Creative Destruction

April 25, 2007

Beautiful Superwomen

Filed under: Content-lite,Criminal Justice — Brutus @ 10:20 am

What is it with all these overachieving beauty queens anyway? Do they get the taste of it in their blood or something?

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April 24, 2007

Because CEO Pay Isn’t High Enough Yet …

Filed under: Economics,Ethics,Politics — Brutus @ 11:39 pm

According to this article in The New York Times business section, Demoncrats Democrats have introduced (again) a bill that would give shareholders of publicly held companies a nonbinding vote on pay packages and so-called “golden parachute” compensation plans for senior executives. It is an idea whose time has come. Indeed, shareholders of British companies have held this power since 2002 but only voted against an executive pay package once.

What’s especially interesting to me, and probably predictable, is that Republicans oppose the measure. Although the article suggests that such a vote would permit shareholders to exercise considerable influence, I can’t see how a nonbinding vote would be too difficult to ignore. Indeed, decision-makers who award executive pay have ignored economic reality at lots of companies even while those companies are unprofitable or in bankruptcy. And besides, everyone already knows that pay packages have grown from tens of times the lowest yearly company wage to hundreds of times that wage in the span of about 25 years.

If that weren’t rich enough, how about this argument by Representative Spencer Bachus of Alabama of the House Financial Services Committee:

“How many times has this Congress substituted its judgment for the American people? For people in business? That is again what this legislation is doing. Congress should never rush in and begin to change the free-enterprise system, our system of competition between companies.”

Isn’t Congress empowered to substitute its judgment for that of the American people? Isn’t that in fact its job? Bachus is clearly a market fundamentalist, believing that regulation, restraint, and any impediment to free enterprise is uncalled for. Considering just how toothless this proposed legislation is to begin with, why is it necessary to fight it so hard with such overblown rhetoric?

Update: Fixed misspelling of Democrats. And in case my arguments lacked currency, it was announced yesterday that the Chief Executive Edward Whitacre of AT&T will be retiring in June and will receive a $158.5 million retirement package.

According to a proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Whitacre’s retirement package will include $24,000 in annual automobile benefits, $6,500 each year for “home security,” access to ATT&T’s … corporate jet for 10 hours a month and $25,000 to cover his country-club fees ….

That report also provides this link to a report last year about CEO pay. Finally, a NY Times column by Paul Krugman titled “Gilded Once More” (sorry, Times select, so no link) reports that income inequality is back to levels known in the Gilded Age. He has a particularly outrageous case in point:

<>Last year, according to Institutional Investor’s Alpha magazine, James Simons, a hedge fund manager, took home $1.7 billion, more than 38,000 times the average income.

So I was wrong in saying that some folks make hundred of times the average yearly wage, it’s now thousands of times.

April 21, 2007

Compare and Contrast

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Robert @ 1:51 pm

Meet Venus Ramey, the 82-year old former Miss America (1944) who recently confronted thieves on her Kentucky farm. Caught in the act, the men offered to leave; Miss Ramey declined their offer, shooting out the tires of the car to prevent them from driving away and holding them at gunpoint until police arrived.

She had to balance on her walker to get her gun in firing position, but she managed.

Is any further comment required?

April 19, 2007

The Tragedy Network

Filed under: Current Events,Ethics — Brutus @ 11:10 am

I’m thinking of starting a new television channel, maybe on cable, called The Tragedy Network. Because this world is a virtually unlimited vale of tears, reporters will fan out across the globe and bring humanity’s worst atrocities into everyone’s living rooms. And because the boob tube is so ubiquitous, we’ll have access in cars, bars, airports, offices, pretty much everywhere. I’m confident there are enough grieving survivors that The Tragedy Network can always locate someone and shove a camera in his or her face to ask “How do you feel right now?” The byline can be “All Tragedy, All the Time.” Luckily, because the pitch of the channel will be hysterical at all times, there is no possibility of being preempted by a bigger tragedy. Breaking news stories can just be laid on top of old ones. The focus on human tragedy will relieve reporters of any need to make ethical reports or avoid rushes to judgment. By recycling and repackaging the same conjecture and lack of hard information every half hour, the audience will be riveted, practically slavering for any shred of real information that comes out in the aftermath of events. And by not holding back prurient details found amongst the media packages prepared by perpetrators of atrocity, The Tragedy Network can pretty much assure a succession of criminally insane narcissists pinning their hopes (justifiably) on immortality in the public mind once they commit their crimes and are shuffled off this mortal coil.

Think anyone will watch?

Karnak Redux

Filed under: Blogosphere — Off Colfax @ 12:20 am

The answer is “Never.”

The question is, “When will Duke apologize?

Bonus question: When will everyone else that leaped to judgment apologize?

Same answer, I’m afraid.

(I know. I know. Johnny Carson, I ain’t. Neither am I George Carlin, who can tell a joke about rape without the eternal nattering nabobs calling for my head, either one, on a silver platter.)

April 17, 2007

Depths of Journalistic Integrity

Filed under: Ethics,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 12:57 am

The Washington Post recently published a fairly lengthy article called “Pearls Before Breakfast” that answers a question no one in particular was asking: would subway commuters take better notice of music performed in a subway hallway if the busker were a world-class concert artist? I’m late getting to this topic so there have already been plenty of bloggers offering their two cents. Of those I’ve read, none really speaks to my take on the subject, which is this: what on earth is The Washington Post doing staging its own news so that it can then report on it?

Media critics and laypersons alike have been complaining more bitterly of late that much of what the news media provides is utter garbage. Either reports are full of conjecture rather than fact because the rush to publish requires stories be told before enough time has elapsed to do the necessary legwork or reports are outright lies served up by those in government or business who have an interest in spinning stories to their own purposes and managing the perception of the public. The Post article is an example of manufactured news, and despite the interest it has generated, the article deserves heaps of scorn for being stunt, a staged event, created by an ethically bankrupt institution to provide falsely provocative content.

If the idea of putting a concert artist into the subway to play for tips had been hatched by, say, researchers at the sociology department at the University of Maryland, perhaps it would have been better conceived and more methodologically rigorous. The research paper that came out of it might have offered some worthwhile answers, but again, who is asking the questions? In truth, just as we have political theater, we now also have news theater, which is why in the modern day the media is so self-absorbed in reporting on itself and selling its product through the power of celebrity reporters. Where is the journalistic integrity that would forestall the circus-like salesmanship described above, and where are the voices of reason taking the Post to task over its blunder?

April 16, 2007

Thank God For The Virginia Tech Gun Ban…

Filed under: Current Events,Human Rights — Robert @ 4:14 pm

Without brilliant regulations like this at the university, there might have been some kind of a massacre.

I’m just sick at what’s happened at Virginia Tech.  My wife posits a breakdown in values at the family level as the causal factor, and I’m inclined to agree, at least in terms of the creation of people like the psycho who did this. However, I also think there’s a cultural value in play, a sick and degraded cultural value that denigrates self-defense and urges that all martial power and valor be confined to a particular class. Don’t carry a gun; the cops will do that for you. Don’t fight back when the bank robber pulls a piece; cooperate and hope that you aren’t hurt. Don’t stand up; lie down, and put your faith in the rational behavior and good intentions of the most deranged and dangerous members of society.

Well, bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. The cops can’t protect everybody. Killers and thugs aren’t interested in the value of human life. If we want a civil society where people are safe and don’t have to worry about lunatics slaughtering dozens of innocents, then we have to recognize that it is a dangerous world. There are people who don’t care what the gun rules are. We’re fond in our society of saying we have to fight for this, fight for that – but we have forgotten, in this overly-metaphored world of symbolic manipulation, that fighting sometimes means fighting.

Screw pacifism. Screw professional peacekeepers. Screw the whole bloody-handed ideology of non-violence and peace through superior capitulation. It is time for this society to re-arm itself, to stand in defense of the things and the people that we hold dear. It is time for us to start answering these thugs and lunatics in the language they wish to claim for themselves. It is time for the nutjobs and bullies who threaten us, threaten our lives, threaten our families, to be answered in a hail of lead.

No more Columbines. No more Virginia Techs. No more 9/11s. We are not a herd, and we will not be rendered helpless sheep by the gun-banners and the counseling class and the oh-so-reasonable regulators. Arm yourselves, my fellow citizens. Arm yourselves, learn to use what you carry, and when the community is thrown into fear by these criminals, kill them.

I Like Ice Cream

Filed under: Blog Status — Robert @ 5:32 am

Further bulletins as events warrant.

April 12, 2007

Stop! Thief!

Filed under: Popular Culture — Off Colfax @ 11:21 pm

It doesn’t matter what intellectual field you are in. Professor. (Ward Churchill) Columnist. (Ann Coultier) And now artist Todd Goldman.

Plagiarism is wrong. Period. Ad infinitum. Ad astra. Ad nauseum.

And this goes beyond just one isolated incident. Also, this is a man who depends on his notoriety to drive sales. Remember the “Boys Are Stupid” shirt controversy? Same guy.

Refuse to purchase anything produced by David And Goliath.

Talentless hacks depend on the gullibility of the public in order to make a living. So let’s cut his off at the root.

[Turn Signal: Two Lumps. Crossposted: Left Off Colfax]

Behavior Modification in Action

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Science — Brutus @ 4:05 pm

This report from the Seattle Times introduces a new solution to the old problem of bank robbery: be nice. Apparently, bank personnel who identify a suspicious character (often based on dress alone, especially dress that obscures identity) can head off a potential heist by being aggressively nice and corralling the questionable person in a “customer service on steroids” scenario. The report focuses on treating would-be robbers nicely, but the key factor in my view is simply having multiple people interact with the culprit before the fact (in the event of an actual robbery) who would presumably then be able to make a positive identification after the fact. Still, it appears to be effective at reducing the incidence of bank robbery in Seattle, which is for unexplained reasons unusually high.

I rather like the idle of using positive reinforcement and subtle behavior modification to thwart crime. It also makes me wonder whether a foreign policy of “aggressive diplomacy” might better serve our objectives than the gunboat diplomacy currently in use. The obvious difference in scale between individual crime and crises among nation-states might tend to make such a comparison nonsensical, but I still wonder if involving other nations in overwhelmingly nice endeavors (or a simple observation “we can see what you’re doing and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves”) would effect any change in the way despots and terrorists operate.

April 9, 2007

Chemical Weapons are not WMD

Filed under: Iraq,War — Daran @ 7:12 am

The Register:

Improvised protective gear might well get you through a VX attack unharmed, Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage antics in The Rock notwithstanding. Staying indoors would work even better. Once the attack was over, in many cases you’d be able to escape the area with no more than a pair of wellingtons. I’m not saying that a chemical attack would be a completely trivial matter, but it would almost always be preferable to being hit by the same weight of high explosives.

So, if your aim is to kill and injure as many people as possible, you’d be a fool to use chemicals. And yet chemicals are rated as WMDs, while ordinary explosives aren’t. So too are biologicals, even more amazingly. Biological “weapons”, in the modern sense, have yet to be even demonstrated.

I’ve long been of the view that chemical agents are more weapons of mass propaganda than real threat. The Tokyo Subway Attack, for example, involved five separate releases of gas, under ideal conditions for a gas attack, and killed just twelve people. Tragic for those affected, but far less deadly than a bomb or even an accidental fire.

April 8, 2007

Remember to Leave the Lid Down

Filed under: Content-lite,Humor — Brutus @ 10:07 pm

What guy hasn’t gottten up in the middle of the night, stumbled into the bathroom to do his business, and experienced the blinding effect of the bathroom lights on his fully dilated pupils? Well, somebody thunk up the solution: the Jonny Glow toilet locator. Get it?

toilet strips

So now you can stumble in the smallest room and take care of business hardly opening your eyes. Just aim and shoot. Ahhh, sweet relief. Now if a solution can just be found to the problem of leaving the lid up. Oh, I have it: don’t live with women.

April 6, 2007

Frauds Perpetrated on Children

Filed under: Content-lite,Ethics — Brutus @ 2:44 pm

Easter is almost here, and what’s foremost in most of our minds? Chocolate, the Easter Bunny, jelly beans, colored eggs, plastic green grass, brunch, bonnets, and if we have time to get around to it, there’s also this little thing called the Resurrection. For the purposes of this post, I don’t really care about the abandonment of religious meaning underlying many holidays or the coopting of religious holidays by commercial interests. I’m really interested in the dominant icons associated with holidays and fairy tales, especially those that we encourage children to believe up until they’re no longer gullible enough to sustain those beliefs.

Christmas has Santa, Easter has the Easter Bunny, St. Patrick’s Day has leprechauns, and Valentine’s Day has Cupid. Charles Schultz made a run at establishing the Great Pumpkin for Halloween, but it’s unclear just how subversive he was being. Children also believe in the tooth fairy, unicorns, the sandman, and all sorts of talking animals (thanks, Disney!). What connection these characters have with their respective holiday or activities is frequently confused, especially in the mind of a child.

As adults, we’ve mostly left all these beliefs behind (except, um, that one). Yet we perpetrate substantial frauds on children by encouraging them to believe in these magical characters. What we find charming and innocent in a child’s willingness to believe may not be so innocent on inspection, and many parents feel some sadness when their children no longer believe in, for instance, Santa. I remember my own mixed emotions when I “found out” about Santa: there was a sort of elation that I was growing up and thinking more like an adult and resentment that my parent had lied to me for no apparent reason. The clumsy steps we took to hide the truth from our younger siblings was laughable in hindsight, except that it’s also a little tragic. My transition wasn’t traumatic, but I’ve been hearing more and more stories from resentful adults who were confused as children as to why, for example, on Easter, when we ostensibly celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we also have some mute, human-sized bunny running around hiding eggs. (And where do the eggs come from? Other bunnies? It really is that confusing to a kid.) The really terrifying story is the fundie kid who comes home after school to an empty house and believes he/she was left behind when the rest of the family was “raptured up” to heaven.

Kids’ imaginations are terrifically fertile ground. In fact, their brainwave patterns up to the age or 8 or 10 (or thereabouts) indicate that they exist in a waking dream state such as adults experience in sleep. That makes them incredibly vulnerable to manipulation. Yet we have these traditions, shifting slightly but mostly deepening over time, where we smile approvingly on children’s adoption of our deceptions. And for whose enjoyment?

April 4, 2007

Malicious Ecophagy

Filed under: Environment,Ethics,Science — Brutus @ 11:01 pm

I recently stumbled upon a really nasty threat in emergent science called “malicious ecophagy” that probably should have gone onto my earlier post called Steamrollers except for the fact that this threat doesn’t have the slow-moving inevitability of those I identified before. Rather, ecophagy (the consumption of the ecosphere) would most likely happen suddenly. The threat stems from the race in nanotechnology to create an assembler, a nanobot able to take apart material at the molecular level and reassemble it. Think of replicator technology contemplated in Star Trek fiction for a possible application.

The promise of such technology, which is partly the impetus for developing it, is the hope that, using nanotechnology, we would be able, for instance, to create corn from lawn clippings or clean up a toxic dump by merely rearranging the molecules. It could potentially be the end of want. An array of nanomedicine applications are also contemplated. The potential danger, however, is that if we manage to create an assembler, and if we can’t turn off the molecular transformation, the assembler could then go on to recreate itself ad infinitum until a swarm of biovorous nanobots have literally consumed the totality of biomass and reduced it to dust or some sort of gray goo. It has suitably been termed the “gray goo problem.” Science fiction has already suggested the problem, though of extraterrestrial origin, of an all-consuming biomass in the movie The Blob.

This passage from K. Eric Drexler’s Engines of Creation describes the issue further:

Though masses of uncontrolled replicators need not be gray or gooey, the term “gray goo” emphasizes that replicators able to obliterate life might be less inspiring than a single species of crabgrass. They might be superior in an evolutionary sense, but this need not make them valuable.

The gray goo threat makes one thing perfectly clear: we cannot afford certain kinds of accidents with [self-]replicating assemblers. Gray goo would surely be a depressing ending to our human adventure on Earth, far worse than mere fire or ice, and one that could stem from a simple laboratory accident.

This spells out the stakes fairly succinctly. Yet in their hubris, scientists appear to be confident that they can avoid the problem, and research continues apace because there is no regulatory agency to oversee and halt the development of potentially dangerous technologies. Indeed, weaponization of nanotechnology is virtually assured. It reminded me that in the dawning atomic age, the creators of the first atomic bomb considered the possibility that detonating a device might accidentally ignite the atmosphere. The danger was calculated to be sufficiently low, though, that the gamble appeared to be worth it. (We’re certainly comfortable with that particular doomsday scenario in hindsight.)

Everyone to whom I’ve described the gray goo problem has responded fairly simply that, well, we just shouldn’t go there then. We don’t want an “oops” we can’t recover from. That’s also the argument made by Bill Joy in his lengthy article in Wired titled Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us. His preferred term is “relinquishment,” and he includes genetic engineering and robotics in a triumvirate of “GNR” (Genes-Nanotech-Robots) technologies that we should give up on before we outwit ourselves and alter something irrevocably. Joy’s credentials and scientific acumen are far better than anything I can bring to bear on the issue, and I rather trust his conclusions (and recommend reading the article). However, despite a few good examples of historical relinquishment, I have my doubts that we can muster the necessary humility and restraint to avoid delving ever deeper into the Pandora’s Box of science and technology. Like the so-called shot heard around the world, that “oops” muttered in a lab somewhere could be a signal event.

Well, So Much for Rudy…

Filed under: Election 2008 — Robert @ 6:26 pm

He demands (promises?) public funding for abortions – on the novel grounds that the government must pay for Constitutional rights!

When asked directly Wednesday if he still supported the use of public funding for abortions, Giuliani said “Yes.”

“If it would deprive someone of a constitutional right,” he explained, “If that’s the status of the law, yes.”

I’ll expect my free gun, newspaper, and church in the mail, I guess.

His aides later “clarified” his remarks to indicate he supports the status quo (which is funding in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life), but this was rhetorical suicide.

April 2, 2007

Logical Fallacies

Filed under: Content-lite,Debate — Brutus @ 9:33 pm

Considering our general lack of thoughtful posts for, oh, I dunno, almost a month, I’m putting up this shameless post completely and totally recycled from the web somewhere. I stole this from my e-mail archive, so I don’t know where it comes from, but it sounds suspiciously like something Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) writes. The mention of Elbonians is the dead giveaway, I think.

1. AMAZINGLY BAD ANALOGY
Example: You can train a dog to fetch a stick. Therefore, you can train a potato to dance.

2. FAULTY CAUSE AND EFFECT
Example: On the basis of my observations, wearing huge pants makes you fat.

3. I AM THE WORLD
Example: I don’t listen to country music. Therefore, country music is not popular.

4. IGNORING EVERYTHING SCIENCE KNOWS ABOUT THE BRAIN
Example: People choose to be obese/gay/alcoholic because they prefer the lifestyle.

5. THE FEW ARE THE SAME AS THE WHOLE
Example: Some Elbonians are animal rights activists. Some Elbonians wear fur coats. Therefore, Elbonians are hypocrites.

6. GENERALIZING FROM SELF
Example: I am a liar. Therefore, I don’t believe what you’re saying.

7. ARGUMENT BY BIZARRE DEFINITION
Example: He’s not a criminal. He just does things that are against the law.

8. TOTAL LOGICAL DISCONNECT
Example: I enjoy pasta because my house is made of bricks.

9. JUDGING THINGS WITHOUT COMPARISON TO ALTERNATIVES
Example: I don’t invest in U.S. Treasury bills. There’s too much risk.

10. ANYTHING YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND IS EASY TO DO
Example: If you have the right tools, how hard could it be to generate nuclear fission at home?

11. IGNORANCE OF STATISTICS
Example: I’m putting ALL of my money on the lottery this week because the jackpot is so big.

12. IGNORING THE DOWNSIDE RISK
Example: I know that bungee jumping could kill me, but it’s three seconds of great fun!

13. SUBSTITUTING FAMOUS QUOTES FOR COMMON SENSE
Example: Remember, “All things come to those who wait.” So don’t bother looking for a job.

14. IRRELEVANT COMPARISONS
Example: A hundred dollars is a good price for a toaster, compared to buying a Ferrari.

15. CIRCULAR REASONING
Example: I’m correct because I’m smarter than you. And I must be smarter than you because I’m correct.

16. INCOMPLETENESS AS PROOF OF DEFECT
Example: Your theory of gravity doesn’t address the question of why there are no unicorns, so it must be wrong.

17. IGNORING THE ADVICE OF EXPERTS WITHOUT A GOOD REASON
Example: Sure, the experts think you shouldn’t ride a bicycle into the eye of a hurricane, but I’ve got my own theory.

18. FOLLOWING THE ADVICE OF KNOWN IDIOTS
Example: Uncle Billy says pork makes you smarter. That’s good enough for me!

19. REACHING BIZARRE CONCLUSIONS WITHOUT ANY INFORMATION
Example: The car won’t start. I’m certain the spark plugs have been stolen by rogue clowns.

20. FAULTY PATTERN RECOGNITION
Example: His last six wives were murdered mysteriously. I hope to be wife number seven.

21. FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE WHAT’S IMPORTANT
Example: My house is on fire! Quick, call the post office and tell them to hold my mail!

22. UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT OF SUNK COSTS
Example: We’ve spent millions developing a water-powered pogo stick. We can’t stop investing now or it will all be wasted.

23. OVERAPPLICATION OF OCCAM’S RAZOR (WHICH SAYS THE SIMPLEST
EXPLANATION IS USUALLY RIGHT)
Example: The simplest explanation for the moon landings is that they were hoaxes.

24. IGNORING ALL ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE
Example: I always get hives immediately after eating strawberries. But without a scientifically controlled experiment, it’s not reliable data. So I continue to eat strawberries every day, since I can’t tell if they cause hives.

25. INABILITY TO UNDERSTAND THAT SOME THINGS HAVE MULTIPLE CAUSES
Example: The Beatles were popular for one reason only: they were good singers.

26. JUDGING THE WHOLE BY ONE OF ITS CHARACTERISTICS
Example: The sun causes sunburns. Therefore, the planet would be better off without the sun.

27. BLINDING FLASHES OF THE OBVIOUS
Example: If everyone had more money, we could eliminate poverty.

28. BLAMING THE TOOL
Example: I bought an encyclopedia but I’m still stupid. This encyclopedia must be defective.

29. HALLUCINATIONS OF REALITY
Example: I got my facts from a talking tree.

30. TAKING THINGS TO THEIR ILLOGICAL CONCLUSION
Example: If you let your barber cut your hair, the next thing you know he’ll be lopping off your limbs!

31. FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND WHY RULES DON’T HAVE EXCEPTIONS
Example: It should be legal to shoplift, as long as you don’t take enough to hurt the company’s earnings.

32. PROOF BY LACK OF EVIDENCE
Example: I’ve never seen you drunk, so you must be one of those Amish people.

April 1, 2007

The End of the Destruction

Filed under: Blog Status,Blogosphere — Robert @ 11:06 am

Even the most prolific of bloggers grow weary and seek rest, and it is my sad duty to inform you that Amp, Colfax, Daran and myself have reached that point. After a series of e-mail conversations, we have decided to retire this blog and pursue individual projects. Herewith a rundown of the changes, and the roles we will be playing from now on.

Although Off Colfax plans to still file the occasional dispatch, he will have little time to write for blogs, having signed on with the 4th Infantry Division as an embedded reporter for the Denver Post. OC will be heading to Iraq in the next couple of months (travel permits and his security screening permitting), and we will be doing a fundraiser for his body armor, new laptop, etc., in coming days. Keep your eyes peeled.

Ampersand has indicated that he plans to give up writing and activism in favor of developing his growing network of hardcore pornography sites. While I disagree strongly with his participation in this industry, of course, I am always glad to see a left-liberal becoming more involved with the business community and learning how things actually operate. I forecast happy days of Republican-voting, tax-decrying, and lazy-worker-bashing from Amp.

Daran, of course, is getting married and says that his new commitment to sharing everything in his life with a woman will not leave him the energy to continue writing. Best of luck to the Darans!

As for your humble correspondent, as many of you know, while writing and computers have been hobbies and avocations of mine for many years, it’s always been musical theater that holds my heart. I will be moving with my family to New York City to break into show business – and of course, I’ll be blogging about it! Details on the new blog site to come.

It’s been a wonderful experience writing for all of you good people, and I know that all of us will miss the interactions and discussions we’ve had here. Thank you for your past support, and God bless you, every one!

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