker on their car outside (No More Blood For Oil)
A Tucson student barred from a Bush event for sporting a Young Democrats T-shirt
Wisconsin citizens forced to unbutton their shirts before attending a Bush speech, only to have an attendee wearing an anti-Bush T-shirt ejected from the event
Two Texans arrested in 2004 for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts at a Fourth of July event in Charleston, W.Va.

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The cycling tour, Part III

thank you
Comrade Trotsky

As I lay down to the sound of the Russian gentlemen practising their shooting, I realised I was in a bit of a pickle. My heart sank as I realised I should never see the Okehampton by-pass again...

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The cycling tour, Part II

thank you
Mr. Pither

September 4th. Well I never. We are now in the Alpes Maritimes region of Southern France. Clodagh seems more intent on reaching Moscow thanon rehearsing her new BBC1 series with Buddy Rich and the Younger Generation.

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The cycling tour

thank you
Monty Python

August 18th. Fell off near Bovey Tracey. The pump caught in my trouser leg, and my sandwiches were badly crushed.

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Whacky shit

I'm off the ABCE mates;
more later...

Did you ever wonder
about the attraction
of cruisers?

Before lycra...

What fixies dream of:

A cager's dream;

...and mine %)

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Critical Mass branches out

Cyclists launch
Wicker Park ride

Mathew Hendrickson reports in Chicago Journal, 12 September 2007:
Bikers assemble for Critical Mass in rain, shine, wind and snow. The Mass runs year round, and at each one, a large group of energetic bicyclists are ready to reclaim the road.

This month celebrates an event a decade in the making for Chicago's bicycle community-the 10th anniversary of Critical Mass in Chicago. It began on the first Friday in September 1997 when 150 bicyclists gathered at Daley Plaza to parade the streets. Now held on the last Friday of every month, cyclists claim the 10th anniversary ride is likely to draw well over 2,000 people.

In occurrence with the 10th anniversary ride at the end of the month, last Friday opened a new chapter for Critical Mass. It marked the debut of a new ride to be held on the first Friday of every month that will begin in Wicker Park.

Even the torrential downpour before its start couldn't keep cyclists away. About 100 cyclists converged at the Polish Triangle intersection of Division, Ashland and Milwaukee near the Nelson Algren Fountain to kick off the ride at 6:30 p.m.

"This is part of a movement to further democratize the Mass, and to bring it closer to where people live," said Payton Chung, a long-time participant in Critical Mass.

Critical Mass is, at its heart, simply a collection of people who just happen to like riding their bikes. There are no leaders, routes are chosen by vote, and rides occur as long as people are willing to show up. Critical Mass has no political statement, though many participants are there to voice the political and social concerns that brought them to biking in the first place.

"The ride doesn't have a singular purpose," Chung said of the Mass. "Each person has their own reason for going."

Many of the cyclists ride to promote biking as a healthier and safer alternative to driving. Others are drawn to the parade spectacle that the ride creates, centering on the idea of reclaiming the streets as social space-not just avenues for people driving cars.

The ride becomes a piece of living public art through the cyclists that participate. Some bikes are hooked up with stereo systems pumping music, while others ride tall bikes or "Frankenstein" bikes made of multiple bikes and bike components.

The Mass is a fine line between protest, public art and a weird kind of social gathering. Some riders are hardcore bike messengers, others are activists, and many are just there to enjoy a nice bike ride before jumping into the weekend. One of the Wicker Park riders was a Chicago professor, who brought his class out to tour the neighborhood.

The Wicker Park Critical Mass rode in a rough spiral around the neighborhood, exploring Wicker Park, and ending at an ACME Art Gallery opening, at 1741 N. Western. Critical Mass rides can also be a great way to get to know Chicago. Routes change month to month, and bringing people to parts of city that they may never have been before.

The growing size of the downtown Critical Mass has produced some concern from city officials, police and the bikers themselves. Police often accompany riders to aide the flow of traffic, and make sure the crowd stays safe. Within the biking community, some believe that Critical Mass has run its course and achieved its stated goals of bringing awareness about biking and the environmental issues it encourages. Others say that's all the more reason to continue, with the media regularly reporting on issues like global warming and the impact cars have on the environment.

"I've rode the Mass in a couple of other cities and Chicago has a pretty healthy relationship between the riders and the city," Chung said.

Lately police presence at the large downtown ride has increased; at the last ride several bikers were arrested. The Chicago Police involvement at the last ride also created confusion for bikers, at times forcing them to change routes several times, according to reports from several cyclists.

"The police are starting to see the number of riders in terms of crowd control," Chung explained. "Critical Mass is policed internally, but they are getting worried about the crowds that it brings."

The 10th anniversary ride begins at 5:30 p.m. on September 28 at Daley Plaza. All you have to do is show up with a bike.

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Cagers take on critical mass

I know that posting these only encourages the road ragers. But these are probably the two funniest videos I've seen in a long time. Either appreciate the humor, sitting back & realizing that there are holier then thou douche bags out there who really, really piss of drivers. Or you come up with something funnier. Either way, enjoy.

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has it been 6 years?

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War & punishment...

the Petraeus report

Irshad Manji, self-styled Muslim Refusenik and a senior fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy may be the darling of the neocons for her strong critique of Islam. But she wins no friends among the Bushies for bring a little perspective to our Mess o'potamia. Last week, in anticipation of General Petraeus's report on progress in Iraq, she wrote for The National Review:
In essence, Iraq is about the timeless battle between freedom and security, a theme explored in such literary masterpieces as Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Looking at the war through this lens, we can learn not only why Iraq went wrong, but how democracy might still be reconciled with religiosity.

In The Brothers Karamazov, one of Dostoevsky's characters pens a poem set in sixteenth-century Spain during the height of the Inquisition. There, we meet the Grand Inquisitor, a cardinal modeled after Torquemada, one of history's most sadistic torturers. According to the Inquisitor, liberty is not the great universal desire that President Bush has proclaimed it to be. In fact, he says, freedom scares people. Haunted by the fear of taking responsibility for choices, and taunted by a feeling of inadequacy, human beings will readily abdicate their agency to a dictator.

If the Inquisitor is right, it is no wonder that democrats and secularists have less appeal to Iraqis than do sectarian politicians and tribal warriors. The stated intent of this war--to defeat tyranny--is thus made moot.

Worse, the Inquisitor's dim view of human nature implies that the liberation of Iraq never had a fighting chance. Humans, he insists, instinctively yearn for "miracle, mystery, and authority." These are exactly the elements of Shiite Islam that Iraqis now rely on to escape the impossible expectation of building a civil society overnight. Miracle, mystery, and authority are all bound up in Shiite Islam's hidden imam, the spiritual guide who inexplicably disappeared hundreds of years ago and will return one day to rid the world of corruption and injustice. Why should mortals strive to create the conditions that only a Messiah can achieve? Far more rational to let chaos reign, precisely so that the Messiah will have an incentive to appear sooner.

Still, is the Grand Inquisitor right about human beings? Is it inevitable that we are weak, fatalistic, and self-loathing? Enter Christianity's Messiah. Early on in Dostoevsky's tale, Christ comes to Spain. As the townsfolk recognize him and begin flocking to his side, the Inquisitor has Christ arrested and thrown in jail. There, he berates Christ for sacrificing opportunities to attain worldly power. What was the Son of God thinking when he went along with his own persecution? The Inquisitor heaps contempt on Christ's refusal to get down from the Cross and flex his immortality. But because Christ says not one word in his personal defense, the Inquisitor has to come up with arguments from his victim's perspective. It is our first clue that cruel individuals can loosen up if their anger is met with restraint--a direct challenge to the Inquisitor's cynical view of human beings.

And therein lies an insight into why Iraq so quickly devolved from a dance with freedom to a struggle for survival. Despite being accused of playing God, President Bush has never been all that serious about emulating Christ. What a shame. In Dostoevsky's story, Christ exercised moral rather than military authority, and thereby revealed the strategic wisdom of non-violence. Where it could have safely bothered to boast soft power, the Bush administration has instead indulged in the most heinous--and needless--spasms of torture. The White House has spoken like Jesus Christ yet acted like the Grand Inquisitor.

To be fair, the Inquisitor would have never given ordinary Iraqis the vote. Washington did--and then some. Iraqi prosecutors determined what pieces of evidence would convict Saddam Hussein. Iraqi politicians resolved how and when to mete out justice (also defining for themselves the meaning of justice). And Iraqi clerics got their way in making Sharia the main source for the country's laws.

All of which prompts questions about the responsibility shared by Shiites for the Iraq imbroglio, and whether the example set by Christ should also apply to them. That thought is not as preposterous as it sounds. Muslims regard Jesus as one of our top-tier prophets. In his public letter to President Bush last year, no less an Islamist than Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described Christ as "the great messenger of God," invoking his name several times. Propaganda, to be sure, but there is more to it than bombast.

The self-control shown by Dostoevksy's Christ before the sadistic Inquisitor mirrors a central feature of classical Shiism: humility. For 1,400 years, Shiites have been championing freedom of thought, conscience, and worship as a statement of defiance against the Sunni concentration of power. Defeated mercilessly on the battlefield, Shiites built an epic narrative around loss, hardship and tragedy. It is a narrative that reminds believers to remain humble, for dissent keeps tyrants in check--Ayatollah Khomeini's later perversions of this story notwithstanding.

If they embrace this traditional Shiite identity rather than Iran's steroidal strain of it, Iraq's leaders could undertake a real revolution. They could begin to replace the tribal imperative of honor, which motivates the Middle East to save face, with the prophetic message about saving their societies from abuse of power--a cause to which the Muslim masses everywhere will relate. In such a context, and in the court of world opinion, Sunni insurgents would hang themselves.

This lesson echoes Dostoevsky's tale. In the closing moments of it, Christ's composure vaguely unsettles the Inquisitor's certitudes. He speculates that Jesus resisted vain displays of righteousness because he wanted individuals to follow him without intimidation or obligation. In other words, freely.

Imagine the revelation: An honest brute glimpses the possibility of choice triumphing over force. Surely this is a victory for those who have faith in the nobler side of human nature. Perhaps, then, there is hope for Iraq. Perhaps democracy can be rescued from stridency.

But until General Petraeus can convince us otherwise, the Grand Inquisitor troops on.

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From Sheikh Osama Bin Laden to the American people...

video & transcript

It has now become clear to you and the entire world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the interest of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations.

I invite you to embrace Islam...

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