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-------------------- { May 30, 2002 } --------------------

The End of the Beginning

Workers remove the flag from the top of the last remaining steel beam of the World Trade Center before cutting it down, Tuesday, May 28, 2002, in New York. The beam will be removed from Ground Zero in a separate ceremony Thursday

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 5:01 PM

* * *

-------------------- { May 29, 2002 } --------------------

Allah's Litigators
By Rod Liddle

This isn't really a Dispatch From America, seeing as it's a story from the Guardian about a lawsuit in France, but it's too good to pass up.

The French writer Michel Houellebecq is being charged with inciting racial hatred in an action brought by four French Muslim organisations. Houellebecq's crime was to state, in an interview, that Islam was "the most stupid of all religions". I am not sure which bit of Houellebecq's quote the Muslims found especially irritating; maybe it's the word "most". Perhaps if the writer had said merely that "Islam is stupid" or "Islam is more stupid than Zoroastrianism but nowhere near as barking as Sufi mysticism,"they would have let him alone. But probably not.

In any case, the crime for which Houellebecq is being tried - and in which the French justice system, by allowing it to proceed, is playing the part of supplicant whore - has nothing to do with racism; it is really a case of blasphemy, no matter what it says on the charge sheet. This court case, on September 17, will be an exciting trip back in time, to somewhere round about the 17th century.

Liddle makes an especially cogent point about the distinctions of degree between racism and criticizing religion.

Let's be clear. Criticising the precepts of modern Islam and the resultant actions of its adherents is not racist. Philosophically, it is the precise opposite of racism. It is an intellectual position arrived at through a consideration of ideas, rather than a cruel and irrational prejudice based upon the colour of someone's skin. If you were to suggest that the Roman Catholic church had a questionable record on human rights through the ages and, while we're about it, transubstantiation seems to be pushing it a bit far, nobody would claim that you were racially abusing the Italians or the Irish and nobody would take you to court for your point of view. Unless, like Galileo, you were living in Florence in 1613.

I would even argue that it is racist to describe a mistrust of Islam as racist, in that it assumes that Muslims are racially heterodox - which, of course, they are not.

France is a fitting battlefield for this dispute. Voltaire fought for freedom to write the truth about religion, without much success. Let's hope they've learned something useful about freedom of religion and freedom of expression since then.

posted by Alan Chamberlain at 7:37 PM

* * *

The Bad News is "The Galactic Habitable Zone" is Pretty Darned Thin. The Good News is...You live in it.

We've often taken issue with the science fiction blatherati who claim that life, intelligent or othewise, is everywhere in the universe. This is the "Infinite number of monkeys screwing around with an infinite number of stars for eternity" argument. It has never seemed all that convincing to us. It's like the "Coca Cola Chinese Marketing agrument ("There are billions of people in China and if we can ony sell one six pack a month to each of them....). We've always felt that life was either very rare, very special, or very much a fluke.

So we were pleased to read a article
outlining the reasons why life, unlike shit, does not just happen. Among the most cogent of their reasons is:
Christopher Chyba of the SETI Institute has theorized that only the smart can survive. A civilization must evolve to the point that it can detect and then either detour or destroy threats from space, lest it be rendered extinct or, at best, plunged back into a Dark Ages existence.

"There is a kind of selection effect for long-lived civilizations," Chyba said in comments to a group of reporters during the STScI conference. "If you want to be long lived, you need to become technical because you need to be able to observe the impact environment around you and respond to that environment in some way to mitigate its effects on your planet."

Chyba pointed out that it took 700 million years or so for life to begin on Earth. The planet had to cool down after its initial formation, and then it weathered a barrage of asteroid impacts. The largest objects might well have evaporated the oceans, he said, preventing the origin of life or resetting it if it had already occurred.
Now, if we can just convince India and Pakistan to avoid evaporating the Indian Ocean, we might not have to reset the life button.

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 3:15 PM

* * *

The Utterly Unsurprising Truth About AOL Version 7: "AOL is a very old-fashioned, clumsy interface, and what surprises me is every new revision is harder to use," says Jef Raskin, a design legend who created the Apple Macintosh (AAPL) interface.

Ain't a Free Country When a Man Can't Keep a Hippo: The Any Animals All The Time American obsession received a setback this week when police in San Diego determined that a 500 pound pygmy hippo didn't meet their definition of house pet. "No one expects to find a giant hippo living in someone's backyard," said a state game warden.

Well, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition either, but you don't see the cops shutting down consenting adults' home dungeons, do you? Or do you?

The Miracle of Glass: In a small gem of online writing, David Weinberger hits just the right notes when he sums up what's to love about "The Great Indoors."

"Let me try to describe it. I'm able to adjust the temperature to one that is comfortable for our species, and the indoors automatically keeps itself at that temperature no matter what type of hissy fit Nature throws. And through the miracle of glass, a sort of hardened air — I'm not making this up! — we are able to see what is going on outside while the animals that would prey on us are kept away. This beats climbing a tree and looking down because some of the nastier animals can fly. And I've had doors installed so that only I and my family can enter our sanctuary without having to ask permission first. Plus I can organize my things exactly as I want and can be confident that when I return, they won't have blown away, gotten wet, or have been gnawed by beasts. "

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 2:29 PM

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-------------------- { May 27, 2002 } --------------------

That We Here Highly Resolve
Abraham Lincoln

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . .that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . .by the people. . .for the people. . . shall not perish from the earth. "

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 11:07 AM

* * *

A Ring Recovered
Distinguished historian Victor Davis Hanson contemplates the meaning of a new family heirloom.

Victor Hanson recently received a ring once worn by his namesake who died in the Okinawa campaign at the close of the Second World War. His meditation on the ring and the man who wore it illuminates some of the deeper meanings of Memorial Day.

Unlike the other impressive tombstones of relatives in the family plot, there are no inscribed res gestae, not even a "loving father," much less a "beloved grandfather." A man who dies tragically, young, and alone does so without capital, either monetary or human; when he leaves behind no progeny it is evident in the modesty of his commemoration. But now there is at least something more, and as I grasp this ring with its cut band, and remember the letters and conversations this spring from the stewards of his memory, I pray to God that we still might see the likes of such giants again. And so perhaps we shall.  

Full text of "A Ring"
posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 10:35 AM

* * *

The Grave Markers Here All Face West
George W. Bush

Remarks by the President at Normandy, Memorial Day, 2002

Here, where we stand today, the new world came back to liberate the old. A bond was formed of shared trial and shared victory. And a light that scattered darkness from these shores and across France would spread to all of Europe -- in time, turning enemies into friends, and the pursuits of war into the pursuits of peace. Our security is still bound up together in a transatlantic alliance, with soldiers in many uniforms defending the world from terrorists at this very hour.

The grave markers here all face west, across an ageless and indifferent ocean to the country these men and women served and loved. The thoughts of America on this Memorial Day turn to them and to all their fallen comrades in arms. We think of them with lasting gratitude; we miss them with lasting love; and we pray for them. And we trust in the words of the Almighty God, which are inscribed in the chapel nearby: "I give unto them eternal life, that they shall never perish."

Full Speech Here

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 10:20 AM

* * *

PBS: The Final Fantasy Never let reality stand in the way of reality shows. That seems to be the message over at PBS's "reality show" about frontier life in America. The viewer will look a long time before he sees a gun on this version of the American frontier. According the one performer the Clunes of "Frontier House" had to deal with strange requirements from the producers during production. One of which was, "We were supposed to give a predator two warnings," Mr. Clune told the Los Angeles Times. "'Excuse me, Mr. Coyote, please don't eat my chicken. Excuse me, Mr. Coyote, please don't eat my chicken.' Then, you were supposed to fire a warning shot.".

The King is dead but lawyers are always with us. The Elvis lawsuits it seems are never going to be over until the last ding-dong of doom. "See you in court, honey. Uh, uh."

More Mush from the Wimp:First "Wings" and now this, the final insult.Hey, we like the Beatles as much as anybody, but there should be some limits to what the aging survivors of this group are allowed to do. Ringo, wisely, keeps a low profile. Not so Sir Paul. He's seen fit to inflict the world with a show of his, let's face it, fifth-rate paintings. Shown and sold solely on the basis of his Beatleness. As Paul himself says, "Some will like them and some won't. They're entitled to their opinions but I never read them. I really just do it for my own enjoyment." Great Paul. So could you please keep them where only you can enjoy them. Thank you.

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 9:55 AM

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-------------------- { May 24, 2002 } --------------------

The Fashions of War

"Although the generation born about 1840, and now governing the world, has fought two at least of the greatest wars in history, and has witnessed others, war is out of fashion, and the man who commands attention of his fellows is the man of wealth. Commerce is the great power. The aspirations of the world are those of commerce. Moralists and philosophers, following its lead, declare that war is wicked, foolish, and soon to disappear. . . . There are many, poor and rich, who think that love of country is an old wife's tale, to be replaced by interest in a labor union, or, under the name of cosmopolitanism, by a rootless self-seeking search for a place where the most enjoyment may be had at the least cost ... "

-- Oliver Wendell Holmes, address to the Harvard Graduating Class of 1895

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 5:22 PM

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Welcome to Cyberspace! Now get out.
Chris Anderson

You can't help but hate them, but those annoying "pop-under" web ads are here to stay. Wired Magazine's Chris Anderson lays down the law.

Web advertisers and content sites are increasingly forced to ration their most effective ads - limiting them to, say, two pop-unders per user per day, or one outrageous content-crawler - lest they alienate viewers entirely. Though it may seem like a small thing, this could change the face of Web media. The new equation for success in online advertising is simple: Effective advertising must be intrusive. But intrusive ads must be used sparingly to avoid ruining the medium. From this axiom comes a host of surprising implications - the new rules for the new advertising economy.

1) Shallow is good. The key metric in Web advertising is unique users, not minutes per site. "You want users to come to your site every day - and then go away," says Roy de Souza, CEO of Zedo, a leading ad-serving network. Web publishers should hit each new user with a big, lucrative ad on arrival, but after that pageviews probably cost more to create and deliver than they can earn in banners. Front pages rock; inside pages stink. From this core observation, other corollaries emerge:

2) Forget stickiness. Web sites once bragged about their lingering users. Now a site is better operated like a fast-food joint: no loitering. Loyalty is still good, but only when it means being a brief part of a daily routine. Think cats, not dogs.

3) Real time is risky. What could be worse than a stock-quote site, which users check and recheck constantly? Better to focus on less-ephemeral content that rewards a single visit - sports scores, weather, or newspaper headlines.

4) Communities are overrated. Do you really want to encourage hours of chat in your expensive online salon? Same goes for webmail. Free Internet service providers, such as NetZero, are already limiting users to just two hours a day - when the law of diminishing returns kicks in hard.

5) Chase dilettantes, not obsessives. Just ask the game sites. Gamers spend hours reading hints and cheats; from an ad perspective, that makes them parasites. A passing interest in, say, movie listings is, economically speaking, a lot more desirable.

The thing that pisses me off is that these things take over my browser. They also locate the ad just off the screen so you can't just hit the "Close" button. I've taken to right-clicking on the thing in my Start Menu and closing it from there, sight unseen.

posted by Alan Chamberlain at 3:52 PM

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-------------------- { May 23, 2002 } --------------------

The Emperor's New Friends
By Todd Gitlin

For all the orthodox hectoring from the Left reflexively condemning the US and Israel for their principled self-defense, there are occasional glimmers of understanding emerging from the progressive community. Dissent Magazine's Todd Gitlin considers the advantages of imperial power.

Truth be told, there is on occasion something to be said for empires-not their cruelty, their violence, or their exploitation of subject peoples, but the law, citizenship, and stability that historically they can bring. Mainly, of course, the recommendation comes from those in the metropolitan core who fatten on the advantages of empire and suffer few of the costs. But at times there is more. As the historian Anthony Pagden writes in his excellent primer Peoples and Empire, "because of their size and sheer diversity, most empires have in time become universal, cosmopolitan societies. In order to rule vast and widely separated domains, imperial governments have generally found themselves compelled to be broadly tolerant of diversity of culture and sometimes even of belief, so long as these posed no threat to their authority." To be sure, threats to their authority have frequently been met by ruthless, disproportionate violence. But dependents also submit to imperial power because they enjoy its benefits.

One benefit that had better be faced head-on is that empire is sometimes better than the alternative, if the alternative is a local autocracy, or al-Qaeda, or a rival empire like Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. It can be better not only for the metropole of power, but also for the periphery. The extension of American power in 1945 was excellent for Germans and West Europeans in general. It bears remembering that the Islamist terrorists who demolished the twin cathedrals of the World Trade Center have no claim whatsoever to anti-imperialist credentials. Insofar as there is any political program attached to their version of jihad against "infidels" and "hypocrites"-their term for Muslim leaders who disagree with them-they cherish the caliphate of yore that was defeated by the West, and would resurrect it if they could, with no qualms about inflicting disaster not only upon America but upon the poor countries of the world whose misery they worsened with the attacks of September 11.

Leaving aside al-Qaeda, is the problem that America has too much power? Or that America, with its military supremacy, its immense wealth, its governmental and corporate command over resources, suffers from too little intelligence for all that power? The answer is both, because empire tends to make the winners complacent and stupid-perhaps even more so when Americans pretend to be disinterested in the uses of power. Much about the American version of empire is ignorant, cheap, and myopic. It is ignorant because, harboring the fantasy that the United States represents only values and not power, it is unwilling to face the responsibilities of power-the debt that rulers owe the ruled-which include the pursuit of just ends and the persuasion of dependents that they are getting something valuable in exchange for their dependency. Sometimes, empire can exercise power to achieve justice at a distance. If you believe that the United States should exert leverage on Israel to adhere to United Nations resolutions and abandon the Occupation, if you believe that the United States should impose a reasonable two-state solution and help guarantee it, whatever the worst inclinations of Palestinians and Israelis alike, you are not against American power-you are for a particular use of American power, a just and wise one.

While there is much to argue with in Gitlin's assumptions, he nevertheless presents a clear-eyed perspective on the benefits -- and obligations -- of global predominance. It is refreshing to see an observer from the Left responsibly advocating grown-up accountability for real-world hegemony, rather than sloganeering for a world that never will be.

posted by Alan Chamberlain at 2:38 PM

* * *

Okay, okay, we're one but we're not the same.

Gimme Five!

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 11:58 AM

* * *

Often Wrong But Never In Doubt
By David Kirkpatrick

As someone who was described by a former boss as "our taller, fatter, older, maler, wronger Esther Dyson", I'm always delighted to see the Martha Stewart of the Internet getting ink. In Fortune Magazine, David Kirkpatrick profiles her latest idée fixe; "The Networked Life" (you can almost hear Rosemary Clooney singing about it, no?) Still, Dyson is no hopelessly neologizing Gildery handwaver; she knows how often new technology best serves its masters by failing.

Dyson has had prescient things to say about technology in business, even though she professes not to care that much about business technology. "I'm post-tech," she says blithely. "I take tech for granted." For too many years, people bought technology because it was cool, she says, adding, "They focused way too much on the technology and not enough on its utility or its attractiveness to real people. Look at me. I don't use most of this shit. I use e-mail."

As she sees it, technology permeates companies in a way that makes their inner workings explicit. "For instance, if you install groupware you may discover that nobody in marketing ever actually talks to sales," she says. "It's why all these Customer Relationship Management applications fail. It's not that the software doesn't work. It's because the people aren't using it, or they don't like the other people they're supposed to collaborate with, or they don't have the proper incentives."

I've designed, implemented, project-managed and otherwise supported Sales Force Automation, Customer Relationship Management, and Knowledge Engineering systems for over a decade, and I have to applaud Dyson for speaking truth to power. Tom Siebel is one of the most successful and powerful executives in the software industry, because of this unspoken conceit; as long as people are paid for what they know, no matter how elegant you make the platform, no one shares intelligence for free. Online collaboration systems perennially appear on the infoscape (40,000 blogs and counting, e.g.), but most eventually devolve into mediocrity and mendacity, because information wants to be fee.

But Dyson still nurtures a vision of an accelerated knowledge culture, and remains undaunted by the fallout from the dot-bomb of two years ago.

Dyson believes that networking will change the way people think about what makes a good workplace. "Companies are going to be more transparent and visible," she says. "In a world of plentiful information, people [won't] just go get a job. People will want to work where they like the culture and fit in."

Much of this sounds like the sort of dreamy prognostications that prevailed three years ago. About this she doesn't apologize. "I still believe it," she says. For Dyson, the economic slowdown and drought in technology purchasing don't diminish the inevitability of the networked society. Barksdale is sympathetic: "Like most people who make their living observing, Esther tends to overstate things," he says. "But there's no question that the great liberating democratization of the world is happening because of the Internet."

As Madge says, you're soaking in it.

posted by Alan Chamberlain at 11:36 AM

* * *

-------------------- { May 22, 2002 } --------------------

Clinton Ready to End Sex Embargo Against Cuba
By boswell

Hot on the heels of last week's Jimmy Carter / Fidel Castro blatherthon in Cuba, ex-President Bill "Shameless" Clinton announced he was in heavy training for his own personal mission to end the decades long embargo on Americans renting Cuban girls by the week. "It's crippling the island nation's economy, when we keep the dollar from supporting the large crop of Cuban babes," the unemployed President said.

Speaking from outside a street corner bodega near his offices in Harlem, the portly President was quick to condemn Carter's tactics in travelling to the last bastion of Communism in the Western Hemisphere.

"Hell, Jimmy took his wife along! Can you imagine that? What a waste of a perfectly good chance to tom cat around. Maddy Albright's told me that you can rent young Cuban women for less than $50.00 American a week. And, if you throw in another $20.00 and a case of Bud you can even get a sister or a cousin in the same deal. Room's extra though. But what the hell, I'll stock up on some of those moist Cuban cigars and party like it's 1999 again."

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 4:13 PM

* * *

-------------------- { May 21, 2002 } --------------------

NetNanny Nation
Clyde Wayne Crews Jr.

In last Friday's San Diego Union-Tribune, the Director of Technology Studies for The Cato Institute makes a persuasive argument in defense of the Supreme Court's recent ruling regarding The Child Online Protection Act.

Efforts to regulate content on the Internet can create only a false sense of security, not the real thing. Passing a law regulating Web sites does not make the Internet safer with respect to determined children, particularly sexually curious teen-agers, getting access to porn.

That's because the Web isn't the Internet. Consider: the trading of MP3 music files was largely stopped long ago on Web sites by a determined music industry tired of piracy. But the trade in pirated music files has proceeded unhindered through other, non-Web avenues on the Internet that are just as user-friendly.

The same will be the case for porn, much of which is already traded through file sharing that bypasses altogether the Web sites that would be targeted by the law. Like music, those who don't want to pay a Web site for porn use e-mail to send and receive pictures and videos, or they use peer-to-peer tools for virtually unhindered downloads of porn.

The "war on porn" seems intent on producing the same results as the "war on drugs"; by criminalizing appetite.

posted by Alan Chamberlain at 4:02 PM

* * *

If Hope is the Thing with Feathers, There's No Hope Here
By boswell

If you thought Chicken McNuggets were unappealing, check out what they will be made from in the future.

Nude Bird News Here

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 3:27 PM

* * *

Is Martha's Goose Cooked?
By boswell

When I live, many years ago, in the bedroom community of Westport, Connecticut, one of the most universally disliked citizens of that town was a then little known author, Martha Stewart. Since then, Martha's remade herself into not just a new woman, but a walking, talking meme. As an icon of the hump-pump-and-dump stock spress of the '90s, Stewart made a virtue and a fortune out of ubiquity. But America is hard on it's stars and sooner or later they all begin to set. The recent book about Stewart may be, as the Boston Phoenix notes, the beginning of Martha's decline. If so, she's doing what any 90s CEO would do. Sell now before the company craters.

As Martha publicly unravels — and more of her infamous screaming fits turn up for mass consumption — it becomes increasingly hard to suspend disbelief, to buy into the fantasy that this woman does and has it all: that she actually spring-cleans her canary cage, lunches with her estranged daughter, and bakes pies for the weekend (as a calendar in her magazine neatly proposes). Martha may have spoken — and spoken brilliantly — to needs that were important in the 1980s and 1990s. But these days, is Martha’s goose cooked?

... It appears that Martha herself has started to sweat. She recently sold three million of her shares in the company, reducing her total stake by nine percent (though with 60 percent, she still holds the lion’s share). "I think she’s scared to death of [Byron’s] book," a source told the New York Post’s Page Six. But the investment banker who handled the deal — and later took a seat on her board — attributed the sell-off to "estate-planning purposes."

One could simply blame it all on saturation: there’s not much room to grow when you’ve cornered the market. As Forbes magazine noted back in March of 2001, the reason for Martha’s declining revenues — especially in television, her company’s third-largest division — is "too much Martha, too often."

On the other hand, the good burghers of Westport had her on the ropes at the beginning of the 90s. They were wrong then. Reports of her impolosion may still be premature

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 12:56 PM

* * *

Continuing Signs of the American Apocalypse
By boswell

One of our favorite writers on "The System," likes to talk about the weather in her neck of the woods from time to time. Since her neck of the woods is a hamlet down in the swampy outback of Louisiana, her weather is, to say the least, always a bit bizarre. As are her neightbors:

When I woke up this morning I immediately sensed something was WRONG. Couldn't quite put my finger on it. Then slowly two things sunk in: it was almost totally quiet--the mockingbirds weren't singing!--except for one odd sound, the sound of of metal clanking and clanging as it expands and contracts. The floor furnace had kicked on. That meant it was below 50 degrees inside the house, which also explained why the birds had flown to Key West or wherever they go when it's too cold to sing. Damn.

I overheard some Pentecostals talking at the Wal-Mary yesterday (women with long skirts and hair down to their knees--either Pentecostals or hippie homeschoolers), saying that according to the Bible cold weather in May in south Louisiana is the same as When Hell Freezes Over. The End Times, they were certain, are near (which doesn't explain why their buggies were full of giant 48-roll packs of toilet paper on sale).

I don't know. I can't believe I'm sitting here now wearing socks and a sweater. Maybe I'd better pack a bag or something, in case they're right.

I wonder what the national alert color for The End Times might be. Well, whatever it is I'm sure Martha Stewart will stock it.

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 12:42 PM

* * *

Barbie Broke My Brain Until Jesus Saved My Soul

Barbie, another pure American product still has the capacity to drive people insane. Witnessthis ebay listing.

EANIE-BEANIE-TEENIE-TINY-GET-ME-MY-GLASSES DISCLAIMER Absolutely zero animals and only one human were harmed in the production of this listing (I glued my fingers together a couple of times, but should be alright after a couple of martinis). While the doll shown above is a genuine Barbie, not all parts are from the same doll...Barbie suffered severe arm- meltage while having her buttocks baked in the oven and they were replaced with another Barbie-like doll's arms.
To all Barbie Doll Lovers - I did not maliciously deface, bend, fold, spindle or mutilate her...believe it or not, she looks better now than than when I found her! I love Barbie! I have my own collection...please do not send me email calling me Satan spawn. If you are looking for an action figure, this is NOT it - this gal hasn't seen any action in years and between the buttocks addition and the arm melting incident, Barbie has been glued to keep her together.

Clothing has been glued on to give Barbie a little modesty, please do not purchase if you merely want to take off her outfit and sneak a peek at her goodies. Additional dolls, clothing and accessories pictured are not included.

Some dolls identities' have been masked to protect their privacy. All text and pictures are the property of me, please do not use without permission unless you wish to make me cry. Some of the money from this auction will go toward the rehabilitation and restoration of other homeless Barbies, the rest will be used to purchase Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream - if I could fill my bathtub with the stuff, I would dive right in! Thank you for your time, now please BID! SAVE A BARBIE!! What are you waiting for? HURRY! Do it now before you forget!!

posted by Gerard Van der Leun at 12:33 PM

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