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April 30, 2006

spring planting – part 1

I wanted to do some planting this spring for the same reason as most men: To serve as an excuse to play in the dirt. Or more to the point, to serve as an acceptable enough of an excuse that your wife won’t insist that you clean the basement instead:

  • Acceptable: I’m putting in the garden.
  • Unacceptable: I’m recreating the topography of southeastern Virginia so as to better understand the ebb and flow of battle during the Union’s Peninsula Campaign. Could you hand me that figure of McClellan while you’re standing there?

I decided to start with decorative plants of some kind. Now, I couldn’t buy anything overly frilly or feminine. I have a reputation to protect after all. Okay, I have a reputation to dispel, but that’s another story.

A short list of manly plants would include:

Venus fly trap. The only plant that could win at Fear Factor. We’re talking carnivore here. Water and sunshine? Sorry, hippie, that won’t cut it for this bad boy. Fly tartar is more its speed. If Dick Cheney were a plant, this would be it.

Rose bush: Attractive enough from a distance but get too close and you’ll come away bleeding and scarred. This plant is one nationalized health care plan away from being a candidate for Senator from New York.

Cactus: Any plant covered in spikes demands respect. The only thing better would be if it came with firearms training.

Sunflower. Not an obvious choice, but it has three things going for it:

  1. It is huge. It will grow taller than you from seed in one season. The only thing that grows faster is kudzu and government deficits under one-party rule.
  2. Compelled to follow the sun, it moves all day long. That’s pretty good for a plant. Heck, that’s pretty good for a Teamster.
  3. It produces flowers as big as your head. No, bigger. As big as John McCain’s head.

A runner up would be weeds. An odd candidate, yes, and nothing that you would want to plant on purpose, but they do give men the excuse to engage in indiscriminate killing. Give me a jug of Roundup and I’ll make Chemical Ali look like Michael Dukakis.

I settled on the sunflowers since in these perilous times it’s a good idea to have an independent source of food on hand. In fact a single sunflower produces enough seed to provide the average family of four with three days of something to sprinkle on their salad. (How have you taken care of your family’s needs today?)

Garden_piece_004_1 Here is a shot of my sunflower patch. Okay, they’re making about as much progress as immigration reform but the season is still young.

And plants are non-partisan.

Next week: Part 2 of "Spring Planting," otherwise known as, "When did tomato plants get so complicated?"

J.

April 30, 2006 at 12:30 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 28, 2006

a culture of cable interruption

At yesterday’s White House press briefing, Washington Post reporter Jim VandeHei got tough with Press Secretary Scott McClellan. How tough? David Gregory tough.

The senior White House correspondent skipped the easy topics such as Sudanese genocide, Iranian nuclear blackmail and the other “happy talk” fodder of the morning talk shows and instead got right to the difficult material, the issue no one wanted to talk about (you might want to have the children leave the room):

"It's come to my attention that there's been requests -- this is a serious question -- to turn these TVs onto a station other than Fox, and that those have been denied."

Here’s a little inside tip to those of you working towards becoming White House correspondents some day: If you feel it is necessary to preface your question with “this is serious” it’s probably something you need to reconsider asking. In fact, there really are only a handful of situations in life where it might be considered useful to clarify a question in such a manner:

  • Are you gay?
  • Are you the one taking my lunch out of the refrigerator in the break room?
  • No, really, are you gay? Because I’m cool with that if you are.

But VandeHei wasn’t going to let go and took shots at the outgoing Press Secretary like Dick Cheney during lawyer season: "My question would be, is there a White House policy that all government TVs have to be tuned to Fox?"

McClellan denied any knowledge of such a policy (but then, he once denied any knowledge of there being a White House employee going by the name of "Karl Rove"). VandeHei was so incensed that he said he was lodging an “official” complaint noting that the TVs in the White House and on Air Force One are “always turned to Fox, which a lot of people consider a Republican-leaning network.” This mysterious preference on the part of a Republican administration to watch news broadly sympathetic to Republican ideology will just have to remain one of those “unsolved mysteries” for now, like the composition of dark matter and the disturbing circumstances surrounding the origins of Pauly Shore’s movie career.

VandeHei further noted that when he asked that the TVs be tuned to CNN (which a lot of people consider a Castro-leaning network) he was told, “No.” When asked who his source was for this information, VandeHei claimed that he did not know.

(We’re thinking “Deep Remote.”)

In the end, McClellan was able to pull some strings and get permission for the TVs to be tuned to CNN ("we decide, you shut up and listen").

While many expressed relief at this seemingly peaceful resolution to the conflict, some questioned the soundness of pursuing a policy of appeasement and suggested that it will only result in escalating demands for such things as Ben & Jerry’s for dessert, complimentary toiletry gift bags from Tom’s of Maine and even, (though some called this “madness”) TVs tuned to “The View.”

It is not clear what kind of long-term effect this may have on the White House Press Corps, but as VandeHei himself once said during an appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball: “I think absolutely [the President] considers a lot of the media as part of that elite in the country.”

This will probably clear that right up.

J.

(Editor’s note: All VandeHei quotes are real.)
(Editor’s note 2: I’m not kidding. Verbatim.)
(Editor’s note 3: Okay, fine, here’s the full transcript if you don’t believe me.)

April 28, 2006 at 01:47 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 27, 2006

caring: it’s the new black

An eclectic assortment of advocacy groups are organizing a large rally in Washington DC this Sunday to urge that immediate action be taken to stem the ongoing genocide taking place in Darfur.

This growing crisis raises a number of important and troubling questions for the American people, principle among them, and perhaps the most difficult to answer being, “Where exactly is Darfur again? I used Mapquest and nada.”

The Darfur region resides in Sudan which is itself, part of an area known as “Overthereistan.”  This can be found on a map by starting at your local Arby’s franchise (hey, you try and call attention to atrocities on an empty stomach and all you're doing is cheating the cause out of your full attention, not to mention cheating your tastebuds out of a delicious 100% all-natural chicken sandwich!) and then moving in a generally downward and rightly direction. (If you hit Sydney, you’ve gone too far. If you fall off the edge, you really need to consider springing for a new map.)

Why are the genocidal acts in Darfur in particular causing such a stir while many other atrocities are being committed all over the world at any given minute? Two words:

George Clooney.

Also, cool wristbands! You can’t have a cause without a cool wristband otherwise your supporters would have no way to demonstrate to their friends and neighbors how very concerned they are about injustice, disease, and what kind of season is in store for the Golden Gophers.

Also, Darfur has become the trendy “in” crisis, all the rage among the young hip set. Ethiopian Anuak? Very 2004. Zimbabwe? Show us someone who cares. (Who has an Oscar, that is.) Rwanda? Yeah, right, why don’t you go break out your Nirvana records and tune in some Seinfeld reruns while you’re at it.

Naturally, organizing such a large rally has not been without its difficulties, such as accidentally forgetting to have any actual Darfurians speak but they managed to squeeze a couple in at the last minute.

However, let’s just say that there is one ticked-off former assistant to the chief of staff for the prior undersecretary of state for watercooler bottle provisioning looking for who was responsible for bumping him.

Maybe they'll give him a free wristband.

J.

April 27, 2006 at 03:35 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 26, 2006

heads continue to roll in shakeup

Although there is a great deal of reluctance to do so, plunging approval ratings and a growing chorus of critics is forcing additional action to be taken regarding staff changes.

As a result, reports out of Malibu have it that Britney Spears has decided to accept her nanny’s resignation. While the news was not entirely unexpected, it did cause some internal dissension as Spear’s seven-month-old son, Sean Preston, had a great deal of respect for her work and dedication as demonstrated by his not having spit up on her in weeks. Spears has yet to choose a successor but sources close to her suggest that early top contenders include Brit Hume of Fox News, “that guy who does that thing on PBS,” and Nick Lachey.

Problems came to a head several weeks ago when the investigation into the incident that has since come to be known as “high chair-gate” revealed the nanny’s complicity in the fall and resulting injury to Sean Preston.

At the time, Spears husband, Kevin Federline was quoted as saying, “Check it, dawg. You’ve got to bring it, yo? That’s the way I play, cuz.”

In fairness, it should be pointed out that no one actually asked him a question.

Federline himself was briefly caught up in a scandal in which it was believed that he might have leaked classified information that he was pursuing a career as a recording artist. As it turned out, the information was not in fact classified, it was just mistakenly assumed to be top secret given how few people knew about it.

So, while it appears that Federline remains safe, some eyebrows were raised recently when Kevin Covais got a better table than he did during lunch at the ever-popular Simi Valley Applebee’s. It should be noted here for the record that the rumor being circulated that this is the same restaurant where Sean Penn “nearly killed a man” over the Spinach & Artichoke Dip is a complete fabrication.  It was the Thai Chicken Pizza.

Also, it was Dick Cheney.

In an encouraging development, Spears recently reached out for advice and counsel beyond her inner circle, reportedly consulting with a doctor on how best to take care of her son. His advice “not to leave Preston on any high surfaces where he could roll off,” so impressed the diva-in-chief that she tried to hire him on the spot. Unfortunately he is already working under a no-bid Defense Department contract where he is advising troops to “avoid IEDs,” and “don’t get shot.”

With another addition to the family on the way, there is growing concern that Spears will be unable to remain focused on reviving her recording career, which continues to struggle with the negative reaction her latest song, “Oops, I forgot the car seat again” is receiving from the reps at her label.

As Spears remains distracted by what many are calling an “unnecessary and costly marriage,” and numerous gaffes on the part of herself and staff, many consider this the best opportunity in years for long-time rival Christina Aguilera to challenge her for pop diva status.

“The only thing really holding her back,” noted one music consultant, “is that all she seems able to do is criticize Spears for being ‘fake’ or needing ‘gimmicks.’ Unless she can lay out a positive program of catchy songs with memorable licks that people can dance to, well, where exactly does that leave the pop music scene? I know it’s not a pleasant thought but we all know what the answer is.”

Jessica Simpson.”

J.

April 26, 2006 at 02:05 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 25, 2006

working through the maize of energy policy

Bowing to political pressure over skyrocketing prices at the pump, President Bush has called for a probe into possible price gouging thereby falling back on one of Washington’s favorite punching bags:

Big Corn.

Once again, the spotlight is on the obscene profits being made by Big Corn and the role powerful political interests are playing in favoring these peddlers of what many are calling, “crack on a cob."

The source of the controversy lies hidden away in last year’s energy bill which included a provision that the additive MTBE be removed from gasoline and replaced with ethanol which is mostly derived from corn and supplied by the “Kernel Colonels” of the industry such as agricultural processing giant, Archer Daniels Midland. The resulting supply disruptions and refinery switchovers have helped to create shortages of gasoline just as Americans start gearing up to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 15 hours to get to the beach otherwise known as, “ the summer idling season.”

There is also disturbing evidence that vast quantities of oil are being held off the market, quite possibly hidden deep within the earth in Alaska and off the California coast. Who is responsible for this ingenious plan to keep this oil from the American public remains a mystery but investigators plan on looking into the matter. “The problem,” observed one individual close to the investigation, “is that no one wants to talk about it. You have Senator Harry Reid calling for conservation, alternative fuels, anything but this missing oil.”

“It’s the old ‘gray pinstriped wall of silence’ at work again.”

Administration officials also plan to look into reports, as yet unconfirmed, that the world price of oil has risen quite a bit lately. Measured in units called “barrels” (Fun Fact: One barrel is the equivalent of four quarter barrels!) there appears to be increasing demand in places such as China, although what they need all that oil for is anyone’s guess.

In the meantime, President Bush is taking immediate action to address high pump prices by halting additions to the strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) put in place years ago to attend to exactly these kinds of emergencies and thereby fulfilling its stated goal to "diminish the vulnerability of the incumbent party to the effects of severe voter anger, and provide limited protection from the political consequences of interruptions in the supply of positive photo ops."

Unfortunately, there is unlikely to be any releases from the nation’s Strategic Corn Reserve. It appears someone already smothered it in a creamy butter sauce.

J.

April 25, 2006 at 02:16 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 24, 2006

he stopped issuing videos because dvd piracy was just “getting completely out of hand.”

In his latest address to his followers, Osama bin-Laden warned of a “long war” in the fight against western interests thus admitting for the first time that his administration’s initial promises of a quick and decisive conflict had been overly optimistic.

“A lot of us feel this is a very promising development,” observed one al-Qaeda official who spoke on the condition that he not be beheaded, “but there is still cause for concern when he says things like the Crusaders are, ‘destroying houses over the heads of our kinfolk and children,’ which suggests he doesn’t realize that just about all the killing is Muslim on Muslim.”

“It’s like he’s living in a cave or something.”

Many supporters also feel that bin-Laden continues to fall back on tired old arguments such as “they hate our totalitarianism, they hate our theocracy and the lack of freedoms we enjoy.”

Some supporters blame members of bin-Laden’s administration, particularly the neo-Imams such as Ayman al-Zawahiri, who appears to be having trouble navigating the many complex challenges facing al-Qaeda. “I don’t care if you’re a multinational insurance company, banking institution, or terrorist organization,” observed one management consultant, “you have to be prepared to deal with things like floating exchange rates, database compatibilities and random air strikes from Predator drones.”

One assistant branch manager in the Berlin office pointed out that turnover in particular has been a big problem. “Like many organizations, we lost a lot of good people on 9-11,” he noted. “Mohammed Atta? He was your go-to guy if you wanted a job done and done well. Particularly if you only needed it done once. And then there was Fayez al-Hamadi. Now there was a guy you could bring into a situation to shake things up. He was a real bomb thrower, that guy.”

“No, seriously, he threw bombs.”

“Sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what trigger the left hand is pulling,” noted one al-Qaeda intern working in the Oman office.  “We figure one of these days one of our own guys is going to get mixed up and set off a suicide vest right here in the office killing us all, ha ha. That’s a joke making the email rounds.”

Bin-Laden has been having a bad time of it lately including al-Qaeda’s incompetent handling of the earthquake in Pakistan and the resulting plunge in his poll numbers, and reports that al-Zawahiri had waited days before bothering to personally tell bin-Laden that he had accidentally missed shooting a lawyer.

As calls for a change in leadership have mounted, bin-Laden has attempted to appease his critics by making some staff changes including the demotion of Musab al Zarqawi in Iraq.

Some have said all they are doing is “rearranging the deck chairs on the USS Cole,” while others believe the moves represent real change. Regardless, the general consensus is that more staff shakeups are coming.

One way or another.

J.

April 24, 2006 at 02:36 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 21, 2006

this may explain our foreign policy too

According to a report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), approximately 80% of auto accidents occur when people are either distracted or drowsy.

This is actually kind of good news. If it turned out that 80% of accidents occurred while drivers were alert and concentrating diligently, we would be more worried and so take some comfort in this result, kind of the way we take comfort in assuming that 80% of the members of Congress are either drunk or have had their families kidnapped and being held under threat of death to explain things like campaign finance reform and the Tupac Amaru Shakur Records Collection Act.

Jacqueline Glassman, acting administrator of NHTSA noted that, "This is a wake-up call to Americans to pay attention.” And let me tell you, when I read these statistics about distracted drivers it did make me put down the paper and check the rearview but then I realized I had to put creamer in my coffee and the cell phone was ringing and hey, that guy I accidentally forced off the road sure looked mad...

The NHTSA report also quantified the factor by which you increase your likelihood of having an accident given specific in-vehicle activities.  For instance, reading while you drive increases your likelihood of an accident by 3.4 times. Applying makeup,3. Dialing a phone, 2.8 and reaching for an object, 9.

While that may be useful for most parts of the country, here in Washington, DC we have many unique distractions which is why we offer to residents and guests alike this handy guide customized to our area:

  • Trying to figure out which of the 1435 identical townhouses in your development is yours: 3.5. (5 if you pick the wrong one. 22 if you pick the wrong one and it belongs to G. Gordon Liddy.)
  • Accepting Indian casino money from Jack Abramoff: 7 (2 if you’re a Democrat).
  • Contemplating your own self importance: 3 (Double that if you are also considering the consequences to the Republic, and perhaps the future of Democracy itself, had you not been there to attend that joint meeting of congressional interns on the subcommittee to examine catering options for Ed’s going away party.)
  • Trying to remember whether BMW drivers are supposed to look down on Mercedes drivers or if it’s the other way around: 2.3
  • While marveling at the way in which your new maxi-watt triple-high discharge xenon headlights “really light up the road,” becoming startled at the mysterious manner in which everyone is flashing their high beams at you: 4.3
  • Suddenly realizing that 2150 is the exact number of times the Darwin-fish-with-feet thing stops being passably amusing: 1.8
  • Avoiding anyone who looks like they might want to serve you with a subpoena: 2 + 1 for each picture circulating of you with Scooter Libby. (Triple total score if you’ve ever referred to Tom DeLay as “my good friend.”)
  • Wondering if the badly faded bumper sticker on the car in front of you is from the 2000 Gore/Lieberman presidential campaign or the Hooters in Amarillo: 2.7
  • Worrying whether the people at the White House will consider your navy blue suit and white shirt to be “too loud:” 2.5
  • Envisioning in disturbingly graphic detail the violence you would like to visit upon the guy in front of you in the Jaguar XJR yakking on his cell phone while doing 45 in the left lane with vanity plates “2IMPT4U:” 37

J.

April 21, 2006 at 11:13 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2006

the “war on hamburgers” continues…

Cheeseburger in Paradise? Only if you consider widespread famine, mass extinctions and the emergence of beachfront development in West Virginia to be “paradise.”

Okay, that last one could work, but still…

According to a study published in the highly reputable journal “Earth Interactions” (“Hurry before we start charging researchers to accept and publish their pieces in an arrangement totally devoid of any conflict of interest!”) those two all-beef patties cause global warming. (But you’re probably okay with the special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onion on a sesame seed bun. Well, we’re not 100% sure about the special sauce. For all we know that could be made of petroleum distillates and Visine but we digress…)

The study came to the startling conclusion that it takes more energy to raise cattle and chickens than it does soybeans and alfalfa sprouts (if only partly because no one has committed the necessary resources to developing Angus tofu or the ever-elusive gag-resistant alfalfa sprout).

As a result, according to study authors Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, adopting a vegetarian diet reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about as much as if you parked your SUV and started driving a mid-size sedan instead (which is good to know since who knows how any of us would be able to get to work in the rain without a Hummer).

Eshel and Martin were particularly well-qualified to conduct this meta-analysis of the emissions associated with agricultural processes across a wide variety of food products given their lifelong dedication to studying… oceans. In fact, we here at Planet Moron are newly inspired to apply our own extensive experience in proper martini preparation and Xena trivia to conduct research into how particles acquire mass through their interaction with the Higgs field.  (It's a natural!)

In fact, the rigor of Eshel and Martin's study is readily apparent in the careful manner in which they identified the five sectors of the US economy that are the largest greenhouse gas emitters:

  1. Transportation
  2. Industrial
  3. Commercial
  4. Residential
  5. Agriculture

In other words, if only we could cut back on going places, making things, working, living, and eating, the planet would be A-OK in no time!

As it turns out, the authors are also both vegetarians. That means that a study tying the consumption of meat to global warming thus promoting vegetarianism as a superior alternative happened to be written by two vegetarians.

Is that a freaky coincidence or what?

However, rest assured, they don’t want to sound “preachy.” “We neither make a value judgment nor do we make a categorical statement,” says Gidon Eshel, “we say that however close you can be to a vegan diet and further from the mean American diet, the better you are for the planet. If you simply cut down from two burgers a week to one, you’ve already made a substantial difference.”

In other words, if only everyone could, even if only in some small way, be more like Gidon Eshel, the world would be a much better place.

J.

April 20, 2006 at 01:24 PM in Global Warming with CONSENSUS WATCH | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

April 18, 2006

sesame seeds are a vegetable, right?

McDonald’s has begun a concerted effort to promote its many healthy menu items such as the “Fruit & Walnut Salad,” which serves as an excellent source of smugness and can provide the average adult with a full day’s supply of  rationalization. (What harm can a pound of bacon do? I had a Fruit & Walnut Salad!)

McDonald’s is moving now in anticipation of a book coming out next month aimed at children called, “Chew on This.” Written by Eric Schlosser, the same author of “Fast Food Nation,” it holds McDonald’s responsible for, among other things, the nation's high obesity rates.

Oh, sure, there are some radicals out there who believe that a lack of exercise and perhaps even personal willpower are the principal causes of obesity. Scientists have studied these people and have come up with a name for them: “The majority.”

A Pew research study released this month found that a “failure to get enough exercise” topped the list of causes of obesity with about 75% of people surveyed rating it as a “very important” contributor while 59% chose a “lack of willpower."

But according to Schlosser, the fast food industry is responsible for far more than just obesity, including ruling the American economy “with an iron fist, setting prices, breaking unions, and ruthlessly eliminating independent businesses.”

And possibly the JFK assassination, high gasoline prices not to mention that door ding you got in the parking lot the other day.

The book also offers a number of activities for students to “make a difference” such as demonstrating how much sugar the average American teenager consumes from soda every year by trying to stack twenty-two four-pound bags of sugar on top of one another. In this way you will demonstrate to your friends a number of important concepts:

  1. Mom must have a Costco card.
  2. You were short an extracurricular activity credit and the A/V Club was already full.
  3. A Mr. Pibb would really hit the spot right about now.

The book also includes a series of facts so horrifying they will surely frighten away even the most hardy souls from ever walking into a McDonald’s again. These include the revelation that “a single fast-food hamburger may contain meat from hundreds, even thousands, of different cattle,” thus shattering the notion of those of us who had always assumed we were consuming vintage single malt burgers.

And there’s more. Did you know that chicken feed occasionally includes chicken thus “turning the doomed birds into cannibals.”

Chicken cannibals. Think about it. (Again, only this time without considering what a great title it would be for a Zucker brothers movie.)

And McDonald’s troubles do not end at our shores. A consumer survey taken in the United Kingdom found McDonald’s at the top of the list of most “unethical” companies.

However, that is at odds with another poll taken last quarter called the “revenue survey” which found McDonald’s sales in the UK up 5.2%

Weird.

As for the charge of low wages, I once wore the hat with the golden arches. The job required no experience, about 27 minutes of training, and the ability to tell the difference between a beef patty and a slice of cheese. And still they only paid me minimum wage.

I feel so used now.

J.

April 18, 2006 at 11:18 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 17, 2006

this art is crap. no, seriously.

It seemed like such a natural combination, like chocolate and peanut butter, baseball and hot dogs, General Motors and unsold automobiles:

Art and sewage treatment.

Envisioned by New York Artist Mary Miss and championed by Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee, the idea was to use art and naturalistic landscaping to help beautify the county's wastewater treatment plant which was about to undergo a major expansion and upgrade that was being required by the commonwealth of Virginia. There would be platforms for viewing water discharge, a fern garden and creeping vines. With guided tours and places to picnic, the plant could even become a destination point, welcoming visitors to take in its many splendors.

“You just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do now?”
“I’m going to the Arlington County Wastewater Treatment Plant!”

Sure, it may sound extravagant to spend taxpayer dollars dressing up a sewage facility, but can you really put a price on art? Can you place a cold, hard monetary value on the wide-eyed wonder of a small child when she first sees the magic of interpretive wastewater filtration and holistic watershed dynamics?

At it turns out, yes, about $11 million.

And so the project was cancelled.

This is truly a shame. The unsightly plant is not far from Planet Moron headquarters and sits just off of bucolic Route 1. Far too many times have I witnessed the eager anticipation on the faces of visitors preparing to enjoy the sights and sounds of the municipal bus depot across the street or the power substation just down the way, only to have the whole experience ruined by the presence of a sewage plant (of all things).

Regardless, it was a noble attempt, as John Mausert-Mooney, director of Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services put it back in 2003, “to tie the plant back to the community.”

(Community to John Mausert-Mooney: Really, that’s okay.)

J.

April 17, 2006 at 04:09 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack