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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Saturday, 30 December 2006
For the New Year
Topic: Perspective

For the New Year

"An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves." - Bill Vaughan

"New Year's Day is every man's birthday. - Charles Lamb"

"New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions." - Mark Twain

"New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." - Mark Twain

"The new year begins in a snow-storm of white vows." - George William Curtis

"Now there are more overweight people in America than average-weight people. So overweight people are now average… which means, you have met your New Year's resolution." - Jay Leno

"Happiness is too many things these days for anyone to wish it on anyone lightly. So let's just wish each other a bileless New Year and leave it at that" - Judith Crist

"New Year's Resolution: To tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time." - James Agate

"It wouldn't be New Year's if I didn't have regrets." - William Thomas

"The only way to spend New Year's Eve is either quietly with friends or in a brothel. Otherwise when the evening ends and people pair off, someone is bound to be left in tears." - W.H. Auden

The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to. - P.J. O'Rourke

"We did not change as we grew older; we just became more clearly ourselves." - Lynn Hall, Where Have All the Tigers Gone?, 1989

EXPERIENCE, n. The wisdom that enables us to recognize as an undesirable old acquaintance the folly that we have already embraced. - Ambrose Bierce

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." - Douglas Adams

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes." - Oscar Wilde

"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want." - Dan Stanford

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn." - C. S. Lewis

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." - Alan Watts

"Arrange whatever pieces come your way." - Virginia Woolf

"All human wisdom is summed up in two words - wait and hope." - Alexandre Dumas

"Be infinitely flexible and constantly amazed." - Jason Kravitz

Posted by Alan at 17:45 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Wednesday, 27 December 2006
Noted in Passing
Topic: Perspective

Noted in Passing

It's time for another assessment. Over Christmas weekend former president Gerald Ford passed away, at his home out here in Rancho Mirage, the wealthy golf course enclave next to Palm Springs. He was ninety-three and he did like golf. Those of us old enough to remember the day-to-day of his tenure in the White House recall the only appointed president - he replaced the crook Spiro Agnew, the man who pled no contest on some bribery matters and faded way to his place on the hill in Saint Croix in the Virgin Island overlooking Cane Bay. Ford became president when Nixon resigned, and lost the office to Jimmy Carter in the next election. So he was the only president in our history who was never elected at all. The obituaries are all over the media, many of them showing him puffing on his pipe - he had fine collection of more than fifty of them. Those of us who smoke pipes note such things. And there was his outspoken feminist wife, Betty, who was a real kick - and he obviously both liked and respected her tremendously. He had been an All-American football star at University of Michigan, a center (those of us who have played that position in high school know that's a solid no-glory spot), and decided not to sign with the Detroit Lions but go to law school instead. And the rest is history.

So the man is remembered for cleaning up after Richard Nixon, pardoning him of all possible crimes so, as he seemed to hope, the nation could move on and attend to more immediate matters at hand. On his watch the Vietnam War ended, with the images of the last helicopters lifting off from our embassy in Saigon and a few locals being kicked off the skids. The economy was a mess and some of us remember the lame little WIN buttons - Whip Inflation Now. The runaway inflation eased eventually in his tenure, but it probably wasn't the buttons that did it. But all in all, he seemed both earnest and possessed of a good sense of humor, and a bit dull - and that may have been what the country needed.

Of course seeds were sown - his chief-of staff at the White House was, initially, the young Donald Rumsfeld, an interesting choice at the time. Then he moved Rumsfeld over to become Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld's first try at the job. The new chief-of staff replacing Rumsfeld was a young congressman from Wyoming - Dick Cheney. He kept Henry Kissinger on as his foreign policy advisor. In his last years Ford may have wondered what he had started with all that. None of them retired to play golf in the desert.

But people are generally ignoring those three. Most obituaries treat his pardon of Richard Nixon as the defining moment of Ford's presidency, and most have been overwhelmingly kind about that.

Over at the ultra right site Hot Air "Allah Pundit" calls Ford the "best president of the 1970's" - and adds this - "By all accounts he was a decent and genuine man. He survived two assassination attempts and relentless mocking by Chevy Chase, who portrayed him as hopelessly clumsy (even though he was quite athletic and a college football star). … His was a thankless job, cleaning up after Nixon and then inevitably turning over the country to the tender mercies of Carter. He did it well, and we thank him for it. RIP."

Jonathan Singer on the left grudgingly agrees - "In hindsight, his decision to pardon his predecessor, Richard Nixon, appears to have been the right one, even if at the time it cost him politically. And although he was thoroughly a conservative, he seems to have been someone who treated his political adversaries with respect and genuinely fought to better America."

On the other hand, conservative Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters believes the Nixon pardon was a terrible mistake - "Ford had good and understandable reasons for his decision, but it did short-circuit the one quality about America that had always made us different from other nations: our leaders were not above the law. … [W]e lost that sense of ourselves as a nation bound by its dedication to the Constitution and the rule of law. At that time, we needed a way to bind ourselves back to that to restore a national identity in which all could share."

Yeah, but the "Trial of Nixon" might have torn apart the nation. It hardly matters now - Ford issued a blanket pardon and that was that.

Peter Howard, a professor at American University, remembers what might not be a minor thing - the Ford presidency notably "began the era of intelligence oversight by issuing Executive Order 11905. The order is perhaps most famous for its ban on assassination by US government agencies. Since their founding in the early years of the Cold War, the US intelligence agencies, notably the CIA and NSA, gave themselves a wide mandated to fight the Cold War." Ford put an end to that - the business in Chile on another September 11, in the seventies, was an embarrassment.

The standard obituary in the Washington Post is here, and the schlock gossip guy, Matt Drudge, made a big deal about the byline - the piece was written by J. Y. Smith, who died almost a year before Gerald Ford. How did Joe Smith do that? That's spooky.

But it's not - obituaries are on file in the media on every public figure, particularly on anyone older than fifty. It pays to be prepared. Some papers have writers who specialize in summing up a famous life in the format required - some newspaper guys start their career doing those, and some, the unlucky or offensive, end their careers doing those. But basically, you just keep a file, a directory of pre-written obituaries, and assign some otherwise useless copy editor to update them now and then. For somebody like Ronald Reagan, who didn't do anything at all for the last fifteen years of his life, for obvious reasons, newspapers had the luxury of producing elaborate ready-to-print "Special Section" tributes - with some digging you could find the inserts on public websites long before he died, if you were sufficiently morbid. Drudge is a pain. This was no big deal.

A friend, an attorney up in the Finger Lakes of New York, did notice what was really odd - "..but didn't Ronald Reagan die at the same time as Ray Charles. Now Jerry Ford and James Brown. What next George Bush (41) and Little Richard? Jimmy Carter and BB King? Hilary Clinton and Aretha Franklin? Barak Obama and Jerry Lee Lewis? When will it stop?"

Yep, the coincidences are odd, as noted in the hyper-sarcastic site Wonkette -
The Godfather of Soul and the Temp President did have a warm friendship that spanned generations, but there's no clear evidence that Brown's coke-crazed soul burst free from the ether for long enough to strangle Ford.

But there is circumstantial evidence that suggests the Sinister Aryan Cabal that actually runs the government had Ford "taken out" to cut short America's mourning for James Brown, who was best known for being a psychotic dope fiend and starring as "Apollo Creed" in one of the "Rocky" movies about 25 years ago.

The proof? The same thing sort of happened way back in June of 2004, when Ray Charles tragically died. America came to a standstill. Truly, we were a Nation Challenged.

But within 24 hours, an elaborate "state funeral" for Ronald Reagan was launched, and there was nothing else on the teevee for the week. By the time it was over, Americans had tragically forgotten all about soul/R&B/country legend Ray Charles.

Skeptics say this theory makes no sense, because Reagan actually expired on June 4 and Charles died six days later, on June 10. And we say, Duh, time machine!
Whatever. But on a more serious note, see the widely-read and highly-regarded Digby at Hullabaloo with this -
The first vote I ever cast was for Jerry Brown for governor. The first vote I ever cast for president was for Gerald Ford. (That was the last time I ever voted for a Republican, by the way.) I have become a little bit more coherent since then.

I was not, at the time, a fan of Jimmy Carter; I thought he was sanctimonious. I was twenty. (Little could I have imagined what was to come.) And I thought Ford had done the right thing by pardoning Nixon. Yes I really did.

I did not understand the zombie nature of Republicanism and had no way of knowing that unless you drive a metaphorical stake through the heart of GOP crooks and liars, they will be back, refreshed and ready to screw up the country in almost exactly the same way, within just a few years. In those days, I couldn't imagine that the Republicans would ever elect someone worse than Nixon. I thought we had gone back to "normal" where nice moderate guys like Jerry and Ike would keep the seat warm until the real leaders would return. Live and learn.

The thing I remember most about Ford, though, was his family. They were great - a bunch of handsome baby boomers frolicking on the lawn, rumored to have smoked pot in the white house, fresh and cool and so much less uptight than Nixon and the girls. As a young person of the same age, it was a powerful image that meant something to me.

And Betty remains my favorite first lady of all time. She was funny and human and normal. I'll never forget watching her hosting a Bolshoi ballet on television when she was obviously under the influence of something or other. I thought to myself, this is a real woman of her time. And of course, she went on to be one of the first famous women to announce that she was fighting breast cancer and founded the Betty Ford clinic not long after. She has done a world of good for the recovery movement.

Ford was an old school GOP moderate, the kind that isn't around anymore. But he bears some responsibility for what came after. After all, his administration spawned the two most twisted leaders of the Bush administration - Cheney and Rumsfeld. From what I know of Jerry Ford, he wouldn't have been proud of that particular accomplishment. He was not given to megalomania and grandiose schemes.

He bound the nation's wounds for a moment, but in doing so he created an infection that has festered for the last thirty years. His heart was in the right place, I think. But it was a mistake I hope this nation never makes again.

He was a decent man who had a good sense of humor. RIP.
And so he was, as Timothy Noah explains in The very discreet charms (and substantial drawbacks) of Richard Nixon's successor -
During the 25 years that I've lived in Washington, I have never once heard a negative word spoken here about former President Gerald Ford, who died at 93 on Dec. 26. Within the narrow confines of Permanent Washington - the journalists, lobbyists, and congressional lifers who are the city's avatars of centrism and continuity - Ford is considered the beau ideal of American leadership. "By the time he finished his short tenure, he had put together one of the most talented administrations, at least of those that I've covered in fifty years here," the Washington Post's David Broder recalled after Ford's death. "People who served in the Ford administration will tell you even now, the survivors of that administration, that it was the best experience they ever had in government."

Washington's Gerald Ford cult differs from, say, its John F. Kennedy cult or its Ronald Reagan cult in that no branches can be found outside the nation's capital. It is possible to say, "America loves JFK," or "America loves Reagan," but no one in his right mind would ever say, "America loves Ford." (If attempted, the statement would surely be mistaken for an advertising slogan touting the Dearborn, Mich.-based auto manufacturer.) America has not given Gerald Ford a lot of thought. To the extent it has, it's pegged Ford as a dimwitted klutz who, though certainly decent enough, extended unwarranted favoritism to his fellow Republican Richard Nixon by granting the former president a blanket pardon. The latter gesture probably cost Ford the 1976 election.

The American electorate got Ford more right than the Washington mandarins. Permanent Washington believes the Nixon pardon was an act of martyrdom, a necessary gesture allowing the country to move on - even Bob Woodward thinks so - but, in fact, the American system of government was sturdy enough to withstand any prosecution of Richard Nixon. (I have my doubts there would have been any.) Ford would have done far better, both politically and in serving justice, to leave well enough alone. The mandarins are right to say that Gerald Ford was certainly smarter than the caricature invented by Lyndon Johnson ("can't fart and chew at the same time," with "fart" subsequently softened to "chew") and later refined by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live, but he was no genius, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. Because of Ford's weakness in this area, the White House became a free-fire zone between the pro-détente Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the anti-détente tag team of Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, Ford's successive chiefs of staff. (Maybe veterans of the Ford administration think it "the best experience they ever had in government" because they experienced little supervision from the boss.) Rumsfeld/Cheney ultimately prevailed (as later they would under President George W. Bush), but the experience left Ford sufficiently addled that when, in a 1976 presidential debate with Jimmy Carter, he got asked about the 1975 Helsinki accords - which contained vague mollifying language recognizing Soviet domination of Eastern Europe - Ford babbled, "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration." Carter responded incredulously ("Did I understand you to say, sir … "), prompting a second nonsensical gusher from Ford: "I don't believe … the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Rumanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous: it has its own territorial integrity …"
Oops. But he meant well. Ford "meant to deny not the fact of Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, but merely United States acquiescence in that domination." It just didn't come out that way. Noah says - "These comments about Eastern Europe remain, I believe, the single dumbest thing ever said by a sitting president during my lifetime, heavy competition from the present incumbent notwithstanding."

But Ford did some good - inflation dropped from double digits to below five percent. And Gerald Ford appointed John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court, who has since become a moderating influence on the madmen there.

The conclusion -
Ford was not an ideologue, and during his presidency the country was not ideological. We remember those years as tumultuous, and they were - it was the Watergate scandal that made Ford president in the first place, and it was during Ford's presidency that the Vietnam War came to its ignominious end. But Bill Bishop of the Austin American-Statesman did some number-crunching a couple of years ago, and concluded that geographic self-segregation at the county level by party affiliation reached its nadir in 1975, when Gerald Ford was president. Conservatives and liberals lived in closer proximity than before or since, and that minimized partisan enmity in both the country and in Washington. As I wrote at the time: "The 1970s, which most of us remember as an era of high inflation, long gas lines, and malaise, were, in short, the Golden Age of Bipartisanship. Gerald Ford, the most boring man in modern memory to occupy the Oval Office, was its high priest."

That is why Washington loves Gerald Ford. Comity and bipartisanship are easy to overrate, and Permanent Washington can always be counted on to overrate them. At the moment, though, it does seem we could use a bit more.
Yeah, we could. But dull and pleasant leaders don't come along every day. And too, the man was appointed. You cannot win any office by claiming you're agreeable and mostly harmless. What kind of platform is that? And no one would vote for a smoker theses days, particularly a pipe smoker. The man was a wonder, without being wonderful, for which the nation is now grateful.

Posted by Alan at 20:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 28 December 2006 07:57 PST home

Saturday, 23 December 2006
Advice
Topic: Perspective

Advice

It's Christmas weekend. Be nice. Be kind.

"It's not true that nice guys finish last. Nice guys are winners before the game even starts." - Addison Walker

"If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me." - Alice Roosevelt Longworth

"We all like stories that make us cry. It's so nice to feel sad when you've nothing in particular to feel sad about." - Anne Sullivan

"One of the worst things about life is not how nasty the nasty people are. You know that already. It is how nasty the nice people can be." - Anthony Dymoke Powell

"The only nice thing about being imperfect is the joy it brings to others." - Doug Larson

"It's amazing how nice people are to you when they know you're going away." - Michael Arlen

"When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people." - Abraham Joshua Heschel

"Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind." - Henry James

"In this world, there is nothing softer or thinner than water. But to compel the hard and unyielding, it has no equal. That the weak overcomes the strong, that the hard gives way to the gentle - this everyone knows. Yet no one asks accordingly." - Lao-Tse

"Life is not so short but that there is always time enough for courtesy." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Be kind to unkind people - they need it the most." - Ashleigh Brilliant

"It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one's life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than 'try to be a little kinder.'" - Aldous Huxley

"Today I bent the truth to be kind, and I have no regret, for I am far surer of what is kind than I am of what is true." - Robert Brault

"I always prefer to believe the best of everybody, it saves so much trouble." - Rudyard Kipling

"Don't be yourself - be someone a little nicer." - Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

"Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not." - Samuel Johnson

"If we cannot be clever, we can always be kind." - Alfred Fripp

"If, after I depart this vale, you ever remember me and have thought to please my ghost, forgive some sinner and wink your eye at some homely girl." - H.L. Mencken

"If you step on people in this life, you're going to come back as a cockroach." - Willie Davis

"I meant," said Ipslore bitterly, "what is there in this world that truly makes living worth while?" Death thought about it. "Cats," he said eventually, "Cats are nice." - Terry Pratchett, Sorcery

Posted by Alan at 10:58 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 16 December 2006
On Listening
Topic: Perspective

On Listening

"Most people need a good listening to." - Maria Galenza

"I can't help thinking that this would be a better world if everyone would listen to me." - Lucy Van Pelt, Peanuts (Charles Shultz)

"Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering." - Winnie the Pooh (Alan Alexander Milne)

"If A equals success, then the formula is A equals X plus Y and Z, with X being work, Y play, and Z keeping your mouth shut." - Albert Einstein

"Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again." - Andre Gide

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen." - Ernest Hemingway

"A good listener tries to understand what the other person is saying. In the end he may disagree sharply, but because he disagrees, he wants to know exactly what it is he is disagreeing with." - Kenneth A. Wells

"It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

"To listen is an effort, and just to hear is no merit. A duck hears also." - Igor Stravinsky

"No one really listens to anyone else, and if you try it for a while you'll see why." - Mignon McLaughlin

"Listening is the only way to entertain some folks." - Kin Hubbard

"There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves." - Albert Guinon

"I'll not listen to reason. Reason always means what someone else has to say." - Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

"Lenin could listen so intently that he exhausted the speaker." - Isaiah Berlin

"No man ever listened himself out of a job." - Calvin Coolidge

"Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening." - Dorothy Sarnoff

"Listen. Do not have an opinion while you listen because frankly, your opinion doesn’t hold much water outside of Your Universe. Just listen. Listen until their brain has been twisted like a dripping towel and what they have to say is all over the floor." - Hugh Elliott

"A good listener is a good talker with a sore throat." - Katharine Whitehorn

"A good listener is usually thinking about something else." - Kin Hubbard

"Everybody lies, but it doesn't matter because nobody listens." - Nick Diamos

"Heaven, n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own." - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

"Don't LOOK at anything in a physics lab. Don't TASTE anything in a chemistry lab. Don't SMELL anything in a biology lab. Don't TOUCH anything in a medical lab. And, most importantly, don't LISTEN to anything in a philosophy department." - Bill Lye

"Women like silent men. They think they're listening." - Marcel Archard

Posted by Alan at 09:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
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Saturday, 9 December 2006
Denial and Delusion
Topic: Perspective

Denial and Delusion


Just a few quotes to go along the the administration response to the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report -

QUOD VIDES PERISSE PERDITUM DUCAS - Catullus ("What you see is lost, set down as lost.")

"One popular human strategy for dealing with difficulty is autosuggestion: when something nasty pops up, you convince yourself it is not there, or you convince yourself it is pleasant rather than unpleasant. The Buddha's tactic is quite the reverse. Rather than hide it or disguise it, the Buddha's teaching urges you to examine it to death. Buddhism advises you not to implant feelings that you don't really have or avoid feelings that you do have. If you are miserable you are miserable; that is the reality, that is what is happening, so confront that. Look it square in the eye without flinching. When you are having a bad time, examine that experience, observe it mindfully, study the phenomenon and learn its mechanics. The way out of a trap is to study the trap itself, learn how it is built. You do this by taking the thing apart piece by piece. The trap can't trap you if it has been taken to pieces. The result is freedom." - Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulness in Plain English

"It's not denial. I'm just selective about the reality I accept." - Bill Watterson

"Delay is the deadliest form of denial." C. Northcote Parkinson

"How often it is that the angry man rages denial of what his inner self is telling him." - Frank Herbert

"The first step in the risk management process is to acknowledge the reality of risk. Denial is a common tactic that substitutes deliberate ignorance for thoughtful planning. - Charles Tremper

"Refusal to believe until proof is given is a rational position; denial of all outside of our own limited experience is absurd." - Annie Besant (English social reformer, sometime Fabian socialist, theosophist, and Indian independence leader, 1847-1933)

"I believe in looking reality straight in the eye and denying it." - Garrison Keillor

"At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal force in the heart of man: one very reasonably tells the man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of avoiding it; the other even more reasonable says that it is too painful and harassing to think of the danger, since it is not a man's power to provide for everything and escape from the general march of events; and that it is therefore better to turn aside from the painful subject till it has come, and to think of what is pleasant. In solitude a man generally yields to the first voice; in society to the second." - Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

"The great law of denial belongs to the powerful forces of life, whether the case be one of coolish baked beans, or an unrequited affection. - Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

"Many people have delusions of grandeur but you're deluded by triviality." - Eugene Ionesco, Exit the King

"There is nothing more fatal to a man whose business is to think than to have learned the art of regaling his mind with ... airy gratifications. Other vices or follies are restrained by fear, reformed by admonition, or rejected by the conviction which the comparison of our conduct with that of others may in time produce. But this invisible riot of the mind, this secret prodigality of being, is secure from detection and fearless of reproach. The dreamer retires to his apartments, shuts out the cares and interruptions of mankind, and abandons himself to his own fancy; new worlds rise up before him, one image is followed by another, and a long succession of delights dances around him. He is at last called back to life by nature or by custom; and enters peevish into society, because he cannot model it to his own will." Samuel Johnson, Rambler, Number 89 (January 22, 1751)

"However we may labor for our own deception, truth, though unwelcome, will sometimes intrude upon the mind." - Samuel Johnson, Idler, Number 80 (October 27, 1759)

"It is a common delusion that you can make things better by talking about them." - Rose Macaulay

"Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it." - Lily Tomlin


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