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Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Scanning the headlines, once again Ol’ Robbo finds himself presented with the choice of saying either too much or too little. Think I’ll go with little.

Happy Bloomsday to any James Joyce fans out there. (Personally, I could never fathom the fellah, but to each his own, I suppose.)

As Ol’ Robbo was listlessly watching his Nats lose yet another one last evening, the announcers got into a discussion of famous side-winder pitchers (because the reliever on the mound at the time is one) and the name of Joel Horlen came up. This made Ol’ Robbo smile because I lived round the corner from him in my misspent yoot and his son was a classmate of mine in school. Small world.

And speaking of throwing arms, I am informed that the vast majority of parrots** are left-handed. Scientists don’t know why.

And speaking of nature, I am now being informed rayther breathlessly by the local park authority to be on the lookout for an invasion of wayleaf basketgrass. Evidently, one of their ecologists was poking about in the parkland behind our fence and discovered some. Fortunately, a glance around the Port Swiller Manor demesne shows we’re still secure from this particular threat. I wish, however, the park authority would do something about the mystery invasive Asian vine I flagged two years ago, because that stuff is all over the place now.

** No word on whether this includes the famous Norwegian Blue.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention before but speaking of watching ball games, I don’t recall when all those sportsbook adverts started running on teevee but I wish they wouldn’t. I can’t really justify it philosophically, I suppose, except that I find gambling pernicious and especially apt to hurt those who can least afford it. (Ditto state lotteries and casinos running ads.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

No, friends of the decanter need not worry that I’ve been dragged away by persyns in sunglasses and trench coats for the crime of wrongthink. I’ve just been staring at the screen this week with nothing much in particular to say. Well, nothing much that won’t get me dragged away by persyns in sunglasses and trench coats for the crime of wrongthink, anyway. (As to all that, I’ll simply remark that a thing that can’t go on won’t.)

Rayther, there’s a feel around Port Swiller Manor of, if not the calm before the storm, perhaps something more like the hanging suspense just before the rollercoaster plunges down that big slope. Lots of changes are coming up in very short order, so perhaps the Robbo braim is grasping at the last bit of vacant serenity it can before it has to get busy in earnest.

Again, you need not worry. Said changes almost all have to do with the Gels growing up. Middle heads out next week to her summah gig working for the Commonwealth leading gangs of yoots in reclamation/refurbishment projects at a couple of state parks. (No, the yoots are not junior villains working off their community service sentences, but instead eager-beaver high school kids.) Meanwhile, we’re getting ready to ship Youngest overseas for her study abroad semester. And as I’ve mentioned previously here, we’re hammering out the final arrangements for sending the elder two off to grad school this fall (most such arrangements consisting of Ol’ Robbo putting his foot down about what he’s not going to pay for).

Hence the grasping.

That may also have something to do with why Ol’ Robbo has been binge-reading his Edwardian exotic adventure shelves of late. I’ve blown right through all my Rider Haggard and P.C. Wren and am now in the midst of Sabatini’s Captain Blood and rediscovering what a jolly-well written book it really is.

And speaking of escapist fantasy, I’ve been watching a fair bit of Nats baseball, too. What with the season being essentially over for them already, I’m finding much solace in treating the games in my mind as if they were simply extended spring training. Eh. (I don’t mind watching them on teevee but I doubt I will bother to shlep down to the park any time this year as I don’t see it worth the money.)

Anyhoo, there it is and here I am. At least until the persyns in sunglasses and trench coats come to drag me away.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

With another Wednesday office visit under his belt, Ol’ Robbo is beginning to realize that he loathes the commute even more in its rarity than he did when it was the same ol’-same ol’.

I am still one of the only people in my office, and one of the few people on the Metro, not wearing a mask. From the looks and body language around me, I may as well be ringing a bell and wearing a sign that reads “Unclean”. It is not Ol’ Robbo’s general policy to make other people uncomfortable, but damme if I’m going to give in to the sheep on this one.

And speaking of pretend, I’m sure you friends of the decanter spotted the story yesterday about the California Appeals Court that ruled a bumblebee is a fish for purposes of environmental protection statutes? This is the kind of absurdity with which I am far more familiar, statutory interpretation on the basis of “what ought to be” instead of “what is”. (Perhaps needless to say, Ol’ Robbo himself is a strict constructionist and a believer in common sense.)

Still, I found myself laughing and thinking that if an expansive definition of “fish” is good enough for the idiot son of Addie Bundren in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, then surely it’s good enough for the idiot judicial activists of California.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that I also recalled the screams of outrage during the Reagan Years when the FDA (or somebody) tried to classify ketchup as a vegetable. This is, of course, different. Because shut up.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

I see it’s been a few days since my last harrumph here. No need for concern: I simply haven’t had much to say. Well, maybe that’s not entirely accurate. Lawd knows there’s more and more insanity out there to talk about every day. Say, rayther, that I’ve simply kept my thoughts to myself.

In any event, I hope all you friends of the decanter had a pleasant Memorial Day weekend? When not laboring in the yard, Ol’ Robbo spent most of his binge-reading Rider Haggard and P.C. Wren. Just because. (BTW, there’s a passage in Beau Geste where John describes a long journey across Saharan Africa. He says he saw many wonderous things, but no, no lost civilizations of Egyptian origin or beautiful, mysterious sorceress. It occurs to me this might have been a bit of a dig at Haggard.)

What with last evening’s blowout, Robbo’s hapless Nats have fallen to 18-32 which, without looking it up, I believe to be the worst record in MLB. (UPDATE UNO: No, not the worst but pretty damn close.) Over the weekend, the broadcasters and social media people were making much of the fact that the team had fallen to 19-31 back in 2019 before igniting and rocketing to the World Series win. I can’t say I blame them for this “Spirit of ’19” effort, but I just don’t see a repeat happening here, not with this crew. (If Ol’ Robbo is wrong, he’ll happily eat his words smothered in humble-sauce.)

We happen to have a full house at Port Swiller Manor, with all the Gels home for the present. (I can always tell Youngest is home even without seeing her because the milk suddenly vanishes.) It occurs to Ol’ Robbo that this has become the exception rayther than the rule and, especially this fall when everybody goes back to school, it will start to become downright rare. Tempus fugit.

Speaking of which, Mrs. R will be out of town this coming weekend for a tennis tournament. Ol’ Robbo was fool enough to casually mention something about how it would be an excellent time for me to repaint our bedroom, as well as paint the upstairs hall (which has never been painted in all the years we’ve lived here). Me and my big mouth.

Well, endeavor to persevere.

UPDATE DEUX: Speaking of home improvement, Ol’ Robbo invested in a bug-zapper for the porch this morning, the screens not holding back as many gnats and flies as one could wish anymore. (Rotten stinker cats and their claws!) First one I’ve ever owned. Is it childish of me to look forward so much to snap, crackle, and pop?

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo was somewhat put out this afternoon to find in his mailbox a solicitation from a local memorial park to come in for a “pre-need” planning visit. I wonder how on earth I got on that mailing list? It’s one thing to have AARP constantly pestering, but it’s something else entirely to find the undertakers on your track.


I’m still a couple years short of sixty, so hopefully need not turn my attention to this biznay just yet, but as a matter of fact I can attest from personal experience that the whole thing makes a tremendous amount of sense. Prior to handing in her dinner pail five years ago, the Mothe had taken care of absolutely every item on her own list, from the disposal of her remains right down to which hymns and readings she wanted at her memorial service. With all of us staggering about in shock when the moment came, it was a real blessing not to have to worry about (or pay for) any of that.

I suppose I will just take this as a gentle mememto mori for now. In the meantime, because the Robbo braim works the way it does, I suddenly find myself with an overpowering urge to reread Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One.

**Spot the quote. (Hint: It’s a movie Ol’ Robbo actually doesn’t much like.)

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Would it surprise friends of the decanter to learn that Sean Connery, of all people, was once in a Western? And not only that, but that his co-stars included Brigitte Bardot and veteran Brit character-actor Jack Hawkins? It did Ol’ Robbo. (Although, upon reflection and given “Zardoz”, I’m not really sure why.)

The film is called “Shalako” (1968). A hunting party of 1880’s European aristos inadvertently wanders into Apache territory with predictable results. Connery, a loner scout, stumbles across them and attempts to save their bacon. Considering that the whole genre was pretty much petering out by then, it’s really not all that bad a film, although Ol’ Robbo feels no need to see it again.

The film starts with a long written prologue cataloging examples of real-life Euros who visited the West in the earlies, I suppose by way of explaining why a bunch of thnobs would be wandering around the New Mexican desert. Ol’ Robbo was disappointed to see that Flash Harry was not included in this list, and can only assume that the relevant volume of the Flashman Papers was not yet available at the time the film was made. (One’s mind boggles at the thought of Flashy coming across Bardot.)

And speaking of which, did you know that Audrey Hepburn, of all people, was also in a Western? Yes, with Burt Lancaster, Audie Murphy, and Lillian Gish! It’s called “The Unforgiven” (1960). A frontier community under attack by the local Kiowas begins to turn ugly when rumor surfaces that Hepburn, one family’s adopted daughter, might actually be an Indian herself. It’s been a bit of time since Ol’ Robbo watched it, but my impression again was that it wasn’t bad. That one I might have to review to confirm my opinion. (I really want to like Lancaster more than I do because I think “The Train” (1964) is one of the Truly Great Films. Alas, I’ve been disappointed with him in pretty much everything else.)

** A glass of wine with Alan Jackson.

Non-Sequitur UPDATE: Not that it has anything to do with movies, but Ol’ Robbo just wanted to mention here that he’s almost positive he spotted a bald eagle yesterday afternoon. High and far off, but too big to be a hawk and definitely not a vulture, and I think I could just make out its head. They’re in the river valley but we’re about a mile off so they almost never get this far out. I think I’ve seen one maybe twice in all our years here. Neat.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Ol’ Robbo is taking the day off this Easter Monday in order to give himself a much-needed rest. (Actually, this isn’t even quite true: My eyes opened up at 6 ack emma as usual this morning and I was putting away the good china and silver and on my second load of laundry before I even thought about it. The work never really ends, and also I can’t relax when I know there’s still a large mess to clean up.)

I won’t say anything about Easter itself just yet except to make two points:

First, I think I did my rather pathetic self a world of good over Lend and Holy Week this year, and I now feel an urgent need to secure and make permanent those gains. Here’s hoping I can do so.

Second, a glass of wine (!) with long-time friend of the decanter Old Dominion Tory, whose suggestion that I make Lobster Newburg for those members of my family too heathenish to appreciate my rack of lamb proved a surprising success, even among the lamb-eaters. (Good think I made as much as I did.) I actually mixed lobster and shrimp, and served it up in little pastry “bowls” made from sheet dough. And if you’ve ever wondered to yourself, “Self, is it possible to jury-rig a steamer using an ordinary pot and a cut-up aluminum baking pan?” I can now say yes, yes it is. (The lamb, by the bye, prolly could have stood another five minutes in the oven, but it was nommed appreciatively by most of the table nonetheless.)


Our next-door neighbors had their house painted over the weekend. Like Port Swiller Manor, theirs is a two-story brick colonial with metal siding round the back of the second story. All the brick part is now white. Mrs. R and I have had occasion to discuss painting the Manor now and again over the years. The conversation has usually gone something like this:

Mrs. R: “I think I might like to paint the house.”

Self (pounding on the table): “Whisht, woman! I’ll nae hae any bricks on mah hoos but wha color Goad made ’em! Away with ye!”

Let’s just say now that Ol’ Robbo doubts we’ll be having this conversation again. Heh. (No disrespect meant, of course, to those who like painted brick. I just don’t. And this example has now proved to Mrs. R that it would be a bad idea here.)

And speaking of which, guess what’s invaded the house? Yes, you are correct: Squirrels! They’ve got into the attic through a hole where the fascia board has rotted under one corner of the roof. Yesterday one of the young’uns and I got into a staring contest when he poked his head out. Worse, one of the adults came down through the wall and has now got himself stuck in the downstairs ceiling. There’s a small gap in the siding where the porch roof-beam meets the wall and he’s started trying to dig his way through that. I’ve stood on a stepstool and jabbed at him a couple times with a long-handled toasting fork but he’s far too fast for me.

When I told Mrs. R about the infestation, she asked what I was going to do. “Oh, I dunno,” I said, “Poison ’em, I guess, if they don’t go away themselves.” That, as they say, tore it. Keep in mind, this is the same Mrs. R who will literally stand on a chair eeking in approved 50’s sit-com fashion at the sight of a mouse, and who won’t even go out on the screened porch when the bats are twittering about in the back yard. But her reaction? “Oh, how could you? The one in the ceiling is stuck and afraid and just wants to go home! You brute!” She’ll be crying out the other side of her face if the little bastard tree-rat does manage to punch a hole in the wall.


Speaking of houses, Ol’ Robbo was delighted when it looked as if a pair of bluebirds was taking up residence in the box he put out this spring, Mr. B aggressively defending the thing against the admittedly heavy traffic of other birds in the vicinity. But, alas, I guess they decided they just didn’t much care for the neighborhood after all, as they seem to have cleared off and their claim has now been jumped by a pair of house sparrows. I’m glad the box is being used, of course, but sparrows? Meh.

On the nesting front, I’d also just like to point out that if Mrs. Goldfinch doesn’t like the opening and closing of the garage door and the comings and goings of Robbo and family, she shouldn’t have built her nest in the ivy directly above said door in the first place. It’s not as if she hadn’t ample warning.

Finally on the bird front, Ol’ Robbo had an opportunity to chat for a few moments yesterday after church with long-time friend of the decanter NOVA Curmudgeon, who reported spotting the first hummingbird of the year at his feeder this weekend. Huzzay, huzzah! Now that I know they’re definitely in the area, I await the first incoming to my own feeder all the more eagerly.

Well, that’ll do for now. As I say, time for a break. After I switch out that next load of laundry, of course…….

Post-Break UPDATE: Well, having written about Mr. Squirrel in the ceiling, it’s now been better than 24 hours since I last heard him skittering around. Maybe I DID get him with the fork! Or perhaps he found his way out after all. Either way, the best problems are the ones that go away by themselves.

Ol’ Robbo spent yesterday afternoon rereading Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, which I hadn’t picked up in quite a while and which was therefore almost new to me. With all the masks being pulled off the faces of the global oligarchs these days, what GKC had to say about the true nature, identity, and goals of anarchists and nihilists 100+ years ago now has turned out to be eye-openingly prescient.

Greetings, my fellow coffee-chuggers!

A glorious morn here in the neighborhood of Port Swiller Manor of the type that makes one want to go out and do Great Things, even though, like the one in Shakespeare’s sonnet, it turned into a less than spectacular afternoon. Ol’ Robbo can’t exactly claim he did Great Things, but it’s perfectly reasonable to say I did some good ones.

First was the Mulch Ado about Nothing to which I referred the other day. Sixty bags of the stuff to haul around, dump, and rake. Turns out there was enough not only to cover the beds on both sides of the sidewalk out front, but also for my rose and peony bed in the back, which has been bare of cover for longer than I like to admit. As I say, I was in a tremendously good mood, so the job turned out to be not nearly as bad as I had feared even though, like Sharif, my knees don’t like it. (Mulch the Casbah! Mulch the Casbah!) It’s days like this, by the bye, when I start considering again the idea of charging the County a maintenance fee, since the land beyond the sidewalk is theirs, not mine.

And speaking of the peonies, for once I got their cages out in a timely fashion, before they shot up so high that I’d have to retro-thread their stems through the mesh. The top-heavy blooms requiring such support can only be the result of artificial breeding. I can’t imagine how something like that would survive in the wild unaided. As it is, I’ll prolly have to supplement a couple of the cages with string, as the plants have got too big for them. Ol’ Robbo has been saying it for years, but I really really do need to divide up some of those root balls.

Speaking of dividing roots, Ol’ Robbo has written here from time to time about his specimen prairie cup-flower and its history. The other day, noticing that its base is now about three feet across, I said to myself, “Self, why not spread that around a little?” So today I threw caution to the wind, sliced off about a quarter of the root structure, and transplanted it across the way on the other side of the garden path. If it works out, great. If not, I doubt serious I’ve done any real damage to the original. (Also, if it works out, I plan to cut off more chunks and plant then in other corners, thereby diversifying things more overall.)

Mrs. R has been bringing home the back porch ferns, which had wintered over in various classrooms at St. Marie of the Blessed Educational Method. Ol’ Robbo is fairly certain that, although we may get a surprise frost or two, we’re done with freezes for this season, so I also hung these back up in their baskets today. The porch always looks rayther forlorn in the winter without them and it’s good to get some green back there.

Finally, speaking of hanging up, I put out the hummingbird feeder today, complete with the new ant-moat I recently mentioned here. Which see:

Pretty neat contraption, I think. I filled the moat with soapy water and expect to find it full of drowned ants, like Pharaoh’s army, once or twice before they give it up and go away.

As for the hummers themselves, I don’t actually expect to see one of the little blighters yet, but mid-April is not too early for a sighting to the near south of here, and we’re supposed to get a genuinely warm stretch of weather next week which I’m sure will pull them closer in. I want to be ahead of the curve this year.

So that’s that. A pretty busy day for Ol’ Robbo, as you can see, and I nearly lost my momentum completely by stopping for lunch. But in the end I got her all done and can now kick back in well-earned relaxation.

For the Birds UPDATE: BOO-rah! Ol’ Robbo just noticed that Mr. and Mrs. Bluebird have definitely taken possession of the birdhouse I put up a week or two ago. Also, something is now building a nest in the ivy that trails under the eves above the garage door. It’s moved too fast for me to identify yet, but it looks to be either a titmouse or a sparrow, or maybe another wren. These are things that make me very happy.

Greetings, my fellow coffee chuggers!

Ol’ Robbo finds himself kicking his heels yardwork-wise, so to speak, this first Saturday in April: Mrs. R, Sorcerer’s Apprentice-style, has summoned up a wave of mulch, but it isn’t here yet. Meanwhile, the grass isn’t quite cuttable, and it’s still a leetle chilly to be getting on with other pending tasks. (Ask me about how I’m going to have to get out on the roof of the garage to finally kill all the ivy there. Go ahead. Ask me.) So a bit of this and that for you:

I see where Greta Thunberg, the 19-year old high school dropout with severe mental issues transmogrified into the Environmental Joan d’Arc, is set to publish the “Great Big Book of Climate Doom”** this fall. Honestly, I had thought her already used up and spit out by her dark masters. Apparently not. Although I of course don’t approve, I at least get those who use her and her like: Evil’s gonna evil. What I don’t get is people who are unable to see through this kind of manipulative exploitation. Evidently there are still enough of them to make somebody think such a book worth it. (I really do feel sorry for the kid, by the bye.)

A much more immediate eco-worry to Ol’ Robbo is the fear that the bed of Lily of the Valley I planted last spring didn’t make it. It’s in a contained area under a large maple that dries out much more quickly than its surroundings, and although I tried to be good about watering it last fall (which is typically a dryish time around here), I’m now not sure that was good enough to get it thoroughly established. I need to go poke at it this morning to be sure, but I just haven’t seen anything break surface yet. It would be a real pity to lose, because they were a gift from a friend and I’ve always thought there’s something particularly special about sharing among gardeners.

On a much brighter note, Ol’ Robbo can now confirm that the weed n’ feed lawn service he subscribed to last year is definitely making a difference: the grass is greener and there’s hardly an early weed in sight. There do remain some bald patches, primarily where I grubbed up a lot of moss and also where the big maple fell last summah, which the fall overseeding didn’t seem to help. I suppose I’ll have to get out and do the patchwork myself. I see an awful lot of conflicting advice about when to do so: Some Solons say do it in late spring. Others say don’t do that because it’ll just burn out in summah and better wait till fall. Ol’ Robbo thinks he’ll adopt a sort of reverse-Solomon approach and try both. I mean, what the hey.

Would you like to read about Ol’ Robbo’s birdwatching? Sure, I knew you would!*** As I reported earlier in the week, I put up a new birdhouse along the fence, and within a day or so I spotted a pair of bluebirds seriously checking it out, much to my gratification. However, as I joked to Mrs. R, it doesn’t look like they’ve put a down payment on the place just yet. Not that there’s a neurotic nutjob lying just below my own rational surface, but it is taking a considerable amount of willpower for me to stop myself fretting about whether the hole in the box might somehow not be big enough for them.

And finally, again on the birdwatching front, while Ol’ Robbo gets downy woodpeckers into his feeder all the time, I can at last confirm a definite sighting of a hairy woodpecker as well. What of it, you ask? Well, the downy and the hairy look very, very much like each other, except the latter is a bit bigger and has a longer beak. But the other morning the light was just right enough and I was just quick enough to get my binoculars up and focused to make the distinction. So add another species to the roster. (Well, I think it’s interesting!)

** Back in the day when the Gels were very, very small, we used to watch a cartoon called “Stanley” about a boy and his sooper-intelligent talking fish. Each episode they’d consult “The Great Big Book of Everything”, usually for information about some plant or animal species. The introductory tune to said consultation was very catchy and still lurks somewhere at the back of my braims. I suppose I should try to exorcise it, since “Stanley” is a Disney product and the Maus has so recently, well, revealed itself for what it is.

*** Spot the reference. We used to watch it with the Mothe when I was a small lad, not to embrace it but, under her direction, to mock it. Wise woman, my mother was.

Prof. Farnsworth-like “Good NEWS, Everyone!” UPDATE: Upon closer inspect, I do, indeed, find the LOTV breaking ground in several spots! I’m sure at least some didn’t make it, but now it’ll be a matter of supplementing (which I was going to do anyway) instead of replacing.

Greetings, my fellow coffee-chuggers!

It would seem that Ol’ Robbo typed the post below blathering about the ongoing Springification in these parts somewhat prematurely, as we wound up getting snow flurries on and off all of yesterday afternoon. (But then again, by Thursday we’re supposed to be in the 70’s with thunderstorms, so go figure.)

Recognizing an opportunity when I saw one, I built a fire and promptly dozed off in front of it, but not before making the rather odd discovery that I’ve never before read the second volume of the Father Brown stories that I own. While I recognized most of the stories in the first volume I reread last week, these are proving to be, if you’ll forgive me, a complete mystery. I can’t think why I haven’t read them before, except that I must have finished the first volume, been distracted by something else, and forgot about it. (I always read Father Brown’s lines in Alec Guinness’s voice, by the bye. Although I never actually have seen his movie version, it seems to me he was made for the part.)

My dozing was interrupted later on by the arrival of the FedEx truck with two packages important to me. The first was a new gas cap for La Wrangler, about which we chatted here the other day. I immediately scurried out into the garage and snapped it into place. Nice, very tight fit, and only fourteen bucks. I’ll bet that engine light goes away now. I am endlessly fascinated and delighted by the ability to simply switch out components like that. Thank you the Industrial Revolution. I still remember seeing a film back in my yoot in which somebody or other was lobbying a late-18th Century gubmint official for a contract on mass-produced muskets. He had a box of flintlock components and invited the official to pull out a random assortment and put the assembly together himself. Obviously, it left an impression on my younger self. (I couldn’t tell you anything else about the film except I’m pretty sure I saw it in elementary school. Compare and contrast that with what passes for “education” these days.)

As for the second package, Ol’ Robbo is planning to hang out his hummingbird feeder in the next two weeks. Floating around in the back of my mind had been the yearly battle with the ants getting into the thing, so on a whim I went to the devil’s website and typed in “ant traps for hummingbird feeders”. One of the downsides of living in a bubble as I sort of do is that I sometimes miss that other folks run into the same problems as me: The search revealed quite a little cottage industry of gadgets and devices designed to deal with exactly this invasive nuisance. I picked a delightful little red-glass “moat” that you hang immediately above the feeder and that puts up a barrier of water (or whatever you wish) the little bastards simply can’t get across. Simple and ingenious, and of a decorative pattern that even matches the feeder itself.

Okay, I said this post was about little things and I meant it. Figuring out fixes to small, immediate problems is a lot more gratifying than pulling out my hair over the madness and idiocy I see all around, but about which I can’t do much of anything.

More Little Things UPDATE: Hooray! The pole for the birdhouse I mentioned below arrived this afternoon. That was fast. Mayhaps after I’m done with work I’ll go out and set it up (if the cold, howling wind abates a bit by then).

And no, in case you friends of teh coffee pot are interested, Ol’ Robbo didn’t even know the Oscars were last evening until I read about the accompanying “flap” today. Not that I care about that anymore than I care about who won what. Garbage in, garbage out.


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June 2022