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Kindle has become the most gifted item in Amazon's history. On Christmas Day 2009, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books.

A Good Read!

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Back To The Garden

Good Deals!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Saving it for history - or at least eBay

A major moment in the history of American domestic policy. The country now has a health care policy. It's not perfect, and most of it won't take effect for years, but it is certainly better than what we did have. I watched it happen all day and into the night last night, astonished at the acrimony of the Republicans, who have been called "a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry." Now we need to fix congress so it's a respectable legislative body and not the mud-wrestling partisan boondoggle it's become.

Thank you Obama, for sticking with it. He is something!
This is what we’ve learnt this year: Obama does not mind defeats if they are procedural or about others saving face. He seems oddly impervious to personal insult: he doesn’t mind being affronted by the Chinese or humiliated by Netanyahu as long as it’s a matter of symbolism. On substance, he wants what he wants; and, o...n the big stuff, he has given up on nothing yet. - Andrew Sullivan, London Times

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Nine Movies of 2009

Crackpot Chronicles presents its pick for the top nine movies of 2009. There are other list-worthy films this year but these are the only ones that I saw. I don't recall seeing as many as nine movies theatrically in a year since 2000, and that was only because I went to a lot of WGA screenings that year. Here, in no particular order, are my picks. I would recommend every one of them, each for diverse and particular elements of expertise, ingenuity and kicks.

District 9
Low budget independent film, short on pretension, long on message, serrated bite, well written, bemusedly acted and uproariously funny, even though the joke is a shiv in the side.

Star Trek
OK, I was predisposed to love this and saw it in Bangkok on opening day, creating quite a memory. Great casting, faster paced and way sexier than most Trek fare, exuding an abundance of attitude. A standalone story with lots of bellylaughs, elbow-nudging homage and moments of pure interstellar thrill.
And more than that: It has an indelible, unexpected charm, reasserting uniquely American iconography.

What more can I add to the praise that has been unanimously piled on this awe inspiring, throbbing creature-tryst? No IMAX or 3-D in our little Art Deco triplex, so I saw Avatar in "2rue-D." It is nothing short of majestic. Avatar romps along, explosive, sensuous, indignant and extravagant. Expensive? Oh, what's a few hundred million? Thanks due to Fox for investing a king's ransom in this holiday antidote to the recession. Imagination is worth everything. Everything. In the end, it may be the only renewable resource we really have.

Julie and Julia
A clever model of how slight a story you can base a movie on, if the idea is original. It's a movie you don't have to work hard to enjoy, nicely shot in salad-days neighborhoods of New York and the culinary snoot-chambers of Paris. A delicious performance by La Streep doesn't hurt either. It is deeply invigorating to see an actor inhabit a role with such authenticity and vigor. Warning: Don't see this hungry; make dinner reservations.

Inglorious Basterds
Savagely, darkly, brilliantly funny a la Tarrantino. Definitely not for the faint of heart. There were a few scenes I had to look away from. Reimagining how WWII could have gone if a certain lovely in the French Underground had her twisted little way. But oh, the humanity!

Angels and Demons
This one's on nobody else's list because it was considered a sequel to the DaVinci Code and you can't top that film's revelation. Nonetheless it is a damn good story. Worth seeing for its action, Hanks, religious cynacism and fabulous panaramas. Exquisite editing presents the grandeur of Roma you won't see for yourself any more.

You have to see a Pixar film at least once a year unless you are truly insufferable. This one, a commentary on aging and redemption made everyone's list. It's poignant, much deeper than you might expect, and uncovers verity in the preposterous, which is the holy grail of comedy. You feel like you either are or you know each principal character. And if you have and/or love dogs, some thigh-slapping moments just for you.

Wow! What.a.ride. Much to mock (which is always worthwhile when there are redeeming VFX) but altogether one effing tour de force, where without the Chinese, no one makes it out of the end of the world alive.

Taking Woodstock
An adorable, engaging sidebar to the pre-poduction fiascos of the storied 1969 Woodstock festival. Among other things, a coming out story.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays Everyone

See this in full screen HD if you can.

These are the times of your life, the worlds of your time. If you're one of the many that have seen better years than 09, think of it as a blink of an eye in time and space, maybe one the wind blew a cinder into, but just the same...

Behold the majesty and our means to express, to experience it. Be warm, cherish those you love. There are those in great need. Do what you can.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bird's Eye

This beautiful male Hairy Woodpecker likes to take his lunch break right outside my window in my line of sight as I sit at my desk. It took me a few tries to catch him in the act. The light had to be just right, and he had to sit still while I reached for the camera I had nearby, waiting for the opportunity.

I am lunching on a cheese bread and Ugliripe tomato sandwich myself.

I spent a bit of time yesterday watching Senate hearings on health care reform -- which is actually health care delivery reform. Our health care is quite good, it's the delivery system that is a huge problem. The delivery system is the insurance industry which inserts itself between the patient and the care with a layer of bureaucracy and more cost than the health care itself. The Republicans try to argue that away. Almost every one of them. And the "progressive" Democrats want to dismantle the entire system without a transition plan. The answer is somewhere in between and they refuse to get there.

I have never really watched porn but I think this must be what it is like.

I believe and hope, I predict that we will get health care reform that does include some kind of subsidy or extension of government managed care. The government does a reasonable job doing this for veterans and the disabled, to name just two programs which, while not free of flaws, are better than the alternatives. But the acrimony raised by the process of formulating reform is, well, sickening.

It's for the birds.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

John Lennon


Friday, November 27, 2009

Stage Fright

Darkness. The muffled paddle of footsteps. A forest of actors shadow around me and come to a posed standstill. Center stage right. The sound of one heart beating.


Arms arcing, chin level, I aerate my larynx and let my line roll. It hangs in the air, roundly perfect..

Silence. I feel my eyes slide in their sockets. The cast slithers my horizon with venomous looks. The universe suddenly begins and ends at the perimeter of my body. The moisture on my lips evaporates. I stand frozen mid-gesture in place. The floor feels gritty underfoot.

Floor? Underfoot? Where are my shoes?

Oh. Oh shit!

I have no clothes on.

The audience clams. At first. Then, pandemonium rampages through the house. Trousers, neckties, garter belts, skirts, hose and shoes fly through the cacophony.


The Director screams in the dark. He's always screaming. He's the kind of screamer you pray isn't screaming at or about you. No doubt about it this time. My fists plunge into my face, pressing my cheeks over my eyes. Please just let me disappear.

I hear a trickle. I pick my head up into a softly clinking window-lit hubbub. I am seated, fingertips curved limply in my lap. Above, tin ceiling, below, tiled floor. Shoes. On the table in front of me, a bowl of chicken rice soup is getting cold. Pudgy white dinner rolls next to a wrapped pat of butter. A newspaper folded open to a Help Wanted page with some listings circled in blue ink. Chunky white flecked coffee mug. Waitress is pouring a refill. She calls me “hon.”


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Message in a bottle rocket

An aurora, high above the northern part of Saturn, moves from the night side to the day side of the planet recorded for the first time ever by Cassini.

These observations, taken over four days, represent the first visible-light video of Saturn's auroras. They show tall auroral curtains, rapidly changing over time when viewed at the limb, or edge, of the planet's northern hemisphere. The sequence of images also reveals that Saturn's auroral curtains, the sheet-like formations of light-emitting atmospheric molecules, stretch up along Saturn's magnetic field and reach heights of more than 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) above the planet's limb. These are the tallest known "northern lights" in the solar system.

Fom Ciclops, Cassini Imaging.


If your computer doesn't do Quicktime, watch it here at the source. It's actually bigger and better there.

These are the days of miracles and wonder, this is a long distance call (Paul Simon)

Enjoy your gratitude. I'm immersed in mine. Among my blessings, I give thanks for you.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

How now

I hope you are well. Life has been rather intriguing lately, but I've been almost completely seduced by microblogging on Facebook and Twitter, so have not posted here for some time. The former reconnected me to so many people from my literary and music-biz past, as well as all you Angelenos I miss, and the latter is a way to quip back and forth with friends all over the world and connect me with a whole bunch of local techies and trendies with whom I might not have otherwise connected. I went to my first tweetup at a most sumptuously secluded coastal restaurant and bar down a turn off the road that I never even would have known existed. It became a jazztime happy hour stop on my summer itinerary. Buyaa Internet.

Life in a small New England town gets richer every month. Local culture, the art, the poetry, the films and local University extension are as enthralling as the natural beauty that surrounds us. My kids finally visited in August and were flabbergasted at "The way life should be" (one of Maine's sobriquets).

Sen. Olympia Snowe, who is now a national rockstar, cruised through town yesterday and was spotted at Aarhus Gallery. (Aarhus is a favorite local art and event spot.) Sorry I missed you, Olympia. I'd love to shake your hand. I've lived in New York and in California and (therefore?) have never been represented by a principled politician before. Even if she is a Republican. There is a respectable side to Republican principles. We don't see it much nowadays, but there is.

The Belfast Poetry and Art Festival has come and gone, marking my 3rd Anniversary here. They've been good ones!

I've put up a Twitter widget in the right sidebar, so you can keep up with me without joining Twitter. And so I won't feel so guilty about not keeping this blog up. Every time it gets some momentum, I neglect it. Winter is coming and I'll have more time to write.

Friday, September 11, 2009

8 years later

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC
Featured Artwork of the Day , Sept 11, 2009

I Love New York, Dress, 2000
Miguel Adrover (born Spain, 1965), Designer
American; Country of Origin United States
cotton, cotton/silk blend; synthetic; Length at CB: 27 1/2 in. (69.9 cm)
Gift of Miguel Adrover, 2005 (2005.44.2)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What Choo Spect?

Cause and Effect Department: Levar Burton, of Roots, Reading Rainbow and Star Trek TNG fame was in a fenderbender in Beverly Hills yesterday. One of his most recent tweets: "RT @simplediary: What does it take to make you furious? Getting stuck behind a Prius on the freeway!"

Yaaa, like, hello? Don't tempt the hybrid godz.

He's OK.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

RIP Arthur Okamura 1932-2009

It's hard to imagine life without you.
Arthur. How can you be gone?
A part of my heart dies with you.

Birds Over a Rice Field
 --for Arthur Okamura
     (Sept 27, 1973)

Birds over a rice field

Impossible starlings
each a plane apart.

He makes thermals occur
on paper, I tell you
like Marcel Marceau
he has birds
disappear which
were never there
in the first place.

    Ellen Sander

Obit here

Arthur made a kite of toothpicks and tissue paper that flew. Arthur gave me HD for my birthday wrapped in paper that had his handprints on it. I don't know what happened to the book, but I still have the paper. Arthur did some illustrations for my Interview With the Universe, still unpublished. Arthur picked up a piece of tube kelp on the beach, cut a hole in it and played it like a rams horn trumpet. Arthur could deliver the funniest line deadpan and drop a whole table full of people. Arthur was in an internment camp when he was a child. Arthur sat Zazen for over a week. When I was in Arthur's studio it seemed like a shrine of some kind. He said it's not hard to paint. First you decide what you want to do and then you just do it. Arthur painted monarch butterflies on the wall of the Bolinas Store. When the monarchs no longer swarmed on Terrace Ave, they moved up the mesa to another eucalyptus grove closer to Arthur.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

On the passing of Michael Jackson

American artist, musical fireball, brilliant phenomenon

In my lifetime, it is the popular music artist galvanizing our culture with excitement bordering on ecstasy, with gatherings of huge numbers in admiration and in in love, that ignites us. As mourners and admirers all over the world gather to celebrate Michael Jackson, the radiant breadth and utter sweetness of his influence becomes evident.

At this dangerous and contentious moment in our world, a major gathering of humanity in unison and love is a precious thing. It is historical and fitting that this convocation occurs over the air, through the net and in the flesh in such profusion that it may well be the largest public congregation ever.

I say set aside, in this moment of sadness, inferential speculation and spurious judgment about his personal life, about which we will never completely know, and which does not in reality affect the enormous and undeniable gift of his talent and work.

The creativity, inclusion, social critique and fierce artistry expressed by Michael Jackson with such style and panache is unlikely to be equaled. For these things, and for the international humanitarianism and direct good works he has exhibited and inspired, I celebrate his works and honor his passing.


We are the World

Roberto Cortes Rodriguez is Watching Michael Jackson's Funeral Live on
- Puerto Rico.

Balqishahanum Bt Bahari hai ada sesiapa di sini dari malaysia?

Chienna del Rosario now we should realize the meaning of "HEAL THE WORLD" lets to our share..
- Hong Kong

Barbara Corbeil Rest in Peace Micheal.
- Ottawa, ON

Amit Dhar still cant believe this. Its monumental day in history.
- Nassau County, NY

Saiiry's ProducerArtist Mickael Jackson you a king forever R.I.P respect!!
- Israel

Ngo Quang Truong Heal The World.

Marlon Bautista rest in peace MJ, you will always be remembered.....
- Philippines

Joe Adler grew up listening to MJ. This is a sad day, but his music will live forever.
- Burlington, VT

Wang Yihong I have so many precious memories with you, your music. I don't need to remember you. You're always in my heart.
- Hong Kong

Chienna del Rosario now we should realize the meaning of "HEAL THE WORLD" lets to our share.
- Hong Kong

Daniela Osío Herrera : The King is gone. The Legend is born. Legends Never Dies.
- Venezuela

Amelia Poon Rest in peace, Michael. You are one in a million. I enjoy your dancing ability.
- London

Tyrone Twin Payne I remember when my brother and I used to have dance contests to see who dance like Michael Jackson.
- Washington, DC

Daniela Osío Herrera The King is gone. The Legend is born. Legends Never Dies...
- Venezuela

Rohan Jacob well he was the most loved and yet so misunderstood gr8tst msuci star of this planet.
- India

Fidelis St.Hill MJ live.
- Barbados

(comments gleaned from CNN Live Event)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Benefit for Paul Williams in San Francisco

You can get tickets here

Paul and his family are in difficult straits. If you can't attend the concert, please see his website and help with whatever you can.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Beijing Hutong Life these days

This is zhongzie, I usually have one or two for breakfast, with tea cooked egg or fresh local yogurt or warm fresh soy milk, sometimes some fruit, all from Beijing street stands. Inside the bamboo leaf of the zhongzie is sticky rice with some sweet stewed dates in the center. It is delicious beyond words, perfectly filling and less than 15 cents.

Beijing was the last stop on my trip through Asia, and I took these pictures knowing my time there was drawing to an end. It's exciting and poignant to be back in Beijing on my own. I lived here for 3 of the almost 4 years I lived in China, departing for the home land almost exactly 3 years ago.

I'm revisiting friends, my fonder memories, and enjoying the neighborhood I'm staying in, living a life I didn't get to have when I was here. I'm staying in a partially gentrified and almost fully restored hutong, one of the warrens of ancient stone alleyways that courses through the interior of The Emperor's City.

When I was living there they were knocking hutongs down right and left to modernize neighborhoods. (Some of them did not have indoor plumbing or proper sanitation, others had the misfortune of being in the way of high-value real estate developments.) But some of them are, thankfully, being refurbished and modernized without losing the original architecture.

My hotel is a Chinese courtyard home, a series of rooms facing courtyards connected by halls and breezeways, very comfortable, with TV and a/c in the room and wifi in the Tea House. In the hutongs around me are boutiques, galleries, cafes, restaurants, snazzy bars and more traditional side lanes where Chinese live and tend small shops. Walk outside the hutongs and there is real Chinese street life, wide, highly trafficked streets, billows of exhaust fumes, throngs of Beijingers on purposeful travel, on bicycles, awaiting busses, workers steering loaded pushcarts or working in small stores with their Beijing mojo on. Chinese work harder than any people I've ever seen. Banks, ATMs, Chinese pharmacies, China Post, and people, people everwhere. This isn't a high rise district, and hopefully won't become one.

We're near Hohai, a park on a pair of lakes that I used to love to stroll, but it's gone past it's prime somehow, it felt "used up" when I went back there to find my favorite Beijing "thinking place" Yinding Bridge.

I find no significant change in Beijing since the Olympics, except the yuan has been revalued, rendering the dollar 20% less than when I was here. Even with that China's still a phenomenal bargain if you know where to shop and eat. The people are still amazingly industrious, most everything is still open 7 days a week. Most of the people I know, Chinese and foreigner alike, are still working, but all the freelancers now have or want full time jobs and regular paychecks. The global economic downturn is always referred to in Chinese media, and always with the coda "which is America's fault." What can you say, they're right! Be that as it may, the economic downturn made the unbelievably inexpensive flights to Asia and home possible.

There's such a difference between the Bangkok Thai and the Beijing Chinese. Thai don't have the opportunity or pressure of rapid economic development and they grow up with siblings. This makes a huge difference in their outlook and interactions. Beijingers are more focused, busy. Bangkok Thais are more easygoing, humorous, fatalistic.

It's been hot in Beijing, city-hot. The breezeways in my courtyard hotel and through the hutongs help but only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. I'm writing this relaxing and blogging in a cafe on Nan Luo Gu Xiang after a Chinese breakfast, sipping a well turned latte (you say latiah here) under a ceiling fan. Later, a pedicure and leg massage, maybe a duck dinner. It's a tough life. It's good to be back. Something I'll be doing again and again.


So at that point I was going to upload this blog but rudely discovered that blogger dot com was blocked in China! Ah, the Chinese net nanny. That's China! I'm now back in New York, popped awake at 4:30 by jet lag, seeing the morning up till my brother wakes up and we'll have a nice American breakfast. No zhongzie.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Elephant Trek, northern Thailand

Maetaman Elephant Camp, Chaiang Mai, Thailand. What a day.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thai Mountain excursion Doi Suithep in Chiang Mei

Wat Pratat Doi Suithep is visible on the mountainside overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand. At night it's golden chedi glitters in the lights, a spiritual guardian of the region.

Legend has it that a monk on a pilgrimage to the kingdom of Lanna had a dream and when he awoke, he began digging and found a relic which contained a small bit of ashes that were green. He knew he'd found ashes of Lord Buddha. He brought them to the king in Chiang Mai who realized he was supposed to build a temple to entomb the ashes. But he didn't know where to build it so he set his white elephant free to find it. The elephant climbed the mountain and walked a circle in the rain forest, pounded his trunk on the ground and died. That is where the king erected Doi Suithep and entombed the sacred ashes of Lord Buddha.

When you enter the temple there is a powerful feeling of spirit and kindness. Women must cover their arms and legs entering a temple and all must remove their shoes. You can feel ancient reverence connecting through your bare feet, moving up your body, shimmering in your heart, quieting your mind, filling you with joy and serenity. The moist beauty of the surrounding rain forest resonates.

The day I visited Doi Suithep was, by happenstance (perhaps my blessed luck) a particularly holy day. It is believed that Lord Buddha, as the Thais know him, was born, reached enlightenment and died on the fifth full moon of the year, Visakha Bucha Day. The whole weekend Thais were worshiping and performing rituals at Doi Suithep. It was a sublimely gratifying experience. When I made my offering I didn't ask for blessings, I gave thanks for them.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Starfleet in Bangkok

I'm in Bangkok, Thailand. I have friends who live here. It was mud season in Maine, the only time of year that it's not gorgeous. I jumped on a very cheap airfare and here I am after a 27 hour flight (2 stops). It's green, it's steamy, it's exotic, it's sublime. These smiling gentle Thai people, the fabulous food, the massages, the markets, the spirit houses, the sky train and river taxis intrigue and enthrall me. I've seen the golden reclining Buddha, the Temple of Dawn, even caught a glimpse of the king as his motorcade made it's way into the Grand Palace for a celebration of his 60th year on the throne. As he passed the crowd of street vendors and monks made a sighing sound. He is much beloved. This is a free country, but you'd better not insult the king.

I went to the cinema this morning to fulfill a ritual of seeing the opening show of every Star Trek movie wherever I am. (I couldn't do it for Nemesis; I was in Beijing and couldn't find a showing.) After the trailers and before the main feature the screen said: "Please pay respect of the King," and every one stood up for a short retrospective film about His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

I was sitting in the plush cinema at 10:45 AM with only a few others. Tenth row center, plenty of leg room, I had both padded armrests to myself. I drank an icy Coca Cola as I waited for the film to begin. This, I'm thinking, is really a moment. A culture break in Southeast Asia. Star Trek in Bangkok. Does life get any more special than this?

Without spoiling it, let me say that XI is the sexiest Star Trek yet (yes even more than the Insurrection bathtub scene) and would you believe Spock and Uhuru get kissy? (But Kirk hit on her first.) This is never explained or resolved, but it's certainly a one-eyebrow lifter. It's funny, full of action, maybe too much action; I didn't realize I'd been holding my breath until I exhaled. There is never a dull moment nor a wasted frame. And at the end you realize space is not the final frontier at all. This is a prequel to TOS. The origin and evolution of the characters of and relationships between the bridge crew of The Enterprise is masterfully nuanced. The way the plot insinuates the time line, the franchise can go on forever without colliding with any established groundwork.

And when the movie ended, I went out into the Bangkok day, savoring every moment.

This is a spirit house. You see one in front of almost every building complex. It is there to collect malicious spirits so they do not go into your house. There are offerings of fruit, gifts, incense and little garlands of flowers. Fresh flower garlands hang from the interior rear view mirrors of taxis, around statues of the king or of deities and on doorknobs. Fruits and flowers abound, luscious ripe tropical fruit from stands on the street or in markets. They have a dish I have come to love: sticky rice and mango. It comes with a little container of coconut milk to pour over it. "Takeaway" Thai food is an art form. You can get it any hour of the day or night.

I'm visiting friends here. They have introduced me to the money, the public transport a few local sights and then I took off on my own to see many more. I've come to appreciate the difference between North Asia, where I spent almost 4 years in China, and Southeast Asia. I will be back time and time again.

This is golden spires of the Grand Palace seen from the river taxi. So far my favorite market is between the boat pier and the palace. That day I had crispy catfish with vegetables and glass noodles over rice for lunch. And Thai iced tea to drink. I bought another puppet for my Asian puppet collection at the market and some small gifts for friends and family.

I'm going to sign off now. Tomorrow I take a weekend side trip to the mountains. Then back to Bangkok for a day and on to China for a while.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Packing for Asia

Next time I'll log in from Bangkok and a week or two later from China.

In the meantime, all's well stateside, considering, we're surfing the trough. Frugality is the new wealth, and some of the stimulus money is beginning to have an effect.

Obama just signed a $5.7 billion national service bill Tuesday that triples the size of the AmeriCorps (sort of a domestic Peace Corps) service program over the next eight years that helps students to earn money for college. Said the president, "What this legislation does ... is to help harness this patriotism and connect deeds to needs." A major investment in volunteer and grassroot works, a brilliant move. But he comes from that environment and knows what a good investment it is. As difficult as this huge economic speedbump has been, sometimes I can't believe our good fortune. This is one of them.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Way to go Navy Seals, for the rescue of cargo ship captain Richard Phillips from pirates off the Somali coast. A joyous Easter for his family and a WTG moment for us! They'll probably make a movie out of this one, so dramatic, dangerous and skillfully victorious.

Story here, but by the time you read this more details will be available, for sure.

Since I've been microblogging, blogging has taken a back seat. Winter is too slowly surrendering to spring in these parts, so I'm planning an extended Asian journey which will take me from Bangkok to Beijing. Will report in, with pics, for sure.

Happy Paschal holidays to everyone, which ever one(s) you celebrate. Certainly it is a time of liberation and resurrection.

Ellen says hey
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.

Previous Posts

This blog has moved
Saving it for history - or at least eBay
Top Nine Movies of 2009
Happy Holidays Everyone
Bird's Eye
John Lennon
Stage Fright
Message in a bottle rocket
How now
8 years later

Terror Alert Level
Terror Alert Status


Baseball Crank
This Modern World
The Peking Duck
The Talent Show
Simon World
Angry Chinese Blogger
Angry Chinese Blogger mirror
Open Letters to GWB


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