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I was reading a book of Alfred Kazin’s letters—I don’t know if they’d be so interesting to someone who hadn’t already read a bunch of his stuff, but I found them pretty interesting—and came across this amazing bit, dated August 11, 1957:

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No, really, Al. Tell us what you really feel. This was in his private diary, so I can’t really criticize him for it. And all of us have private thoughts, sometimes publicly expressed, that are unworthy of our better self. For example, once I was crossing a street and a taxi driver came dangerously close, and I screamed at him, “Go back to your own country, you #&@#%*^&.” So I’m not claiming that I’m any better than Kazin. I just thought that quote was pretty amazing. I guess that’s how (some) people thought, back in the fifties.

Also interesting that he wrote “ass-hole” in that context. The hyphen surprised me, also I don’t think people would use that word in this way anymore. Nowadays I think of an asshole as a person, not a place.


  1. Steve Reilly says:

    I think asshole has always generally referred to people, but it’s also moonlighted by referring to places, and continues to do so. From 2000:

    “King once described [Hermon, Maine] as ‘if not the asshole of the universe, then at least within farting distance of it’.”

    And typing “asshole of the world” into Google, with quotes, brings up more recent stuff.

  2. konrad says:

    Did Kazin give consent for his diary to be published after his death? Or is this a case of “he’s dead, so he can’t complain”? Most people don’t like other people reading their private diaries.

    • Andrew says:


      It was my impression that Kazin did intend his diary for posterity. It has many private thoughts in it, but he wanted to give a complete and unsanitized picture of his life.

  3. Rob says:

    In the UK, we do still use “asshole” for a place in that way (though we both spell it and pronounce it “arsehole”).

  4. Nameless says:

    Google Books search for the two terms, restricted to 19th century, gives 549 hits as one word and 696 hits with a hyphen. Of the 549 hits as one word, many appear to be typos (often misspellings or OCR failures of “Asshele”) or misdated books. In both cases, most valid hits are for the definition: “a place for receiving ashes”.

    For the period of 1900-1949, it likewise produces 644 hits for one word and 690 hits with a hyphen or a space.

    It is only after 1960 or so that the one-word spelling becomes significantly more popular than the hyphenated spelling.

    • I’m pretty sure “a place for receiving ashes” is “ashhole” (one s double h) whereas here we are talking about asshole (double s one h) either “the anus” or “an irritating or contemptible person” according to google definition.

  5. LJ says:

    Kazin is very humanlike as much as Gelman much intrigued by the correct usage of “asshole” is. Although I’ve never read Kazin’s works, it is not surprising that he could courageously admit his inconsistency in public if he was a lifetime friend of Hannah Arendt as Wiki says. (Too judgemental?) Anyway, it is one of the best advertisements of a book that makes me really want to read it.

  6. Steve Sailer says:

    Alfred Kazin was an extremely civilized Jewish New Yorker who loved his great city. His 1951 memoir was entitled “A Walker in the City.”

    What is so horrible about Kazin being upset by what Latin American immigration, especially legally unlimited immigration from Puerto Rico, was doing to his beloved city? His 1957 lament seems prescient about the nadir where New York City was headed by, say, 1977.

    Indeed, to slow immigration from Puerto Rico, the federal government in the 1950s began granting massive tax breaks to corporations to build up the economy of Puerto Rico. Today, Puerto Rico remains a possession that’s extremely costly to the IRS in terms of foregone tax revenue (e.g., Microsoft evades billions of taxes annually by claiming that it earns almost all its Western Hemisphere profits in Puerto Rico).

  7. Steve Sailer says:

    Another leading Jewish American writer, ace reporter Theodore White (author of The Making of the President series), ended his 1982 autobiography In Search of History with an account of his first visit back to the Dorchester neighborhood in Boston where he grew up. Due to demographic change, it was an utter slum.

    Shortly afterward, my father and I were in Chicago and he wanted to visit his old neighborhood, Oak Park, that he hadn’t seen since 1929. I tried to talk him out of it, figuring it would be as depressing as White’s visit to his boyhood home. As we drove across the burnt out West Side of Chicago, through Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, it looked it was going to be worse than even White’s visit. Suddenly, we crossed the city boundary into Oak Park and we were in Frank Lloyd Wright’s dream of suburban paradise, with tourists doing the walking tour of Wright’s Prairie-style houses in the neighborhood where my father grew up.

    There’s a fascinating story about why Austin and Oak Park had such different fates in the 1967-1980 era.

  8. nb says:

    I find racist/bigoted remarks uttered by one minority against another bizarrely myopic. Does Kazin not realize that many native-born Americans said the same sort of things about his immigrant parents?

    • Steve Sailer says:

      The notion that Alfred Kazin didn’t realize something pertaining to immigration is rather unlikely.

      • Rahul says:

        I think the key point is that a lot of us have bigoted, prejudiced facets within us. Sexist, racist or otherwise.

        But it is important to note the difference between a lifetime of civility marred by a tiny bit of racism versus someone whose entire persona rests on foundations of racism or anti-semitism.

        Kazin belongs to the former category and the risk lies in hijacking him to lend respectability to others of a far more malicious and pathological bent.

        • Well, there’s such a thing as keeping one’s opinion to oneself. I think we all have bigoted opinions on one thing or another, but we don’t flaunt them in company.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            Kazin wrote them in his diary.

            I’m fascinated by the contemporary urge to uncover and sputter at examples of past crimethink. It’s becoming something of a religious ritual in which the community of true believers assures each other and themselves that they, personally, would never have any impure thoughts.

            • Andrew says:


              As I wrote in the post above, I’m not claiming that I’m any better than Kazin. I just thought that quote was pretty amazing.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                Why shouldn’t you think that a cabdriver who drives as dangerously in your country as he likely did in his own high deathrate-per-mile-driven homeland should go back to his own country?

              • Steve Sailer says:

                If the cabdriver had hit you and put you in a wheelchair for life and he turned out to be an illegal alien, would you think it right to deport him after he served a prison sentence?

              • Andrew says:

                In that scenario, I’d want to deport the guy even if he’d been born right here in the United States! Although I guess it might be difficult to find a country that would accept him.

            • I, too, am fascinated by this, but also very disturbed. And I find that I’m surprisingly in agreement with your last sentence.

              Typically, those who argue for evaluating such beliefs within their contemporary cultural context are doing so as a sort of apologetic for those views. Which is sort of weird in that it reverses the otherwise prevailing moral philosophy politics of the discussion — generally, it’s the left that are relativist and the right that are absolutist, but in these examples it’s usually the right who makes apologetics for the bigotry of past figures on culturally relativist grounds. It’s odd; but actually quite revealing of how in the wider culture such relativist/absolutist positions in moral philosophy are almost always ad hoc and pragmatic, intended to provide some sort of rationalization for an individual’s pre-existing moral intuition.

              Anyway, back to my main point, what I was getting at is that for me the entire argument is inverted from its typical characteristic. I argue for a moderate apologetic relativist view of past attitudes to support a wider quasi-absolutist view that is primarily intended to emphasize the point that views which are currently morally normative are just as likely to be seen later, by others, as offensively bigoted and that the self-congratulations of contemporary progressives of their enlightenment relative to past bigots is seriously lacking the corollary of self-criticism about what views we hold now which will similarly be seen as unforgivable. I’m explicitly not arguing for an extreme in either direction — I don’t want to either entirely condemn or forgive past bigots their beliefs, particularly given that in almost all cases, there were contemporaries of them (though on what were the cultural fringes of those times) who made rational arguments against such bigotries. Similarly, there are present fringe beliefs that well may be widespread within a generation but which are presently thought to be self-evidently absurd by most, including progressives. There’s something deeply bothersome to me that most progressives congratulate themselves on their progressivism and open-minded fairness that just happens to conform exactly to majority opinion among progressives now, while finding that most positions outside that consensus to be self-evidently not worthy of consideration.

              Which is all to say, from where I’m sitting, there’s much less difference between conservatives and progressives than most people think. Maybe one or two generations of majority opinion, at most. Twenty years ago, most of the didn’t support gay marriage and thirty and forty years ago they didn’t support gay rights and were actively hostile to LGBT. At all times, whatever is the consensus within the subculture defines what is and is not self-evidently right and fair and absurd and fringe. I think that all condemnation of past bigotries such as discussed in this post should be accompanied by reflection and self-criticism concerning what attitudes oneself has which will be seen as comparable, as repugnant, as Kazin’s do to us now. Otherwise, it’s all just self-congratulation and condemnation of others almost entirely lacking in any serious contemplation of moral philosophy.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                For example, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, who is wildly popular with the media, has presided over a system of the NYPD stopping and frisking a half million young Hispanics and blacks per year. Few other cities in the country could get away with such ferocious police persecution of minorities, but New York is special because important people live there.

                One effect of this is to drive out traditional underclass minorities from New York City. The Puerto Rican population of New York City has dropped sharply over the last decade as has the American-born black population.

                The mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, has an obvious strategy of driving underclass minorities out of the city.

                Similarly, Washington D.C. is rapidly whitening, and the national media loved former DC school boss Michelle Rhee for firing a lot of black schoolteachers. (Black voters did not, however.)

                Basically, most individuals in the national media wouldn’t mind if sub-Obama-level non-Asian minorities disappear from media cities like New York and Washington D.C. for the hinterlands, clutching their Section 8 vouchers.

                However, these political leaders make all the right noises about their high moral standards on questions of political correctness, so these processes that Alfred Kazin would have approved of continue on.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                Keith M. Ellis writes:

                “At all times, whatever is the consensus within the subculture defines what is and is not self-evidently right and fair and absurd and fringe.”

                Right. For example, the national media denounces attempts to control immigration on the national scale as Racist and Bad for the Economy, etc. etc. Yet, the policies that have led to Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Washington DC becoming notably whiter in this century, while the rest of the country becomes less white, are largely seen as wise and unobjectionable. The important thing is to impose the blessings of diversity on the benighted Flyover Folks, while the elites push out troublesome elements from their own neighborhoods.

        • Ivan Diaz says:

          Also, the use of the word “America” in Kazin’s text (as in almost any other text) to refer to the United States of America is wrong. America is a continent that goes from the patagonia in Argentina to Alaska passing by South, Central, and North America, the latter which includes Mexico and Canada.

      • nb says:

        Kazin did indeed struggle with the anti-Semitism of eminent writers and scholars directed at Jewish immigrants:

        Here are examples of anti-Semitic remarks from such “civilized” folks (including the New York Times) about Jewish immigrants that sound awfully similar to Kazin’s remarks about Latin-American immigrants:

    • Popeye says:

      This reminds me of the “George-Zimmerman-couldn’t-be-racist-because-he’s-Hispanic” argument. Minorities can be just as racist as anyone else, if not more so (for one thing they don’t suffer from white guilt). I personally know a Greek-Guatemalan-American who is horribly racist (and who changed his last name to something British-sounding).

  9. Steve Sailer says:

    This is a good reminder of how much has been forgotten. In the generation after WWII, working class Jewish neighborhoods in NYC, such as in the South Bronx, were hammered by the massive influx of Puerto Ricans and African-Americans, with the attendant crime and violence against Jewish shopkeepers, pedestrians, homeowners and the like. Wikipedia’s “South Bronx” entry says:

    “Later, the Bronx was considered the “Jewish Borough,” and at its peak in 1930 was 49% Jewish.[6] Jews in the South Bronx numbered 364,000 or 57.1% of the total population in the area.[7] … After World War II, as white flight accelerated and migration of ethnic and racial minorities continued, the South Bronx went from being two-thirds non-Hispanic white in 1950 to being two-thirds black or Puerto Rican in 1960. … The South Bronx has been historically a place for working-class families. Its image as a poverty-ridden area developed in the latter part of the 20th century.”

    Kazin grew up in the Jewish neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn, which about 1957 shifted rapidly from a decent Jewish neighborhood to bombed out black and some Puerto Rican slum. It was the site of the famous Ocean-Brownsville strike by blacks to push Jews out of their jobs as teachers in Ocean-Brownsville public schools around 1969.

    Over the generations, working class Jews mostly figured out a solution: stop being working class. Make enough money to “insulate, insulate, insulate” (to quote a line from Bonfire of the Vanities” on how to live in New York). And the violence suffered by Jews of Kazin’s generation at the hands of the newcomers has been papered over. But if you want to know how New York City Jews of that generation felt about Puerto Ricans and blacks, read the Mayor’s soliloquies in “Bonfire.”

    • ezra abrams says:

      S Sailer – and the jews, when they arrived,50 years before the PRs, now forgotten, were dirty illiterates who caused the lower east side to become a crime ridden slum

      in the movie once upon a time in america, the hero (played by De Niro) comes back to NYC after hiding out for many years in Buffalo NY, and he refers to Buffalo, iirc, as the asshole of america

      • Steve Sailer says:

        “and the jews, when they arrived,50 years before the PRs, now forgotten, were dirty illiterates who caused the lower east side to become a crime ridden slum”

        As I said: how much has been forgotten. The Eastern European Jews who arrived in 50 years before were (mostly poor) and made the lower east side immensely crowded, but they were:

        – not “dirty” by the standards of the time and the standards of Americans

        – not “illiterates”

        – not “crime ridden” — at least not in the violent crime department

          • Steve Sailer says:

            There’s a minor industry these days among Jews (e.g., Ron Rosenthal) in promoting the notion of old Jews as tough guy criminals. Certainly, there was sizable Jewish organized crime element and there were some Jewish high-technique criminals like safecrackers, but there were virtually no Jewish street criminals (e.g., muggers).

            • Phil says:

              The Purple Gang, [History],
              “In the 1920s, Detroit belonged to the Purple Gang, a group of killers and thugs as vicious and bloodthirsty as any racketeer in New York or Chicago. The Purples ran the rackets in Detroit for much of the 1920s and early 30s until the Syndicate boys from back east moved in and wrested control from a gang that had seen its numbers decimated by infighting and prosecution … In the beginning, the “gangsters” were nothing more than the sons of Russian Jewish immigrants who had come to the New Country in search of a better life … The boys, led by the four Bernstein brothers – Abe, Joe, Raymond and Izzy, were shakedown artists and jewel thieves, but thanks to Prohibition and the convenient location of Detroit, the young delinquents quickly graduated from nuisance types of street crime to armed robbery, hijacking, extortion, and other strong arm work. They became notorious for their high profile manner of operation and their savagery in dealing with enemies.”

              I’m not sure what distinction there would be, if any, between armed robbery and mugging. Whatever.

        • ezra abrams says:

          as my grandparents, who were not born in this country, but arrived as young children, told me, their parents and grandparents were peasants – not a word with any pos attributes (1); they considered their own parents as virtually uncivilized

          1) Bertrand Russell remarks, iirc, that what he [peasant] lacks in mistreatment of his family, he makes up with cruelty towards his animals.

          • Steve Sailer says:

            As I said, so much has been forgotten. Your greatgrandparents were not peasants. A peasant is a farmer. Virtually no Jews in Europe were farmers.

            • Nameless says:

              I would not go as far as Steve, but yes, the percentage of farmers among European Jews was very low. According to the 1897 census of the Russian Empire, at most 5% of Russian Jews were farmers (that’s in a country where farmers/peasants comprised over 75% of total population.) Jews were disproportionally urban and most of them were workers, craftsmen or shopkeepers. Most common occupations were shopkeepers, tailors and woodworkers.

              Russian government tried to encourage Jewish farming earlier in the 19th century, but that attempt was over by the 1860’s and it turned into its polar opposite by 1880’s (in 1882, government edict explicitly banned Jews from moving into villages. Those who already lived in villages could remain there, but, if the Jew wanted to move, he/she had to move to a city.)

              Judicial persecution of Russian Jews throughout the second half of the 19th century was so inventive and variable that Jews were increasingly getting fed up and starting to emigrate. 1881 was a key date because of a wave of pogroms throughout the country that spurred emigration.

              It is possible that Ezra Abrams’ great-grandparents were old enough that they were either in the first wave of emigrants after 1881 pogroms, or they were among those forced into the cities by the 1882 edict.

        • nb says:

          This is not an accurate depiction of American anti-Semitism. I’m not even going to google the words “dirty” and “Jew” to bring up examples but you should be able to imagine what doing so would conjure up. Suffice it to say, Jews/Jewish immigrants were stereotyped as dirty by other Americans. Even this description of the early 20th century Lower East Side by the Library of Congress makes it clear your first claim is not correct and possibly both the second and third:

          “This congestion brought with it many hazards…Disease was rampant, clean water was hard to come by…For many immigrant children, their education in American life was acquired in the city streets, where lovers strolled amid streams of raw sewage, vendors offered almost anything for sale, con artists and petty thieves worked the crowds, and horse carriages burdened with goods clogged the muddy roadways. The Lower East Side could certainly be frightening, dangerous, noisy, and cramped….Most of the new Jewish immigrants faced unique challenges in their search for work. In the Russian Empire, they had been barred by law from a wide range of jobs, including farming, and so brought a more limited set of skills with them than some immigrants did.”

          Indeed, Eastern European Jewish immigrants were stereotyped as illiterate. Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, an early supporter of the Immigration Restriction League, introduced a bill in 1895 requiring a literacy test for immigrants largely to limit the immigration of “undereducated, Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jews of eastern Europe.”

  10. It was the “Cuba” reference that surprised me. I had thought that Cubans were the good Hispanic immigrants. Then I realized that Kazin was writing in 1957, just a couple of years before the Cubans came. But I wonder what Kazin said about “West Side Story,” which opened on Broadway that year. Was he rooting for the Jets (then as now a disappointing sentiment)?

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Cubans were, and remain, the culturally dominant Hispanics in America. Cuba was the jewel in the crown of the Spanish Empire in the New World, and thus Spain held onto it for 75 years longer than other colonies.

      If you look up the ethnic origins of people promoted by the American media as “Hispanic spokespersons” and “Hispanic role models,” such as Marco Rubio, you’ll see that Cubans are vastly over-represented and Mexicans vastly under-represented, with Puerto Ricans in the middle.

      Then within any Latin American nationality, the Hispanic celebrities in the U.S. tend to be of almost all white ancestry, except in the cases of athletes and musicians, who may be black or mixed black-white. Latinos of mixed white-Amerindian ancestry are highly underrepresented in the media (outside of boxing) — both the English-language and Spanish-language media. Latinos of mostly Amerindian ancestry are virtually invisible in the media.

      The media in Latin American countries is even more white-skewed than in the U.S.

      • Nameless says:

        It is a fact that Cubans are the most successful Latino ethnic group in the U.S. (side note: the word “Hispanic” is seriously overused and, when people use it, they usually use it incorrectly. “Hispanic” includes people born in Spain, but excludes Brazilians – rarely a distinction that one wants to make.) In terms of per capita income at the time of the 2000 census, Cubans were at $20.5k/person, Puerto-Ricans were at $13.5/person and Mexicans were at $11k/person. 20.5k is a lot for a recent refugee immigrant group (even Spaniards proper were only at $23k/person).

        If you are implying that it happened because Cuba is “whiter” than Mexico or Puerto Rico (because it was longer under Spanish rule), that is highly doubtful. In reality, Puerto Rico is the whitest of all three. World Migration Matrix gives the genetic composition of 64% Spaniard/18% Amerindian/16% African for P.R. and 63% Spaniard/33% African for Cuba. Brazilians are probably the whitest of all Latin American countries (75% European/10% Amerindian/15% African), but even they don’t do as well in the U.S. as Cubans.

        It’s pretty clear to me that there’s a cultural effect here: something along the lines of Cuban immigrants and Mexican immigrants representing different slices of their respective societies. (Possibly because least skilled / least intelligent Cubans are the least likely to flee the country, with Cuban generous welfare programs, universal healthcare and whatnot, but least skilled Mexicans are precisely the ones immigrating into the U.S. in droves.)

        • Nameless says:

          And it is possible that Kazin’s Cubans, who came to New York in the 40’s, long before Castro, were from a totally different slice of Cuban society, more similar to modern Mexicans.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          This is a statistics-oriented site: so let’s ask some questions with statistical answers.

          For example, what percent of the Forbes 400 is Hispanic?

          What percent of the Forbes 400 is Jewish?

        • Steve Sailer says:

          It’s mostly a selection effect: rich, white Cubans went to the U.S. when Castro took over, while rich, white Mexicans stay home and run Mexico. Mexico is a nice place to be rich and white.

          On the other hand, Cuba was always the cultural pride of the northern half of Latin America.

          Puerto Rico, in contrast, was an agricultural backwater. It’s an overpopulated little island that still needs Congress to provide it with tax breaks to big American countries to keep it’s economy inflated. When Congress tightened up its tax breaks in 2006, the P.R. economy imploded again and the emigration to the U.G. got back into high gear.

          • Nameless says:

            Tax breaks or not, P.R. is doing extremely well, compared to most of Latin America and the Caribbean. It ranks second only to the Bahamas in terms of GDP per capita. (And the Bahamas have the advantage of being much closer to the U.S.: most of their GDP is tourism and most of their tourists come from the United States or Canada.) Compared to its three nearest big neighbors (Cuba, Dominican Republic and Jamaica), it beats them all by a factor of 3.

      • Ivan Diaz says:

        Highly inaccurate to say that “Spain held on to it”, there were independence wars and other independence-related economic and military processes both in Europe and in America (south, central, and north) that Spain did not control.

  11. ezra abrams says:

    If you look at a plot of time on the x axis and crime rate (ie murders/100 population, or something like that)
    going back to the 1920s, what you see is a huge dip that lasts from , roughly, 1930 to 1960, then, starting in the 60s , a huge increase that lasted 30 years, then a huge decrease
    without getting into a lot of interesting stuff about why, if you were someone who grew up in NYC (a la kazin) what you saw was what looked like causality: starting in the 60s, the crime rate shot up (it really did) coincident with the arrival of many hispanics, esp from PR
    IT is easy, from the vantage of web hindsight, to say that people like Kazin shouldn’t have made a cause connection between two random events, but, hindsight is 20/20

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I’m sorry, Ezra, but people in NYC knew who was violently victimizing them.\

      I’m always struck by the efforts that people go through to deny that there are ethnic differences in average crime rates, despite the vast amount of data to the contrary.

      • Phil says:

        Steve, I don’t see anyone denying that. You’ve made more factually questionable assertions than anyone. I will also say that I have to fight the tendency to react to your obvious ill will and I suspect some other people feel the same.

      • Anon says:

        I have not a clue about crime rates by ethnicity but are you saying that ethnicity itself — whatever that is — is the _cause_ of crime?

        E.g. that person A is more violent for belonging to ethnic group F than he would have been had his ethnic group been G?

        • Steve Sailer says:

          “I have not a clue about crime rates by ethnicity”

          I’m fascinated by how fashionable cluelessness has become over the course of my lifetime. Here we are on a statistics website, yet commenters love to assert their “cluelessness” about important statistics!

          • Ivan Diaz says:

            What about Anon’s actual point? Are you saying that ethnicity is the cause of crime?

            • Steve Sailer says:

              Rather than get into a metaphysical argument over the nature of causality, let me point out the _durability_ of many of the correlations between ethnicity and crime rates. For example, as Steven Pinker notes in The Better Angels of Our Nature, the oldest continuing homicide rates by race that we have in the U.S. are for Philadelphia and New York City. The black rate of committing homicide offenses has been higher than the white rate in every year since the end of the Civil War in both cities.

              What is cause and what is effect? You can argue over that. But, long lasting correlations are useful in making more accurate than random predictions about the future, which is one thing social science is supposed to do.

              • Ivan Diaz says:

                Another useful thing that social science is supposed to do is provide accurate knowledge about the world, knowledge that can be used to improve policy making processes and results. Correlations patterns, however long lasting, are absolutely useless for that objective. So let’s argue about the cause and the effect.

              • Steve Sailer says:

                “Another useful thing that social science is supposed to do is provide accurate knowledge about the world, knowledge that can be used to improve policy making processes and results. Correlations patterns, however long lasting, are absolutely useless for that objective.”

                Oh, dear …

                Perhaps you should brush up on what David Hume had to say about the long-lasting correlation between opening your hand and the rock you were holding falling to the ground.

              • Ivan Diaz says:

                Oh, I wasn’t aware that the physical nature of the relation ethnicity-crime was as well understood as the physics of gravity, please forgive me on that one.

                Perhaps you should brush up on high school physics, it is gravity that causes the rock to fall, not your open hand.

  12. Ivan Diaz says:

    Surprising how many few Latin Americas I see in this discussion. That itself should say a lot about the topic.