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click opera - Against "hypocrisy"
February 2010
 
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Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 09:00 am
Against "hypocrisy"

Thomas Scott sounded a warning note in the 101st comment to appear under yesterday's entry about my trip to the countryside:

"Perhaps the vitriol this post has attracted deserves further scrutiny. [Your trip to Wiesenburg] does on the surface seem innocuous but perhaps those nasty anons have an argument that pleasantry alone cannot rebuff. If it is intended as a prelude to a proposed cogent post/essay on the nature of hypocrisy then so much to the good. But recognise at least that your presidential suite hammock vis-a vis your recurrent post-materialist themes must thus be reconciled as a ratio of your preaching to your credibility."



Now, if I were to take this accusation of hypocrisy at face value, I'd probably rebuff it this way (and it's a buff rebuttal pretty much without bluff):

Scenario of the Castle: I, an impoverished post-materialist Berlin artist, paid €8.50 to take the train to the countryside to visit another impoverished post-materialist Berlin artist who'd had the luck to get a residency in a 12th century castle. We ate lentils -- the cheapest dish available -- in the local hostelry. I was then shown around the castle, and some chat about esoterica and cults ensued. Neither of us owning a car, we trudged on foot down a muddy forest track, back to the station. Three times we descended the hill, and three times we climbed it again, sometimes in blizzards, but always oblivious -- so deep were we in abstruse chat -- to both the time and the weather. Since we managed to miss all the returning trains, my friend suggested I stay over at the castle in an apartment which had inadvertently been left open. This I did, rather in the manner of a small boy kipping illicitly in a barn. The next day, after snapping some pictures of the gardens (a public park, by the way, owned by the municipality), I went back to the city.



I did not purchase the castle, nor did I burn an unreasonable quantity of fossil fuel getting there (the train was a double-decker). And yet, somehow, I can never speak of post-materialist themes again without jeers, hoots, and haunting taunts of "Hypocrisy"? Verily, my brothers and sisters, we live in a strange world!

Perhaps the problem is actually with the idea of hypocrisy itself -- the idea that consistency is a greater virtue than whatever virtue an inconsistent man might be talking about, and that personal life and public policy must always be girded up and gridded up to resemble each other. Let me put an alternative point of view. Someone living in a castle, and owning a castle, could very usefully speak about post-materialism. Someone paying five figure utility bills would be in a very good position to talk about -- and act on -- the theme of energy wastage; they would be an expert on it, and have a vested interest in change, and actually have the possibility to make changes on a scale a pauper huddled over a candle could only dream of.



Ad hominem: There are many reasons a charge of hypocrisy might be reactionary and counter-productive. First of all, the hypocrisy mindset pays too much attention to people's personal lives and too little to their programmatic or ideological outlook. If someone is a visionary, or is trying to solve a widespread problem, it's likely that his personal life will reflect the problem whereas his policies will reflect the solution. It would then be pretty stupid to accuse him of saying one thing and doing another -- especially if everyone were pretty much in the same boat, at least until an alternative infrastructure is set up. A charge of hypocrisy might well be a pre-emptive strike designed to stymie future solutions to universal problems.

Consistency above correctness: Consistency is the hobgoblin of petty minds. Wanting things to be less complex, and wanting people and societies to be without internal contradictions is understandable, but small-minded. It ignores the fact that it is often only by sinning ourselves that we can learn exactly why sinning is bad. At a certain point we are all saying one thing and doing another. This is, apart from anything else, a sure sign of our complexity, and of our capacity to rise above our current way of living and search for alternatives, no matter how deeply we're mired. Allow it, brothers!



Give me moral perfection or give me corruption: We often strike down people with a spotted reputation only to replace them with people who are unapologetically evil. We hate to be preached at so much that we ignore the sermons we need to hear and prefer unalloyed corruption. At least it's consistent, right? At least there's no hypocrisy there! At least change is taken off the agenda! Thank Christ "hypocrisy" has absolved us of the need to feel wrong, and to make a painful change!

Why me? Because I've talked about carbon emissions, my readers remind me how much carbon I'm burning with, say, a flight to Japan. Over on Marxy's blog, though, frequent flights between Japan and the US have never elicited a single comment about carbon emissions. This is because it's a subject Marxy has never raised. The answer to the "Why me?" question is that, having flagged emissions as a subject of concern, I have opened up the subject. I am seen as fair game for blame, a legitimate target, a hypocrite for then taking long flights. I have opened up an Achilles heel, and now you are attacking it. But a much better question is "Why not him?" Why is it worse to open up the subject, and then act in ways that seem inconsistent with that concern, than never to have raised the issue at all? Are carbon emissions really your concern, or is consistency? Why? Would you prefer if I kept my Achilles heels hidden? Would that make me blameless?

Catch 22: If I don't do what I advocate, I'm a hypocrite. But if I advocate what I do, I'm a narcissist, trying to set myself up as a model for all humanity.



Guilty pleasures: A society that railed against hypocrisy might well also be a society much given to guilty pleasures. They're both concerned with doing something pleasurable despite knowing it would be looked down upon. This society would play certain kinds of games with the line between public and private, respecting it sometimes piously, breaching it at other times callously with an "exposé". In accusing others of inconsistency, this society would, itself, be inconsistent, because it would never quite be clear whether privacy should or shouldn't exist, and whether desire was a good or a bad thing. I would wager this society is culturally Protestant, for these are characteristically Protestant confusions.

100 people in a room: There are 100 people in a room, all doing A Bad Thing. They know it's a bad thing, a thing that will damage the room and everyone in it, but they can't stop. Suddenly a Visionary makes a powerful and moving speech. "We must stop doing The Bad Thing!" he says. His speech is effective: everyone stops. Except the Visionary himself, who keeps doing it. This, however, is a minor detail: the room is a better, safer place. Instead of 100 people doing The Bad Thing, only one is doing it. Suddenly a Commentator gets up. "Suckers!" he shouts. "You've stopped doing The Bad Thing, but the man who made you stop still does it! You've been had... by a hypocrite!" Soon everyone in the room is doing The Bad Thing again.

But tell me, please, who has damaged the room more, the Visionary or the Commentator? Who has the best chance of helping the room?



Scenario of the Island and the Cars: Imagine a small island overrun by cars. So many cars that it has reached a state of car-tastrophe, car-mageddon. Not only is the original function of the car -- a machine which gets you from A to B -- completely defeated by tailbacks and gridlock, but emissions from the machines are destroying the climate and creating eco-migrants, rising sea levels, and general misery throughout the world. Now, political action is difficult, because people -- despite everything -- love their cars. One hundred years of political decisions have been in favour of the car, and it's difficult to reverse that. What's more, cars, if they are a "crime", are a universal one. Everyone uses them.

Into this scenario emerges a politician with a difference: he is really against cars. He proposes radical anti-car legislation -- something no-one else has dared to do -- and surprisingly enough there is widespread support for it. The time is right, the public mood has swung. To publicize his ideas, the politician is photographed riding a bike to work. He is soon portrayed in the media as a saint, a deliverer, a dragon-slayer. But one day some paparazzi shots appear in a pro-car tabloid. The politician, on holiday in Southern Italy, is not riding a bicycle. He is, in fact, driving a car. And it's a red Maserati.



The tabloid gleefully reports the Maserati's extremely high fuel consumption and low efficiency, its roaring engine, the thick black smoke pouring from its exhaust pipe. Jeremy Clarkson crows delightedly, welcoming the politician to the club of unrepentant drivers and declaring his anti-car campaign over. The editorial columns are full of accusations of hypocrisy: the minister is saying one thing and doing another. Far better, think these papers, to support an honest politician: one who is adamantly against all anti-car legislation, and drives his car with pride.

In the wake of this furore, the government quietly drops its anti-car legislation. The island becomes more fume-befuddled than ever, the gridlock more severe. But at least nobody has to make any changes, and at least nobody is being hypocritical any more.

A few decades later, sea levels rise so much that the island disappears completely into the sea. As the top of his semi-detached house disappears into the waves, the last living inhabitant shouts a sort of epitaph for the island: "You can say what you like about this place, but at least we weren't hypocrites!"

73CommentReplyShare

rhodri
rhodri
Rhodri Marsden
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)

Man, you got a hammering.

I hope my blog's never mentioned in the New York Times - they'd have a field day, what with me railing against snobbish prigs recounting their Swiss ski slope adventures one minute, and then, er, describing my visit to The Ivy. Oh, I haven't done that yet. Rupert Everett was there. I had the pork.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 08:48 am (UTC)

I had the pork.

No harm done. Just don't mention it to your fellow muslims.


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RE RE - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 08:57 am (UTC)

You spelt realise with a 'z' - are you feeling ok momus?

Just a point - i enjoy reading this blog when you talk of new things, insightful things. It frustrates me that those who read it turn it into an area of argument, often a futile one, as your post today showed.

wewillbecome.com



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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 09:02 am (UTC)

Years of writing for American magazines -- and using an American spell-check program on my American computer -- have left me with some cultural inconsistencies in my spelling. BUT AT LEAST I AM A HYPOCRITE ABOUT IT!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 09:19 am (UTC)
Pretty amazing

Gold, pure gold.

The moral of the story is simple though, isn't it? Materialist, post-materialist, anti-materialist, dirty communist... whoever we happen to be, castles are still pretty awesome.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 09:23 am (UTC)
Re: Pretty amazing

High castles, high horses, moral high ground, they're all good. Well, high, at least.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 09:27 am (UTC)
www.google.com

odd you post this today!
see google's main page?
it's black.. just can't get over the look:
http://www.google.com/intl/en/earthhour/


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 09:48 am (UTC)

Excellent rebuttal.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Mar. 30th, 2008 11:06 am (UTC)
island and cars...

actually, this sounds like tuvalu.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2005/mar/25/guardianweekly.guardianweekly1


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bikerbar
bikerbar
bikerbar
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 09:58 am (UTC)

I am not going to wade through all the comments on the previous post, but this post is right on target. So you slept in a castle/chateau .. so what, would they have you sleep in a cardboard box every night?

The problem as I see it is the widespread urge to find an ultimate solution, some right way of being. There are good and bad directions in life and ways of being, but there is no one right way. Some people live in old castles, some live in tree houses .. and they both have it pretty good, depending on the climate.

Aristocrats, many of them, were quite supportive of local development, and yeah a few people lived in luxury (though castles are quite drafty). It was certainly the "slow life", compared to today. Now wealth is concentrated at the top as never before, and the small regions are left to rot. If you want to have a life, move to the city with all the others jostling for position. Find yourself a cubicle and learn database programming. It pays well I hear. Then you can live in envy of poor bohemian goofs wandering around Europe.


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sarmoung
sarmoung
The Empire Never Ended
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 10:05 am (UTC)

Today's post has certainly cleared up some areas. For a start, I'm always concerned that whilst there's plenty of thinking going on, there's never quite enough eating. Previously I'd imagined that David Woodard had engineered this missing of trains so he could entrap you in that chilly looking room overnight while he paraded around in and out of uniform like Helmut Berger in The Damned. Instead, lentils.

Photobucket


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jermynsavile
jermynsavile
jermynsavile
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 10:14 am (UTC)

Oh I miss him. I wish I'd bought one of his pamphlets, at that price they were a steal.


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jermynsavile
jermynsavile
jermynsavile
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 10:34 am (UTC)

But tell me, please, who has damaged the room more, the Visionary or the Commentator? Who has the best chance of helping the room?

Each person in the room doing the bad thing is equally culpable. First for doing the bad thing and second for needing someone else to tell them that it was a bad thing.

But then, surely, "What matters is to challenge, to arouse, to provoke, to entertain, to stimulate, to open up new vistas, new avenues of consideration -- even forbidden ones." Who is to say that the bad thing is a bad thing. Perhaps it is just interesting?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 11:12 am (UTC)

That's what matters to people who content themselves with being interesting -- to artists, in other words. What matters to artists is things; art's ambivalence allows them to pass on the question of whether they're Good Things or Bad Things.

People who go into politics don't have to be interesting, but it does matter that they're trying to be right, and to define The Good Thing and advance collectively towards it.

The Visionary in my 100 People in a Room scenario is a politician, not an artist. But one with vision, unlike the Commentator, who merely has a narrow pseudo-ethical focus (but is probably a kind of schadenfreude entertainer with an op-ed column).

Edited at 2008-03-29 11:20 am (UTC)


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 10:45 am (UTC)

Funny. I'd got the impression that those people thought you'd somehow stiffed them. But it was about castles. Foolish me.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 11:27 am (UTC)

But tell me, please, who has damaged the room more, the Visionary or the Commentator? Who has the best chance of helping the room?

The editor, of course.


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bugpowered
bugpowered
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 11:52 am (UTC)

Just couldn't resist the temptation, eh?

Oh, so witty, all these comments.

Here's the word of the day for you:

Main Entry: re·fute
Pronunciation: ri-'fyüt
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): re·fut·ed; re·fut·ing
Etymology: Latin refutare to check, suppress, refute
Date: 1545
1 : to prove wrong by argument or evidence : show to be false or erroneous
2 : to deny the truth or accuracy of
- re·fut·able /-'fyü-t&-b&l/ adjective
- re·fut·ably /-blE/ adverb
- re·fut·er noun


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 11:39 am (UTC)

loool women and cars. I haven't laughed this hard since yesterday night.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 12:31 pm (UTC)

You really had to drag me into this one? Am I really the paragon of anti-environmental behavior you were looking for?

Marxy


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 12:37 pm (UTC)

Well, you tell me!


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 12:43 pm (UTC)

If this is supposed to be (at least partially) about my comments from yesterday, it is (at least partially) beside the point. I couldn't care less about castles and meetings with (semi) famous people. I was commenting on the silly dichotomy between The Right (bad) and The Interesting (good).

der.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 02:16 pm (UTC)
they placed upon him a crown of shit

Climb down off your cross my friend. It's been done already. Artists avoid cliches, yes? And a hero should never explain, nor apologize.

The shitheads, and those who throw shit at your head, will always be with us.


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)

Momus - maybe you should try this awareness test.



Now watch it again. Did you see the gorilla??


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Wow - (Anonymous) Expand


Re: Wow - (Anonymous) Expand

eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)


"For Communism to ever work, it will require widespread selflessness, hence "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need". It will require the strong to work many hours and be the most productive, but still only receive the same rationing of food, housing etc as the rest of society. It will require those who have to give to those who haven't."

You misunderstand. it's about the destruction of current class antagonisms which goes hand in hand with power being in the hands of the majority, the working class , the same working people who make it possible to generate wealth (and power) for the elites (unlike under capitalism , where the power relationship is disproportionate - in the hands of a handful of folk in the banking and military-industrial sectors.)

It's slso about recognising that it is extremely dangerous for so few people to wield global power over millions. It's about harnessing the entire labour power of a society by viewing work as a right not a privilege. It's about a shift from representative democracy, which doesn't really work under capitalism, towards participtive democracy. It's about planning, not leaving things to market forces and the destructive 'cycles' of capitalism.

...etc.







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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

HYPOTHOTAMOMUS! - (Anonymous) Expand








desant012
||||||||||
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 03:37 pm (UTC)

The hypocrisy of artists is meaningless. Actually, hypocrisy is meaningless as a whole when it comes to anything. We're human beings.

Should we really follow and believe what artists (art here being visual, music, writing etc), say to the word? The best thing they can do is challenge us to see the world in different ways ... or confirm your own personal beliefs and biases.

If your manager at work runs the office well, but his own household like shit, does that negate what he does successfully in his occupation?


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thomascott
thomascott
Thomas Scott
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 04:30 pm (UTC)

Kuma succinctly sums up the problems some of your readers evidently have with your take on hypocrisy in the above post.
You do in fact construct the framework of an interesting argument in the first part of today's post but then effectively overturn it by presenting two trite scenarios, one of which plays with the alarmist, unscientific global-warming prediction that keeps Monbiot and Hollywood in doughnuts and both of which predicate on the assumption that people are mindless sheep who lack the imagination to separate the idea of the hypothetical leader/visionary from the individual.

Incidentally my questioning of yesterday's post is in quite a different spirit to anonymous mud-hurling, if your comment line generates lively debate then so much to the good but snide insult does no one any service.


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rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
rinusvanalebeek
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 04:41 pm (UTC)
make sounds not war



flyerdesign by cedric anglaret

all of them are poor and not famous.
i am the only one with a sports car.

greetings from the other world,

rinus


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 04:42 pm (UTC)

Oh, you slept in a castle? I should read your entries more closely, haha!


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violet_hemlock
violet mendonca
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)

all I can really say is that this sooooooo needed to be said. thx.


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC)

I'm another lurker and occasional anonymous commenter who reads your blog - you pass the "interesting" test as far as I'm concerned - but I often don't agree with you even when your heart seems to be in the right place.

What I don't think happens much on Click Opera, and you may not want it to happen, is any real dialogue. There are entertaining exchanges but, as one of your other commenters said yesterday, you never really give any sense that you have taken on board anything anyone else says. The pattern that emerges is that you'll make an observation which someone else will refute in a back-and-forth with you but, a few days later, you'll make the same point, ignoring the earlier objections. That's perhaps why it seems that some regulars here appear to be hounding you because they want you either to make your case more convincingly or else shift your views.

As the blogger, you might feel that puts you in a position where you are the only one doing the moving but that's simply a reflection of the fact that anonymous commenters are usually not going to be magnanimous enough to own up when they realize they have got the wrong end of the stick so there's bound to be some sort of asymmetry.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC)

Well, that may be true -- I'm taking it on board! -- but a specific example of something I should've taken on board and didn't would really help me here.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sun, Mar. 30th, 2008 10:13 am (UTC)
Re: La Rochefoucauld

"It's a nice change of pace from watching liberals call each other racists, sexists and homophobes".

Made me laugh.


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erotreme
erotreme
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 08:42 pm (UTC)

I usually don't look at your comments unless you made a quasi-inflammatory post and I'm curious. So I didn't last time, and I'm surprised to hear there was such bile. As far as I'm concerned, you do all these projects, travel all these places, for me. You tramped under the stars and slept in a castle for me? How lovely of you. You shouldn't have. (By which, of course, I don't really mean that you shouldn't have.) I live a small and quiet life in Pittsburgh and I count on you.

Keep doing what you're doing. I count you as a friend. Someday if I find myself in one of the places you're visiting (it could happen), I will buy you a meal.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 09:06 pm (UTC)

This "What many do vs what one person do" theme running through this thread is great. I've thought about it a little. Especially since some areas in Towns all over the world get bad reputations because just a couple of "geezers" happen to do something violently. Overnight an area can be remembered as a horrible place to live.

People tend to have quite bad memory and along with that opportunists in the media or elsewhere take their chance to make themselves look good. Though the history books always tell a different story. I regret I didn't vote for the social democrats last election...


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Mar. 29th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
viscosity

When you're interesting you don't need 'credibility', right?
Or interest supplies its own.
Zizek is perhaps a good example.
If Momus says the same things in different ways then so do the anons. Click Opera has long praised inconsistency and played fast and loose with interesting, if sometimes self-consciously silly theorising.
Today Allan Kaprow had an ice-block enclosure melting outside Tate Modern.
'Is it a comment on global warming?' quipped one woman.
It started raining and the ice was melting in rivulets and a mini-waterfall of drips. Then there will only be water left.


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(Anonymous)
Sun, Mar. 30th, 2008 02:08 am (UTC)
pro sight toots

we are all hippy cruds
we are who arse hole of scumanity
scumanity
cumanity
scum bags anony anony
pro sat toots
a want you
to use me
mgmt


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