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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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Tuesday, 6 July 2004

Topic: World View

Kafka, Canadians and Cricket (and a Sartre bonus)

Eileen Moskowitz has an item about how, in early June, a British reporter was handcuffed, detained, and then deported, drawing criticism from Reporters Without Borders (RWB), an international journalists' watchdog group. Moskowitz represents the PEN USA First Amendment Action Committee.

It seems freelance reporter Elena Lappin failed to produce a press visa upon her arrival here at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) - and this led airport officials to handcuff her and take her to a detention center. She was subsequently deported. Reporters Without Borders contends that a dozen other foreign correspondents, including six French reporters, were treated in a similar fashion at the Los Angeles airport. Lappin told The Los Angeles Times: "I felt subhuman. I was treated like a criminal, handcuffed, fingerprinted and mug shots were taken. I suddenly had no rights. It was very, very humiliating."

Lappin's Los Angeles Times article, reprinted many places since, explains it all. And it has been going around the web. You can find it here - as the New York Times chose July 4th as the appropriate time to print it.

Moskowitz adds that Reporters Without Borders has also criticized the detention and deportation of two international reporters in New York City. They think something is up. A larger crackdown by our guys against the international media in general? Because they make fun of us? And they portray George Bush as in a bit over his head - as an inarticulate bully who seems unable to think things through, unable to say what he means, and who gets angry way too fast?

We'd punish foreign reporters for that, harass them then throw them out on their asses?

Not likely. We're not that good at planning. If we were there'd be power in Baghdad right now and the air-conditioners would actually work, and the locals would be handing us flowers and asking about how to find the sweet love of Jesus.

This was planned? Probably not.

But it seems one Tala Dowlatshahi, the US representative for Reporters Without Borders, claims that the treatment is "a deliberate restriction of press freedom." And he adds that that the reporters' group has "been gravely concerned about new Homeland Security restrictions, not only on journalists but on other individuals and communities that have been targeted in a country that prides itself on democratic freedoms." And too Moskowitz notes the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Robert Menard, personally wrote Tom Ridge about all this.

We'd do something like this? We're claiming it's all about having the right paperwork. No big deal.


Ric Brown, the News Guy in Atlanta says this (and remember, he was one of the guys who started CNN - so this sort of thing bothers him):
Oh for Christ's sake! Just when you start thinking the American puppy might turn out to be okay after all, he pees on the living room rug!

First of all, when and if I complain about this sort of thing, everyone may think it's a case of "What do you expect? He's a journalist! He's just looking after his own!"

But most the news-types I know are American, nor foreign, and aren't likely to get targeted with this kind of crap - unless, of course, they're traveling to some third world country.

Why is it so hard for so many of my fellow citizens - I was going to say "especially" my fellow citizens, but I guess maybe not - to understand the concept that the world needs free-range reporters of ALL nationalities to tell us what's going on, and that anyone, anywhere (and maybe especially in America), should find himself in deep doo-doo if he gets in their way?

I must admit from personal experience, this sort of thing DOES go way back before 9/11. When my wife and I traveled roundtrip by train to Quebec sometime in the 1980s, I was more than a bit shocked as we crossed back into New York to see how nasty the US immigration agents were to anyone who didn't have a US passport. I just figured it had something to do with the fact that we not only voted in this country but might have filed an official complaint about our own treatment, while we probably wouldn't about anyone else's. And I reckon that's probably what's going on today. Still, annoyed as I was at the harassment of the (mostly) Canadians, I couldn't figure out who to complain to! Even today, I think there probably wasn't anyone who would listen.

But now I think I know what needs to be done! Someone, preferably someone with an American passport (and probably with an updatable website), needs to publish an SAQ list! What's an SAQ list, you ask? Of COURSE you don't know, because I haven't told you yet: "SAQ" stands for "Suspected al Qaeda"!

And how does one make the SAQ list? To qualify, you need to (a) be a US citizen, preferably a US government employee or prison guard overseeing foreign detainees either at home or abroad, especially those not charged with any wrongdoing, and (b) do something incredibly stupid and/or nasty that makes the United States of America look like a humongous jerk.

(Chances are, of course, you would also, either by necessity or happenstance, be a (c) Conservative, Libertarian, and/or Republican.)

After all, isn't this exactly what al Qaeda tries to do, make your country and mine look like a big frigging stupid bully?

But when a US citizen like you does it, especially one working for our government, you're giving "aid and comfort to the enemy," and should either be (a) tried for treason and jailed in your own prison, and later maybe summarily "Rosenberged", and also (b) fired without your pension, or whenever possible, (c) stripped of your citizenship and deported in disgrace to Australia or some other country where intelligent people reside who know how to deal with the likes of you.

Or maybe we can have your name dictated by some friendly congressman into the Congressional Record as being SAQ, and also posted on Post Office bulletin boards and the sides of milk cartons. I think I'm now grasping at straws.

But anyway, yes, the "Suspected Al Qaeda" list should not be confined to low- and middle-level government employees. I'm sure we all can think of more than one high-up muckymuck US administration official who would be well advised to learn to speak Australian.

Note to GWB: No, you knucklehead, not Austria - it's Australia! The one with the kangaroos! Just practice saying "G'day" and swatting flies from your face as you speak, and you'll probably be fine ... that is, assuming they ever let you through customs.

Or would you prefer France?
I think Rick was upset.

Now, now, Rick.... Those US Customs guards monitoring incoming Canadians are there to protect us. This comes stems from our long national nightmare of William Shatner and Alan Thicke and Alex Trebek - not to mention Alan King and Robert Klein and, dare we say it, Glenn Gould. And there's Loren Green! David Steinberg! Joni Mitchell! Neil Young! Diana Kraal! Oscar Peterson! Gaylord Perry! And those two famous people born in London, Ontario - Guy Lombardo and Jack Warner of Warner Brothers! These Canadians needed to be stopped, and weren't.

And as I mentioned, Aimee Semple McPherson from Salford, Ontario moved out here to California and gave those damned "Foursquare" God houses.

In the early seventies the Canadian nature writer Farley Mowat - "Never Cry Wolf" (which Disney later made into an odd little film) - was barred from entering the US ever again. (My first wife and I named our Dutch-Blue rabbit, Farley, after the guy. Talk about half-assed symbolism!)

So long before swarthy international terrorists bent on killing us all there were... nature writers and environmentalist activists. Mowat's book "A Whale for the Killing" might have been the problem. Those were the days before all the bans and bumper stickers.

You ask - "...isn't this exactly what al Qaeda tries to do, make your country and mine look like a big frigging stupid bully?"

Doing that is easier and easier these days.

[By the way, Gaylord Perry, mentioned above, was a pretty good pitcher for the Chicago Cubs in the late sixties or early seventies. A lot of folks figured he really couldn't be a Canadian as he was conspicuously black and had a good fastball.]

Rick shot back this:
Paul Anka? Mike Mayer? A bunch of other funny guys on Saturday Night Live whose names I forget, like they guy who did the church lady, and also David Streck or whatever that was in Just Shoot Me? Also that guy from Boys in the Hall who then starred in the TV series News Radio, and who went on to voice Flic in Bug's life? That guy from Airplane, the Movie? (Leslie Nielson! I just remembered his name!)

Is this enumeration of the names of famous Canadians supposed to divert us from realizing you might be exactly the right person to start this SAQ list and keep it updated on your website?

Are you sure about Alex Trebek? I do remember that Monty Hall was from there.
Yeah, I'm sure about Alex.

My favorite Canadian is David James Elliott - he's the guy who plays the heroic all-American navy JAG officer lead part on that long-running television series. He's not an American! He's from Thunderbay, Ontario! He went to Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (a Canadian version of Juilliard, sort of) - and at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario he won the Jean Chalmers Award as Most Promising Actor. He did Canadian television - "Street Legal" from 1985 to 1988.

These Canadians are tricky! They can look just like us - or even more so!

[The other dude from Thunderbay is Paul Williams who leads the band on the David Letterman Show.]

But Ric in Paris (born in Canada) sets Rick in Atlanta straight on the real deal at the US-Canada border - and about Rick being annoyed by it all -
It was and is US Immigration agents who are annoyed. They can't stand the idea of all those Canadians going to the United States, to buy stuff, to smuggle it back to Canada. It is Canada's national pastime. The option isn't open to Americans who already have everything, and cheap too. Canadians hope that nobody complains about the nasty treatment and ugly harassment they get because it might spoil a good thing. They might be denied entry, and have nothing to smuggle back.

There is one aspect that does perplex Canadians though. Quite often they get the feeling that US Immigration agents think they are trying to enter the United States in order to live there illegally. Very few Canadians who aren't in show business actually want to do this, because they already live in a perfectly good if boring country, with all TV channels. The main disadvantage of living in Canada is that all of its cheap shopping is in the United States. If this wasn't the case the smuggling wouldn't be so much fun.

Canadians hope that no one complains. Things are fine the way they are. Just don't tell US Immigration agents that Canadians visit Cuba sometimes too - so they can smuggle Cuban cigars home. It isn't actually known if Canadians smoke their Cuban cigars. There is an unconfirmed rumor that some smuggle them to the United States, simply to annoy the US Immigration agents. Countries that don't have carnival have to do other things for fun. America has elections all the time; Canada has mom-and-pop smuggling.

And as for putting the SAQ (Suspected al Qaeda) list on a web site?

It better be a big eeb site on an industrial server. The way US Immigration is going, who won't be on this list? Contrary to what you might think, not all French will qualify. There are some born-again Catholics here, somewhat to the Pope's disgust.

PS - How is 'SAQ' pronounced? The French way?

PPS - Another Canadian pastime is being smug. Smug as in, living next door to the United States and being an immune spectator to all that goes on there. It's worth more than all the TV programming that floats across the border unhindered.
Ah, so one should not worry about Canadians, much.

But should one worry about our borders and how we protect them?

It's not just journalists who might get tossed out.

From Bob Harris over at This Modern World we get this:
The Cricket World Cup is coming to the West Indies in 2007. In an effort to increase US appreciation for the game, American cricketers have offered to host some of the matches in Florida.

The International Cricket Council's response: thanks, but no thanks.

The disturbing possibility that a high-profile Muslim player could be stranded at an American airport, trying to explain to bemused immigration officials that he had a vital cricket World Cup match to play in Florida, was a damaging scenario that the ICC and the West Indies World Cup organising committee dared not take.

The fall-out from 9/11 means the likes of St Kitts and Nevis, two tiny Caribbean islands with a joint population of 39,000, have outbid the United States, official population, according to the CIA factbook, 293 million.

I know this seems like trivia ... but it's a small measure of how isolated the US is truly becoming, largely without our knowledge.

The ICC would dearly love to gain a foothold in the US, given what that could mean to the sport economically. Besides, cricket is a supremely international game in which national sides tour the planet frequently, often creating the sort of cultural exchange one hopes to see in the Olympics at its very best.

A recent series of matches between India and Pakistan was widely seen a key symbol of improving relations between the nuclear rivals. (Imagine a USSR hockey team's Glasnost-era tour of the US, and you get a bit of the flavor.) Despite a half-century of tension, terrorist incidents, and three actual shooting wars, Indian players touring Lahore were actually showered with flowers by Pakistanis eager for peace, a scene unimaginable to many not so long ago.

Pakistan's bowlers, batsmen, and silly mid-ons (yes, that's an actual position, a bit like a shortstop) aren't exactly terrorists -- but the world body of cricket is clearly convinced they're likely to be treated as such in America.

Our loss.

I wonder how long it will be before America learns that judging Islam by the actions of terrorists is like judging Christianity on the basis of Abu Ghraib.

I once watched New Zealand's cricket team host Pakistan in Auckland. The green-flag-waving Muslim contingent was treated as no big deal, friendly rivals, nothing more. In fact, during the lunch break, a white-robed long-bearded fellow in a large headdress took part in one of those catch-the-ball-win-a-prize things in the center of the field, and the crowd cheered him loudest of all. When his turn came, his headdress flew off, and he almost tripped on his robe, but he caught the ball and came up grinning. And in that moment, he wasn't some guy from halfway around the world. He was some guy who just got to be a little kid again, in front of 10,000 people.

It's a lovely memory, and something I wish we could see in this country someday.

Someday feels a little farther off.
Well then, no cricket players. (I know no one who knows that game at all, anyway - except for my friend Brindley out at JPL in Pasadena.)

And no pesky reporters from foreign parts being impertinent.

Ric in Paris says Canadians can be smug. Really? We're better at it. We're number one! We're number one!

Rick in Atlanta says all this kind of thing make your country and mine look like a big frigging stupid bully.

Yeah, but we do it so WELL. We're number one! We're number one!

One might conclude, if one were so minded, that it is time for a change. We could try to be what we claim to be - open and tolerant and all that. We never really were, but we used to at least try to be. The marketplace of ideas and opinions, where eccentricities (like cricket) are allowed to flourish? I think the marketplace is closed today - as it got too scary for all that.


From Jean-Paul Sartre, "Individualism and Conformism in America" (February 1945)

" ... the American, whose reason and freedom are called upon every hour of the day, makes it a point of honor to do as he is asked. It is when he is acting like everyone else that he feels most reasonable and most American; it is in displaying his conformism the he feels the freest."

"The peculiarity of the American... is that he regards his thought as universal."

"It was this complete freedom in conformism that struck me... [and] there is no freer city than New York. You do as you please there. It is public opinion that plays the part of policeman."

"American individualism seemed like a third dimension. It is not incompatible with conformism, but, on the contrary, implies it."

"In the United States individuality is something to be won."

- from notes I made on Thursday, January 24, 1980, so I don't know who provided the translation. Wasn't me. That was many years before finally got to France, and, after more visits, got the hang of the language. In fact, I jotted this down more than twenty-four years ago! Yipes!

Posted by Alan at 20:51 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 5 July 2004

Topic: Photos

Photography as Propaganda

The first shot is one Matt Drudge ran on his site last week, and has since removed. Just a trick of perspective. Kerry is a hunter and a gun-owner. He was at a shooting event, proving something or other. It doesn't matter. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has rated him "F" in the senate. Why? One reason is that Kerry thinks the ban on automatic assault weapons, due to expire on September 13th, should be extended. He sees no need for ordinary folks to own Uzi's and such. Says they'd be lousy for hunting. There's no way the ban will be extended. The votes aren't there.

I guess Kerry doesn't get the point. Folks say they have a right to their weapons of choice.

This photo may be the daydream of every conservative gun owner in America. Not that they'd advocate anything like what is pictured, much less try it. Just a little joke. Drudge thought it was funny. But he took it down. It's all over the web.

The second photo? Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of the National Review Online and on the television talk shows all the time. Very pro-Bush, pro-war, pro-torture and all that you would expect. Hates the French. (See his 1999 Bastille Day piece - Happy Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey Day!) Jonah's mother, Lucianne Goldberg, is far to the right of her son and on her own site ran this second photo of Kerry, with a caption saying that now even puppies were no longer safe.

Or this may be Kerry's new running mate. She was making fun of him. Bush eats puppies, or like Montgomery Burns, skins the alive for fun?

Consider this conservative humor.

Posted by Alan at 22:48 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Backgrounder

Housekeeping: Background Notes

The week started with the controversial idea floated by the new government of Iraq that perhaps it would be wise to grant amnesty to the "insurgents" fighting there right now - not all of them, but at least the small-fry. The idea was to divide "the opposition," so to speak.

The new Tito-lite fellow running the place, former CIA terrorist operative Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, now seems to be backing off the idea. Jack Straw, the UK foreign minister, and Australia have no problem with it.

American popular opinion, from what I see on the talk shows and in the papers, runs the other way. They killed our guys who were just there to free them all from Saddam Hussein. It's an insult. Ungrateful bastards! And everyone knows you kill the bad guys. Amnesty? What for?

Our government is silent. It's the Iraqis' show now? Sovereignty and all that.

Special Case: Would Muqtada al-Sadr get amnesty? He's wanted for murder and Bush pledged to "get him and bring him to justice" - and to get his pesky private militias. The words of one angry Texan, armed, big time, are not to be taken lightly. (Bush has been working on that steely Clint Eastwood glare.)

And now Muqtada al-Sadr has issued a statement calling the new interim Iraqi government "illegitimate" and pledging to resist "oppression and occupation."

Dicey stuff. The MAN (Bush) says this bad guy is going DOWN, but the deputy sheriff (Allawi) says, well, maybe not. We could pull him in and make him a partner.

The bad guy (al-Sadr) just laughs and calls them both fools - and plans to go on being a pain in the ass.

Of course if you check this item you will discover that al-Sadr's spokesman "clarified" his "recent militant statements." Mahmud al-Sudani (the spokesman) said that Muqtada is still committed to a truce and would only work against this here caretaker government "non-violently."

Ah! You see Muqtada al-Sadr has in the past offered to distinguish between the Allawi government and the US troops, and offered to offer to support Allawi if he would set a firm timetable for a US withdrawal. Operarting theory here? Those big, bad threats are aimed at aimed at shoring up his base of support - the folks who really don't want us there. Yeah, the Allawi government had considered offering an amnesty to Sadr and his lieutenants, but postponed it Monday until it could clarify whether the fellow was still committed to violence. He said he was. His spokesman said he wasn't.

Keep `em guessing. Keep `em guessing.

And about this murder charge... Al-Sadr is wanted for the 10 April 2003 assassination of rival cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoei, a charge he denies. The hapless other cleric was stabbed to death in the central Shia city of Najaf, along with two other people. See this for details. No one says al-Sadr actually stabbed the guy, but he may have been part of conspiracy to do that, or known of a conspiracy to do that. Or should have known of a conspiracy to do that. Or something. The charges we lodged by the previous Coalition Provisional Authority - the guys we so carefully picked. Gone now. The new government, which we only indirectly picked, may or may not be legally required to maintain the original charges. Unclear.

So what? Now the interim government of this Allawi guy is taking a significant step in imposing its authority by drafting an emergency law, titled The Law for Defense of National Safety.

Damn that sounds familiar.

Over at SLATE.COM you will find quick reviews of the international press. And one sees there that according to Lebanon's Daily Star (they got a copy of the thing) the new government has hesitated to pass the legislation, "because of concerns that it grants Allawi too much power." The prime minister will be able to declare martial law in certain parts of Iraq or nationwide, though he would need Cabinet approval for the former, and Cabinet and presidential approval for the latter. Once martial law is declared, the emergency law would allow Allawi to: "Take command over all police, intelligence, army and other security forces in that area ... Create special civilian courts for people accused of 'major crimes' ... Appoint civilian or military administrators in areas under martial rule. Release any defendant from custody ... Monitor--and restrict--mail, telegrams and wireless communications in affected areas. Freeze the assets of anybody accused of crimes that undermine national security, as well as those who are accused of providing shelter, funding and other assistance to suspected insurgents."

Ah, yep.

The July 7 BBC item on this has some interesting quotes.
"The lives of the Iraqi people are in danger, they are in danger from evil forces, from gangs of terrorists," said Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin.

Iraqi officials introducing the new law said people should be protected in the current climate of violence.

Mr Amin described the law as being similar to the controversial US anti-terror Patriot Act.
They are learning. Evil forces! They're getting the idea now.

There is GOOD - and then there is EVIL. George wins.

More to follow...

Housekeeping: Part Two

In these pages on Friday, 2 July 2004 in Voices - On Winning or Playing Fair you will find some comments on the upcoming election and the importance of Ohio

Bob Patterson, The World's Laziest Journalist, says that state is the one key state in the next election.

Ohio. In April 2003, Bush visited the Timken Company in Canton (Stark County) to give an economic policy speech to many hundreds of Timken line workers, administrators, and the company's chief executive officer, Tim Timken. He held up Timken - the company, not his friend - as a model for how the recovery was going great guns. I saw it on CNN.


Last month the plant closed.

Jobs all gone - poof!

The Timken closing represents twenty-seven percent of Stark County employment.


Details here - and it was a bummer. The CEO is major Bush campaign fundraiser, a "Ranger."

Oops. Again.

Will Bush win Ohio? Who knows?

My brother in Cincinnati says no. But Ohio just mandated that all their public schools teach both evolution and creationism - equal time for each. My brother's wife, a teacher there, just rolls her eyes. She teaches reading to "special education" second graders. She'll be fine.

Yes, Bush has publicly said "the jury is still out" on that there evolution theory. He doesn't buy it. Well, to be fair, there's more, or less, to it - in an October 29 New York Times article on Bush, Nicholas Kristof reports: "Characteristically, he does not believe in evolution - he says the jury is still out - but he does not actively disbelieve in it either; as a friend puts it, 'he doesn't really care about that kind of thing.'"

You see, he's just not curious about it. It's just fancy book-learning stuff. Not his concern. That might play well in Ohio.

Consider too that Ohio just passed a total state ban on not only gay marriage, but on same-sex civil unions too. No rights for these folks. The Bush call to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage may play well there. He's on their side.

The state is his to lose.

The vote? Electronic there this year.

Bob worries the Ohio vote could be rigged.

Yes, the Ohio Diebold systems can be hacked. Easily. The Diebold CEO is a Bush Ranger too. And his guys know the source code and data structures.

But the systems are pretty open. Maybe I could hack them in the other direction. That might be fun.

But that wouldn't be fair.

Posted by Alan at 20:29 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 7 July 2004 17:49 PDT home

Sunday, 4 July 2004

Topic: Photos

New stuff...

Volume 2, Number 26 (Sunday, July 4, 2004) of Just Above Sunset is now on line.

Extended versions of items that have appeared here - AND Bob Patterson on Bush and his flying lessons - and a bit on what makes for good photography (as he's done a bit of that for Associated Press). Ric Erickson's note from Paris becomes a weekly feature - and this week we get a bit on Marlon Brando's death making the front page of all the Paris papers and Michael Moore's film opening there. And readers send in comments - from Chicago to Atlanta, and from Montr?al to Paris. There's much on the law this time, and on religion and on ethics. Most folks just check out the pretty pictures. Whatever. It's all online now.

Yes, it's the Fourth of July Issue - with quotes about America - and a patriotic Hollywood photo.

Posted by Alan at 19:53 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Couldn't be so...


As for Bush getting reelected, the marketplace speaks volumes - see this - where you can buy shares. Rick Brown, the News Guy, pointed out this site last year.

Let's see - today the New York Times breaks the news we traded "detainees" with the Saudis (some Brits go free from there after they'd been tortured, and we release a few Saudi dudes from Guant?namo) - so we could keep the coalition of the reluctant together a bit longer. The Los Angeles Times quotes from the Army's own report that the statute being pulled down in Baghdad was completely staged. Just what folks on the left claimed was true and everyone on the right claimed was not so at all.

And Air Force One was grounded with a bad engine and Bush misses a West Virginia engagement while they roll out the spare plane.

And this this from Bob Harris:
You've surely already read about Colin Powell performing the Village People's "YMCA" in Indonesia. If not, the BBC has the video.

As the BBC's Tim Wilcox dryly put it: In any league table of politician's most embarrassing moments, it must rank pretty high.

And really, is there any better way to help stabilize a nation struggling with fanatic Muslim reactionaries than by performing a tune originally created to celebrate joyful gay sex?

I think not.

Y'know, it's the sheer enthusiasm behind the bat-brained idiocy that's so amusing.

Watch the video. Tell your friends.

And then remember this is the guy whose cartoons, empty vials, and plagiarized, misleading data led directly to an elective war, ten thousand civilian deaths, global distrust of the U.S., and a strengthened Al-Qaeda, all at a rising cost already surpassing $120 billion.

The guy in the hard hat. Trying to sing "YMCA." In front of a bunch of foreign ministers. In Indonesia.

Giggle. Cry.

And then at least be glad we'll (probably) still have elections in the fall.

I guess there's still some pride in that.

On this July 4, have a truly wonderful series of gratuitous explosions -- a form of celebration derived from the British, the escape from whose influence we are supposedly celebrating.
Geniuses, we are. Genius, right from the start.
Well, the sun is setting out here in Hollywood. Time to watch some fireworks, after sedating Harriet-the-Cat.

Posted by Alan at 19:38 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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