Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Blogthing: The write stuff

I was hoping my result on this quiz would be "Rita Arens," but I guess Tom Wolfe is a good enough second choice.
The Which Crazy Writer Are You? quiz

Tom Wolfe

Ah, the life of a wall flower. You get to hang out with the most interesting people - radio DJs, hot rodders, hippies, Hell's Angels, Wall Street tycoons, frat boys - and are completely happy putting them into the spotlight.

You're completely happy hanging back with your martini and your little notebook, jotting down all your little observations, in sight but out of mind. Sure, everyone at the party knows who you are - but do they know the real you? And, more importantly, if you want to fade into the background, what's with the bright white suit?

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Thursday, August 27, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about death recently, trying to process a lot of things that are too maudlin to get into around here.

But it's what my mood is these days.

Here's a clip from top-selling album "The Prophet" by Lebanese sensation Khalil Gibran that I've found particularly helpful. Just thought I'd share it along...
Then Almitra spoke, saying, "We would ask now of Death."

And he said:
You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Crackin' wise

This morning I stopped at the Quick Trip for a morning cuppa before work.

It's on the way to the office and I have a refillable mug and the office coffee is worse than drinking turpentine (and I should know), so there's really no reason NOT to get my java fix.

Anyhoo, I head up to the counter with my hot Colombian Supremo (with a squirt of half&half) and pay the cashier. I get my change and turn to head out the door.

As I'm turning, I overhear the woman next to me say "... sorry, I don't have the extra two cents." Turns out her items cost a total of some number of dollars and two cents. I realized that when I received my change, part of it included two pennies.

Now was my chance to do a random good deed.

"Here you go," I said as I tossed the Lincoln's on the counter.

I got the expected "Thanks" and smile. And I felt pretty good about it I guess. But I didn't do this random act of kindness for the thanks, or the smile, or even the feeling of doing something nice for a complete stranger.

Rather, I did it for the chance to be able to say "No problem. It's just my two cents."

Yeah. I'm corny like that.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Getting ethnic

One of the best benefits of living in a city (as opposed to a cave, where I grew up) is the opportunity to experience life and culture from the perspective of someone else.

That opportunity, combined with Saturday's amazing weather and a strong desire to avoid doing yard work led us to hit up the Ethnic Enrichment Festival at Swope Park.

It was a great time, and like I said, the weather couldn't have been better. I don't know if it's because of global climate change or what, but it's been incredibly unseasonably pleasant around here this year.

There were about a babillion booths at the festival, and I think we visited all of them.

Since we arrived in the late afternoon, one of the first orders of business was finding something to eat. This isn't difficult in the least. Just pick out a booth and stand in line for a few minutes. I chose to stick with my own Scotch-Irish heritage and dine on some bangers and mash from the Scottish booth (unfortunately, they weren't giving out any Scotch whisky, dammit).

We had dessert pastries from the Scandinavian tent. The powdered sugar dusted pancake balls were a big hit, as were the various fruit Danishes we sampled. Of course, later in the evening I treated myself to a mystery meat skewer and an ice-cold coconut from the Thailand pavilion.

But most of our time was spent waiting in line at the Pakistan booth where a talented artist was offering Henna tattoos for a small fee.

Our six-year-old daughter was determined to wait as long as it took to get one on her hand. Seriously. We waited a looong time.

I distracted myself briefly with trip to the privies and a brief stop to watch a group of Slovenian (I think) musicians perform some traditional tunes.

It was well after dark when we left. And although I felt culturally enriched, the food and the clutch full of trinkets left my wallet a bit lighter. But I think we got our money's worth.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Blogthing: Knowing me, knowing you

Average Jane shared a link in the old RSS feed to Personas, a sort of techno-arty online experiment that attempts to distill your personality into a rainbow bar code based on (as far as I can tell) what others say (er, write) about you online.

Here's my result (you'll have to click to enlargify):I don't know what this actually means and as far as I can tell it's completely devoid of any kind of utility. But there is a pretty neat, colorful and kinetic show as it calculates your result. Click here to try it for yourself.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Go to health care

This is the kind of thing I'm talking about (thanks for bird dogging this, jdoublep).
It's clear that to make a mostly free-market plan work, those with chronic illnesses need to be protected. Fortunately, the template is already in place. About 30 states, usually those without requirements for community rating or guaranteed issue, have high-risk pools that automatically enroll people with pre-existing conditions. Their premiums generally can't exceed 150% of the average plan within the state, even though the patients may actually cost far more. The full costs of the high-risk pools are covered from state income- and sales-tax revenues.
It seems like so much of the so-called discussion on this issue (and pretty much any issue of public policy these days) is of the either or nature. Either you're in favor of the government completely taking over health care and providing everything to everybody, or you think health care is fine the way it is and that government should leave the situation unchanged because socialism is teh suck.

It's rare to have people take a look at the entire scope of the problem, think outside of the party lines, and propose options other than the two extremes. And even though health care reform this year is dead, hopefully we'll start to see more of this kind of thinking.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dialogue on health care

One of my favorite people on my RSS reader is rubigimlet, proprietor of The Drift.

Seriously, if you haven't subscribed or added her to your blogroll, you should do it. Now. I'll wait.

Got it? Okay.

The reason I like The Drift is that even though there are typically only a couple of posts a month, they're always worth reading. The more serious ones even make me think (dammit). The recent entry on community health care co-ops is a great example.

There's also today's post, a general discussion about the health care "debate." Even though (or maybe because) I don't agree 100 percent, I started to leave a comment. That comment turned into an entire post which you are (hopefully) about to read.

Ruby wrote:
Let’s cut to the motherfucking chase – conservatives are motivated by fear mongering liberals are motivated by class warfare
This is the first statement that I wanted to comment on.

This theory about what motivates conservatives vs. liberals is highly, er, theoretical. That is, it doesn't have any practical bearing on the world that we live in. By that, I mean that in the current state of our society where there is very little difference between "conservatives" (an extreme minority of whom are truly conservative) and "liberals" (who claim to be fair minded but, in fact, employ the same bullying rhetorical style they castigate others for using).

On the contrary, fear and money are the primary motivators in both parties.

Since it became clear that the national Hopium high is beginning to wear off (gee, never saw that coming), much of the rhetoric from the ruling party has been about the impending cataclysmic collapse of health care if the government doesn't step in and take over.

On the other side, you have to be a complete dolt not to recognize that reform in the health care industry is needed.
personally, i’d rather put my stake in someone beholden to VOTERS rather than shareholders. then from there, we can at least honestly address this whole idea that the electoral college is a farce. -- rubygimlet
Good point. My personal view is that, given the federal government's history abject failure in pretty much everything they do, I don't see how people can trust national health care to the same people who brought us Walter Reed Hospital.

Also, I agree that we should be able to count on "someone beholden to VOTERS..." Unfortunately, thanks to the godzillions of dollars accepted in donations by pretty much everyone in DC (but especially the Obama administration (which has already sold out to Big Pharma)), such an animal does not exist.

So I suppose the next best thing is a way for me to vote with my dollars, which sickeningly are worth more than my actual democratic vote.

As for the merits of the electoral college, well, that's another post. But it seems a civics lesson might be in order.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: It's just a fantasy

With the start of the NFL preseason last week and the start of the end of the Chief's season, a lot of KC football fans are pinning their enjoyment of the NFL this year on Fantasy Football teams.

If you're still putting your fantasy football roster together, here are a couple of picks you might consider.

Along the same lines, though he won't be playing on your fantasy football team, K-State guard Denis Clemente has some game of his own.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Blogthing: Happy habitat

Some people think I have some grudge against wildlife just because I enjoy a nice tasty roasted baby seal every once in a while (with some fava beans and a fine chianti, thspppppst!)

But I think this quiz shows that I can be very supportive of all creatures great and small (intestine).

How many tapeworms could live in your stomach?

Created by The Oatmeal

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Home Improvement: The old switcheroo

My main project for this past weekend (aside from the usual trimming hedges, taking out the trash and collecting "protection" money from local businesses) was to change out the electrical switches and outlets in our new baby's room.

The switch was one of those old-school switches from the days when people believed the electricity demons were aroused by the loud clicking noise the switch made, thus turning the light on. It was loud, is what I'm sayin'. So I decided to replace it with a fashionable modern switch that wouldn't wake up the baby (and the neighbors and the North Koreans) with such a loud clicking noise.

As for the electrical outlets, they were the old two-prong outlets. I wanted to upgrade to three-prong outlets because three is better than two (just ask The D).

Anyway, as a public service I documented the procedure so that you, yes you, can do the same upgrade without hiring a licensed electrician which could easily cost double the value of your entire house.

First, the basic tools. For this project, you'll need a screwdriver, wire cutters, wire strippers, an electrical current tester (optional), a utility knife, and a Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat.

We'll start with the switch. The first thing you need to do -- and this is of minor importance -- is find the breaker switch that controls the electrical circuit for the room. It's probably in your basement (next to the pick axe and trunk full of spare rubber trousers) and hopefully it's labeled. Turn off the breaker before you begin. You'll know it's off if you flip the light switch and the light doesn't turn on.

Got it? Good. Now remove the screws holding the switch plate/cover onto the wall.
Use your screwdriver for this. I used a cordless electric power screwdriver (because why should I have to do all the work), but a manual one works just fine if you're into that kind of thing.

Now you can see the actual switch hardware attached to the switch box. You'll want to unscrew the two screws (at the top and bottom of the switch) that hold it in. Your goal is to remove the screws and pull the switch hardware from the box housing.

But here's a tip: If your house is old (like mine) chances are that part of the hardware has been painted to the wall. So before you pull the switch out of the box, be sure to cut the paint around the switch so that it doesn't tear a big strip of paint and drywall off your wall.

Okay. With the screws removed and the paint cut, pull the switch out of the box. It will be attached to the rest of the house with two (or more) insulated copper wires. Stretch these out and pull the whole assembly a few inches from the wall to give yourself room to work.

Now is a good time to test to make sure there's no current running through the circuit. There are a couple of ways to do this. One, lick your finger tips and touch any of the dark copper colored screws on the back of the switch. If they're "hot" -- if electrical current is running through them -- you'll get an exciting electric shock. Man, what a rush!

Fun as that is though, I prefer the second way. Use a tool especially designed to check for electrical current. Just touch the electrode to the back of the switch (or to the copper wires themselves) and an alarm sounds if the current is on.

If you did step one correctly and turned off the breaker switch, you should be fine to proceed.

With the switch housing pulled away from the wall, use your wire cutters to snip the white and black (and other, if you have it) wires from the old switch. Be sure to cut fairly close to the switch to leave yourself plenty of wire to work with in installing the new one.

Now you can discard the old switch. Good riddance! And if you haven't done it yet, now is a good time to take a nice long swig of Boulevard. If you've already done that step, good for you. Your already ahead of the game.

With the two (or more) wires exposed, the next step is to remove some of the insulation from the copper so that they can be connected to the new switch.

Use your wire strippers to remove about three eighths of an inch of insulation. If you're not sure how much that is, there's probably a gauge on the back of the new switch that shows how much insulation to strip.

So now, you should have (at least) two wires sticking out from the wall with a tip of gleaming copper at the end. One of these will be white and the other black. Believe it or not, the hard part is over! Congratulate yourself and take another pull off that Boulevard. You deserve it!

At last you're ready to install the sexy new switch. The good thing about new switches these days it that they have been redesigned so that you can almost literally just push them into the wall and they'll work.

So grab the new switch and check out the back. Look carefully and you'll see a couple of screws on either side, and some corresponding holes on the back.

As with much in life, those holes are the key making this project fun. It used to be that you had to shape the stripped copper into a little loop and tighten the side screws around them. No more my friend. We live in the future now. All you have to do is push the stripped copper wires into the holes (hehe) and you're pretty much done.

Take note of which hole is which, though. One of them will be labeled "white (blanco)" -- this is the hole that the white wire goes in (duh). If you put the black one into the white hole, you'll trip you breaker switch when you turn the power on. Also, you'll probably cause a rift in the space-time continuum (and believe me, you DO NOT want that in your kid's bedroom).
One other thing: If your house is newer, there might be an uninsulated copper wire as well. This is the ground wire and should be attached to the ground screw on the switch (usually greenish colored). There's no hole for this one, so you'll have to attach it old-school.

At this point, with the wires attached to the switch, I like to test my work before I go any further. So I polish off the last of the Boulevard and head down to the basement to flip the breaker on and grab another beer.

With the breaker on and beer in hand, head back up to the room and turn on the switch. If the light comes on and there are not sparks and your house doesn't catch fire, then congrats, it's wired correctly.

If not, don't sweat it. Probably the worst that will happen is the breaker switch will automatically cut the circuit and you'll have to start all over. If this happens, you might want to go easy on the beer, because this really isn't that complicated of a project.

Just to be safe, go turn the breaker off again before putting the switch back into the wall. Carefully jam all of the wires and switch housing into the switch box and line up screws on the switch with the screw holes on the switch box.

From here, it's just a matter of doing the first couple of steps in reverse. Screw the switch to the switch box. Now get the switch plate/cover and screw it to the switch. Don't forget to turn your breaker back on when you're finished.

It really is that easy.

For the electrical outlets, it's pretty much the same process but use an outlet instead of a switch. I'm not going to repeat all of the steps again, because I'm out of beer.

But good luck with your project. Let me know how it goes (or if you need me to call the fire department).

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: Many sons and a lot of guns visits the largest illegal gun market in the world in Darra, Pakistan in the Khyber Pass between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

This is a fascinating look into the the culture of gun violence in this area of the world. According to the reporting, scrap metal from the many wars and invasions into Afghanistan is recycled into firearms. Deaf men and children work in stone hovels making 1,000 guns a day by hand. For the past 70 years.

That's a lot of guns.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

In her defense

Local blog (that also does a TV broadcast) KMBC posted a story last week about how Kansas City, Mo., ranks at the top of Forbes' America's Abandoned Cities list.
Forbes magazine analyzed the vacancy rate for rental properties and homes, and Kansas City came out as No. 1.

The vacancy rate for rentals in the metro area rose to 15 percent over the past year. The homeowner vacancy rate has nearly doubled to 3.8 percent.

Nationally, the average homeowner vacancy rate in the country's 75 largest cities improved to 2.7 percent, while the rental vacancy rate is at 10.2 percent.
Many local bloggers (I assume) took advantage of the report to launch another volley of vitriol at the KCMO's short comings, citing the daffy mayor and the political mess in city hall, the crumbling sewer and street infrastructure, the multiple missteps in business recruitment and development, the horrible pre-Renaissance quality of the school system, and the so-called "high" so-called "murder rate" of the city's east side.

And sure, if you only focus on the negative it's easy to come up with rationalizations for why people would leave KCMO's urban core.

But while everyone is kvetching about how bad thing are, let me just say that I enjoy KCMO. I think the town has a lot to offer. There are a couple of lovable sports teams in the Royals and Chiefs. Oh sure they may not win many games, but their bumbling and incompetent ways are endearing, like Otis the Drunk in the Andy Griffith show.

Speaking of bumbling and incompetent, KCMO's city council (and mayors, TIFF commissions, park boards, etc) is as entertaining and full of drama as Desperate Housewives, and almost as meaningful. If not for the hijinks of these various boards, councils and barefoot volunteers, most newspapers and bloggers in KCMO wouldn't have anything to writer about.

So I say cheers to Kansas City, Missouri. It may only be a suburb of Johnson County, but it's still one of my favorite places to visit on weekends and avoid during the week.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday Blogthing: In memorium

We children of the 80s continue to age as the the pop-culture icons of our generation reap the ultimate reward in store for all of us.

You've probably already heard of the death of director John Hughes. Hughes' contribution to movie making arts may not be very notable, but his contribution to pop culture is titanic. Some of my favorite characters and best one-liners were from Hughes movies (Uncle Buck: "Take this quarter, go downtown, and have a rat gnaw that thing off your face! Good day to you, madam.")

Anyway, I suspect we'll all be reliving our adolescence through Hughes work to some extent today. And to help get you started, here's a quick quiz.
Which John Hughes Character Are You?

Your Result
You are Clark Griswold (from National Lampoon's Vacation)! You're full of optimism and boundless energy, and no one loves a good family trip more. No one else can swear a blue streak like you either, Sparky!

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

$100 million a day

The Wall Street Journal assures us that our financially beleaguered friends at Goldman-Sachs were still barely limping along in the second quarter of the year.

They're in such dire straits that they only had 46 days in the second quarter where they made $100 million or more. That's right, in about half of the days of the quarter, they only made ONE HUNDRED FREAKIN' MILLION DOLLARS A DAY.

I know. We're all worried about Goldman Sachs. But take heart, those numbers don't include the $20 billion we staked them with to cover their losses on AIG.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

YouTube Tuesday: I figured it out

At least, Craig Ferguson has part of it figured out.

What he's missing is the complicity that our nation's parents have played and are playing in contributing to the cultural worship of youth and stupidity. As parents, it's up to us to make sure that our kids learn the hard lessons in life: That you don't always win, that bad things happen to good people, that there will be times when you don't feel good about yourself but what's important is not how you feel at the moment but how you react and what you decide to do about it, that when you treat others badly you're harming yourself and when you are good to others you enrich yourself.

I don't know if there's any hope for our culture. It's hard to find evidence that there is. But if there is hope, it must include us teaching our progeny to be self sufficient and emotionally mature.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

Movie Showdown: I Know Who Killed Me vs. Krull

A couple of weeks ago during a 2 a.m. feeding of our newborn I came to the realization that even though we have something like 500 television channels, there's nothing on at that time of day.

Well, obviously there's programing airing. What I mean is that there is very little that's actually worth watching. So I find myself exploring the upper reaches of the channel lineup -- you know, between Channel 216 (the Biography Network) to Channel 288 (the Independent Film Channel) .

Anyway, as I surfed these esoteric airwaves, I landed on two movies that were airing simultaneously: Krull and I Know Who Killed Me.

At first glance both movies seemed to be equally bad, and I kept flipping between them during commercial breaks and the (many) slow parts. But as my thumb became sore from mashing the "last channel" button on the remote, I thought that there must be some way to determine which movie is worse and just finish watching the least bad movie for the rest of the early morning.

So I looked at both movies according to four criteria to come up with an answer. Now look, these movies aren't worth watching, let along thinking about. So this isn't meant to be any kind of objective analysis.

Anyway, here's what I came up with:

Production value:
Obviously, I Know Who Killed Me (2007, staring Lindsey Lohan) is a more modern production than 1983's Krull (staring... well, nobody really. But a young Liam Neeson has a minor role with a pretty decent death scene).

Krull has all of the goofy animated "friggen' lasers" and stop motion "special" effects that were cutting edge in the early 1980's (when Members Only jackets were also considered cutting edge) but haven't really stood the test of time.

IKWKM is only better because they used modern camera equipment and the original film hasn't deteriorated through multiple late-night airings (yet). There are some very lame-ass dream sequence effects.

Winner (by default) I Know Who Killed Me. 1 Point

Pretty much a dead heat here. Acting in both movies is so flat it makes Norville "Shaggy" Rogers look like an Oscar nominee. To steal a phrase from Nat X, I've seen better actin' in Tough Actin'® Tinactin®.

Lindsay Lohan lived down to her well-earned reputation as a stripper's actor in IKWKM. She played a psycho, overly sexed split personality potty-mouthed bad girl. I know what you're thinking, quite a stretch for her. And yet even with her copious experience with the material, she somehow found a way to make it seem strained and unbelievable.

But in Krull, the aforementioned Liam Neeson death scene was probably the second best acting job. All of the human actors were upstaged by the giant stop motion spider who guarded The Lady of the Web (seriously, who writes this stuff).

But the biggest disappointment was Neal McDonough, who played Lohan's father in IKWKM. I hoped for more from him since I've like his work in Band of Brothers and Boomtown.

So for Acting, I'll give the nod to Krull only because my expectations were higher for IKWKM.

Winner Krull. 1 Point

At their cores, both story lines are pretty much the same, that being "let's see how lame of a story we can come up with and how long emawkc will watch before hitting the 'last channel' button or jamming the TV remote into his hear."

But on a more superficial level, Krull is your typical epic quest story, where the hero must acquire a special weapon then travel to the boss monster's lair to kill it. It's pretty much what happened in Lord of the Rings, Conan the Barbarian and Super Mario Bros. Because they didn't do any actual writing, producers were free to blow the money that they would have paid writers on building a bunch of the bladed frisbee Glaive weapons to give away at the wrap party.

IKWKM, on the other hand, is your standard split personality psycho killer horror flick. While the concept had some potential, the writing is so tediously contrived that I wanted to freeze off my own limbs with dry ice just to remind myself that I'm still alive. Since they didn't have to pay a writer, they were able to use the money they saved to provide pain relievers to the editors who had to work for hours on the footage.

Winner Krull. 1 Point

Using the term "highlights" to describe these movies is a little like using the term "sober" to describe KC's annual St. Patrick's Day parade. For IKWKM, I guess the highlight was Lohan's sexy pole dance scene. But given her escapades over the past few years and her level of overexposure (in more ways than one), I can't imagine that there was anything in that scene that most people haven't already seen on TMZ.

For Krull, the highlight is probably be the art direction for the Glaive, a weapon which resembles a starfish that grew steel talons. Still, it's impossible to see how an up-and-coming prince could yield this weapon without losing a few fingers.

So again, this one is a tough decision. But since I'm not a misogynist who likes to see pole-dancing strippers mutilated with dry ice, I'll give the nod to Krull in this category.

Winner Krull. 1 Point

And the winner is...

So there you have it. By a score of three points to one, Krull beats out IKWKM in this late-night movie showdown. Now, you shouldn't take this as any kind of endorsement of either movie. They're both about as entertaining as an open head wound. But at least the next time producers decide to do a nostalgic 30th Anniversary re-release of Krull, they can use the slogan "Hey, at least it wasn't as bad as I Know Who Killed Me."

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