A Blog devoted to progressive politics, environmental issues, LGBT issues, social justice, workers' rights, womens' rights, and, most importantly, Cats.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Books read in February

My February Book Review:

  • Foreign Country - Jonathan Raban

    Borrowed? No.

    This book got rave reviews from some very well-respected authors and reviewers, including Salman Rushdie. I liked it very much in some parts, and not so much in others. Well-written, no doubt. I think it's one of those books that would be of especial interest to those who know something about sailing, or Africa, or what it feels like to be a white person in Africa. Or English.

    Recommended? For sailors, travellers, Afrophiles, and travel writers.
    Reread? No. Well, maybe. But not soon.

  • Passions of the Cut Sleeve - Bret Hinsch

    Borrowed? No.

    A rather early study of gay culture in China throughout the ages. I believe this was the writer's PhD thesis. Interesting, but dated.

    Recommended? Not really.
    Reread? No.

  • The Sleeper Wakes - Marcy Knopf

    Borrowed? No.

    This book is a collection of short stories by some of the literary lights of the Harlem Renaissance. Featured writers include Nella Larsen and Angelina Weld Grimke. Beautiful book, really powerful writing, and some of the writers are women I'd never heard of or never read. Includes some all-time favorites, like Zora Neale Hurston, but it's a book to be read and reread.

    Recommended? Heartily.
    Reread? Repeatedly.

  • The Bride Price - Buchi Emecheta

    Borrowed? No.

    I've had this book forever, and why I didn't start it earlier I do not know. Twelve smacks in the head with a sheet of wet paper. Ow. Beautiful. The writer, who now lives in the UK, is very prolific, very talented, very very good. All that said, it's a very depressing story. But still worth reading. Don't take my word for it. And yes, it's available for loan, but you must return it, or 922 cats (and kittens!) may torment you.

    Recommended? Highly.
    Reread? Not for a bit, I'm afraid.

  • Take the Cannoli - Sarah Vowell

    Borrowed? Sadly - No!

    It is my understanding that the writer is a highly acclaimed Hip Young Person. And I can't deny that she is a wordsmith. However, when she mocks Maya Angelou, I have to question her purpose. Perhaps she's just too terminally hip to tip a hat to other writers. For what it's worth, she's entertaining, but not memorable.

    Recommended? Only to those in pursuit of terminal hipatude.
    Reread? Why?

  • Nectar in a Sieve - Kamala Markandeya

    Borrowed? No.

    Another writer who comes highly recommended and raved. I wish I'd put the book down when I started to feel disenchanted, but in my own defense, I felt if I could give Daniel Deronda another bash, I could certainly persevere with Kamala Markandeya. Frankly, this is one of those books that has become, to me, all too representative of Third World Literature, or, more accurately, Third World Writers Writing In English. The writer is talented, and can capture your interest, but the story is so unremittingly dreary and depressing. At least Buchi Emecheta's book had its delightful moments. This book was unending misery.

    Recommended? Only if you've stocked up on your psychoactive meds.
    Reread? I haven't. There isn't a stockpile large enough of happy pills, that is, for me to reread this.

  • 'Tis Pity She's A Whore - John Ford

    Borrowed? NO!!! Dammit.

    This is one of those plays that makes me grateful I was born in these times - even if global warming is proceeding apace, and the fish are dying out and there won't be any tigers or hippos in a decade, and we'll all be living on texturized soy protein. At least we won't have to deal with a misogynistic church and its maggoty mouthpieces, the educated classes. She's a whore because her brother seduced her, you see. Whereas he, the seducer, is a fine upstanding young - schmuck. And her husband, who beats her, is A Man Wronged. And her father who gets her married off is Merely Caring For His Brood. And the friar, who urges her to marry the wife-beater, is Simply Trying To Save Her Soul. Pardon my foreign language of choice, but fuck the lot of them, the self-righteous, hypocritical swine - no offense to swine, who are fine sources of protein, not to mention quite charming in their own right. In any event. It was a difficult read.

    Recommended? Certainly not, and I don't care if you are majoring in English Literature.
    Reread? Only on pain of suffering and death.

  • The Post Office - Rabindranath Tagore

    Borrowed? No.

    This charming, sweet little play is a spiritual allegory. I found it irresistible, delightful, even though I don't care for deist superstition. It was not intrusive deism, just a very sweet allusion to something better in human nature. Or so it could be read. And so, certainly, did I read it.

    Recommended? Highly.
    Reread? Oh, yes.

  • Rabbit-Proof Fence - Doris Pilkington

    Borrowed? No.

    The author is the granddaughter and grandniece of the three women who made the astounding trek across Australia that is commemorated in the book and film of the above title. The writer is not very skilled, but the book is worth reading for its glimpse at the lives of the Native Australians and the incredible cruelty they suffered at the hands of white Australians.

    Recommended? Yes.
    Reread? Not anytime soon, but not for lack of wanting.

  • I Married A Barbarian - Dennis Bloodworth and Liang Ching Ping

    Borrowed? No.

    This is a sweet story of a long and enduring relationship between two people who came from the opposite sides of the world to settle in Singapore. I wasn't planning to read any love stories, but it's set in a period that is germane to The Book Writing Project, and I got caught up in the story anyway. No great literary masterpiece, but nice. And sweet.

    Recommended? Only for those who are interested in World War II, and the period between 1940 and 2005, or Asia, or - love stories, I guess.
    Reread? Probably not.

Short list this month. I blame two bouts of the flu, some badly-needed weeding of the garden, and work.

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More amusement

The Lego version of the bible. I'm not vouching for it's accuracy, just its general silliness and entertainment factor.

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I actually have two books on giant squid (one of which I got partway through, and the other I never read). Brian sez the one I never read is extremely boring, and he returned it unfinished. It's not on this year's reading list, but I'll try to make time for it next year.

Meanwhile, go check out your squid quotient. As expected, mine was very very high. Squeee!

And, for your further entertainment, the very talented Mark Tatulli, and his very weird kid character, Lio.

Well? Have you?

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Health news this week

Well, poo. I always knew smoking was addictive, and now I know how addictive. Yes, I'm trying to quit yet again. In my own defence, I smoke two cigarettes a day, sometimes fewer. I never smoke around the cats. But I want to say someday that I do not smoke at all.

Gardasil protects women against human papilloma virus (hpv), cause of genital warts and linked to uterine cancer. Apparently, it also protects against anal and penile cancer in boys. So I don't know why the BBC would spotlight this as a "gay man's issue," since, to the best of my knowledge, the virus doesn't inquire as to your sexuality before it begins its dirty work.

Luverly. As I age disgracefully, the number of threats to my health are multiplying like ... like ... bacteria! Quit laughing. You're next.

Prolactin holds out hope for multiple sclerosis sufferers. Yay. Interestingly, the Harvard School of Public Health says that contraceptive use can also help. Even more interesting, birth month apparently determines one's risk. Mamas, don't get pregnant in the fall or winter.

Puir little beasties. They mayn't be friendly or anything, but this is a horrible way to go. Good to hear that they've got help.

In other news, apparently the number of dog bites has increased over the past decade. Are dogs getting more stressed out by modern living? Or are parents devolving into "too stupid to spawn" types who leave kids and dogs alone together without ensuring that the kids know enough not to irritate the dogs? I grew up with lots of animals, and I can remember being bitten by a dog only once. It was my fault, I was teasing the poor creature with one of my toys, and he finally tired of it. My parents, er, fluffed my cheeks (nether) so mightily that I never teased another animal.

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Politics this week

How delusional can a person get? Condi Rice insists the coalition is intact in Iraq. Someone should point out to her that the British are pulling out nearly one quarter of their troops, and the Danish are pulling out all their troops. Who does that leave? The Australians and Poles? The Editors at The Poor Man Institute has the figures on who's pulled out and when.

Presidential hopeful John McCain is getting the respect that he deserves from Dick Cheney:

Karl: “You probably heard John McCain again come out and say that your friend Donald Rumsfeld is perhaps the worst secretary of defense ever. What do you make of that?"

Cheney: “I just fundamentally disagree with John. John said some nasty things about me the other day, and then next time he saw me, ran over to me and apologized. Maybe he'll apologize to Rumsfeld.”

Act like a lapdog, you get treated like a lapdog. "... ran over to me and apologized ...."? I guess even Dick can't bring himself to say "groveled and fawned over me till I slapped him down."

More here.

In other news, Stupie McChickenHawk's puppet government in Iraq appears to be calling him a liar. Wonder how he's going to respond.

The National Guard is falling apart, with insufficient equipment and manpower to handle any domestic crises, even as Bush prepares for a new war with Iran. Even as rumours start, again, that al Qaeda is planning an attack on American soil. Nasty sense of deja vu, no? This is exactly what happened the last time. Chatter picked up by intel about attack planned on American soil, Stupie McChimperson took a vacation, and voila! 9-11. While he's distracting us with Iran, sending troops, carriers, arms and equipment in that direction, al Qaeda is creeping in the back door, jackbooted foot aiming at our collective arse.

My prescription? Drink early and often. At least your muscles will be relaxed when whatever it is hits, and you'll do yourself less injury. Skoal!

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Blogging the Iraq War

I've been so numb about this cesspit of horrors in which the U.S. has found itself mired for the past four years, thanks to Awol McStupidSon. The Walter Reed article broke a dam for me, I think. I knew this Assministration, despite its shameless use of wounded veterans as photo ops, was treating the vets disgracefully, but the extent of the horror that underlies their treacly platitudes is only now becoming apparent.

Eric Massa, who ran for Congress in the 29th district of NY, blogs about the war and the VA at DailyKos. Did you know, according to Eric, that
Veterans receive a pittance upon death that barely allows them to purchase a headstone?
It's bad enough that we expect them to live like vermin, but apparently we let them go to their death like vermin too. What an outrage!

If you can stomach it, the site Iraq Coalition Casualties has all kinds of statistics on this putrescent little war. My hat's off to those people. How can they do this every day?

Jason LeMieux at Iraq Veterans Against the War blogs about the futility of Chimpy McFlightSuit's "surge." It's all been done before and failed before, and throwing more bodies into the meatgrinder at this point to do the same damned stupid thing yet another time can benefit only the bloated egos and wallets of some very, very stupid, evil moral midgets.

The Christian Science Monitor carries a story about vets facing homelessness. What a shame. Thirty out of 100 facing homelessness? We're looking at a crisis down the line.

In a related CSM story, echoes of the Eric Massa post about health care for veterans.

And two years ago, USA Today discussed the enormous number of troops (one-quarter) who are expected to require medical services. No surprise that Bush has been slashing the VA budget ever since this war started. No surprise that the VA is completely unequipped to deal with the problems of these people that Bush sent over there.

Finally, some veterans speak out against the war, in their own words. Read it. And weep.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Your laugh of the day

Maru the Crankpot, ever on the alert for new hilarity, has something to brighten your day! Who knew the Germans had such a sensayuma?

It is to larf, which I did copiously.

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Monday, February 19, 2007


Ha'aretz reviews a book by Uri Dan, titled "Ariel Sharon: An Intimate Portrait". Sharon is personally very interesting to me, for many reasons. But out of the review came a little tidbit that struck me as completely inappropriate, in fact downright gross:
Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"

I suppose this is all of a piece with his groping of the German Prime Minister, addressing the British Prime Minister with a "Yo, Blair," through a mouthful of half-chewed bread, his completely inappropriate attempted dragging around of the Chinese Premier, and his rubbing the heads of just about any bald man within a hundred feet. Why do they let this idiot take trips abroad, anyway? He hasn't the first clue about how to behave in public. And what is with his barely disguised homoerotic behaviours? Be as gay as you want, buddy, just don't make me privy to your sadistic sodomy fantasies. Yeesh.

(review discovered courtesy of watertiger, via Atrios via Tom Tomorrow.)

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

News plus a dose of cute

In a heartening post, Robert Dreyfuss of asserts that Shrub The Lesser can lie as much as he wants about Iran and the war on Iraq - now that his Greek chorus of sycophants is mostly gone, he sounds confused, prevaricatious (no, that's not a word, I made it up) and wambly (that might be a word, but it doesn't belong in the upper echelons of wordism).

God endorses intelligent design. How divine!

Bill Donohue of The Catholic League is improperly and unconstitutionally interfering in politics. And right-wing troglodytes like him ought to be prevented from doing so:

Not that left-wing troglodytes should have a free hand, but left-wingers seem to have shed Stalinist notions, mostly.

Cute! Red pandas are SOOOO CUTE!

Red panda

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These people are without shame

but you knew that. What you might not know, however, is the extent of their shamelessness. For example, when the EPA, working with Tom Ridge at the DHS, crafted tough laws to implement post-9/11 chemical plant security measures, Dick Cheney's son-in-law (no, the one with a dick) stepped in to effectively emasculate such measures. The Washington Monthly has more.

These people are disgusting vampires who prey on everyone and thing that is not related to them by blood or marriage. Read it. It'll make you uncomfortable, but at least you'll know more about some of the issues that you need to take some action on.

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Seen any good movies lately?

Captain Pantaleon Pantoja
Foyle's War (it's a British TV series, so it's ongoing)
Little Rascals (the lot)
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Kung Fu Hustle
The Crime of Padre Amaro
Down By Law
Alphaville (Goddard)
Basket Case (Okay that wasn't good, except in the way that something is so bad, it's good)
Jungle Fever
Mystic River
The Baby
The Phantom Planet (MST3K)
The Others (Nicole Kidman, dir. Tom Cruise - but it was good)
The Killer Shrews (MST3K)
Hollow Man (bleah)
V for Vendetta
Taking Lives
Batman (1943)
Five Thousand Fingers of Doctor T
The Shawshank Redemption
Triumph of the Will
Ruthless People
Amazon Women on the Moon

Okay, I may be a gimp and I may not get out much, but thanks to Netflix I got to watch me some movies.

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Embarrasment in Connecticut

If you haven't read about the miscarriage of justice in the case of Connecticut teacher Julie Amero, hie thee to MyLeftNutmeg for details. Forthwith.

Basically, Julie Amero, a substitute teacher, was given a boat anchor running Win 98 and IE, and malware on the machine caused an endless loop of pop-up porn.

Now, this happened to me nearly a decade ago, when I was taking a training class with my manager, and I work in hi-tech, and our IT department is excellent. Somehow one of the training room computers had become infected, and we could not kill the pop-ups until we cold-booted the wretched machine. Something Ms. Amero's IT department advised her never to do.

My manager was more embarrassed than I, I think, being as he was a gay man not used to viewing het porn. I was merely mildly amused at the porn but disgusted at the hijacking of the machine and interruption of the lesson.

Ms. Amero, however, is possibly looking at a 40-year jail term. For details on what to do to prevent this hideousness, click the above link. There are names, addresses, and phone numbers of folk to whom you may address a polite email or letter informing them that they are dumber than a termite-eaten post. Well, no, strike that. But call or write the goblocks, anyway.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

More Straight Talk

from opponents of Saint John McCain:

McCain Mutiny

Max Blumenthal

Just as the presidential nomination process begins in earnest, Senator John McCain has suffered a stinging defeat in his home state. For the Republican media darling declared recently by Chris Matthews to be the one candidate who "deserves the presidency," it was an unlikely loss, and so far it has gone unheralded by the national press corps that McCain once half-jokingly called "my base." This defeat was the handiwork of his presumed actual political base--a ragtag band of local conservative activists led by a 65-year-old retired IBM middle manager named Rob Haney.

More here, including open doubts about the senile old fool's senile, ancient foolishness.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Interspecies comity

So how come cows and cats can rock wit it, but Americans and Iraqis can't find common ground?

I know, I know, people are really fucked in the intercultural comity department. Here's some charming beastly love for your amusement.

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News, uh, flash

I know there's someone out there keeping a running tally of all the republic party "leading lights" who keep going into rehabracadabra. Here's the latest:

Ex-Pa. Rep. McDade charged with exposure

SANIBEL, Fla. - A former Pennsylvania congressman was accused Wednesday of exposing himself to two women at a beach resort.

Details here:

Fer crying out loud, the guy is 75. I'll bet money he wasn't exposing his naughty bits to women in his age group.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Good Grief

Do you suppose Blue Mountain greeting cards might have an agenda? If you use them to send online greetings, consider switching. Webshots is good.

Here's "Saint John" McCain revealing himself to be one of the crookedest most conniving little reptiles that ever pretended to gift the people with a Straight Talk Express:

In other, better news, Congressmember Henry Waxman shows what means "congressional oversight":

Henry Waxman is now Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and he has already scheduled some very important hearings.

Government is the responsibility of all the governed. If we refuse to take responsibility, how can we expect others to do their bit?

Rep Waxman is going after all the evidence of waste and fraud. He's already devasted Paul "Jerry" Bremer for his pathetic lack of oversight of the waste of billions of dollars in Iraq.

Now he's going after the Bushies' attempt to cover up evidence of climate change.

He turns up evidence that Blackwater, the largest employer of mercenaries, um, "contractors," in Iraq is tightly tied to Halliburton.

Drop him a nice note already.

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Homophobia and chocolate

As y'all probly already know, the Mars chocolate company, maker of Snickers and Mars Bars and other fine fatty treats, recently aired a very homophobic ad for the SuperBowl.

Well, the ever-snarky Maru the Crankpot managed to find this snarky response from Three Musketeers. Ooh-weee!

If the link to Maru doesn't work, you can always view the ad at Devil Ducky. Warning: seriously NOT work-safe. I laughed my ass off anyway.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Updated Book List 02/07

This is it, as of now. I took off a lot of the books that deal with subjects other than fiction or (the kind of) fact (that I'd like to be reading right now). I added some books about writing and some more fiction. I'm still hoping I can finish reading this entire list by July 1st, 2007.

  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers
  • Amerika - Franz Kafka
  • A Spy's Revenge - Richard V. Hall
  • Beating the Blues - Thase & Lang
  • Believer Book of Writers Talking To Writers - Vendela Vida
  • Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott
  • Bonfire of the Vanities - Tom Wolfe
  • Captains of Consciousness - Stuart Ewen
  • Daniel Deronda - George Eliot
  • Death and Justice - Mark Fuhrman
  • Don't Know Much About Mythology - Kenneth C. Davis
  • Extraordinary Popular Delusions - Mackay
  • Folklore of Tamil Nadu - S.M.L. Lakshman Chettiar
  • Foreign Land - Jonathan Raban
  • Glory - Vladimir Nabokov
  • Heart Politics - Fran Peavey
  • How I Adore You - Mark Pritchard
  • I Married A Barbarian - Dennis Bloodworth & Liang Ching Ping
  • Imaginary Homelands - Salman Rushdie
  • In My Dreams - Kassandra Kane
  • Jai Bhim - Terry Pilchik
  • My Brother Jack - George Johnston
  • Nectar in a Sieve - Kamala Markandeya
  • Nonsense - Robert J. Gula
  • On the Beach - Nevil Shute
  • Passions of the Cut Sleeve - Bret Hinsch
  • Plays, Vol. 2 - Bertholdt Brecht
  • Praxis - Faye Weldon
  • Prometheus Rising - Robert Anton Wilson
  • Pronatalism - Peck & Senderowitz
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence - Doris Pilkington
  • Reading Lolita In Teheran - Azar Nafisi
  • Reality Isn't What It Used To Be - Walter Truett Anderson
  • Silences - Tillie Olsen
  • Singin' and Swingin' and Gettin' Merry Like Christmas - Maya Angelou
  • Spices & Condiments - J.S. Pruthi
  • Stones From The River - Ursula Hegi
  • Take the Cannoli - Sarah Vowell
  • The Age of Diminished Expectations - Krugman
  • The Art of the Novel - Milan Kundera
  • The Bride Price - Buchi Emecheta
  • The Courtship of Robert Browning & Elizabeth Barrett - Karlin
  • The Devil Finds Work - James Baldwin
  • The Family:They Fuck You Up - Granta
  • The Ginger Man - J.P. Donleavy
  • The Hollowing - Robert Holdstock
  • The Mind's I - Hofstadter & Dennett
  • The Physics of Star Trek - Lawrence Krauss
  • The Plague - Albert Camus
  • The Post Office - Rabindranath Tagore
  • The Sleeper Wakes - Knopf
  • The Unabomber Manifesto -
  • Tipping the Velvet - Sarah Waters
  • 'Tis Pity She's A Whore - John Ford
  • Understanding Media - Marshall McLuhan
  • Why I Am Not A Muslim - ibn Warraq
  • Women, Outcastes, Peasants & Rebels - Bardhan
  • You Shall Know Our Velocity - Dave Eggers
  • Your Memory:A User's Guide - Alan Baddeley

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Monday, February 12, 2007

Smoke's 2007 Book List

Complete List of Books to Read in 2007 - 2008
(no way can I read all this in one year ... unless I win superlotto)

  • Seek the Fair Land - Walter Macken
  • The Beatles - Bob Spitz
  • Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them - Francine Prose
  • The Fate of Elephants - Doug Chadwick
  • Stella Adler - The Art of Acting: preface by Marlon Brando compiled and edited by Howard Kissel (Applause Acting Series) (Hardcover) - Howard Kissel, Stella Adler
  • The Road Past Altamont - Gabriel Roy
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distractions, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life - Bonnie Friedman
  • James Joyce - Edna O'Brien
  • Full Cupboard of Life - Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Kalahari Typing School for Men - Alexander McCall Smith
  • In the Company of Cheerful Ladies - Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Tears of the Giraffe - Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town - John Grisham(nonfiction)
  • Meena: Heroine of Afghanistan - Melody Ermachild Chavis
  • Fierce Attachments: A Memoir - Vivian Gornick (re-read)
  • American Hollow - Rory Kennedy
  • The Tree - John Fowles (text) and Frank Horvat (photographs)
    Continues my obsession with trees
  • New York, New York : The City in Art and Literature [Hardcover] - Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Lucky Eyes and a High Heart: The Life of Maud Gonne - Nancy Cardozo
  • Up in the Old Hotel - Joseph Mitchell
  • Eamon DeValera - Tim Pat Coogan
  • Charming Billy - Alice McDermott
  • The Angel of Darkness - Caleb Carr
  • Staying Connected to Your Teenager: How to Keep Them Talking to You and How to Hear What They're Really Saying - Michael Riera
  • Gods and Heroes of the Celts - Marie-Louise Sjoestedt
  • The Music Lesson - Katharine Weber
  • The Romance of American Communism - Vivian Gornick
  • Simple Living - Jose Hobday
  • Writing a Novel - Dorothy Bryant
  • The Art of the Novel - Milan Kundera
  • How to Write a Damn Good Novel - James Frey
  • The Echo Maker - Richard Powers
  • The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers
  • Memoir of a Race Traitor - Mab Segrest
  • Ireland: A Social, Cultural, and Literary History 1791 - 1891 - James H. Murphy
  • A Leg to Stand On - Oliver Sachs
  • R is for Richochet - Sue Grafton
  • The Burglar on the Prowl - Lawrence Block
  • Little Scarlet - Walter Mosley
  • Cinnamon Kiss - Walter Mosley
  • Like Sound Through Water: A Mother's Journey Through Auditory Processing Disorder - Karen J. Foli
  • How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe - Thomas Cahill
  • The Botany of Desire - Michael Pollan
  • Purple Hibiscus - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship With Money and Achieving Financial Independence - Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin
  • The Everything Guide to Writing a Novel - Joyce and Jim Lavene
  • Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love - edited by Anne Fadiman
  • A Book of Migrations: Some Passages in Ireland - Rebecca Solnit
  • On Beauty - Zadie Smith
  • The Healing - Gayle Jones [re-reading]
  • The Empress of Ireland: A Chronicle of an Unusual Friendship - Christopher Robbins
  • The Situation and the Story:The Art of Personal Narrative - Vivian Gornick
  • Juno and the Paycock - Sean O'Casey
  • Plough and Stars - Sean O'Casey
  • Ireland: A Novel - Frank Delaney
  • Catholic Girls: Stories, Poems, and Memoirs - Edited by Amber Coverdale Sumrall and Patrice Vecchione
  • All Will Be Well: A Memoir - John McGahern
  • Grace Notes - Bernard MacLaverty [re-read]
  • Lamb - Bernard MacLaverty
  • Cal - Bernard MacLaverty
  • Tales from Bective Bridge - Mary Lavin
  • Housekeeping - Marilynne Robinson [re-read]
  • The Beauty Queen of Leenane and Other Plays - Martin McDonagh
  • The Cripple of Inishmaan - Martin McDonagh
  • Prisons We Choose to Live Inside - Doris Lessing
  • Triptych and Iphegenia: Two Plays - Edna O'Brien
  • Waterfront: A Journey Around Manhattan - Phillip Lopate
  • The Irish: A Treasury of Art and Literature - Edited by Leslie Conron Carola
  • The Illustrated History of New York - Ric Burns and James Sanders, with Lisa Ades
  • The Transformation of Ireland - Diarmaid Ferriter
  • The Story of the Irish Race - Seumas MacManus
  • Twice Over Lightly: New York Then and Now - Helen Hayes and Anita Loos
  • Crown of Empire: The Story of New York State - Paul Eldridge
  • The Epic of New York City: A Narrative History - Edward Robb Ellis
  • The Fifties - David Halberstam
  • Working Class New York - Joshua B. Freeman
  • The Illustrated History of Canada - edited by Craig Brown
  • Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922 - 2002 - Terence Brown
  • Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker - edited by David Remnick
  • We Too Are Drifting - Gale Wilhelm
  • Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community - Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis
  • Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America - Lillian Faderman
  • The New York Irish - Edited by Ronald H. Bayor and Timothy J. Meagher
  • The New Art City: Manhattan at Mid-Century - Jed Perl
  • The Princes of Ireland: The Dublin Saga - Edward Rutherford

Updated to format better.

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Smoke's 2006 Book List

  • Rings of Saturn - W.B. Sebold
    very good, but dense

  • Authenticity - Diedre Madden

  • Fearless Jones - Walter Mosley
    pretty good, not his best

  • Jayber Crow - Wendell Berry
    highly recommended - see my full review on

  • The Street - Ann Petry
    highly recommended, very disturbing

  • What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America - Thomas Frank

  • Self-Made Man - Norah Vincent
    disappointing -- see my full review on

  • The Healing - Gayle Jones
    highly recommended, very originial, I'll reread this every few years to learn more about writing.

  • The Mayor of Macdougal Street: A Memoir - Dave Van Ronk and Elijah Wald
    very interesting, recommended

  • Booking Passage - Thomas Lynch
    good, not as good as I expected though

  • Ice, Mouth, Song: A Collection of Poems - Rachel Contreni Flynn
    highly recommended

  • Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood - Alexandra Fuller
    very good

  • The Shadow of a Gunman: The Selected Plays of Sean O'Casey - Sean O'Casey
    I loved it ... but I think it's for folks that are really interested in Irish history.

  • Time to Murder and Create - Lawrence Block
    I love Block. Good.

  • When the Sacred Ginmill Closes - Lawrence Block

  • Irish on the Inside - Thomas Hayden
    Very interesting. His writing is wooden.

  • Grief - Andrew Holleran
    Good, but I expected great.

  • The Other Side - Mary Gordon
    Very good.

  • A Little Yellow Dog - Walter Mosley

  • Irish New York - Bob Swacker, Leslie Jenkins

  • Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era - Elizabeth Pepin, Lewis Watts
    Very interesting.

  • Contact Sheet 101: South to West Oakland - Lewis Watts
    Photographs. Good.

  • Gone Fishin' - Walter Mosley

  • Blessing of the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988 - 2000 - Lucille Clifton
    Very good.

  • Bad Boy Brawly Brown - Walter Mosley

  • Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography - Chester Brown
    Very good. But Im into Manitoba history.

  • The Short Fall from Grace: Poems - Stewart Florsheim
    Very good. Disclosure: I know the author.

  • Almost There - Nuala O'Faolain
    Highly recommended. I really liked this.

  • Triangle - Katherine Weber

  • Murder on the Prowl - Rita Mae Brown

  • A Ticket to the Boneyard - Lawrence Block
    Very good.

  • The Polysyllabic Spree - Nick Hornby
    Loved it. Love his humor.

  • Confessions of an Economic Hit Man - John Perkins
    Chilling. Warning: You must read something hopeful about the world right after you read this.

  • The Niagara River - Kay Ryan
    Highly recommended.

  • Bones and Silence - Reginald Hill
    Highly recommended. I love him.

  • The Night of the Burning - Linda Wulf
    Really really good. Disclosure: I know the author.

  • The Commute: an extended poem in XXVI parts - Patricia Edith
    Highly recommended. These are rich rich poems. She is an inspiration to me -- in many ways. Disclosure: The author is one of my best friends.

  • Pictures of Perfection - Reginald Hill
    Highly recommended.

  • Franny and Zooey - J. D. Salinger (re-read)
    Still love it.
    Note: Tried to re-read The Catcher in the Rye and couldn't. Could not relate to the middle-class juvenile. When I was younger, I could. What does that say? I kept thinking "Quit all the complaining!" Wanted to shake him.

  • The Skeleton Man - Tony Hillerman

  • Catch as Catch Can - Rita Mae Brown
    Fluffy. I used to think of her as such a deep person.

  • Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - by Alexander McCall Smith
    Good. Later ones are much better though.

  • Hope in the Dark, 2006 edition - Rebecca Solnit
    Very good.

  • Mules of Love: Poems - Ellen Bass
    Great ... I love her poetry.

  • Grayson - Lynne Cox
    Calming. Should have read this after Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

  • Right as Rain - George Pelecanos
    So good. Good solid mystery writer.

  • The Subtle Knife - Phillip Pullman
    Very good but it took me a while to really get into it.

    Note: I've forgotten all the poetry and children's books I've read. Determined to keep better track in 2007.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Centaur

and His Kitten. La Petite Madeleine looks like a tasty little teacake. Dr. Barmpot Shouty-Crackers, proud parent of the one and only Arthur J., noted her precious white lace fichu tucked into her tiny bosom. She looks a lot like her Uncle Maxx, who is greatly missed by all, still, but is apparently having a really good time on his comet with Barbaro and Molly Ivins. Sweet thought, eh?

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What s/he said

Pudentilla, posting at Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, says exactly what I'm thinking:

if he were single and we were straight
we'd marry rep. gary ackerman, d-ny, for saying the following:

Go read it, y'all. Skippy the Bush Kangaroo - a good blog to hang out on.

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The Dork Lord

I knew nothing about that malignant wretch, dick Cheney, until after he took office. Recently, I came across this article, which I highly recommend if you, like me, are now cursing the day this evil slimebag oozed into your battered consciousness.

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YouTube benefits the masses

If you haven't already seen these, you must:

Parts 1 through 6 of Mister Deity are available. Just excellent.

And you KNOW you've always wanted to see Condi rap.

Updated with live links.

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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Books read in January

  • Better Living Through Bad Movies - Sheri Zollinger and Scott Clevenger

    Borrowed? No.

    All I can say is, don't take this book to some public place where you expect to behave with decorum. I laughed out loud in the worst way, those snorts and thigh-thumping hoots and bellows and grunts that you make when something strikes you as really, really, unexpectedly, even shockingly, funny. Unfortunately, I tend to read at meals, so there was much dislodging of rice grains from mucous membranes to be performed. Not to mention the scandalized glares of fellow diners to contend with. Or the pleading of the occasional friend or partner for a read-out-loud, as in, "Whaaat?" "Whadya mean what?" "Well, you laughed." "Yes? And?" "Well, aren't you going to share?" Okay, more whining than pleading, but you get my drift.

    This is a thoroughly fun and enjoyable book, witty, devastating, delivering smackdowns on the most beloved of bad movies, in the best way. If you don't buy - and read - it, you'll probly die of regret. And no, you may not borrow my copy. I'm not letting it out of my sight.

    On the other hand if you want me to get you one as a prezzie, let me know, and I will.

    Recommended? Hell, yeah!

    Reread? Weekly.

  • Dinosaur in a Haystack - Steven Jay Gould

    Borrowed? Briiii-yannnnnn!

    It took me the better part of three weeks to read this book. Actually, one might more accurately say it took me several months. I had started it twice previously, and put it down each time partway through because I couldn't bear to continue. I love good writing on any topic, and I love reading about science, especially biology and paleontology. So it caused me a great deal of distress that it took me so long to get through this book. I finally came to the conclusion that the writer's ego stood between the reader and the work. Really, given that Gould is writing about stuff I mostly drool over, it was most annoying to spend so much time on a single book. Furthermore, the book would have been greatly improved by omitting all the baseball yaya and the deity yaya and the biblical quotes. Dr. Gould is not a writer, but someone apparently successfully convinced him that he was. Informative book, if you don't mind digging through a lot of dirt for a few precious nuggets.

    Recommended? Are you a hardcore paleontology geek? With oodles of free time? If you answered no to either of these questions, move on, cher, move on.

    Reread? Good gawd, once is enough. I'm not even sure if I ever want to read anything by him ever again, although the topics are fascinating and the information, when you've dug down to it, is likewise.

  • Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

    Borrowed? No.

    I've owned this book for many decades. I think I first read it in my teens. I was shocked at some of the bald observations Conrad made (quite the shrinking violet in those days, or perhaps unaccustomed to the uglier side of colonialism - either interpretation works). Its generous use of words and terms that were considered racist rather inspired me to put the book down, and I did not pick it up again until my twenties, after my first viewing of Apocalypse Now. Rereading it, I felt as if I understood the writer better, but it was still a wrenching experience.

    In my thirties, I read Robert Silverberg's Downward to the Earth and found myself rereading Heart of Darkness, for comparison's sake, or something. And lately, the war in Iraq has forced me to view several movies about war, to crack open history books, to purchase for the first time books on the history of the Middle East, of Islam, of the role of women in Islam, of the coexistence of Islam and other religions - even my very own copy of the Qur'an. And, of course, to reread Conrad yet again. Each decade seems to bring an improved perspective. He was a brilliant and very talented writer. Imagine being born and raised in one culture, speaking one language, and achieving fame as a writer writing in a completely different culture and language. It's enough to incite a tiny flutter of xenophobia. Which, in a way, is what the book is about. Otherness. Lately, the more insane, virulent loons in this world have been repeating their favorite catchphrase - "Kill 'em all, let God sort them out." Conrad is the antidote. And it is good medicine, because ultimately bitter.

    Recommended? No shrinking violets, goddammit. Highly recommended to all and sundry; students of Africa, colonialism, history, racism, and fiction writing at its best. Hold your nose, if you must, but read it anyway.

    Reread? Next decade, without a doubt.

  • Moving Targets - Women, Murder, and Representation - Helen Birch, Ed.

    Borrowed? Don't think so. It looks like the kind of thing I'd buy myself as a gift.

    An excellent analysis of women's role in the criminal justice system both as criminals and as victims. A number of women contributed to this thought-provoking collection.

    Recommended? Highly readable and a MUST read for men, women, and little furry creatures of the reading variety. Also highly recommended for students of gender studies, criminology, psychology, writers, journalists, and true-crime aficionados.

    Reread? Maybe, but not for quite a while.

  • My Life in France - Julia Child

    Borrowed? Smoke.

    Smoke handed me this with the terse warning "Fluffy." To be honest, it was a quick read but I found it far from fluffdom. Possibly because I love food, Julia's descriptions of her cooking lessons in France, and her exploration of French cuisine, are simply - delectable. Interestingly, Julia and her husband Paul Child were fairly left of center for their time, and this book is extremely revealing of how the political landscape has changed since Ms. Julia Child was a young woman. She sounds like a terrific person, smart, determined, and very clear about what she wanted out of life. I wish I'd had a chance to meet her, but reading her book was an enjoyable way of making her acquaintance and seeing through her eyes the beauty of La Belle France.

    Recommended? For anyone who loves food, cooking, wine, politics, gender studies, biographies.

    Reread? No. It was fun while it lasted, I wouldn't want to tarnish it by rereading. I still maintain, though, that it is NOT fluff.

  • Republican Like Me - Harmon Leon

    Borrowed? No.

    The writer is clearly one of the people that, if you knew them as kids, was the class troublemaker. He was the kid who put chewing gum in other kids' hair, or stuffed tadpoles and worms down their shirts, or lit firecrackers in the back of the class. He is, apparently, a well-known reporter and standup comedian in the SF Bay Area. And he's good. He's an interesting writer, he's hella funny in an edgy, nervous-making kinda way, and in some ways he's brilliant. But you sure as fuck would not want to be hangin' with him when he pulls some of the stunts he writes about in this book. I mean, what kinda scrawny Jewish kid joins an antisemitic White power hate group for a lark? He's lucky to be alive, assuming, of course, that he still is. The book was a fun read, though.

    Recommended? Enthusiastically, assuming you're not on medication for your anxiety issues.

    Reread? Nah. It was fun while it lasted, but.

  • The Early Stories (1883-1888) - Anton Chekhov

    Borrowed? No.

    Someone gave me this book a long time ago. I never got around to reading it because I had grown up reading the Russian writers - Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy - in my misspent youf. I figured it would be more like rereading, and decided to save the book for a day and time when I had finished reading every other unread book on my shelves. Now that there are books piled up on every available surface (to say nothing of shelves), the time, I judged, was right to clear a path between bed and door, at least, if nothing else. Short stories are better for interruptive bouts of reading, and with five cats, one certifiably psycho, reading at Casa Los Gatos is nothing if not interruptive. So I put this book on the (most recent) pile.

    And I'm glad I did. Chekhov has a certain mastery of the short story form that I greatly admire. I think my short stories are my best work, also, though I'd be hard put to say why because I never work on them. They always come as lightning flashes of the Muse, a continuation of a conversation in my head that suddenly spills over onto paper, and afterwards I'm left feeling vaguely uneasy, as if I were speaking to a forgotten friend from a long time ago - looks familiar, but where do I know this person from? The story and I share the same intimacy. I recognize some things of me in there, but I have no idea how it got to be. Reading this collection - it's from his most prolific period, when he was churning out many little works, each a gem - gave me some ideas about the creative process. Chekhov's style is not mine, but his ability to capture a feel for the things he saw and heard, and encapsulate in a tiny space the atmosphere that must have existed around these incidents and people, is nothing short of magic.

    Recommended? Joyously. Cheerfully. Wickedly and unrestrainedly. With a warning that Chekhov's humour was often quite cruel, so this book should be avoided by shrinking violets.

    Reread? Someday.

  • The Image - Isaac Bashevis Singer

    Borrowed? Nope.

    Isaac Bashevis Singer is, like Chekhov, a master of the short-story form. This book is a collection of his stories, some set in the Old World, some in the New. The stories have a transitional feel to them, but his ability to span decades and generations in a work five pages long is impressive. As is the keenness of his observations. Remarkably sexist, but perhaps appropriate for its era.

    Recommended? For those interested in Judaica, history, anthropology, fiction, good writing, and to students of the written word everywhere.

    Reread? Yes, but when?

  • The Secret Sharer - Joseph Conrad

    Borrowed? No.

    My what a creepy story. What can I say? All through it I felt as if I were the protagonist and the antagonist. Conrad is a writer of rare skill and talent. This is a story of great psychological power, and one of his that I have never read or heard of before.

    Recommended? For the not-so-faint-at-heart; and for those who love reading and good writing.

    Reread? Oh, my, yes.

  • Where Oceans Meet - Bhargavi Mandava

    Borrowed? No.

    What on earth possessed me to read this? I won't say it was shite - the writer has the ability to tell a tale. But not, in my opinion, very well. I read most of the book, to my great dismay. Why? Because I kept thinking, surely it's got to get better! It can't really be so bad. I mean, good lord, the writer was in residence at some hoity-toity writing programme. Surely they wouldn't have offered such a fine opportunity to some loser - which this writer is getting perilously close to being. Bah, humbug. At what point do you just force yourself to put the damn book down and move on? I must try to be better about this. And you know what? I got sucked into the cultural aspects of the book. Feh, I say. Never again.

    Recommended? Oh, no, absolutely not.

    Reread? I got rid of it already.

    In progress:

  • The World of the Shining Prince - Ivan Morris partly read
  • Sometimes A Great Notion - Ken Kesey partly read
  • Nonsense - Robert J. Gula partly read
  • A House in Gross Disorder - Herrup partly read
  • A Spy's Revenge partly read
  • Extraordinary Popular Delusions - Mackay partly read
  • On the Beach - Nevil Shute partly read
  • The Ginger Man - J.P. Donleavy partly read
  • The Hollowing - Robert Holdstock partly read
  • Rosie - Anne Lamott reread
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers partly read
  • Foreign Land - Jonathan Raban partly read
  • Passions of the Cut Sleevepartly read
  • Porphyrys' Letter to His Wife partly read
  • Syonan, My Story reread
  • Rehearsal For War reread
  • Singapore, The Pregnable Fortress reread

    I guess it's pretty clear from the list and the reviews that I am not finishing everything that I start. And there's a lot of "rereads" on the list. Explanation: the rereads are mostly for the Book Writing Project. But I vow to be better over the coming months. Keeping a list like this, and a public one, at that, does force me to be more linear in my reading habits, which is not a bad thing. Especially when one considers the 500 or so books that I must read for the Writing Project.

    In any event, I have decided to remove some of the books from the list and add some of the Writing Project books to the list, which is now down to 50 books. Hopefully, by the end of February, it'll be down to 40 or fewer. I think the books to read in February must include some of those In Progress. How else am I going to get the buggers off the list? Plus, I plan to read all those that Smoke lent me. Then I can get them out of the house and actually have walking space again.

    Wish me well, fellas. Did anyone take my bet?

    Will post an updated list by next week. Also, Smoke's reading lists. I have till July 1 to finish all the books not related to The Writing Project. From July 1 to December 31, I will only read books that relate to The Writing Project.

    Encouragement is gratefully expected, I mean, accepted.

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Friday, February 09, 2007


Extra-light blogging (meaning, none) for the past X weeks because:
1. Crazy Gustav The PsychoKitty bit a hole right through my pinkie;
2. I got sick;
3. I got even sicker right after I finally recovered from getting sick the first time.

You never realize how important a pinkie finger is until you try to use a keyboard with a severely swollen, pustulent, red, stiff, unbendable, weeping, painful finger. Lemme tellya. It was no fun at all. I was reduced to hunt-'n-peck typing at work, which was even worse, because I Had Deadlines. And deadlines, quite frankly, suck.

I was really upset about the whole thing (the Gustav-bitey thing) because Gustav was An Abused Kitten. Badly abused, from what I can gather. My sister rescued him, and then she moved and couldn't take him, so we escorted him on a many-thousand-mile flight to his New Home with us and his mamma. Unfortunately his mamma, despite multiple vet exams between one country and the next, had a hidden heart murmur, which seized her suddenly one morning a few months after they'd arrived here, and before they could actually settle in. She was in terrible pain, and the choice was putting her on expensive medication for life with the chance of more major pain and every possibility of a relapse, or putting her down.

If you've ever heard a cat scream in pain, you'll understand why we chose to do what we did. We could've medicated her. Money is never an object when a life hangs in the balance. But could we take the chance that she would have a relapse while we were away, and suffer excruciatingly, and possibly even die while we were gone? Poor girl. She was very sweet and beautiful, and after listening to her scream and scream and watching her try to drag herself across the floor because her legs didn't work, and rushing her to the emergency clinic at 6 am, we made the decision we thought was best.

Well, Gustav was insanely (and I use the term advisedly) attached to his mamma, and after she died, he went a little more crazy than he already was. He kept attacking the other cats. We had six other indoor cats and two outdoor cats, and the outdoor cats were FIV positive, and we couldn't risk him repeatedly injuring them, so we put him on Valium.

Psychoactive meds are never a good choice for kitties because it's not as if they understand when you tell them what to expect. We had him on it for a year until the others got used to him, and then we took him off. He was fine for quite a while, despite the occasional hiss and bite and scratch, but this time, for whatever reason, he just went totally off. I was petting Gojira, and he suddenly leaped up with his ears flat against his head, screaming, and bit right through the top digit of my pinkie finger, right to the bone. He bit through the little vein, and blood just exploded everywhere. It soaked through the sheets and the covers and my clothes and two paper towels that I wrapped around my finger to stop the bleeding.

The sight of blood makes me feel faint (I'll never make a good killer, I can tell), and I didn't yell at him, or anything, but I did scream, and he freaked. Anywho, it was so painful - the finger swelled up like a balloon - that I went to the doctor the very next morning. One tetanus shot and a prescription for antibiotics later, I returned home to a very interested Gustav - interested in the bloody clothes and sheets, that is. Little creep.

I forgave him a day later, but it's still painful, after three weeks, and the skin is peeling all around the original site of the injury.

The rest of it is the usual human germ exchange - people at work came to a "mandatory" company meeting bringing with them an interesting blend of virii and bacteria, which they generously shared with colleagues during the four hours or so that the many hundred of us were crammed together in a small space. Much coughing, sneezing, nose-blowing, and sore-throating later, I pronounced myself well only to be sneezed on yesterday by yet another (disgusting germbag of a) colleague. Bah, humbug. I wish, at times, the whole damned human race would be wiped out leaving the world to be enjoyed (finally!) by lions and tigers and bears - and kitties and doggies - oh my.

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