DonRocks

An Open Letter to Guy Fieri

38 posts in this topic

Dear Mr. Fieri,

This is in response to your defense against Pete Wells' scathing review of "Guy's American Kitchen and Bar." In particular, this piece from Gawker.com, "Guy Fieri Thinks Times Restaurant Critic Pete Wells Has It In For Him. It Really Seemed Like There Was Another Agenda."

Let me start out by saying I'm somewhat unique among restaurant personae in that I only watch television rarely, don't subscribe to any newspapers, never watch Food Shows, and honestly wouldn't have recognized the name Guy Fieri before this review came out. I would have recognized your face from somewhere, and if someone told me, "Guy Fieri is the guy that does Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives," I would have said, "Oh, of course." I don't know what you sound like, and don't know what makes you tick. Please rest assured I have nothing for or against you personally.

I also do not know Pete Wells, and quite honestly, if someone asked me last week who the New York Times Restaurant Critic was, I probably couldn't have answered correctly. The name would have rung a bell, but that's about it. I know virtually nothing about Mr. Wells, and have nothing for or against him personally.

I'm also rather unique in that fame, flamboyance, and popularity have virtually no effect on me. I take those attributes neither as being positive nor being negative, and I view them as being completely separate when evaluating what type of product a restaurant (or a home cook) is putting out. They are of no more importance to me than if someone is tall, or blonde, or from Atlanta. The product alone is the only thing that I judge because the product alone is the only thing worth judging.

Here in the Washington, DC area, we have numerous celebrity chefs, two of whom are often thought of in tandem: Mike Isabella, and Spike Mendelsohn, both products of the TV show "Top Chef" (I had to double-check this), and both darlings of the local media. Try as I might, I am unable to avoid seeing their smiling faces, based on all the internet work that I do. Yes, I get sick of seeing them, but that would not, and should not, affect any impartial reviews written about their restaurants, where food, beverage, service, price, atmosphere and a few other smaller things are all that matter.

My review of Mr. Isabella's first restaurant Graffiato, is here. It was an unreasonably expensive noise box, with the quality of food all over the map. While my overall assessment is positive, this restaurant has big problems, and is not where I would steer someone in the DC area. Still, it's a real restaurant, putting out some terrific dishes, worthy of being critiqued, and Mr. Isabella can justifiably be proud of himself. What he does from this point forward remains to be evaluated.

On the other hand, Mr. Mendelsohn is known for a small chain of quick-serve hamburger restaurants that serve food which is simply awful. There is not one good thing that I can say about Good Stuff Eatery, yet, he's opened three locations, has a "Good Stuff Cookbook," and is opening an online store selling T-shirts and other sundries. None of this matters, however; what matters is that his food, if I may borrow a line from a review I wrote about Rosa Mexicano years ago, is Martian Pig Slop From Hell. There is no redeeming culinary value in any of his restaurants. None. This does not mean he can't cook, this does not mean he isn't a wonderful human being, and this does not mean "I have it in for him." It means his restaurants suck, period.

Mr. Fieri, you wrote about Mr. Wells' review: "that to me went so overboard it really seemed like there was another agenda." While I don't know whether or not Mr. Wells "has it in for you," in my case I can promise that I had no other agenda when I wrote that review about Rosa Mexicano, just as I can promise that I don't "have it in" for Mr. Mendelsohn or Mr. Isabella. I am judging them on their work and their work alone, and based on everything I've heard about Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, I suspect Mr. Wells did the same with you. I'm sorry to tell you that your restaurant sounds absolutely terrible, and the type of place which is showing contempt to the health of your customers, providing easy calories presented using fattening ingredients and unhealthy preparations. Do not assume that there is a hidden agenda here - it comes across to me as a fair-game critique of the product that you've chosen to attach your name onto, and you're going to just have to live with that. Either that or do a 180.

Now, as for having an alternate agenda, I have one: the extinction of the grinning idiot celebrity chef without any substance to match his marketing. I want them all to shut up and go away, and that topic is certainly worthy of further exploration and endless derision. I will gladly lead the pack of writers when it comes to crucifying these vacuous fools whose only positive attribute seems to be the ability to sit in front of a camera and grin. But that type of agenda has no place in an individual restaurant review. I suspect that Wells is as sick of these empty non-talents as I am, and it may indeed have been an impetus to make him want to review your restaurant. But unless the review of Guy's American Kitchen and Bar itself was tainted due a preconceived bias of Wells, then it doesn't much matter what the impetus was.

Sincerely yours,

Don Rockwell

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I'm sorry to tell you that your restaurant sounds absolutely terrible, and the type of place which is showing contempt to the health of your customers, providing easy calories presented using fattening ingredients and unhealthy preparations.

Your comments would have more impact if you had visited the establishment

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Your comments would have more impact if you had visited the establishment

That was my first thought. Reviewing the review of a restaurant you've never been to and the response of a chef you'd never heard of...that's digging pretty deep.

Seems like a lot of effort just to take another shot at Spike.

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Your comments would have more impact if you had visited the establishment

I fail to see what impact visiting the establishment would have. After reading Don's post and then reading the review and then coming back and re-reading Don's post, I don't see where there is really anything specific regarding Guy F's restaurant. Now you might consider it a bit of a rant about celebrity chefs (grinning idiot celebrity chef's to be exact) as I do (and to some extent I happen to agree with Don), but I certainly don't see where traveling to NYC and spending what appears to be a fair amount of money for food that may or may not rise to the level of mediocre (so call me prejudiced) is necessary. Do you also feel that Don would have to visit all of the other places that Guy F. has lent his expertise to as well to make this more balanced? Is one visit enough? Suppose he went during an off-night? Are twenty visits enough? The review was certainly detailed enough to determine the quality of what was being served. Multiple trips won't change that.

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I'm sorry to tell you that your restaurant sounds absolutely terrible, and the type of place which is showing contempt to the health of your customers, providing easy calories presented using fattening ingredients and unhealthy preparations. Do not assume that there is a hidden agenda here - it comes across to me as a fair-game critique of the product that you've chosen to attach your name onto, and you're going to just have to live with that. Either that or do a 180

I'm not sure what the purpose of this "letter" is other than to pile on.

I think Guy's response comes across as pretty weak. He's doing it for the same reason he does his shows and has built out this "persona", to get paid. On that front, more power to him. However, don't complain when you get called out on it.

The redeeming piece to me was the line I've bolded above which is probably more of a personal issue I have with restaurants of this ilk than anything else. Shepparding the ever fattening herd through the doors as they wander about looking at all the fancy lights in and around Times Square. That said, if we are going to take Guy to task for this he should probably get in line b/c there are many more doing the same thing.

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Your comments would have more impact if you had visited the establishment

That was my first thought. Reviewing the review of a restaurant you've never been to and the response of a chef you'd never heard of...that's digging pretty deep.

I absolutely did not have to visit this restaurant to have written what I wrote. I did not review the restaurant in any way. Regardless, I've read more than enough, including the menus, and more importantly, have seen enough pictures to know what the food is like. Claiming otherwise would be like saying a radiologist isn't able to look at an x-ray of a patient complaining of severe leg pain and detect a broken bone.

I'm not sure what the purpose of this "letter" is other than to pile on.

The purpose of this letter was for an expert to lend his opinion to an almost duplicate situation as he's found himself in numerous times before. Is that piling on, or is that adding a unique opinion to a popular issue?

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What I take away from Don's letter (based on the last sentence *) is that Guy should not play the victim here. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is unbiased merit in Well's review and perhaps, just perhaps, your food sucks, so fix it.

* But unless the review of Guy's American Kitchen and Bar itself was tainted due a preconceived bias of Wells, then it doesn't much matter what the impetus was.

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What I take away from Don's letter (based on the last sentence *) is that Guy should not play the victim here. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is unbiased merit in Well's review and perhaps, just perhaps, your food sucks, so fix it.

* But unless the review of Guy's American Kitchen and Bar itself was tainted due a preconceived bias of Wells, then it doesn't much matter what the impetus was.

monavono, the thing is, though, there's no "fixing" involved here - this boils down to a simple supply and demand equation, and (I'm sorry to say this) as long as so many people continue to eat like pigs, restaurants such as this will continue to thrive. Any "fix" would involve a fundamental change in attitude in the dining public, and I don't see it coming.

I saw a bumper sticker about an hour ago that says, in simple green and white letters, "IT'S ALL GOOD." But it's *not* all good; most of it is just plain bad, and the only thing that drives people of passion to carry on is: what little good there is to be found, can be SO breathtakingly good, that it's worth the effort to hunt down, to distinguish from the ordinary, to jump up and down, and to embrace life to its fullest by celebrating and sharing the glories that you've discovered.

Understand where I'm coming from: to a degree, I believe last generation's cigarettes are this generation's junk food, and junk food in a restaurant setting is still junk food. This is not some ego trip or power play; I honestly believe that humanity is being harmed by restaurants such as this, both physically and intellectually. Look, I used to drink fluorescent green, hyper-sweet, grain-alcohol drinks out of a giant plastic trash can too, tip-toeing around broken glass to get to the shower the next morning in the fraternity house (and I had a great time doing it, and I wouldn't have given this website even a passing glance at the time), but I'm in my 50s now, and over the past few decades, I've taught myself to be discerning. I wish I'd more fully developed the skill of discernment at an earlier age, and I want to share the opportunity for doing so with others. It doesn't mean you have to be a prick, which I sometimes am, but I'd like to think I'm not the only one who silently cheers for the long-haired, nose-picking Greenpeace maggots on their pathetic little vessel, successfully blocking the refueling of a Japanese whaling ship. They're not trying to be pricks; they're trying to save the world and so am I.

When I look at Guy Fieri, I see a happy, robust gentleman; when I look through Guy Fieri, I see the Marlboro Man.

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When I look at Guy Fieri, I see a happy, robust gentleman; when I look through Guy Fieri, I see the Marlboro Man.

Don,

It's because you're such a good writer, and such an astute food person in general, that this kind of statement makes me want to slam my head against my desk.

A few posts above you claim to know nothing about the guy, ten minutes later he's evil.

You know what? I like his show...not his persona particularly, but the intent of the show itself. They don't feature fine dining, they show local favorites, hole in the walls, etc...in other words, small, family owned businesses that probably benefit greatly from the publicity.

Is he the first celebrity to put his name on a crappy restaurant? Of course not. Does doing so in an extremely conspicuous way open him up to extra scrutiny and mockery? Sure. Should he become the poster boy of unhealthy meals because of it? Of course not. Go after the sugar industry. Go after the snack food industry, or the terrible breakfast cereals that hook our kids early on. Go after our schools, that still consider pizza a vegetable. But comparing Guy Fieri to big tobacco? Come on.

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monavono, the thing is, though, there's no "fixing" involved here - this boils down to a simple supply and demand equation, and (I'm sorry to say this) as long as so many people continue to eat like pigs, restaurants such as this will continue to thrive. Any "fix" would involve a fundamental change in attitude in the dining public, and I don't see it coming.

You're right, Don. Restaurants like this will go out of business as soon as Disney World stops serving Flintstonian turkey legs to ample families.

It's sad and what's sadder if it isn't Guy Fieri, it's someone else who will cash in.

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Having watched Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives plenty of times (heck, I believe that the Food Network should be renamed the DDD and Some Other Food Network), my impression is that this restaurant is designed to attract the throngs of people who are devoted to the show. Furthermore, the menu in all of its unhealthiness is designed to reflect what can be found at a cross-section of the restaurants that he visits, which are usually heavy on things like burgers, fried items, fish dishes, and the like. Therefore, his fans can feel like they're getting the DDD experience food-wise in a 500-seat restaurant that's owned by the guy (pardon the pun) who hosts their favorite show, even if they don't live near nor have sought out the places that have been on DDD. My parents love the show and I bet that if they ever made it to NYC they'd be paying a visit.

This is just my theory. But this is also the first time he's ever received criticism for anything he does by someone as influential as the NYT restaurant critic, so it's no wonder he's doing major damage control. It'll be interesting to see the changes that are made, beyond taking cocktails off the menu. He'll probably be hanging out in NYC a lot more than he thought, especially in the next month or so.

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Obesity and smoking are probably the top 2 killers. Why wouldn't you compare the two? Obesity is probably more costly and expensive in the long run than smoking.

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Don,

It's because you're such a good writer, and such an astute food person in general, that this kind of statement makes me want to slam my head against my desk.

A few posts above you claim to know nothing about the guy, ten minutes later he's evil.

You know what? I like his show...not his persona particularly, but the intent of the show itself. They don't feature fine dining, they show local favorites, hole in the walls, etc...in other words, small, family owned businesses that probably benefit greatly from the publicity.

Is he the first celebrity to put his name on a crappy restaurant? Of course not. Does doing so in an extremely conspicuous way open him up to extra scrutiny and mockery? Sure. Should he become the poster boy of unhealthy meals because of it? Of course not. Go after the sugar industry. Go after the snack food industry, or the terrible breakfast cereals that hook our kids early on. Go after our schools, that still consider pizza a vegetable. But comparing Guy Fieri to big tobacco? Come on.

mtureck, I should have said Guy Fieri ™. I really do know nothing about Guy Fieri the man, and because of that, I cannot possibly be claiming he's evil (and I promise you I'm not trying to).

You're definitely right we should be going after the sugar and snack industries - I became hooked on sugar as a child because of Lucky Charms which I thought was just the greatest thing in the world. Every time my parents would come home from the Super Giant, I'd perform a little triage of the bags to see if there was a box of Lucky Charms, and if there was, I would be thrilled (as a child, did you ever order any hobby-related items in the mail (for me, it was baseball cards, rare coins, racing decals, and model rockets even though I never actually built one (but boy those pictures in the catalog sure looked good)), and when the package arrived, it was like Santa Claus himself had delivered it? You'd take it upstairs to be all alone, shut your door, and open the package slowly, deliciously. It obviously wasn't at that level of excitement because it was a fairly regular occurrence, but it was a diminished version of the same type of emotion).

I'm not comparing Guy Fieri to big tobacco; I'm comparing him to the Marlboro Man. I know nothing about the Marlboro Man, but I suspect he was just a handsome model trying to make a buck. He may have been the "face" of big tobacco for awhile (I can hear Zora calling him the "tush" of big tobacco), but unless he was an axe murderer or something, I cannot imagine him being considered evil.

Having watched Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives plenty of times (heck, I believe that the Food Network should be renamed the DDD and Some Other Food Network), my impression is that this restaurant is designed to attract the throngs of people who are devoted to the show. Furthermore, the menu in all of its unhealthiness is designed to reflect what can be found at a cross-section of the restaurants that he visits, which are usually heavy on things like burgers, fried items, fish dishes, and the like. Therefore, his fans can feel like they're getting the DDD experience food-wise in a 500-seat restaurant that's owned by the guy (pardon the pun) who hosts their favorite show, even if they don't live near nor have sought out the places that have been on DDD. My parents love the show and I bet that if they ever made it to NYC they'd be paying a visit.

This is just my theory. But this is also the first time he's ever received criticism for anything he does by someone as influential as the NYT restaurant critic, so it's no wonder he's doing major damage control. It'll be interesting to see the changes that are made, beyond taking cocktails off the menu. He'll probably be hanging out in NYC a lot more than he thought, especially in the next month or so.

This is a brilliant observation about the connection between the restaurant and the TV show (as amazing as this might sound, I don't once remember thinking about, or reading, anything connecting the two - maybe it's supposed to be like Aerosmith Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (*), a themed "event" for fans). Between you and mtureck, we have two strong thumbs-up for Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, the television show. mtureck's point about "DDD" showcasing local, independently owned mom-n-pops was extremely poignant to me (remember now, I've never seen this show before), and forces me to confront my admiration, respect, and friendship with Nizam Ali, the owner of Ben's Chili Bowl.

How do I reconcile everything? I have no idea. I've never thought about it before just now. Work in progress.

(*) Note. At one time, the two seemed inseparable, and the whole thing seemed to be an amazing, $20 million investment in the group at a time when the band was scarcely worth $20 million dollars. But looking at the Wikipedia entry, it's now very easy to see that the ride - which is now called "Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith" - wasn't built in conjunction with them at all. Aerosmith is merely a "plug-in" band du jour, and when they fall out of favor and the contract goes away, the ride could easily get a $2 million coat of paint, and be re-christened "Lady Gaga's Last Dance," and once again have lines wrapped around the park.

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This is a brilliant observation about the connection between the restaurant and the TV show, and between you and mtureck, we have two strong thumbs-up for Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. mtureck's point about "DDD" showcasing local, independently owned mom-n-pops was extremely poignant to me (remember now, I've never seen this show before), and forces me to confront my admiration, respect, and friendship with Nizam Ali, the owner of Ben's Chili Bowl.

How do I reconcile everything? I have no idea. I've never thought about it before just now. Work in progress.

*Blushes*

And after seeing my comments in a block quote I had to go back to correct a spelling error :wacko:

I hope to heaven Ben's doesn't go on DDD. The lines are long enough!

DDD has made Guy what he is today, no question. There are a number of copycat shows on various networks in evidence of that fact. He has loyalists who will stick with him thick or thin and the ratings on the Food Network are great. However, it's obvious that the NYT's criticism stung. If he didn't care about the NYT reviewer's flogging he wouldn't have been on the Today Show defending his reputation. His show is wonderful for the mom-and-pop places around the nation but he's a brand now and wants to protect his image.

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Now, as for having an alternate agenda, I have one: the extinction of the grinning idiot celebrity chef without any substance to match his marketing. I want them all to shut up and go away, and that topic is certainly worthy of further exploration and endless derision. I will gladly lead the pack of writers when it comes to crucifying these vacuous fools whose only positive attribute seems to be the ability to sit in front of a camera and grin.

I thought this guy was only some weird freak found to do TV commercials. Had no idea he had a TV show. I was equally shocked when I found out that guy doing Ford commercials was the same thing. Just another clown with a TV show. (insert chicken and egg question here).

This paragraph alone, Don, says one thing to me. Your next round is on me.

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"But in these days when anyone can be a critic online, why is a New York Times critic reviewing the kind of place that people who read restaurant reviews probably wouldn't go to for a bowl of hot soup if it was the only spot open during Hurricane Sandy?"

Because, Mr. Simon, a "critic" is paid to "criticize," not to "pander" to the press. Until and unless people stop spilling over into the sidewalks in front of Cheesecake Factory with two-hour waits, Mr. Wells is doing a public service in not listening to pundits like you.

"Are you saying that it's the critic's role to push for societal change, Don?"

If that's the way you want to frame it, then yes, I sure am. And even if Mr. Wells caves in under the pressure, I won't.

Like it or not, the role of the traditional restaurant critic has changed in the past ten years with the advent of digital media, or will change soon enough - there's plenty of storage space on the internet. There's plenty of expertise, too - now, it's just a matter of finding it.

Consider a line drawn in the sand, and get used to me because I'm not going away.

You say "anyone can be a critic online." I say "the days of cronyism are coming to an end."

PS - Thank you, Airbag Moments.

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I'm not comparing Guy Fieri to big tobacco; I'm comparing him to the Marlboro Man. I know nothing about the Marlboro Man, but I suspect he was just a handsome model trying to make a buck. He may have been the "face" of big tobacco for awhile (I can hear Zora calling him the "tush" of big tobacco), but unless he was an axe murderer or something, I cannot imagine him being considered evil.

Don, I'm not clear on why you think I would call the model portraying the Marlboro Man an ass in any language. While I never reached any sort of iconic status, several photographs of me, for which I was paid, were used to market cigarettes during the early 70's until the mid -eighties. At the time the first Virginia Slims ad appeared, I was in the cast of a "feminist" musical play at the NY Shakespeare Festival Public Theater. I took a fair amount of grief from some of the activists who were loosely affiliated with the production, who made it clear that they considered me some kind of sell-out. I was called "a traitor." The point was, I was a working actress with few opportunities for paying work, trying to pay my rent. I also appeared in t.v. and radio ads selling other products, including junk food (Cool Whip, for one). I suppose that very successful people have the luxury of turning down work involving products or projects that they do not wish to be affiliated with. I was grateful for the opportunity to get a paycheck using my acting skills, and I do not judge others who have done the same.

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Don, I'm not clear on why you think I would call the model portraying the Marlboro Man an ass in any language. While I never reached any sort of iconic status, several photographs of me, for which I was paid, were used to market cigarettes during the early 70's until the mid -eighties. At the time the first Virginia Slims ad appeared, I was in the cast of a "feminist" musical play at the NY Shakespeare Festival Public Theater. I took a fair amount of grief from some of the activists who were loosely affiliated with the production, who made it clear that they considered me some kind of sell-out. I was called "a traitor." The point was, I was a working actress with few opportunities for paying work, trying to pay my rent. I also appeared in t.v. and radio ads selling other products, including junk food (Cool Whip, for one). I suppose that very successful people have the luxury of turning down work involving products or projects that they do not wish to be affiliated with. I was grateful for the opportunity to get a paycheck using my acting skills, and I do not judge others who have done the same.

And, didn't the original Marlboro Man die of lung cancer? While I appreciate Zora's comments, and understand them completely, I will say that I was making a recipe that called for Andouille sausage and wound up buying the Guy Fieri brand. Not because I watched any of his shows (I don't have cable), but because I knew through various media outlets that he was a famous "chef." The sausage was just ghastly. I mean--really horrible. So, while I give struggling actors a break or three, I won't give a break to a "chef" who puts his name on bad food. I also have no doubt that the tourists will flock to his latest endeavor. After all, I have family members who think the Cheesecake Factory is a fine-dining establishment. :wacko:

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I was equally shocked when I found out that guy doing Ford commercials was the same thing. Just another clown with a TV show.

Wait, the Ford commercial guy has a show?

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Wait, the Ford commercial guy has a show?

Shows, plural. He hosts Dirty Jobs, does voiceover and "after the catch" interviews on Deadliest Catch, hosted "How Booze Built America". I'm a fan of Mike Rowe. There's a good speech of his about the value of hard, often dirty work that if you're interested you should Google.

As for Fieri, I've watched his show with my parents a bunch (they love it). I've had coworkers suggest places to go eat due to the show. I think that it's interesting to see how it does champion small places, with some interesting food, even though I cannot stand Guy Fieri's persona. But hey, he's making money acting that way.

SNL had a not-aired skit about the whole thing that I think is actually quite brilliant:

http://gawker.com/5961778/saturday-night-lives-guy-fieri-sketch-was-too-hot-for-tv

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Speaking of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, I was at Eastern Market on Tuesday to pick up the T'giving bird from Market Poultry. I wandered over to Market Lunch for some French Toast and found out that they will be on the show; the employees told me that filming had already happened but they weren't sure of an air date. I'm not surprised; Market Lunch is a place that's perfect for DDD. At least weekdays are generally quiet!

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[Having just read this, I have to agree with the masses...schadenfreude or not, this letter doesn't really contribute any new substance, and looks rather like "piling on" - ol_i]

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