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Do Penguins Topple When Planes Fly Over? 123

dannyspanner was among the teeming masses to point out that: "The BBC has a short story about some research that will be carried out to see if penguin colonies fall over when aircraft fly overhead. I hope they get some footage if they prove it's true ..." I secretly believe that news outlets like stories like this because penguins look so comical already -- thinking of them rolling around like duckpins (rather than the ultra-coordinated hero of Tuxracer) makes everybody laugh.
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Do Penguins Topple When Plans Fly Over?

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  • WTF is Tuxracer? That link doesn't work.
  • anyone else find it odd that is this is coming out around halloween time? looks like msft is at it again, trying to discredit our hero


  • by meckardt ( 113120 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @04:14PM (#654041) Homepage

    I've seen little kids do it... if they can, why not a pinguin?

  • Too true! The Australian Air Force pilots were all reprimanded several years ago for doing exactly this while out flying sorties over antarctica. Huge colonies of penguins were left scarred for life.
  • by paranoid.android ( 71379 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @04:15PM (#654043)
    It's www.tuxracer.com [tuxracer.com], foo.
  • Its true - I've even seen people jump for cover when planes fly overhead, especially in Kosovo. A cassette bomb over a refugee column will always make people fly for cover.
  • I can remember an old "Outland" cartoon, feat. Opus the penguin telling a story about how the most silly sight on earth: was "4000 penguins staring at the sky, watching the planes go left, right and slowly 4000 penguins falled on their backs when the planes flew overhead." This was in 1985 or something...
  • ...I fall over watching planes fly by!

    "A microprocessor... is a terrible thing to waste." --

  • A non-borken link to Tuxracer: http://tuxracer.sourceforge.net [http] ;
  • Gary larson must have been right about cows having cocktail parties until cars show up.
  • I secretly believe that news outlets like stories like this because penguins look so comical already

    I bet they like stories like this so they get posted on Linux fanatic metanews sites [slashdot.org]


  • by pnevares ( 96029 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @04:22PM (#654050) Homepage
    You can't read this story without watching the BBC's animated GIF that was linked to it earlier today...

    http:// new s.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/1000000/images/_1003469_pengui ns_supuf.gif [bbc.co.uk]

    Pablo Nevares, "the freshmaker".
  • by metis ( 181789 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @04:22PM (#654051) Homepage
    That reminds me of a sociological reasearch that concluded the amazing fact that 50% of divorcees in Israel's kibutz are women.

    I assume that somewhere in late October scientists with unused annual grants panick. There should be a journal for such researh:

    how about:
    THe Journal of "Pure" Science
    international Sqanderer
    Laughingstock Quarterly
    Eyebrow Raiser Almanac

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Penguins topple when BSD users sneeze.
  • I vote to establish "no-fly zones" over penguin colonies, as I don't want to disturb the cute little buggers
  • I think this whole story was just an excuse to plug tuxracer [tuxracer.org] again. I think if they're going to plug tuxracer [tuxracer.org] they ought to just do an outright story about tuxracer [tuxracer.org], rather than beating around the bush, regardless of how good a game tuxracer [tuxracer.org] may be.

    Tuxracer [tuxracer.org]. Kinda like the sound of that. Tuxracer [tuxracer.org]. Tuxracer [tuxracer.org].

  • I first heard about this after the Falklands War back in 1982 ... when apparently the British pilots would buzz over the penguin flocks, just to see them fall on their backs.

    So the story is at least 18 years old ...
  • Nope. It was a Bloom County, and no one got the moral, which was 'If a million people do a stupid thing, it is still a stupid thing.' Outland was a horrible rip off that came later.
  • I don't know if it was the reporter desparately seeking an interesting "angle" on the story or the scientician being interviewed who wanted a mention for the project, but it seems like the experiment is focused more on behavioural effects.

    I doubt anybody would spend money on RN Helicopter time to see if penguins fall over watching aircraft... it's just a tease for the public. The real value would be determining what changes in behaviour are induced by loud, low-flying aircraft.

    They say they are concerned that the penguins' ability to reproduce might be affected. Wouldn't yours? Kind of a no-brainer. What a waste of money.

  • Many biologists believe that animals don't have the ability to think on their own. They could possibly use this research to help determine whether they are right or wrong, as if every single penguin leaned over to the point of falling it would side with the "They act completely on instinct" side, and if some lean to the point of falling over and others don't, then it would support the "Animals have a mind of their own" side.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    ripoff? maybe. they were written by the same person, though.
  • And who just came up with that idea?

    Sounds like they're just trying to prove a myth. Doesn't mean its wrong, just funny that's the first thing they can think of when they think of disrupting behavior.
  • by CokeBear ( 16811 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @04:34PM (#654061) Journal
    This urban legend surfaces from time to time. It is debunked here [snopes.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Or is the conspiracy just a brilliant plan to replace all of your links to tuxracer [tuxracer.com] with links to nothing [tuxracer.org].
  • ...Hence, you're a penguin.

  • It's a sweet game where you pilot a penguin on a downhill slope. Soon going to support multiplayer
  • I once spoke with one of my father's friends when I was visiting him, and she told me that when she was stopping over in the Falklands on her way to Antartica, and she told me that one of the most amazing things that she ever saw was when thousands of penguins fell over when watching harriers on manuvers. I remember that a few years back about some enviromentalists went down there and threw a hissy fit about it all. I don't remember what came about of it.

  • If you read the article, their talking about how it could be causing problems with the penguins, yet, their going to do fly over repeatedly to find out for sure. So if it does cause problems, their just going to be making it worse.
    Now, if it does cause problems, how are they going to handle it. Would they try to make a no flying zone over penguins like they have for the whitehouse?
  • Why are they doing the test with helicopters?

    Everyone knows that the penguins did their vertical rotation when a British pilot did a slow flyover in a Harrier jet. Who wouldn't watch?

    I've seen it happen with people at the beach (Savannah, GA) watching a F4 Phantom do a low and slow overhead. Plane flys left to right, flys out over the ocean, flys back inland, people look up, flop over. But, no one looks up to see a helicopter.

    Even better, why don't they try it with a B52 skimming the waves like in the days of SAC flying 24x7? That'll get their attention. Especially those savvy penguins that know what the payload is.

    Or, do they want this test to fail? Helicopters are just annoying. Penguins won't be interested in looking up for that. To reproduce the results, one must reproduce the conditions.
  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @04:40PM (#654068)
    http://www.urbanlegends.com/animals/penguins_fall_ over.html

    With a explanation what really happens when fighter jets fly over a penguin colony...

    This is the definitive site for debunking urban legends...
  • I remember reading a "Bloom County" cartoon about this a long time ago with Opus speaking of the phenomenom as a comparison to smoking...and how even if a million people do it, it is still a stupid thing (referring to the millions of penguins that fall over) I always sorta thought that Bloome County was the official Linux cartoon.....

  • This does not happen.. you (and the BBC) have all been the victims of a e-mail hoax. Next time, check Snopes.com before posting anything. ever.

    Liebe, Livre, Libre.
    See the article here. [snopes.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    And I quote [urbanlegends.com]:

    From: snyary@life.timeinc.com (Sasha Nyary )
    Newsgroups: alt.folklore.urban
    Subject: Penguins in the Falklands
    Date: Tue, 25 Feb 1997 18:06:13 -0500

    I didn't see this on the UL Website, and I don't read this newsgroup often, so forgive me if this story is an old one. I recently got taken in by it and thought it was worth sharing. It's a great yarn -- too bad it's not true.

    Here's the story, followed by the rebuttal:

    Penguins and Pilots (supposedly from the Audubon Society magazine)

    A Mexican newspaper reports that bored Royal Air Force pilots stationed on the Falkland Islands have devised what they consider a marvelous new game. Noting that the local penguins are fascinated by airplanes, the pilots search out a beach where the birds are gathered and fly slowly along it at the water's edge. Perhaps ten thousand penguins turn their heads in unison watching the planes go by, and when the pilots turn around and fly back, the birds turn their heads in the opposite direction, like spectators at a slow-motion tennis match. Then, the paper reports, "The pilots fly out to sea and return directly toward the penguin colony and over-fly it. Heads go up, up, up, and ten thousand penguins fall over gently onto their backs."

    Captain Claire Lucas, RAF public relations officer in the Falkland Islands:

    According to Captain Lucas, who laughed and said this is a great story but not true, this is one of those legendary tales that gets passed around and resurfaces periodically. She's heard the story before. She says the Penguins actually hate the noise and scatter as the planes approach the beach.

    LeoC - posting as an AC because /. doesn't let me login anymore.

  • why can't I login properly except from the machine holding my cookie?
  • During the Falklands war in 1981 (or was it 80? I forget), British pilots did that as well. I remember speaking to one who said it was hysterical to see it happen.

    Also knew someone who died when HMS Sheffield sank out there:( Just bought back the memory:(


  • No, it is not a game with a penguin driving a race car. It's a game in which you're a penguin racing down a mountain slope on your belly.

  • I've seen people fall over when they see or hear airplanes. Or cops for that matter, people are always falling over when they here/see cops...

  • If it was the MSN butterfly instead of the Linux penguin, would we care?
  • yes, penguins taste better

  • "There is a suggestion that the birds will increase their movement when they get flown over at a low height. This can make them run away and could obviously endanger their eggs."

    I wonder how much grant money it took to figure that out....
  • No, a walrus...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's really a shame that 'environmentalists' aren't an endangered species. I'd like to do my bit to make it so, however.

    Shall we take up a collection?
  • ..Next time you are near penguins.. (for most of us that'd be at your friendly neighborhood zoo) Try reflecting some sunlight off of your watch or a small mirror - Its like remote control, the penguins will follow the spot of light wherever it goes.. Perhaps it looks like a tasty flashing fish. Whatever the reason, I wouldn't find it hard to believe that they would be as mesmerized by a jet flying overhead.

  • There is(was?) an American Airbase in Christchurch, New Zealand called ""deep freeze"".
    From this base missions are sent to Antarctica.
    Many years ago I read an article stating that the flight paths over the ice shelves had to be changed after many many peguins toppled after watching an aircraft fly directly over-head.

    The truly funny part of the article was the mentioning of the need for people to travel to the penguins to help them back onto their feet.

  • I think an equally interesting question is whether military personel would fall over watching penguins fly by... what an image.
  • You've forgot your password. Don't worry, it happens to a lot of people, including me :-)

    Johan V.
  • And Outland slowly transformed back into Bloom County, with only one or two of the Outland characters remaining toward the end.
  • ...but only in the presence of low flying penguins!

    "A microprocessor... is a terrible thing to waste." --

  • *borken*

    Is that a word?

    If not I vote it be made one immediately, so much more _emphatic_ than 'broken'

    bork, borken, borked, borking

    sorry, 2 hours sleep, caffeine not kicking in yet, pump faster damn you heart, faster!

  • I recall that I heard stories about this a year or two ago. If I remember correctly the stories were from British pilots in the Falklands. When the pilots would fly in from sea, the penguins would watch them and fall over backwards trying to follow the planes.
    I thought that there was video of it occuring, but I could be mistaken on that point.
  • What the US Gov't watch planes hypnotically and fall over backwards when they fly overhead as well?

    Gotta admit I don't find that as surprising as the fact penguins do, always thought penguins were quite bright.

  • are you kidding! thats awesome! penguins rule! penguins would make a better government than we have now. they have more common sense. i mean god all they do is screw and slide down the ice. i want to be one.. sigh.. the limitations of bioengineering
  • Of course borken is a word. The Swedish Chef used it all the time- "Hordy de-dordy-dordy bork bork bork bork!" Sum moor chokol-ate fer de moo-se!
  • Looks like somebody just hit up the UK government for a grant to study something that doesn't really happen, and they just rubber-stamped it.

    Hey, I heard that schools of fish in Tahiti keel over in droves whenever somebody on land farts! Seriously! I heard it on the Internet, so it must be true!

    Quick, let's get our proposal ready and go down there!

  • I heard about this on CBC's "As It Happens" just as I saw the story on Slashdot. Is there a conspiracy here? Is the Canadian Broadcast Corporation angling for Andover shares? Has Linux finally tipped his hand, preparing his unholy army of undead penguin zombies to roll over on command, crushing everyone in their path? Tune in next week for the stunning conclusion of "A Tux Too Far, or, The More Open-Source They Are, The Harder They Fall!"

  • considering penguins jump out of water onto their bellies and then promptly stand up, I consider this a farse in its entirety.

  • But note that snopes did say that the Brits sent a study team down to find out, despite the fact that a Maj. in the Brittish military pointed out it was nothing more than an urban legend.

    It would seem that the British government is just as wasteful as our own here in the USA!
  • i spend alot of time around playgrounds. when noone is looking i go to over to the monkey bars and i find a child and i say to the child: "kids can fly. its true. its just that your parents and everyone else in the world has convinced you that this cannot possibly be true. " to which the child might respond (or in this case, did -- respond, that is), "I am calling my mommy. You scare me." -ouch
  • by phil reed ( 626 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @06:07PM (#654098) Homepage
    There used to be the Journal of Irreproducable Results, which went through several lives and finally died when the wrong company (one without much of a sense of humor) bought it. It was absolutely hysterical for years.

    It was pretty much supersceded by the Annals of Improbable Research [improbable.com]. They're the folks responsible for the Ig Noble awards.


  • Penguins. At the North Pole? Santa has been busy!

    -- flossie
    http [2130706433] telnet [017700000001]

  • This stuff isn't new. Haven't you seen this before in your fortune cookies? Go run: /usr/games/fortune -m "penguin"
  • Well we've got conflicting reports on this thread; just because one RAF public relations officer denies it happens doesn't make it false. And just because someone posts it on an urban legend website doesn't either (can't believe everything you read on the internet you know)
  • i dont mean to be overly critical, but... your observation (albeit interesting), lacks attendance to unscientific biases. i suppose the corollary to the postulate you present is: the control to an experiment attempting to disprove (or at the very least expose) the logical hypocrisy of the hypothesis suggested at by the above is -- ahem -- to gather some animals that do indeed 'think on their own' and subject them to the same conditions as the penguins. and see what happens.
  • Check out the work of the debian project on this it does indeed boot and you can't logically deny that.
  • by FreeJack1 ( 203705 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @06:21PM (#654104)
    I believe the Pengiuns won the right to a court hearing, but it was settled out of court before it even could go. I'm not sure how much the British Government had to pay but I do know it was a healthy sum as all the penguins wear nothing but tuxedos now, own several hockey teams, and are sole investors in some sort of computer operating system.
  • by sawdust ( 8270 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @06:23PM (#654105) Homepage

    If the penguins do fall over, are they going to run the results of their reasearch through ksymoops to find out why ?
  • I mean unless they get massive concussions they should be fine. What does this accomplish?
  • Because it is actually fairly important. The research aims to find out if there is any truth to the claim that penguins topple over when low flying aircraft pass overhead. As other posters have pointed out, this directly impacts the safety of penguin eggs and therefore the survival of various penguin species.

    So why is that such a big deal? Who cares if a couple of penguins fall over due to the odd passing plane? They live in such remote locations, the small amount of air traffic surely has minimal ecological impact. The problem is, places where penguins congregate are rapidly becoming commercially viable tourism destinations. There are a number of commercial airlines operating regular flights over the antarctic for example. The increase in air traffic may well pose an ecological threat, even if they don't land. The research is directly trying to ascertain whether or not we should place limits on such commercial activity.

    All we have to go on at the moment is rumour, labelled by some here as urban myth. The tourism industry certainly won't take any notice of that sort of thing. What they might pay attention to is rigorous scientific evidence which points to the ecological impact of tourist activities in these fairly fragile environments. God knows they probably won't even take notice of that (eg tobacco industry's relationship with the scientific community), but it at least provides grounds for governments to put in place regulations. The situation we have at the moment, of conjecture and rumour, does not allow for any of that to happen. Who knows? We might even find out that there are no grounds to the speculation at all - I wouldn't mind taking a holiday to Antarctica...

  • by ptbrown ( 79745 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @06:26PM (#654108)

    Outland wasn't a "horrible rip off". It was a diversion from BC because Berke Breathed was tired of doing a daily.

    And here's the original strip we were talking about. [cpoon.com]

  • that it was either the BBC taken in by the hoax or the "researchers" mentioned by the BBC that were taken in. i think that the more interesting possibility is the researchers having been taken in. discuss.
  • by Col. Klink (retired) ( 11632 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @06:35PM (#654110)
    But note that snopes did say that the Brits sent a study team...

    Wow, that's interesting. I had not heard about the Brits doing a study! I wonder where I could learn more about such a study...

    ...ok, I'm back, and after my exhaustive search, I've found an article about the British study. You can read all about it here [bbc.co.uk]here [slashdot.org] ;.

  • This research will save the world! It's of paramount importance that the penguin toppling argument be solved as soon as possible! ---
  • penguin behavior - and its underwhelming impact - was covered in a very old issue of develop at apple - can't find it online - i'll try and get the paper version in the office tomorrow... the gist was how to catch a penguin - two methods were preferred (1) place three boom boxes and an open cage on each of four sides of the birds. play walrus sounds thru the boomboxes. wait not very long for the ensuing instinctual response. close cage. or (2) chase them - when they run, their feet heat up (you can't sweat thru feathers), stop chasing, and they stop, their warm feet temporarily melt the ice then refreeze, and poof. they're stuck. get a thermos of warm water and just go pick'em up.
  • You might find it easier to use a laser pointer to do that. However it is somewhat similar to an already patented application for for the device to tease cats [netfunny.com]. So chances are you might get some patent lawyer after you for doing it.
  • Whenever I hear a story like this, I always get the straight poop from snopes! [snopes.com]

    --- Speaking only for myself,
  • The correct usage is b0rked. It is quite a common term around here.
  • So you mean they are knocking the penguins over? Like they chased the lemmings off of cliffs to make them jump off of them? Great more created animal behaviors. Just what we need. Oh my dog is begging I guess I have to give her a cookie.
  • but I have experimentally confirmed that penguins fall over when you pass over them with a skidoo.

  • Everyone knows this report was relased to make fun of linux and get back at the community for that fake letter for bill gates. they are trying to discredit the Linux community!

    Oh wait, I guess I'm getting alittle to into politics these days... I better lay off the coffee

    (note to people reading this... this was ment as comedy, dense people need not reply)

  • i got a link to this mailed to me 3-4 days ago, different news site, but still, same story!!!!!
  • by nihilogos ( 87025 ) on Thursday November 02, 2000 @08:53PM (#654120)
    I visited some penguin colonies on the Antarctic penisula over christmas 1998. Penguins are often portrayed as awkward and clumsy but seeing them in *that* environment is something else - they swim at about 15-20 knots and are just by far the most widespread of all the creatures down there.

    Anyway some of the colonies were about 50000+ birds, just a huge crown of penguins. It was chick hatching season, and all the birds were sitting on their eggs/chicks. When skuas (agressive antarctic bird of prey - huge attitudes) swooped over the colony all the nesting penguins would crouch over their eggs and young like a mexican wave.

    They'd probably do the same for planes.
  • "Aww, he's no fun ... he fell right over!"

  • pinguin: is that a linux exclusive form of bird?
  • Well, there is a slightly better debunking in
    the 'Debunked here too' message, but if you
    believe the original one, then you're just as
    guilty of believing anything you read on the
    Internet as those who believe that penguins do

    The strongest argument the referenced document
    offers it that people overanthropomorphise things.
    The strongest words used are 'there isn't much
    reason to believe it'.

    I'll need a better debunking than that. I mean,
    I don't categorically believe that it *does*
    happen; but this sure as hell isn't proof that it
  • I know it's not proof, but I can remember a video on "funiest home videos" that showed penguins following one of those little laser dots. Their heads followed the dot as fast as the projector could move it around. And when the dot went over their heads they did all fall over. This is why I was never surprised about the falklands story. $0.02
  • Actually, it has been proven by psychological studies that clinging children who desire attention and don't have good social skills (including taking responsibility for their actions, not being annoying, etc) have had a lack of strong FATHERhood, not motherhood as you are suggesting.
  • Who gives a Fuck?

    So that's why they fall over! To mate! You genius, you've single handedly explained the whole phenomenon!

    It's a good thing you posted, otherwise they might have stopped lettings planes fly over, which would put penguins at risk of never getting laid again. I doubt penguins could adjust to that as easily as you have.

    My mom is not a Karma whore!

  • I spent a fair bit of my childhood in the Falklands, and with a mad keen ornithologist for a father there was much time spent in the penguin colonies getting bitten by their fleas.

    Two things-
    penguins rarely bother looking up. They have very few predators from the sky (the local turkey buzzards will grab eggs and sickly young)
    The noise of jets and helicopters spooks them so they leg it

    Amusingly though, back in the days right after the conflict, a C130 hercules flanked by two F4 phantoms used to do the Christmas mail run round the settlements. They'd come in at under 50 feet, phantoms just above stall speed and hercules batting it's little engines out and pull up over each settlement to drop mail and presents.
    The sudden noise used to make everyone fall over. As a young teenager I loved it:)

  • Like, you have a girlfriend. Yeah, right!


  • Na, Oliver Wendell Jones used a Bananna Junior (parody of the original Mac). It's still the funniest strip ever -- "Olive loaf mime whacker" that's deranged.

    Whenever something is happening in the news, I always wonder what take Berke Breathed would do on it in Bloom County. With Pat Buchannan hijacking the Reform Party, I wonder who would be hijacking the Meadow Party right now.

  • I can see it now.......Bill Gates flying over Linux conventions...

    Oh the horror!!!

  • Here [hoopoes.com] is a picture of a skua over the Gentoo Penguin colony at Port Lockroy in the Antarctic Peninsula. Of course, the pic is better for the skua than the penguins but you can also check out some of the other shots [hoopoes.com] too!
  • Looks like somebody just hit up the UK government for a grant to study something that doesn't really happen, and they just rubber-stamped it

    Well you may not be far off the mark...

    Well I do remember one University getting a fat grant to study the effects of alcohol on young people...with most of the research involving giving students money to go out and pi**ed whilst being electronically monitored.

    Unsurprisingly they had a flood of applicants. Hey wouldn't you be a guinea pig if someone say we'll pay you to get drunk in the name of science!

  • by radja ( 58949 ) on Friday November 03, 2000 @12:38AM (#654133) Homepage
    there's ofcxourse the Ig-Nobel awards. this year a dutch guy won for a couple of porn-pics in an MRI machine, to determine the shape of the human penis during copulation. The guy is now trying to get a grant to determine the shape and size of the clitoris, which could benefit a lot of men.. ;)

  • Theres one way to be sure. We need a penguin-cam.

    In an unrelated note if anyone happens to have a camera they want to get rid of that can display decent pictures at 3 to 10 lux, I know someone that has a place [abnormal.com] to put a camera that a number of penguins walk by every day.
  • We (as in, in the office) reckon that what is actually happening is that an RAF team are going out to research the stress caused by aircraft to penguins. If they leg it, they are obviously stressed, and could end up abondoning eggs, etc. and therefore it's a worthy piece of research.

    The story about them falling over has been added by somebody in a news agency somewhere who had heard the story from a "friend of a friend", or possibly the research team have heard the story and believe it.
  • > Penguins are often portrayed as awkward and clumsy but seeing them in *that* environment is something else - they swim at about 15-20 knots and are just by far the most widespread of all the creatures down there.

    There was a show on PBS earlier in the week that had some footage of an underwater camera showing penguins swim. The Life of Birds, I think. Pretty impressive behavior for a bird.

    > When skuas (agressive antarctic bird of prey - huge attitudes) swooped over the colony all the nesting penguins would crouch over their eggs and young like a mexican wave.

    Perhaps the source of the airplanes myth?
  • I personally know someone who has seen this happen for real. They were stationed on the Falklands at the time (Early 90's).

    Fly a helicopter slowly towards the beach, just high enough for the little darlings to not scatter and they will indeed watch it until they topple over backwards.

    Just because one PR officer says it aint so, doesn't mean that those who have actually seen it are lying. Apparently it is quite hysterical (and it is sheep, not penguins that can't get up when they fall on their backs).


  • You should hear BillG giggle when gets L. Tovald
    to fall on his back in the parking lot.

System restarting, wait...