Monday, December 31, 2007

And now it's going to be 2008

Listening to: Uncle Warren's Attic #46

"Francisco, what's the most depraved type of human being?"
"The man without a purpose."


"I don't like the thing that's happening to people, Miss Taggart."
"I don't know. But I've watched them here for 20 years, and I've seen the change. They used to rush through here, and it was wonderful to watch, and it was the hurry of men who knew where they were going and were eager to get there. Now they're hurrying because they are afraid. It's not a purpose that drives them, it's fear. They're not going anywhere, they're escaping. And I don't think they know what it is that they want to escape. They don't look at one another. They jerk when brushed against. They smile too much, but it's an ugly kind of smiling: It's not joy, it's pleading. I don't know what it is that's happening to the world." He shrugged. "Oh well, who is John Galt?"


Thanks for visiting this little spot on the Web from time to time. May your new year be one of purpose.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Abolish slavery instead

Listening to: "Thunder Road," Bruce Springsteen

Walter Block has a few words for libertarians who have been unable to bring themselves to actively support Ron Paul for president. It's interesting to hear what Block thinks of us, but in terms of a response (having recently read The Fountainhead), I have to go with Howard Roark's memorable response to Ellsworth Toohey:
Toohey: Why don't you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.
Roark: But I don't think of you.
Sunni Maravillosa, who is among those called out by Block in his essay, has more patience with the guy and has a detailed rebuttal. Block lost me long before he explained why voting for Paul would be a valid defensive act:
Suppose a slave master allows his slaves to choose between Overseer Goody, who has a very light and judicious touch with the whip, and Overseer Baddy, who never met a bloody back he didn’t like. The slaves take up the master on his offer, and vote for Goody. Are they thereby demonstrating support for slavery, for goodness sakes? No; they are only registering a preference for Goody over Baddy.
This is a perfect analogy. We have more than a dozen overseer wannabes who are itching to bloody backs, and one guy who promises "a very light and judicious touch with the whip."

Don't you see, Walter? He's still going to use the whip.

I admire Paul and, if we have to have a Great Ruler, acknowledge he is the best of the lot. But voting to give someone the whip is not an option for a free man.

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

How could I forget Remy?

Santa left me a surprise under the tree that made me slap my forehead regarding my year-end movie picks the other day. How could I forget Ratatouille?

This charming little Pixar delight features the enduring message that anyone with a passion can accomplish anything; only we can define our limits. Sweetie made sure I can always access that important (and entertaining) message, as well as the mind-bogglingly great and chilling film The Lives of Others. (Oh, and as for the one thing I wanted that wasn't under the tree, Sweetie held off on a last-minute purchase when I mentioned the fliers for all of the stores that are selling the Heroes set for about $20 starting tomorrow!)

My dozen five-star movies become a baker's dozen, with Ratatouille tucked in at No. 3. And given the way the government food inspector is treated and portrayed in this film, I think I could even make a case for it belonging among the anti-state films that I packed the top of the list with. Those subversive animators ...!


Monday, December 24, 2007

Naughty boys and girls

A local TV station showed some images this morning from the "Norad Tracks Santa 2007" Web site, and I see from a visit this morning that the jolly old elf and his crew are over Japan as I compose this brief note.

The only thing I found confusing is that the TV station showed a computer-generated image, presumably off the Web site, of Santa and his reindeer approaching the U.S. Congress building.

I can think of few people more deserving of lumps of coal than those congressional critters this holiday season. In fact, my inclination would be that Santa would have to avoid that entire area of the District of Columbia this year, as the U.S. government in general does not exactly register on the positive side of the naughty-or-nice scale.

Perhaps that is indeed the message being given, though - now that I think of it, the reindeer were flying over the congressional dome but did not appear to be stopping there.

On the other hand, if Santa is indeed bringing toys to our rulers, it's a sign of hope for freedom. If a surveillance system as sophisticated as Santa's could miss the naughty deeds of those people, then perhaps the ability to keep an eye on innocent citizens is not as pervasive as we've been led to believe.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

A year's worth of five-star movies

I suppose it's creepy that Netflix has a list of everything I've always rented from them, but it's also pretty handy. For one thing, I know that counting the three disks upstairs waiting for us to view them, 79 DVDs have come to this address this year, which amounts to less than $3 a movie. Seems pretty reasonable.

More importantly, it helps me answer that Big Question: What were my favorite movies of the year? That's because I feed its A.I. search engines by rating films, so I only need a couple of clicks to discover that among those 79 disks, there were 12 movies that received five stars from me. Two were films I had seen before but Sweetie had not - but then there were about a half-dozen or so trips to the movie theater. I'd give three of those five stars, but one of them - The Lives of Others - also visited the house via Netflix. So I'm left with 12 movies I watched for the first time this year that moved me to the point where I'd give it my highest rating.

Do you care? Of course you do. It'll get you thinking about your favorites of the year and it will help you decide whether you and I agree on anything or if I'm just some lunatic.

The interesting thing to me is that six of my eight favorite movies of the year were produced in languages other than English. It wasn't so long again that I couldn't vote in the foreign category of the Hardyville Freedom Film Festival (Hey! I just realized ...) because I hadn't seen any of those flicks. I think the breakthrough came last December when I fell in love with Ikiru. (Well, it began much earlier when I first found Gojira and saw how superior that film is to its butchered American cut.)

It's no surprise, sadly, that the first three of these, all movies from abroad, were the only new films I saw this year that made powerful statements about individuals resisting the state. That's a fading theme in my homeland these days. There was no Serenity, no V for Vendetta, no Shenandoah in the English-speaking world this year - at least not that I encountered. (Before you say it, I gave Children of Men a mere four stars. Loved it, but not on this level.)

So, without further ado, here's my five-star list for 2007, more or less in order of favorites, with links to what I've written about them. Yes, some of them are older flicks that I finally discovered:

1. The Lives of Others
2. Joyeaux Noel
3. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
4. Letters from Iwo Jima
5. Enchanted
6. Waitress
7. Black Book
8. Shall We Dance? (Japanese version)
9. Elizabeth
10. The Italian Job
11. Breach
12. The Bourne Supremacy

There ya have it. That list, and several dollars, will get you a dolled-up cup of coffee at Starbucks.


Friday, December 21, 2007

Guilt by association

Critics' comparisons to other films have lessened my already-light interest in a couple of movies that are getting a lot of attention.

I headed over to to try to get a handle on Charlie Wilson's War and had to click through an ad for Atonement that compared the adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel to The English Patient, as in "the most something-or-other story since." My reaction: Oh, so it's long and boring and you won't care about the characters?

The book impressed me on one level - the surprise ending reveals that McEwan had written an extended literary exercise in narration, and my English-degree instincts applauded the brilliant execution. But it also left me even less emotionally involved with the story, so the film might go on my Netflix list but I don't need to go to the theater for it. When I saw the comparison with The English Patient, I foresaw a long and lonely wait on my Netflix queue for this one.

I heard a radio interview with Tom Hanks and the real Charlie Wilson somewhere, and I was troubled by the idea of a movie that glamorized a congressman who exploited his position to wage a covert war in Afghanistan that apparently opened the way for the Taliban to take over. Hanks said nice things to Wilson that made it sound like he thought this guy was a hero.

Then the first review I saw said it wasn't as good as director Mike Nichols' previous flick Primary Colors. Well, since that Travolta dog robbed me of two-and-a-half hours of my life, I took that reference as fair warning to ignore this one completely.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Freedom time

I can't remember who I heard say this first, or when, but I think it was sometime in the mid-1980s when there were a whole bunch of movies involving time travel - or perhaps the movies all had an even narrower plot device, one where it would be hard to explain how so many similar movies were made at the same time, like the more recent glut of movies about penguins.

"It's just penguin time," the person would say. His theory was that forces in the universe build up to create an irrepressible need for penguin movies, for example - so they all get made.

It seems like it's freedom time. And maybe it's simply a reaction to the Ron Paul phenomenon, if it's really big enough to be called a phenomenon. I keep running into blog entries and other essays that come to the conclusion that we beat our heads against a brick wall by making the state's inexorable attack on freedom our focus - instead the focus should be on remembering that freedom begins and ends in our hearts and heads.

I was way overdue finding dare2befree's take on this, "Freedom - what are we waiting for?" A fragment of this gem:
WTF are we waiting for? What do you personally want to be freer in your life? What is preventing you from doing that? What would make things more enriching for your family? TPTB will never tell you that it is ok to live your life as you see fit. Go ahead, hold your breath until they do. They don’t give a shit about anything except more power, more control, more minions to bully. Why wait for them to give you permission to do what you want to do?
Sunni, today, draws attention to a brilliant cartoon that Dale produced over at Anarchy in Your Head, which opens up the same thoughts.

And I love and say amen to how dare2befree finishes:
I refuse to allow anyone to scare me into being a good little sheep anymore. I plan to live the life I want — not someone else’s version of what I should do with my life.
And of course my mind keeps coming back to the song I posted in my comment to Sunni:
Take my love, take my land,
take me where I cannot stand -
I don't care, I'm still free ...

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Batman returns again

Here is the trailer for The Dark Knight for the three people who haven't found it yet.

As I've said before, it looks like Hollywood's whipping up a pretty entertaining year of movies what with the returns of Indiana Jones, Batman, the Hulk, Mulder and Scully, James Bond and Star Trek and the big-screen debut of Iron Man.

I'm in a cynical mood today, I guess: My thought is we'll need all of this distraction to keep our minds off the blatheringly insipid final candidates for Big Brother (or Sister) the two branches of the Big Government Party will offer, as they debate whether to eat their toast butter-side up or down.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Worst. Ad campaign.Ever

It's bad enough that it was cold and windy in New Jersey last night, that the Giants and Washington stunk up the joint and the Giants stunk worse, and that NBC showed wonderful scenic shots of Manhattan Island and never got around to mentioning that the game was being played in New Jersey. (That, of course, is mainly the fault of the managements of the New Jersey Giants and the New Jersey Jets, but I digress.)

No, what made me realize how much time I was wasting was the three or four ludicrous Wendy's commercials. I don't know what lunatic(s) decided that using men dressed in phony wigs with little girl's pigtails would help them sell hamburgers. All I know is the person(s) who approved this stupid ad campaign is (are) insane. I like Wendy's food (as fast-food stuff goes) but I, for one, have been less inclined to drive up to Wendy's since this bizarre campaign started.

Someone make it stop. Please.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dan Fogelberg 1951-2007

Well, damn. I just wasn't in the mood for this.
Dan Fogelberg, the singer and songwriter whose hits "Leader of the Band" and "Same Old Lang Syne" helped define the soft-rock era, died Sunday at his home in Maine after battling prostate cancer. He was 56.
Maybe it's because he's only slightly older than me, this death leaves me melancholy. I'm not that familiar with most of his music, but the songs I did hear him sing have a bittersweet quality and depth beyond most of the stuff that surrounded him on the radio. The two songs the reporter cited may be the best examples of that.

And then there's this one, which takes me back to another time and another place ...

We drank a toast to innocence
We drank a toast to now
And tried to reach beyond the emptiness
But neither one knew how.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

I wish I was bigger and had more money

One of the nice things about the Yahoo! mail system is the way it segregates most spam into a Bulk mail file, so I don't have to think about it every day. Clearing it out today, I find the things they think may entice me interesting.

"Are you satisfied with the size of your breasts?" is one subject line, but the more ubiquitous enlargement problem seems to be about males and a bit south of the chest. Somebody has to be buying all of this Viagra and Cialis, perhaps attracted by those warnings of how dangerous it is to "be ready" for your woman for four hours at a time.

I win a European lottery several times a day, and widows of Nigerian princes and corrupt politicians are constantly trying to contact me to share their husbands' estate. And the job offers I ignore! I could make a fortune sitting at my computer doing - something, I don't know what, because I foolishly ignore the e-mail when opportunity knocks.

Judging from these enticements, I conclude that the males of our species are obsessed with worry that our mates are disappointed when we come prepared with something smaller than a 2-liter bottle, and the females fear they've let their mates down by offering something smaller than medicine balls to bury our faces in. When they're not offering the tools to improve our sex lives, spammers count on the desire to be financially independent and free from the wage-slave job - oh, many's the time they've got me there, if only they had an authentic something to offer.

Sometimes I have just a twinge of regret when I click "Check All" and then "Delete," but it's also sort of cleansing to clear out the Bulk box. It means I have decided to be OK with who I am, what I do and what I have for another few days, resisting the temptation to turn my money over to false promises. The empty box is my challenge to myself that I'll try to improve my life the hard way, the honest way, by creating something of value to offer and exchange.

Some mornings, though, I really do wish there was a rich widow waiting on the other side of that click ...


Monday, December 10, 2007

Ten essential books

I walked into Target for cat food and dog food, but of course I always browse through the bread and circuses. Fun to see Sandra Bullock's sweet movie While You Were Sleeping is down to $5.50 and I almost bought it, but seeing as I own it on VHS and the VCR(s) still work fine, what would be the point?

But I got curious passing the paperback aisle, and I walked down to see if they had any "classics" on sale. Target's not the first place you think of when you're jonesing for literature. But sure enough, they had one row of one rack - 10 books in all - and the selection was so interesting that I wrote 'em down.

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
Animal Farm - George Orwell
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
1984 - George Orwell
Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkein
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

(Odd that the authors were in alphabetical order but they split up the two Orwell books.)

Needless to say, it's thrilling to see three warnings against totalitarianism among their 10 classics - and all of these books have strong individuals in them. I suppose some sort of sales research led to these particular books landing on that precious shelf space - but if so, that's a very good sign. Even in this era of collectivism, classic books celebrating the individual are still selling.

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

Quotidian be damned

I come to rehabilitate the reputation of our commentator who goes by CK. From the beginning, I saw this person as someone who is on my side, who warned me that my burst of creative inspiration upon finishing The Fountainhead would probably be beaten down by the quotidian - which, after consulting my dictionary, I interpreted as a friendly reminder that the day-to-day drudgery of earning a living in the Job Culture would tug unceasingly at my desires. This was a small splash of cold water, but I took it as helpful advice - better to hear it from a friendly voice in advance than to be surprised by it later on.

Or, to affirm that I understood the original intention, as CK wrote in response to this weekend's musing: "I was not intending to throw cold water or subtly shiv your aspirations; I was just giving a warning of what to expect when you actually go for it and start to succeed." And, in that context, it was a successful warning! And I would not second-guess yourself, CK ("I probably should have just cheer-leaded for you"), because that alternative would not have been as thought-provoking and (back to the 60s) mind-expanding as your actual response was.

Now in response to the follow-up question ("So you have had two weeks at it, how goes the effort?") - Well, that rascally quotidian has indeed gummed up the works, and the New Novel is not much farther along than it was when I first wrote about it a couple of weeks ago.

But on the plus side, my thoughts have been refined and clarified and my confidence rebuilt to the point where I am thinking, not in terms of producing one new book by the end of 2008, but four. Three (including the currently delayed but ready-to-go print edition of The Imaginary Bomb) will be comprised largely of work I've produced over the years and allowed to lay dormant, and the fourth will be the aforementioned New Novel.

The idea has been my Christmas present to myself. The execution will be my yearlong New Year's gift.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

A small splash of cold water

It's an interesting time to be in the media industry - come to think of it, it's always been an interesting time, as in the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." My entire career has been spent waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe I'm a jinx or maybe I picked the wrong industry, because my newsrooms have been frequently haunted by the spectres of efficiency and "this is just a business decision; you understand."

These spectres haunted the electronic media while I was part of it, with mega-mergers making local newsrooms less necessary, especially in radio - if you hook up to a satellite network, what do you need local faces for? In recent years they've lingered over newspapers. A week doesn't go by when some paper or another cites shrinking ad sales, lets some people go or hands out early retirements, and promises to do more with less. I've been fortunate - or maybe not - I've always been among those left behind to do more with less. Strangely, one person never quite can cover as much news as two people can, so we end up doing less with less. Peculiar, huh?

I am ever the optimist, and we recently had a small eruption that spilled over in other places when a commenter was seen (perhaps unfairly) as pouring cold water over my enthusiasm, but I have to caution PintofStout, who wrote in response to my Friday musing:
"I have actually thought about submitting stuff to local papers/websites and trying to swing into the traditional journalism route in order to write for a living."
The problem: We live in an era where more and more media, including local papers and Web sites, are inviting people to provide news tips, write guest columns and submit photographs. It's called community journalism, but the only compensation for all of this content is the joy of having your stuff appear in the newspaper or on the radio or on the Web.

The work of traditional journalists, people who get paid to write and take pictures, has been devalued by this trend. Enough people do enjoy sharing their views and photos that they don't care whether they're paid, and it's great to see more voices in the local paper. I just want to caution PoS and others that you may find that the path to writing for a living is narrower than ever.

The good news is the path has not been closed, and in fact no less an authority than Steve Pavlina has written just this week that working for free is a terrific foot in the door in any endeavor, including writing. Pavlina also has a couple of recent gems about how we're all self-employed and what to do about your conscience when it nags you about your wage-slave job. And the best news is the World Wide Web offers seemingly unlimited opportunities to expose your writing to the world - heck, that's how I got my long-dormant and soon-in-self-print novel out to the world.

So I'm not being discouraging in the end - I'm just cautioning you that the local paper may not be a source of FRNs. On the other hand, it just might - so give it a try. My advice is simply expect the worst so you can be pleasantly surprised when they offer you authentic compensation.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

No kiddin'

Remember when the year 2000 was the far-flung future?

So does XKCD.

Just some random thoughts because I felt compelled to write something - anything

According to the Blogger brain, this is the 594th tidbit I've posted on the Montag site. I wonder if I should plan something special for the big six-oh-oh.

Probably not. It's just a number, after all. But it's a big number! What-ever, as they say.

It's interesting doing this - the blogging thing, I mean. It's helped me focus my thoughts and understand what I believe. I most remember launching on a 10-part series on the Bill of Rights, only to get bored halfway through because I was writing the same thing over and over: The Bill of Rights doesn't exist. And the farther back I look, I wonder if it was ever taken seriously.

If I collected my thoughts about refusing to be afraid in book form, would I be able to turn those thoughts into FRNs and escape my corporate cubbyhole? Or would I be the proverbial tree falling in the empty forest? Is there really such a thing as an empty forest?


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Nancy takes a test

Here's today's little smile. Click on the other days of this week for more groaners. It's a hoot.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

First day of school

The conversation turned to the first day of college, and around the table a couple of folks talked about 1962, and 1970-something, and other times long ago and far, far away. I didn't contribute, but suddenly I was on a plane above the clouds thirtysomething years ago.

I remember looking out the window for most of that 1,000-mile flight. It was a cloudy day down below, which meant bright sunshine and interesting shapes and contours above the clouds. I was on my first solo adventure away from family, the first major step in my life that was almost completely my decision - my parents, bless them, had left it up to me which college to choose. It turned out to be a good choice, but of that day, I remember being enthralled by the flight, and by the bright blue sky when I landed - the clouds over my departure broke up at my destination, and I landed in a place with as much sunshine as I'd seen up above.

My reminiscence broke up with a sudden realization - that bursting feeling of freedom that day was exaltation. That day, with my life before me, at the beginning of a four-year solo adventure full of promise and hope and all that stuff, I felt as free as I ever did.

You wish you could bottle a feeling like that, so when you need it you just open the bottle and breathe and there it is again. For just a few moments at a conference table, I realized we do bottle those feelings and we can bring them back.

Freedom tastes so good. Why do we ever set it aside?

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A small step in the right direction

New Jersey is moving towards repeal of the death penalty, to be replaced by a maximum criminal penalty of life in prison without parole. Works for me.

Any move to inhibit killing people in the name of the state is worthwhile. I have no illusions that many believe agents of the state would only kill for a justifiable reason, but at least this would put a legal roadblock on one life-taking process.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why they need us

[This musing assumes you have seen the film V for Vendetta. If you have not and wish not to view "spoilers," go watch the darn flick and come back later. You've been warned. You're welcome.]

Towards the climax of the great movie about violence and the state V for Vendetta, megalomanical leader Adam Sutler declares the time has come for the rulers of totalitarian England to remind the peasantry "why they need us." What follows is a montage of news reports clearly intended to cow the citizenry into a state of fear, reminding them that the government is the only thing standing between their security and utter chaos.

A civil war drags on in the former United States. Water shortages are reported and predicted because of a lack of sufficient rain for two years. Police arrest nine suspects who were hoarding vaccine against the deadly avian flu. Twenty-seven people have died in the wake of the discovery of a new airborne disease. New evidence links the terrorist V to an attack on London 14 years earlier - reminding them of the attack that made citizens turn to the government for protection in the first place. A skeptical bar patron says out loud: "Can you believe this shit?" Of course we can't, and we shouldn't.

The truth revealed by the movie is that the state is the source of the chaos. The titular character V, either a freedom fighter or a terrorist depending upon point of view, helps detective Finch uncover the reality that the central terrorist attack of his age was staged by government forces seeking control of citizens' lives under the cover of providing more security. V himself is the product of secret government medical research gone awry.

A central theme of the movie is the same as mine: Refuse to be afraid. The standard political script has been unchanged for decades now: Remind people about something they fear. Offer yourself as the solution to that which they fear. Once elected, strip people of freedom in the name of fighting that which they fear. Rule with an iron fist or a velvet glove, but rule; do not let people live for themselves in freedom.

I would like to dig one notch deeper: V himself preys upon fear, as well. He manipulates people's fear of the state and their fear of losing their freedom - a healthy fear, no doubt, but a real and palpable fear. Notice that V's agenda is first vengeance against the people who conducted the secret medical research on him - hence the title V for Vendetta. He justifies his vendetta by wrapping it within the more worthy cause of freedom: "People should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people." But this little proverb betrays his agenda: Someone should be afraid.

Fear is the great irrationalizer. People do stupid and terrible things when they are afraid. Therefore governments, comprised of people acting as a collective, do stupid and terrible things when operating out of fear. It is one thing to be aware of danger; it is entirely a different thing to be so afraid of that danger that you do or allow stupid and terrible things.

Being aware of the state's incomprehensible assault on our freedom is a healthy thing. Allowing yourself to become afraid of the state, and acting based on that fear rather than rational awareness, is unhealthy.

The state wants you to be afraid. Refuse to be afraid of their straw men and speculations. But go one step beyond: Refuse to be afraid of the state itself. When folks like me show you examples of the state's fear-mongering, use the information to think for yourself - don't be afraid of the state's power, because fear is part of the fuel of their power. We do not need the state to take care of us; the real truth is about how much our leaders need us to believe we need them. And that brings us to the second half of my mantra above: Free yourself.

The character Evie is unable to think clearly until she has no more fear. She reaches that condition of bliss only after a lifetime of horror and several weeks of torture - not a regimen any of us would like to undergo. Perhaps the best we can do is acknowledge our fears and refuse to allow the fear to control our actions and decisions. But that is the key - defeating the fear and living free.

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