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The Grand Panjandrum Speaks
1/31/2008 6:37:32 PM
Despite the fact that humankind has made about as much progress towards gaining substantial understanding of itself as a hypothyroid banana slug running a marathon, there is inarguably one thing that humanity does with unfailing enthusiasm and efficiency: reproducing itself. These reflections and opinions are directed towards the ineffably superlative ability of almost all human beings to begat...and begat...and begat...and...well, you get the idea!
THE GRAND PANJAMDRUM SPEAKS
I started out intending to write about one of my favorite subjects, coffee. However, the tiresome fact that yet another female person I have daily contact with has recently spawned another little human being (albeit with considerable help and support from a male member...no pun intended...of society) momentarily derailed this intent and made me start to muse for what must be the umpteenth time about what it is that makes us all think that having children is such a wonderful...nay, even "blessed"...event. Therefore, I'll save the subject of Mrs. Olson, Juan Valdez, and that magick fluid that starts out as Robusta and Arabica beans, grown 'high in the flavor zone', for another time.
As a person who has no children of my own--through more or less deliberate intent--I have frequently stopped to wonder about the questionable wisdom of having children in an age as wretchedly difficult to raise them in as is our own. Numerous studies have reasonably demonstrated that the higher one's educational achievements and economic status are, the fewer children one tends to have; of inversely proportionate relevance is the fact that the lower one's education and economic circumstances, the larger the family tends to be. This unhappy fact is without a doubt responsible for the large numbers of absolute idiots we have wandering around our American streets today--undoubtedly all lame-brained offspring of equally lame-brained parents who should never have been allowed to procreate freely in the first place.
Regrettably, normative (remember that "normal" doesn't mean "correct", but only that a particular attitude is held or subscribed to by a majority of the given group) social sanctions prevent us from neutering anyone with an IQ of less than 100 (the modern phase of the Eugenics movement in the 20th Century strongly proposed this as a potentially helpful social cure-all), so we here in American have more than our share of largely unthinking, knee-jerk-reactive souls of the utmost simplicity in our midst to contend with, as a direct result. You know the type I describe, I am sure, having seen them in endless display on the national broadcast media evening news, the type who commit violent mass murder, lead squadrons of highway patrolmen in hot pursuit of their methamphetamine-induced rampages on our highways, and end up being interviewed in all their ignorant commonness by perfectly coifed news anchors (read: ‘Dateline’ and other trashy expose type pseudodocumentaries of that ilk) who are about as sympathetic to their very human miseries as Adolph Hitler or Idi Amin.
When one truly sits and reflects on American society today, it seems a wonder to me that ANYONE would want to create more little human beings in their own image to clutter up an already full-to-bursting world. When you consider that given the oppressively harassed nature of the life we ordinary Americans are forced to live (thanks to the corporate masters of our economy who regard us all as little more than faceless consumers of their products), and especially the fact that no matter how hard you try to give your kids some sort of positive social consciousness, everything you have strived to inculcate in them is completely undone through contact with all their little dimbulb peers that populate our American public schools, it would seem to me that seen from a strictly rational viewpoint having children ranks up there alongside such massively stupid contemporary foibles as donating large amounts of money to the American Red Cross after the 11th of September events.
And yet, everywhere I turn I witness yet another young friend and his wife announcing yet another "blessed event" and actually expecting others to congratulate the "lucky" couple (whose principle achievement has actually been being too intellectually dull to fully appreciate just exactly what it is that they have gotten themselves into). So Joe Wanker and Susie Bighips have had a baby: so what?! All that they have done is set a chain of events into motion that will require the rest of their life energies to carry through, since they will be too busy providing for this new human life to have the luxury (or perhaps the curse?) of regarding anything more intellectually demanding than where the next set of diapers is coming from, or who is going to sit up all night with the squalling little immature human they have unthinkingly created.
In America, where having children is still a popular pastime--especially among lower income groups (particularly those least prepared and able to provide for a child)--it is now almost impossible to provide the sort of proper upbringing required for raising a new child. Not only do mom and dad have little if any time left over from the office work to spend with the kid, the fact that he is entering public schools (which are little more than mandatory holding pens for those too ignorant to achieve anything more positive than mastering the art of wiping their own behinds) practically insures that the child will immediately sink to the absolutely lowest common denominator in that particular, ostensibly 'educational', setting.
Then, too, there is the "college thing" to worry about. Instead of wisely accepting the fact that an academic education is NOT suitable for everyone (given the wildly varying range of intellects extant) and instead maintaining a system wherein there are two equally suitable life scripts to follow (academics being one and the "trades" being the other, such as is the convention in Europe), the average American parent has been brainwashed by politically correct social crusaders into thinking that EVERY child needs a college degree to make it through life. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is not every child in need of higher academic learning, the fact that in America "higher education" has been perversely prostituted into simply a large skilled-job training program for commercial businesses and corporations means that all today's average college degree guarantees is POSSIBLE entry into the corporate American manpower pool. And what a shock today's college graduates face when they learn that an undergraduate collegiate education, which was traditionally intended to produce an actualised, broadly aware and cultivated member of society, is really only a slightly more sophisticated job-skills certification for their chosen career field in American commerce (that is assuming they even come to that awareness--most never do).
Europe, far more sophisticated in these areas of awareness, long ago realised that many people simply do not have the intellectual gifts to be able to appreciate the benefits of a higher education. For them entry into the trades is considered an equally honorable and respected alternative to becoming a Herr Doktor and European society accepts a skilled tradesman as being almost as worthy of respect as the University graduate is in his academic field. Only in politically correct America have we been deceived into the wrong-headed belief that unless one has a college degree, one is essentially a failure in life. Unhappily, this ‘politically correct’ view is supported and maintained by American minority group members, who have been equally sucked into this vortex of intellectually dishonest deception--a fact that makes it awkward (see ‘awkward’, read ‘no backbone’) for American majority liberals to do anything other than further this frustrating deceit by spinelessly supporting the distorted social philosophy that underlies it.
The practical result of this is that all American parents now are forced to face the fact that each of their children absolutely MUST have a college education (a proposition that is good for no one in our society other than the financial lending institutions, who doubtlessly regard this fact as a heaven-sent boon, and all the other thousands of commercial organisations which provide educational consumer products) and a financial liability that increasingly grows into the impossible and unaffordable region of hundreds of thousands of dollars per child.
Factor this unhappy reality into the formula that also subjugates all children to the dictates of an economy that massively brainwashes children to become slavish addicts to expensive high-tech and reality distorting amusements (video & computer games, etc., etc.), thereby compelling parents to become co-dependents in the process by providing their children with everything the other kids have, or face impossibly outrageous behavioral reactivity, and you have a perfect script for mass parental madness. That is, assuming that the parents have the slightest clue as to how the are being manipulated by this very sinister economy we are all wasting our lives away supporting, for most of these child-spawning, three-brain cell mothers and fathers are lucky if they are able to recognise their own nether extremities from a gopher hole in the front lawn.
Then too, there is the eventual joy of looking forward to being ignored by your offspring when you are so old and feeble that you need to turn to them once in a while for help, or solace. After a lifetime of thankless effort to provide the little buggers with the ability to assume autonomous responsibility for their own actions in life, you can the proudly face an assured prospect of a lifetime of ingratitude that has been stored up in their little pinhead awarenesses, a vast reservoir of angst that invariably comes spilling out at times when you least need it.
As I originally observed, probably the only good that comes from this whole masochistic process of creating a ‘family’ is that you will be so busy taking care of the many messes their lives have created for you, that you won't be burdened by the more esoteric of the truly kosmik considerations we humans face (such as "Why are we here?", "What's the real purpose of human life?", “Why is coital sex only three minutes long for males?”, "Why do we exist?", or “Is God really a Black Woman?”). Those of us who DO have more free time (un-prebooked by childcare concerns) seem unhappily to be more generally afflicted with this preoccupation with life's ultimate meaning (and of course this obsession is probably one vast joke anyway, since the ultimate ‘answer’ is likely that found in The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Universe: i.e. "There is no ultimate meaning to life!"). In view of the large outlay required, in terms of support, care, feeding, and the expenditure of exhaustive effort to assure their growth into something other than delusional mass-murders and psychotic post-pubescent Lolitas (go read your Vladimir Nabokov), and the extremely diminutive returns (some great, if severely brief, moments of drop-dead sex and the largely vain and narcissistic joys of creating another little ‘you’), the way I see it, anyone who doesn't believe in pro-active birth control should trade their brain in for one that uses slightly higher octane synaptical fluids.
Of course, there have been moments of doubt when I have reflected on these values and felt as if (and not somewhat ironically) the polar opposite proposition is true--that perhaps the only truly valid human activity on this planet is exactly that of procreation. Fortunately (?), I have been able to stave off these all-too ‘human’ touchy-feely emotions. Truth be told, we need more people of common mentality on this planet about as much as a dog needs more fleas (and getting smart people to mate selectively to achieve the opposite effect has always been frustrating at best). Especially in view of the fact that most of us end up as little more than indentured economic slaves to the more soullessly manipulative and economically voracious members of our society. Meanwhile, Darwin, and others who took a more practical view of humanity's relationship to the natural world, appear to have had it right, but that won't keep us all from merrily populating ourselves off the planet LONG before this beautiful planet is eventually consumed by our own sun, when it turns supernova in a few billion years.
On that subject, who was it that once remarked that "Marriage is the last major preserve of the amateur"? No qualifications required for a union that is bound to produce more hungry little mouths, other than that sneaky old biological itch in certain parts of the body that we all feel so often. Lottsa luck, Mom...Dad. You'll need it........
True to my 'doggish' tendencies (my Chinese astrological sign is that of the ‘Fire Dog’), I am and remain quite critical of most things that are less than perfect and probably persist in worrying a lot about things that are beyond my control to either influence or change for the better; very 'doggish' behavior, so I am told. But it does seem to apply to my nature, as do most of the many other traits attributed to people born in the Year of the Dog. Fortunately, this list of traits includes many positive characteristics (such as loyalty, discretion, honesty, integrity, etc.). However, be that as it may as regards the above rant on the ill-advisedness of procreation by the less astute, it seems as if a useful, cathartic, and productive subject for further pondering would be more of the same.....children. Or perhaps I should say 'a child', since, the following will most likely shed some additional light on the prior paragraphs of misanthropic musing.
As a child who lost his father at the age of 4, I am acutely of the importance of the involvement of a father figure in the development of a young male child (or any child, for that matter). For many years, earlier in life, I maintained a duality of feeling about the ultimate wisdom of having children (evidence the above ascerbic commentary on the folly of introducing more people into an already overcrowded world), feeling on the one hand that I was probably one of the most well-prepared potential fathers in the world and quite well aware of the critical importance that a father has in the continuing development of a child from that first and wholly helpless state of infancy into a fully actualised and responsible adult personality. Therefore, I had decided at an early age, if and when I ever had children of my own, that I would strive to be the very best father a child could possibly have. However, circumstances were seemingly never quite right, in so far as meeting that special person with whom to share a real 'family' was concerned and as circumstances have unfolded, I have never had any children of my own to fulfill that determination. But let me qualify that a bit further.
The closest I ever came to being a full-fledged father, in fact, was many years ago, while involved in a relationship with a Chinese woman whom I had met at the hospital I was employed at in the late 70s. This woman was a very complex person, having come over to this country as a small ‘paper daughter’ (as many Chinese immigrants did), but also extremely bright, determined, full of resolution to succeed, and....I thought....quite beautiful, also. Before I knew it, I was hopelessly in love with this exquisite person. She had, by the time I first met her, just graduated from medical school back east and was starting her internship at a San Francisco Bay Area teaching hospital. Having come from an undergraduate and medical school program from the east coast, she had espoused radical leftist sociopolitical sentiments in college and had been involved with young Maoist radicals in the Chinese community in New York City. This had impressed me, since at that time China was still relatively closed off and under the iron dictates of Chairman Mao. Chairman Mao's true nature was only to be guessed at in this period, thanks to the 'Bamboo Curtain' and its absolute opacity, and most of us young radical Berkeley fringists regarded him at that time as being truly a heroic champion of the common people (only much later did all of the true and often sordid nature of his personality stand negatively revealed in all of its unhappy excess).
However, as my friend began her medical career, she underwent an almost predictable process of maturing growth that led her away from her prior leftist Communist Chinese leanings (in New York's Chinatown) as she embraced the rigorous demands of a typical American medical education. The western medical physician training program, unfortunately, leaves little room for the fragments of one's more youthful idealistic sentiments, as the harsh collision with reality that surviving the incredibly demanding medical training regimen constitutes made itself felt. At the time that we were going together, I was still a somewhat wild-eyed radical myself (although I was not a continuously enrolled student at that moment, being ex-military and working as a lab technologist), hence I was fabulously attracted to this very bright and formidably resolute woman (I was as eager to f*** her brain as her lovely body, in retrospect). Ironically, as my interest in traditional practices of ‘Barefoot Doctor’ medicine in Mao's China was growing, her development into a 'dues-paying' western physician was drawing her away from leftist radical sentiments and towards the professional elitist milieu one enters as a fully vested western doctor of medicine.
Unfortunately, my strong (and seemingly paradoxical, for an otherwise left-leaning, 'peace-oriented' person) interests in defense technology and military history were also in full bloom at that time, thereby making me perhaps deserving of that ancient Japanese Bushido regard as a ‘complicated person’, but also creating an underlying conflict in our relationship that I was not fully aware of. That these interests seem to have run perpendicular to her own directional currents, was largely unbeknownst to me. My beautiful and determined friend was following a conventional path that I, as an avowed student of Ivan Illych's economic and medical philosophy, was (apparently) completely out of touch with. The conventional driving emphasis on the natural attainment of material goals in life that most people of Chinese ancestry are unconsciously imprinted with (occupational success, family respect, home, wealth, and prestigious achievement) was without any doubt a major (if almost unconscious) motivational force in her life. This mind-set presumably presupposed that she and I were in tacit agreement to build our relationship into a full commitment, logically followed by marriage, children, and all of the standard appurtenances of a successful, stable, contributing, honorable, respected, and socially responsible life that the Confucian ethic demands.
I, on the other hand, had always felt that the only reasonable way to be sure that one is ready for a commitment as important as marriage with someone was to live with that person for a protracted period and truly get to know them before making the translation into a full and formal marital status. This translated (by my reckoning at that time) to living together for several years at least before even considering marriage. She, on the other hand, was following, as I have interpreted circumstances retrospectively, an automatic and carefully calibrated internal biological clock (of Confucian evolution) that left no room for protracted foot-dragging by potential life-partners as her life continued, and I, on the other hand, was being the ever careful, cautious 'dog', who needed to be absolutely certain that this was the right person before making that final, complete and permanent commitment (since I felt then—and still do--that marriage was a once and forever thing, not something that one put on and took off like an overcoat).
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to either of us traveling along that same path (but at ungrasped-at cross purposes), the seed of a small human life had already been created, as it invariably will be when two people enjoy a fullness of intimate association. I, for my part, was stunned to find this out. When this became known to her, she did not share her feelings on this with me other than to logically determine that the timing was not appropriate for having a child in the midst of her uncompleted medical residency; therefore I do not know precisely what her innermost emotions were over this accident of the biological imperative. No matter what her deepest ponderings were, the newly created spark of human life was shortly thereafter permanently extinguished by a D&C (abortion) in the cold sterile clinical surrounds of an outpatient surgical suite. Thus, the only life that I have ever personally helped create was apparently little more than an afterthought in the continuously unfolding and fast-paced events of her life, as far as I am able to determine.
As for me--the reflective, overly sensitive person that I am--something important inside me was also extinguished when that little nameless spark of mysterious life force was dispassionately scraped from her womb, after a brief embryonic lifespan of a few scant weeks. To say a part of my soul was figuratively ripped away by the finality of that act is certainly an allowable interpretation of how I felt, and still feel even today. Today I often think about this event with a leaden feeling, a dullness of spirit tinged by the slightly bitter tang of silent grief in the closed-off sanctuaries of my most private reflections. A short while later I recall writing some melancholy verse about this event that traveled with me to the 12,262 foot summit of the Sierra Matterhorn, where I placed it in a hollow of red Sierra soil, scooped from under the summit blocks of this special mountain. It is probably still there, too, now mixed with the earth and rock of that great high place that is my own spiritual mountain.
As for my lovely friend, it was not long after this that she left me for another fellow, a law student whom a friend of hers had (perhaps somewhat maliciously) referred to her, ostensibly for his handy skills in home restoration and construction work. Regrettably, this unhappy betrayal took place almost directly under my nose, since as a ‘good Berkeley leftist’ (perhaps a colossally stupid one, now that I have had many years to ponder this), I intellectually accepted the conventional Berkeley 70s wisdom that a woman was perfectly entitled to have platonic ‘men friends’ as well as those of the female persuasion. I chose to interpret the fact that this other fellow's increasingly frequency at the house doing odd jobs was attributable to his handy usefulness in working on the house (her house, since she had bought it, although we were living in it together). The possibility of this type of duplicity happening directly under my nose was unthinkable, of course, since I was an inherently trusting person with a strong sense of integrity and personal honor. It was, unhappily, an important lesson that I learned too late: ‘cuckolded’ is the word that come strongly to mind, whenever I think about the bitter spiritual deception that occurred thereupon.
Ironically, she later married this same fellow and they now have all that she apparently wished for: a stable and rewarding career as a physician, one beautiful natural daughter and another lovely adopted daughter from the PRC, a successful attorney for a husband, and a happy home (as far as I am aware). Although I wish her well and do not at all begrudge her the path that she chose to follow, the unhappy circumstances remain today as fresh and as vivid in my heart as they were when they originally occurred (I’m sort of a sentimental person, down under all that Titanium alloy armor). The astringently intense pain that resulted from this ruptured relationship is still there, buried deeply, but still stirring restlessly like the magma of a subterranean chasm that has been forever closed off by miles of the densest stony mantle. Amazingly, 25 years have now elapsed since we parted company and yet I am ever deeply moved to find that the memories of this part of my life still hurt with fleeting but palpable intensity…like the ghost pain of an amputated limb.
Perhaps it is a testimony to the 'dogged' tenacity and single-mindedness of the 'dog' personality; perhaps it is an opportunity lost that this other person never recognized, as well. But then, there is also an equal possibility that this is just a maudlin bit of gratuitously indulgent personal history that would have been better left unstated and not brought back to light, as I have done here. Whatever the truth of these events is, it nevertheless serves to help explain much to me about who and what I am. In another, larger context, it also explains to me some of the significance of what love shared with others is all about and how terribly important the re-creation of that deep feeling in the form of new life is, catalysed from the simple biological confluence of two human beings. There is a lesson here also about what people bring to relationships, no matter how strong they feel their love is, and how their resources and assets are apt to be compared, in the final spiritual triaging, much in the same philistine manner one would chose a Porsche over a Yugo (forgive me…I AM a guy, after all). Over and over...endlessly...this process repeats itself, as it has and will continue to do so till the end of time...and shall also live in the shared, collective memory of all humanity, until the last human beings on the face of the earth are a mere fragment of dusty wind. But that is all we are ever ultimately left with at any rate, isn't it? Memories and dust.
If this tender reminiscence may seem strangely inappropriate for someone usually so vehemently critical of human procreation, I apologise. The lessons learned from the experience related here were harsh, and although exquisitely painful, quite useful nevertheless. I learned that wild-eyed romantics (temperamentally destined to be as penniless as the Chinese mountain hermit Han Shan--but probably also at least as happy) do not have as much to offer as economically striving and opportunistic young law students who will be able to provide the conventional stability and necessary financial success quotient requisite for today's typical, bright and upward striving young woman of East Asian extraction. One of the less happy results was a hesitancy about whom I trusted with intimate regard, from that point on and an even more cautious approach towards placing trust in anyone.
This is a bit of my life that I have heretofore carefully kept buried deep within and despite the somewhat less than upbeat nature of this episode in my life, there is definitely a cathartic quality in finally unburdening myself, in the telling, of some of the long-repressed, associative pain. My wish, consequently, is that this may help explain a small bit of the circumstantial matrix of the implacable skeptic and neocynic that I am today.
I wish all of you who HAVE found and held on to that youthful dream of loving fusion and zygotic meiosis with someone whom you both love, honor, respect, and bond forever with the very best wishes for happiness (or for whatever passes for same in this Jekel/Hyde human experience. Above all, however, may you all be filled with more HOPE than your logical experiences are ever able to successfully dissipate (that being the great mixed blessing/curse/balm and bain of human existence)......for hope is the last and ultimate human refuge with any enduring value in a fleeting world of misleading, illusory and often tragic sensations, and without hope we would have all been truly doomed long ago. Hope is, after all, the last resort of the damned and the blessed alike, like it or not, and it's about as entertaining a way of filling up all that empty time that spans the gap between birth and death as anything I am aware of.
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