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Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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10 Horror Movie Cliches That Can Die This Halloween

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

“Blair Witch” guy, standing in the corner to atone for foisting decades of found-footage copycats on cinema

Every horror movie can’t expect to achieve the cult status of Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street, the original Halloween or The Shining. They can’t all stick it to the stereotypes like Zombieland, The Cabin in the Woods, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead or Scream. But every horror movie can do its part to stop relying on the same tired cliches.

1. Found footage

Horror films this century lead one to believe that the answers to all of life’s mysteries, demons, supernatural phenomena, unsolved murders and alien attacks can be found on discarded camcorders. Blame the Blair Witch for starting the found-footage horror craze, though you’d think in the years since 1999 the fad would have died down a bit. Instead, we have films from the points of view of home movies, home security cameras, retail security cameras, body cameras, news cameras, spelunking helmet cameras (2014′s As Above, So Below), any footage that can theoretically be found. Found footage even mocks found footage, such as the 2011 film Grave Encounters that needles the cable TV ghost-hunting shows. Sometimes the greatest fear during these shaky-camera wonders is getting sick watching ‘em, as happened when I tried to watch 2008′s Quarantine while coming down with the stomach flu.

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Showtime’s ‘The Affair’ Is the Best Infidelity Deterrence on TV

Monday, September 28th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
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I’m usually willing to give new premium cable series a shot — the writing, acting and storylines on HBO, Showtime, etc., are so superior that I haven’t wasted time on broadcast network shows in a long time. But I was a bit hesitant when Showtime offered up season one of The Affair, as I avoid the Lifetime network, soap operas and other chick TV like the plague. I tried it because the promos teased a crime storyline wrapped within the relationship drama.

It’s good to know I wasn’t the only one who got hooked during the first season. The Affair won the Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Drama earlier this year, an honor previously won by standards such as Mad Men and Breaking Bad, and Best Actress for Ruth Wilson.

In the first season, teacher Noah (Dominic West) and waitress Alison (Wilson) meet on Noah’s family vacation to her home of Montauk, New York. He’s the picture of a perfect family, living in NYC with his loving wife Helen (Maura Tierney), four kids, annoying rich in-laws and one published novel under his belt. Alison has a devoted husband, Cole (Joshua Jackson), but has been torn apart by the death of their child in an accident.

The writers’ use of different points of view — Noah’s for one half of the episode, Alison’s for the other — made for a fascinating, realistic exploration of memory bias as their affair begins and progresses. He remembers her wearing something racier than she remembers, he remembers her being more come-hither while she remembers being more reticent, mundane and critical details alike change. One doesn’t come across as more guilty than the other, though — another testament to the skilled writing. Some of the narrative comes across an interrogation table, and we’re reminded that it’s a homicide detective piecing together the affair. In the second season, the writers are adding the points of view of the cheated-on spouses, Helen and Cole.

At the end of the first season, Noah and Alison — after leaving a path of destruction in their wake — gave the impression of being happily cocooned together in an NYC apartment until the cops come knocking. The second season promises to make clear that there is no neat, happy ending to the affair, emphasizing that a relationship beginning with deceit naturally has a pretty big trust deficit along with other holes that may not ever be patched.

For all of the promise-keeping programs out there that encourage partners to stay true to the sanctity of marriage vows, The Affair is probably one of the most powerful tools out there to discourage infidelity. The characters all discover their worst, darkest sides, from the web of lies to Alison needlessly pouring Helen’s expensive shampoo down the drain after she’s just been in Noah’s marital bed while the wife was out of town. The families are shredded, with Noah’s teenage daughter being even more issue-laden than the infamously annoying Dana on Homeland. The passion of the affair has sexiness sapped away by the details of meeting in stealth and trying to cover up the evidence. It’s messy and destructive, even without the mysterious death subplot slowly unfolding.

Season 2 of The Affair premieres this Sunday on Showtime; the first episode of the new season is currently available on Showtime on Demand.

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5 Comedies to Get You Ready for Campaign 2016

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

1. The Distinguished Gentleman

There isn’t an Eddie Murphy classic I wouldn’t recommend watching — and by los clasicos, I mean Coming to America, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop and even The Golden Child. But The Distinguished Gentleman, in which he plays a con artist who gets elected to Congress solely on name recognition, is a keeper for campaign season. First, the late Lane Smith plays majority leader Dick Dodge perfectly — he would seamlessly fit in on the Hill. Then there’s the thin, pretty much non-existent lines between the “cons” Murphy’s character pulls to move up in Congress and tactics used in real life. And his campaign victory speech is a classic mish-mash of tired campaign cliches — in a movie made 16 years before the 2008 campaign that, eh, used some of them.

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Six Great Moments from Monty Python’s Life of Brian

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson


I know some label Monty Python’s Life of Brian offensive. I’m an Irish-Catholic journalist, so pretty much nothing on the R-rated spectrum is offensive. But on the charge of blasphemy, I’ve never seen the movie as mocking Jesus. When scene arrives where Brian accidentally loses his sandal, and the chasing crowd takes it as a sign to rip off one shoe too (or maybe follow the gourd), I always think of the time a well-educated Moonie in D.C. politics tried to explain to me why he thought Sun Myung Moon was the messiah. That scene pretty much sums up people so desperate for a messiah they can see and touch, instead of having quiet faith in that which they cannot.

Anglican Rev. Richard Burridge, dean of King’s College London and professor of biblical interpretation, told BBC Radio 4 a couple of years ago that he thought Life of Brian is actually more historically accurate than many films about Jesus in its depiction of messianic movements and factions in the first century:

“What is interesting about what Cleese says is that when they sat down to read the gospels they were struck by Jesus, his teaching, and realised that you couldn’t actually make a joke of these things which is why the accusation from Mervyn Stockwood and Malcolm Muggeridge that they were trying to use Jesus was so patently false.

“I think it is an extraordinary tribute to the life and work and teaching of Jesus – that they couldn’t actually blaspheme or make a joke out of it.

“What they did was take ordinary British people and transpose them into an historical setting and did a great satire on closed minds and people who follow blindly.

“Then you have them splitting into factions … it is a wonderful satire on the way that Jesus’s own teaching has been used to persecute others.

“They were satirising closed minds, they were satirising fundamentalism and persecution of others and at the same time saying the one person who rises above all this was Jesus, which I think is remarkable and I think that the church missed that at the time.”

But before this discussion gets as lofty as a meeting of the People’s Front of Judea, on to the clips.

1. The Stoning

Have you ever not thought about this scene when faced with a piece of halibut? It’s also mind-blowing to think that we live in a world where people are still stoned for really stupid stuff — see the ISIS penal code.

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Fishy Friday: The Trials, Guilt-Inducing Errors, and Triumphant Successes of the Home Aquarium

Friday, June 5th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Daniel-san, still a juvenile and growing

My history of fish-keeping is probably like that of many. There was the childhood goldfish, not won at a carnival but rescued from my zoology class after the teacher was going to flush him down the toilet post-microscope lesson. There was the small tank in early adulthood that combined species that really weren’t supposed to be living with each other. There was the betta, Muqtada al-Fish, I kept on my desk at the Los Angeles Daily News (during the Iraq war, clearly). And I hadn’t delved back into aquariums, despite the perpetual lure of adorable fish at the pet store, because I have enough critter habitats to clean.

Then, last year, a neighbor moved out and left his fish with another neighbor. She was getting ready to move across the country, so asked if I’d take the fish. Sure. I went to her home and she handed me a gallon bowl with a comet goldfish and a Bolivian ram cichlid.

Sounds problematic, right? It worked for a while as my tank wasn’t too cool. My kitchen has far more counter space than a non-cook needs, so I set up shop on a long counter next to the sink. This has turned out to be the perfect location as it’s one of the most temperature-controlled rooms of the house and water changes are a breeze with the sink right there. If I accidentally spill a bunch of water, wipe it up. And since I’m always popping in and out, the fish see me a lot and have become very friendly — and I see them a lot, and notice problems early on.

I discovered the very handy AqAdvisor calculator to make sure you’re properly stocked with adequate filtration and species compatibility. I got all the water testing supplies, something that never happened (shame on me) with previous fishkeeping. I graduated from flakes to frozen food, now keeping four varieties next to my Trader Joe’s grub. The goldfish, Fin Jong-il, recovered from the ammonia burns he received in the bowl and started growing. I got him a ryukin companion. I got a Bolivian ram friend for the cichlid, as well. And I added a gold dojo loach for some help with the vacuuming.


Fin Jong-il, surveying his reclusive kingdom

All was going swimmingly. The fish I got from PetSmart were healthy. But one employee directed me to a local fish store — the LFS, as I’ve learned the lingo from the uber-dogmatic aquarist subculture — to special-order fish. I wanted the natural, wild-colored weather loach. The LFS called me when they came in, and the shop owner recommended some live plants to help with my minor algae issues. I got some floating water lettuce and frogbit, which looked really nice.

Then one day the fish started acting strange. The Bolivians were listless. The normally active ryukin was not. I vacuum gravel every couple of days, so was perplexed. I tested the water. My nitrates had shot through the roof. Turns out bits of the plants and roots were breaking off and getting sucked into the filter and decomposing there. The cichilds, who were so cute and sweet, and the ryukin didn’t make it. The comet was inconsolable. So I pulled the weather loaches out of quarantine and into the main tank. Water levels were back to normal, and I switched from the Tetra water conditioner to Seachem Prime to have a neutralizing agent handy should the need arise.

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Was This Game of Thrones Episode the Best TV Hour in Recent Memory?

Monday, June 1st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sure, the Senate was in session last night, but come 9 p.m. Eastern time few in Washington were paying attention to the last gasps in the upper chamber before the expiration of Patriot Act provisions.

Instead, everyone from journalists to lobbyists were tweeting about that Game of Thrones episode.

I’ve watched the series since the beginning, always giving a shot to new offerings from HBO, Showtime, AMC, and Netflix since they dutifully saved television from the scourge of reality-TV hell. (And when HBO does reality, in the form of its documentaries, the result is top-notch.) On this site some have been critical of GoT’s violence (see The Red Wedding) and a couple of weeks ago some across the web vowed to finally give up on the show after a wedding-night rape scene. I understand the complaints about the show’s gratuitous elements and misogyny, but I see a lot of spirited, tough women characters on the show, from Daenerys Targaryen to Brienne of Tarth to Arya Stark and basically every Wildling.

Let’s face it: the cable shows have better writing, acting, directing, art direction, cinematography and all the other assets to trump network fare. They also have the budgets to do all of the above.

And if these shows mean every Sunday night is like watching a part of a movie premiere, last night was definitely popcorn-worthy — if anyone had been able to consume a bite while staring gape-mouthed at the screen. It was like The Walking Dead invaded Game of Thrones, a stunning special-effects display as the zombie horde of the White Walkers broke into a Wildling fortress on their way to the wall. These were not the ambling zombies of AMC or George Romero, but the wickedly fast, cliff-diving undead like 28 Days Later. And that’s not all: Tyrion and Dany met and plotted for the first time, Sansa found out her brothers are still alive, and evil Cersei was licking water off a dungeon floor.

But what’s nice about this show — and I say this as someone who has never read the books, but has seen enough horror movies to often predict the next devious turn — is that it takes risks or goes all-out to surprise viewers. How many shows get away with bumping off the main character before the conclusion of the first season?

There are only two GoT episodes left this season. But then the second True Detective begins. Thank you, HBO.






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Kanye West Gets Told by Rock Group Singer: ‘Stop Throwing Your Toys Around’

Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson


I know I hated on Kanye West (well, we all did) yesterday for his Grammy stage-crashing antics followed by a dis’ of Album of the Year winner Beck as somehow not being as much of an artist as Beyonce (“Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé,” Kanye ranted). But sometimes there comes a response so perfect and equally satisfying to those of us who musically came of age in the ’90s.

Shirley Manson, lead singer of the alternative rock band Garbage (’90s hits included “Only Happy When It Rains” and “Stupid Girl“), unleashed on Kanye on her Facebook page:

Dear Kanye West

It is YOU who is so busy disrespecting artistry.
You disrespect your own remarkable talents and more importantly you disrespect the talent, hard work and tenacity of all artists when you go so rudely and savagely after such an accomplished and humble artist like BECK.
You make yourself look small and petty and spoilt.
In attempting to reduce the importance of one great talent over another, you make a mockery of all musicians and music from every genre, including your own.
Grow up and stop throwing your toys around.
You are making yourself look like a complete twat.

Ps.I am pretty certain Beyonce doesn’t need you fighting any battles on her account. Seems like she’s got everything covered perfectly well on her own.

With more than 100,000 likes so far for the post, America agrees with the 48-year-old Scot.

Though I haven’t seen any comment yet from Beyonce on Kanye’s second quixotic stage-crash on her behalf that just took from another winner’s golden moment.

Kanye’s not the only one, though — mad Beyonce fans set about defacing Beck’s Wikipedia page.



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Confirmed: Kanye Was Being a Jerk at the Grammys

Monday, February 9th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson


So it turns out that Kanye West jumping onstage last night at the Grammy’s wasn’t just a tongue-in-cheek reference to his 2009 hijacking of Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards. He thought Beyonce should have won then, and he thinks Beyonce should have won Album of the Year last night.

Instead, the Grammy went to Beck for Morning Phase, his 12th studio album.

Kanye jumped onto the stage with a rather horrified Beyonce and Jay-Z looking on, was close to the microphone and then walked off as Beck beckoned the stage-crasher to come back and join him.

Kanye’s rant after the show:

The Grammys, if they want real artists to come back, they need to stop playing with us. We ain’t gonna play with them no more. Flawless, Beyoncé video, and Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé.

And at this point, we tired of it because what happens is, when you keep on diminishing art, and not respecting the craft, and smacking people in the face after they deliver monumental feats of music, you’re disrespectful to inspiration. And we as musicians have to inspire people who go to work every day and they listen to that Beyoncé album, they feel like it takes them to another place, then they do this whole promotional event that, they’ll run the music over somebody’s speech, the artist, because they wanted commercial advertising.

And by the way, I got my wife, I got my daughter, and I got my clothing line, so I’m not gonna do nothing to put my daughter at risk, but I am here to fight for creativity. That’s the reason I didn’t say anything tonight. But y’all know what it meant when ‘Ye walks on that stage.

Kanye was nominated for, but didn’t win, Album of the Year in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

Beck, who said after the show that he thought Beyonce was going to win, has absolutely no hard feelings toward Kanye.

“I was so excited he was coming up! He deserves to be on that stage,” the singer-songwriter told reporters about Kanye West rushing the stage before his acceptance speech Sunday.

… “You can’t please everybody. I still love him and think he’s genius,” he said. “I aspire to what he does. How many great records has he put out in the last five years, right?”

And Beck’s album is good. I was working at Tower Records back in the day when 1996′s Odelay, which was nominated then for Album of the Year, was released. It’s fascinating to watch an artist capable of moving his music in so many directions evolve.

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Why The Interview Is a Deeper Film Than You Might Imagine

Friday, December 26th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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Randall Park as Kim Jong-un blubbers his way through The Interview as his daddy’s image hovers

The chairman of the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), suggested using satellite television under the control of the Broadcasting Board of Governors to beam a dubbed version of The Interview into North Korea.

On principle, I wholeheartedly agreed. After seeing the film, I now also agree in terms of content. North Koreans would get to see the on-screen version of North Koreans discovering what a blubbering idiot their supreme leader is, and how revolution ultimately comes from within.

It seems some outlets are eager to paint The Interview as nothing more than mindless lowbrow humor — Vox, for example, thinks a dictator explaining that he actually does pee and poo like a mere mortal is the worst thing that could happen to the silver screen — while sort of willfully ignoring the film’s core.

And that is simple: The North Korean regime is cruel and has no place in the modern world, and though James Franco’s character flirts with the idea that this is something the U.S. can comfortably ignore, it’s not.

After watching The Interview twice online, I’ll venture to say the comedy goes even deeper into “messaging” territory about the danger of the regime than the legendary “ronery” Kim Jong-il send-up in Team America: World Police.

Is it Oscar material? Of course not, but it’s well-paced and even funnier if you’re up on current events.

A few observations without spoilers:

  • John Kerry referenced as “that oak tree-looking f**k” — need I say more?
  • Eminem and Rob Lowe have very funny cameos
  • Randall Park as Kim Jong-un is at times more refined than we can ever imagine the young dictator, yet most of the time he’s as silly and off his rocker as we expect him to be. He was all bravado and bluster in one moment, and blubbering the next.
  • Concise foreign policy quote that sums up Kim well: “He says that he’s going to blow up the world just to prove that he’s the s**t”

The Interview may be full of fraternity humor, but that’s not exactly inappropriate considering North Korea is run by a 31-year-old who treats nuclear tests like a night at the beer bong. Yes, I can believe that Kim would say “nuke your mama” to a basketball opponent, insist on umbrellas in his margaritas, and display that well-documented impetuous temperament at will.

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Black Friday Tips for the Best Buy and Least Insanity

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The Puppacita, ready to shop

Shop at the prime time. You can often get the same deals online starting Thanksgiving or earlier, so spare yourself the Friday pre-dawn credit-card riot. Stores are also often breaking their sales into Thanksgiving deals and Black Friday deals, hoping to snare customers with the best buys before the turkey has settled. However, the “pre-Black Friday sale” is not always a substitute for the real thing. For example, right now PetSmart has 40 percent off many products. The Black Friday ad notes that online Thanksgiving discounts go to 50 percent off, with free shipping. Puppacita can hold out.

Consult a clearinghouse of Black Friday ads, such as BlackFriday.com, to browse through full ad circulars and get updates on which sale starts when. Kohls’ online sale has started; two years ago I got a king-size down comforter for $24.99, but unfortunately I don’t see that deal this year.

Do deal detective work. For retailers who have not yet announced a Black Friday sale, look at their current promotions and read the fine print for its expiration. For example, I am addicted to Kerastase hair products. Expensive but worth every penny, I wait for sales to ease this mane expenditure. Their current promotion for a free deluxe sample set ends at Nov. 27 at 3 a.m. EST. Every year, Kerastase does 20 percent off the site for Black Friday. So I’m holding my horses for Nov. 27 at 3:05 a.m.

Divvy it up to get more freebies. For retailers offering promotions with purchase and free shipping, split up your purchases. I was holding out for today’s ultimate Black Friday bonanza from L.A.-based skincare guru Ole Henriksen — a gift bag full of $100 worth of products free with a $50 purchase. I had two sets I wanted to buy: one $55, the other $59. The system wouldn’t let me get two of the $100 bags, but I just headed over to RetailMeNot to root through the promo codes. I used a code to get a free cleanser on my second purchase.

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5 Canciones de la Música Latina to Get Your Weekend Going

Friday, November 14th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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There’s an amazing fat-burning, curve-sculpting exercise that doesn’t require a gym membership, doesn’t require annoying workout videos and can be done anytime in any weather: simply turning on the radio, iPod or on-demand music channel and shaking what God gave you to the sounds of salsa and merengue. Here are a few favorites I’ve got bookmarked that call you to dance no matter how much you try to resist.

“Bailando” — Enrique Iglesias featuring Descemer Bueno and Gente de Zona

I’m of the opinion that Spanish-languge originals translated into English for an international market just aren’t as good as the Español version. I feel that way in general about Enrique Iglesias. “Bailando” — or “Dancing” — is a tribute to just that, sultry and upbeat at the same time. The video, shot in the Dominican Republic, also blends flamenco and sweet soccer skills in a most awesome way.

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5 Great Moments from Boardwalk Empire’s 5-Season Run

Monday, October 27th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, last mob bosses standing

I’m upset that Boardwalk Empire, that gritty gangster drama that boasted some of the most brilliant production design, cinematography, directing and ensemble acting during its five-season HBO run, came to an end last night. But it ended with a bang, and throughout a season of flashbacks all of the pieces fell into place — and we saw where the moral downward spiral of lead character Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) began.

I’m glad that the series run ended well, unlike the final season of Homeland which has become utterly painful to watch with a storyline that has crashed and burned and characters we no longer care about. Boardwalk didn’t just contrive an ending to round out its contract, but the season was all about the story arc coming full circle, from Nelson Van Alden recapturing his inner lawman in the final moments of his life to cocky Al Capone believing there has to be a way out of his tax-evasion charges while admitting to his deaf son that he’ll be going away for a while.

As Rolling Stone’s Sean T. Collins, who has provided the best show reviews of the season, puts it: “More than any other finished series in television’s New Golden Age, Boardwalk Empire used its series finale to strip its antihero protagonist bare. Whether or not he was ever fully comfortable inhabiting the role, Nucky Thompson was a crime lord. The show’s final sequence depicted his first, and worst, crime. And as any actor from Hollywood’s hyper-regulated Golden Age could tell you, crime does not pay.”

And as Collins points out, Thompson’s assailant in the final scenes had plenty of opportunities to kill him before. What sent him over the edge was Nucky’s final, brusque lack of empathy — and trying to throw some money from his omnipresent wad of cash at the problem in hopes of making it go away.

Here are a few of the best scenes over the show’s run. Fans can think of many more.

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What’s Good at Aldi? Test-Driving the German Import

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

A Germanic haul from Aldi

Striking fear in the hearts of every Walmart protester in the world, German discount chain Aldi is apparently taking over the globe. And they have begun taking over my neighborhood, so I had to investigate.

I’m glad that I Googled the deep secrets of Aldi before heading over to the new store, which opened in a location once occupied by an Office Depot. Bring your own bags or pay for them at the register, so I stuffed several plastic bags from Wegmans (also known as the emergency Puppacita poop bag stash) into my purse. Bring a quarter deposit if you want a shopping cart, a small price to pay to avoid stray carts hitting cars in the parking lot. Make sure you’re paying with a debit card or cash, as they keep prices down by not accepting credit cards. And block off enough time to properly comb through the store.

Aldi stores are so minimalist there’s no ’90s soundtrack piped through the store, and you shop in silence through a fraction of the selection of a regular grocery store with mostly store brands. The bag-your-own-groceries model was nothing new to me; in California, a chain called Food-4-Less kept me equipped in $1.99 10-pound bags of potatoes and 10-for-a-buck ramen in college. Food was also displayed in the packing boxes or pallets, but that chain was a full-size grocery store with bakery and meat counters.

Aldi is the compact version. The name brands I did see weren’t offered at much of a discount — the Kraft chipotle mayo I picked up, for example, was slightly more expensive than at Walmart. The store brands were, for the most part, dirt cheap.

One of the products I tried, among a cornucopia of Sunday football snacks, was the faux Cheez-It. Horrible crackers with a weird aftertaste. However, the Chili Cheese Fritos knockoff was very close to the real thing, as my taste buds from 3 a.m. college cuisine remembered.

I confess I was hoping for piles of cheap greens to more economically feed my bunnies, but the produce selection was hit and miss. Four Anjou pears for $1.49 equalled a good find. Baby carrots for 69 cents rocks. A bag of very good grapes from California’s San Joaquin Valley was $2.49. I got one clamshell of baby lettuces, but the bagged salad was the same price as Trader Joe’s ($1.99) with superior selection and quality at the wonderful marvelous fantastic chain owned by Aldi.

In fact, I needed to set aside my deep, abiding love for Trader Joe’s to accurately judge Aldi.

Aldi has extensive stashes of organic and gluten-free products, and some “gourmet” products that I found intriguing, such as the gouda snack sticks for $3.29. Not the richest gouda in the world (try Trader Joe’s double cream gouda, mmm), but a nice change from string cheese. A big bag of faux Chex Mix in the “bold” flavor (when I make this stuff fresh, it’s drowned in Worcestershire sauce) was $1.49. Their fresh meat section did look fresh, and the frozen selection was vast (and creative if slightly scary — a gyro-making kit).

I found myself hunting for the German imports: big jars of Austrian beer mustard and Bavarian sweet mustard for $1.29 each, a tower of doppelkek cookies for $1.99, frozen cinnamon apple or fruits-of-the-forest strudel for $2.49, and a roll of pretzels that you bake like biscuits (complete with the rock salt) for $2.49. In other words, the Cost Plus World Imports grocery section gets walloped on price points.

I hear, too, that the German goodies increase exponentially when the holidays roll around, so much so that they need to reorganize the store to make extra room. Intrigued.

The next day, I drove to a different Aldi to see if products were the same at each store. Since I realized their customer service was so minimal, I accurately predicted that I could put the Puppacita in her tote in the child seat of the cart and no one would raise an eyebrow. This location had beer and wine, random brands at cheap prices — but I love the store that sells Charles Shaw two-buck-chuck, so who am I to judge.

The selections didn’t vary greatly, though I did pick up German dark chocolate for 99 cents and faux Sun Chips for $1.99. The middle of each store had kitchen and home goods, and even some plants. I understand that the “special buys” section rotates frequently and if you see something you like you should buy it. At both locations, I was pleasantly surprised by the low total at the register.

So Aldi is giving supermarkets heartburn wherever it goes. Have you tried this German import and found favorite products?

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HBO’s Terror at the Mall: The Right Film at the Right Time

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson
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As the world’s attention is focused on ISIS, it’s easy for many to neglect the threat posed by their brethren in less-covered parts of the globe.

It’s also easy for many to dismiss the growth of al-Qaeda affiliates in North Africa as a regional threat, even as Americans in Uganda were warned by the U.S. Embassy to shelter in place over the weekend because of an imminent threat from Al-Shabaab. “We remain vigilant to the possibility that some of the attack cell could still be at large, but we believe that it is appropriate to rescind the guidance to shelter-in-place,” the Embassy said Sunday. “We urge, however, that all U.S. citizens maintain heightened security awareness and continue to monitor email and news outlets for any updates.”

It could also be easy for some to assume that Al-Shabaab is significantly degraded after a U.S. airstrike on Labor Day killed its leader Godane, instead of noting how quickly they moved new leadership into place and renewed their fidelity to al-Qaeda.

That’s why the HBO documentary Terror at the Mall, which premiered on the cable network Monday night, is so important.

The Westgate mall in Nairobi, with its patrons a truly globalized mix of races, creeds, nationalities, and ages, was a microcosm of the greater al-Qaeda target. On Sept. 21, 2013, Al-Shabaab moved in on their target. Sixty-seven people were killed and nearly 200 wounded.

British documentary producer and director Dan Reed has experience showing the brutality of terrorism: 2009′s Terror in Mumbai and 2003′s Terror in Moscow.

In Terror at the Mall, he painstakingly pieced together footage from more than 100 security cameras around Westgate as well as the still photos of renowned Reuters war photographer Goran Tomašević, who gives the story behind some of his famous photos from that day. We also see him, in full combat photography gear, drift through security camera footage with plainclothes police as the bullets fly.

Reed sits down with some of the survivors seen in the footage, including Niall Saville, who was eating lunch at a patio restaurant when the attack began. His wife, Moon Hee, is badly wounded and he drags her into the restaurant and behind the counter as a security camera looks on. A terrorist eventually discovers the pair and shoots Saville. The couple lay on the ground in a pool of blood, the husband trying to stay conscious as his wife dies.

In the large adjoining supermarket, Nakumatt, we see a heroic man get ripped by bullets for venturing out into the aisles to get a bottle of water for a wounded man. We hear from his savior, who admits he learned how to put life-saving pressure on the wounds from watching movies. We hear the stories of the mothers with children who went grocery shopping that day only to cower behind the meat counter in a last-ditch effort to stay alive. An Al-Shabaab terrorist comes by and sprays customers with bullets as they try to shield their children.

Katherine Walton, who hid her three children under a mall kiosk table, speaks of her immediate realization that as an American, as a Christian, she would be a prime target for the terrorists. Another survivor from the supermarket recounts that one of the Al-Shabaab members asked a Kenyan mother if she was Muslim or Christian; she replied she was Christian and was immediately shot to death.

Some of the terror was out of the reach of security cameras, like the massacre at a children’s cooking competition on the roof of the parking garage. A few of the hostages were released after telling the terrorists that they were Muslim, but Muslims were also among the dead. Radio host Ruhila Adatia-Sood was one of three pregnant women killed that day.

The film also highlights the people who came to help, including businessman Abdul Haji, who grabbed his gun and joined plainclothes policemen trying to rescue survivors in the mall (he admits he didn’t have many rounds that day, but stresses it’s accuracy that matters most). The disorganized response of Kenyan authorities, including soldiers accidentally shooting at survivors and killing Kenyan policemen, underscores the tragedy.

It concludes with Al-Shabaab’s “message to unbelievers”: “God willing, there will be more Westgates. We have hundreds more volunteers.”

Terror at theMall is stark, unflinching, bloody and terrifying. It also couldn’t be a more chilling reminder at a more important time. It’s not about pundit commentary and lets the footage speak for itself. It will stay with you for a long time. And in a terror fight that has seen its share of fair-weather commitment, that is needed.

“We don’t know each other, we all come from different communities,” recalled survivor Valentine Kadzo, who hid under the kiosk with Walton. “But at that time we were one.”

And that’s exactly the approach we need to take in confronting the growth of Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Al-Shabaab.

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Furry Friday: How to Lose One Pound

Friday, May 16th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The puppacita before, left, and after losing a pound plus

From the moment I found the puppacita at the pound three years ago, she’s been a good eater. To the point where I don’t know where she puts it all, whether it’s a dish of doggie ice cream or begging diners for tidbits at outdoor cafes or foraging for spilled birdseed. But, alas, it caught up with her eventually.

She weighed 5 1/2 pounds when I found her, and naturally started eating a really good diet. But at a doctor’s appointment last September, she tipped the scales at 7 pounds. Lose a pound, the doctor advised, both for her internal health and to be merciful to her little tiny legs (which have asymptomatic patellar subluxation, common in chihuahuas).

Victory: at an April checkup, with full blood work to ensure the weight loss was healthy, she weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces.

It was not easy. Look at that face and try to say no. But I figured out some tricks that worked:

  • She loved the Pill Pockets I was using to give her Benadryl and supplements, so I was also giving them to her as regular treats. Alas, they’re not low in calories. Instead, I now wrap her tablets in a bit of moist dog food.
  • I keep other pets’ food out of reach so she’s not sampling.
  • She only eats canned food because of her missing teeth. I’d never checked the cans to compare calories before, though. Turned out the chicken and rice and beef flavors of her favorite brand, Verus, had more calories than the turkey and veggie or fish and potato flavors. Switch.
  • I also paid more attention to portion control from those cans. Truth be told, it takes her four days to go through a regular-sized can of dog food.
  • I was giving her whole-meat treats because I thought no additives, just good old freeze-dried meat was much healthier. The problem is, she doesn’t expend enough energy to burn off the calories from all that protein. So I tried the Lean Treats by Butler at my vet’s office. They work like a charm and puppa loves them.
  • Since the Lean Treats are soft, easily pinched off and maleable, I use one and throw the bits all around the living room for a puppa treasure hunt. She gets the exercise and finds them all.
  • She doesn’t get any more people food. I’ll give her bits of a Lean Treat during meal time so she can be tricked (not) into thinking she’s getting people food. Or she’s at least satisfied at the alternative.
  • It’s amazing to me that she lost the weight over the winter because it’s not like she wanted to go for any walks in the cold and snow. Her energy level was already good, but has increased even more since she lost the weight. So I got her a lightweight harness for summer so she can run without tripping on her leash.
  • I stop into the vet’s once a month to say hi and use the baby scale (more accurate than the big-dog scale for her) to track her weight. And even though she wears clothes in the winter to stay warm and in the summer to protect her allergic skin from the grass, how they fit is also a great guide in ensuring that she’s not packing on the pudge.

Don’t get me wrong, she gets the occasional treat:

Share your own stories and tips about canine or feline weight control…

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Furry Friday: Do Animal Rescues Drive Adopters to Breeders?

Friday, May 9th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

The puppacita held by a shelter worker as I finalized her adoption three years ago.

Everyone knows that I’m an advocate of pet adoption. But lately I’ve been questioning whether many animal rescues are defeating the purpose and driving prospective pet parents into the arms of breeders.

I didn’t really think much of the motives and modus operandi of rescues until after I adopted my chihuahua, Chi-Chi aka the puppacita. I found her at one of the last old-school pounds in the area. The shelter staff handed her to me, I asked a couple of questions about her history, and a minute later signed a spay contract, waited while they microchipped her, handed over a $70 check and was on my way to PetSmart to spoil the puppa with whatever she wanted.

No counselor screening, no adoptive matchmaking, no home visits, no drama (though I fully acknowledge people can pick a dog that’s wrong for their situation without some guidance). And puppacita’s perfect. And she knows it. I did the things a rescue might do: spaying, shots, dental extractions, and house-training. Rescue groups often note that for the price you pay you get a shelter dog that’s been fixed up, so to speak, with the necessary vet work and training.

I started to meet other dog owners after the puppacita and I became attached at the hip. When I’d take her to the pet store on what happened to be one of those crowded adoption days, people would ask me which rescue I got her from. She’s a pound puppy, I still proudly say. I like the fact that puppa and I picked each other without whatever screening committee might have been at a rescue. Still, it’s befuddling when rescue groups ask me if I want another chihuahua when it’s clear that the puppacita isn’t into other dogs.

One of the neighbors I met had a big, beautiful dog that was a foster with one of these rescue groups. The neighbor eventually confessed that she couldn’t afford the care that would be required if she adopted the dog, but if she continued to foster him she’d get the paid vet visits and some food. When one couple expressed interested in adopting the dog, she indicated that she’d discourage this adoption from her end if she could. Months later, I still saw her with the dog.

When my bunny Napoleon Bunaparte needed a buddy, I first approached the local rabbit rescues. One of them would only adopt out bunnies that bore microchips listing the rescue’s contact information instead of the new owner’s. Some didn’t even respond. So I went to a local city shelter that let me match Napoleon with his favorite: a spayed French angora, Josephine. The application process was perfectly reasonable: questions about pen size, how much out-of-cage time she would get, how much I expected to spend on food and vet visits each year, other pets and whether or not I’d surrendered pets in the past. It’s great if a shelter asks the basic questions to know if a person will be committed to a pet and knows optimal care.

I’ve heard stories from friends and colleagues over the years, though, wondering if they were denied for adoption because they answered a question wrong on a rescue’s application. Emily Yoffe at Slate confessed, in a piece worth reading in its entirety, to buying a puppy after not clearing any of the adoption inquisitions, and got a lot of solidarity from other pet owners:

Ari Schwartz, a business development manager from Tarrytown, N.Y., and his wife, Lisa, a medical student, ran up against these Jeopardy-like quizzes when they went looking for a shelter dog. After filling out a multi-page online application from a local group, they got a follow-up phone call from a representative who noted they hadn’t given the name of their veterinarian. That was because the couple didn’t have a dog, Lisa replied. In Joseph Heller-esque fashion, the rep said that in order to adopt, a referral from a veterinarian was necessary. The representative went on to note the group preferred that one owner be home full-time. They also didn’t like to give dogs to people who lived in apartments, like the Schwartzes. The couple was told to get a cat. “My wife is deadly allergic to cats,” Ari notes. So—surprise!—they decided to go to a breeder. They now have a Shiba Inu named Tofu. “We absolutely love him,” Ari says.

If an applicant manages to get approved, the adoption papers should be read carefully before signing. It turns out the contract often specifies the adopter is not the actual owner of the animal. Sure you’re responsible for the pet’s food, shelter, training, and veterinary care, but the organization might retain “superior title in said animal.” This means the group can drop in unannounced at any time for the rest of your pet’s life and seize Fluffy if it doesn’t like what it sees.

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Valerie Jarrett Behind Obama’s Funny or Die Appearance

Thursday, March 13th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Valerie Jarrett said Wednesday morning that she was behind convincing President Obama to do the “Funny or Die” video to encourage young people to sign up for Obamacare.

“What is it like to be the last black president?” Hangover actor Zach Galifianakis quips in the clip.

“What is it like for this to be the last time you ever talk to a president?” Obama responds.

Obama gave a pitch about signing up under the healthcare law by the end-of-the-month deadline, to which Galifianakis zones out and quips “Is this about drones?”

Jarrett told MSNBC “it wasn’t hard to get him to participate” and “so far has been overwhelmingly successful.”

“I was checking how many hits were on the site last night. When I went to bed it was 10 million, which I’m sure breaks all kinds of records,” she said of the video, which has 12 million views today. “But, also more importantly than that, the traffic on our website has gone up 40 percent between yesterday and today. And that was the goal.”

“The goal is to help reach that young audience, and Zach and the guys at Funny Or Die they have huge followings,” Jarrett continued. “Every young person I know watches their videos on YouTube. And so how we reach them in a way that was amusing and entertaining, but yet informative. And the fact that the website traffic has gone up is really an indication that it’s working.”

Department of Health and Human Services officials, though, reported a .6% conversion rate Tuesday afternoon with 19,000 visitors following the link to heatlhcare.gov when the video was at 3 million views. That doesn’t indicate how many of those visitors actually signed up for Obamacare.

Jarrett claimed, though, that “people are signing up.”

“We released yesterday our numbers for the month of February, so 4.2 million folks have signed up. And, we now still have several weeks to go. March 31st is the deadline… I hope you go on the website today, healthcare.gov. It’s working just fine.”


Cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

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Feathered Friday: If You’ve Never Met a Kakariki, You Should

Friday, January 31st, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson


You might be thinking that HAS to be Stephen Green’s bird. But no, this is my fairly new kakariki who simply has a fondness for exploring bar recipes (chewing bar recipes, etc.).

Shortly before Christmas, my lineolated parakeet Iggy passed away. If I brought another parrot into the house, I wanted one that was fairly quiet, not a biter, and not laden with the weighty emotional needs of some birds.


The kakariki, meaning “small parrot” in Maori, is a grass parakeet from New Zealand, where it is now endangered in the wild. Keeping and breeding the birds there requires a special permit. In the U.S. they’re not all that common. I could see this lively, fun, sweet bird catching on as a popular pet, though.


Poukai — which means giant man-eating bird in Maori — is a red-front cinnamon kakariki who hatched on Sept. 29. I brought her home a few days before Christmas, and by now she shares ownership of the house with the puppacita. She’s even jumped on my chihuahua’s back to go for a ride, which the puppa didn’t really appreciate. At least she was wearing a sweatshirt to shield her from talons.

Kakarikis need a large cage because they have so much energy to burn. Poukai has a medium-sized cage with a play gym next to it, and the front and terrace doors are almost always open. She’s basically earned these free-cage rights because from the very start she’s had amazing self-discipline about going to bed each night and jumping in the cage so I can close that door before opening the nearby patio door. Her wings are clipped, which is good because they’re fast little things. She has a swift ground game, taking advantage of her springy legs and climbing whatever she chooses with her beak. They’re about 10.5 inches to 11.5 inches in length and eat seed mix and pellets in cockatiel size. Her food cups — those great white crocks they sell at Pier One for a buck — are on the floor of a rather deep cage bottom because they scratch through food like chickens. She uses her left foot to hold raisins and lettuce and the like while she gnaws at leisure.

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NFL Divisional Playoffs Open Thread

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Kam Chancellor

Are you ready for some football? Who isn’t? (Or as Saints fans are screaming now, who dat?) Seattle’s getting ready for an earthquake, and the cameras are getting ready for Tom Brady. San Francisco’s prepping for a much warmer game than last week, and the Chargers are aiming for a mile-high upset.

The sked:

Today, 4:35 p.m. on Fox: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

Today, 8:15 p.m. on CBS: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Sunday, 1:05 p.m. on Fox: San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers

Sunday, 4:40 p.m. on CBS: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

Here’s how the guys at ESPN are feeling going into this playoff round:


Here’s how Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, budget BFFs, feel going into this round:


And, naturally, here’s how I feel (#QuestForSix):

Colin Kaepernick

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Kuwaiti Scholar Claims U.S. Never Killed bin Laden

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson


A Kuwaiti academic is stealing the thunder out of the Obama campaign’s favorite talking point in 2012:

Abdullah Al Nafeesi, a former Kuwaiti deputy and political science professor in Kuwait University, said the US lied when it said its forces killed bin Laden and dumped its body in the sea during the May 2011 attack following more than 11 years of a search operation to find the most wanted man in the world.

“The US announcement that Sheikh Osama bin Laden was killed in not true,” Nafeesi told Rotana Khaleejia TV channel in an interview carried by Saudi newspapers.

“I doubt that Sheikh Osama has been killed. I believe that he was kidnapped and is still alive. It does not make sense that a big power like the US searches for a man for 11 years and when it finds him, it just shoots him. This is an amateur rather than professional work. Otherwise what is the use of having all this suffering and spending billions all this time to find the man? He has been abducted and is now with them but they made us think that he was killed and dumped in the sea.”

Experts told Al-Arabiya that the scenario is unlikely because news would have dribbled out by now from the leaky U.S. government. Michael Ryan, author of Decoding al-Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America, told the network that the decision to kill bin Laden was probably spontaneous. “If the order was capture first but kill if you need to… one can make a very logical case that the operators on the ground made the logical choice in light of having just lost a helicopter and wanting to make sure that this mission was accomplished,” Ryan said. “If anything else happened, I believe we would have some third-party evidence by now.”

Rumors are fueled by the fact that the U.S. never released photos of Osama’s body even when requested by news outlets, though photos purporting to show bin Laden’s body were released by Pakistani TV.

Cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

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Taliban Commander Sends 10-Year-Old Sister Out to Suicide Bomb

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson


Think terrorists have reached the lowest of the low? Meet 10-year-old Spozhmai from Helmand province. On Sunday night, her kin strapped a bomb on her and sent her on a mission. From Afghanistan’s Tolo News:

Based on initial investigations, the girl’s brother was serving as a commander for the Taliban and he coerced her into carrying out a suicide attack on Afghan security forces.

“My brother, who serves as a Taliban commander, asked me to wear my dress and then the suicide jacket,” Spozhmai said. “After that he left me outside, I was there for several minutes and was shivering from cold, then I shouted and the security forces picked me up.”

…Reportedly, Spozhmai was unable to operate the button to detonate the suicide vest. Despite such issues with reliability, the Taliban has long used preadolescent, uneducated boys to carry out suicide bombings. It is rare to find a young girl wrapped up in it though.

The brother has fled the area, and luckily the girl is in custody and was transferred to Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.


Cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

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NFL Playoffs Wildcard Open Thread: Cold Bowl Doesn’t Ice the Niners

Monday, January 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson


That’s an Instagram of San Francisco 49ers quaterback Colin Kaepernick and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (formerly of the 49ers practice squad) hitting the range in the offseason.

Yesterday, as Wisconsites crowed that the frigid temperatures and the not-at-all-green field in Green Bay would be too much for the California team, Kaepernick hit his target. He played without any sleeves under his jersey and led the team to a 23-20 victory in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The game was sealed in the final seconds on a 33-yard field goal from veteran kicker Phil Dawson, acquired last year from the Cleveland Browns.

The Wild Card round this weekend certainly had its nailbiters and surprises, with the Indiana Colts edging the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 and the New Orleans Saints topping the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24. The San Diego Chargers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 27-10.

Next weekend the playoffs head to the divisional round. The first game on Saturday is the Saints and Seahawks, followed by the New England Patriots and the Colts. On Sunday, the Niners play the Carolina Panthers and the Chargers face off with the Denver Broncos.

As a longtime 49ers fan back to my childhood and the Joe Montana era, I’m pretty partial to this assessment by ESPN NFL writer Kevin Seifert:

The 49ers are the best team in football, and if they continue to play the way they did Sunday, they will win Super Bowl XLVIII next month.

Their offense is poised to outscore the Carolina Panthers next weekend in the NFC divisional round. Their defense is a good matchup for the Seattle Seahawks, their likely opponent in the NFC Championship Game. They’re tougher than the Denver Broncos and more versatile than the New England Patriots.

I don’t regard this prediction as particularly bold, at least not to an audience that has paid attention to the NFL over the past two months. Sunday marked the 49ers’ seventh consecutive victory and their 12th in the past 14 games. Their two losses during that period came against two playoff teams (the Panthers and Saints) by a total of four points.

…I realize that a 20-point victory Sunday might have filled the 49ers bandwagon more quickly, but to me a championship-caliber team is measured best when it faces adverse conditions. No one cruises to the Super Bowl title. At some point, you must overcome circumstances that would otherwise sink you.

You know where my fidelity is at. It was a tough season last time around when my Niners made it to the Super Bowl and my Fighting Irish made it to the BCS championship and both lost. Now it’s all about the Quest for Six — and, today, the many Packers fans here in D.C. (yep, there are a lot of them in the nation’s capital) who hate me. Share your thoughts about where you think the race to the Vince Lombardi Trophy is headed.

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Kerry Tweets Fist-Bumping with Snoop from State Department Account

Sunday, December 29th, 2013 - by Bridget Johnson

No 2013 would be complete without Secretary of State John Kerry using the official department Twitter account to retweet a fist-bumping Christmas party video with Snoop Dogg:

Like the official White House account, personal tweets are signed with the initials of the person in charge, in this case JK.


Cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

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Merry Christmas from the Puppacita

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013 - by Bridget Johnson

8-year-old Chi-Chi (aka The Puppacita) sporting her San Francisco 49ers fleece but finding Santa’s head scratches to be just as cozy…

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