Saturday, January 26, 2008

South Carolina: Expect The Expected

As expected, Barack Obama handily won the South Carolina primary, garnering 55 percent of the vote to Clinton's 27; still my favourite for dark horse candidate, John Edwards (who is - get this - a white man!) received 18 percent. The candidates' debate on CNN January 22 got the highest ratings ever for such a show, which may just be the silver lining to all the bitterness, resentment, and anomie currently inherent in the electoral process.

PhotobucketIf Election 08 can get people interested and involved again, if it can overcome their apathy, maybe it can even get them to vote; because that is the real victory in a democracy... Each individual vote is a victory against the forces of tyranny, and using it is not only the best way to ensure you'll still have it to use the next time, but also that there'll be a next time for you to use it.

I've noticed that the creeping spectre of partisanship - which has long kept parties on either side of the aisle from working together - is lately beginning to creep into party politics as well, and threatens to thwart the Democrats' cake walk into the White House this coming November. Staunch supporters of Barack Obama seem to be as opposed to the potential candidacy of the would-be First Lady President as they ought to be to Christianist maniac Mike Huckabee, pretty-boy smarm-factory Mitt Romney, or John "Concierge at the Hanoi Hilton" McCain and vice versa.

So while it's true that both junior Senators (New York and Illinois respectively) have very different visions for how the United States can and should be run, the one thing they do agree upon - that a Republican cannot and must not be allowed to do it - doesn't even seem to be on the agenda.

What is on the agenda is much petty sniping - mainly, at this stage, about race. Rather than running against their opponents, both candidates seem to be running against their allies. Seeing minorities fighting amongst themselves is the sort of thing that Republicans love to watch - it's their porn - and whether they're at home, in court, or on a hook, nobody likes to see a Republican get off less than me.

A little bit of politicking is to be expected, since this is the part of the campaign when the individual candidates demonstrate their platform, interpret their vision of the party, show the electorate how they handle themselves under fire, and (to a much lesser, though more important, extent) how they will build their team if elected; but the blogosphere is fairly bristling with much commentary, even at this early date, about how theirs is the only candidate, and if their candidate loses how they're moving to a cabin in Iceland or some shit because life won't be worth living anymore.

Well, if a Republican wins the next election because Clintonites fail to support Candidate Obama, or vice versa, that's when things are really going to get ugly. I mean "Iran in 1979" ugly, Spanish Inquisition ugly, Rudy Giuliani in drag ugly...

The next primary is the big one - Super Tuesday - which takes place February 5th; 24 states will be up for grabs that day.
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Friday, January 25, 2008

Viscount Severn In Allergy Scare


James, Viscount Severn, infant son of the Earl and Countess of Wessex and the Queen's eighth grandchild, was rushed to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital Thursday following what was first described as "a mystery illness". This was later clarified to be an allergic reaction, which nonetheless necessitated an overnight stay for both mother and son and a visit by the Earl himself. It was business as usual Friday for the Earl, who attended engagements in the Midlands and was kept apprised of his son's condition while there via mobile.

A Palace spokesperson described the tests as "routine", stating that if it had been an emergency the five-week-old child would have been taken to the local hospital (where he was born, in December 2007) near where the Wessexes live, at Bagshot Park in Surrey.
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"Take It To The Limit" by Etta James

If there's one thing Etta James knows all about it, it's taking things to the limit; for more than fifty years she's been honing her own variety of soul that's been rubbed raw by losses in love, in a record industry that treats women badly and black women even worse.

Born on this day seventy years ago in Los Angeles, while still a teenager James formed a doo-wop group called The Peaches, who got their big break auditioning for producer Johnny Otis. Their first single - The Wallflower (Dance with Me, Henry) - was released in 1955 as an answer song to Hank Ballard's Work With Me, Annie; James would have to wait six more years to strike gold on her own, and when she did she struck a very rich vein indeed.

Her performance in At Last, inspired by her love for her new husband Harvey Fuqua, remains her signature tune to this day; having attained the penultimate position on the R&B charts, it made it all the way to 22 on the pop charts - far enough to guarantee play at countless sock hops, thus embedding it into the hearts of white and black kids alike.

It was followed by such hits as Trust In Me, A Sunday Kind of Love, and my personal favourite Tough Mary. Interest in James' career revived when her songs began showing up in television commercials in the mid-1990s, striking a sentimental chord in the generation who grew up listening to them and endearing her to a whole new audience at the same time.
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Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Scanner What Ate My Brain

In case you've been wondering about the scarcity of posts the past few days, this is the reason, right here. This device, and these gawdawful 24 hour days, have conspired to make all my spare time just fly away.

I don't generally write tech posts because... Well, you could put all I know about technology in a thimble and still have room left over for what I know about math, physics, and relationships. But I know what I like, and I like this. In fact, I like this a Hell of a lot more than the cheesy line that preceded this one.

Having spent the better part of four hours last night scanning some black & white negatives I haven't seen for fifteen years back to life I was struck by what a revelation it was to see people and places I hadn't seen in so long emerging pixel by pixel from the past. Then I scanned some photos from prints, made a few PDFs, and scanned a slide. By that point it was well after midnight, and somewhere along the way I'd lost another four hours.

I can see how this is going to quickly become my favourite toy; it's technical name is the Epson V350 but they call it Perfection. Now, so do I.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Nominations Announced

Best motion picture of the year
Atonement, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Paul Webster, producers
Juno, Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick and Russell Smith, producers
Michael Clayton, Sydney Pollack, Jennifer Fox and Kerry Orent, producers
No Country for Old Men, Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, producers
There Will Be Blood, JoAnne Sellar, Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Lupi, producers

Performance by an actor in a leading role

George Clooney in "Michael Clayton"
Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood"
Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"
Tommy Lee Jones in "In the Valley of Elah"
Viggo Mortensen in "Eastern Promises"

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Cate Blanchett in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age"
Julie Christie in "Away from Her"
Marion Cotillard in "La Vie en Rose"
Laura Linney in "The Savages"
Ellen Page in "Juno"

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Casey Affleck in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"
Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men"
Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Charlie Wilson's War"
Hal Holbrook in "Into the Wild"
Tom Wilkinson in "Michael Clayton"

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Cate Blanchett in "I'm Not There"
Ruby Dee in "American Gangster"
Saoirse Ronan in "Atonement"
Amy Ryan in "Gone Baby Gone"
Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton"

Achievement in directing
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly": Julian Schnabel
"Juno": Jason Reitman
"Michael Clayton": Tony Gilroy
"No Country for Old Men": Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
"There Will Be Blood": Paul Thomas Anderson

Achievement in cinematography
"The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford": Roger Deakins
"Atonement": Seamus McGarvey
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly": Janusz Kaminski
"No Country for Old Men": Roger Deakins
"There Will Be Blood": Robert Elswit

Original screenplay
"Juno", by Diablo Cody
"Lars and the Real Girl", by Nancy Oliver
"Michael Clayton", by Tony Gilroy
"Ratatouille", screenplay by Brad Bird; story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
"The Savages", by Tamara Jenkins

Adapted screenplay
"Atonement", by Christopher Hampton
"Away from Her", by Sarah Polley
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly", by Ronald Harwood
"No Country for Old Men", by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
"There Will Be Blood", by Paul Thomas Anderson

Achievement in art direction
"American Gangster": Art Direction: Arthur Max; Set Decoration: Beth A. Rubino
"Atonement": Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
"The Golden Compass": Art Direction: Dennis Gassner; Set Decoration: Anna Pinnock
"Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street": Art Direction: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
"There Will Be Blood": Art Direction: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Achievement in costume design
"Across the Universe": Albert Wolsky
"Atonement": Jacqueline Durran
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age": Alexandra Byrne
"La Vie en Rose": Marit Allen
"Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street": Colleen Atwood

Achievement in makeup
"La Vie en Rose": Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald
"Norbit": Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End": Ve Neill and Martin Samuel

Best foreign language film of the year
"Beaufort" Israel
"The Counterfeiters" Austria
"Katyn" Poland
"Mongol" Kazakhstan
"12" Russia

Best animated feature film of the year
"Persepolis": Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud
"Ratatouille": Brad Bird
"Surf's Up": Ash Brannon and Chris Buck

Best documentary feature
"No End in Sight": Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
"Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience": Richard E. Robbins
"Sicko": Michael Moore and Meghan O'Hara
"Taxi to the Dark Side": Alex Gibney and Eva Orner
"War/Dance": Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine

Best documentary short subject
"Freeheld": Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth
"La Corona (The Crown)": Amanda Micheli and Isabel Vega
"Salim Baba": Tim Sternberg and Francisco Bello
"Sari's Mother": James Longley

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
"Atonement": Dario Marianelli
"The Kite Runner": Alberto Iglesias
"Michael Clayton": James Newton Howard
"Ratatouille": Michael Giacchino
"3:10 to Yuma": Marco Beltrami

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
"Falling Slowly" from "Once" - Music and Lyric by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
"Happy Working Song" from "Enchanted" - Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
"Raise It Up" from "August Rush" (Warner Bros.): Nominees to be determined
"So Close" from "Enchanted" - Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz
"That's How You Know" from "Enchanted" - Music by Alan Menken; Lyric by Stephen Schwartz

Best animated short film
"I Met the Walrus": Josh Raskin
"Madame Tutli-Putli": Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski
"Même Les Pigeons Vont au Paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven)": Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse
"My Love (Moya Lyubov)": Alexander Petrov
"Peter & the Wolf": Suzie Templeton and Hugh Welchman

Best live action short film
"At Night": Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth
"Il Supplente (The Substitute)": Andrea Jublin
"Le Mozart des Pickpockets (The Mozart of Pickpockets)": Philippe Pollet-Villard
"Tanghi Argentini": Guido Thys and Anja Daelemans
"The Tonto Woman": Daniel Barber and Matthew Brown

Achievement in visual effects
"The Golden Compass": Michael Fink, Bill Westenhofer, Ben Morris and Trevor Wood
"Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End": John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier
"Transformers": Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier

Achievement in film editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum": Christopher Rouse
"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly": Juliette Welfling
"Into the Wild": Jay Cassidy
"No Country for Old Men": Roderick Jaynes
"There Will Be Blood": Dylan Tichenor

Achievement in sound editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum": Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg
"No Country for Old Men": Skip Lievsay
"Ratatouille": Randy Thom and Michael Silvers
"There Will Be Blood": Matthew Wood
"Transformers": Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins

Achievement in sound mixing
"The Bourne Ultimatum": Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis
"No Country for Old Men": Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter Kurland
"Ratatouille": Randy Thom, Michael Semanick and Doc Kane
"3:10 to Yuma": Paul Massey, David Giammarco and Jim Stuebe
"Transformers": Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin

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RIP Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger, the Australian-born actor popular for such films as 10 Things I Hate About You, Monster's Ball, A Knight's Tale, and of course Brokeback Mountain, was found dead in a Manhattan apartment today by a housekeeper and a masseuse at just after 3:30 PM local time. He was 28.

PhotobucketRomantically linked with Naomi Watts and Heather Graham, in 2005 Ledger became engaged to his Brokeback costar Michelle Williams; in October of that year the couple had a daughter, Matilda Rose. Ledger and Williams confirmed their split in August 2007, citing conflicting work schedules.

At the time of his death Ledger had just completed work as The Joker in The Dark Knight, to be released this July; his performance was (and, indeed, still is) eagerly anticipated. In fact, he was at work on The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus when he died; no word yet on what's to become of that production.

While rumour and speculation are rampant, Ledger's haggard appearance of late has most pundits predicting that drugs played a major factor in his untimely death. Ledger's demise comes just one week after the death of another young actor, Brad Renfro, 25, also due to drugs-related causes.

The Plot Thickens... The New York Times is reporting that Ledger was found not at home but in the apartment of Mary-Kate Olsen, near a copious quantity of sleeping medication. An autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow; a spokeperson for Ms. Olsen insists the apartment (located at 421 Broome St. in the tony SoHo neighbourhood) belongs to neither her nor her sister.
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Monday, January 21, 2008

RIP Suzanne Pleshette

It was a voice by turns husky, smoky, and sultry; now it's owner, comedienne Suzanne Pleshette, is gone. Pleshette died Saturday of respiratory failure at the age of 70.

PhotobucketBorn in January 1937, Pleshette attended Manhattan's High School of Performing Arts before going on to Syracuse University in upstate New York. The raven-haired beauty appeared in numerous movies in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s, including Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 classic The Birds.

Pleshette's longtime marriage to Tommy Gallagher (1968-2000) was bookended by two shorter ones: her first - to fellow actor Troy Donahue - ended badly in 1964 after just eight months, and her third (to former costar Tom Poston) was a happy one cut short after six years by his death in April 2007.

Among her noted roles on television were six seasons (1972-8) on The Bob Newhart Show (for which she reprised her role in the famous final episode of his other sitcom, Newhart, in May 1990), and a TV movie based on the life of Leona Helmsley entitled The Queen of Mean (1990), which must have been a great training ground for her final role as Karen Walker's mother on Will & Grace.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Clinton Ekes Out Nevada Win

Take that Obama! And... Those guys who are always hanging around behind Obama... NYAH!

PhotobucketDespite the tenterhooks upon which I sat during the evening of the Michigan Primary (which nobody bothered to explain to me beforehand wasn't a real primary at all - thanks guys!) Nevada was a real primary, although like Iowa they called it a caucus. Clinton managed to triumph by six points, earning 51% of the votes to Obama's 45%.

Next it's on the South Carolina, where race is likely to be a factor, and it remains to be seen if the recent flap over the issue will remain to haunt the efforts of the would-be First Lady President. They are set to take place January 26th.

On the other side of the aisle, Mitt Romney didn't campaign in South Carolina in favour of Nevada, where he handily won; this cleared the way for John McCain's narrow win over Huckabee in the first Southern primary, which must have been a sweet victory, as it was here where Karl Rove's dirty lies cost McCain the state in favour of George W. Bush in 2000.

[Read more...]
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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Bette Midler Channels Sophie Tucker

From day one a sizable (not to mention crowd-pleasing) portion of Bette Midler's act has been the telling of "Soph" jokes - that is to say, jokes that were told by Sophie Tucker on adult-oriented "party albums" she recorded in the 1950s and derived from her performances in burlesque.

This is where I first heard of Sophie Tucker, and I'll be forever grateful to Bette Midler for that (among many, many other things); the above clip is, of course, derived from the film of the Divine Miss M's 1980 concert Divine Madness.
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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

In Theatres Now: "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"

The creative genius that is Tim Burton continues to plumb the hidden "Depp's" of his onscreen muse in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; the stylish, gory movie also features the abundant talents of Burton's wife Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Sacha Baron Cohen as well as newcomers Jamie Campbell Bower and Edward Sanders.

Stephen Sondheim's 1979 stage musical had been begging for a cinematic treatment since its debut, but as usual delayed gratification has been its own reward; having just come from seeing it, I can think of no other director working today whose style suits the story being told like Burton's. Able assistance from veteran production designer Dante Ferretti recreated a vision of Victorian London as macabre as the source material inhabiting it. Squeamish as I am - and this movie offers plenty of squeam - I am simply unable to look away from really good art direction; so there I sat, transfixed, as throat after throat was slit.

Johnny Depp seems to have done the impossible in creating a performance both low-key and bravura, often at the same time; his Sweeney is a man bent on revenge for the wrongs done to him, and since he's already dead inside his crimes don't unsettle his conscience in the least. Nor should they bother those of the audience either; it's not much of a spoiler to say that only the innocent survive in this movie, and they are a very select group indeed.

This may be the best chance Depp has had yet to nab himself an Oscar, and Burton and Bonham Carter as well; given how enthusiastically the Academy has embraced the re-emergent musical genre in recent years, I don't imagine even Sweeney Todd himself would slit my throat for saying so.
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Happy Birthday Your Potential Highness


It's been an on-again, off-again year for Kate Middleton and her royal beau, but the British papers are indicating that Kate and Wills are very much on-again. In fact, she's moved into his apartment at Clarence House, fuelling rumours that a Royal Wedding is in the offing, possibly next summer. Naturally, my gay nerves are all in a tizzy over this possibility.

Eager not to repeat the marital mistakes of Princess Margaret, The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal, and The Duke of York, the Palace appears to be allowing the couple to move at their own pace; they've been together now for four years.

William will enter the Royal Air Force soon (and thereafter the Royal Navy), to continue his training to be King, which means they'll have to endure a separation; still, Kate has proven herself a discreet and resilient sort, although she's recently been the subject of her first negative coverage - another crucial test on the road to royal status.
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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

First We'll Take New Hampshire...

Given the momentum Senator Barack Obama of Illinois had going into today's New Hampshire primary (as evidenced by much gloating on the part of his supporters throughout the blogosphere following his surprise upset in the recent Iowa caucus) Hillary Rodham Clinton's victory keeps hope alive (audacity or no) for those looking to elect the First Lady President.


Former President Bill Clinton moved one step closer to selecting centrepieces and entertaining the wives of visiting dignitaries Tuesday with his wife's surprise victory over the former Democratic front runner and Ann Coulter's favourite punching bag John Edwards.

On the Republican side, the marginally better than the others John McCain bested Mitt Romney, and Iowa caucus victor Mike Huckabee came a distant third; Rudy Giuliani's name was nowhere to be found, for which we can all be thankful. Ron Paul - the Republican Dennis Kucinich - brings issues to the campaign without being a serious threat to any of the front runners.

Next up is the Michigan primary on January 15th.
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Monday, January 07, 2008

"Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin

Disney's Fantasia 2000 borrowed the visual look for its gorgeous Depression-era segment from Al Hirschfeld, the respected cartoonist of Broadway; in order to make itself quintessentially Manhattan, though, it appropriated the music of George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

This isn't the first time Gershwin's jazz-inflected melody has been used to similar end on the silver screen; in 1979, Woody Allen's masterpiece Manhattan used the tune to both open and close the film, as well as incidentally throughout.

It's a little quiet, so it may be best viewed with headphones; visually, though, it's nonpareil. In fact, it may be the most sumptuous thing I've seen in weeks. Look for cameos from the composer himself and Eloise, the little girl who famously lived at the Plaza Hotel.

Originally posted September 26th, 2007, on George Gershwin's birthdate, I couldn't resist reposting it here, because I love it so much. ~ MSM
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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Barack Obama Sweeps Iowa Caucus

Democratic hopeful Barack Obama (shown here demonstrating exactly where he has Hillary Clinton) swept to victory in the Iowa caucus today; he was joined in victory by Republican candidate Mike Huckabee in the first of the state primaries. The candidates are next headed to New Hampshire.

PhotobucketIt's still too early to tell, of course; will this surprise win build Obama's already formidable momentum, or will it just make Clinton's camp scrappier? While the junior Senator from New York came a shocking (if narrow) third, John Edwards was the Democrats' second place finisher, and two candidates - Senator Joe Biden and Christopher Dodd - dropped out. Among Republicans, Mitt Romney was a full nine points behind Huckabee, and both of them are facing a sudden surge by Ron Paul.

Only one thing is certain following today's events; the most important election in American history is far from decided.

Until it is, though, the Pop Culture Institute will be following these events as closely as my magpie mind will allow, making snarky, ill-informed commentary accordingly.
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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Congratulations Sir Michael Parkinson!

Having recently taped his final show, during which the legendary chat-show host sat down with David Beckham and Sir Michael Caine (and tried to sit down with manic comedian Peter Kay), Michael Parkinson has been awarded a CBE for his 36 years on television.
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The Queen's New Year Honours

PhotobucketPop icon Kylie Minogue has been topping the pop charts for 20 years now, reason enough she should top 2008's New Year's Honours List, where she is joined by esteemed chat-show host Michael Parkinson, and the ever-sporty Des Lynam.

Businessman Stuart Rose (of Marks & Spencer), long-distance runner Brendan Foster, snooker champ John Higgins, and BBC newsreader George Alagiah were also honoured; as were those involved in rescue and relief efforts during recent widespread flooding in England.

Former recipient Sir Ian McKellan was made a Companion of Honour (joining pal Dame Judi Dench) while Julie Walters traded up her 1999 OBE for a 2008 CBE.

[Read more...]
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Happy 2008!


Well, that's enough looking back; New Year's is also a time to look forward, and am I ever looking forward to 2008.

This year, unlike previous years, feels like a culmination; disparate strands of endeavour are ever so subtly weaving themselves together. Yes... It's all going according to plan, and soon the time will be nigh to bring enlightertainment to the whole world.

There is, of course, the challenge of bringing more of my own videos to the site, as well as maintaining the ever-popular mix of news, personalities, music, and fun - all with that same snark you've come to know and love.

Won't you join me in helping to make 2008 the best year ever?
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