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Scene From The Gay Bar

Posted by Becks
on 04.22.06

[Witty Banter]
Gay Boy: If I were straight, I would SO marry you!
Friend: Sorry, I'm already married -- to the sweetest, most wonderful, smartest, most handsome man in the world!
Gay Boy: He sounds great. How long?
Friend: Three years!
Gay Boy: No, sweetie. How long?


 

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Fundraising Call

Posted by LizardBreath
on 04.22.06

I just got hit up for money by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, an organization that's raising money for state legislative races nationwide. On the downside, as one would expect from the acronym, they're an offshoot of the DLC, a fact which fills me with a profound lack of enthusiasm. On the upside, the project is one that's terribly valuable and desperately needed. So I don't know what to think, but you might want to click through and make up your own minds about maybe giving some money.


 

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Testing - “Smart Quote” plug-in fix. It’s about time!

Posted by Becks
on 04.21.06

I am testing a new plug-in that’s going to fix bad “smart quote” formatting. Please let me know in comments if the quotes and emdashes don’t show up correctly - that’s a problem!


 

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Can't Anyone Here Play This Game?

Posted by LizardBreath
on 04.21.06

If you're interested in criminal law, you probably know that eyewitness identifications of strangers are a problematic topic: an eyewitness identification is incredibly persuasive evidence to a jury, but there's strong evidence that people aren't nearly as good as they think they are at identifying strangers. The chance of a crime victim standing up in court and saying "That's him!" and being absolutely certain they're correct, despite the fact that they're looking at the wrong man, is not nearly as small as you'd think.

Given this, there's a lot of interest in improving lineup procedures. There are a couple of concerns with the standard simultaneous lineup (the one you see in the movies -- one suspect, lined up with a number of other fillers of similar appearance who are known to be innocent. If the witness ID's the suspect, you have an identification they can testify to in court.). The first problem is the worry that witnesses will tend to ID the best match in the lineup, rather than withholding judgment if they're uncertain. The second is that lineups are generally conducted by police officers familiar with the case who know who the real suspect is, and may consciously or unconsciously (a real problem: there's a reason medical research is double-blinded) prompt the witness to select the suspect rather than a filler.

A proposed solution to this is a blind sequential lineup, in which the suspect and a series of fillers are shown to the witness one at a time by someone who doesn't know who the real suspect is. It solves the first problem, because the witness doesn't know how many possibilities he's going to be shown -- the witness is unlikely to tap one of the possibilities just because they're the closest match rather than out of true recognition, so long as he doesn't know if the next option might not be better. And it solves the prompting problem.

Prior research in artificial settings had shown that the sequential line-up was a serious improvement, substantially reducing false identifications, so I was surprised to read this story, reporting a study showing that, in actual usage in the field, sequential lineups appear to be less, rather than more, reliable. (Via digby.) The story reports that the study showed that witnesses given sequential lineups chose the actual suspect only 45% of the time, rather than the 60% of the time that witnesses given simultaneous lineups. Further, the witnesses given sequential lineups chose a filler 9% of the time, rather than only 3% for witnesses given simultaneous lineups.

Now, the first of those stats really doesn’t sound to me like an indication that the sequential lineup is less reliable -- after all, if it has the advantages it's supposed to have, reducing the possibility that a witness will make an identification when they really aren't sure, that is exactly what you would expect: fewer identifications. But the second stat bothered me -- why would a sequential lineup produce more wrong identifications of fillers? If that's the case, then it sounds as if it's really less reliable.

So I clicked through a link in a sidebar to the story to these comments from Professor Gary Wells at Iowa State University, an expert in eyewitness identifications. And if I'd been reading the Times on paper, I would have flung it across the room.

The researchers who designed the study compared double-blind sequential lineups with simultaneous lineups conducted by people who knew who the actual suspect was. At that point, what's the point of doing the study at all? If there's any substantial prompting effect, of course you're going to see fewer identifications of suspects and more identification of fillers when the prompting is impossible. The study is pretty much worthless. And the Times story isn't much better -- while it mentions the blind/not-blind issue, it does so late in the story. I missed the mention on my initial reading. Really, that should be in the lead paragraph.

So the jury's still out on what sort of lineup is the best for minimizing false identifications. But if researchers keep on doing studies like this, we aren't ever going to know.


 

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More South Dakota wisdom.

Posted by Apostropher
on 04.21.06

The SD abortion ban does not contain rape and incest exemptions because rape and incest are undefinable buzzwords.


 

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Yoshida, you magnificent bastard!

Posted by Apostropher
on 04.21.06

Is anything sadder than our own homegrown sociopaths being out-crazied by a Canadian? A Canadian! And not in a close contest either, but in a humiliating ass-kicking. Folks, give it up for Adam Yoshida, by his own description "the most right-wing person in all of Canada," with his stirring call to arms, Nuke Iran. The bonkers are much too thick on the ground to be excerpted effectively so you should read the whole thing, but I did want to highlight this nugget:

Of course, once the decision to use nuclear weapons in any capacity has been taken, there’s no real reason to limit their use. One nuclear attack and fifty are going to have pretty much the same effect in American and global public opinion (so long, of course, as we don’t blow up Tehran or a major city). If we’re going to use nuclear weapons to destroy Iranian underground nuclear research and development sites, they might as well be used to destroy Iranian missile bases, airfields, and other vulnerable installations set out in the open. It would probably also be safer to use them against chemical and biological research facilities. Depending upon the shape of the events that followed, it might also be worth using them against Iranians ground forces in the field, assuming that they’re clear of densely populated areas.

Suh-weet. Moreover, Wikipedia says large Iranian-American communities exist in LA, San José, DC, Dallas, and Houston, so we'll need to nuke those as well while we still have a president with balls enough to do what's needed. Because, you know, sleeper cells. Once you've digested Yoshida's fapifesto, hit Sadly, No! for their response. Do it quickly, though, 'cause we're totally nuking those guys, too.

I love the smell of Cheetos in the morning.


 

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Only the purest balls for my daughter

Posted by Ben
on 04.20.06

Remember this? It gets weirder (or at least, it gets involving more people in the same space):

"How can you measure the value of your eleven year old looking up into your eyes (as you clumsily learn the fox-trot together) with innocent, uncontainable joy, saying, 'Daddy, I'm so excited!' wrote Wesley Tullis in a letter describing his grateful participation. 'I have been involved with the Father-Daughter Ball for two years with my daughters, Sarah and Anna. It is impossible to convey what I have seen in their sweet spirits, their delicate, forming souls, as their daddy takes them out for their first, big dance. Their whole being absorbs my loving attention, resulting in a radiant sense of self-worth and identity."
A radiance following the full absorption of your loving attention? Maybe not caused by self-worth.

Not reported is that Tullis closed his email with one of his characteristic signoffs: "Rock over London. Rock on, Chicago. Wheaties: breakfast of champions.".


 

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Your mom's so fat, she's mathematically sublime

Posted by Ben
on 04.20.06

Hey everyone! It's that time again—that time at which I exhort you all to listen to me "spin tunes" on the radio, which, this time, will take place tomorrow (Friday) from noon to 3pm, PST. Featuring: Roy Buchanan! George Lewis! Picchio dal Pozzo (with special Demetrio Stratos samples)! All this and more, dear sir, manyuch more.

Consider yourselves so exhorted.


 

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Wait, what's wrong with pig worshipping?

Posted by Apostropher
on 04.20.06

Man, is there anything worse than a bunch of do-gooder neighbors all up in your business?

Michael Theleman, 45, said he doesn't understand the problem and thinks he just has some wicked neighbors. Theleman has caused an uproar in the southwestern Oklahoma town of Bray with his search for a bride. He put a sign in his yard Sunday saying he'll pay $1,000 for a virgin bride between the ages of 12 and 24. One of his neighbors said she feels like she's living near a pedophile. As of Wednesday, there were no offers.

Theleman said he doesn't understand. He said his grandmother married "a much older man" at age 14. After complaints, he put up a new sign Wednesday without the ages. The new sign said he's not interested in a "pig-worshipping, heathen, white-supremacist wife."

Bunch of Oklahoma socialists that don't believe in the power of the free market is what it sounds like to me.


 

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Madeleine Albright can leg-press 400 pounds

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 04.20.06

Seriously:

In an interview in the The New York Times Magazine that will appear this coming Sunday, Madeleine Albright reveals, among other things, that even at 68, she works out three times a week "and I can leg-press up to 400 pounds." This follows a discussion of how she does not expect to re-marry, partly because, as she says, "I'm intimidating, don't you think?"

I do think. Good for her. I wonder what she benches.


 

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Trapped

Posted by Becks
on 04.20.06

Often when I'm riding the subway by myself and don't have anything to read, I'll look around at the other passengers in my car and imagine what interpersonal dynamics would arise if there was an emergency and our train got stuck and we had to work together to escape. Who would emerge as the leader? Who would lose it and have a panic attack? Who looks like they shouldn't be trusted? Who appears particularly strong or clever? Is anyone a liability (pregnant, small child, elderly, etc.)?

Some groups have led to such interesting speculations that it would have been almost worth being trapped with them for 11 hours to see how it played out. Almost.


 

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Something I did not know.

Posted by Apostropher
on 04.20.06

Malkin is a synonym for slattern.


 

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Intro philosophy syllabus

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 04.19.06

In comments on the Kotsko thread, Cala asks about teaching intro. I thought I'd give this its own thread, since it's an interesting question and we have lots of philosophy types in the crew.

My sense is that there are two basic models:

(a) the Historical Texts approach. Pick some classic texts and work through them. Popular items include "Apology," "Phaedo," or bits of Republic, maybe Nicomachean Ethics, Meditations, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Language, Truth, and Logic, whatever.

Upside: some of the high points of human intellectual achievement; no one can complain these works aren't significant.

Downside: can be hard to read old texts; why don't we just talk about the problems?

(b) the Problems approach. Pick some puzzles and assemble some collection of historical and contemporary readings on them. Popular items include the existence of God, identity through time, knowledge, moral right/wrong, and why David Spade and Heather Locklear are together.

Upside: can use clear, contemporary prose; engages in problems directly, without taking a detour through musty books.

Downside: can send the message that philosophy is like brain teasers for adults.

I've never actually done intro, since I'm always teaching the introductory-level moral philosophy course. It would be hard to decide which of these models to follow, if I had to pick. Discuss.


 

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Good Decision In Kansas Abortion Clinic Case

Posted by LizardBreath
on 04.19.06

A few months ago, the Kansas Attorney General, Phil Kline, was in the news for trying to force an abortion clinic to release confidential patient records, partially on the ground that a 1982 Kansas law making doctors mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse mandated that they report any evidence that a minor had had sex (including, obviously, all cases of pregnant minors.) The clinic went to court, and US District Judge Thomas Marten has just
held that
the attorney general’s reading of the law is in error, and that a plain reading of the law leaves it within the mandatory reporter's discretion to decide whether they believe child abuse has taken place.

Something that gets forgotten when people talk about ‘judicial activism’ is that judges are all that stand between us and executive activism, like that of the Kansas Attorney General trying to use a law that had never been held to apply to minors having consensual sex with each other, and that when it was passed in 1989 was clearly not intended to mandate the reporting of consensual sex between minors, to further his political agenda. If Mr. Kline wants laws that he can use to harass abortion clinics, he can lobby the legislature for them like any other citizen. Until then, the judiciary is there to protect us from an otherwise uncontrolled executive.

Update: The opinion with thanks to Idealist in the comments.


 

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A tax-time plea

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 04.19.06

UPDATE: Adam reports, in comments, that we've done it. Tax bill paid. Nice work, generous people.

Our friend and commenter Adam Kotsko has been hit with a hefty tax bill as a result of some freelance work over the course of last year. He thought his tuition deduction and regular withholdings would leave things all square with his rich uncle, but no such luck. Let's cut to the chase: he's in the hole about $400. On the grad-student budget-- in his case, a yearly income of about $8,000-- this is a lot of money.

Both Adam and I know this is not the most pressing problem in the world. You'd be better off giving money to famine relief or whatever. Still, I've been in this situation, and it feels pretty terrible. You think you're doing all right, and then whammo! your budget is reeling.

So, if you can, it'd be nice to help a brother out.




 

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Cruise control.

Posted by Apostropher
on 04.18.06

Just as Tia one day plans to do, Tom Cruise has vowed he will eat Katie Holmes' placenta. Okay, to be precise about it, Tia was talking about eating her own placenta, not Katie Holmes', but you get the picture. From the Mirror article, tastefully titled "Tom Chews":

"I'm gonna eat the placenta. I thought that would be good. Very nutritious. I'm gonna eat the cord and the placenta right there."

Raw! Without utensils! And nobody better make a goddamn sound! Okay, so he didn't say how (or whether) he'd prepare it, but at this point, would anybody be surprised? At the end of the article, the writer tries to do a little Mineshaft-style topical riffing on titles of Cruise movies, but they're really not up to our standards. Days of Chunder isn't bad, though.


 

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Personal Problem, Which Probably Makes Me Look Bad

Posted by LizardBreath
on 04.18.06

So I'm squabbling with a secretary -- always a terrible position to be in -- and given that I'm still fretting about it a couple of days later, I might as well tell you guys. What I'm looking for here is either sympathy, or, if anyone thinks it's appropriate, censure (with an explanation of why you think it's deserved) and some advice on how hard I should push this. The basic problem is trying to be neither a bitch nor a chump: I suspect I'm going to come out of this looking like both. The story's below the fold, because it's long and dull.

Some background facts: each secretary works for three or four lawyers. She generally sits in a cubicle in front of the office of her most important lawyer; as I am not my secretary's (call her "L.") most important lawyer, she's nowhere near me and does not come into this story. (Thank goodness. She's excellent; the best secretary I've ever had.) My office is next to a partner, "M." who I don't work with or know terribly well. His secretary, "S" sits in a cubicle in front of our office doors, and my local printer is behind her desk -- I need to walk around her cube to get to it. There is a high-speed printer around the corner -- not terribly far, but where I can't see or hear it, which makes it annoying to print to. S. has been consistently cranky all year about sharing the printer, and has asked me repeatedly to use the high-speed printer for documents over ten pages or so. (A complicating factor is that the local printer is fairly old and slow, at S.'s particular request. A new high-speed printer was originally installed there, but S. objected to it as too loud, and got an old printer installed in its place.) I do for anything really long (i.e. hundreds of pages), but not for documents of moderate length.

On Thursday last week, I printed a fifty-page case to the local printer. After it had been printing for a minute or so, S. called into my office, and said that she had to print something on letterhead, so she was going to cancel my job. I told her to wait the minute until it was done -- thirty pages had printed, and the remainder would only take a minute or so longer (even at the low speed of the local printer). She ignored me and canceled the job.

I was, I think understandably, livid -- I bounced out of my chair, stalked over to S. and told her that this was absolutely unacceptable and unprofessional and that I was going to call her supervisor. Her response was to smile and tell me that I could finish the last fifteen pages of my document on the other printer. I called the secretarial coordinator ("T.") in HR, and told her the story, asking her to follow up with me when she had taken some action (which I left unspecified because I needed to cool down so that I could come up with an appropriate action not including evisceration.) T was entirely non-committal talking to me, and did not follow up later in the day.

So on Friday morning I emailed T, saying that I'd like her to make it clear to S. that it was no part of her job to interfere with work being done by an attorney, and that any perceived conflicts over resources between me and work she was doing for another attorney should be referred to that attorney for resolution; and asked that T. arrange for the return of the initially installed high-speed printer in the hopes that it would reduce future conflicts. I heard nothing back on Friday or Monday, and this morning called T. again. T. told me that she had referred the matter to M., the partner that S. works for, on Thursday, and that T. was now out of it. M. didn't bring it up with me on Thursday, and is on vacation this week.

I really don't want to just drop this. I have no interest in tiptoeing around a secretary who wants to lock horns over who gets to use the printer, and I hate printing to a printer I can't see or hear. And I'm just pissed off. On the other hand, I don't want to be involved in making a partner's life difficult -- this is a very bad position to be in -- and asking him to discipline his secretary for me is nothing other than making his life difficult. This is why I went to the secretarial coordinator rather than to M. in the first place. Also, given the fact that he did not talk to me after T. spoke to him indicates that he's not going to do a blessed thing for me.
So, do I drop this here, and look like a bitch and a chump? Or push it with M., possibly making myself look worse on both counts, or possibly, in the best case scenario, if he backs me up, just looking like a difficult bitch, but at least like less of a chump?


 

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A Plans for Spam

Posted by Ben
on 04.18.06

1. Remember how, when Paul Graham proposed a bayesian system for dealing with email spam, everyone wet themselves? And remember how it's actually worked quite well (I'm convinced that gmail's spam filter is bayesian, and while it does occasionally let spam through in bursts (which one would expect!), it really does catch an awful lot of it)? Why isn't there some such plugin/server combo for MT or other blog software? Maybe there is: I haven't actually looked.
2. Weman occasionally urges on us a CAPTCHA like A Fistful of Euros'. Various people here object to that on principle, and on grounds of speedy commenting. But what if one combined such a simpleminded CAPTCHA with ... a cookie? So that one only had to fill it out once, and after that one had, so to speak, placed oneself on a whitelist. It could even be a checkbox. Comments submitted without the checkbox checked get dumped into the void, but if you've previously checked it (and you're not using lynx or some other weird non-cookie-supporting browser), it gets checked automagically for you. We could even do this ourselves, probably.


 

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GWB, remixed

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 04.18.06

Via Helpy-Chalk, an amusing mashup of "Imagine" as recorded by our President.


 

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Tuesday Morning Puzzle

Posted by Tia
on 04.18.06

This puzzle was mentioned in the comments to the last one, but I'd like to post it again here, because it caused me THREE DAYS OF MENTAL ANGUISH until I finally solved it, and I want you all to suffer at least a portion of what I have suffered. It probably will be just a portion, because I'm slow, so my anguish always lasts longer, but I'll have to settle for what I can get.

You have twelve coins that are identical in every way, except that one is counterfeit, and is either heavier or lighter than the rest. With a simple balance, can you determine in three weighings which is the counterfeit coin?

And as usual, after solving it I googled around and discovered there are other solutions more elegant than mine, although the people who came up with them were mathematicians, so maybe I should release myself from the imperative to discover the best solution and just be satisfied I came up with one.

Normal caveats apply: please try to preserve the mystery for your fellows in comments, though you can discuss the puzzle.


 

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Sneaky work-arounds

Posted by Ben
on 04.17.06

I've discovered why the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst requires that you have at least some competence in German to apply for one of their grants, even if the grant you're applying for is to improve your German: when they send you the acceptance material, it's all in German. They're just interested in minimizing the amount of work they have to do, the bastards.

My question to you: I've only heard of one of the schools with which the DAAD works, and it's the most expensive. The amount of the grant is independent of which school I attend. Should I go to a cheaper one? How much cheaper? (The schools that I know offer courses in Berlin starting in July: Goethe Institut, Carl Duisberg Centeren, and something that appears to be called "did deutsch-institut".)

If anyone knows anything about securing inexpensive lodgings for a short duration in Berlin, I'd love to hear all about it. My criteria are simple: for around 300€ a month, it should be spacious, well-appointed, by the subway, and in a "hip" but not "fashionable" part of town.


 

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Easter Notes

Posted by LizardBreath
on 04.17.06

Everyone else probably already knew this, but if you draw on boiled eggs with crayons before dyeing them, the wax repels the dye, and you get a very nice high-contrast effect. It works even better if you warm the crayons in the microwave for, say, 20 seconds first.

Also, a Easter dinner guest brought over a bottle of Kosher-for-Passover Polish slivovitz -- 140 proof -- of a brand that's no longer made because it couldn't compete after Communism collapsed. Surprisingly tasty: the fact that no one's selling this stuff in a pretty bottle for exorbitant prices is a clear market failure.


 

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Things That Give Me The Heebie-Jeebies

Posted by LizardBreath
on 04.17.06

Hilzoy's got a post on the retired generals who have spoken out against Secretary Rumsfeld. As usual, it's worth reading: she points out that these are men who are retired, and are therefore outside the military custom of not speaking out against civilian leadership; that at least one, General Batiste, walked away from a significant promotion (from two to three stars) when he retired in protest; and that it is a responsibility of civilian leadership not to put the military leadership in a position where they feel they have to protest publicly.

All that is true. And, given that I agree with the criticisms of Rumsfeld I'm hearing, and think that someone should be speaking out about how badly the decisions he's made have turned out, I should be happy. And, individually, I don't think there's anything wrong with the retired generals coming forward as they have. But.

When I see headlines of the form "Seven Generals Call For Rumsfeld's Resignation" I get the sense that there is an attempt on someone's part -- the generals themselves? The media covering it? to send the message that the Army isn't behind Bush anymore; that he's lost the political allegiance of the military. And that gives me the entire creeps: that the loyalty of the military to one party or one faction is a political factor is a fundamentally unamerican idea. It should not have been a political factor that the military wasn't fond of Clinton (and it wasn't a significant one -- but the fact of it got a fair amount of media play). It should not have been a political factor that the military was happy that Bush was elected (does anyone remember the kerfuffle during the 2000 recount over whether the rules should be bent to allow the counting of absentee ballots that had come in from the military after the deadline? This was almost certainly paranoid of me, but I remember wondering if that fuss wasn't so much intended to acquire a few more votes for Bush, as to send a message (not necessarily a truthful one, of course) that 'If this gets ugly, the military is on our side.') And, even though now I finally agree with them, it shouldn't be a political factor that the military is now unhappy with the Bush administration. As much as I agree with the points being made about Rumsfeld, they should be being made by elected civilians, not by anyone trying to give the impression that they speak for the military.

Update: Kevin Drum's take on this, which addresses my concerns squarely, and with just about the right amount of actual worry (i.e., not very much.)


 

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Internal Server Error Update

Posted by Becks
on 04.17.06

Our new host changed a server configuration that should help with the Internal Server Errors people have been getting. If you continue to see them, please complain here so we know that the issue has not been resolved.


 

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We return to the main theme

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 04.17.06

The Superficial reports that David Spade and Heather Locklear are dating. Our thoughts and prayers are with Richie Sambora and his family.


 

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Comments Reopened

Posted by Becks
on 04.16.06

All, I'm doing some maintenance. Please no comments until I give an all clear. Any comments you make may be deleted.

Comments are open again. Thanks for your patience.


 

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