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  1. Another Self-Promotional Break
  2. Moviegoing: "The Last Mistress"
  3. The Fate of the Six Pack
  4. Quote for the Day
  5. Slow Woodstock?
  6. Lowering the Boom (Microphone)
  7. Not-so-mostly Mozart
  8. Motorama Showcars 1955
  9. A Dubious Yet Perhaps Provocative Comparison
  10. Low-Carb Linkage

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Another Self-Promotional Break
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- That webseries I helped make? More people are enjoying it. A well-known horror-movie blog says this: "Snappy and sexy ... The characters are colorful and over the top ... Addictive ... I am completely and totally hooked." If you'd like a link to the series' website -- so far only the trailer can be watched (Episode One goes up next week) -- shoot me an email at michaelblowhard-at-that-gmaily-place. Our goal (I mean, of course, in addition to being entertaining) was to use the webseries format as a way to revive the '70s-style Midnight Movie. So if you don't like naughty words, scrappy production values, gratuitous nudity, and daffy ideas, I urge you to skip our production. Now back to our regular programming. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at August 1, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Moviegoing: "The Last Mistress"
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As big a fan as I am of the films of Catherine Breillat, I only half-believed her latest movie. Her first costume drama, her first period piece, and her first adaptation, it's like a very quiet "Dangerous Liaisons" -- the catch here being that the film is set in the early 19th century (the age of the bourgeois) rather than the aristocratic 18th century. I'm pretty sure that Breillat wouldn't be displeased to hear that I take her to be saying something about how the present day stacks up compared to the 1960s and 1970s. The setup, roughly: An impoverished, serial-seducin' Parisian aristocrat has lined himself up a choice marriage with a virginal heiress, yet can't keep his mind, his feelings, or his body off of the coarse Spanish spitfire he has been sleeping with for a decade. It isn't just about emotional gamesmanship, le jeu de l'amour, in other words; it's about money. The film isn't very dramatic. It plays like the novel adaptation that it is -- in other words, like a miniseries that has been condensed into two hours. And Breillat's decision to have Asia Argento's post-punkette aggression and gaucheness stand in for the senorita's fire and allure didn't seem to me to work out very well. All that said, the film still delivers a lot. There's acres of spare / opulent visual and aural beauty to be enjoyed; a reckless and headstrong sensuality at satisfying war with a love of formality and restraint; a tender yet objective attentiveness to the translucency of flesh that's especially startling in the context of today's movieworld; and a lot of cineaste poetry involving imagery of silent-movie vamps and film noir spiderwomen. And Breillat comes through with some moments of her distinctively loony intensity. Let it be noted too that Fu-ad Ait Aattou -- the nonactor whom Breillat spotted at a cafe and chose to play her hero -- makes an amusingly haughty and androgynous cad. Tall, prettier than any girl, and blessed (or cursed) with the Cupid's Bow pout of a Fragonard darling, he's a seductive freakshow all by himself. I sat through the film quite happily, though The Wife did a fair amount of impatient squirming. In any case, I'd urge those new to Breillat to start with one of her other films -- "Fat Girl," perhaps, or "Romance." You'll love it or you'll hate it, but you'll certainly have quite an experience. There's no one out there quite like Catherine Breillat. Semi-related: I enjoyed Breillat's brilliant chamber drama "Brief Crossing" (here). Back here, I was agog at Asia Argento's "Scarlet Diva." Watch a trailer for "The Last Mistress" here. Read some interviews with Catherine Breillat, who recently suffered (and has recovered from) a major stroke: here, here, here, here. She's an amazing interviewee. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 31, 2008 | perma-link | (4) comments

The Fate of the Six Pack
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- * Sigh: What a few decades will do to even the most heroic male physique. My own efforts at fitness stopped being a matter of "getting into shape" and started aiming at "stemming the decay" long ago. * Dora or Estelle? Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 31, 2008 | perma-link | (34) comments

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- What explains the fantastic amount of resources that Americans have thrown into combating a nonexistent Muslim threat to the United States, while acquiescing to decades-long encroachment by illegal aliens? Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 31, 2008 | perma-link | (9) comments

Slow Woodstock?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Get ready for a summer-ending Slow Food blowout. A great quote from Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini: "I always say a gastronome who isn’t an environmentalist is just stupid, and I say an environmentalist who isn’t a gastronome is just sad." Petrini gets my CultureHero of the Day award. I'm sorry to see, though, that the leaders of Slow Food USA are determined to make the movement even more political and diversity-obsessed than it already is. Why is good food and good eatin' -- let alone clean air and clean water -- so often a leftie thing? Righties ought to be ashamed of themselves for letting such causes slip through their fingers. Semi-related: I blogged about the Slow movement here and here. Here's the website of the worldwide Slow Food organization. Here's Slow Food USA. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 31, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Lowering the Boom (Microphone)
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- There was life before videotape. And that life was live! ... unless it was a kinescope film of a live television broadcast, that is. [Pause for distracting scholarly footnote and CYA ...] Late 1940s TV shows came from: live broadcasting; a film taken of images on a TV monitor showing a live broadcast intended for rebroadcast to off-network stations (kinescope recording, it was called); or content filmed earlier such as a cowboy adventure show. The pre-filmed stuff could be edited like any other movie. The live TV was just that -- whatever was before the camera with the red lights on was broadcast at that instant for good or ill. Even though kinescope recordings could, in principle, be edited to eliminate really embarrassing unintended content, my impression was that lots of small gaffes were ignored and there were few if any re-takes for the distribution market. What this boils down to is that 11 or 12 year old me got to see a lot of interesting things on TV that modern viewers seldom or never do. Those old TV studios had plenty of hot lights, so showing actors dripping sweat wasn't uncommon. Nor was hearing an actor flubbing a line unknown. One of the fun things was the intrusion of a boom microphone. Tiny lapel microphones were far in the future in 1948 or 1951, so most TV studios used microphones attached to the ends of telescoping tubes or beams, these mikes (I don't like the "mic" spelling ... read it as "mick") being positioned above the speaker's head and out of the camera frame. Unless something went wrong. Here's a picture of a 1950 vintage studio. The boom operator is at the left, the boom extends across the top of the picture and the microphone is above and in front of the cowboy. Occasionally, the shadow of the mike and/or boom could be seen against a backdrop. The following picture might be from a cheap movie (I'm not sure), but I used to see such shadows often enough. And if I got really lucky the mike would drop into the upper part of the viewing frame. The picture of Dave Garroway, below, was probably staged; an accidental mike showing might have only an inch or two exposed. I find current TV too slick. In the good old days the medium could be really sporting. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 31, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Not-so-mostly Mozart
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- The Leisure & Arts segment of the 30 July Wall Street Journal features this piece by Barrymore Lawrence Scherer in which he interviews the Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival music director Louis Langrée and artistic director Jane Moss. Attendees will be treated to the following: Indeed, in keeping with this year's festival theme of "Loss and Transformation," the programs include not only Mahler's chamber version of "Das Lied von der Erde" (tonight), music to "Pelléas and Mélisande" by Fauré (Aug. 8) and by Sibelius (Aug. 15 and 16), and Richard Strauss's "Metamorphosen" (Aug. 22, 23), but also two U.S. premieres of major contemporary works. The first is by the festival's resident composer, Finland's Kaija Saariaho, "La Passion de Simone" (Aug. 13, 15 and 17). A staged oratorio, with soprano Dawn Upshaw and dancer Michael Schumacher directed by Peter Sellars, the work, to a text by the Paris-based Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf, interprets the brief life of the French philosopher and social activist Simone Weil (1909-43), whose frailty and ill health fired her religious mysticism. The second is "Requiem," a choreographic work by the Samoan-born, New Zealand-based theater artist and choreographer Lemi Ponifasio. Inspired by Mozart's Requiem and performed (Aug. 8 and 9) by Mr. Ponifasio's company, MAU, it is "a journey of hope and desire for transformation," in the composer's words, that filters traditional Samoan themes of death and remembrance through a modern intellect. ... Loss and transformation are also the context for two video art installations by the Australian Lynette Wallworth. "A profound environmental message underlies 'Hold: Vessel 1 and 2,'" says Ms. Moss, who first saw the installation in Vienna during the 2006 celebrations there of Mozart's 250th birthday. As visitors pass through beams of light while holding reflective glass bowls, she says, they are immersed in beautiful projected images, which are actually elements of decaying coral reefs. The second installation, "Invisible by Night," uses an interactive video screen to allow participants to experience empathy for others' grief. "We've installed both works in the lobby of the Rose Theater, where we are presenting Saariaho's 'Le Passion de Simone' and Pontifasio's 'Requiem,'" says Ms. Moss, who is also Lincoln Center's vice president for programming. "And we're hoping that audiences at those performances will perceive both the installations and the performances as part of a unified emotional experience." "So," I ask, "now that Mostly Mozart is continually broadening its repertoire to embrace even contemporary composers and visual artists, what reflection is there between Mostly Mozart and the Lincoln Center Festival, which precedes it each summer?" Ms. Moss responds without hesitation. "Lincoln Center Festival is less a music festival than an eclectic, international celebration of contemporary performing arts. Mostly Mozart remains a music festival, and no matter how far afield Louis and I roam, Mozart remains the composer in focus and the crystal through which the other compositions are refracted." On the basis of Scherer's article, it looks like Mozart was simply an excuse for... posted by Donald at July 30, 2008 | perma-link | (18) comments

Motorama Showcars 1955
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- A couple of days ago I introduced the topic of General Motors' Motorama show that toured the country in the 1950s. From 1954 to 1956 special Motorama show cars were interesting because many of them had the potential to be produced, yet they weren't the sort of thinly-disguised ready-for-production jobs we find in recent automobile shows. Show cars for 1954 were treated in the link above and some for 1956 were discussed here. The present posting deals with 1955 Motorama cars, the most interesting set, in my opinion. Gallery Chevrolet Biscayne The Biscayne is a neat, semi-compact that was counter to the Detroit trend of the time for longer, lower, wider and bigger standard cars. Besides its "package" (car-speak for a set of key dimensions and characteristics), it has some interesting and odd features. Bring a show car, it has no visible front-end protection. In the 50s, most cars had big, solid, chrome-plated bumpers that were hung in front of the body shell. Nowadays, the bumper is typically a steel beam hidden behind a plastic material painted body-color; the effect is similar to the front of the Biscayne. But the Biscayne's front end is metal (or probably fiberglass pretending to be steel) with no hidden beams and several projections just waiting to be damaged. The windshield is wrapped in two directions (see the posting on 1956 for a little more about this), an extension of a wraparound style fad introduced by GM on earlier show cars and that was found on their entire line of '55 cars. The Biscayne is what was termed at the time a "four-door hardtop" -- no center ("B") roof post and no door framing around the side windows -- what a convertible would look like if it had a steel roof and didn't convert. This style was introduced on some 1955 GM production cars. What is interesting is that the rear doors are hinged at the rear and not on the center post as is nearly standard for four-door vehicles, making them what are called "suicide doors." Actually, four-door convertibles had rear-hinged rear doors up through the 1930s and they even appeared on Lincoln Continentals introduced in the 1961 model year. This feature might be present because it would have been too troublesome to engineer and fabricate doorpost-hinging for a mere show car. And yes, that bug-eye headlight treatment is a little odd. LaSalle II roadster LaSalle II sedan Apology for the quality of the lower photo, but it's the best I could locate on the Web for this car. The LaSalle was one of GM's "companion cars" -- brands launched around the end of the 1920s to offer more products for their basic brand dealers to sell. It was the most successful of the lot, a stylish, lower-priced companion to the Cadillac that was built for the 1927-1940 model years. That success statement might not be strictly true because another companion brand was Pontiac, originally sold by Oakland... posted by Donald at July 30, 2008 | perma-link | (3) comments

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Dubious Yet Perhaps Provocative Comparison
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- As a cultureguy, I haven't been able to help being struck by something amidst all my low-carb readin'-and-research: the way the officially-endorsed low-fat gospel resembles the generally accepted view of the arts. It may work for a few, and it may have its theoretical appeal. But for the rest of us -- and on a day-to-day basis -- it may well be counterproductive, unhealthy, and perhaps even destructive. Interesting to learn that -- much like the conventional view of culture -- the low-fat gospel had its origins in the 1960s and 1970s. The idiotic Food Pyramid? That's something we owe to counterculture hero Sen. George McGovern. What to make of this? Semi-related: I made fun of what I called "the Arts Litany" back here; back here, I explained that our current conception of "literary fiction" is an artifact of the 1960s and 1970s. Here's one of my many bitch-fests about the New York Times Book Review and its bizarrely blinkered yet supposedly good-for-us vision of fiction. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 29, 2008 | perma-link | (6) comments

Low-Carb Linkage
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- For some people, the fun health news of the last few weeks was the publication in the New England Journal of Medicine of a study pitting the low-fat diet, the Mediterranean diet, and the low-carb diet against each other in a weight-loss race. Hard to declare a super-decisive winner, but one thing was definitely clear: The low-fat diet that our official health-tips class has been urging on us for 30 years didn't look so good. * Some interesting reactions to the study come from the excellent (and modest) low-carb advocate Dr. Mike. * I love the books that Dr. Mike has co-written with his wife, Dr. Mary Dan. I suggest starting with this one. * A couple of other helpful and easy-readin' pro-fat / anti-carbs books: "Eat Fat, Lose Fat" by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon, and "Natural Health & Weight Loss" by Barry Groves. * Enig and Fallon are associated with the Weston A. Price Foundation; Groves maintains a website here. Are Enig, Fallon, and Groves cranks? Oh, maybe they are, a little. Are they more useful and on-the-ball than the conventional U.S. health-tips establishment? It's looking more and more like they are that too. * Heavy-hittin' paradigm-shifter Gary ("Good Calories, Bad Calories") Taubes thinks that the one thing the study established beyond doubt is that the health-tips establishment has been completely wrong to demonize saturated fat. Don't skip the commentsthread. * Taubes' book is a pretty breath-taking (if also exhausting -- I certainly didn't read every single word of it) achievement in many ways. One of them: Taubes demonstrates step-by-step how the health establishment over-committed itself to the low-fat diet. In case you think this was a minor screwup: It's a policy that has likely contributed to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths. What on earth is our government doing recommending a diet anyway? * Taubes takes readers' question: here, here, here. * Eggs? Now it turns out that those terrifying little bundles of sat-fat and cholesterol may in many ways be good for your heart. An eye-opening quote from U.Cal Berkeley: Dietary cholesterol, found in animal foods, raises blood cholesterol in only about one-third of people. And, as shown in some egg studies, dietary cholesterol causes the body to produce HDL (“good”) cholesterol along with LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in these “hyper-responders,” thus helping offset potential adverse effects. Moreover, the LDL particles that form are larger in size -- and larger LDL particles are thought to be less dangerous than small ones. In studies at the University of Connecticut, for example, eating three eggs a day for 30 days increased cholesterol in susceptible people, but their LDL particles were larger, and there was no change in the ratio between LDL and HDL, which suggests no major change in coronary risk. * A major tip of the hat to Dave Lull, who supplied most of the links in this posting. Dave has been low-carb / high-fatting it for a while now. (A... posted by Michael at July 29, 2008 | perma-link | (11) comments

Monday, July 28, 2008

Self-Promotion Break
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- A small pause to celebrate the fact that a well-known online alt-art/porn outlet has taken a look at the webseries that I helped write and produce. Verdict? "Enough plot twists to keep your head spinning for days ... A must-see for this season." Emphasis added by proud l'il ol' me, of course. Shoot an email to michaelblowhard-at-that-gmaily-place if you'd like to take a look at our R-rated preview. Episode one thrusts itself on a wet, plump, and eager world in early August. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Quote for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Patrick Milliken -- who works at Scottsdale, Arizona's superb crime-fiction bookstore the Poisoned Pen -- graduated from college with a degree in literature. When he started working at the bookstore he knew very little about crime fiction. Since then ... [I] have done my best to make up for lost time ... I remember a great quote from (blues great) Lightnin' Hopkins when he was asked if some of the guys in his band could read music. He said "Some of 'em do, but it don't hurt 'em none." So many students of literature are spoon-fed the canon and never learn about the great stuff that exists out there on the margins. I was amazed by the sheer breadth and quality of crime fiction that's out there, and I think much of the best writing today is done in the genre. That was my experience too. Fancy degrees in lit from fancy colleges ... Easy familiarity with the usual big-city debates and publications ... Unconsciously snobbish attitudes ... Then -- just because I was curious about these categories of fiction that so many of my colleagues and friends sneered at without having tried -- I dared to crack open a few contempo genre novels. (Talk about forbidden literature!) Then a few more. Soon I was buttonholing friends and saying "There's amazing stuff being written and published in non-literary settings! Why aren't we being told about this? And why is our own class claiming that the only fiction worth taking note of is literary fiction? It's a lie!" FWIW: The only thing in Patrick Milliken's quote that I'd dispute is his description of genre fiction as something "at the margins." In practical fact, it's literary fict that's at the margins. Why on earth is such a big deal made of it? More here. Finnish nonfiction author Juri Nummelin writes that American hardboiled fiction is "the best literature in the world." Half of me thinks, "Well, that's a reasonable and defensible position." The other half of me goes "Fuckin' A it is!!" Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 28, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Motorama 1956 Show Cars
Donald Pittenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- Yesterday I wrote about General Motors' big traveling Motorama exhibit and its show cars. I mentioned that some of the most interesting cars were featured in the 1954-56 Motoramas, the best of the crop appearing in 1955. In the previous posting, I dealt with the 1954 show and today I'll present three cars from 1956. I'll save the 1955s for next time -- why end with a whimper. Gallery Buick Centurion Glass-wrapping technology seems to have advanced since the 1954 Motorama because the Centurion's windshield wraps over into the roof as well as around to the sides. Double-wrapped windshields appeared on some production cars from GM, Ford and Chrysler for the 1959 model year. The Centurion's main Buick identity cue is the "sweep-spear" chromed paint-tone separator along the side. The windshield and backlight (rear window) pillars have complementary angles, a theme explored on some of the 1954 show cars. Chevrolet Impala The Impala (a name Chevrolet soon applied to production models) looks like it shares the same body as the Centurion, above. General Motors stylists in 1940s and 50s were masters at taking common body shells (typically three, shared in various combinations by the five brands) and applying style themes that identified each brand so strongly that many buyers might well have been ignorant that their hot new 1950 V-8 Olds Rocket 88 shared its body with the lowly "stove bolt six" Chevy owned by the next-door neighbor. The Impala/Centurion show car seems on the small side compared to contemporary production cars (I have no statistics to validate my hunch), but it was definitely small compared to standard Detroit cars from the late 50s to the mid 1970s. However, compact models began being introduced at the start of the 60s, so perhaps these show cars were anticipating that move. Oldsmobile Golden Rocket I mentioned in yesterday's posting that most Motorama show cars of the mid-50s were surprisingly practical. The Golden Rocket shown here pretty well fails that measure. True, the car was (or could have been) drivable. But the curious three-pronged front end would have paid for luxurious retirements for insurance adjusters had that motif actually been produced. The Golden Rocket seems to be yet another "What the hell" from the Olds styling section, though in a different vein from the F-88 created for the 1954 Motorama. Later, Donald... posted by Donald at July 28, 2008 | perma-link | (2) comments

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Motorama Class of 1954
Donald Pitttenger writes: Dear Blowhards -- When General Motors dominated the American car market it had plenty of spare cash to devote to public relations activities such as its Motorama show, an extravaganza that traveled to some of the larger cities around the country back in the 1950s. Besides its current production cars, GM also included a set of show cars for display. A few show cars were slightly customized production models such as the Pontiac Parisienne of 1953. Others were far-out experimental jobs such as the gas turbine powered Firebird of the same year. Nowadays, show cars that don't fall into the categories just mentioned tend to be slightly disguised versions of cars intended for production in the near future, the idea being to get the buying public acquainted with and accustomed to features that might seem radical at first. The GM Motoramas for 1954, 1955 and to a lesser extent 1956 featured show cars that explored styling appropriate for production yet that were not like cars actually planned for production. At most, future production cars might borrow the shape of windows, tail fins and the like. What makes GM show cars for those years especially interesting to me is that while they were definitely "futuristic" in the context of their time, one could easily imagine most of them driving local streets and highways. Ford show cars of that era tended to be much wilder and impractical for everyday use. I think the 1955 crop of Motorama show cars was the best, but will start with 1954 to set the scene. Reports on 1955 and 1956 will follow presently. Not all the show cars are mentioned; for example, early Corvette body variations. Gallery Buick Wildcat II The Wildcat looks like it might have been based on the Corvette Chassis. Well, the windshield and passenger compartment look Corvette-like. The flaired front fender openings and free-standing headlight housings are features we would term Retro, a concept largely foreign to Fifties American automobile styling. Those front fenders and exposed front wheels would be impractical for daily driving: Think of mud and road grime splashing behind the wheels, much of it caking that lovely contrasting surface in the front wheel wells. Cadillac El Camino The Motoramas never visited Seattle, so the El Camino was the only Motorama show car I saw in person when new; in 1955 it toured Cadillac dealerships around the country including a local one. The tail fins are similar to those used by Cadillacs a few years later. The top of the passenger compartment is interesting because its windshield and backlight (designer-speak for rear window) are similar in the way they wrap around. Wrap-around windshields and backlights were one of the major styling fads of the Fifties, General Motors leading the pack. The show cars of this era exhibit as many practical variations on the wraparound theme as stylists could come up with. Other wraparound ideas might have been considered, but anything really radical probably couldn't be built; as... posted by Donald at July 27, 2008 | perma-link | (5) comments

Fact for the Day
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- The largest private-sector employer in Africa is ... Coca-Cola. Source. Best, Michael... posted by Michael at July 27, 2008 | perma-link | (0) comments

Women Crix?
Michael Blowhard writes: Dear Blowhards -- Anne Thompson thinks male critics just don't get the appeal of certain movies. "Twilight" is her example. So why aren't more women writing about movies? I left this comment on her posting: May we hear more from the ladies, of course. But will we ever? As a practical thing, it seems to me that men tend to put their opinions out there much more aggressively than women do. 1) In the blogosphere, where anyone can say anything, how many people who loudmouth it about movies are women? A few, sure. But meanwhile scads of guys carry on. 2) In the mag and newspaper worlds (in my small experience) editors actively look for lively, sparky women arts-and-culture opinionators. They'd rather not hire a man. But they wind up hiring guys, usually, because the guys are so much more numerous, and so much more bullish (which can mean that they're more fun to read, because they love going out on a limb). So maybe, generally speaking, opinionating for a living is a dick thing? And I say all this as someone who came to movies (to the arts generally, really) via Pauline Kael ... Years ago, The Wife and I did some editing for a small English culture magazine. One thing we tried to do was to scare up some fresh female arts writers. We turned up a couple, but only a couple. What we found generally was this: Guys care more about their opinions (at least about matters like sports, politics, and movies) than women do. Women are generally more solid performers than men are, but they tend to be cautious. If what you're looking for is flashy and provocative stuff, 90% of what you'll turn up will turn out to have been written by men. Women: Better students? Men: Bigger showoffs? Best, Michael UPDATE: Robert Fulford wonders what Pauline Kael would make of the present-day scene. Link thanks to Arts and Letters Daily.... posted by Michael at July 27, 2008 | perma-link | (47) comments