Saturday, December 29, 2007


If something's been real, and it's been fun, how could it possibly not have been real fun?

This has never made sense to me.


Friday, December 28, 2007

The Importance of Being Educated

The kids’ grades came in the mail yesterday, and I was thinking, did the school really have to send their grades to arrive during the holidays? Couldn't it have waited till a bit later? Like, when the kids are in their 40s?

I think it would go something like this.

SCENE: A handsomely appointed breakfast parlor, sometime in the future. Flying cars can be glimpsed occasionally through the French doors, as well as some construction work being carried on in the distance by a mixed robot/human crew in hard hats and safety vests. On the wall is an imposing formal portrait of an attractive middle-aged woman with an intelligent, determined, yet kindly face. At the table, a healthy, prosperous-looking elderly couple is eating breakfast.

A robot butler, which receives a living wage and full benefits as required by the Widget Treatment Fairness Act of 2019, glides into the room on its hoverpads, bearing the mail on a small silver tray.
SYLVIA picks up the mail and glances idly through it, tossing a few pieces aside. Her eyes linger on one envelope and she opens it, her brow furrowing, and pores over its contents for several moments.

EDGAR: What’s that you’ve got there, honey?

SYLVIA: This is very strange. It’s Susie’s grades.

EDGAR: Her grades? Do you mean her latest polling numbers?

SYLVIA: No, no, I mean grades. From her sophomore year of high school, apparently.

EDGAR: Good lord. They’re a bit late, aren’t they?

SYLVIA: Somehow the school got our address wrong. This seems to have been sitting around in the dead letter office for a couple of decades.

EDGAR: I always wondered how she came through Algebra. I remember she was struggling a bit.

SYLVIA: She failed.

EDGAR: What?!

SYLVIA: And it wasn’t even close. She failed Algebra, and English, and World History, and -

EDGAR (interrupting): But – but – I always thought she was doing so well in school. She was such a promising kid, playing sports, studying piano, volunteering as a school office aide... hey, wait a minute. Let me see that envelope!

SYLVIA (handing him the papers): Well, she did end up President of the Federated States of Earth.

EDGAR (looking over them): My God. With these grades, I’m surprised she didn’t end up working for the Skyway Department.

SYLVIA glances out the window, where a robotic flagger’s ambiguous signaling has just caused a 15-car pileup, and smoking debris is raining down onto the concrete roadway with which the crew has paved over a creek for no readily apparent reason, seeing as how all traffic is airborne. Edgar! How can you say such a terrible thing about your own daughter?!

EDGAR: How the hell can anybody get a 14 in P.E.??

SYLVIA (wringing her hands): Well, I don’t know, you remember that bad stomachache she had…

EDGAR: For twelve weeks?! I don’t think so!

SYLVIA: But, dear, it’s been such a long time. Why get all worked up about it now?

EDGAR: Long time, my ass. I want her impeached! I’m calling the Secretary of Education.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

I Cleaned My Kitchen!

It's a major event. I took some pictures. Perhaps you will note that my kitchen, when clean enough for me to get all excited and post photos of it, is still dirtier than yours is on a regular basis. But this is perfectly normal and nothing to be alarmed about.

Here's the kitchen from the doorway to the living room. Don't look too closely at the fridge: it's technically in the utility room, not the kitchen, and therefore did not get cleaned - especially the outside, which is covered with extremely naughty magnetic poetry.

Here's the kitchen sink, and a window through which squirrels sometimes peer and bitch at me for doing dishes, which just goes to show you should never listen to squirrels.

By the way, I was holding the camera a little crooked, but not that much. The house is built on a hill, and is very, very gradually sliding down it towards the creek. This is why the floor in a few spots has sort of an intermittent existence problem, but it's also why I can afford the rent.

From the utility room, looking towards the living room. That little narrow table blocking off the pantry isn't normally in the kitchen, but it had to go there to make room for the Christmas tree. Pantries are overrated anyway.

And here's where I am sitting right now! That's a Christmas card from Sam Hurt in the bottom right corner of the picture, by the way; not to drop names or anything, but just in case you were about to forget what a cool person I am.

And now for my next trick, I will attempt to cook something.


Monday, December 24, 2007

It's Okay to Eat Falafel

For the last hour and a half, Anna and I have been cuddled up on the couch watching The Polar Express - a bit scary for me, I mean for kids - on the ABC Family Channel, "Family" here being apparently defined as "conservative." I guess it makes sense: liberals believe in abortion, and therefore never actually have children.

The message is one that Anna's been exposed to a lot over the last couple of weeks. Skepticism is evil. Believe! The characters in all these movies travel from doubt and misery to faith and happiness, only it's not exactly faith, is it, if the reason you now believe is that the object of your skepticism comes flying up in a sled pulled by magic reindeer and gives you a pat on the head and a Tonka truck.

The ABC Family Channel specials are punctuated heavily with commercials, a fine example of preaching one message but then clearly demonstrating another. Granted that most of the commercials seem to be for things like a trial subscription to a 17,462-CD collection of the most inspirational worship music in the world. Cancel at any time!

But the one that got me was a commercial for buttons. "It's OK to say Merry Christmas to me!" is emblazoned across these cheerful red-and-green ornaments you can wear proudly throughout the holiday season. You can get it on a bumper sticker too, but you'll feel kind of stupid come mid-January.

Ya know, I wasn't raised, and am not, religious. Still my family comes from a Protestant Christian background and we do celebrate Christmas. People tend to celebrate something or other at midwinter, preferably involving sparkly things, alcohol, and mistletoe, but at its heart about reinforcing overall goodwill and a sense of community. And for good reason. Especially in northern climates, the middle of winter was probably the point where everybody about wanted to kill each other.

Christmas is part of the culture I belong to, but it's not a religious holiday to me. But for those for whom it is a religious holiday, doesn't it kind of undermine the meaning to try to stamp out other religions' and cultures' celebrations of the season, and get everyone, generically, to say "Merry Christmas," whether they mean it or not? I don't get this.

It's okay to say Merry Christmas to me, or Happy Hanukah, or Season's Greetings or Joyful Yule or Felicitous Kwanzaa or whatever. Honestly, as long as people are expressing good wishes to one another, it seems kind of silly to quibble about the details. The buttons carry a nasty unwritten implication that wishing Merry Christmas to those who don't believe the way the wearer does will probably get you punched in the face, because we all know how joyless and hypersensitive non-Christians are.

Why didn't they get Bill O'Reilly to be the commercial spokesman? Perhaps he was busy. Listening to inspirational worship music in the shower, probably.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Literary Aspirations

The advantage of writing poetry is that it really makes you think pretty hard about what you're trying to say. If there are flaws in your thinking, the carefully formulated language really brings them out. So you either have to rework your ideas to be more consistent, or just scrap the poem (and the point of view that went with it) altogether. It's an excellent method for testing your logic and adjusting your ideas, and of course it builds vocabulary and is an appropriately intellectual way to pass the time, and so on and so forth.

The disadvantages of writing poetry are that (1) you end up having to throw away some very pretty verses if you can't adequately defend the thought processes behind them, plus if you don't watch it, you'll become famous and someone will come along after you're dead and publish all the stuff you never wanted anybody to see, and (2) most sensible people feel that poets, as a class, are a bunch of consumptive, vitamin-deficient Victorian nincompoops.

I do have a pretty impressive cough.

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Not this year, perhaps. My throat feels like someone drove a freight train through it.*

Of course the Friday right before the Christmas holidays is the most suspicious possible day to call in sick. I'm certain the panicmonger supervisor thought I was faking, so it's a good thing nobody invited her to happy hour. One of my coworkers was there. "I just had one of those 8-hour bugs," I told him.

Alas! how sharp the teeth of Karma, in your ass...

Some local real estate agent made the rounds of the neighborhood last week, dropping off poinsettias on everyone's doorstep. What a sucker! We're renting. But as far as I'm concerned he might as well have given me a puppy. What do I do with this? I already have so many plants, and all crowded indoors, too; and with the Christmas tree, dropping needles all over the place, there's hardly space to move in the living room. Next year? Smaller tree.

Fortunately over the next few days I'll get the chance to spread out a bit: Jim and the girls are going to San Antonio for Christmas, and leaving Eric and me here - since Eric has to be in truancy court again on the 27th. I'd have a party, but almost all my friends are out of town (sigh). But at least I can get some cleaning done.

It's too early in the morning for wassail, isn't it?

*Diane, get your mind out of the gutter

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

He Shall Feed His Flock

My favorite piece of Christmas music, played quite a bit too fast, but I still get goosebumps all over when the soprano comes in. I've always wanted to sing this with Jessie...


Friday, December 21, 2007

Important Distinction

Me coughing all night: Very pathetic and deserving of the most tender sympathy and pampering. Would somebody please bring me some hot tea with honey in it? Oh! my aching throat!

Everybody else in the house, sick with the same bug, coughing all night: Incredibly annoying. Will you people shut up already? I can't sleep with all this noise. Can't you see I'm convalescing here?

People can be so amazingly self-centered.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

It's So High School

Katie shouldn't leave her school notes lying around when it's cleaning-up time, because then we review loose papers to see if they can be pitched, and then we discover that one of Katie's best friends, recently ditched by her boyfriend, feels like dieing [sic], but is willing to put this ultimate fate off a little longer once Katie assures her heartily that everybody else loves her, enjoys her company, needs her friendship, and would miss her terribly. "Like me," says Katie, who is a kind-hearted little soul.

"Okay, I guess," writes her friend.

Hands up, everybody who's glad not to be a teenager anymore!

But teenaged angst never quite goes away, does it? There's always that insecurity, that terror of rejection. You can put a braver face on it; you can let go of things faster; but in that initial heartbreaking moment of truth, the pain is every bit as awful now as it was when you were a 15-year-old poster child for over-the-counter acne medicine.

So in mature adulthood as well as in adolescence, it's nice to have friends who will run interference for you. What would it mean, exactly, I wondered, if a friend of mine were to offer to perform this service by me? Would it be that my friend is a guy, and the interesting object in question would also be a guy; so therefore, my friend's addressing the Interesting Object on my behalf in Officially Accepted Guy Terms™ would cause I.O. to don a nice big Christmas bow and drop into my lap?

Well, maybe not. But the intermediary acts as a buffer, which is logical enough. I.O. could convey his grateful regrets to my friend with a great deal less empathetic awkwardness than he might feel if forced to deal with me directly; and, if rejected, I could receive a rejection of unarguable intent, yet couched in the gentlest terms, from someone who cared for me.

If this weren't all entirely hypothetical, I'd pass you a note in 4th period to tell you how it all turned out.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007


It's a bit early to be making any New Year's resolutions, but perhaps it will make up for not having sent out my Christmas cards yet. It all evens out - right?? I resolve not to procrastinate anymore, starting next year.

Actually, I think my main New Year's resolution for 2008 is not to let Robbie photograph me in a compromising pose at the Adult Video Megaplexxx; and I'd advise all of you out there to resolve likewise, unless you enjoy seeing the photo turn up in wholly unexpected places, among people you don't even know, who are now going to get - well, maybe not exactly the wrong impression of you, but still not an impression you'd like them to have before they have become better acquainted with your - with your - well, before they at least buy you dinner.

And on that note, I should probably quit sexually harassing my coworkers at some point. My lead worker, in the cubicle next to me, bears the brunt of it; and though he doesn't seem to mind, one of these days I'll go too far and he'll have to work from home and the whole place will fall apart.

While I'm at it, perhaps I should resolve to be more patient with the panicmonger.


For 2008, I resolve to pander to cats, because it's important to set realistic goals for yourself. I also resolve to write a lot of silly stuff when I have nothing in particular to say.

What's yours?

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Star Trekkin'

Hey! You know how you once got a huge kick out of something really funny, half a lifetime ago, but haven't even thought about it for years and years? And then suddenly for no reason it pops into your head? And then you go looking for it and find out it's all over YouTube?

Of course you do.


Saturday, December 15, 2007


Robbie dropped me off tonight, after a full day of shopping, dining, and hanging out. Anna threw her arms around me and inhaled deeply. "You smell like coffee," she said.

As well I should, because we just spent about two hours at Dominican Joe. I don't go there often anymore - having taken Robbie's departure as a fair enough excuse to quit signing my paychecks directly over to them every month - but the siren smell of sweet, sweet coffee used to lure us across Riverside almost every morning as soon as I got to work.

"It's so different, being here at night," I remarked, looking around, "and not having to leave in a hurry."

"It is," agreed Robbie, "and we always had the whole, long work day ahead of us when we were here, too."


We did discover a dirty little secret about DJ's, which is that they serve decaf at night. Decaf! During the day, they always have two carafes at the self-serve bar, one of them Dominican, and the other from some other part of the world: Mexico, Guatemala, Columbia, Sumatra, New Guinea. But at night the two carafes are Dominican and decaf.

One morning, when I was fixing my coffee, another customer came up behind me and asked if one of the carafes were decaf. A barista overheard and stared at him, aghast. "Good lord, no!" I exclaimed.

"Oh. Thank God," he said, filling his cup.

But they are not as scrupulous at night.

Well, whatever. We'd had a hard day's shopping, and relaxed over bottomless cups of Dominican coffee and carrot cake. I finished my Christmas shopping! It's been a very good day!

I'll be here all night.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Potluck of Champions

"We haven't had a monthly birthday lunch since October," remarked my supervisor in our staff meeting today, perhaps reminded by the fact that today was her birthday.

We all felt awful. Well, you know - more or less.

"You have to understand the culture I come from," she went on. "I have never tasted meat. I never smelled it. If we can just have a potluck with no meat, we can start having group lunches again. Perhaps breakfast would be easier."

Mmmm, bacon!

It's not fair. I've never been insensitve towards vegetarians. I would never dream of trying to sneak meat into one (stop snickering - I heard that!). My ex-mother-in-law used to, when her older son was a vegetarian; she made a point of cooking things like rice and soups with beef broth, and denying, right to your face, that they contained any meat products whatsoever. But she's batshit insane, so I don't know if I should really hold her up as an example of the kind of behavior I virtuously refrain from emulating.

It's just that I've never known a vegetarian whose dietary requirements forbade anyone else in the same room to eat what they might personally prefer. Granted that much too often, a vegetarian doesn't have enough options at a potluck, restaurant, or buffet - a small garden salad does not a meal make, especially if it consists largely of iceberg lettuce, which makes a handy packing material but is not technically food. So at a potluck where a vegetarian will be present, the attendees should all keep that fact in mind, and be sure to bring at least something that everyone can eat. But to insist that no one else gets to have any meat at all?

You could apply the argument that it's inconsiderate to smoke around nonsmokers, who might find the smell of cigarette smoke unpleasant, not to say unhealthful. And as a meat-eater, I wouldn't want to force the side-effects of my own taste on an innocent bysteander.

Then again, if that's the case, I really don't see why I can't have microwave popcorn permanently banned from my office.

Perhaps I'd be more sensitive to my supervisor's taste if not for the fact that it's part of an ongoing pattern with her: she's terrified of snakes, so we didn't get to have a snake guy do an educational presentation at a safety meeting which she would not have attended anyway. She's disorganized, so everyone else has to jump through multiple hoops to present information to her in as idiot-proof a format as possible, at not inconsiderable inconvenience. She's micromanagerial to the point of insanity, so all her staff must sign in and out on an electronic dot-board, track every phone call, email, and visit in a special database, and submit weekly and monthly status reports.

Whatever the reason, I'm starting to have thoughts of branding my resignation letter into a slab of raw meat with a live snake wrapped around it, and this worries me.

Well, it wouldn't make for a very happy birthday for the snake, would it?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bingo's Bitch

You come home from work with a wrenched calf muscle, get out the heating pad, and hobble off to the kitchen for some consolatory milk and cookies. And when you come back to climb into bed, this is what you find.

He wanted the milk and cookies too, but I wouldn't give them to him. Who's the one with the opposable thumbs here? Huh??


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Monday, December 10, 2007

The U.S. Healthcare System: Works Just Fine

Another reason never to go to the doctor is that you end up on a mailing list where they send you a whole bunch of incomprehensible paperwork.

Take what arrived in the mail today. "COVER SHEET," it says in big capital letters.

No, well, I understand what that means, although I'm not entirely clear why an otherwise blank piece of paper labeled "COVER SHEET" is necessary. It doesn't seem very environmentally friendly, but okay, I guess I get it. What confuses me is the following page, which says, "This letter is in response to a request for service(s)/procedure(s). The following service/procedure has been approved as medically necessary as defined by the member's Health Care Benefits booklet or Summary Plan Description." Then it says I can have an "ADMISSION" in a "PHYSICIAN'S OFFICE."

Whatever! I'm not admitting anything without an attorney present.

What this is presumably in regards to is that the doctor I went to see about my leg, who drew on years of highly specialized training and experience to arrive at the conclusion that I should maybe stretch before exercising, actually referred me to a physical therapist to show me how. It's hard to tell, but I think this is my insurance company's notice that they might not deny all the charges if I do.

But I'm pretty sure it's a trap.

It's not the first incomprehensible mailing I've received, either, since my office visit not two weeks ago. There was another procedure approved - I think - and there was a notification that my co-pay was adequate to meet my financial responsibility for the office visit itself. I think.

Frankly, I'm glad I can figure out stretching on my own, because I can't afford any more pre-approved procedures. Earlier this year, Katie went to the doctor for recurring stomach-aches that were causing her to miss a lot of school. The doctor recommended a battery of tests, and some weeks later, we received a $279 bill (somehow, the invoices are never quite so difficult to make out as the approval notices). Katie - on my friends list on MySpace - posted a response to a survey bulletin a bit later. "When was the last time you were sick?" read the question. "I fake sick all the time, but I can't remember the last time I was really sick," responded Katie, serving as an object lesson in the dangers of an active Internet presence.

She's not in traction; that would cost a fortune.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Fun with Christmas Lights

Did you know that when you have a steeply pitched metal roof, it's just like the top of your house is a giant slide? Whee!

We're wrapping the oak tree instead.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Sister from Outer Space

"Did you read that it's supposed to be a really good year for the Geminids?" I asked Margie tonight. "They're supposed to peak on December 13 and 14. I wish I could find a date to watch them with. Wouldn't it be romantic, lying on a blanket on the grass together, out in the middle of nowhere, as shooting stars streak across the sky?"

"Well, if you can't find somebody by then," said my sister, "how about we go camping?"

"Really? That would be great!" I said. "Do you have a tent?"

"I do!" Margie exclaimed. "Well, you know. As long as it doesn't rain!"

I looked at her a bit oddly, so she elaborated. "It's fine, just missing that part, what's it called, that part on top that covers it up..."

I looked at her some more.

"It's a sleeping bag," she said.

Who's up for a meteor shower?

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Two Stories

The company I used to work for in Austin is gradually shutting down. They've transferred a bunch of people to another state and laid a lot more off. But they're not closing down altogether, and my former manager, through the departure of several others at his level, has gained a great deal more power, prestige, and influence.

This is his story.

Twelve years or so ago, my supervisor left the company to work for an independent consultant, so her boss, the division director, set out to hire a replacement. She posted the position, screened applications, and conducted interviews. When she had narrowed her choices down to four or five people - all internal candidates - she called a staff meeting to get everyone's input as to which one would be the best fit for our group. One of us - a good friend of mine - was traveling that week, so he was piped in by speakerphone. The rest of us sat around the conference table and discussed the applicants as our director reviewed their qualifications, projecting each one's badge photo on the screen at the end of the room.

None of us really knew any of the candidates, but when the director got to a particular one, my friend on the speakerphone piped up. "Oh, I've worked with him before!" he said. "He's very good, knows his stuff, and he's a really nice guy. I think he'd be great for the job!"

"What do the rest of you think?" asked the director, but we all shrugged. We knew his name and his face - it was a small enough company, no one would have been completely unfamiliar - but we didn't know anything about him. Still, if our coworker could recommend him so strongly, we certainly had no objection. So he was hired.

Several months later, my friend and I were at lunch. "Do you know," he told me, "that day when we had that meeting and decided to hire Bob? Well, I thought she was talking about somebody else."

This is my friend's story.

We were working a conference out of town, and at the end of a long day, we hung out on his hotel room balcony drinking Coronas and talking. After it got dark we went inside and watched Austin Powers on TV. My friend leaned back on one bed, and I lay on my stomach on the other. And after a while, Coronas being Coronas, you know, he got up to use the restroom.

And left the door open.

"Oh dear," I remember thinking at the time, "this can't be good," though at least the bathroom was around the corner, and not in direct line of sight. Still, when he came out of the bathroom a few minutes later, it turned out I was right. Though I don't mean to complain, because it could have been much worse. He did have on underwear.

"Well!" I said brightly, "just look at the time." Or something like that. The next time I saw him back at the office, a week or so later, he apologized, and said he hoped he hadn't made me uncomfortable, and I said oh no, really, no big deal, don't worry about it. And that was that. But our friendship was never really quite the same, and fizzled out pretty shortly thereafter.

I think the moral of both of these stories is that life is random, unpredictable, and weird, so always be sure you have on clean underwear.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

A Low of What?!

There's nothing else quite like idly checking the weather forecast right before bed, only to discover that you need to spend the next half-hour frantically shuttling plants indoors.

Is this not the most inviting utility room ever? All it needs is a rattan chaise longue.

Now I'm all awake.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Inconstant Moon

I don't understand those drops the optometrist puts in to dilate your eyes. Fifteen minutes afterwards, you still look and feel fairly normal, but your eyes are still dilated enough that he can shine a light in, become intimately acquainted with your retinas, declare everything in order, and send you home. So they've done their job. But after another hour goes by, your head aches and you can't focus and you look like a freshly lobotomized Moonie.

I'm better now.

Speaking of lobotomies, yesterday I got to contemplating organized religion. We'd been talking about it a little at work. One of our three new hires has, not to jinx anything, apparently succeeded in getting her old job back, and should be leaving us in another couple of weeks or so. Our supervisor has been fairly understanding about this - not that she has a lot of choice - but she did cancel my coworker's enrollment for a job-related class next week that my coworker had in fact been looking forward to. If my coworker hadn't felt the compulsion to be totally honest with our supervisor from the very beginning, she'd still have gotten to go.

But my coworker - nice lady, don't get me wrong - is very religious, and doesn't believe in lying through commission or omission, under any circumstances, ever. So we were all standing around talking about how to balance virtue with pragmatism, and how to treat others in a Christian (or - for those of us secularists in the crowd, who have never quite understood why the most self-explanatory tenets of basic social responsibility end up being labeled as religious virtues, as though only the threat of eternal hellfire could possibly get people not to act like complete assholes - ethical) manner, without going too far and allowing ourselves to be taken advantage of by those less circumspect than we.

A great philosophical and/or religious figure like Christ exists as an ideal, of course. His behavior and teachings are meant to be striven towards, I'd posit, but not necessarily emulated by humans in our day-to-day existence; the idea being that the world would be a much nicer place if as many people as possible would go at least some ways towards tolerating unpleasantness without generating more in return. But actually to take this to the extreme, and say that you're never allowed to do anything to defend yourself, doesn't do anyone any good.

Besides, the Bible is famously fraught with mistranslation and questionable interpretations. Who's to say that "turn the other cheek" wasn't originally an exhortation to drop your trousers and give your enemies a rosy salute? That'd make for kind of a different religion.

I don't think that's what the Moonies were about. Too bad!

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Muppets Are Nifty