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"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, 24 January 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Trouble on the Horizon: The United States is Just Not Ready for THIS!

Let's suppose John Kerry wins the nomination of the Democratic Party to run against George Bush in the fall elections.

Make a real leap and assume he wins the presidency.

I know. That is far-fetched. But just assume it could happen.

Here's the problem. The new First Lady would be real departure from what we usually get.

See Kerry's gold
She's rich, clever, outspoken (in several languages) and she's got money ... lots of it. And if she has anything to do with things, she'll be America's next First Lady, wife of a Democrat President.
Edward Helmore, The Guardian (UK), Sunday January 25, 2004

Read this and you'll understand the problem, and see the line of attack that Karl Rove, Bush's best friend and chief political advisor, will take.

If her spouse of nine years, John Kerry, goes on to win the White House, she will make a First Lady quite unlike any America has seen before. Portuguese by birth, she was raised in Africa and educated in Switzerland. Spontaneous and independent of mind; candid and direct to the point of being impolitic, she is like her husband, a pro-choice Roman Catholic. And she is independently wealthy, to the tune of $550 million, from her first marriage to the late senator John Heinz, heir to the ketchup fortune. She remains a power in her own right as head of the Howard Heinz Endowment and Heinz Family Philanthropies, a charity with a billion-dollar endowment that gives away millions each year to environmental, educational and health causes.

It is a shared passion for the environment that brought John Kerry and Teresa Heinz together. They met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, where she had been sent as delegate by the first President Bush. That was 12 months after John Heinz, a potential presidential candidate himself, died in a plane crash. She and Kerry subsequently bonded after he recited a prayer - in Latin - at a Mass they both attended.
This Bush team is going to make mincemeat of her on all this. Portuguese! Born in Mozambique! With a BA from the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa! The Bush team is laughing now. Americans won't stand for this.

And Latin? Latin? What's with that?

But wait! It gets worse, or better, depending on your political views. She's been campaigning for her husband:
... On a recent tour of Latino businesses in Manchester, New Hampshire, the French-African owner of a barbershop, who'd been swapping stories with her in French about growing up in Africa, said she hadn't mentioned her husband was running for president. But, said Victor Mbuyi, 'her French was very good'.
Fluent French? The kiss of death! We ALL know about the evil French. French is NOT what they speak in Texas, or anywhere "real Americans" live. And too it does appear she temporarily forget to plug her husband's campaign and kind of got sidetracked into a relaxed, personal conversation. Horrors!

But wait! It gets worse, or better, depending on your political views.
The daughter of a prominent Portuguese doctor, Heinz Kerry, n?e Maria Teresa Thierstein Simoes-Ferreira, grew up in Mozambique. She attended a school run by British nuns, and later studied Romance languages at senior school in South Africa, where she became involved in the nascent anti-apartheid movement of the late 1950s. At university in Geneva, she was a classmate of Kofi Annan at the city's School of Interpreters. Now fluent in five languages, she graduated and went to New York to become an interpreter at the United Nations, before marrying Heinz in 1966.
An old buddy of Kofi Annan? She worked for the United Nations, those folks who wouldn't support our little war to take over Iraq and get rid of Saddam Hussein and all those weapons of mass destruction that Dick Cheney said are really, really there - and he said that TODAY at the World Economic Summit is Davos, Switzerland.

This is going to be GOOD. Rove is sharpening the knives now!

But wait! It gets worse, or better, depending on your political views.
... With the perspective of an admiring foreigner, she often speaks of the demise of America's reputation abroad. 'I understand why so many of our friends around the world are so mad at us,' she said at a recent event. We have let them down. In a democracy, the one thing that cannot be done is to destroy its trust, its hope, its idealism. This administration is the most cynical, the most venal, the most Machiavellian administration in my 32 years in Washington.'
Yipes. She thinks what others think of us matters! Condi Rice is giggling now.

And damn, she uses words like Machiavellian! George doesn't.

But wait! It gets even worse, or even better, depending on your political views.
... asked whether she would take her husband's name, she shot back: 'Politically, it's going to be Teresa Heinz Kerry, but I don't give a shit, you know? There are other things to worry about.' And she added: 'Swearing is a good way to relieve tension'.
That cuts it. She's not a subservient, adoring wife. Horrors. It's enough to make Laura Bush weep bitter tears.

And no good Christian swears! Lest of all a Christian woman! There goes the Bible Belt.

Oh, this is going to be FUN!

Posted by Alan at 21:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 24 January 2004 21:27 PST home

Topic: The Culture

Saturday News Notes: An Eccentric Collection

I live three blocks from the Chateau Marmont on Sunset Boulevard. That's the famous hotel where John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982. The place where James Dean and Sal Mineo stayed while filming Rebel Without a Cause (1955), and apparently fooled around with the director Nicolas Ray.

Yesterday at noon I heard the police sirens, and an LAPD helicopter was making a lot of noise, stationary above the roof here. But one hears these things all the time.

Here's the scoop:

Photographer Helmut Newton Dies in Accident
Anthony Breznican, Associated Press, Saturday, January 24, 2004
LOS ANGELES - Helmut Newton was a trailblazer in the photography world, exploring power, gender roles and an icy sexuality in his pictures.

His work appeared in magazines such as Playboy, Elle and Vogue, but he was best known for his stark, black-and-white nude photos of women. Newton, whose subjects included Paloma Picasso, Pierre Cardin and Naomi Campbell, died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a car crash, police said. He was 83.

Newton apparently lost control of his Cadillac while leaving the famed Chateau Marmont hotel and crashed into a wall, said Officer April Harding, a police spokeswoman.

... It was unclear if Newton became ill while driving, authorities said.

The photographer, who was Jewish, was born in Germany to wealthy parents but fled his homeland at age 18 for Singapore in December 1938, a month after Nazi-led persecution programs began. He eventually settled in Australia and became a citizen, where he opened a small photography studio and changed his last name to Newton from Neustaedter.

Eventually he took up residence in Monte Carlo overlooking the Mediterranean, but spent winters in Los Angeles at the hotel.
Everyone should spend their winters in Hollywood, and the rest of the year in Monte Carlo, of course.

And Ann Miller, the famous movie star, known for her tap-dancing (five hundred taps per minute - a record, they say), passed away a few days ago at the same hospital, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center - two miles down the hill from here. She was eighty-one and this was lung cancer.

And yes, Bob Keeshan, known by millions of American children as television's grandfatherly Captain Kangaroo, has died after a long illness. He was seventy-six. But he died in Vermont, not here. All former Marines should be so nice.


And minor business news:

Firms Get Relief From Gulf Drilling Fees
From Reuters - January 24, 2004
The Bush administration said it would give royalty relief of more than $1 billion to energy companies drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to help increase domestic natural gas supplies, reduce consumers' energy bills and create jobs.

U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton said the plan would save Americans $570 million a year because of lower energy costs and create up to 26,000 jobs in the next six years.

But the plan also would cost the U.S. government about $1.1 billion in lost royalty fees from energy companies over the next five years, officials say.
Yeah, that's cool. Sigh.

And this:

Tauzin Says No to a Big Movie Role
Louisiana congressman drops out of the running to succeed Valenti as Hollywood's lobbyist.
James Bates, Los Angeles Times, January 24, 2004
Hollywood lost its top candidate to replace its chief lobbyist, Jack Valenti, as Rep. Billy Tauzin rejected the movie-industry job after receiving a lucrative, eleventh-hour offer to represent major drug companies, it was confirmed Friday.

The development deals a setback to the film studios' efforts to replace Valenti, who has said he wants to find a successor after 38 years as head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America. Valenti, 82, had hoped to announce who would fill his shoes as early as this month.

Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) and Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) also have surfaced as potential replacements.
And why should this man turn down the job?
Valenti released a statement Friday saying Tauzin called him Thursday night to tell him he was declining a bid for his services that had been made by the MPAA. Valenti said Tauzin told him "that he was given a very, very generous offer from another enterprise."

Neither the MPAA nor Tauzin's office identified the group. But several sources said it was the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which represents major drug companies such as Merck & Co. and Johnson & Johnson.

The pharmaceutical group, the sources said, offered Tauzin far more than the $1 million-plus annual salary that the MPAA job has paid Valenti.

... Sources among the major studios said Tauzin had been demanding from the MPAA a rich package with numerous perks, including at one point an apartment in New York, country club membership and fees for the lawyers who negotiated for him.
The job?

One has to oversee the industry's film-rating system, and deal with international trade issues.

So that's what happens when one retires from politics. One gets rich, or richer.

Posted by Alan at 08:08 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 24 January 2004 08:50 PST home

Friday, 23 January 2004

Topic: Bush

There is such a thing as honor.

Something has been bothering me about President Bush's State of the Union speech a few days ago. I wasn't sure what it was. Here Colbert King hits on it.

This is the problem.

See Empty Words for the War-Torn
Colbert I. King, Saturday, January 24, 2004; The Washington Post, Page A19

The piece is long but here's the core:
Last Tuesday night was an opportunity for George W. Bush to eulogize the fallen, a chance for him to tell their families what their sacrifices mean to the nation - a time for the president to help heal broken hearts. That didn't happen.

Yes, in his long address to a joint session of Congress, Bush offered a few words of praise for the skill and courage of the men and women in the military. He delivered a line about "sorrow when one is lost," and shared a self-serving recollection of himself landing on the deck of a carrier in the Pacific Ocean and his Thanksgiving Day fly-in to Baghdad.

There was also a pledge to supply the troops with all the resources they need to fight and win. But victims of the Iraq war, as well as their moms, dads, spouses, children, neighbors and friends, deserved more than what they got from the president.

Instead of a moment of silence for those who have paid the ultimate price, they heard presidential pitches for prescription drugs and a new immigration law, and a denunciation of steroids and gay marriage. Instead of hearing the president recognize the preciousness of young lives expended far from home, they got a plea to put Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts. Instead of telling the country why it should remember what the dead and dying stood for, Americans were given an earful on child tax credits, the death tax and cuts in taxes on capital gains.
That's it.

Perhaps I'm more sensitive to this as I do have a nephew in the Army, a major at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, out near Barstow. He trains the guys who go to Iraq and Afghanistan. And by the way, Wesley Clark used to be in command of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. Anyway, my nephew deserves better from his Commander In Chief.

Yes, Tuesday was the time to tell U.S. families whose sons and daughters are losing their lives and limbs that their brave sacrifices still make sense. Tuesday was the time to explain why we are still getting hammered by a growing budget deficit, and why the military is stretched to nearly the breaking point. Yes, the families needed "an honest answer as to why young men and women in uniform are expected to fight and die in country dominated by clerics who want our protection as they vie for power and, once they get it, want us gone."

Instead, we got a Bush speech laying the groundwork for his quest for reelection.

King adds this:
This does not come from a Bush hater. He rallied the nation after Sept. 11, 2001, and set the right tone for a military response to al Qaeda. George W. Bush is not the ogre his critics make him out to be. But if ever the country needed a commander in chief who understands the horrors and wastes of war, it's now. That kind of president was not on display Tuesday night.
And that was the problem.

And maybe that does explain the appeal of people like Senators John Kerry and John McCain, retired general and Secretary of State Colin Powell, and retired General Wesley Clark.

King quotes a long passage from Kerry's book about his days in Vietnam. The writers at The Wall Street Journal always refer to Kerry as the "haughty French-looking senator who by the way served in Vietnam." Funny - like his three Purple Hearts for his wounds, and his Bronze Star and the Silver Star for gallantry in action. Real funny.

The passage, describing how a soldier dies, is graphic. Click on the link and read it, or buy the book. The account also appeared in "Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War," by Douglas Brinkley, in the December 2003 issue of Atlantic Monthly.

And yes, a president who has been down in the trenches and seen people die would never have gone up to Capitol Hill in the midst of war and delivered the kind of State of the Union speech that the nation heard Tuesday night.


Posted by Alan at 21:55 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 23 January 2004 22:02 PST home

Topic: World View

Thoughts on chucking it all and moving to France ...
I suppose if you get your news in a funny-sounding language you need to work hard to really understand, what any politician says become much more palatable. You expect nonsense, so to speak. And there are other things to consider.

My friends accuse me of being a bit of a Francophile. Yes. I am. All those visits to Paris would make it seem so, and right now I a smoking a pipe I picked up at Au Ca?d.

Au Ca?d? See Heather-Stimmler Hall, who doesn't smoke, in her Secrets of Paris Newsletter: "Just to show I'm not biased, here's a smoke shop you should visit. Au Ca?d is one of the oldest boutiques in St. Michel neighborhood, selling pipes, cigars and tobacco accessories for 120 years. Au Ca?d 24, bd Saint-Michel, 6th 01-43-26-04-01."

But Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis sent me an email a few months ago saying he thinks they've finally closed. Oh well.

Be that as it may, I finally got around to reviewing the British magazines, being, I hope, even-handed. And what do I find? This in The Spectator, the Cover Story of 3 January 2004.

See: Escape from Barbarity: Theodore Dalrymple says he is turning his back on the ugliness and emptiness of Britain and moving to France, which for all its faults he considers a more civilised country than his own...

Say what?

Here's the scoop:
This year is the centenary year of the Entente Cordiale, and I intend to celebrate it by buying a house in France (the acte authentique, the final signing, takes place later this month) and, in the not very distant future, by living there. Whether this will improve Anglo-French relations remains to be seen.
It seems Ted is about to turn is back on the Anglo-American culture.

So what's his reasoning? Is France such a fine place? No.
France is no terrestrial paradise, but I know from experience of living abroad that other country's blemishes do not affect you in the same way as your own country's blemishes, which weigh heavily on your soul. You can observe the failings of foreign politicians with amusement and the intractability of foreign social problems with detachment. It is only when living abroad that Dr Johnson's dictum that public affairs vex no man, comes true - at least for me.
So he's fed up with "public affairs." Aren't we all?

Well, I suppose if you get your news in a funny-sounding language you need to work hard to really understand, what any politician says become much more palatable. You expect nonsense, so to speak.

But there's more.
Is France in better shape than Britain? Its countryside is emptier, which for someone like me, who has had enough of crowds in general and people in particular to last him a lifetime, is good enough. I know it is a high-tax economy - bureaucratic and sclerotic in many respects - but at least the people seem to get something in return for their taxes. France's infrastructure, public transport and healthcare are far better than Britain's. It would be nice if we in Britain got something - anything - tolerably decent in return for our taxes, but with the increasing moral and intellectual corruption of our public services that I have seen over the years, and the unimpeded advance of willful administrative incompetence into every nook and cranny of public life, I do not think that there is any prospect of that.
Now that's interesting. Open space and high taxes, but good services are appealing. Not to Americans who think taxes and government are evil, but this Brit seems to be okay with that.

What about all the turmoil over there with the Muslim population and unemployment and anger and all that?
France has social problems that are nearly as great as ours. Although one looks in vain in the centre of Paris or other cities for the brutal and brutalised faces that one sees everywhere in Britain, and that are now the defining national characteristic of the British, France has a substantial underclass too. Whether by accident or design, France has opted for the South African solution to the problem: geographical isolation. It confines its underclass in satellite cities around major conurbations that can be sealed off by a single tank and by halting a few trains. If push ever came to shove, and there was a social explosion, I have little doubt that the Declaration of the Rights of Man would have little influence on the French official response. As the South Africans used to say before they discovered morality, `They will only foul their own nest.' And certainly such an explosion is not impossible: I recently visited the housing estates that ring Paris, and the alienation and hatred I found there exceeded by far anything I have ever encountered in this country. It was extremely frightening.
Wait! He just compared France to South Africa under Apartheid. And he said France was "frightening."

It seems to me there ought to be something to counterbalance the sort of fascism he implies.

Well, he argues for civilization and politeness.
But, for all that, France still seems to me a more civilised country than Britain. It is less dominated by mass distraction (known here as popular culture, but in Nineteen Eighty-Four as prolefeed) than Britain is.

France's mass distraction is amateurishly produced in comparison with the cynical slickness of its Anglo-American equivalent, and this really is a case of the worse the better. There are no tabloid newspapers in France to compare with ours, and while the word `Anglo-Saxon' in Le Monde, Lib?ration and Le Figaro carries a burden of ideological disapproval and even subtle insult (it means, among other things, savage economic liberalism), there is nothing to compare with the vulgar ignorant abuse of the French to be found in our red-top newspapers, produced for the masses by people who ought to (and in fact do) know better. French newspaper readership is the lowest in the Western world, and while I suppose it is possible to discuss whether this is a good or a bad thing, I personally find it a relief.

There is as yet among the young of France no cult of mass public drunkenness, as there is in Britain, no ideological triumph of vulgarity that subdues the political elite into insincere, but nevertheless damaging, acquiescence, as in Britain.

There is still a residue of respect for high culture in France. Not long ago, I went to an exhibition in Paris of Ecuadorean baroque religious sculpture, and discovered that the introduction to the catalogue was written by none other than Jacques Chirac (or at least he had appended his name thereto). Would Mr Blair dare do such a thing? In France, an association with Ecuadorean baroque sculpture would only improve - admittedly to a small extent - the President's political standing; in Britain, it would harm the Prime Minister's image, and cast damaging doubts upon his sexuality.
Perhaps this fellow idealizes the situation. Perhaps. One should read all the graffiti on all the walls in Paris. The "residue of respect for high culture" is thin... very thin.

Well, the author knows this high culture stuff is posing and posturing. But he prefers at least "phony cultivation" to Blair and Bush chomping on fried pork rinds in Texas at the ranch while discussing the Bush dogs.
Is it better to have phoney cultivation in charge than militant philistinism? (Does anyone really believe the disgraceful old cynic Mr Chirac, and could anyone not laugh when he writes of these admittedly beautiful works, `The marvellous sculptures gathered here, works of anonymous artists or artists with entries in the great book of History such as Bernardo de Legarda and Manuel Chili `Caspicara', move us by their humanity, their tenderness, the extreme softness of their expression'?) No doubt the philistinism of Mr Blair is entirely sincere, unlike his other shifting passions, but for myself I prefer phoney cultivation. If hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, an insight we owe to that great dissector of the human soul, the French writer of maxims, La Rochefoucauld, then phoney cultivation is the tribute that barbarism pays to civilisation. But at least it knows what civilisation is, knowledge that has been lacking among British government ministers for quite a long time.
Well, quote La Rochefoucauld doesn't exactly make you friends. But he should know, we on this side of the pond, have a president who revels in his contempt for "cultivation." We honor cowboys who have read nothing, and know nothing, but are silent "doers" of honorable deeds. Bush is close enough, it seems, for most folks here.

Anyway, this Brit then turns to minor matter, like humor:
The English, so another Frenchman once observed, take their pleasures sadly. If only that were so: those were the good old days. It used to be the case that you realised the futility of life when you watched the English enjoying themselves, but now it is far worse and more depressing than that; they take their pleasures noisily, offensively, brutally, antisocially. They can't enjoy themselves without screaming, baring their teeth, hitting each other over the head with broken bottles, eructating and vomiting. You see none of this in France, at least on a mass scale, which is what counts in determining the quality of life.
Well, the question of the French sense of humor has been discussed on this site. See this from Sunday, 21 December 2003, Jerry Lewis, Monty Python and ? Le P?re No?l est une Ordure ? for a discussion of British, French and American humor. The jury is still out.

But yes, the French are, generally, polite and formal, and I have discussed with my friend LC, working now in Pairs, and Kevin, recently returned. It is different there.

And this Brit knows it.
... I doubt that many French patients address their doctor by the equivalent of `mate', as young British patients now do. The mere usage of Madame and Monsieur makes France a more polite country than Britain, despite its (in my experience undeserved) reputation for rudeness.
So how do you make a decision to chuck it all and move to France?

You try to be realistic.
Of course, everything is going to the dogs in France as well as in Britain - at my age, you can expect nothing else; such expectations are genetically hard-wired into the aging human brain - but more slowly and gracefully. The charm of France will see me out, but their education system is falling to bits, their educationists are making the same wicked mistakes as our own, young Frenchmen can't write or spell their own language properly, and crime is rising, so that the statistics, always doubtful, suggest that their crime rate is 80 per cent of ours - that is to say abominably high. Administrative incompetence, indifference and cruelty are not confined to this side of the Channel: for example, not long ago I read a book by a prison doctor in France which, if a true reflection of what goes on in Paris's largest prison, La Sante, puts all prison abuses in Britain in the shade.

And yet there is more to a civilisation than the sum of its problems - at least, if it has any charms. Try as I might, however, I can see little charm to life in Britain, even if its vaunted economic recovery were not, as it clearly is, a house of cards. The British strike me as frivolous without gaiety and earnest without seriousness, which is why Mr Blair is so apt a leader for them.

... I am not starry-eyed about France, and I know that it has many skeletons in its cupboard (the latest to emerge is the treatment of the Harkis, the Algerians who sided with the French during the war of independence and moved to France when it was over). But the fact is the French are a great nation, and they have contributed disproportionately to every field of higher human endeavour, from mathematics to literature, from art to physics and medicine. Much more than the British, they retain a respect for the civilisation they have wrought, and if at times their pride is irritating and absurd, and Paris is not the centre of the world because nowhere is the centre of the world, it is better than the loss of spirit one sees in Britain, whose self-doubt is an ideological pretext for mental laziness and excruciating bad taste.
Okay, now we see. This fellow is just an overeducated elitist! And a grumpy one at that!

Well he does admit it. But he adds that there are others are like him, but "fear of appearing elitist in this country is now greater than any desire to preserve civilization."

Maybe so. His conclusion?
The French are some years behind us in the race to cultural oblivion. No doubt they will catch up with us in the end, but I hope not to see it in my rural fastness. For the moment, they still order things better there.

Perhaps he will follow up with an article in a year's time recanting this all.

We shall see.

Since I am toying with the idea of doing what he is doing, I will watch for that.


Minor note:

The Spectator, where this appeared, is a publication of the Hollinger Group, owned now, but perhaps not by the time you read this, by the ex-Canadian conservative apologist Conrad Black. Check the business pages. For background see, from Monday, 22 December 2003 here, Follow-Up: Smelling a rat early... Lord Black and his pearl.

The Spectator this week?

See The Ballad of Connie and Babs
24 January 2004 Cover Story
Peter Oborne says that Conrad Black was a great newspaper proprietor, but he and his glamorous wife Barbara made a fatal mistake in trying to conquer America

Fascinating stuff.

Posted by Alan at 12:04 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Bush

Today?s ironies, courtesy of CURSOR.COM

Knight Ridder reports that when President Bush claimed in his State of the Union address that "the people of Iraq are free," he was fresh from discussing the prospect, based on an oral report from CIA officers, that Iraq may be heading into civil war. Responding to a press briefing question from NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, the Commanding General of the 4th Infantry acknowledged that "we have to be aware of that potential.?

On the day after Bush called for extending the USA Patriot Act in his SOTU address, the Los Angeles City Council become the 237th - and largest - local government to adopt what the ACLU calls a "pro-civil liberties resolution," urging a narrowing of the act.

U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is considering plans to target Syria via Lebanon, reports Jane's Intelligence Digest. By sending special forces into Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, the U.S. would be deliberately risking a confrontation with Syrian forces, says Jane's.

Do you feel better now?

Oh yes, and this:

Halliburton has fired two employees of its Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary, that allegedly demanded and received up to $6 million in kickbacks from a Kuwaiti company for awarding work supplying U.S. troops. The revelation comes less than a week after Halliburton was awarded a new $1.2 billion contract to boost oil production in southern Iraq.

Now you're all up to date.

Posted by Alan at 10:31 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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