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Political compass, showing strong left and strong libertarian leanings

Being a parent, husband and southerner (again) seems to have hardened my positions on lots of things.

Hello!

Apr. 10th, 2017 11:17 am
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So people still use DW?
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So. Things did not, initially, go to plan at the rugby yesterday. Mum paid for the match tickets from a friend of hers in Kent back in November, and told me about them on my birthday in December. I cried. Going to a 6 Nations game at the Principality Stadium has been on my bucket list since it was "the 5 Nations at Cardiff Arms Park and what's a bucket list?". This would be my pilgrimage, my hajj, to the centre of my rugby world.

Imagine my disappointment at 3pm on match day, at discovering that Mum hadn't been given the tickets, and her friend was nowhere to be seen.

Imagine my hurt at 4.30pm, when said friend - and the term was becoming increasingly less applicable - was still not in Cardiff and wasn't answering his mobile.

By the time half five rolled around, we had realised he wasn't coming at all, and mother and I were both in a state of shock and rage. She went back to her hotel room with her husband, and I went in search of beer - and food, honest - with my wife.

We roamed Cardiff looking for somewhere to watch the game and get drunk. Not something I do any more, it must be said. We found St David's Hall, a concert venue which was showing the match on a projection screen. And at quarter past six, with a pint of SA in my hand, over the tannoy came the words "If anyone needs 4 tickets for the match, come to the bar."

Dear reader, I am told I popped up like a meerkat. Polite words were exchanged, my family regathered, a certain financial transaction took place, and we shall go to the ball after all.

Three hours later, I am sitting closer to the touch line than I ever dreamed I would get. Wales have won. And I am crying like I haven't since Thea was born. I am not a man of faith, you understand, but if all of this was the work of a certain Jewish outside-half with nail marks in his palms, I'm inclined to give him this one.
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I got out of hospital a week ago. It was, being completely honest, quite a serious matter; my immune system had flatlined, meaning that a childhood illness called Parvovirus B19, or "slapped cheek syndrome" had got through my defences. My red blood cell count was also very poor, and instead of the three years supply of vitamin B12 that most people have tucked away in their livers, I didn't have three days worth. The consultants were quite surprised. Apparently people don't get that sort of ill, nowadays. They also picked up a nasty case of H. Pylori, which wrecks your appetite, your digestion, and apparently can also cause depression. I could probably see why, even if I hadn't had it.

So they gave me a pint of blood, an endoscopy that was easily the most physically unpleasant experience of my life, and a bone marrow biopsy to make sure that I didn't have anything really hideous. Like leukemia. Wikipedia and a mobile phone with wireless internet can really fuck with your ability to sleep, if you let it.

(Also, I don't have HIV, which I can't say came as a shock, but was basically a minor counterpoint to the huge swelling main theme of "fuck me, you're paler than your bedsheets". But my immune system was so badly buggered that they had to exclude full-blown AIDS as a cause. I hadn't let myself think about that, before now.)

So the incredibly competent and skilled doctors and nurses on the haematology/oncology ward that I found myself in for a fortnight took the biopsy, took one look at the results and declared me fit to recover at home. Which was nice, even if it meant I took so many pills home that I asked to pick up one of those blue pill organiser boxes that you always look at, in a slightly puzzled way, when you're waiting for your prescription at the pharmacist's. And that's led to a week of increasingly frustrating bed rest, to any number of prayers and masses being said for me, and to a need to get out of the house to take some fresh air and not be in another bloody hospital ward, even if the bed is comfier.

(I'm pretty openly atheist, but if there was even the slightest chance of all those good thoughts tipping the balance in my favour then I was going to take it. There are atheists in foxholes, but it's remarkable how tolerant you become to other people's lifeways when the smell of cordite is in the air.)

So that need to leave the house led to two things: a walking stick, which I use for short journeys and journeys that I think are going to be shorter than they are; and rented or borrowed wheelchairs, depending if I'm going to the supermarket or if I need to potter around town. (Parvovirus is also called "erythema infectiosum" and if that isn't taught at Hogwarts I don't know what is.) And I'm experiencing at first hand what people who are in wheelchairs permanently have to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Access to buildings is still an issue. Not in shopping centres, no, but all the fiddly little interesting shops that you actually want to go to, tend to have skipped the important step of asking people who use wheelchairs about their needs. They usually have slopes to roll up and down, and that's nice, but metal flanges, ready to accept heavy metal shutters, might as well be brick walls to the chair user.

And then you have the buildings owned and operated by wankers, which in 20-fucking-12 still have no slopes for access, no thought of automatic doors, and definitely no consideration for people who don't have the full complement of working limbs. It will come as no shock to some that this describes the access to the Workfare building that I needed to visit today.

But none of that pisses me off - because it's stupidity. Rudeness, I have a lot more of a problem with. And a supposed friend of the family treated me in exactly the way that wheelchair users are ill-treated - talking over my head and referring to me as "he" when I was sat right in front of her. Taking the piss out of her with her mother, it's true, but that's not the point. In a town which is soon, I hope, to have a new most favoured son who plays Wheelchair Rugby with vim, vigour and an Olympic gold medal around his neck. I hope the bitch is made to be fucking ashamed of herself.
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Post BiCon, anything you'd like to say to me non-publicly or anonymously?
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Here's codes for five people, please comment if you use one.

1) TY3B4NC4KFTS8AAAC9BQ

2) GTP7E6QC66WEBAAAD2L2

3) SMFGHQ4MNVSAQAAAKGP2

4) YQKQHEEJK8F9MAAAKGP3

5) SMB6HCX9HZ8FYAAAKGP4
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So you go to a concert, and you listen to the warm-up act who you've never heard of. And they pull countless rabbits out of their hats, inventing new genres as they go, and they leave to rapturous applause. Then the main act comes on, the people you really paid to see. And somehow, despite all the talent on stage, despite the clever guitar work and the precision saxophone strikes, despite all the virtuosity, all you want to do is go to the bar. That's precisely how "Lost In Translation" left me feeling.

Scarlett Johansson and her arse co-star, both giving very pleasing, rounded performances. She hits all of her marks, emotes exactly as required, and earns her pay very satisfactorily. The problem I have is with the character she's asked to play. Her marriage seems to be dead in the water after two years, and her Hollywood photographer husband shouldn't have married her in the first place. But she's just letting it happen because she's, you know, finding herself man.

Bill Murray, puts in his usual turn as himself - full of sardonic, self-mocking wit who never quite falls into actual self-loathing. I love watching this routine, so does everyone else, and now he's grown into his face a bit and can add a slight melancholy to his acting, he's able to take on roles like this one and, from what I've heard, "The Life Aquatic". But all you have to do is scratch his surface and he reverts to playing the same damn character he played in "Ghostbusters", just like he has so many times, and he was given several opportunities to do it here.

The western members of the supporting cast are, without exception, teeth-grindingly irritating - as if Sofia Coppola had directed them to just be as Californian as possible. I think I was supposed to find Johansson and Murray sympathetic by comparison, but that didn't work because these were the people they were already, by choice, surrounded by back in America. The Eastern supporting cast were equally stereotypical - precise when being professional, and beyond embarrassment while relaxing in karaoke and titty bars. Watching the leads and their Japanese friends murder various classic songs was one of the few points of warmth in the entire film.

While I'm on stereotypes, I must mention that the Japanese portrayed here are, with very few exceptions, completely unable to understand English - presumably drawing a parallel between the language gap and the gender and age gaps which the film is looking at. Except that's all it does - look at them. Again, the scene in the titty bar made the point that women are treated badly in Japan, but did so in something of a vacuum.

The cinematography is universally gorgeous. I happily concede that I have a special place in my heart for Tokyo as a whole, which meant that I got a major kick out of the travelogue sequences, and there's a golf shot with Mount Fuji in it which is sheer landscape pornography. But none of that made up for the aching gap in the centre of the piece. It was simply soulless.

The director, Sofia Coppola, doesn't want to engage with anyone in her film, and somehow I never really cared about any of them either. The May to December romance between the leads ended up feeling more like a father/daughter relationship with a tiny sexual frisson, and that killed my interest stone dead. I did enjoy the film, but there was the sense that it could have been so much more than simply good, and given the talents involved that isn't really excusable.

A version of this review originally appeared at livejournal.myopedia.com
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There are quite a few things about Charlie Chaplin's “Modern Times” that make it difficult to love. His faith in communism drives the entire work, and some viewers may find the morals underlying the film very hard to swallow. Being a free-loading Brit, this wasn't a major issue for me, but there were several gags that either fell flat or felt deeply uncomfortable. When you see large metal bolts get dropped on to a plate, it becomes painfully obvious where they are going to end up. When Chaplin's character – the Tramp, naturally – suffers a nervous breakdown and flees his workplace, armed with two large spanners, and sees a woman in a dress with large buttons in exactly the wrong place, then it's clear we're into the always amusing trope of threatened sexual violence. Being stuck in a police wagon and accidentally – three times – sitting on the lap of the buxom black lady stuck in there with him wasn't funny either, especially when she was the only non-white face in the whole thing. Times, thankfully, have changed.

But not all the changes have been for the better, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned. Quite apart from the socialism, and the elements of capitalism-gone-mad, there are parts of this film that would be simply unfilmable today. There's cocaine use in prison which gets played for laughs, a socialist central character who isn't immediately unlikeable, and the constant background idea that the United States isn't the greatest country in the world, and could in fact be much better. In a comedy. It would be completely impossible to get a film with even one of those elements funded today, unless it was a cartoon which also made fun of Canadians.

A couple of other things are jarring, most of which are down to the passing of time. It's in black and white, for one thing, and the pace of the film is slow. In addition, some of the things Chaplin clearly thinks are appallingly busy and awful now look nice and quiet. Seeing workers piling into a factory to clock in on time may have shocked in the 1930s, but considering the road they're crossing only has two cars on it, at least they would have been able to breathe clearly. The Tramp's relationship to his female sidekick, The Gamine – played by Paulette Goddard, who was (probably) his wife at the time - is also quite disturbing, not least given Chaplin's own taste for young women.

Some of the choices are meant to be jarring, though. This was the last mainstream silent film, and Chaplin definitely made it in order to stick two fingers up at that mainstream who were rushing towards the modernity that “talkies” represented. There are talking elements in it, but they manage to be unconventional in a genre which hadn't existed long enough to have many conventions. Chaplin's Tramp even sings – although it's total gibberish, and the meaning of the song is conveyed by Chaplin's movements and gestures, which appears to be the point.

And none of these issues, problems or quibbles take away from the basic greatness of this film. Yes, it's 75 years old, and it's slapstick, but it's absolutely fantastic to watch. Chaplin's physical presence and genius for mime drives the film, and he's matched scene for scene by Goddard. I actually had a tear in my eye once or twice, and given that you don't actually hear them saying anything, that's quite a feat of acting. And in places it's hysterically funny, especially in the fantasy scene in the Perfect House.

I'm not saying it's perfect, and I'm not saying it's instantly my favourite film of all time. But I am saying that it's definitely worth watching, even if you have to skip past the unpleasant bits. Because it's good, it's funny, it's poignant, and it still has important things to say about the relationship between the worker and the employee, especially when – as they are currently – times are hard.
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I've been remarkably quiet on here, and Livejournal, for quite some time. This was partly because I didn't have much to say, but it was also because I didn't think that anyone wanted to read anything that I did want to talk about. Which, I'm now aware, may not be true. Even if it is true, it's a bit pointless taking the "tl;dr" decision out of the hands of my potential readers. But this is a significant shift in my attitude, and it came out of a discussion with the lovely [personal profile] hollymath.

I can't remember the question she asked me, now. That's probably good. But it made me realise that the online quietness, and my inability to talk to my friends, and the nervousness that I've displayed - if you're reading this, odds are you've seen it - all came out of a fear that I was manipulating the people around me. Which, let's be fair here, I do sometimes. But I think everyone does, and it's not the end of the world if it happens every now and again. But the paralysis, the terror, left me as soon as I accepted that I wasn't this terrible, manipulative monster that I thought I was.

I've spent a lot of the last year hacking around, inside my own head. My medication is the right sort and the right dose, and I am very aware of just how lucky I am to be able to say that. I've had some intensely painful therapy, which did me the world of good in the end - no matter how many times I wanted to quit - and now I'm getting some person-centred counselling as a follow-up. I've also got a much clearer vision of when I'm looking after myself and when I'm bullshitting because I'm scared. I've also got a wonderful girlfriend and a great group of friends.

In addition, for the first time in a while, I'm feeling driven to write. This isn't just any navel-gazing blog post, oh no. This is one of a series of self-examinations, that I've been writing since I was 12, which I've always thought of as "The Discourse". Every single piece of this is just what I need. If my brain has an operating system, then this year has been about clearing out the cruft, uninstalling unwanted packages, and scrapping a lot of complicated code that wasn't working.

But on its own, this isn't enough. Despite how I've acted of late, I am more than just a series of biological CPUs embedded in 180cm of ugly scaffolding. I am body, mind and spirit together, and all three aspects are just as within my control as each other. And hence, they are all equally hackable.

I am not going to start obsessing about weight, body fat or BMI. I'm not going to take up a religion, or any new gods, or hand any of my control of my self over to anyone else, for any reason. It's about doing the exact opposite of that; of mindfully exerting the control that I have over all aspects of my being.

I don't care about being fit. I care about being fit for purpose. I want to harness my creativity, or to go for long walks and short runs, and to more fully believe in my own ability to change the world around me for the better. And I want to do that without dwelling on my own mistakes, or on any perceived wrongs done to me by others.

I've had enough of saying "onwards and sideways" like it was funny, or meaningful. It's time for a little "Citius, Altius, Fortius" - Higher, Faster, Stronger.
shinydan: Blue eye, perfectly round, hovering in mid-air. (Myopedia)
While I will be reviewing various different wrestling shows in depth, today I'm going to skim over the events of last night's episode of Total Non-Stop Action. Partly because it's sunny outside and I want to go for a walk while still getting my wordcount in for the day, but partly because there really wasn't a lot to say. There wasn't a lot of plot, and there wasn't a great deal of wrestling. Instead, the card was full of multiple-person matches, designed to keep the risk of injury to a minimum. Given that the next TNA show was a pay-per-view, and promoted as a particularly dangerous one to boot, it wasn't a large surprise.

There were only three one-on-one matches booked (and no matches at all for the women. Boo.) - a best of three series between Fortune and Immortal. But when the third match was announced, at the top of the show, as involving the 62-year old Ric Flair of Immortal, I became fairly sure that Fortune would lose 2-0. So it proved.

But a thought has occurred to me, concerning the story about an unknown figure at The Network, who keeps on putting their oar in and wrecking Immortal's plans. After World Championship Wrestling went under in the '90s, the man who had nearly beaten the WWF WWE at their own game was one Eric Bischoff. He's working for TNA now. So are most of the people he brought to that company, including Hulk Hogan. And Bischoff was adamant in his belief that, had WCW's owner Ted "CNN" Turner not given up and pulled funding, then it would have been the WWF that lost.

My guess, for what it's worth, is that this unknown figure is either on-screen former company owner Dixie Carter, or Ric Flair playing both sides against the middle. But I don't think that really matters. The whole 16-month tenure of Bischoff & Hogan at TNA is really about the failure of WCW, and why it happened. In short, Eric is trying to rewrite wrestling history to match his own ideas, and to refute the way that WCW was presented in the 18 months originally following its purchase by Vince McMahon. But he's the only one who really cares. Most of the fans don't. Hell, most of the fans were barely in grade/infant school when this stuff was happening. If I'm right, it explains a lot.

Tomorrow, Myopedia will feature a review of TNA Lockdown, and I shall strive to put another, non-wrestling piece up too. Friday should feature a review of Sarita Mandanna's "Tiger Hills", a recent pick of Channel 4's "TV Book Club". As I used to say at The Unrated Experience at this point: peace, off.
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Just a note, really. My thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of Elisabeth Sladen. They are also with the much larger circle of people, myself included, who loved her portrayal of Sarah Jane Smith. "There's nothing just about being a girl".
shinydan: Blue eye, perfectly round, hovering in mid-air. (Myopedia)
Let me begin by saying that I wish HRH Prince William of Wales KG FRS and Catherine Middleton, his intended, every joy and success in their married life together. Generally speaking, I feel that way about anyone who gets married, or civilled, in the UK (and speed the day when anyone can choose either) even if I don't know them very well, or at all. It's also terribly nice of the government to throw a Bank Holiday to celebrate their nuptials. Although quite a lot of people won't benefit from it by reason of being at work anyway. Or at work anyway at normal pay. Or by not working at all due to bad luck, illness or injury, or - heaven forfend! - having young children to look after without childcare.

But I'd like to know why I should care. I mean, what makes this particular young couple worthy of note? Kate Middleton seems a fairly unremarkable and attractive Art History student. Her fiance is an entirely different matter. Apparently, William of Wales is, in some way, better than we are, hence all the media flap. By right of birth, he has attained the kind of life that makes even the cosseted, warm existence of the likes of you and me - safe in the knowledge that we are unlikely to be forced to live on less than $2 a day - look positively spartan. He is, at the tender age of 28, a Knight of The Garter and a member of the Royal Society. This last sounds reasonable enough, until you learn that almost all the other members of the Royal Society are top-level scientists. Given that William's scientific prowess extends to a C in A-level biology, this is somewhat galling.

Mind you, it's one whole grade better than I managed. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't significantly jealous of the Prince. Given his affluence, it would be a rare duck who wasn't. And he's brave to boot. You wouldn't get me piloting a search and rescue helicopter over the coast of Devon, which is what he's planning to do once he finishes his training with No. 22 Squadron of the RAF. That's before you get into the work he's done in connection with his late mother's charities, and what he went through after she passed away. In the circumstances, I would be a bloody fool not to accept that, in many ways, William is a better person than I am. But none of that is directly down to his noble birth.

I'll even concede that I have a soft spot for many of the current royals. William, obviously, but also the Queen, Princess Anne and Zara Phillips. Yes, I like horse riding. I even quite like Sarah Ferguson. But I cannot abide the system that, here, in their United Kingdom, gives them priority over people like - well, everyone else. And if, as is looking increasingly likely, the right of those in the House of Lords to sit in places of unelected power is to be removed, then what price the monarchy after that? This unequal, illiberal relic of Britain's filthy imperial past should be put permanently to bed. Not in a cruel or nasty way, or for selfish reasons, but for the same reasons one puts a slightly unruly child to bed. Politely, kindly, but firmly, and without a fight.

Goodnight out there, whatever you are.
shinydan: Blue eye, perfectly round, hovering in mid-air. (Myopedia)
I am a liberal, and a card-carrying member of the Liberal Democrats. This hasn't been a comfortable thing to be, for nearly a year now, and I've been thinking about it a lot. Thankfully, I've worked out why that is. Unlike many of my friends here in the north-west, I don't automatically think that all Conservatives are vile.

Quite a few of them are, mind you. When I was living in the south, I've met Tories who flatly refused to call Tiger Woods by his name, instead choosing some racist epithet or other. I've met people whose primary concern about the opening of a centre for asylum-seekers within two miles of their house was the potential impact on the price of their house, even though they had no intention to sell up. Public services in my former home-town are still, at best, dubious, because the Conservatives have such a headlock on the council that there is very little pressure to change anything. When the Lib Dems won a by-election there, last year, I was stunned.

But there are many exceptions to this litany of bile. I know quite a lot of very nice people, who didn't hate anyone in particular based on who they were, but wouldn't be caught voting for anyone but the Tories because of the things Labour did, when they got into power. The Winter Of Discontent. The Second Iraq War. Tax & Spend - Labour governments seem to have a habit of doing things which incur Dangerous Capitalisations. Naturally, they tend to ignore the financial collapses and illegal US-supporting military raids that took place under the watches of Thatcher & Major, but that's just human nature. Sometimes, and even I find this hard to believe occasionally, the Tories act like misguided but worthy opponents, people who I disagree with on principle and practice but who genuinely have the country's best interests at heart. I believe this to be the basis on which the current Coalition government is operating.

There weren't a lot of Labourites in my old neck of the woods, but I tended to assume that they shared many of those same, positive characteristics. After moving to Manchester, though, and working with various lovely Liberal Democrats up here, I began to have a different view. Labour once relied on union power in the workplace, acting as a counterbalance to corporate and managerial control; socialist redistribution of wealth, to benefit the nation and to act as a safety net for the unlucky; and, under no circumstances, ever agreeing with the Tories on anything, except perhaps the occasional war.

But things are different now. Unions have become, outside of their relationship with the Labour Party as a bloc, a largely ineffectual rump. I wish it weren't so, but where were the union officers in all the "UK call centres" that I've worked in? Socialism has been consigned to the distant past. All the party, as a whole, seems to have left is anger and hatred of all things Tory, and all things associated with them. Which includes Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, and (in a tiny way) me.

I am not a Tory. I believe that some industries are better off in private hands, and that some are better off held in governmental trust, because that way the quality of the services they provide are focused on, as opposed to simple profit. I wholeheartedly believe in properly funding the NHS - although I'd rather see more nurses hired than administrators. I believe in education, free for all, adults and children alike. More than ever, I think that our benefits system is broken and under-resourced, and should be repaired so that it is fit for purpose. Having anyone other than a fully trained medical professional assess one's fitness to work does not help anyone's physical, mental or emotional health, and it does not ultimately save any money at all.

Would I vote for the Lib Dems again, in support of those ideals? Without a doubt. Would I persuade other people to vote Liberal again? Hell yes. Am I ashamed of any of that? No. Not any more.
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Man, I wish I understood the wrestling business as well as Hulk Hogan does.

You may have seen #ThankYouEdge trending on Twitter of late. This is in testament to the actual, no-BS, genuine retirement of Adam "Edge" Copeland, WWE employee and long-time professional wrestler. Way back in 2003, he suffered a neck injury that led to him requiring spinal fusion, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds. He spent a year out of the spotlight, which in the confusing and flash-in-the-pan world of professional wrestling (or, as it's sometimes called, sports entertainment) is an eternity. Sadly, following an MRI scan at the weekend, it became clear that Copeland's spinal column had narrowed in the last 8 years, meaning that he had to quit wrestling or risk paralysis or death. I'm not saying that wrestling's not "fake" - but if Edge was acting the tears he shed in That Very Ring the other night, he's a better actor than I give him credit for.

Enter Hulk Hogan - nee Terry Bollea, although he doesn't use it any more - who you have heard of, even if you think wrestling is the devil's spleen. Hogan works for TNA now, and he decided to bury and praise Edge at the same time on his Twitter account, saying:

"If any of the guys like me...would have listened to doctors we would have quit 15 years ago. I bet EDGE still wants to keep wrestling,he's one of the boys big time!!! HH"

Hogan underwent a spinal fusion operation on December 21st, 2010. It was one of a series of back operations that took him away from television for several months, at a key time for the development of his on-screen character. I have no doubt that Edge wants to continue wrestling. But, for his own reasons, he's chosen to listen to medical advice and stop. Will we continue to see him around the wrestling world? Of course. Will he fight another match? I hope not.

Hogan's entitled to his opinion, and when it comes to wrestling matters, he speaks with considerable authority in most cases. But this isn't one. There's a perception in wrestling fandom that Hulk is hanging on, desperately, to the last shred of his reputation, and is allowing jealousy of the current crop of stars to inform his refusal to leave the spotlight. I'm not in on the secrets of pro wrestling, and I don't know the man, so I don't know if that's true. But these comments make it look that way.

A relatively unknown wrestler, Alex Whybrow, died at the weekend, aged 29. It has been reported as a suicide. Whybrow had been openly dealing with his bipolar disorder, but in recent months he'd dropped out of the wrestling scene and, according to CagesideSeats.com, "his friends had lost contact with him". Edge's retirement saddens me. Hogan's attitude to it saddens me even more. Whybrow's death is unfathomable. There's pride, and arrogance, and competitiveness and greed swimming around in all these events, and I don't know what to make of any of it.

Man, I wish I understood the wrestling business.
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CAVEAT: I don't own either of these images, and no challenge to any copyright is intended either.
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