Monday, May 30, 2005

Yet more blogtrolling

Still on a political kick:

I also remembered I had added these in the past few days (note that don't remember where I got them though it's obvious how once I had one I would come across the others):

Plus these two:

And in the process of finding all these blogs in the past few days I also came across this discussion of the extent to which bloggers and blogreaders stick with their own political fellow travellers or engage with points of view they disagree with. They have a very interesting picture. (Come to think of it, that's probably how I got hold of some of these blogs.)

I've also added a few links to the "More Bitter Politics" section and added a (very inadequate) Amazon recommendations iFrame. One of these days I'll stop making all these infrastructure changes and will start posting on matters of substance.

Incredible(s) Epigraphy

BOY that movie was fun. Had a little bit of a slow start, but then it just ended up being eye-popping, creative, fresh, and really sweet. The music was great; the characters were great; all the ideas they came up with for the island. Just magnificent.

Did anybody notice, though, that at Edith Head's — uh, I mean Edna "E" Mode's pad, there was a white wall with carved reliefs and clearly the word ΓΛΥϞΟΣ (right-to-left) in archaic Greek characters? Nice touch, for the Classically- or Linguistically-inclined, but wha..? Still scratching my head over that one. The most likely scenario is that the filmmakers are simply reproducing part of a real relief, and that word (a caption, perhaps describing a character depicted in the relief — maybe Glaucus?) happened to be there. But, who knows: maybe someone involved in the film actually knew how to read the word and put it there on purpose.

Update May 30, 2:03pm: the plot thickens, as it were. The commentary on the DVD did mention the "frieze" in E's house, and identified the artist as "Paul Topolos", (picture). Perhaps this is a sly hommage to his Greek heritage?

Update 9:43pm: a closeup of the word in question from the film:

The full image is here.

So, as I mentioned above, one possibility is that Topolos simply adapted this image from an existing piece of ancient Greek artwork without necessarily caring what it said. But another interesting point is that the plot of the movie makes use of the word "Kronos" (notice the spelling — not Cronus). Maybe there's some sort of inside joke going on here.

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Friday, May 27, 2005


Wow. Technorati,, and Bloglines are making it fantastically easy to find more and more websites and especially Blogs that might interest one. Just look for who else has tagged a page you tagged, or just look at who has tagged under particular tags you can think of, or look at Bloglines's "related feeds" (I'm sure feedster and the others do something similar). Prior to this, I only added new websites/blogs by looking at explicit links in blogs or sites I had already found. Now the whole internet is a mass of tags and dynamically interlinking connections -- and of course duh that's the whole point of Technorati et al. Of course this is just another way that all of us in the Information Age can retreat into our own little separate fiefdoms of self-reinforcing perceptions of reality: the conservative bloggers read conservative blogs and tag and link to conservative sites, and the liberals like me will find the things we like. Through these dynamic interconnections, we all find that none of us is alone: there are endless thousands of others who think like we do, say things the way we want to believe them, reinforce each others' cherished illusions. On the other hand, who the hell has the time to read what everybody else is saying, even if they agree with you. Argh!

Anyway, some of the more fun blogs I've found through these means in the past day or two:

  • bookish - A really fun one. She's Danish, though has lived as an expatriot in the UK, and her English is super-fluent (well, with a couple of minor grammatical glitches of a kind that only a non-native speaker would make here and there). And of course it puts my quasi-book-oriented blog to shame with all its links and erudition. Who needs the New York Review of Books when you can do the London Review of Books -- and, here's a thought, actually talk about books? I found this one through Technorati after I tagged my last posting with "bibliophilia" I think, simply by looking at who else had used that tag.
  • David Brooks is a moron. No comment needed there. But useful because of the lovely record they've kept of the ongoing moronity. I found this one by doing a "Technorati This" of Reality-based Community (I wouldn't have remembered except for MSIE's "View by order visited today" history).
  • Baghdad Burning - not so much fun as terribly, terribly sad. Forgot how I got this one.
  • combined feed - let's face it: most of the Political blogs are pretty dry and humorless much of the time. This one is delightful from what I've seen of it. I found this by doing a Technorati This on one of my fave blogs from before the Election, Legal Fiction.
  • wazue. I found this through a former IBM coworker Pete Lyons's blog, Developing Storm via my friend and IBM/Lotus coworker Koranteng. Now it so happens that Pete recently made a posting regarding his opinions of the work environment at his former employer, including what could have been construed as criticisms of some former colleagues, and which, although he had not named any names, he was evidently asked to take down. Anyway I will pass over the obvious Big Brother and freedom of expression issues raised by that (since we are talking about personal opinion, and not disclosure of trade secrets), and just say that I used Pete's blog the old-fashioned way without any new-fangled Ferl-ings or Technorati-ings or I just looked at links he had in his sidebar. I happen to mildly "know" Joe Russo in that weird way that IBM employees can know one another, through instant messaging (Lotus Sametime, in our case), so out of curiosity I clicked the link, and I'm glad I did. It helps that although I don't know if Joe is a flaming, raging "leftist liberal" like me, but at least he has the right things to say about Rumsfeld. I do think he has a good "blogging voice" (something I haven't achieved yet). So does Pete.
  • And, last but not least, Information Addict Unfortunately this guy seems to have stopped blogging -- actually, I haven't read any of the content yet, but both the Title and the Description really gave me pause: "This is a thought experiment. My focus is consistency and cogency. By forcing myself to organize my meandering thoughts into something coherent, I will hopefully be able to identify information gaps, poor reasoning, and ill-founded assumptions. Where reason is too wedded to self-love to admit such shortcomings, I have faith that readers can aid me in getting over myself. Feel free to comment." Gee. He expresses this idea a lot better than I did in my own statement of creed, What Fresh Blog is This? Even the title of his blog more perfectly captures what I used to say in the more pompous version of my Blog Description "aimlessly voracious intellectual dilettante". So not only does the internet show you you're not alone, but even more usefully, it allows you to stop worrying whether your worst fear is really true — that you don't have an original thought in your head — by removing all doubt.

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    Wednesday, May 25, 2005

    New York Review Book Trolling, 6/09/2005 edition

    I always love to troll the book ads in the NYRB before I even get to any of the review or articles. This month's haul (of ideas to add to my wishlist):

    One Nation, UninsuredOne Nation, Uninsured*sigh*
    The Future Of The Brain: The Promise And Perils Of Tomorrow's Neuroscience by Steven RoseThe Future Of The Brain: The Promise And Perils Of Tomorrow's Neuroscience by Steven Rose
    Misanthropology: A Florilegium of Bahumbuggery by Reneau H. ReneauMisanthropology: A Florilegium of Bahumbuggery by Reneau H. ReneauThis one looks delightful!
    Stelzer's Travels: A Voyage to a Sensible Planet by Dan HurwitzStelzer's Travels: A Voyage to a Sensible Planet by Dan HurwitzAnother utopia, apparently
    Dreaming In Red: The Women's Dionysian Initiation Chamber in Pompeii by Linda Fierz-David, Nor HallDreaming In Red: The Women's Dionysian Initiation Chamber in Pompeii by Linda Fierz-David, Nor HallNot quite sure what to make of this, but might be interesting ...
    Rude Awakenings From The American Dream by Richard HarshamRude Awakenings From The American Dream by Richard HarshamThe title makes this book appear to belong with Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
    Anarchism : A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One (Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas) by Robert Graham, Maurice Spira (Illustrator)Anarchism : A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One (Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas) by Robert Graham, Maurice Spira (Illustrator)Always had a particular attraction to anarchism (the leftist kind of course)
    Christianity Without Fairy Tales: When Science and Religion MergeChristianity Without Fairy Tales: When Science and Religion MergeThis is a must-have
    Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (New York Review Books Classics) by Angus WilsonAnglo-Saxon Attitudes (New York Review Books Classics) by Angus WilsonThis one's been around for a while of course but I haven't recorded it yet.
    No god but God : The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan No god but God : The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza AslanThis one's been on my wishlist for about a month now but I noticed the ad in this month's NYRB and thought it was worth listing it.
    Knight's Own Book Of Chivalry (Middle Ages) by GEOFFROI DE CHARNY, ELPETH KENNEDYKnight's Own Book Of Chivalry (Middle Ages) by GEOFFROI DE CHARNY, ELPETH KENNEDY
    From Athens to Auschwitz : The Uses of History, by Christian Meier, Deborah Lucas Schneider (Translator)From Athens to Auschwitz : The Uses of History, by Christian Meier, Deborah Lucas Schneider (Translator)Well, the title is certainly intriguing
    The Middle East under Rome, by Maurice Sartre, Catherine Porter (Translator), Elizabeth Rawlings (Translator)The Middle East under Rome, by Maurice Sartre, Catherine Porter (Translator), Elizabeth Rawlings (Translator)Could be dry as a bone but potentially interesting

    Not all of these will end up in my wishlist. Some look rather dry.Readers will note this list is severely light in fiction. Yeah, I am very picky about fiction. If it's been recommended, or it's by Steven Saylor, sure. (I went through an "if it's by Anne Rice" phase about 10 years ago but that ended after Memnoch the Devil. Wish it had ended before.)

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    Argus, Circe, and Prospero.

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    Tuesday, May 24, 2005

    Well, it's official

    Comic books really are deeper than Star Wars.

    (In the comments to Star Wars in Five Words)

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    Monday, May 23, 2005

    If *I* had Written it ...

    Pretending for a moment that it's worth the time and brain-cycles to think about, the primary failing of Sith was the way they completely dropped the ball in convincingly motivating Annakin to jump to whole-heartedly to the Dark Side. There was no real inner conflict; no real moment of truth where Annakin had to make a heart-breaking choice.

    Of course the whole Star Wars endeavour has always been too shallow and black and white. Stephanie Zacharek's review in Salon puts it well:

    So is Palpatine supposed to be George W. Bush? It appears so, because he's ruthless, unappealing and arrogant. He's a cartoon baddie, like Ming the Merciless, or Mumbles, or the Penguin -- all of these are very bad men, just like that bad old George W. If Lucas really knew what he was doing, he'd have given us a character who believed with all his heart, as George W. surely does, that he's on God's side. That would have made for a truly creepy and treacherous villain.

    But again, let's try to pretend that it's worth fixing: here are my main ideas for how I would have written Revenge of the Sith:

    • First of all, Lucas really lost his opportunity to delve deeper into this idea of the Prophecy and "Bringing Balance to the Force"? In what way is the Force "out of Balance"? (And how could Obi-Wan in the final moments of the duel say "you were the Chosen One: you were supposed to destroy the Sith, not join them!" -- since when was Bringing Balance to the Force supposed to mean "destroying the Sith" when everybody believed until a few years ago that the Sith were no more?) Lucas touched on it with Palpatine's lie: that you have to get to know both sides. He really could have done more with it, because in fact there is a lot that is wrong with the Jedi despite Lucas's desire to paint them as perfect and Perfectly Good.
    • Yoda's conversation with Annakin would have been a perfect launching point: Yoda's best advice to Annakin is to stop caring about his the person about whom he has had a vision that they are going to die. All very Buddhist, which I think is what Lucas is trying to evoke with his Jedi, but it's really not very satisfying.
    • The Jedi have been very ineffective in protecting the Galaxy from falling apart. Why do all these systems want to secede? See Jonathan Last's Case for Empire for more about this idea.)
    • Basically, we can see where this is all leading. The Jedi are these Celibate, detached, perhaps even a bit out-of-touch, passive and passionless "warrior monks". How can they possibly help Annakin save Padmé? How can they help the Senate and the Galaxy from falling apart?
    • You can see why Annakin might become disillusioned with them. The script should have put Annakin in an "impossible choice" situation. Perhaps a situation where he had to choose between saving his wife and catching Palpatine (although of course the script couldn't have allowed her to really die: just to think she had died, since she had to have her twins in secret still). A situation where Obi-Wan and the other Jedi were telling him to Let Go of his attachment and focus on the bigger picture. I mean, this isn't rocket-science! If the scriptwriters could have had Lex Luthor and the Green Goblin put Superman and Spider Man in precisely this dilemma, why couldn't Lucas have thought of it? All it needed was to prevent the loophole that Superman and Spiderman always get: of being able to save the world and the one they love. Just such a tragic choice, coupled with the detached and potentially rather barren philosophy of the Jedi, would have done the trick nicely.

    Note also that Luke really isn't your typical Jedi. He's more like his father in that he's passionate and clearly ready to fall in love at the drop of a hat. Of course it was too late to fix the dreadful mess which was Return of the Jedi, but if Lucas had really thought this through from the beginning, he could have had Luke be the one who finally brings balance. It's rather sad that he hasn't done more with the 30 years he's had than to "perfect digital eyelash rendering".

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    Sunday, May 22, 2005

    Well, it didn't suck.

    As Lisa puts it, "At least it went out with a Bang and not a Wimper." And that's what we were all hoping and praying for.

    Immediate reactions:
    • A few too many unintended funny moments.
    • Palpatine's scarred face looks better under a hood. Unhooded, it looked like a huge rubber mask. That whole scene got lots of laughs from the audience.
    • Why was he up and walking about so fast after being scarred by his own lightning? I know that the "I'm so weak" thing was a put on, but you'd still think that he'd be at least a little woozy after getting force-lightening'ed all over his face.
    • You'd also think he would have stopped shooting the force lightning once he realized Windu was blocking it. Why keep scarring his own face?
    • How exactly did Annakin manage to go from "You can't kill him. He has to stand trial. It's not the Jedi way." to killing the younglings half an hour later?
    • Couldn't Lucas make up his mind? First it's the "I want to be the most powerful Jedi ever" motive from both Clones and the early part of this film; then it's the "I have to tap into the Dark Side to save Padmé" motive; then it's the "Padmé is sleeping with Obi-Wan" motive.
    • I actually liked the idea that he was disillusioned by the Jedi asking him to spy -- they could have done a lot more with the "the Jedi are abandoning their own values" or "the Jedi aren't any better than anybody else" idea; maybe if he had burst in on Windu about to kill Palpatine and didn't know why and it just looked like murder (although what about the bodies of those three other Jedi in the vestibule?)
    • I didn't think Obi-Wan's accent was so bad
    • I agree that the battle scene at the beginning was basically dull; not that it wasn't beautiful but you just didn't feel anything: which of course was the problem with the last two movies and is in fact a pervasive problem with big-budget movies these days: just as the first Harry Potter, though it was very faithful to the book, just seemed like it was "going through the motions" of listing all the scenes in the book but without leaving you feeling anything (the subsequent ones are much better) and just as the first two prequel Star Wars movies just were a sequence of pretty vignettes that didn't hang together with any depth or feeling. Of course the battle scene at the beginning was going to be a dud: even the landing of the broken-in-half ship (by the way, they didn't explain why the ship broke in half -- oh, and they didn't explain the gravity thing either: there's no "up" or "down" in space so what would the tilt of the ship as a whole have to do with whether the elevator shaft was horizontal or vertical to them -- are we to believe they were already that far into the planet's gravity well? I'm such a nerd to even think about it) was going to be a dud: of course we knew all the principals were going to be around for the rest of the movie so we could hardly get worried about them in the first scene
    • Grievous wasn't as good as I expected; he just wasn't that scary. He looked silly with his bad slouching posture. Also unless you had seen the Clone Wars animated series you wouldn't know why he was coughing so much. The scene where he was fighting with four light sabres was pretty good though.
    • The movie in general had the best light-sabre scenes so far from all 6 movies I think.
    • Yoda's battle with the Emperor was pretty durn good.
    • So was Obi-Wan's with Annakin
    • Oh, did anybody notice that people were referring to Palpatine as the Emperor even before they had had an opportunity to hear about the creation of the Empire? Or that they went back and forth between Chancellor and Emperor? Or between Republic and Empire? It was a mess.
    • Why did they have to split up the twins? Annakin had no idea they were twins (since as has been mentioned everywhere, they may have hyperdrive but they don't have ultrasound in this galaxy)
    • Yes the "You're so beautiful because I'm in love no because *rolf*" dialog was "execrable" (my new favorite word), but frankly so was a lot of the rest of the dialog.
    • How could Obi-Wan just walk away and leave Annakin to sink into the lava? Wasn't that a little unnecessarily cruel? Wouldn't he at least have killed him to put him out of his misery? Or maybe even try to drag him out of there so at least he didn't burn to death? They could have made an effort to show him unable to rescue Annakin: even though he had killed the younglings and gone over to the Dark Side that wouldn't mean Obi-Wan wouldn't feel anything for him.
    • Oh, let's face it; spending too much time thinking about any Star Wars movie is a fools errand, even the good ones. The pinnacle of Lucas's writing achievement was the "I am your Father" moment; that was the closest to any real conflict or character development. It's an insult to comic books to call it comic book. You don't go to Star Wars for depth. You go for fun. And for the most part, this one was fun, and although perhaps it wasn't enough to make up for the monstrosity of the last two (last three, actually), it was still pretty good.

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    Saturday, May 21, 2005

    "Execrable" - or, Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Charlies

    As I prepare to join the legions of Charlie Browns running to kick that football one last time, I try to tell myself I'm going into it with my eyes open. After all, everything that can be said pretty much has been said on the topic, some of it with a fair amount of wit.

    Yes, we all downloaded the trailer. Yes, it looked great and made us think that this time the movie will be a good one.

    Yes, the last two trailers looked great, too, and yes both times it was just George "Lucy Van Peltz" Lucas just getting our hopes up, promising to hold that football, or, to mix metaphors, dangling us with an evil Sith cackle before dropping us in the steaming pile of doo.

    The NYT's review goes a bit further than most in telling us what we want to hear: this movie isn't only "not a disappointment" but is even better than the first Star Wars (you know: the one that was retroactively and Orwellianly renamed "A New Hope"). I don't know who I heard on NPR on my way in to work just after reading that review (it wasn't Kenneth Turan or Mark Jordan Legan) but I already know from my furlings that he wasn't the first or last to twig that maybe it was George's plan all along to lower our expectations so much that no matter what he did for the finale, it would seem like a work of art. It would appear that the majority of the other reviews seem to be positive, although even those criticize the dialog and the acting (not a great stretch), and no-one denies that the humour of the first film is still nowhere to be found. The usual suspects (such as the delightfully vicious Anthony Lane -- link here, but see the rest of my furlings on the subect) aren't quite so pleased, but again there's no great surprise there.

    So, I'll go hoping for the best, and not really being able to bring myself to expect the worst (though of course there has never been anything to expect from any Star Wars offering beyond just good old plain wholesome nerdy entertainment: let's not even try to beat the Bill Moyers/Joseph Campbell archetypal "mythology" dead horse).

    What I did find most remarkable, however, while trolling the ether for commentary on Star Wars, was the extraordinarily common use of the word "execrable" to describe Episodes I and II (try it). Here I was patting the Boston Globe on the back for their use of the term (see my furl archive above), and it turns out that there is virtually no-one on earth who has failed to use the word "execrable" to describe the previous two installments.

    Nonetheless, I still find the word particularly appealing in this context. Let's face it: "le mot juste" is precisely le mot juste to apply to the supremely satisfying applicability of this particular word to the last two Star Wars films. They were so bad, they weren't just bad, they were insultingly bad. What word better than "execrable" could possibly fit the bill? Perhaps that's what accounts for its popularity in this connection: or at least that, and its unpronounceability. (Oh, and don't even try here, by the way. It doesn't help.)

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    Monday, May 16, 2005

    Mediocre Indian Cuisine

    My friend and colleague Koranteng pronounces IBM's new policy on blogging to be "fairly reasonable" [I agree]

    even if couched in the obligatory corporate PR self-congratulatory bromides about "innovation-based companies". I wonder, are there any companies that claim to be anti-innovation?

    Hey: the signs always say "Fine Indian Cuisine", don't they? I'm still waiting for a little more truth in advertising, myself.

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    Well that was easy (Doolally)

    Questions & Answers: Doolally tap

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    Claiming my Feedster Feed

    No Need to Click Here - I'm just claiming my feed at Feedster

    Sunday, May 15, 2005


    Well, tonight's episode of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple marks the very first time in my life that I have heard the delicious term "doolally" (dolally? do-lally?) spill from the lips of anyone other than my mother (or of those of my family who say it in emulation of her). I always knew it must have been some sort of British colloquialism from the 1950s or earlier – quite possibly no longer in current use, and more or less synonymous with barmy, which I believed she never used – but I have never heard or read it anywhere, not even from my relations still living in England. I shall have to research the term to see if I can find out how it is spelled (if it even has a standard spelling).

    Altogether, this new Marple production has been an utter delight – beautiful cinematography and locales, cracking great cast, and of course Geraldine McEwan of Lucia and Barchester fame beats Joan Hickson (I'm sorry, but she's unwatchable) hands down. So far I have found the series to be marred only by the rather wearisome and quite unnecessary intrusion of a slightly racy backstory for Miss Marple in the form of a secret love tragically killed in WWI (a married lover, no less): can't the writers imagine their twenty-first century audience respecting or empathizing with a character if she were a genuine "old maid"? Thankfully, this evident attempt to sexualize Miss Marple is brief and easy to ignore (thankfully, the the schmaltzy touch of a nightly ritual with the dead love's photograph is dropped after the first episode). All told, between this new series and the mostly quite enjoyable Foyle's War, Mystery seems to be recovering from the wilderness years of Rather Badly Mrs. Bradleys and Thinly Written Inspector Linleys (not to mention the unmentionable Hetty Wainthrop).

    I can't believe Patsy is going to be in the next installment! Can't wait.

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    Well, got my (bloated) blogroll and a first stab at my links up.

    Remaining To-Do list:
    • Figure out how to make the blog links show up as bulleted list items. XSLT maybe?
    • Add site feed buttons
    • Add "what's on my bedside table" booklist

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    Saturday, May 14, 2005

    Gosh this blogging is an awful lot of work

    And, being a floxie, I find it hard to find the energy sometimes.

    There's so much to do:
    • Fix and categorize the links
    • Add all the blogs I read to bloglines and categorize them
    • Display the resulting blogroll and fix it with CSS if possible so it displays right
    • Add a "now on my bedside table" book list

    Plus, I really wish's profile page was more customizable. Obviously I'm going to have to build a manual home page at my comcast web site to list everything I want to. :-(

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    Well aren't I smart, then?

    So I just (well, this past Wednesday) made my first contribution to Wikipedia. I made an edit to the article on Thebes, Egypt.

    Which in and of itself would be cause enough for a little bit of smugness; but it doesn't stop there: I had the gall (unmitigated, yet) to modify an article on Thebes, Egypt, written by a professional Egyptologist.

    Fortunately for me, his knowledge of Greek isn't as solid as his knowledge of Egyptian history.

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    Thursday, May 12, 2005

    What Fresh Blog is This?

    A little bit of everything:
    • An ongoing diary of what I'm reading, investigating, digging into for my own personal edification, both fiction and non-fiction (mostly the latter).
    • A desperate attempt to make sense of all the things my attention-deficit brain is being crammed with.
    • Rantings
    • Ravings
    • Bitter and cynical grumblings on the emerging zero-middle-class banana republic economy, corporate culture, and current political events (this will account for most of the rantings and ravings)
    • Commissions of random acts of affectaction, pretentiousness, pedantry and pomposity.
    • Anything else I feel like saying.

      Yes, with apologies to D.P.:Dorothy Parker : What Fresh Hell Is This? A Biography
      Why couldn't I just let you get the jokes on your own? Why do I have to spell out my erudition and well-roundedness in such a crass manner? I don't know, but I think you'll have to get used to it.

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    Link Cosmos

    ἐν ἀρχή ἦν ἡ φλυαρία

    More to come! Check back!

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