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Archive for October, 2011

In Indiana you can get a Learner’s Permit when you’re 15. Or 15 1/2. (Can’t believe I don’t remember a fact that was once something my life revolved around.) If you take Driver’s Education and pass, then you don’t have to take a road test for your license once you turn 16. To shorten a very long story I passed the written portion of Driver’s Ed with flying colours. But I didn’t get the sign-off and it about destroyed me. Turns out I was a pretty awful driver and everyone was afraid to ride with me.

Everyone but my dad.

For long, long months we took to the back roads–and eventually front roads–of Indiana. He never winced when I made a mistake, never pressed the fake-brake that is so beloved of front-seat copilots. Thanks to him I passed the road test, got my license and spent the next 20 years enjoying all the freedom that driving affords.

Flash back 15 years… Back then he had just turned 30 and was starting out in his law practice. Most lawyers of that age and position work 80 hour weeks to establish their place in the firm and to drum up clients. My father was no exception. He worked long days and spent nights going to church council meetings, sitting on the board of the Christian School and volunteering his time and expertise wherever it was needed. But somehow he still made time to come home and read to his baby. A lot. He read to me the way other parents feed their children and I still consider that the most important food I’ve ever had.

I think I mentioned in that last paragraph that he was a lawyer. He became a lawyer when he found it would help more people than being a band conductor, but I still think he’d like to lead a brass band in a Souza march every now and then. He went into law because he wanted a way to counsel people who were in some sort of difficulty, but in a tangible way. For fifty years he has practiced law in an outdated way. He doesn’t grub for clients and pad the hours. He sits across from folks, listens to their problems and tries with everything he’s got to get them a decent solution. He’s saved more than one marriage by offering solutions. He’s saved more than one life by walking desperate people through bankruptcy and then helping them reorganize their business. In that same way he’s created hundreds of jobs; businesses that move from insolvency to health tend to hire employees and then keep them on.

But in all this his family has always been his first priority. He had four children and then spent the rest of his life sacrificing to give them the best possible opportunities. Christian School**, summer vacations to educational places,

My Dad is the one in the green striped shirt.

fall weekends camping in Indiana State Parks and three weeks driving around Europe in a Volkswagon Van.

This is us, getting ready to boat up the Rhine. Dad is on the far right. I am in the white pants and awful perm.

He showed us the world in real life whenever he could. When money or time was a constraint he made sure there were books to fill in the gaps. Always books. Everywhere you go in my parents’ house there are books. I am hard pressed to think of one room that doesn’t have at least one stray paperback laying around.

Today is the day most people celebrate scary things. In my family we celebrate my dad. He was born on Halloween, which is a story in and of itself.

Dad as a baby. Wrap your head around that concept.

I keep meaning to write tribute posts to my dad, but I never know where or how to end them. Beginning them is easy because he’s such a generous person in spirit and actuality that you can sort of start in anywhere. But ending them is almost impossible because his goodness really doesn’t end either. No, he isn’t perfect and we’ve had our big dustups over the last 41 years. Mostly because in a lot of ways we’re alike. Stubborn. Passionate about justice, about religion, about being right. In the grand scheme of things, though, what stands out is that my dad is quite simply one of the best examples of Christianity I’ve ever come across. So I can’t think of Halloween ever as a bad day or a day that celebrates evil. Not when it’s also the day my dad came into the world.

*There are a million excuses why, and I still hold a grudge against the driving instructor who was a coach and so busy talking sports with the basketball players I shared a team car with that I don’t feel he actually INSTRUCTED me.

**That was also my mother’s sacrifice, truth be told. She taught at that school for years to get a lower tuition rate, even though it meant she got paid about 1/4th of what she’d make teaching anywhere else.

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You have done a courageous thing, and I think you aren’t getting enough credit for it.

I am here in my home in Hermitage, a home for which I’ve worked and saved. I find the Occupy Wall Street protests to be directionless, odd and, at times a little creepy. The franchise protests in cities across the country have struck me as little more than a bit of me-tooism, people on safari for a unique experience.

So when I heard you had written a fiat behind closed doors and mobilised a paramilitary force to shut down the Occupy Nashville protests I KNEW I had to thank you.

It was only through such a bone-headed, dictatorial, egomaniacal and ill-sighted action that I–the original You Kids Get Off My Lawn Lady–would find any common ground with these hairbags at Legislative Plaza.

Before you and your little band of khaki-pantsed thugs started pressing women’s faces into wet pavement and ziptieing their hands, I was sitting here saying things like “why don’t you try Occupying A Shower?” and “It’s hard to file a job application from behind a piece of posterboard.”

Before you started loading kids and old people into a jail bus, I was one of the folks who thought those other folks were ridiculous because they were protesting without a clear agenda.

Now?

Now you’ve given Occupy Nashville something to say. And that something is something I agree with.

This is The United States. Blood was shed to guarantee our freedom to assemble. When you quash that you spit on the graves of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson,and pretty much the whole of Arlington Cemetery. Your actions show you to be a craven and a coward and, at the worst, wholly unAmerican.

Thank you for revealing your true face. May you find the rest of your sole term in office as uncomfortable as possible.

Sincerely,
Katherine J. Boyer-Coble
Proud American
Proud Libertarian
Pissed-Off-As-Hell Tennessean

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100% Childfree

There are a million things in my head right now, and that head was up all night. I’m tempted to not write at all, but that’s when the terrorists win.

I was looking at some photos people posted yesterday. The general theme is to write your personal hard-luck story out on a piece of paper and then photograph that alongside your face. It’s not unlike the smugly annoying photo essay that ran a few years ago where people apologised to “the world” when Bush won the presidency. Back then I think it was called “The 48%”{Correction–it was called “sorry everybody” No comma. Given that I think the whole idea was rather sorry, that lack of comma cracks me up big time}. Now it’s called “The 99%”.

I found the whole thing rather enlightening.* But I have to be honest. What I found most enlightening is that of the one hundred or so pictures I saw, three-quarters of them mentioned having two or more kids. You know the drill. “I’m so poor I can’t feed my five kids. I am the 99%.”

Why does everyone think having kids is going to be cheap? Cheaper than condoms? Cheaper than The Pill? Having Kids Costs Money. A Lot Of Money.

And like it or not, having kids is also a choice. So at some point you have to realise that one of the reasons you and your husband can’t afford to go out to the movies is in the crib in the corner. The other two reasons are on the couch watching Handy Manny. It seems sort of tacky to blame “corporations” for your life choices.

I’m so tempted to start a photo essay for those of us who are child-free by choice or circumstance. We could hold up pieces of paper that say “I’ll be able to pay for my own nursing home. I am the 18%” and “I have a fulfilling life pursuing my career and adult relationships. I am the 18%.” “I get all parental warm fuzzies I need from my dogs. I am the 18%.”

No, I don’t hate children. Not all childfree people do. (It’s a common misconception. Ha. Get it? Misconception. Infertility humour! Ho!Ho!Ho!) But I don’t “love children” either. Then again, no one ever says to me “You must just not like adults.” No….I evaluate individuals. Some I like, others not so much. “Children” fall under that category. There are those I’m crazy about, those I enjoy being acquainted with and those that I’d rather see dragged out of the restaurant and taken home where they belong and aren’t ruining my romantic dinner by screaming for chicken nuggets.

And right now I’m thinking this post makes me come off like Silas Marner and I should just delete it. But I’ll leave it up here because hey. It’s something to talk about. And I wonder also if people have an opinion on the Ken Jennings picture. (See below—->)

*I was lured into looking by a promise of a picture from Ken Jennings. Sure enough, the man who won several million dollars on a game show is a) crying poor-mouth and b) blaming “corporations” for stealing his “job” of being a “quiz show contestant.” Okaaaaay. Was $2.5million not enough? And doesn’t he realise that his bitching about $2.5 million not being enough really sort of mocks the people who are all “I had to steal this piece of paper from a nun because I’m so broke.”? NPR and other sites are playing it straight, but some folks seem to think Jennings is mocking the Occupy Wall Street movement. Either way, it was in poor taste.

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The switch in my brain that trips the Pink Floyd Trigger has been flipped and now I’m spending the day just burning through the ::pauses to check::16.1 hours of Pink Floyd I have in iTunes. And oops, but it seems I’ve not yet re-burned The Wall–which was tragically lost when my old iMac kicked the farm two years ago–so I have to make due with Wall Live In Berlin and the tracks that made it over to Echoes:Best Of Pink Floyd. And while I dearly love that Echoes includes my second favourite Wall track (When The Tigers Broke Free) and slams that ever so rockingly elegantly into One Of These Days, I have to admit that the Original Recipe Wall is probably the best of all the Wall recordings.

Except that “Tigers” isn’t on there.

The rest of the band (David Gilmour is an ass) wouldn’t let Tigers on the original Wall album because it was “too personal.”

Uh…DUH!!! That’s the beauty of it. It’s one of the most gut-wrenchingly personal and tragic songs I’ve ever heard. Frankly I think it’s right up there with Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit for personal heartbreak bottled in song.

The Berlin version of The Wall is, however, to be commended for using Van Morrison to full advantage on Comfortably Numb. There have been many a complaint that The Man was too drunk to do the song justice.

I find that ironic.

It my mind, Van sounds exactly as one who is comfortably numb ought to sound. The beauty of his voice pulls the song out of the mire of his drunk mind and it just somehow works.

And I suppose I’m done writing about music now because it’s interrupting my listening.

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There is an urban legend in its nascent stages floating around the Christian community. A Pro-Life group has seized upon a line item in PepsiCo.’s R&D budget, combed the patent filings for the company receiving said funds and discovered that the company in question–Senomyx–is using a line of stem cells in their research that includes cultivars from a fetus aborted sometime around 1970.

In other words, 40 years ago in a laboratory in Holland, ONE aborted fetus–aborted for reasons unknown to us–had it’s embryonic stem cells harvested. In a process not unlike sourdough starter, those cells from that ONE fetus have promulgated into a line of stem cells used all over the world.

The Pro-Life Politic movement spin on this issue is this:

Pepsi Shareholders File SEC Resolution To Stop Using Aborted Babies For Flavor Research

Now, I don’t know about you, but that headline makes it sound to me as though PepsiCo is using truckloads of babies and squeezing them like apples in a cider press. And so it goes as this article has done a general whip-round of Facebook, prayer chains, Christian playgroups and anywhere else the grapevine births an urban legend. The headline of the article (found at Bound4Life.com) seems purposely misleading and incendiary to me. Dead!Babies!In!Diet Pepsi!

What the article fails to mention is that this line of stem cells is now used in scientific research in much the same way as petri dishes and formaldehyde. It is used not only by this Semonyx company to test for flavour-enhancers but by medical research teams who are developing cancer treatments, Alzheimer’s treatments, diabetes treatments…the HEK293 stem cell line is SO ubiquitous that a Google Search for “HEK293 in Medical Research” yields upwards of 294,000 results. Chances are pretty good that every one who has ever passed along the article about Dead Babies In Pepsi has also prayed for a relative or church brethren stricken with some ailment–and being kept alive by medicines that resulted from HEK293 research.

Now, lest you think I’m sitting here thinking “aw, it’s no big deal! What’s one little baby?” let me just say that I am no fan of abortion. It IS an issue I struggle with, because I think our response as a Christian community over the years has more often than not lacked the Grace of our calling.

And I happen to think this particular handling of this particular story ALSO lacks the Grace of our calling. Are we so eager to make a point about medical ethics that we will forgo the basic ethics of truth-telling?

I know a lot of the people who have received this article are relatively new to the subject of bioethics. They may not realise just how much of their life is altered by scientific research they would find ethically repugnant. But I bet many of them routinely celebrate the 4th of July, Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day and Easter; all holidays that honour the sacrifice of other human beings that enable our way of life. We accept that soldiers die to protect our freedom and ideals. We accept that brain-dead individuals are taken off life support to harvest their organs and thus prolong life for others. I don’t know that I’m finding it THAT much of a stretch to say that this one fetus has had the tragedy of interrupted life redeemed in a way by the salvation her cells have brought the world over. Sure, a sweeter Diet Pepsi is no big deal. But my friend Joan, alive today after a battle with lymphoma, owes her life in part to the baby whose cells started HEK293 so many decades ago. My friends on the Arthritis Support boards who take Remicade, Enbrel, and any other biologic medicine** owe their higher functioning to Baby HEK293. Nearly all the women for whom we wear pink ribbons owe their lives and can trace their victory in the battle against Breast Cancer to research done with HEK293 cells.

It’s a hard choice, and one that I’ve agonised over since the issue of Stem Cell Research first came to my attention a decade ago. The place I’ve arrived at is to believe that research should continue using the existing lines, and that no more lines should be created from Embryonic cells.

The fact that Baby HEK293 never got to be born is truly sad. That others live as a result of her sacrifice is perhaps an example of “all things working together for good.”

No, the end doesn’t justify the means but it can sweeten the tears.


*I do realise that the medically and scientifically correct term is actually “fetus”. However, since I am directing these arguments primarily at the pro-life segment, and in pro-life terminology anything after conception is a “baby”. So that’s why we’re going with the pro-life operational definition as opposed to the scientific operational definition.

**Just for the record, I do personally try my best to avoid any product I know to be directly resultant from stem cell research. I have elected to forgo biologic treatment of my RA because of stem cell research and its role in developing those medicines. But that is very much a personal choice and one that I cannot force upon any other person. And to my earlier point I realise that it is nigh unto impossible to avoid it in every circumstance. But if there’s ever a case where I can say that I will not profit by another’s death, I stand on that belief. It’s also why I avoided many types of fertility treatment. And I happen to know that more than one person who sent that Pepsi article around has done IVF.

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Weird day; lots of thoughts running through my head.

I know that blogging is sometimes like baking cookies for Santa. You put all this effort into something that you know is going to go to waste. Unless some kindly soul takes pity on you. But I do get bothered when I see blogs that have achieved a certain level of popularity get dependent on that popularity. They often lose the earnestness of their voice because they keep trying to stoke the fires of fame by reposting the same thing over and over. Did a post about abortion net me 150 comments last week? Okay, then! Let’s write ANOTHER post about it.

Of course, sometimes you just recycle ideas because at a certain point that’s what’s in your head. Your needle is stuck in a groove of ponderance that you just can’t escape. With me it’s my illness; why is life this way and if it was going to be like this why dod God bother to have the doctors bring me back to life in babyhood? And since they DID bring me back to life shouldn’t I be doing something with that? Like last night I watched The People Vs. George Lucas and George made the point for the billionth time that because he walked away from that car crash in Modesto he was destined to become a monolithic corporate artist. Where’s my Kathfilm?!?

The one thought my mind has let go of in the past five years is my weight. I used to obsess on it. I used to weigh food, count points, count calories, spreadsheet my activity, journal every bite. Then over time I realised that I had turned weight loss into idolatry. It was my stumbling block. I had come to revile God’s creation–my fat self–and feel angry at God. So like every other zealot, I’m very anti-diet mentality. So of course there’s a heartbreaking conversation going on over at Tiny Cat Pants. The title of the post is so fantastic, so succinct a summation of everything that’s medieval about the current anti-fat bias in medicine:

I Have To Join A Cult Before They’ll Mutilate Me

Isn’t that perfect? Doesn’t that just sum it up when you think about it? You earn the privilege of having your belly sliced open in five places and laser-probes stuck into those incisions so the doctor can see well enough to tie off your stomach with a high-tech rubber band. You of course earn this “privilege” by first joining Weight Watchers and failing to lose weight on that program. It’s called Lap Band surgery.
Here is one of the better-known spokespersons for the operation, 8 years after the fact:

Ann Wilson is the one on the right.

Lap Band is like every other weight loss method. You still have to starve yourself, work out all the time and basically make looking like someone other than yourself your full-time job. And your life will be consumed by this task. You will come to loathe your best ally–yourself. All because people who don’t know you have decided in passing that you don’t look right.

Anyway, over in that discussion Vera Ellen came up. She’s the late movie star who was in White Christmas and whose anorexia was so bad that costume designers had to cover her neck and arms to hide the bones. And I know they’re not the same woman, but whenever her name comes up I automatically think of the Pink Floyd song “Vera” and the lyric

Does anybody else in here
feel the way I do?

…and I’m back to wondering about the futility of blogging and life and whimsy all over again.

And on that note, I’m finally giving in to temptation and reading a book I’ve saved all summer.

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So I needed something for dinner; the things I had on hand do not agree with my present state. We also needed dog food and some other essentials (God frowns on starving your pets for your own convenience.) So Husband valiantly offered to stop by Kroger on the way home.

I hate having to do it this way, but now that I don’t drive it’s become one of the side effects folks seldom talk about. But whenever I do this I always at least put thought into what I ask for. If he’s stopping at Walgreens I only ask for things from the drive-through, no matter how much I might like something from inside. If he stops at Kroger I try to only ask for things at the front of the store or in the aisles next to the register. That played a large part in my request for pasta for dinner.

Except they’re remodelling our Kroger. And the refrigerated pasta case which has lived ten feet from the register rank for the past FIFTEEN FREAKING YEARS was just this weekend relocated to parts unknown. Parts so unknown that the helpful(?) Kroger employee had no idea himself.

My efforts to make an in-and-out grocery run possible for my poor spouse seriously backfired. He did three laps around the store, and didn’t come home until he found the cranny in which the case had been squirrelled away.

On the bright side, he has now declared that the phrase “Going Postal” can be replaced with “Going Kroger”.

—-

In a semi-related note, anecdotes like this are why I find misandry so repulsive. I realise that man-bashing is a trendy part of our culture, but when I see what my man goes through just to take care of his family and “do right by his wife and best friend” (his words) I have to say it saddens me. There are plenty of good men out there. If only their wives don’t drive them insane for cheese tortellini.

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The Walking Dead

Why am I watching a show about zombies? In the grand scheme of horror tropes, I find zombies to be even less interesting than those blue lights that hover in swamps. Whereas ghosts have all the creepy backstory (He Cannot Rest Until His Murderer Is Brought To Justice!) and even vampires have an aura of sexual danger and/or allure, zombies are the mud pies of horror. They have no compelling origin stories, no intrigue for the living.

Whenever zombies enter a story I tend to lie back and think of England.

So I’ve sat skeptically on the sidelines for a year while pretty much everyone I know is nattering on about how The Walking Dead is the new hotness and if I love __________(the wire, deadwood, breaking bad, mad men, lost) then I’d just go crazy for this show too.

“Yeah, but it’s zombies. Zombies are the celery of horror creatures. Crunchy, no flavour.”

Several things conspired this weekend to sway me into watching, though.

1. Season One’s showrunner was Frank Darabont. You may know him as the man who brought us The Shawshank Redemption, which is in my top 5 favourite films list having long ago ousted Empire Strikes Back. As far as storytellers go, I do believe I would buy a phonebook if someone told me Frank Darabont had a hand in writing it.

2. A couple of people did an end run around the Zombies and hit my sweet spot by telling me that it was “what the Stand mini-series should have been. And without Rob Lowe.”

3. There was absolutely nothing else of interest on Netflix or pay-per-view.

So now I’m 5/6ths the way through Season One. I think I like it; I enjoy the character development, and enjoy watching the conflict scenarios of how ordinary people handle extraordinary circumstances. It’s kind of like Shawshank except in this case the Outside World is the prison and safety and comfort come from being locked away.

I could do without the gross-for-grossness’ sake bits that I think they throw in there to draw the kind of guys who used to burn ants with magnifying glasses. But I figure you’ll always get that sort of thing whenever zombies are involved and so I put up with it to get to the good bits.

I must admit, though, that I’m more than a little worried for season two. Darabont had to leave the show so that idiot Matthew Wiener* (the only hollywood person who has ever bitched me out in my blog comments) could have more money for his stupid program about sexist pigs in advertising.** Since I assume that Darabont is the one bringing the character goodness, I’m leery about TiVoing Season 2. I suspect that it’ll be more gross and less group dynamics. I guess we’ll see.

* Yes, I do agree with Kurt Sutter’s version of events. He may be crass, but he’s got his fingers on the pulse of people in general. Not unlike Darabont. And from what I’ve come to know of Weiner through our miniscule grudge match and subsequent research, I think he’s a get-mine-and-screw-the-rest type of guy. In short, I think Weiner wants to be Don Draper when he grows up. I’m also 41 years old and I understand how budgets work. If one department wants more money, another has to cut their budget to accomodate.

**I worked for a long time in the marketing department of a publisher. I don’t need to hang out with those types when I’m at home vegging.

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I do tend to read a lot; if something captures my curiousity I usually run straight to the Internet. If websites there don’t answer all my questions the next stop is the Kindle Store, where I’ll get a book or three on the matter.

This is usually a good thing, and I’ve managed to store up quite a lot of information that I’m sure may come in handy some time. Trivial Pursuit nights with friends, most likely.

I’ve been doing this a long time now, and I swear it is NOT my imagination. Books are getting more and more salacious, as though the only way Reading can compete with TV Watching is to bring on the graphic sex and violence. I’ve ended up setting aside more and more of the most popular reads lately, as the graphic violence and detailed sex overwhelms the story.

But this book–and please forgive me for not telling you anything about it beyond the fact that it’s a non-fiction memoir–was the absolute end for me. I have never before now actually thrown up after reading something. And let me tell you that’s an experience you really don’t want.

The author of this book decided that their story of sexual molestation needed to be told in the most graphic detail as possible. But the ghost writer decided to eroticise the descriptions of the molestation scenes. So there I was reading something that was ostensibly about an entirely different topic altogether, but finding myself reading a sex scene between an adult and an eight year old child. A scene written just like you’d find in a romance novel.

I hate to come off as prudish, and I generally don’t mind sex scenes if they contribute to the story*. But this book was a non-fiction book about something else altogether. And yet here I was, ten pages into it and reading utter garbage.

Yes, I’ve returned the book. And yes, I’ve complained to Amazon about the content. If only I could wash my brain.

*which is why I’ve never had a problem with the graphic depictions in the GRRM novels.

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Those Who Can’t

Apparently there is a lot more money to be made in TEACHING writing to other people than there is in the actual writing of things. Because my facebook sidebar and email inbox are always chockablock with creative writing courses, seminars, workshops and self-published (irony much?) books on tips for finishing your novel, etc.

It sort of bothers me because it falls into the 20th Century trap of Validation By Degree. We don’t do apprenticeships anymore; craftsmanship and skill attained through disciplined and mentored practice have ceded the high ground. Now all you need to do is take a class or a series of classes, get a diploma and then–by golly! You are a hairdresser or an auto mechanic or even an actual writer.

Classroom instruction has its merits, to be sure. Without it I’d be huntandpecking this blog entry and the grammar wouldn’t be so fine. I’d probably also be unable to tell you who the combatants were in the War of 1812 and who served as the Third President Of The United States. But actual craft is not a booklearned thing. Not even for a writer. Craftsmanship is born from practice and persistence and the polishing of past failures. That’s what I find so incredibly jarring about all these “get a loan and learn to write a novel from us!” schemes. They aren’t really honing craftsmanship. They’re just paying some stranger to indulge them in a dream.

Because that’s the other insidious thing about coursework for craft. It gives one the appearance of doing something. We have been conditioned in my generation to accept Going To School as an honourable career path, regardless of outcome. Studenthood has attained an air of nobility and acceptability and with that the conferment of legitimacy. And while studenthood IS worthwhile for some things–would you want a doctor who learned only by trial and error on patients?–it does not complete the craft. Works are called that because they are that. The product of your effort. For instance, my husband is taking his second course in stained glass making. He can go to the classes once a week and know in his head the general theory of how one does a copper foil or lead glass project. But it’s only by spending hours in his studio grinding away and soldering the cracks that he can come away with an actual work of art.

So forgive me, good people of Winghill Writing School, but you aren’t going to get folks’ novels written for them. But I do thank you for jumping onto the Student Loan Bubble.

*And on that note, may I just point out that I’ve been squawking about the Student Loan Bubble years before all these fine experts got around to it??

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