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Tuesday Bag o’ Woe Is Us

Two weeks ago my dermatologist decided he didn’t like the look of a spot on my cheek. He snipped off a sample and sent it to the lab. It turned out to be a basal cell skin cancer, so he scheduled me for an outpatient procedure yesterday.

When I told Donna I had to go in on Monday, she said, “Me too.” Donna sees a different dermatologist—hers too had found a basal cell growth and had asked her to come in on Monday to have it cut out. Donna’s appointment was in the morning; mine was in the afternoon. Here’s what we looked like afterward:


Donna has a one-inch vertical cut on the tip of her nose and I have a horizontal cut below my left eye. Stitches galore for each of us; those will come out sometime next week.

It’s odd we’d go through the same experience at the same time, but there it is. We’ve both been told to take it easy for a few days, to avoid bending over at the waist lest it put strain on our cuts, to sleep with our heads elevated. So we’re taking care of each other, and the dogs are pitching in too. They took one look at us and knew we needed love and affection. As we all know there is no more supportive friend than a dog, so it’s a good thing there’s one for each of us.

Donna’s had suspicious moles removed before, but I think this is the first time she’s had something cut out from underneath her skin. I’ve had five or six subcutaneous basal cell cancers removed, so this was old hat to me. The procedure itself is pain-free (if you don’t count the injection of the anesthetic), but the aftermath is unpleasant. My left eye is black and so swollen I can barely see out of it. Curiously it’s worse with my glasses on, but I’m sure once the swelling goes down it’ll be better. Donna’s not having any trouble with her nose, or at least none she’ll admit to.

I probably should say “Kids, use your sunblock and always wear a hat,” but I’m not certain I believe that’ll keep you from getting skin cancer if you’re prone to it in the first place. Oh, sure, it has to help—I’m religious about wearing hats outdoors, and I try to use sunblock when I go hiking, bicycling, or motorcycle riding—but I know I’m going to keep getting these things anyway. All my sisters are getting them too.

I see my dermatologist three times a year. He always finds several keratoses and freezes them; about once every two years he’ll find a basal cell growth and cut it out. Donna’s way behind me on that score, and I hope she never catches up.

Anyway, we’re fine. The big wrappings are off now. By Halloween we should be back to normal, or what passes for such, and when the neighborhood kids come to the door we won’t be nearly as scary looking as we were yesterday.

Question of the day: what do people who don’t have medical insurance do?


Air-Minded: a Cars & Planes Photoblog

Back-to-back car shows this weekend. Saturday’s show was an annual event at St Gregory’s Academy; Sunday’s was at the Pima Air & Space Museum. As car shows go, the air museum event was a small one, but it gave me an excuse to combine a motorcycle ride, a photo session, and a visit to the museum.

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At the Pima Air & Space Museum entrance

The cars on display at the museum were primarily early Fords, Model Ts and Model As. Some of their owners parked them in the shade under aircraft wings, which wasn’t ideal for photography, but I had a great time trying to get clear shots of all of them. I wish the cars had been of the same vintage as the aircraft on display—wouldn’t it be fun to see a 1949 Cadillac parked under the wing of Eisenhower’s Lockheed Constellation?

Well. Here are a few photos from yesterday’s visit to the air museum. The rest are in my Cars & Planes photo album on Flickr.

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Car Show Photoblog

Every year in October I take my camera to the Tucson Classics Car Show at St Gregory’s Academy, a private college prep school in Tucson. I go early in the morning, when exhibitors are still arriving and parking on the grass, when crowds haven’t gotten out of hand, when it’s still cool.

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As you can see from this overhead shot, there are always plenty of muscle cars on display. I don’t know, muscle cars don’t move me. After I’ve looked at one or two, they start to look the same. What catches my eye are antiques, old motorcycles, engines, the Bulgemobiles from the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

I’ll post a few of my photos here. Clicking on the thumbnails will take you to the originals on Flickr. You can also go straight to my full Flickr gallery to see them all.

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Straight eight

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Indian Chief

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’59 Chevy

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Cadillac Series 355

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Cadillac Series 355

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’53 Kaiser Manhattan

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1920s Indian Chief

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’05 Franklin

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’05 Franklin

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Supercharged Graham

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Supercharged Graham

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’63 Thunderbird Landau


Friday Bag o’ Books

Bag-Of_BooksI’ve been catching up on my reading. No, strike that, there’re be no catching up in my lifetime. I add new books to the pile as fast as I finish the ones already there. The library sent an email alert this morning: an American history text I ordered is in. I don’t normally read textbooks, but this one’s been the target of politically-motivated banning attempts in several states, and I plan to review it for a future banned book post.

Over thirty unread books, mostly novels, are stored on our Kindle and Nook e-readers. Another three are on my Amazon wish list. I like that wish list. It’s a way to keep track of books and products you want to buy when you have the money. The downside is that Amazon shares your wish list with vendors, who help you keep track with tailored ads on your Facebook news feed. I put a self-winding Seiko wristwatch on my wish list a few months ago, and I see Facebook ads for that damn watch nearly every day. I wonder if the ads will stop when I buy it?

We keep thinking it would be fun to have another full-sized pickup truck. We’re interested in the new aluminum-bodied Ford F150, which promises to get better mileage than other large pickup trucks (not that I really believe those promises). I went to the website last night to put together the one we want: cab and bed size, engine, towing package, interior and exterior options. It priced out at almost $38,000, and our wants aren’t extravagant. The truck we want is the equivalent of the one we bought in 1994, which cost about $19,000. Not that we would, but were we to buy it with no down, monthly payments would be about $550. For six years.

What do new cars cost? I’m going to guess at least half the cars people buy today cost more than $38,000. People who buy $60,000+ cars must be spending a grand a month on car and insurance payments, pretty much for the entire time they “own” it. How do you justify making that kind of commitment? Do you plug your ears and sing La-La-La real loud to keep from thinking of the ramifications and consequences?

I think we’re going to wait a year or two and buy a used F150. It’s the only sensible way to do it these days. Or maybe we’ll run out of oil before then and buying another car will be the last thing on our minds.

Tomorrow morning is the annual car show at St. Gregory’s Academy. I go every year (click here to see my photos from last year’s show). It’s starting to look as if it may rain this afternoon and evening, though. The cars are displayed on the grass, and if the ground gets soggy they might postpone the show. If that happens my heart won’t be broken … rain or shine, tomorrow afternoon we’re hosting book club and in the evening going to a friend’s house for cooking club. Busy busy busy.

So far no Ebola in our house. I stopped at CVS yesterday morning for my annual flu shot, and Donna’s going today. Which means if we get something that feels like the flu, it’ll most likely be Ebola, what with all these infected nurses gallivanting here and there (insert ironic emoticon). Bless those nurses. They are the best, although this Alabama paramedic is giving them a run for the money.

Funny how everyone in Congress is suddenly demanding our hospitals act and perform as if they’re part of a well-organized national healthcare system, with layers and layers of robust government support behind them. These would be the same congressmen, of course, who have fought against every move in that direction. Well, we’ll get there someday. Maybe the current Ebola scare will push us a little closer. One can hope.

Well, there’s room in my book bag for one more, so it’s time for a library run!


Open Windows

I haven’t opened Windows since I got my iMac … no, seriously, I meant to write about actual windows, the kind you open to air out the house when the weather is nice. After months of running it full time, day and night, it’s a treat to turn off the air conditioning. We can feel the house breathe. Long may it last, but already we’re pulling the covers up to our chins at night and pretty soon we’ll have to start shutting up the house before we go to bed. But let’s not think about lighting the furnace until we have to, shall we?

We took full advantage of the good weather this weekend, spending most of Sunday outdoors at Tucson’s Udall Park, once the site of a geomagnetic laboratory operated by the US Geological Survey. I set a trail for members of my hiking and running group, starting and ending near the old magnetic lab and this enigmatic survey marker:

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There’s plenty of information about the old magnetic lab on line, but I can’t find anything on the triangular marker. Google, normally so useful, turns up nothing. I guess the marker will join the Railroad Children’s Cemetery on my list of unsolved Tucson mysteries.


The cemetery is in Vail alongside the east/west railroad tracks running from El Paso to Tucson. I don’t think many people know it’s there. Even if they do it’s hard to find, just a 40′ X 40′ plot hidden in desert scrub. I first saw it on one of our running trails. A small wooden sign on the fence said “Railroad Children,” and that was all the information there was. My guess, looking at the condition of the wooden sign and wooden crosses, is that it dates from the early 1900s, possibly the late 1800s. I contacted an Arizona graveyards historian but never heard back. To this day I don’t know why those children died or what connection they had with the railroad. I suspect it might have had something to do with the influenza epidemic in 1918. Which reminds me, it’s time to get a flu shot. No, I’m not going to speculate on Ebola. Plenty of other people, most of them uninformed, are.

Toward the end of my September motorcycle trip, I downloaded and installed Apple’s new operating system (iOS 8.0) on my iPhone and iPad. The iPhone, a new 5S model I’d bought just months before, swallowed it whole, but the three-year-old iPad 2 gagged. A day later I heard Apple was rushing to get a fix out. Sure enough, later that same day iOS 8.0.2 came out and I installed it, hoping it would fix my iPad.

It didn’t. When I try to open the Facebook or Twitter applications on the iPad, they either don’t open for three or four minutes, or they don’t open at all and dump me back to the home screen. Half the time I can’t even open Safari, Apple’s web browser. Okay, pretty much anything that requires a Wi-Fi connection, including the Gmail app. I thought the problem might be related to the iCloud driver that comes with the new iOS, so I turned that part of it off in settings, but that hasn’t fixed a thing. Online apps like Facebook, Twitter, Safari, and Tumblr are 90% of what I use my iPad for. It’s like Apple disabled the Wi-Fi connection and replaced it with a dialup modem from 1993.

Last night I went on some Apple & Mac forums to see if other iPad 2 users have found ways to work with the new iOS. Chillingly, the factory forums are populated with hardcore Apple defenders who brook no dissent, no waving of dirty laundry. I did glean, reading between the lines, that another iOS iteration is in the works, so I’ll be patient.

You know, I’ve been an Apple enthusiast ever since I replaced my old Dell PC desktop with an iMac, following that purchase up with the iPad and most recently an iPhone. This is the first negative experience I’ve had with any Apple product, and I hope they fix it soon. I have to say, though, the cult-like vibes emanating from the Apple forums are more worrisome than a botched iOS upgrade, and make me wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.

Speaking of cult-like vibes, check out this guy. I can be an asshole like anyone else, selfish and self-centered. There are times when I think of my faults and marvel that I have any friends at all, let alone a loving wife and children. And then I read about someone who is truly awful, a monster of Jim Jones proportions, and feel better about myself. So if you need a self-esteem boost, read about the Reverend Ernest Angley, leader of a devoted congregation who let him get away with the most despicable behavior … and this is just one thing among many: forcing vasectomies and abortions on the men and women in his church lest they keep some of the money they’d normally put in the collection tray to raise children instead, oh, and being a pedophile who preys on the boys in his congregation good lord what the fuck is wrong with people and why hasn’t anyone hastened this man’s long-overdue rendezvous with Jesus in heaven?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: God save me from all these good Christians!


Local Color

Donna and I wake up around six. Our bed is situated so that the first thing we see is the sun coming up through the sliding glass patio door in our bedroom wall.


I jumped out of bed a few mornings ago, put on a bathrobe, and went out through the patio door to take photos. One of the dogs, meanwhile, went out through the doggie door at the other end of the house and was startled to find a man in her back yard. She started barking, which set off the other dog, who came out to join her. Even after they figured out it was me, they kept barking to make sure I knew I was somewhere I didn’t belong.

I’ve been out taking photos nearly every morning since, and the dogs have become used to seeing me on their turf. Sometimes I wake up and grab the iPhone, sometimes the small point & shoot digital camera, sometimes the big DSLR we treated ourselves to last Christmas. The top photo is from earlier this week, and was taken with the tiny iPhone camera. The next one is from this morning, showing the sun reflecting off the tops of the mountains to our north, taken with the big camera.

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The iPhone has an HDR (high dynamic range) mode, and I believe I had it selected when I took the first photo. The Canon Rebel doesn’t have an HDR mode, but you can take HDR photos with it … I just haven’t learned how to do it yet, so the second photo is more true to life.

I love these beautiful sunrises. Sunsets are even prettier. I’ve been taking photos at the other end of the day as well. Here’s an iPhone sunset:


As I was writing, not ten minutes ago, the neighborhood bobcat walked past the window. It’s a big one, about the size of a German Shepherd, and looks healthy (we haven’t seen it often enough to determine its sex). I’m sorry I didn’t manage to get a photo, but it was staring at me through the office window and I was afraid reaching for the camera would spook it. Maybe next time.

Yesterday I took the dachshunds to the feed store, their favorite destination. This time of year there’s a galvanized livestock trough full of baby chicks in the middle of the store. The dogs aren’t tall enough to see in, of course, but they can hear and smell the chicks, and how they wish I’d buy them one, oh pretty please! I would if I thought the chick would survive their natural curiosity. No, no I wouldn’t, not really. Anyway, in addition to picking up a bag of dog food, I got them both new collars, big thick butch numbers. They were beside themselves to have me put them on, and after I did they pranced around the house all afternoon. Here they are with their colorful new outfits:

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Schatzi is red

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Maxie is purple

I hear that the anchor spot on one of the major Sunday morning TV political talk shows, Meet the Press, was offered to comedian Jon Stewart. He rebuffed the offer, and I’m glad he did. I don’t know what actual impact Stewart has as host of The Daily Show, but he’s good at expressing our frustration with the idiots who run the country and the world … at least when he’s sitting alone at his desk, facing a friendly studio audience and an unhostile camera. I’ve noticed, and I’m sure you have too, that when he’s face to face with a powerful guest in the interview segment, he pussies out. He doesn’t ask the hard questions. He goes into “both sides do it” mode, just like any political pundit. I’ve seen him back down over and over again, and I’ve concluded that at heart he’s just another villager, anxious to preserve his position of privilege and access to power. Well, I’d probably be the same way if the money was good enough.

That’s not much of a rant, but it’s all I’ve got today. Yes, everything is still horrible: this stupid directionless war, the fear-mongering and lies fed to us as news, the stupidity, the racism, the religious intolerance, the whatever. But ranting about it won’t make a bit of difference or have the slightest impact. All I can do is try to live up to Kurt Vonnegut’s exhortation from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Would that we all could live up to that.


Wednesday Bag o’ Damp

water bagWhen I leapt out of bed at six this morning, I had two plans: first, to take the good DSLR camera outside for some colorful sunrise photos; second, to ride the motorcycle to the air museum for my weekly guided tours. I was stymied by the weather: the only color seeping through the overcast was gray and the bathroom radio announced a 100% probability of rain. No photos, no motorcycle. Well, I still had my museum tours to look forward to.

Five hours later, halfway through my walking tour of WWII aircraft, the industrial evaporative coolers outside the hangar kicked on. They were unusually loud. In fact they were roaring, and I had to turn up the volume on my amplifier to be heard over the din. It didn’t occur to me the noise was rain beating on the hangar roof until I tried to lead my group of visitors to the next hangar on the tour. And why? Because in three years volunteering at the museum, I’d never heard that noise before.

I braved the downpour to get to the next hangar and got thoroughly soaked in the process. Two visitors ran with me but the other eight stayed behind and I don’t blame them. By the time I finished up in the next hangar the torrent was less biblical, so, frustrated because I hadn’t been able to take any photos earlier in the morning, I decided to document this rare Tucson rainstorm.

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In the first photo, if you look behind where I’m standing you’ll see running water. That water is about six feet deep, and it’s running hard. The second photo is of the same instant river, taken from a small foot bridge between the hangars. Going back to the first photo: it may not be immediately obvious, but my pants are soaked from my shoes up to about mid-thigh, and the little voice amplifier hanging from my neck is dead, shorted out by water that seeped into it during my earlier dash between the hangars.

On my drive home I took another photo, this one of the normally dry wash just down the hill from our subdivision. The water you see running over the road is more than three feet deep, and local drivers are wisely sitting it out. Fortunately for Donna and I, we don’t have to cross this low spot driving to and from our home, but there are pockets of homes in our part of town that become temporarily cut off during these rare heavy rains.


Well, there … I’ve gone and written a blog post about the damn weather. Why anyone reads this stuff is beyond me. So what else is there to write about?

Well, for one thing, this was my first museum tour in over a month. It felt good to get back in the saddle. I even prepped for it, skipping TV last night to study my aircraft talking points. I went in early this morning to turn the team leader files over to my replacement and start getting him up to speed; I hope that in a month or so he’ll have completely taken over and I can return to being a regular docent.

I have book reviews to write, so I’ll put this post to bed now. If you live in a regular part of the world, one where rain is a regular occurrence, I hope you’ll forgive me for having so much fun with it. I can’t help it. No one from southern Arizona can. It’s a big deal to us.


You Can’t Read That!

You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.

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YCRT! Rant

Another school year has begun and we’re in for a fresh round of book challenges and bannings. This essay provides an excellent overview of educational censorship, and discusses the idea of providing parental advisory ratings for books on school reading lists and library shelves. Here’s another essay on the topic of ratings.

In reviewing news of book challenges and bans, I read article after article about parents and watchdog groups showing up at school board meetings to demand the removal of books containing “violence,” “adult language,” “inappropriate material,” “anti-capitalist themes,” “anti-Christian values,” or just plain “darkness.” These sound like categories from a TV parental advisory screen, don’t they?

aa4299013Change “the following program” to “this book” and you could stick this label on the cover of half the young adult and mainstream literary novels … even some nonfiction textbooks … commonly assigned in middle and high school classrooms.

I’m afraid this is exactly what a growing number of parents and conservative watchdog groups want: simple, easy-to-understand rating placards for every book in every school, even books in the children’s section of public libraries and bookstores.

Parents want book ratings for what they believe to be good reasons. Religious and conservative watchdog groups want them for a more sinister reason: to facilitate wholesale banning.

A few parents and watchdog groups, the conscientious ones, actually read the books they target. When they show up at school board meetings, they’re prepared to cite specific passages from the books they want to ban. Granted, most of those who complain merely read out-of-context excerpts handed them by someone else, and haven’t read the books in question, but somewhere along the line someone has.

What would happen if books had parental advisory ratings? Parents, school administrators, and bluenoses in general wouldn’t bother to read them. They’d go with ratings alone, and the number of challenges and bannings would balloon. In no time at all, it would be nearly impossible to find a book with an AC (adult content) rating on a school reading list or library shelf. No understanding-the-book-in-context required. No reading required. No thinking required. AC=burn the witch!

Who would review books and come up with parental advisory ratings? Would it be committees of teachers, authors, and literary critics? Are you kidding? It would be the very religious and conservative watchdog groups who want to control what your children read. A book might get a “Graphic Language” rating for a single “damn.” One mention of masturbation would doom a book, never mind a sympathetic homosexual character. History texts not promoting American exceptionalism would be branded unbalanced. And who would know what the books really contain?

I try not to overreact to school book bannings. Young folks find out about great books by word of mouth, and if they hear of a book they want to read they will read it, whether it’s banned at their school or not. What will be missing is classroom discussion guided by teachers who know the material, because teachers won’t be allowed to assign or discuss anything not on their school’s approved reading list.

Parental advisory ratings for books? I can’t think of a more destructive exercise in “dumbing down.”

YCRT! News

Students and community members are protesting conservative attempts to sugar-coat American history textbooks in Jefferson County, Colorado. And talk about sugar-coating: one school board member wants students to be taught that America voluntarily ended slavery. The College Board opposes the teaching of false history, but the protests have so far been to no avail: the Jefferson County school board plans to go ahead with the proposed history curriculum review.

“’Hello, there, little one,’ the man greeted amicably. ‘I am the Reverend Albus Dumbledore, and this is my wife, Minerva. Welcome to Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles!’” It’s probably a joke, but maybe not: Grace Ann, concerned mother, is writing a fundamentalist Christian version of Harry Potter, with Barack Obama replacing Voldemort. The first link, and this one, contain screamingly funny excerpts. Please, please, be for real, Grace Ann!

A Drake University student newspaper has been pulled from circulation, but it’s not the usual story of top-down campus censorship. University students protested a front-page ad for a local pregnancy crisis center by confiscating copies of the paper and destroying them. The pregnancy crisis center in question is not a medical facility: its purpose is to prevent women from obtaining abortions. The university, and the newspaper’s student staff, calls the protest an act of vandalism and vows to continue running ads for the bogus pregnancy crisis center.

A school district in a Dallas, Texas suburb suspended seven books after parental complaints. Students in one high school class were midway through reading Garth Stein’s novel The Art of Racing in the Rain when school officials took their copies away. Parents, in challenging the seven books, objected to sex scenes, references to homosexuality, a description of a girl’s abduction, and a passage that criticized capitalism. After a backlash from alumni and other parents, six of the seven books were reinstated, but The Art of Racing in the Rain remains on the banned list. The incident prompted a New Yorker contributor to write one of the better short essays I’ve read, What Kind of Town Bans Books?

In Rochester, Minnesota, a parent complained about Louise Erdritch’s novel The Painted Drum, which had been assigned to English students at a local high school. The complaint centered on sexual content the parent judged unsuitable for 10th graders. In a bit of good news, a review committee read the book and elected to keep it on the reading list.

Another good essay: Chocolate Wars, Mr. Pucker, and Being a Banned Books Test Subject. Since the subject of this essay is Robert Cormier’s novel The Chocolate War, here’s a link to my review, which includes commentary on why it continues to be a target of book banners.

YGBSM. John Green’s mega-hit YA novel The Fault in Our Stars has been banned from Riverside, California middle schools. A single parent, apparently, complained about profanity and references to sex. John Green’s reaction is blockquote-worthy:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.

The graphic novel Persepolis once again came under attack, this time at a high school in Chatham, Illinois, after a single parent demanded it be removed from a 12th grade English class reading list. The school’s first reaction was to take copies from students who were reading it as an assignment, but the school board overruled administrators and Persepolis was reinstated.

Distantly related to graphic novels, cartoons continue to enrage fanatical Muslim fundamentalists mild-mannered midwestern college lecturers: Michigan Lecturer Alerts Campus Police to Drawing of Beheading, Claims He’s ‘Against Censorship, But…’

Keep on keepin’ on, librarians, our real civil libertarians!

And now, for something completely different …

Lose "I fart in your general direction."

Click to read the full story