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What’s on your wall?

posted by russellmania3000

Though ill-advised as I was still recovering from food poisoning, I went down to National Mechanics on Saturday for Sam’s birthday, to have a beer and put in my face time. She introduced me to a friend who upon hearing my name said something to the effect of “oh, the other half of the blog, the half who never updates.” I feel stupid trotting out the quality-over-quantity cliché, but not so stupid that I won’t do it. And if one was to compare word count rather than number of updates, we’d be about even anyway. Irregardless nonetheless…

Remember the “what’s in your tray?” game? You might not; it had a pretty short shelf life during the 1990s. If you were of that flirty young age but old enough to have a multi-disc CD changer, you could use this to get to know someone on a completely superficial level. It was handy since most people with decent taste in music had trouble naming favorites, there was a good chance a guilty pleasure would slip in, and the number of albums named would speak to economic status. Sadly, it was quickly phased out by the “what’s in your playlist?” game, which is still played competitively today.

Note: this is not to be confused with this variant of the “what’s in your tray?” game. Nerds.

As people get older, taste in music becomes an increasingly poor measure of character, so I’ve taken to making note of the things people use to decorate their living space. It’s rather shameful when someone hasn’t graduated beyond the typical dorm room Pulp Fiction/Animal House/Hendrix/Floyd poster, but it’s a quick way of knowing I won’t have to remember someone’s name.

I put a decent amount of effort into adorning my apartment and office and, especially now that I make a modest living, I like to throw artists some duckets when I find something deserving of my precious little wall space. I know a lot of artists will hang their work in their own homes, but I have a policy against that. I guess they’d say that looking at their work constantly forces them to be critical of it and improve themselves, but I’d argue that it makes you either self-satisfied or simply reminds you of old lines of thought and hinders new ones. Anyway. Some of the things I hang I’ve had since I was a small child, but I’ve recently acquired some new stuff and I feel I should give the artists their due.

New York

I rearranged a few walls to make room for a pair of eBoy posters, which are delightfully playful and colorful and HUGE! The nice thing about pixel art is that it can be enlarged quite a bit without losing clarity. They’re moderately priced if you grab them from a US reseller. But you may notice that they are available only in really large and non-standard sizes, sizes that would cost over $100 to get a fitting poster frame. There’s something disconcerting about paying over four times the coin for a frame than for the piece in it. What to do, what to do?

Fortunately I happened across these handy Poster Hangers which were much cheaper and did the trick nicely. Granted, you wouldn’t want to use these for something really nice unless you got it laminated or something. But they offer a little protection for the top and bottom edges and look a hell of a lot nicer than tacking something to the wall.

Speaking of tacking to the wall. Ever wonder what to do with all those postcards you get from show openings at galleries? You know, the ones you take thinking to yourself “this looks really cool, I’m gonna hang this up or use it in a collage or something” but you never do, they just sit in a folder or at the bottom of a drawer or on a shelf collecting dust. Postcard mobile, bitches! It drives cats bananas.

little blind rat

Without a doubt my favorite additions are a pair of Damon Soule prints. I saw his work several years ago at the Nexus Gallery, before they were rudely displaced from their home in Old City by some fucking hair salon. Please give his work a look; the prints are lovely but do not nearly do justice to the other seminal examples he has on virtual display. He even included a little ink drawing on sketch paper in the package. What a guy. Guess where that is? Postcard mobile, bitches!

I’m currently in the market for a Brute! poster, but not that one. Anyone have any leads? I’m coming up pretty dry. I’ve been chatting with Aidan Hughes himself on Facebook (I know, right?!), where he has a pretty sweet Manhattan Short Film Festival poster for sale, but he says he’s launching a store on his site in the coming weeks, so I guess I can hold out.

So what’s the guilty pleasure in my apartment? The framed equivalent of my Juno Reactor CDs? It could be the Softer World print. Or the Ben Shahn posters. Or the alphabet made of butterfly wings. Or the Pixar colorscript. No no. Child’s play. Behold:

fuck yes

I have no idea what this is or who to attribute it to. It was given to me by a crazy old friend who brought it from Seattle. There’s no writing anywhere on the goddamn thing, no clues. I think “motorcycle warrior” was the second or third thing I tried in Google image search and lo, there was my poster at like number 2. I shit you not. I love this thing. It’s right next to my head when I wake up, so if you were ever to sleep with me, it would be right next to your head too, and that’s something you’d have to take into consideration.

So, I pose the question to you, dear internet denizen: what’s on your wall?

Update: 1/13/2009, 3:47 PM – An old college buddy has informed me that my most prized piece of artwork is in fact the source illustration from the poster for George A. Romero’s 1981 film Knightriders, a movie I’ve never seen, but now I suppose I must. So, um, thanks to Max, the human compendium of B movies.

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January 12, 2009 at 4:37 PM Leave a comment

Clap your hands say meh

Earlier this month I dropped my remaining vacation days a 5-day jaunt in Brooklyn during which I attended the Blip Festival, an event whose praises I cannot sing loud or long enough. But as my hearing returned to full capacity, so did my sense of reality and perspective over what had just taken place.

I’ve listened to electronic music nearly all my life and grew up on Nintendo. The mental library of earthly sounds I’ve accumulated over the years contains it’s fair share of lo-fi bloops, bleeps, snaps and peeps. Nonetheless, this was essentially my first experience with the artists and music that define what some would call the chip music or chiptunes scene, a music genre that seems to define itself more by hardware and production aesthetic than by the nature of the music. That is to say that over the course of the festival we were treated to a variety music – pop, rock, hip-hop, reggae, house, ebm/futurepop, idm, breakcore, industrial and every grey area in between – that was apparently all under the umbrella of chiptune.

bloop bloop bleep bleep

That’s Glomag, and yes, that is indeed a Nintendo Game Boy in his hands. The original big honking Game Boy at that, and it’s fitted with one of those screen-brightening and -enlarging doodads. Chip music essentially involves repurposing archaic computer hardware into instruments. Most commonly, this means game consoles, and this in turn most commonly means the Nintendo Game Boy. Of the 40-some-odd artists at Blip, I’d estimate about 95% of them used the Game Boy in some form, and about 75% used it as the sole instrument in their ensemble. A lot of these guys had pretty tricked out Game Boys, like two-tone cases with custom-installed back-lit screens. Once in a while you’d see someone using a Game Boy SP or PSP and you knew they were totally style-fakers. In any event, though photos of the previous two festivals led me to believe we’d see some, there was no truly inventive use of hardware a la James Houston‘s Big Ideas:

In days of yore, electronic musicians often used keyboards, live drums and/or guitars, turntables, theramins, effects pedals, and a bevy of other instruments that involve some sort of physical exertion and performance in their live acts. Those days are largely gone; today, most electronic shows involve some laptop button-pushing, knob-tweaking, fader-flicking and not much more.

So creep with me, if you will, and imagine standing in a crowd of unkempt 20-somethings staring at another unkempt 20-something on stage, garishly dressed, hunched over with Game Boy in hand, queuing tracks and adjusting parameters, intermittently taking a break to fist-pump, thrash about, or gesture awkwardly in some other manner to express his excitement and passion for the music he’s not quite actually playing. It is a very arresting experience to say the least.

I have a back-up NES so I can spike one when I lose.

Believe it or not, there was some dancing, some awkward spastic nerd dancing. And if the music is good and the crowd is good and the dancing is good, then, performance be damned, it’s still a good time. But as you might imagine there was a large contingent just sort of standing there, barely nodding their heads like you do when you don’t want to seem not into the show. What up with that? What were these guys doing at the bloop bleep show? I mean, they’re not partying, not drinking, not molesting women and surely not appreciating the skill of the performance. I’m sure some might take exception, but as a former DJ and musician, a player of video games and a one-time-owner of a Game Boy, I can proclaim with confidence that it’s not that difficult to do and not at all impressive to behold.

What ever happened to showmanship? Say what you will about misogynistic epic metal, but Manowar knew how to put on a fucking show. Guitars would be played in every position imaginable: over the head, behind the back, between the legs, shared betwixt two people. I saw their bassist solo for like 10 goddamn minutes and then proceed to break those absurdly thick strings with his bare hands, one by one. Even if you weren’t that into the music or interested in slamming your fragile body into a crowd of strangers, you still had to be impressed with Manowar. Virtuosity, showmanship, leather codpieces. There is no substitute:

Showmanship is not to be confused with spectacle. One of the better acts at Blip, a duo from Barcelona called Meneo, was sheer spectacle. Don’t misunderstand, they were awesome and everyone had a blast, but their set was all about on-stage antics that involved wrestling, nudity, toilet paper and hiding microphones in various locations inside pants. The guy on the Game Boy came up to me, snatched the ear plugs from my ears and ate them. They didn’t bring that keytar, just leggings and unrestrained Dadaist energy. But for the people in the audience who weren’t that into the music, weren’t dancing and weren’t drinking, they had to have been outrageously uncomfortable during that set.

The other component to Blip, and to most live music of any genre these days, is the visual display that accompanies the performance. It was in this aspect that Blip seemed really appealing when I first heard of it but also fell the most flat in actuality. Last year, the fest had several projection screens and this video screen with ridiculously oversized pixels which produced a look that was really complimentary to the music. Geneva’s Mapping Festival uses all kinds of inventive displays each year – note the translucent curtains for floating projections. The Copenhagen Mikrodisko takes an even more lo-fi approach that still has a wonderful aesthetic. So you can imagine my disappointment when this year’s Blip had a single projection screen behind the stage and nothing more. Granted, the set-up is only as good as the VJs and animators who show their work. Some of the musicians, namely Meneo, Anamanaguchi, and m-.-n did their own visuals or had animators do stuff just for them, which were usually pretty good, and a couple of the guys in the small line-up of VJs that worked with the rest of the acts were okay, but a lot of the time the screen just looked like it was displaying a broken VCR.

Until now, I didn’t realize this was, you know, a thing, chip music, as in deserving of its own scene and word and all. As far as I know, lo-fi electronic video game-ish sounds have been used in music for quite a while but perhaps more sparingly than in this case. This album got a lot of good press when it dropped almost two years ago, but think about how superfluous it is to have bloop-bleep computer music covered by musicians using even more bloopy-bleepy computers. Don’t get me wrong, I heart Kraftwerk. And I like these 8 bit guys. They put on a decent show. I would just maybe take issue with the claim, as they make in 2 Player Productions’ chiptune documentary Reformat The Planet, which was screened at Blip and apparently got a nod at SXSW, that they’re doing something entirely new and revolutionary when what they’re really up to is more or less bizarre bordering on Luddite. This is more a critique of the film and not the musicians, but it seems as if the filmmakers focused on the contemporary NYC scene not because they’re trying to illustrate via microcosm but simply because that’s where they are and that’s who their friends are so that’s who they have access to. They treat Blip as just that – an isolated event – and don’t really touch on the international scene or put chiptunes in the context of the history of electronic music. I would take up that crusade but that’s not really my job or the point of Redikulus. My job is just to draw attention to silly shit, and I believe my work here is done.

– posted by RussellMania3000

December 31, 2008 at 5:34 PM 2 comments

Start as you mean to go on

Sweet crackers it is cold out. My thermometer was reading 10 degrees in the shade when I left this morning, and by the time I got to the office, my face felt like it was a rubber mask stretched over some other face underneath. If you have ever wondered how horrifying it might feel to be so cold you can’t feel your penis, don’t. My nipples are permanently erect from the bars of surgical titanium penetrating the first few dermal layers. But if they weren’t made so by that, they would have been by my ride this morning. By that and this guy right here:

Q: What do you smell? A: Manflesh. So sayeth Lurtz.

So the big news in the world of sport, for me at least, is that this creamy specimen up top, that being not a model or some crazy naked weirdo but David Beckham, is headed back to Europe, at least temporarily, and is taking his kinda hot but fake-boobied Spice Wife with him. Which is great news, because his talent is totally wasted on American soccer and AC Milan seems like a splendid move. Not that the Rossoneri midfield is soft, but they are a bit defense-oriented and Beckham gives them a nice forward push. And after seeing him face Ronaldinho in several La Liga clasicos during their time with Real Madrid and Barcelona, I for one am excited to see what they might do on the same squad. There’s a lot of nationalistic pride in Serie A football, but is it really any surprise that the team that casts the widest talent net is sitting atop the table? Here’s hoping the LA Galaxy have the grace to let Beckham go for good.

What is going on? Sports on an art fag blog? Hear me out. I have a point, I think. I’m a man, I’m not above caring about sports, and I try to be a man of the people; Rome, after all, has always been a republic.

So, start as you mean to go on.

This is a phrase that doesn’t see much daylight in American English, which is unfortunate since its simplicity and elegance belie the scope of its implications. It sees a fair share of usage across the pond, as it were, but is relegated mostly to the lexicon of sport. A team that wins their season opener is said to have started as they mean to go on. Often this is said as a sarcastic inversion to imply that a poor beginning sets the stage for continued disappointment. English sportscasters routinely employ this phrase in their manifold exhibitions of linguistic superiority.

I’m quite serious. Tune into any English Premiership match and your ears will thank you. Soccer isn’t called “the beautiful game” simply for the action on the pitch. Never mind that the crowd sings rather than cheers. But the language used to give play-by-play to UK laymen is more eloquent than that of most American intellectuals and academics, the word choice and syntax whimsically inventive yet instantly understood. Consider: Martin Tyler, John Motson, Ray Hudson. These aren’t the most darling of examples, but just imagine them whispering sweet nothings in your ear and see if your legs don’t go soft.

Joe Buck can barely describe a passing route without speaking about the receiver in some sort of collective consciousness first/second/third person perspective and issuing forth a bevy of run-on sentences dripping in grammatical errors from the unfortunate, toothy hole in his face. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this amateur hour habit of assuming the first-person perspective of players is so universally embraced by American sportscasters, other than that they are mongoloid amateurs. Though he is perhaps the progenitor of practice, there will always be a place in my heart for John Madden, but his appeal is similar to that of Droopy or Rodney Dangerfield or that chubby girl you’d still fuck – there’s definitely a huge cute/pity factor. Perhaps once a fortnight, Madden will drop a gem of analysis so finely crystalized one might think he was huffing fumes from Big John Runyan‘s jock like some modern day Oracle of Delphi. But most of the time, he’s only marginally huggable because his blue collar celebration of the unsung heroes of run blocking and pass protection only partially masks his bumbling buffoonery. I mean, here’s a guy whose favorite phrase is “I mean, here’s a guy.” That and “boom.”

Speaking of boom, here’s a present for everyone but Pats fans.

Side note: ever wondered why sporting events are usually broadcast with two-man commentary teams instead of solo? Listening to one guy call the play is an awkward, lonely experience. Just as a color commentator can feed companionship through osmosis, a lone announcer exudes isolation that echoes your own as you spend another Sunday afternoon alone, growing older and fatter, watching sweaty men exchange ass pats. FOX Soccer Channel has this Italian guy who calls Serie A matches alone. He sounds like he learned to speak English from a Scotsman, so he has two accents, which is more annoying than you can imagine.

American sportscasters function splendidly as examples of successful mediocrity. These announcers are on TV to remind the young children watching that all is not lost if they fail to develop into professional athletes. They are salesmen pitching the virtues of living vicariously through sport. Perhaps this explains the continued use of altered perspective, but Ockham’s Razor would have me believe that they are simply mongoloid amateurs. To further sell this fantasy, networks hire washed up athletes to do the color commentary. When kids see Joe Buck and Troy Aikman in the FOX booth, they are invited to inquire who this shitgoose working with Troy is and ask “why not me because certainly I could be less of a sniveling shit,” and imagine that one day they might sit in a similar booth and don a headset with perhaps Michael Vick or Plaxico Burress and make pithy banter about prison.

The most glaring contrast between European and American sportscasters, even more so than their ability to use their mother tongue, is their temperament towards failure. Americans will, under most circumstances, fawn over players and teams as they try in earnest to find something good to say about their performance no matter how abysmal it may be. Europeans by comparison are notoriously hard to please and are stunningly critical of even winning teams and good players. What can account for this? Simply that there is no system for instituting collective responsibility in American leagues whereas in Europe there is.

In America, losing teams are rewarded with higher draft picks and thus the chance to radically improve their squad. In Europe, losing teams are kicked out of the league. Imagine, if you will, what blasphemy it would have been if after last year’s football season, the Philadelphia Soul entered the NFL and the Miami Dolphins were forced to play in the Arena league. A European system of promotion and relegation would do exactly that. On top of that, the better teams play in two or three leagues/cups at the same time, and many of their players also have to split time with national teams that are playing on several circuits at the same time. With this environment of heightened personal and collective responsibility for a team’s performance and reputation, it’s understandable why European fans and pundits have less tolerance for failure and mediocrity.

Hence the phrase “start as you mean to go on,” or in Americanese, “do it right the first time, bitch, don’t fuck it up.” It speaks to a certain work ethic that favors precision and deliberation over trial and error, a sentiment that, like preservative-free hippie food, doesn’t travel well over long distances, distances like Atlantic Oceans.

Americans, as both children and adults, are not taught to start as they mean to go on, but rather to start and then go on. Growing up American encourages us to make mistakes, reinvent ourselves and remain flexible in charting our path through life, and this is certainly admirable at a certain level. This cultural legacy has given us our resilience and agility, our aptitude for exploring life and finding what fits. But what we might gain in spirit we lose in ethic. We are conditioned to see success as an end rather than a means. We are encouraged to see mistakes as unlucky but forgettable events that build character, as no fault of our own, as opportunities for growth rather than the breeders of complacency they actually are.

So in examining the condition of our economy and our planet, we’re now seeing the accumulated fallout for our collective unwillingness to view current performance as a forecaster for future results. Our national will to take real action in addressing the challenges of today – climate change, energy, poverty and the declining middle class, healthcare, education – is pretty much the same as it’s always been: virtually non-existent. The American attitude toward problem solving is to hope things self-correct and put off taking immediate, decisive action until it’s far too late and such action takes more the form of haphazard damage control than prevention.

We can learn a thing or two from European sports. Like how to fix our broken country. Or how to cook a proper white center.

– posted by RussellMania3000

December 22, 2008 at 4:35 PM 1 comment

Meet the new media, same as the old media

play defense goddamnit

I must be out of market or not watching enough college ball because I’ve never seen this ad on TV. How much do you think it would cost to get Bobby for a birthday party?

There’s a marginally interesting article in today’s New York Times about the struggles that brand advertisers face in working with social networks. It focuses on Proctor & Gamble’s strained relationship with Facebook, but the crux of the argument is thus:

When major brands place banner advertisements on the side of a member’s home page, they pay inexpensive prices, but the ads receive little attention. Seth Goldstein, co-founder of SocialMedia Networks, an online advertising company, wrote on his Facebook blog that a banner ad “is universally disregarded as irrelevant if it’s not ignored entirely.”

When advertisers invite members to come to pages dedicated to their products, they can attract visitors only by investing in expensive creative material or old-fashioned promotions like prize contests.

And when they try to take advantage of new “social advertising,” extending their commercial message to a member’s friends, their ads will be noticed, all right, but not necessarily favorably. Members are understandably reluctant to become shills. IDC, the technology research firm, published a study last month that reported that just 3 percent of Internet users in the United States would willingly let publishers use their friends for advertising. The report described social advertising as “stillborn.”

I know, you’re as shocked as I am. “Stillborn”? I chuckled, and that’s exactly why I know that kind of language is completely inappropriate. But seriously, why is this news? What kind of person reads this hard-hitting report and has their mind changed rather than their suspicions confirmed? My boss’s boss’s boss, that’s who.

Like a lot of you, I work with a sizable contingent of people who are completely divorced from the reality of being a middle class consumer even though they in fact are exactly that, people who think their particular company or sector is the exception rather than the rule, people who are foolish enough to think that if they care enough they can make other people care too. This thought disease is the fuel that powers the marketing and advertising business today. But you’ll hardly ever see any Times articles on how hard it is to create a successful TV or print campaign because the metrics for tracking these are no where near as precise as the metrics for tracking internet campaigns. When companies ran a campaign on a medium half a century old and got a hazy post-mortem and now run a campaign on a relatively new medium and get a brutally empirical post-mortem, it isn’t hard to imagine why some executives are so skeptical about new media. Their old media campaigns can be just as ineffective but the inconclusiveness of the data they get back makes it easy for them embellish a bit and imagine success where there is none.

Might I posit that the following be considered an axiom of marketing: all commercial messages are universally disregarded as irrelevant if they are not ignored entirely. Perhaps this is a personal tick or something, but I’m convinced that every ad produces some level of negative brand association just out of the simple fact that every ad is an interruption or intrusion and that’s just plain rude. I’m very popular around the office. Theories aside, when it comes down to brass tacks, which is a bigger waste of money: Figure 1 or Figure 2?

Seth Goldstein is right that banner ads are ignored but he and scores of other marketers are convinced that they can create something different, that somewhere in the muckymuck there is a way to do it right, and maybe it has to do with privacy and engagement and creating “real conversation and interaction around certain products and brands”. In his own words: “We don’t get paid to put you in ads. We’re getting paid to present you with the opportunity to interact with a product socially.”

Except that real people don’t do that. At all. I’m too busy pirating DVDs, reading comics and trying to get laid to care about your brand. Intelligent people with disposable income don’t waste time using mini-apps to do the same thing that the macro-app (Facebook, or the internet at large, telephone) can do far better and less fundamentally dickwadishly. Seth’s products hinge on the bet that if I see a little message on Facebook that Hotrod Johnny is washing his denim jacket with Tide presently, I will somehow be more likely to buy a bottle of Tide or have a positive association with the brand than if I were shown a traditional display ad. And what he’s really hoping is that I’ll write back to Johnny, “Hey dude, that’s awesome! I just washed my daisy dukes with Tide yesterday. Let’s fornicate.” Which is rubbish, quite frankly, because it’s going to take a lot more than spring-fresh outerwear to get me to even remotely consider committing a homosexual act. A display ad I can ignore and move on with my day, but I really liked Hotrod Johnny and now here he is shilling out Tide to me. Now I’m disenchanted with Facebook, I’m really adverse to not just Tide but laundry in general, and I’m beginning to reconsider whether I should even try to have sex with Hotrod Johnny at all if he’s gonna be a tool like that. There is a very short list of consumer items that my friends and I will ever bring up in normal conversation (in order of frequency): booze, Apple products, video games, bike parts, and contraception. I don’t need your widgety-woo to facilitate that interaction and, believe you me, you want no part in that conversation either.

On the flip side of this filth coin, consider what brands really want. In a rare exception to the rule, people do have real conversations about the Apple brand and its products. If Samsung is interested in competing with the iPhone, do they want people to update little status messages and hope other people pay attention or do they want to generate real word of mouth about their handset? One kind of “conversation” can be facilitated with a widgety-woo. The other kind that actually moves units only comes from making an awesome phone and getting David Pogue to write about it. Does anyone really think Apple would sell any fewer iPhones if they pulled their ads? Might I suggest that Samsung concentrate on manufacturing such a device and Proctor & Gamble simply come to terms with the fact that no one cares about their brands because detergent is boring as all fuck.

The bottom line is that advertising as we know it is a dead paradigm that has yet to be replaced, and in this writer’s opinion, may not be replaced at all. There is such an overabundance of things to buy and information on why or why not one should that we all can make important and mundane purchasing decisions with relative ease and little interest. But more importantly, we as a culture have become so inured to self-promotion in all its guises, including the much-ballyhooed “social interaction” as advertisement, that these messages no longer register. In the worlds of products and brands, there will always be peacocks and pigeons. In marketing, just as with human interaction, there is a clear distinction between those who make fools of themselves at parties by shouting obnoxiously and those who can hold a good conversation. And then there are those boring dudes who have nothing interesting or obnoxious to say because they’re accountants or something so they just stand in the corner and sip their beers like effete turds, holding the bottle by the neck and dribbling on their collars. Above all, it’s always easy to spot those who are inappropriately muscling themselves into the conversation and they are so not getting laid tonight. The best thing marketers can do is make a good offer for a good product at a good price and hope it sticks.

Yes, as a new media developer myself, I realize that this evangel isn’t quite in keeping with my self-preservation, but that’s probably why talk of this sort isn’t given much of a voice in the industry itself, and that’s why this piece in the Times might be valuable. Marketing professionals are usually louder cheerleaders for tech innovations than their engineers. But when the interactive marketing manager at the world’s biggest ad-spender publicly states he’s disinterested in working with the world’s biggest social network and unenthusiastic about behavioral targeting, one has to wonder what he is enthusiastic about. Is Ted McConnell a unique outlier in an industry of confident marketers or the first rat to scurry from the sinking ship? Either way, he deserves a Facebook poke for being so candid; I doubt his recent remarks are making him any new friends.

-Posted by RussellMania3000

December 15, 2008 at 10:09 PM 1 comment

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