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...a sweatshop of moxie

Monday, February 28, 2005

Change of Pace

Puff Bushie

What makes this photo funny is that it works. Think about it.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

And the winner is...!

Welcome to Live Blogging for the Oscars. I'm just doing the Biggies though. None of this Oscar for Best Adaptation of an Animated Short Foreign Film Documentary. If it doesn't get an invite to the Vanity Fair Ball, I'm not blogging about it, pffft!

8:33- Ooh, a retrospective, and not that Chuck Workman bit that gets dusted off every year. Oh gosh, Shrek and Charlie Chaplin...somehow, the art medium known as cinema seems to have gone downhill in 80 years.
8:38- As blogger guest Renato said, "He (Chris Rock) is in David Letterman territory now." The Oscars is not the chance try out your stand-up, Chris. Tobey McGuire diss! He is burning bridges. I hope his Hummer is amphibious.
8:41- "They can make 6 Police Academies but can't make one Passion of the Christ." Tank city. And by that I mean his tank tops in Banana Republic-Iraq WMD allusion. No he's not reaching, is he?
8:46- First Oscar goes to Italians who thanked their kids Melissa, Edoardo e Giorgio, and no lawyers. Damn skimpy.
8:48- BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR- Morgan Freeman! Had to be. For having to drive Miss Daisy to the Piggly-Wiggly for years long after Jessica Tandy passed on.
8:54- Robin Williams looking like Count Cagliostro in that tapered at the waist half-tux. Red shirt keeps out the Chianti stains or the blood from the Estate of Marlon Brando.

8:57- BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM- The Incredibles! Bit difficult to make a sequel though. I mean, what do you call it? The Superlatives? The Galactics? The José Mourinho Egos?
9:00- This new idea of thanking people in the aisles is bizarre. During Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, Thanksgiving prayers were held OUTSIDE of St. Paul's Cathedral, prompting one dignitary to snipe, "Imagine, after 60 years of glorious reign, thanking God in the street." Give them a podium!
9:05- Just because your name looks French, Beyoncé, doesn't mean you can speak it (or sing it).
9:15- I would kill myself if my name were Horst Burbulla.
9:21- BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS- Cate Blanchett! Deservedly so. She's apologising to her husband for the cheesiness of having to thank him. Give me a break, Cate -- this whole night is one big stinky frommage.
9:28- Only one Carson, says Whoopi Goldberg. "The bridge between the old and the new." And she's right.
9:32- BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE- Born into Brothels! Finally, Anna Nicole Smith gets hers. (Renato: What kind of accent is that? Sounds like Jersey meets Mersey).
9:33- Okay, what's the deal? The categories are like a sausage factory -- get 'em in, get 'em out! The Oscars are supposed to run long. We all know this. At this frantic pace, Jack Nicholson will be home by midnight.
9:42- Catherine Zeta-Jones caught in the loo, Chris Rock fills in. Many lame jokes ensue. (Renato: Someone must have hacked into her T-Mobile Sidekick).
9:50- Sidney Lumet gets a Hitchcockian Oscar, or "Sorry we couldn't honour you for any of your real films, but here's a nice statuette where you can pretend we did." Come on, Academicians. 12 Angry Men alone was better than a dozen Dances with Wolves. UPDATE: He gave one of the most elegant speeches ever. If I were ever to give an Oscar acceptance speech, it would be Lumet's. Even Mickey Rooney was in tears. He just heard the bar was closed.
9:58- Guest blogger Jim wants you to know Iron Chef Flay had a big win and the Slam Dunk Skillet contest is next! Hey. Not everyone is rivetted to ABC.

10:10- "Comedy Superstar Jeremy Irons". True. Brideshead Revisited was miles better than Coupling.
10:12- First Oscar to Dogs Bollocks everywhere.
10:29- Antonio Banderas needs singing lessons from that Brazilian Miller Lite parrot. "F-minor, papi!".
10:41- Blimey, Alan Greenspan gets a thank you, and it's not from anyone named Andrea or Dubya. *zinger!*
10:28- Someone do the dozens about Yo-Yo Ma. "Yo Yo Ma was so fat...". Come on, work with me people!
10:30- My favourite part of the Oscars. Remembering those who have passed. *sniff*
11:00- Jorge Drexler curtsied to Prince. Who's going to tell him that's not Charles?
11:02- Sean Penn showing us once again he has no sense of humour at all. Film at eleven.
11:03- BEST ACTRESS- Hillary Swank! Dude looks like a lady. Wow, is it me or is she a dead-ringer for Judy Garland though? I'd like to have seen Judy take an upper-cut. Ooh, Chad Lowe gets a thank you. Finally.
11:12- BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM- to Spain for The Sea Inside! Bah. I wanted Der Untergang, 'cause any film with der Führer has my vote. Still, Javier Bardem was great in this film but Heil Bardem! doesn't have the same ring.
11:24- BEST ACTOR- Jamie Foxx! You could've blown me down with a feather. I thought his performance was more an impersonation, than an acting performance, but hey. Oooh, Ophrah with a Black Power sign. Jamie honouring his grandmother. "Lot to talk tonight". Get used to hearing that acceptance speech. That'll be in Oscars Highlights for years and years.
11:34- BEST DIRECTOR- Clint Eastwood! Man, what a let down for Marty, but at least we got to see the lovely mother of Clint Eastwood. What do you expect? No bitchiness at 11:30? I'm tired here. Now I know how Wonkette feels at the State of the Unions.
11:35- Okay chaps, we have the runway in sight. Barbra Streisand forgot her grannie glasses. Best joke of the night.
11:37- BEST PICTURE- MILLION DOLLAR BABY! "It's better to vin!". Hey, no Ahnuld? I guess he and Wolfgang Puck are too busy setting up the schnitzels for the Governor's Ball.

And speaking of balls, this has been some kind of blogging marathon. And may I say, though this might be the worst Oscars in living memory, I had a blast. And I for one would like to thank my lawyer.

UPDATE: I don't know how they found me, but the good folks at Liveblogging.org found this post about the Oscars, and have a smörgåsbord of live Oscar blogging. Check them out!

Saturday, February 26, 2005


Guess who I saw in Lincoln Road today? Mauricio Zeilic of Telemundo's cafecitoklatsch show, Cotoreando.

I was having a latte and mother a glass of vino after a shopping excursion on the Beach, when the king of Hispanic gossip-shows sat down next to us, with some friends, of whom mother seemed to think one was Carlos Ponce -- the Colombian Ricky Martin.

Since South Beach denizens pride themselves on not going gaga over celebrities that descend on us, no one really troubled the party whilst they sat and chatted animatedly.

A far far cry from the day when my mother, dad and I were staying at the Fountainebleu Hotel, and as we waited for valet service to bring round our car, who should happen to come walzing out but Liza Minelli, going into a waiting limo.

"LIZA!", squealed my mother, throwing her arms around her, and as long as I live, I'll never forget Judy Garland's daughter's expression.

The expression that is kinda sorta used to that, and yet, it never fails to be rather scary.

I promised myself I'd never ever do that when I grew up, although I did give Mauricio a wink as I passed by. He recoiled visibly.

Friday, February 25, 2005


My mother says I'm a morbid person sometimes, and I warn you, I'm having a morbid moment.

First, a personal disclosure. I'm a Roman Catholic. Happy, untroubled, deeply enthusiastic Roman Catholic at that.

Not for me those self-tortured thoughts of wrong-doing by my Church, no sir. I love the panoply and history of this 2000 year Reich, and then some. What can I say -- I was born a deeply hierarchical person.

So last year I had a morbid thought (there I go again, mum) -- one that I confess, I've been having since the millenium changeover.

Who would succeed my beloved Polish-born Pope, Karol Józef Wojtyła, dit John Paul II?

To this end I took out a few books from the public library so when the sad, and hopefully not near day arrives, and we Catholics are shepherdless bleeting sheep in the religious wilderness (passes hankie around), I am not caught unawares by the Papal Conclave. I hate when that happens.

As you all know, especially you Dan Brown freaks, a Papal Conclave is called by the Pope's Camerlengo (or Chamberlain) to gather all the cardinals who will be electing the new Pontiff. This process begins within 15 days of the Pope's death (20 for all to arrive, after that the Sistine Chapel, where they will be selecting the new Pope, is sealed).

Man, I hope the Cardinal of Indonesia can get there on time! I heard roads were rough in his area.

But what everyone wants to know is WHO? Who would be the next Pope for the XXIst century?

Fortunately, an Irish bookie has started the ball rolling by posting the odds of various Cardinals around. You see, ma, I'm not the only morbid one around! I'm not even making money off of the speculation (although I do have a PayPal account available for any generous readers).

Habemus Papa!

Here, then, are the Papabili and their odds:

  • - Dionigi Tettamanzi, 70, Archbishop of Milan, 5 to 2 odds. Comment: Hmm, Archbishop? I thought only Cardinals could elect a Pope. Where's my "Angels & Demons"?
  • - Francis Arinze, 74, Nigerian Cardinal, 3 to 1. Comment: Crafty choice. Are world-wide Catholics ready for a black Pontiff? Why not indeed. Bit old though.
  • - Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, 68, Cuban Cardinal, 11 to 2. Comment: Yuck. In bed with Castro. Next.
  • - Ennio Antonelli, 68, Cardinal of Florence
  • - Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, 62, Honduran Cardinal, both at 6 to 1. Comment: The Honduran looks good. I'm betting the next Pope will be Latin American or Iberian. He's the right age too.
  • - Joseph Ratzinger, 77, Cardinal from Germany
  • - Claudio Hummes, 70, Brazilian Cardinal, both at 8 to 1 odds. Comment: Ratzinger is said to have all the charm of bon vivant, so that's out, and Hummes is very popular in São Paulo. Too old though.
  • - Giacomo Biffi, 76, Cardinal of Bologna, 10 to 1. Comment: Come on, 76? Where's the bang for your buck?
  • - Christoph Schoenborn, 60, Cardinal of Vienna
  • - Angelo Scola, 63, Cardinal of Venice
  • - Jean-Marie Lustiger, 78, French Cardinal, 12 to 1 odds all. Comment: YES! Nice choices, except for the Frenchie. Don't forget that John XXIII was Cardinal of Venice before ascending to the Papacy. The two youngest of the papabili. But another European? Hmm. Latin America is bleeding Catholics! We need help here.
  • - Angelo Sodano, 77, Vatican Cardinal and the Secretary of State (Number 2 guy)
  • - Ivan Dias, 68, Cardinal of India, 16 to 1 both. Comment: No one elects Powers-Behind-the-Thrones or Popes who cook a mean curry.
  • - Diamuid Martin, 59, Cardinal of Dublin, didn't get but 66 to 1 odds from his compatriot. Comment: Tough crowd.
Intriguing, isn't it? Well, as we mull over the choices, I'm off to say a rosary for Il Papa. I may be morbid, but I am no bookie.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Little Green Ladas

I'm always looking for blogs with a travel-twist -- and if you know of any, let me know.

So when I chanced on a first-hand account of the Bush-Putin Summit held in Bratislava yesterday, in a blog written by comely Karola Lenehan, I was brought into that event first-hand through her impressions.

But what I loved most, since I am not very politicised and this blog piece isn't taking you to where you think you're going, were her photos of that and other events, which capture the texture of life in her world vividly. That Karola's got an eye for composition, and the quirky, a sure-fire winning combination in photography.

My favourite? The green Lada, of course! Parked with great self-dignity to the side of a wooded road.

Lada love

Ahh, the Lada. I know it well.

I've driven its Soviet-bloc first-cousin, the Dacia, and its more elegant brother, the Volga, around many parts of Eastern Europe. The Lada itself I never got to drive, although I hired it and a private chauffeur during my mercy trip to Cuba some years ago, which if prodded gently, I'll offer up as a blog memoir one day.

The Lada is an one-of-a-kind car, ironic for this massed-produced humdinger.

Bumpy, yes, disagreeable, yes, temperamental, definitely, but it's because of that that I remember it, after so many other hired cars of my travels have been long forgotten.

Mind you, it's not a patch on the Skoda Tudor Coupe, but then, the latter doesn't come in Stalin-baby-puke-green.

Long after there is no Soviet Union, the Lada lives on, a relic of an unforgettable past.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Guillermo Cabrera Infante


Never heard of Guillermo Cabrera Infante, you say?

Well if he weren't such an outspoken critic of El Comandante-en-Jefe, maybe just maybe, those of you outside of the Hispanophone world might have, as assuredly you have of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Pablo Neruda. Heck, even a second-rate hack like Paulo Coelho is more famous than he ever was.

But when you're on the wrong side of the intelligentsia's pet topics, the plaudits don't come as easily, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ultimately found out.

I had the pleasure of meeting Cabrera Infante on two different occasions in England, where he had exiled himself after leaving his adored Cuba in 1965. Both occasions were Oxford University events; one formally at the Randolph, one informally at the Freud Café.

When meeting the famous or the well-heeled, it's up to you to make them feel comfortable in those situations, since after all, you know them, but they know nothing about you.

So to break the ice on approaching him, I mentioned how my mother had just sent me a new watch, a Longines. He gave a sideways smile, not knowing where the conversation was going, so I continued, "Look, it can tell the time in London, New York, Geneva, Hong Kong and La Souwesera".

[Note to non-South Floridians, La Souwesera or Southwest Miami is the Spanglish for Little Havana]

It took some moments before he composed himself from laughing so much, and two years later in 1997, when we met again, he remembered the anecdote fondly.

"La Souwesera!", peels of laughter anew.

To my mind, Cabrera Infante's cinematographic critiques were amongst the finest in any language ever, although they sometimes masqueraded as something else, like his punning opus, Holy Smoke.

But to call his writing critiques is to do them a severe injustice, since they had such depth of understanding that they illuminated your entire vision of life, never mind just the film, cigar, or dance experience at hand. It's like meeting a human encyclopaedia, with more savoir faire than any of those dry tomes could ever hope to have.

This Premio Cervantes winner, which has been called the Nobel Prize for Literature of the Spanish language, was quite fluent in English, although with an accent, as he told me sheepishly.

I told him that certain accents improved languages, but he replied, with the true honesty all Cubans share, "yes, but Spanish is not one of them".

Later in that conversation, he referred to himself as "medio chinito", or a little bit Chinese-looking, which made me like him that much more. The best people are always the ones who never believe themselves to be more (or less) than they are.

Cabrera Infante wore that frankness effortlessly, but uncompromisingly, so much so that I realised how it was impossible for this one-time Communist, and ex-friend of Fidel Castro, to have stayed on in a Cuba rent with lies, a Potemkin village island. For he and his withering tongue, it was only a matter of time before they banned him...or worse.

Well, his exact contemporary lives on in this Caribbean Pais de Maravillas, and Cabrera Infante died in exile in London on Tuesday, never having seen his beloved Havana, or the Oriente province of his birth again.

But somewhere out there, I know Cabrera Infante's close-set eyes must still be glistening, because his legacy is more honest, holds up truer against the looking-glass than anything left standing in Wonderland.

QPD/RIP, chinito.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Very Small World

Do you know about A Small World?

If answer, no, you're obviously not a person who is under what Evelyn Waugh once called, "that low door in the wall".

See, Small World bills itself as several cuts-above Friendster, and many rungs above even LinkedIn, that Friendster for Professionals, as my chum Jim calls it, half-approvingly.

Prince Kirill of Bulgaria about to take off the bunny slopes of St. Anton

Small World is a community board for café society, where last summer someone asked for a ride to the Côte d'Azur on the next available private jet. Not for themselves, mind, but for their chihuahua. Not surprisingly, a member obliged by next post.

And it goes without saying that nothing to do with that rarified world would be available without a personal invitation. As it says on their front-page blurb:

If you have not received an invitation, you can ask your friends to invite you. If you have no friends who are members yet, you simply need to be patient.

I'm still waiting.

Monday, February 21, 2005

How the West Was Hated

What spare time I have is devoted to internetting (as my father rather dismissively puts it), reading books and watching films.

This weekend was especially bumpy time-wise, but I did manage to gobble up another thin essay-book, this time by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit called Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies.

How to tell apart a critic of the West -- its value systems, its shared histories, and its ultimate lessons --, who are many, with a hater of the West, which seem at times lately, many more?

It would seem a monumental book would be in order, and yet Buruma & Margalit attack the topic with laser precision in less than 200 pages.

An Occidentalist, a word which should be in more common-usage, is a person who believes the West veers from insipid, harmful, immoral or evil, depending on degrees of distaste.

If, as the authors say, Western values centre around civilisation, freedom and peace (note how they omit equality), do Occidentalists then prefer a state of lawlessness, slavery or subjugation, and warfare?

In the chapter, "Heroes and Merchants", they posit that Occidentalists might just do, even if I believe the great bulk of people do not consciously understand this. Few human beings have as their goal to be a slave, or to live in anarchy, and yet, some do.

How else could one explain that some people accept the unacceptable (such as your country being held ransom by a madman like Pol Pot) where others do not? But more of that later.

The merchant, first exemplified by the British, that nation of shopkeepers in the infamous slur of Napoleon, longs for peace, since his will to live is stronger than his will to die -- which is seen as aristocratic, a literally noble ideal. To sacrifice oneself for a higher cause is the pre-eminent anti-bourgeois goal.

Slavery or subjugation enters into the picture as a form of hierarchy -- a natural order of things, with one leader ideally, or leaders rather than pluralities in charge. Pluralities are messy, and by definition, egalitarian in spirit. For those seeking simplicity and assurances, it's better to be a slave than to be free.

A central theme is Komfortismus, that dread burger-state of dull self-satisfaction and need for tranquility -- this is the worst possible "soft" result of Western culture, since it emasculates and brings the woman into physical equality with men, which warfare clearly would not. The authors don't state this baldly as I have, but that is the gist in my opinion.

Another theme is the lessening ties of religion in Western culture, which paradoxically is seen as both good and bad, in equal measures by Occidentalists and Westerners alike.

Although I find this topic extremely to my taste, which I will revisit frequently in this blog, I will not delve deeper today than to say the following:

A lot of the hatred and lack of understanding of Western culture revolves around Capitalism, and the fact that religion plays little or no rôle in our State ideal, especially topical to the many world fundamentalists, with their jaundiced understanding of the West.

It is curious then that Americans, a people not religious so much as comfortable with religiosity, are the targets of special hatred.

Do these anti-Westerners fail to grasp the fact that without a place for religion in American life, as personalised as it is to each of us and without official sanction of any kind, actually tempers the Merchant Komfortismus? This actually makes the lie that Americans are ruled by the almighty dollar, when it is other peoples who chase after money as a drowning man would a raft, which religious ideals sometimes act as counterweight to.

America would be the temple of greed, venal and naked in its ambitions, as it is imagined now by so many countless people, without this anti-modern ideal -- the fact that yes, religion is separate from Church and State, but not necessarily from Church and Society.

And it is this very injection of religiosity that perhaps makes Americans more ready to fight (and yes for some, to die) for the preservation of their ideals than other Westerners.

This is something which Occidentalists, who deride Westerners as weak or godless, do not fully grasp regarding their special enemy, the United States.

It's not that they have a kamikaze or terrorist will to die, but that in defending their country (which in reality means their way of life), many Americans are willing to die without so much as a nod to their Komfortismus. No amount of money is worth the price of their beliefs, secular or religious. Capitalism is not their God.

In this, by and large in the modern age, Americans are very different from Europeans -- especially the Germans and the French, the utmost proponents of laïcisme.

As the President of the US tours Europe, where his hosts often have fetishised his Christianity, it would be well to remember that the West can be as Occidentalist as many others around the world.

The worst kind of hatred is the kind which stems not from understanding too well, but understanding too little all the while thinking you understand too well.

Underestimating your foe is worse than losing to him, because when you do, you have only yourself to blame.

And hating the West has more than a few roots in self-hatred.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Not a paen to the Champions League, which starts up again Tuesday, but rather a wonderful find on IMDB:

David Beckham is soon to making his acting debut in a film called, with Andres Cantor-like flourish, GOAL!.

Braid it like Beckham

Finally, 80 years hence since the talkies arrived to the silver screens, John Gilbert and his high-pitched whiney voice have the last laugh.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Lord Berners

My favourite Lord Berners anecdote, admittedly a Solomonic choice, is the story of Lord Berners sending the redoubtable Queen Mary a copy of his roman à clef, "The Girls of Radcliff Hall". The name in itself is a pun on the unforgettably masculine authoress of the lesbisch anthem, The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe "Call me, John" Hall.

I'm not sure what he must've enjoyed more -- the mere fact of sending this naughty inside-joke book to the old Queen, or the fact that she, taking the maxim "the politeness of kings" to her bosom, sent him a note in grateful thanks, telling him how much she had enjoyed it. *

The other day, my cousin Reggie sends me a feverish email saying that he happened to find a copy of this very book (well not THAT very book, since that one is allegedly in the Royal Archives, but a sister-copy) in a dilapidated booksellers in North London, and that he was sending it on to me with every speed. Huzzah!

It will go nicely next to my first edition Die Buddenbrooks, and autographed copy of Machiavelli's The Prince. Autographed by me, but the point stands.

*Actually, my favourite anecdote of Lord Berners has to do with the social-lioness, Sybil Colefax. She was especially gaga over royalty, and knowing this all too well, Lord Berners devised a cruel plan -- he would send her an anonymous hand-written note notifying her that the Prince of Wales had specifically asked to meet her, and to please come round at 7 P.M. for cocktails at address smudged, neighbourhood illegible.

It was said Lady Colefax spent the night going up and down Mayfair, in the vain hopes she might chance on the party by inspired luck.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Red Carpet

If you love cinema too, and especially like the tatty extravaganza that are the Oscars every year, then you may want to join this Pick'em league on Yahoo:

RSS goes Oscars 2005

ID: 1786
PW: rss

(I request setting your email to VISIBLE)

In the interests of full disclosure, these are my Top Oscar Picks:

Best Picture

C'mon, it's Marty.

Best Actor
Johnny Depp

I think the voting may be very close this year, with Depp, Di Caprio (the favourite), Cheadle, Foxx all extremely able to win the Academy Award by a split victory. I'm going with Depp to succeed Penn as Best Actor. Those are the two most dominant, and most talented actors of their generation, and it would be fitting to succeed one another on the rostrum. Come now, we have to get a politically-charged speech at least once a year. In a perfect world, Don Cheadle would win by an East LA drag-racing mile, though.

Best Actress
Imelda Staunton

Many angles to exploit here: The "character actress done good" angle. The "At least she doesn't have to fear the Oscars' Curse, because no one has ever heard of her anyway" angle. The "We honour Brits as much as Americans 'cause we get to hear nicely spoken English for a change" angle. You know it's true. And not just because I'm British. Well, maybe.

Best Supporting Actor
Jamie Foxx

Having been nominated in two categories actually works against Jamie Foxx. I think the Academy will give him a super-sop with the BSA Award. Collateral was one of the better popcorn films too.

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett

Cate's due. Did you see her dual-role in Coffee and Cigarettes? Uncanny. Although the best Katharine Hepburn send-up I've ever seen on film was by Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hudsucker Proxy.

Best Director
Martin Scorsese

C'mon, it's Marty.

Best Foreign Film

Ooh! Bruno Ganz-city. After Josef Meinrad died, Bruno Ganz succeeded him as the near-mystical Iffland-Ring wearer (given to the best German-speaking actor of his time, and since Meinrad was Austrian, and Ganz, Swiss, that makes it over 100 years a non-German born actor has worn it, oh the irony!), it could only be up from there.

Best Documentary Feature

A total cop-out after I just said how moving The Story of the Weeping Camel was. But if we have to reward putting your life on the line for your art, literally, then Super Size Me must walk away with Oscar -- because he's too pigged out on Mickey D's to run.

Best Animated Feature

Haven't watched yet, but some friends said it was an intelligent, sensitive kiddie flick. I did watch Shark Tale, and that absolutely stunk. It looked like an underwater version of the Car Wash meets The Sopranos meets Queer as Folk.

Those are my picks.

Not too risky I grant you, but one has to think like the Academy in these matters, and if you can think like a self-satisfied, pompous, tacky organisation of thousands, well, have I got a job for you opposite Joan Rivers.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

"Pre-emption for Dummies"

So there are worse things than being sick in bed all day today, since that allows me to catch up on some much needed reading of a non-medical textbook nature.

But I was feeling in a sombre mood all day today, politically-inclined which is quite rare for me, so instead of my "Inside the Victorian Home" book which I have yet to finish, I decided to tackle that soigné volume by John Lewis Gaddis called, "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience".

Well it's a book one can polish off at a sitting, since it's less than 160 pages long, including endnotes. I read the back of matchbooks faster than that, and yet...today I am taking my time, fully digesting his points, in what is a sweeping lecture on the structure and ethos of American foreign policy since the Founding Fathers.

Although there are some lapses, such as describing the declaration of war after the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 surprise attacks as "immediate" (Pearl Harbor was, 9/11 took a month to cogitate, and thereto act), his clarity in reuniting the various strains of US foreign policy is truly worthy of applause.

One sometimes feels when reading a book that this is a work that has been a lifetime percolating within -- Bernard Lewis' equally slim volumes have that feel; something he could pen in an afternoon, because it all comes so naturally to him. They're all a lifetime's elbow grease compacted into one narrative account.

That's what I admire most in writing. Synthesis, depth, and grace rolled into one. Not all of us can be Hector Bolitho, but we can try...

P.S.: I knew John Quincy Adams was a fantastic diplomat (with a British-born wife yet), but being the pre-eminent American political strategist of the 19th century came as a surprise to me. Franklin Roosevelt holding that honour for the 20th century, however, did not. I wonder what's around the corner in page 89. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Everything you wanted to know about Blogosphere, but were too busy updating your blog to ask

You know a topic has made it to the big time when Charlie Rose talks about it on his Dick Cavett-wannabe PBS show.

It seems blogs have hit critical mass -- which is timely for a highly critical mass known as bloggers.

On his show of Tuesday, 15 February 2005, he had on these now legendary bloggers, the Lewis and Clark of the genre:

- Ana Marie Cox, better known as Wonkette.
- Glenn Reynolds, better known as Instapundit.
- Andrew Sullivan, who shuns a cutesy blogger nickname.
- Joe Trippi, former campaign manager for Gov. Dr. Howard Dean in the US Presidential elections.

Of these four, one is a full-time journalist, Andrew Sullivan; one has now become a full-time media pundit, Joe Trippi; and the last two are political blogging legends, Instapundit and Wonkette.

I was especially intrigued by the latter two, since I've seen Andrew Sullivan on telly before, and I stood this close to Joe Trippi when he came with the media vultures to the University of Miami for the first Presidential debate. So they were old hat. But I had never seen the acid-tongued Wonkette, and the withering Instapundit in my life. They were so human! They even smiled at me, and gave me a little wave at the end.

Although Charlie Rose can never be accused of asking too penetrating questions, because he's just too damn nice and oozing Southern molasses, his piece on blogosphere really did break it down for people unused to the topic -- like, say, my parents.

We finally have a piece of the pie

Here are my further thoughts on the topic.

Blogs are the new "wave" of the internet:

Instant online journals which contain a person's (ideally, but often several people's if you so allow) thoughts on any topic under the sun. They can be themed-blogs, like a political blog, or they can be themed but flexible, or they can be multi-formatted, like I hope my blog always will be. That's why it's called Sundries, after all. Now you know.

Blogs are changing how media cover stories:

Incremental changes, perhaps, but changes. Blogs have already famously been credited with bringing down Dan Rather and Eason Jordan with their constant hammering against these two powerful leaders of US media. It's interesting that Harold Raines was also mentioned by one of the guests as having been a victim of blogging pressure, although I cannot remember if that was the case as much as these two others.

Anyone can blog -- you don't need a fancy-schmancy degree to blog:

The birth of Citizen Media, as it's sometimes called, is truly astounding in its rapidity and strength. The bloggers are the new Pamphleteers of the 18th century: where anyone with an opinion and access to a cheap printing press could diffuse his ideas. Surely, there is a John Locke lurking amongst the lot.

Mainstream media (or MSM, as it's known in Blogosphere) veer from hostile to dismissive to grudgingly accepting of blogs:

What a shock that is! ESPECIALLY since Watergate, MSM have positioned themselves as the watchdogs of the public interest. Now the watchdogs have watchdogs. If I were an elite little club, I wouldn't like it either -- no sir, not one bit. It's only a matter of time before there is a talk show blog. Watch out Charlie Rose.

And finally, blogs go one over the immediacy of satellite television, if such a thing is possible:

MSM have their sponsors to appease, and target audiences which to erm, target -- whereas bloggers have no one to curry favour with. They are the fastest, most honest expressions of free speech available on the Wild West known as the internet. And these honest opinions are generated via computer, a browser, and an internet connexion. It doesn't get any cheaper and faster than that. And these days, video web logs are all the rage too. Soon "Reporting from Baghdad" will mean another face on the monitor than Christiane Amanpour's. And instead of one reporter on scene, there will be hundreds, because there already are -- dozens of Rony Abovitzes in the making.

There are other observations I could mention regarding the advent of blogs.

One thing that has always puzzled me which really shouldn't, given its bureaucratic nature, is how the main three networks in the US, namely, ABC, CBS, NBC, have been so slow to reacting to the CNN revolution, that their nightly newscasts and newsmagazine shows have gone from informative to repetitive, and even 60 Minutes, formerly a type of consumer advocate, now merely is a talk show without paternity tests, and a political critic, without the least show of balance.

In other words, MSM haven't even begun to adapt themselves to a changing time after the first Gulf War, when CNN ate them up for dinner. Then came the advent of Fox News, who in turn has destroyed single-handedly the hegemony of CNN. And MSM really have never recovered from either.

(Hmm. Three US wars, three different forms of media irretrievably tied to them: Vietnam War and network television, Gulf War I and CNN, Gulf War II and blogging. I wonder what the next major war will consecrate...)

How on earth then, did we expect them to be on top of things when bloggers and their blunt ways, came unasked to the media dinner party? And yet again, they will have little reaction to the communication revolution but snidely call bloggers "lynch mobs" and sneer that they are not real journalists, and consequently, are not to be taken seriously. And don't try to palm off MSNBC'S blog sop as anything but the tokenism that it is. When they invite bloggers to comment on topics as regularly as they do Ron Reagan Jr., then I'll sit up and notice.

Obviously, it has escaped no one's notice that many political bloggers are right-of-centre. Coupled with Fox News and AM talk radio, it must be a nightmare for MSM who never before had to deal with a concerted opinion, all feeding off of each other, as irreverent, intelligent, and articulate as many of the Vietnam-era cadre of journalists took themselves to be.

The worry here is that MSM will make blogging into some kind of neo-con bastion, where it's anything but that. And yet, one already sees that slant happening. Why is it that politically-conscious progressives are called "activists", but conservative ones are dismissed as "lobbies", "special interest groups", or as mentioned above, "lynch mobs"? Makes one wonder.

And of course, the United States is again at the forefront of this blogging revolution, like it was with 24-hour cable news and with the growth of the internet. Now, this is is not to say that other nationals are not blogging, far from it, there are excellent blogs from all around the world, in a Babel blog of languages. But one gets the sense that blogging would never bring down a respected journalist equivalent of Dan Rather in Italy, or would even make a dent in the political world of France. That's the difference.

Further, international bloggers seem as blindsided by this new state-of-affairs in the US, as many journalists are, though surely they are part of the wave, rather than under it. One British-Israeli blogger noted in his Tuesday piece, regarding the blogger-led Easongate, "I'm not sure what to make of all this".

So...what is that threatening about blogs?

Well, in blogging, you don't have to work yourself up any ranks, toeing the accepted company line and you don't even have to get a chance to be published: it's available with a click of a mouse, under "create blog".

That's direct democracy, that's power, that's a good 2 hours wasted per day composing posts!

Bismarck once called the press "that necessary evil". It only follows then that blogs are that "unnecessary good".

Long may they continue or until the next revolution arrives.

UPDATE: On Saturday the 19 February, the BBC finally weighed in about the "blog revolution", of which below is an excerpt.

Weblogs are just a part of the digital, internet-driven revolution that is sweeping over journalism, Jay Rosen, New York University journalism professor and the blogger behind PressThink, told the BBC.

Suddenly, the tools of mass media are in the hands of the public, he said.

"There is a change in the balance of power," he said. "The ideas and assumptions that journalists held for a long time are up for grabs, open to questions, falling by the wayside."


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Weeping Camel

Don't tell Joan Rivers about Botok

I found "The Story of the Weeping Camel" fascinating.

This film is really a docudrama, and one which feels like a dramatic narrative film, rather than a documentary with dramatic force.

Note that the difference can be felt in terms of slightly staged or recreated events, which one felt had happened, even though it was only later I found out was so. The important bit is that you felt it was too polished for it to be a simple account of a nomadic family in Mongolia who tries to reconcile a rare white, colt camel -- named Botok -- and its mother, after the latter rejects her child.

You might too, if you saw hooves coming out of your uterus.

What makes this docudrama worthy of being watched is:

  • Firstly, how many films on Mongolia are out there? Especially that do not include references to Genghis Khan and his Hunnish tribes. Not many, my friends. This is it.
  • Secondly, the translation of the Mongolian is sparse to the point of being a "silent" film. It gives it an Aesop's Fables quality, of storytelling and oral tradition, which to us unaccustomed to Mongolian culture anyway, seems mesmeric. It forces you to pay attention and you find your internal monologue oddly quiet, as you just OBSERVE.

It's easy to look at this documentary as a kind of latter-day Nanook of the North, a stunning work from 1922, which, when I saw it, changed my life forever, and how I see the film medium.

The majesty is there, but instead of the incisive force of a little-known subject matter, this version is more lyrical, more gentle.

Quite possibly, though, the very last scene, which comes after the documentary ends, and the title credits have begun, ruins the entire project. I'm enough of a late-Twentieth-Century product to shudder at something precious and timeless being lost with the introduction of modernity. Once you make that step, you can never go back to the way it was. Ever.

Watch it, and then come back and let me know if you liked the Weeping Camel.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Soccer Games Do Count

Someone said that the British might not have invented games, but that we had invented the importance of games. That person was yours truly. Hi!

It's long been my contention also that sport, used in the childhood sense of "games", doesn't attract the Best and the Brightest, but rather that when you participate in a game, something in you reacts and propels you to do one of the following: (1) fail or (2) succeed, whereupon your two courses of action are (a) persevere, or (b) lose interest.

You can fail and persevere, just as easily as you can succeed, and lose interest. Which path you choose is in no small part the kind of person you are then and later. And more often than not when you persevere, that is when you become one of the Best and the Brightest.

And I see one of the triumverate of "Fox and Friends", Brian Kilmeade, and I are on the same wavelength about this. Indeed, that's the basis of his New York Times best-seller:

"The Games do Count: America's Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports"

In a series of vignettes, he has the guest-star narrate a link they had with sport or games growing up. On one occasion, the son of the same name is charged with that duty, and I must say, the 5-page piece is startlingly effective -- Ronald Reagan and Son, together in commonality of cause...at last.

Not everyone in this book was good at games growing up. Almost without exception though, each of these Best and Brightest people interviewed recounted how games molded them growing up, since in that most American of ways, nothing can be done without it being practical in some way, and the practical here is that games teach you about yourself and armed with this knowledge, can help you further on in life.

Well and good, but my first thought when reading the book was to find a game I myself love, and see which people wrote about it. That game being soccer.

Some (often surprising) soccer players in their youth were:

- Jon Stewart: Talk Show Host on Comedy Central
- John Tesh: Television Host and erm, musician
- Dr. Henry Kissinger: Realpolitik mastermind extraordinaire
- Gen. Peter Pace: Vice-Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff
- Hannah Storm: Sport Television presenter
- Jeremy Glick: One of the heroes of Flight 93, as narrated by his father, Lloyd
- Michelle Lombardo: A winner of SI's 2004 "Fresh Faces"
- Robin Williams: Comedian-of-all-trades
- Donald Trump, Sr.: Media starlet, Manhattan developer
- Brian Kilmeade: "Games do Count" Author, shy addition to the back of the book

Interestingly, two standout politicians of the 2004 US Presidential campaign, whom I know for a fact played soccer at school ('cause erm, I read it somewhere), themselves do not list that activity in their roll-call of sport under their names -- and they would be Senator John Kerry of Massachussetts, better known for windsurfing skills and other impossibly patrician activities AND 43rd US President, George W. Bush, who parlayed a failed oil company into part-ownership of the Texas Rangers.

Not bad company to be in, if you love soccer.

My favourite segment, other than the Ronald Reagan elegiac, is Henry Kissinger's piece. Many people believe he is a power-behind-the-FIFA throne, having tipped his then-considerable weight to get João Havelange of Brazil elected President of FIFA back in the 70's, but like all Kissinger anecdotes, it only counts if its verified by John Dean.

Here's an exerpt from his eager account:

I began playing soccer in Fuerth, the town where I was born in Germany, which is near Nuremberg. Fuerth has the same relationship to Nueremberg, as Brooklyn has to New York; it's really the same town, but it has a different government due to a complicated history. [...] Fuerth, was to soccer as Green Bay is to [ed: American] football. It was a small town of 80,000 that in a ten-year period won three German championships. [...] I started playing when I was about six. [...] but there was a Jewish team and I played on the junior team of that Jewish community.

He adds that he started off as goalie, but then went from inside-right to midfield in short-order. He was the team strategist (huge shock), and the words bunker defence were no stranger to the man who went toe-to-toe with Chairman Mao.

I devised a system, that as it turned out, is the way the Italians play soccer. The system was to drive the other team nuts by not letting them score, by keeping as many people back as defenders. Good teams pass a lot, and if you keep thwarting them they get frustrated. [...] We had an inferior team, but instead of playing with five forwards we played with eight people back [!] and just kept two people forward. And if we were lucky, we could sneak a goal in.

Well. The inference is here in black and white for all to read. And how the Italians on RSS will love doing so.

Henry Kissinger, the inventor of catenaccio. You heard it here first.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Fall of Eagles

When Eagles poop

Major brouhaha in the Rio carnival just now, which will be the talk of the town Tuesday around all the water coolers in Brazil (if they had such white trash things in their offices, humph).

As I will explain in tomorrow's wrap-up post about the carnival, each 1st Division Samba School, which parades in the elite 2 days of carnival, Sunday and Monday nights, has a limited amount of time to cross the pasarela of the Sambodromo.

Due to the HUGE massive Eagle float of "Portela" (who hold 21 titles to date, and I think will be adding a 22nd this year after a two decade title-absence...they were that good), breaking down BEFORE entering, their trademark Eagle float was not allowed to parade down the catwalk, and the "Old Guard", made up of the oldest and most traditional members of every school who were to accompany it, were not allowed to walk past -- and most if not all of the Old Guard were in tears.

If you can imagine being poor, being old, being hungry, working the whole year for 80 minutes of happiness, no matter how silly the carnival seems to you in your culture, you have to understand that it means the world to them -- well, that's how they felt when they were told they were barred from parading with the School.

On top of that, the colourful poster of fallen Brazilian U.N. diplomat killed in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, whose would-be bride was on top of one of the floats, was also not allowed to be displayed in the walk-past.

Que vexáme!

Sunday, February 06, 2005


Carnaval 2005 -- o louco!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Burnt Osama

Someone should make a blog (soon) just about famous people whose likenesses were captured on objects.

You know, a website showing:

- The shape of Richard Nixon's head as it appeared on a potato (I saw that during the Johnny Carson tributes: he apparently had a lady with crisps in funny shapes, and a lady who brought a Tricky Dick spud to his show. Happy Days)

- That recent one of Our Blessed Virgin Mary on toast (of which the Osama one is kind of infidel desecration, especially since it's on rye)

- Mother Teresa's hot buns (eww). This was actually the best one, since the late future saint actually wrote the baker making the buns, and asked them to cease and desist. I think they did, though for all I know, they could be back at it now she's kicked the proverbial bucket

- And in Miami, some lady charged admission to see what she claimed was Our Lady of Guadaloupe's impression on her window. Turned out it was just the play of light on a smudge, although in her defence, it did look like Lupe. And in a typically Miami-esque sequel, a teenage boy was arrested when he decided to take a hose at the thing, and wipe it clean. You can't make things like that up, folks. But you can try

Today, comes news from eBay that the World's Most Wanted Man, Osama Bin Laden, is going to be John Walsh's latest target.

Oh, come on! That could be any dude with a turban and a beard

He's toast.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Wag the dog, Lucrezia Borgia

Somebody pinch me. Please.

Few blogs which do not traffic in white slavery will ever start with such a line, but mine will today. For this frisky command is not based on the needs of my libido (which, admittedly, are considerable), but rather the attempt to wake me up from what has seemed a throwback paradigm recently around the world.

See, I lay it squarely at the feet of Baghdad Bob. Remember him? Of course you do.

Anyone who has ever met the architect of a Potemkim Village (and who amongst us has not?) will instantly recognise him as kin to the Dark Ages disinformation merchants, who told you with a straight face the world was flat and taking mercury cured your piles. Gosh they were great.

But Baghdad Bob was one of the ones who are so desperate to put one over on you, that they accomplish exactly the opposite. It's like a Walter Mitty reverie on acid, Red Bull and an AK-47. At least BB was fun though, which says a lot for my ideas of fun.

Less amusing was Viktor Yushchenko's bout with ricin. At first, his facial deterioration was not noticeable, since what Ukrainian looks handsome in the clear light of day after a vodka-bender? Very, very few.

Then it was revealed that he had actually been poisoned ahead of the crucial November Presidential election (the "other" one).

Poisoned? In the year 2004? A.D.?

Now I know why Ceaucescu never wore the same suit twice. Damn those poisonous Christian Dior microfibres! And Mrs. C. being a world-famous chemist too. I bet you she had a kit made up: Blue safe to wear. Pink if its poisoned. Green for more Securitate round-ups.

But if the old Lucrezia Borgia treatment did not have your hackles up, wondering what on earth is next for a world history encore, comes news this February that an Islamist website tried to palm off a supposedly captured GI Joe with a real one. Or was that the other way around? My head spins. I may need another pinch.

Batteries sold separately

All I know is, just when you thought the world was getting saner, something reminds you of Eugene Ionesco and his theatre of the absurd.

The more you can't believe it, the more it's true.

Addendum: Best part of this incident (apart from the fact that it wasn't true, duh) was that it's spawned a cottage industry of fake muppet and action heroes kidnapping claims. Just thinking of this photo...

Capture-me Elmo

...sends me wheezing from so much laughing. As well as this comment from bloggerland:

"I wonder what those bastards are doing to Barbie."

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Sticky Fingers

By now, I've admitted to collecting Baccarat and Lalique crystal, opera glasses, fountain pens, royal ducks, and having a stash of 4 of the oddest items ever assembled in a left-at-the-kerb bag.

There's more. Much more, but I'll spoon it out in bites rather than dollops. I wouldn't want you to think I'm totally gaga.

One of my favourite collections harkens back to the days when I used to pilfer items that caught my fancy in places I travelled to.

First, I used to take pebbles, stones, even patches of grass from locales where my travels took me -- which I'd then replant or assemble in my grandmother's garden in Henley. Many years later, I found out stone collecting is one of the Prince of Wales' hobbies, which made me stop toute-de-suite. There's nothing more unsophisticated than copying the gentry's bizarre little habits. I'd be darning my socks or asking Garrard's to refinish my silverware next. Ick.

After that, I became one of those people who take tea towels or snatch loo rolls from famous places -- I have an EIIR bog-roll from Windsor Castle somewhere. I'm not proud of this, mind. I only act as if I am.

After a myriad of other collecting incarnations, I have finally settled on the theft of cigarette ashtrays from aeroplanes. I love this collection of mine, and display it grandly around my room.

Plane ashtrays are quite difficult to get these days, since most international flights prohibit smoking, of course, but that never stopped me. Before 9/11, I would even ask to board a plane to collect something I had "forgotten", and invariably, the stewardess would let me. I'd go to my "seat" and snatch one of these beauties as trophies.

There is a caveat to all this intrepid petit larceny. I don't smoke. Never have, unless you count the year I decided to be a pseudo-intellectual at Oxford, and smoked clove fags from Indonesia. They smelt like shoe-glue on fire, so not soon after, I realised my beatnik look needed an overhaul. The clove ciggies went. The all-black Julian Stallabrass wardrobe stayed.

Today I am one of those depressing types which abhor cigarettes, and look at smokers with a mixture of condenscencion, pity, and gloating that one day soon, they will have lungs which look like tar. Hehe.

But I will never give away, or consider my aeroplane ashtray collection a type of hypocrisy, apart from the inevitable realisation that thieving is wrong, and I'm too old to be doing that anyway. It's depressing to become an old prig. The kind who always returns their library books on time, and (wait for it), is secretly proud of that.

My ashtrays are the hit of any party I throw, and with good reason. The moment someone looks at them, they know there's a story behind it -- a wonderful, definitely naughty, quite deliciously anarchic story too.

"I can have a collection like that!", people think.

And I'm here to tell you, yes, yes you can.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


According to my local public library, 3 of my maximum allotted 50 books are due soon, so as usual, having procrastinated to read them in the prescribed 30 days, I am doing a rush job on all three. It helps that I speed-read (which goes with my speed-typing, as any IRC'er will tell you).

One such book is "Found: The best lost, tossed, and forgotten items from around the world" by Davy Rothbart. I have to return it, like yesterday, so I was flipping thru' it just now, trying to jog my memory why I had taken it out in the first place.

I read the forward from the author (who seems to have a hip-hop sounding fetish, as many young urban whites do, poseurs all, half-in-jest Ali G.'s), and I realised I remembered why. He quotes someone who sent him items for this compendium of bits and bobs found all over the place:

"All these years I've been picking stuff off the street and everyone here thinks I'm a freak. But now I see I'm not alone!". Rothbart continues, "I love that. It's exciting to sense an invisible community emerging from the shadows and finding each other."

My favourite entry in the book so far is this on Pg. 71, which I'll try to reproduce font-wise:

Color: brown, black, yellow, red (on teeth), blue (color of tongue)

Snake has been known to bite off heads.

Snake is not house trained.
Length: 7"
Weight: 45 lbs

Warning, snake is deadly.
Will bite if provoked.

IF FOUND, CALL (501) 3......

Psycho has a strong scottish accent

That's comedy gold, people.

And, guess what? I'm part of that invisible community!! Dear heavens, I'm really a donut short of a Krispy Kreme six-pack, aren't I? Shut up.

It all came about rather forcedly though, and no, unlike almost everyone in that book who seems to collect rubbish as a hobby, quite by accident. They are would-be bag ladies, all. Freaks.

I was visiting my friend's chi-chi condo in Coral Gables, when we came upon four items on top of a Winn-Dixie bag next to an empty parking space. Being a childhood veteran of many an IRA bombing in London tube stations, I would never have approached it, had it not been ON TOP of said bag. But it was, and so we did.

The items were:

- A letter from a woman in Brazil to a man no where near the address we were at
- A can of "Festival" Instant Smelly Crap (obverse side reading, helpfully, in three languages: Merde Puante, Merda Spray - Scheisse!)
- What seemed on distant inspection a piece of poo by a very large dog (turned out to be plastic)
- And a postcard of a red-polished fingernailed hand covered in fur (obverse reading "Meret Oppenheim: Beyond the Teacup")

Who, what, why? You can be forgiven if that was your reaction on reading this above, because I had the exact same reaction then too. What (im)possible combination of events could make a person place these 4 items on top of a supermarket bag in a car park?

When I arrived home, I fortified myself with some Schnapps, and decided to do the unthinkable, and read the letter in Portuguese, which fortuitously I can read. Perhaps there would lie my answer.

It seemed a kind of intro snail mail letter from a Friendster connexion, although I did get the impression the man was married, and this wasn't the missus writing. To the left, it had "Boas Festas" in gold glittery pen, like I used to do in kindergarten class for homemade Christmas cards.

It ended unsubtly with the words:

"Gostaria de ter uma foto sua e tirarei uma de corpo inteiro para lhe enviar." [I'd like to have your photo and I'll take a full-body one to send you]

How I would have given anything, even, say, a plastic piece of poo, to have gotten the letter-sequel.

P.S.: I may send this to Davy Rothbart, I think. But I'm keeping the Merda Spray.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I have (some) readers (?!?)

Actually, I have done one better than JSU on his opera blog, since I've actually spawned a copycat blog.

It's called, flatteringly, Turdonastick. We wish it well.


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