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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

BBC Adores Poverty

If there's one issue foreign media like to report about the Philippines, it is abject poverty. We're newsworthy only if it's about poverty. Just saw a short feature on BBC showing poor people frying chicken found in garbage dumps! I mean these British reporters come here with preconceived notions about the country and scour around depressed areas for a couple of days to take videos and pictures that would essentially confirm their biased assessment of the social conditions here-- the same conclusions they have already convinced themselves from the beginning-- making it appear as if we live in the stone age and climb trees for food.

Why single us out? Go to India, Africa, even the US and the Queen's own freaking backyard, and you'd find similar conditions. Poverty is a global condition, not just the Philippines'. OK some people forage food from garbage, and BBC reporters can take pictures and videos of them, especially if they wait long enough and do a stakeout in squalid areas and garbage dumps, much like the Nat Geo photographers hoping to get good shots of a rare Siberian tiger in the wild. But that's the exception rather than the rule. Hello, we don't do that.

Perhaps the BBC ran short of newsworthy features to air, so it trained its sights on the Philippines to do a report on "recycling," as in recycling food found in garbage dumps. I'm pretty sure it's going to shelve this "material" for future "recycling" when they run short of features again, and maybe transfer the locale to some African or Caribbean country. That's the kind of journalism BBC engages in. Pathetic.

I remember a Filipina newscaster in Bloomberg many years ago who was asked by her colleagues if her family back home were OK, because of reports about a huge garbage pile in Payatas that caved in and buried some people. Amazing. That's what happens when news media get too irresponsible by sensationalizing poverty.

To the BBC, OK we're poor, now get over it.

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STRAVINSKY: Весна священная

Igor STRAVINSKY: Le Sacre du Printemps
London Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Pierre Boulez

Excerpts from Evocation des Ancetres, final section



Ranking among the most controversial works of the 20th century, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring ballet suite premiered in Paris in 1913, provoked such an explosion of disapproval, causing a riot in the audience. The vision of pagan ritual-- a young girl dancing herself to death-- resulted in a score filled with mountains of dissonance, and the brutality and strength expressed were unheard of.

Stravinsky's use of polytonality, or the simultaneous presentation of several keys unrelated to each other, resulted in a searing, extremely dissonant, harsh sound. Rhythm is the most significant element in the Rite of Spring, it shifts constantly--2/16, 3/16, 5/8-- and provides the music its elemental strength, bordering on the mechanical! Notice his use of ostinato, it has a peculiarly motoric (yes, like the chugging of a locomotive) and at the same time, soulless effect.

The instrumentation is an extraordinarily novel phenomenon, a famous topic of discussion among musicologists. Melody and harmony are left standing, with rhythm taking centre stage.

The music is scored for an unusually large orchestra, including rarely scored instruments in orchestral music as E♭ clarinet and Wagner tuba. Manipulating the upper and shrill registers of the wind instruments gives the music its strident, almost astringent quality.

The original Nijinksy choreography was equally controversial, a radical departure from classical ballet, with scenes depicting pagan Russia.

Here's a video from 1970, a Maurice Béjart choreography, with the Orchestre National de Belgique.


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Budget Beauties

On our first trip to China via Macau in 2006, Jun quipped that the budget airline we took remained true to form: the hired stewardesses appeared like barrio lasses.

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Facade

While everyone else is watching Dyesebel, my attention is focused on the news conference shown on BBC regarding the Austria incest and abuse case involving an imperious, domineering father who incarcerated his daughter in the cellar for 24 years and had seven children by her, three of which were brought upstairs and adopted as his own, one died at childbirth and burned in an oven, while three remained underground, not ever having seen the light of day. Josef Fritzl seemed to have fooled everyone, including his own family above ground. Really freaking unbelievable! Evil manifests itself in so many forms.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Cebu Scandal

I do not have the gumption to watch that rectal surgery scandal-- involving the removal of what appears like a hairspray canister from some guy's butt to the condescending cheers of a crowd consisting of doctors and nurses-- that continues to proliferate in cyberspace. I just can't. Ewww.

Seriously, the doctors and nurses violated their code of ethics and they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

As for the Catholic priest in Cebu who laid the blame on the gay guy for engaging in homosexual acts, ummm, father, with all due respect, that is not the issue here.

The gay guy is pressing charges and he's likely to get justice.

So let's put this issue to rest, because it's starting to get annoying.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Triste

Muy triste. Vuelvo al Sur de Astor Piazzolla/Fernando Solas.


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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Food Security

The global food crisis is putting the limelight on the trade-off between food and energy requirements. Senator Miriam was right when she chided Migz Zubiri for pushing legislation for a Biofuels Act that could have adverse effects on food security.

Unabated population growth, growing affluence, crop failures due to climate change, grain production geared towards bio-fuel purposes, and hedge funds pouring into commodities-- the food crisis picture is now much clearer.

Countries around the world are rethinking their biofuel strategies, but then again, increasing crop production to meet growing consumption needs will remain on top of the agenda.

I think small, self-sufficient farms in the provinces are more resilient: they grow their own food. For example, my parents back home never run out of good quality rice (we harvest twice a year), we raise chickens, seafood is plentiful, there's plenty of land for vegetable plots, fruits abound. It is a bit sad that we see these long lines for NFA rice in Manila and other urban areas.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Request

Doc checked my road bike and tried my Kreutzer piano at home. He plays contemporary-- I mean pop-- music and I imagined my neighbors clapping silently. For once, no Beethoven and Chopin. Finally, some music they can relate to and hum along with. I honestly do not know a lot of those pop numbers, (which reminded me of one exasperated teammate who finally snapped at me during a videoke singing session, inquiring from which planet do I hail from) I only hear snatches of the refrain from radios blasting inside passenger jeepneys and tricycles. I recognized "Baleleng," a favourite among Muslims and Cebuanos. I requested "Ocean Deep," and "Dayang dayang", (I've grown familiar with these two because on the eve of our barrio's fiesta, barrio lads and lasses would be gyrating to the music in the basketball court-turned disco venue--a spitting distance from my house) but Doc refused to play them.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Geography Lesson

So what does Misamis Oriental in Northern Mindanao have in common with Cagayan province in Northern Luzon?

Both have towns named Claveria and islands named Camiguin off the coast. Cagayan de Oro is the capital city of Misamis Oriental, while Cagayan is the name of the northernmost province of mainland Luzon.

Predictably, you roll your eyeballs and react: "Sooooo?"

Wala lang.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Flute Obbligato

Mariella Devia in the Mad Scene from the 1992 La Scala production of Lucia di Lamermoor, Donizetti's most enduring contribution to bel canto. Here, the soloist and a solo flute (3:30 onwards) engage in a note-for-note showdown, a duet in thirds sans the orchestral accompaniment! The vocal acrobatics are meant to demonstrate the disintegrating state of mind of Lucia while the the flute obbligato represents the sound she's hearing inside her head.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Claire de lune

Debussy again! Brings back a lot of memories, I play this on the piano a lot. A personal favorite, along with Ludwig van Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, here's Claude Debussy's Claire de Lune, interpreted splendidly by Leif Ove Andsnes. The music floats like a whiff of fresh air, or a gentle breeze on a starry night, and the magical moment it creates permeates the air like perfume, ravishing our senses with such an exquisite and delicate sound. I can almost feel the first rays of the morning sun finding its way through the cracks on the wall.

Clair de lune can be heard in the following movies: Moulin Rouge featuring Nicole Kidman as well as the Chanel TV commercial derivative, and Frankie and Johnnie starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino (holy crap! I remembered).

Fluid, poetic, highly-sensitive, and very dreamy, words can never be enough to describe the tenderness of this piece.

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JPEPA

The stalled bilateral trade agreement between the Philippines and Japan, or the JPEPA is up for ratification in the Senate. There's strong opposition from so-called environmental senators, led by Pia Cayetano and Migz Zubiri. The bone of contention stems from a provision that effectively lowers tariffs on 'environmental waste' coming from Japan, one of those onerous terms that makes the country a dumping ground for Japan's toxic waste.

Environmental groups and leftists NGOs have started making their opposition felt to the agreement. Unfortunately, they feel that the environmental issue and "giving license to multi-nationals to exploit the country's natural resources" are what the JPEPA is all about.

This short-sightedness is unfortunate. Japan is a major trade partner, much of our exports goes to Japan and much of our capital equipment is sourced from Japanese companies as well. Lower tariffs means the cost of production would be reduced. I completed a report on the automotive industry early this year and low tariffs under the ASEAN Free Trade Area was instrumental in reviving the ailing industry. Lower cost of production that would make Philippine-made goods competitive and access to a big market with high disposable incomes resulting from implementation of the agreement should take precedence over environmental issues. To begin with, current environmental laws safeguarding the country from toxic waste are already in place. As such, I believe this issue is being blown out of proportion and grossly exaggerated by leftists NGOs.

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Bachianas



The beautiful Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 by Heitor Villalobos, interpreted wonderfully by Zhao Jing (cello) and Yasuji Ohagi (guitar). The music captures the mood and rhythm of Amazonia, with a sad and melancholic ring to it.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Networking

A former office colleague I haven't heard from for quite some time, suddenly called me up on my mobile, sounding too perky. Since she was brimming with high spirits, I really wondered if she really missed me that much. We weren't exactly "close" to begin with.

"Ron, how are you? It's been quite a while since we saw each other."

I had this feeling she was going to sell me insurance.

"We had such a wonderful time in the old office, didn't we? Remember (another former office colleague)? Those were the days. Hahaha."

Hahaha yourself. Of course I laughed, I am polite. But honestly, it sounded "machine-generated," ya know, like those canned laughter in sitcoms or those "applause" signs used by the floor director in Wowowee to generate excitement.

This sudden bonding moment was ominous. I was pretty sure she'd sell me insurance.

I was dead WRONG.

"Hey, my husband's into networking. I'm setting you up for an appointment with him."

Uh-oh.

"Tell you what, I'll call you (a big lie, I was never going to call her) for confirmation."

I could almost see the expression in her face collapse from forced merriment to real disappointment.

I know, I know. Why couldn't I just tell her NO and not beat around the bush.

Ummm, because networking people are trained like those fanatic born-again missionaries on campus who'd lay the guilt trip on you for snobbing God because you don't want to join their bible study? They won't take no for an answer. I should know, Jasmin dragged me into one seminar about selling techniques.

I've been approached by a lot of networking agents selling anything from shoes to shampoos while relating how people have become spectacularly rich with schemes that, to my mind, bordered on pyramid scams.

One networking agent promised amazing health benefits and medical wonders for his product.

I desperately wanted to tell him, "Dude, you look too emaciated and sickly to be believable. You probably need it more than I do."

But I didn't want to hurt his feelings.

And so, I said, "Oooh. That's nice. Amazing. Wow!"

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Dominoes II

So what has the sub-prime debacle in the US got to do with the current rice crisis in the Philippines? Hedge funds move out of US assets towards oil, gold and other precious metals, and increasingly, in commodities like wheat, corn and rice. Yes, apart from tight supplies, speculation in international financial markets is driving prices up.

The inflation environment we're finding ourself in is quite high, and really serious. There's just no escaping it. *sigh*


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Inflationary

If I remember correctly, inflation hit 6.4% in March this year, and we're seeing even tougher estimates ranging from 8-9% for April. Last year, we were able to sail through the US$100 dollar per barrel environment due to a weakening dollar and a surge in OFW remittances. Inflation was effectively tamed at manageable levels.

This time, however, tight supply conditions of major commodities such as rice and wheat have put pressure on inflation to rise even further. This is different with, say inflation arising from excess liquidity due to a surge in remittances, or due to drastic hikes in wages, because a simple mopping-up operation of excess liquidity in the system cannot solve the problem: supply shortages have to be addressed and dealt with because simple manipulation of interest rates and adjusting banks' reserve requirements cannot do the trick

Wages will likely rise as well, which means cost of production will increase and thus, a general increase in prices passed on to end-consumers will be observed, creating an inflation cycle.

In a high-inflation environment, consumption will likely slow down, and the ensuing high interest rates charged by banks (banks will want to earn more to maintain their margins) in general is not good for business since the cost of borrowing will rise.

As the government tries to monitor the commodity supply conditions, it has to ensure that interest rates do not spiral out of control. We have to thank again the OFWs for keeping the peso strong vis-a-vis the greenback, otherwise we won't have any buffer against the onslaught of high oil prices.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

DEBUSSY: Pelléas et Mélisande


Pelléas et Mélisande
Opera in five (5) Acts
Music by Claude Debussy
Libretto in French by Maurice Maeterlinck
First Performance: Opera Comique, Paris, 1902

Glyndebourne Festival Opera (UK), 1999
Christiane Oelze, Richard Croft, John Tomlinson
London Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Andrew Davis

Debussy presented his only composition for the operatic stage at the Opera Comique in Paris, in 1902. Pelléas et Mélisande's libretto is based on Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist play of the same name. I cannot help but think that Debussy composed this specifically for Wagner. It seems to me, that the opera represents one end of a spectrum of which the other end has already been claimed by Wagner, especially his Tristan und Isolde.

The style, both vocal and instrumental, cannot be said to be the same as the German's. In fact, Debussy's style is easily identifiable as his and his alone, probably the reason the musical idioms he used in the opera remain strange even to modern audiences. The composer with the closest musical idiom with Debussy is without doubt,Maurice Ravel, but even he veered into a completely different world quite distinct from his Impressionist senior and contemporary.

Wagner's Tristan und Isolde manages to knit together the musical forces of the entire opera via a leitmotif technique of which he developed himself. Thus fragments of a theme can appear just about anywhere in the score, treated depending on scene and mood conventions. For example, the Overture hints at what will likely happen in the entire opera, and snatches here and there of fragments and phrases of music introduced earlier in the overture get to be developed in the succeeding Acts. Wagner uses chromaticism, which laid the ground work for atonality, to achieve his objectives.

Debussy, on the other hand, had no use of Wagner's techniques. He seemed conscious of NOT treading into Wagner territory. No suggestive operatic interludes. It's all atmospheric music, the overall effect is magical and mesmerizing, ravishing our senses with such exquisite and delicate music. However, there's hardly a melodic tune you can hum along as you make your way out.

With Wagner, Tristan und Isolde sometimes manages to capture the essence of love that is eternal, with Debussy, he is more concerned with the magical and other-worldliness qualities of this tragic fairy tale.

Debussy Pelléas at Mélisande is precisely that, partly due to the nature of Maeterlinck's play. Set in a Medieval land, it tells of Mélisande, lost and forsaken in the forest, who was found by Golaud and subsequently took her home as his bride. However, she fell in love with Golaud's half-brother, Pelléas and this sets off a jealous rage from Golaud which ultimately led to their tragic ends.

Maeterlinck setting evokes an imaginary, magical place. Debussy's score continues where language ends: it takes over and continues to articulate the dream-like inner thoughts of the doomed lovers.

Hats off to the performers, powerful characterizations made this difficult-to-perform opera a sight to behold, and the orchestra's pacing was never at any point, in danger of overwhelming the performers. Jake Arditti as the 10-year old Yniold was fantastic! Any kid who can float those unsingable notes that are hardly melodic should be congratulated.

The stage was however, the most astounding thing of the entire production. A mere change in lighting and some minor alterations and the scene changes to something else although the stage settings were kept largely the same. Impressively, you are made to look at different worlds during different scenes but in fact, you are not.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Midsummer

The heat's horrible. My brain's melting and and I feel the goo coming out of my ears and from orifices I thought I never had. The fans are in danger of conking out, whirring at full-blast since early morning. Took showers twice already, but my face still drips of what appears like Minola cooking oil.

A warm breeze--more like a blast of hot air-- greeted me as I opened the front door, as if I were behind the exhaust of a phlegmatic bus trudging along EDSA. The concrete floor on my roof-less garage appears like a transported Sahara, OK I'm seeing a mirage.

I considered going out with an umbrella: I have a dozen, mind you, corporate give-aways accumulated over the years, but I never deigned to use because, well, I don't really want to look like a male Mary Poppins.

I'm still trying to decide whether I will step out of the house or lie back on the sofa.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Pasinaya at the CCP



I filched this from Abet's blog, without permission. Abet, just strangle me when we see each other. Taken during the Pasinaya 2008 at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Live Show

I'm watching the DJ Montano interview with Korina Sanchez on ANC and what do you know, Brian Gorrell already has a reaction in his blog! And the comments are piling up as I write this. Haha! This is sooo real time.

The Man of the Hour wasn't very convincing. I couldn't believe Montano's explanation that the Aussie had to send money all the way from Australia to pay for his (the Aussie) bills when he was in the Philippines. How likely is that? There were no specifics. Korina should've probed further.

The sister whom Brian sent the money to messed up as well. This one she couldn't deny, because of the existence of Western Union receipts. Hemmed and hawed, couldn't even tell the exact amount.

Now that he has spoken out, I think it will only add fuel to the fire, now that he failed miserably in dousing water to the stinging accusations leveled against him by his Aussie ex-lover.

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CHOPIN: Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23

click here

The best interpretation out there of Chopin's beautiful Ballade no. 1 in G minor Op. 23. This is a superb and highly-sensitive reading of Chopin's most popular Ballade. Brilliant.

Cecile Licad is an outstanding Chopin interpreter and her colleagues in the classical music industry acknowledge that. Her Chopin Piano Concerto no. 2 in F minor with the London Philharmonic was awarded the Grand Prix du Disque Frederic Chopin and I think her Etudes opus 10 was given the same honor as well. In fact, she was a judge at the 2005 Chopin International Piano Competition, the Rolls-Royce of piano competitions. Bravo!

She recently released an all-Ravel CD featuring the composer's ivory tower creations, Gaspard de la Nuit, Le Tombeau de Couperin and Sonatine, among the most feared and difficult in the piano repertoire.

I used to have but subsequently lost a recording of her Schumann Carnaval, Papillions and Toccata in C Major. I think that was critically acclaimed as well.

For those of you based in the US, she's actively concertizing again.



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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Kundiman Break



Let's take a breather and listen to Jonathan Badon interpret Ernani Cuenco's Gaano Kita Kamahal. People should buy this stuff, and not that Boy Abunda-Kris Aquino crap. I really wonder why an electric keyboard was used for the accompaniment. That's a sacrilege! It's like listening to a MIDI file. What's wrong with a "real" piano?

I'm looking for the Kundiman CD of the Berlin-based Bass-Baritone Jonathan Zaens.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Variability of Solar Spectral Irradiance II

I once had a spirited debate with my brother about climate change. I paraphrased Al Gore and took the view that unabated pollution is causing global warming and thus, climate change. He countered by saying that there is a growing scientific evidence that points solely to the sun as the main culprit.

I just saw a Nat Geo feature on this one. Indeed, it has been shown, through isotope analysis and carbon dating, that significant changes in the earth's climate over thousands of years were strongly correlated with cycles and patterns in the sun's radiance or solar energy. There's no question that greenhouse gases are warming the planet, but clearly, the sun's activities have something to do with it as well.

This is still frontier territory, as physicists still grapple with a lot of issues involving UV rays, solar wind and others causing long-term effects on the earth's climate, and I realize that Ambrose, who's in Germany as part of a team investigating this phenomenon, is right on track.

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Friday, April 4, 2008

Interrupted

I was talking to Jun over the phone earlier when he suddenly interrupted me as I was making a point because a labmate of his entered his room. Not just any labmate, but a labmate who loves MEDIEVAL literature *pause* *gasp!* more gasp!* pretty much in the same way I know opera like the back of my hand. Imagine being stuck with this guy on the road in rush hour traffic while he recites and explains verses from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales!

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Rock-Bottom

One good thing about being totally screwed and hitting rock-bottom is that things couldn't possibly get any worse. The first quarter of 2008 wasn't kind to me. All of a sudden, new projects slowed down, big ones got shelved and I lost my money in the stock market. And with the current exchange rate, as I have ranted so many times in the past, I have long counted myself part of the poverty statistics.

But then again, I am not one who dwells and broods over these things too much. I hope the second quarter will be different.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rice Talk

I'm not really sure if the widely-discussed looming rice shortage is real or just a figment of some politician's imagination to divert attention away from all these corruption scandals. I did say early on, that rice and vegetable oils (copra, maize, corn and sugar cane) would be the cash crops for this year because of the strong demand coming from the usual commercial, household and now, industrial sources (i.e., bio-fuels). True enough, prices are rising to unprecedented levels, putting pressure on inflation.

Anyway back to rice. I'm not sure if global stocks are starting to be depleted. Major rice exporters such as Vietnam, Thailand and India are scaling back on exports to meet their own burgeoning domestic markets. But the US and say Cambodia still have enough stock and production capacity to compensate for the lower supplies from the said Asian countries. In fact, it is cheaper to buy premium US rice nowadays, compared to locally-grown commercial rice. Yah, it's due to the exchange rate.

So I think all this talk about a looming rice shortage as well rising prices does not hold any water and will likely dissipate as fast as it appeared. The country's production was at record levels last year, and this year, there's no El Nino, in fact the opposite, La Nina could spell more rains that bode well for rice farmers.

OK, it will be years before the country can achieve self-sufficiency in rice production. A quick drive through Bulacan and Pampanga reveals the true state of affairs: rice fields are being converted into residential areas and golf courses. This is also the case, I believe in Vietnam. As the country tries to industrialize, there is a noticeiable shift away from traditional agricultural pursuits such as rice production.

And so we import from the US and other countries. Again, I don't think there's a supply shortage.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Happy Autism Day

Calois and Che dutifully and conscientiously reminded me that today is World Autism Day! har har har

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