Tina K. Russell

June 24, 2009

Missing the point

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:20 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – The Koran and the Ballot Box – NYTimes.com
Yet in the current demonstrations we are witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule. Islam’s categorical imperative for both traditional and fundamentalist Muslims —“commanding right and forbidding wrong” — is being transformed.

This imperative appears repeatedly in the Koran. Historically, it has been understood as a check on the corrupting, restive and libidinous side of the human soul. For modern Islamic militants, it is a war cry as well — a justification of the morals police in Saudi Arabia and Iran, of the young men who harass “improperly” attired Muslim women from Cairo to Copenhagen. It is the primary theological reason that Ayatollah Khamenei will try to stop a democratic triumph in his country, since real democracy would allow men, not God and his faithful guardians, the mullahs, to determine right and wrong.

Oh, shut your pie hole already! Khamenei isn’t transparently grasping at power for religious reasons; it’s because he’s a cynical despot who’s abandoned his legitimacy for the faint hope of longevity. Indeed, a fundamental tenant of Shiism is the concept of a divine mandate to rule; opposition to Iran’s rulers shouldn’t be interpreted automatically as opposition to the Islamic system. I would imagine that in the minds of many protestors, Khamenei just lost his divine right to rule. (After all, I doubt those shouting “Allahu Akbar!”—God is great—in defiance of the government are secular liberals.)

I doubt Khamenei is acting out of fear for the future of Islam; I think he’s acting out of fear for the future of Khamenei.

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November 13, 2008

Discipleship and Proposition 8

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:06 pm

This essay really puts a lump in my throat. Christopher Priest on Proposition 8:

The Guy With The Microphone (According To Me)
The notion of gay marriage being a threat to straight marriage is ridiculous. The sanctity of marriage was undermined and trashed by *straight* people. These days, people treat marriage like it is the same as dating, people having “starter” or “trial” marriages—all of which I find offensive, and all of which undermines the sanctity of the institution. People, so committed to one another that simply dating is no longer enough for them, who fight for the right to be married, who risk their livelihoods and, in many cases, their personal safety if not their lives in order to marry—I can’t imagine in what way that kind of dedication undermine the institution of marriage. But, to be blunt—who cares? I mean, seriously, why do I care what other folk do?

Personally, I don’t affirm gay marriage. I don’t believe that’s what marriage is about. But, like navel tangerines [see earlier in the essay —Tina], that’s *my* belief. I don’t feel some compelling need to force people to agree with me or to live their lives the way I do. Moreover, there’s a terrible and slippery slope that begins with the denial of anyone’s civil rights. It’s quicksand: the more we do it, the easier doing it becomes. That people can’t see the connection between Prop 8 and The Patriot Act and FISA and Jim Crowe is utterly stunning to me, demonstrating how poor a job we do at educating our children, ourselves, not only about why America is great but about how easily the freedoms we take for granted can be stripped from us.

He goes on to discuss how denying civil rights to others is rather un-Christ-like. Jesus said that “my kingdom is not of this world,” imploring people to stockpile their treasures in heaven through deed rather than attempt to build a kingdom on Earth. To think we can do so is, as Priest says, blasphemous.

Priest is a minister and a writer. He was the first black writer both at Marvel and DC, and stomached a lot of bigotry for it without ever letting it change him. I cherish his run on Black Panther. Anyway, he’s excellent.

November 4, 2008

A historic night

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:26 pm

Some thoughts:

First of all, it’s “a historic”! Not “an”! It’s “a” if you hear the “h”, “an” if you don’t. A historic. Thank you. (Sorry, it’s a mistake I’ve heard some people make today, and it’s been driving me batty.)

Second, I’m so happy that the man I supported through the primaries is now going to sit in the Oval Office. It’s a new spirit in America, one in which the philosophy of everyone-for-themselves has failed, and we must learn to work together.

Thanks, everyone! Now that this two-year, nonstop political campaign for the Presidency is over, I’ll need a good, long sleep. I’m amazed, though… it’s a cliché at this point, but yes, I’m impressed we have a black President. I always knew we had it in us as Americans—pundits just love to kick around the football of racism, when Americans really aren’t all that racist as individuals—but I didn’t know it would be so soon that we would have the confidence, the willingness, to send a black man into America’s harshest, most stressful battle and give him the backing he needed to emerge victorious.

I wonder what other awesome things we didn’t know we could do?

Yes we can.

October 25, 2008

Would you prefer wild abandon?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:21 pm

Letters – Reaction to the Obama Endorsement – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:

The New York Times endorses Senator Barack Obama for president. Shocking! Of course, the utter predictability and lack of suspense regarding your presidential choice has completely negated the value of your advocacy.

Paul Marasciullo
Laurel Hollow, N.Y., Oct. 24, 2008

?! This is the strangest thing I’ve read all day. Would you prefer the NYT to put some totally random endorsements in there to increase the “suspense”?

I read the New York Times editorials because I’m interested in their opinions, not for thrill-a-minute action, thank you very much.

October 24, 2008

Economics is applied common sense

Letters – Twists and Turns, Finish Line in Sight – NYTimes.com
Re “The Real Plumbers of Ohio,” by Paul Krugman (column, Oct. 20):

I know a real Joe the Plumber, and yes, his name is Joe. He’s married to my cousin and lives in Massachusetts. He even has a real plumbing license.

A few years ago, he was doing well, but with this growing recession, people have stopped calling him. The thing is, when people don’t have money, calling the plumber drops way down on their list of priorities.

Joe has four kids, and his second child is entering a local college. He thought he could afford her tuition, but with these bad times he’s not so sure anymore. Since his business has shrunk, he needs to cut back, too.

So my question to people who still feel that giving tax breaks to the wealthy will ultimately benefit the economy is this: I get the trickle-down effect, I get what you say by giving corporations power and freedom to really do business. But if we give the middle class a little bit more money, too — not the lines of credit and risky mortgages that have been handed out like Halloween candy and that have made us feel rich even though we’re not, but real money in the form of tax cuts and pay raises — doesn’t that allow us to hire people like my cousin Joe and keep his business going?

Doesn’t the trickle-down effect also have to trickle back up for capitalism to really work?

Susan Porretta
Westport, Conn., Oct. 20, 2008

The poor, the humble, the workers of modest means are what you might call a “growth industry.” In them is the biggest disparity between potential and actual output, which is the disparity that causes and maintains recessions. (Economic downturns are natural, but recessions are when they overstay their welcome, and depressions are when they’ve laid down roots.)

Money, like any commodity, has a diminishing marginal value. That is, the more money you give to someone, the less each dollar is worth. It’s obvious that $20 in the hands of a humble plumber means more than $20 in the hands of a CEO. Nevertheless, there’s a constant drumbeat that more money to the rich will help improve the living conditions of the poor. (I’ve always found that funny; if you’re admitting that money to the poor is the goal, why not bypass the middleman? I’m glad, of course, that Americans have recognized the folly of “trickle-down,” and its true meaning: diverting wealth to the rich will turn a torrent of hard-earned revenue into a trickle.)

Rich people, bless their hearts, hoard their money. They buy yachts and mansions. They invest in start-ups with catchy names and no business plan. That may benefit the manufacturers of yachts and mansions, and you never know, maybe the recently-graduated engineering student who helped design the yacht, or the construction worker who helped build the mansion, might make a little bit of solid cash. Poor people, however, spend that cash right quick. They pay rent on their house or apartment, helping the landowners, janitors, construction workers, material suppliers, and everyone else involved. They buy food, helping farmers, grocers, truckers, everyone.

Instead of buying one big mansion, giving good work to people who need it, they buy lots of more modest housing, giving the same work to far more people at a lower price. (Price of labor is price of labor; you don’t get paid more for working on a more expensive house, unless for some reason the construction company needs more specialized workers. Anything above that, management will pocket.) They’ll buy tons of food at the local farmers market rather than a serving of caviar from a far-off land for the same price. I don’t blame rich people for what they do with their money—if I had lots of money, I’d get started on my dream house right away—but it goes without saying that a little money means more to you if you’re poor. It also means more for the economy.

(There are some idealistic rich people—Bill Gates, George Soros, Mark Shuttleworth—who spend their personal fortunes making the world a better place. They’re wonderful, but we cannot become dependent on them, or expect every rich person to be like them. They’re only human.)

Money spent on the poor, of course, is even better when it’s a tax credit to supplement earned income, a (good, fair, transparent) loan to build their business, or help with going to school to learn new skills. These are investments that not only encourage good behavior, but come back many times over in the form of tax revenue that can then be spent on helping even more people. It’s true to a large extent what conservatives say about the numbing effect of welfare; it encourages dependency and lessens the incentive to work. That isn’t to say people on welfare are happy that way, though; it’s to say we need solutions that help poor people be able to do what they want most and do it better: to work, to take care of their families, and to achieve their dreams.

The central pillar of Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” in 2000 was that people who are already trying hard should get help from the government so that they may achieve their goals. It’s a sentiment I strongly believe in, and it’s a shame Bush abandoned it the very second he was appointed President. Barack Obama, meanwhile, is the quintessential compassionate pragmatist, willing to do whatever it takes, whether the idea comes from the left or the right, to help those who are struggling and those of modest means and big ambitions. After all, these are all conservative as well as liberal values: you work hard, you serve the country, and you don’t let hardship get you down. Investing in the poor is something everyone can get behind, and not just in election season.

October 22, 2008

Safety Tips

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:45 pm

Safety Concerns Eclipse Civic Lessons as Schools Cancel Classes on Election Day – NYTimes.com
“School districts across the country now spend millions of dollars each year on controlling access to buildings with locked doors and surveillance cameras to keep strangers out,” said Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, an advocacy group, in Cleveland. “In a post-Columbine, post-9/11 world, we shouldn’t be opening the doors at our schools on Election Day, and just hoping everything will be O.K.”

That’s right… in a post-9/11, post-Columbine, post-Cuban Missile Crisis, post-Boston Massacre, post-Spanish Inquisition, post-Black Plague, post-Boxer Rebellion, post-fall of Rome, post-extinction of the dinosaurs world, you just can’t be too careful. You never know when there could be another Irish potato famine… or a Mongol invasion.

September 27, 2008

The Smith and Merkley Show

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:12 pm

Smith, Merkley tangle over federal bailout – Breaking News From Oregon & Portland – Oregonlive.com
Oregon’s two U.S. Senate candidates clashed today over the proposed federal bailout plan to stem the financial market crisis.

Republican Sen. Gordon Smith blasted his opponent, Democratic House Speaker Jeff Merkley, for “prejudging” the $700 billion rescue proposal before details have been worked out.

Smith was referring to an ad Merkley is running that attacks Smith for supporting a “trillion dollar blank check for Wall Street” and to statements Merkley has made opposing the bailout.

“Part of being a U.S. Senator is reading and understanding bills of this magnitude,” Smith said in a conference call with reporters. “He’s not showing leadership. He is showing partisan opportunism. This is a profile in cowardice.”

On the contrary, Merkley campaign spokesman Matt Canter said, Merkley is the one who has demonstrated his statesmanship on the issue.

“Jeff Merkley has shown real leadership by showing exactly where he stands on the Bush proposal,” Canter said. “Smith hasn’t done that. He has dished out rhetoric.”

Tom Tomorrow once spoke rightly of the need to vote for the lesser of two evils when it is the only practical choice; part of being an adult is choosing among undesirable options often. I will be voting in the Oregon Senate race this year, and I will be voting for Merkley. But, I do believe I speak for the entire state when I say, good Lord I’m sick of this race. We have two candidates acting more like children squabbling over the front seat than aspirants to the second-highest federal office on the ballot. I don’t care who “started it”; grow a backbone and give some dignity to the process. You’re just turning off potential voters.

September 26, 2008

Taking debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:06 pm

I just saw the debate at a local pizza place. I think I’ll watch the others at home; I don’t necessarily need to be surrounded by enthusiastic Obama acolyte, speaking as an enthusiastic Obama acolyte. (I already really like him!) But, I should admit that I did participate in some of the cheering and jeering… I don’t want to reflect too much until I’ve had some time to sleep and think about it, but I will say that I liked a lot of the jabs that Obama got in and I can’t shake the impression that McCain’s ship is steadily sinking.

Don’t trust what I say, of course, since I dearly want Obama to win. I was just concerned, given that McCain has a history as a good debater, while Obama’s debate skills have been honed at the knee of the formidable but much different Hillary Clinton, and hasn’t had much other practice. I thought McCain might surprise us, pull a rabbit out of a hat, some kind of fanged Monty Python rabbit that would go right for Obama’s jugular. I was happy that Obama held his ground and got some excellent punches in. I try not to read the pundits in the impressionable post-debate period (the afterglow!), but I can’t help it if my beloved brother scans the reactions around the Internet on his iPhone and reads samples of them aloud. For instance, he says someone at CNN opined that McCain, behind in the polls, needed a big win, making any kind of tie or muddling performance a loss for him, and that sounds quite right. So, whatever you think of Obama’s performance—though I think, on first reflection, that it was stellar—it’s pretty clear that, with the debates as the last chance to change the public’s perception of you before the election, the whole thing cemented the image of Obama as president and McCain as cranky old man. (How many times did he have to gnaw on Obama’s leg over pragmatic diplomacy after he already explained himself? Aaagh…)

Okay, that’s enough! (Though, props to Jim Lehrer, or Lehruh, as he says it, for changing the way debates are done. By squeezing the candidates’ nipples and forcing them to address each other, he began to turn the screws on the way debates are done. We saw plenty of fluff and scripted lines, but we also saw some pleasant cracks of sunlight into the usual dark, sterile debate environment with the new format. If they keep going with this, we may have some real debates in the future rather than the usual trading of stump speeches.) I posted this because, over pizza, root beer, and politics, I drew these sketches on my tablet compy, using GIMP, during the debate. Forgive me if my leanings crept into my caricatures; I only think that Barack Obama is the last chance for America to regain its strength at home and respect abroad.

A sketch of John McCain that I made during the debateA sketch of Barack Obama that I made during the debate

September 14, 2008

Government jobs, the IRS, Washington, DC, and… XML

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:08 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – To Change Washington, Move Some of the Government Out – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
Three years ago, I suggested the idea of moving the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service to New Orleans, thinking that a federal campus there, providing some 7,000 stable, well-paying jobs, could anchor redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina. Such a move could still be a boon to recovery in New Orleans. And the same could be done for regions like the Midwest, where car makers and other industrial employers are contracting.

The best candidates for relocation would be departments like Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, which are more involved in operating government than in making policy.

Good ideas are supposed to come from Presidential candidates, but sometimes, they just seem to bubble up out of nowhere. I was impressed upon reading this idea. It’s just… good.

The writer also mentions how the prohibitive costs of living in DC deter bright, young professionals from working there. I mean, come on. No offense to the city—all I remember of which from my childhood visit were vendors selling hot dogs for obscene prices outside the Smithsonian, though to be fair, bilking tourists is an international hobby—but would you, given the choice, move to DC? I mean, maybe you would if you wanted a job near the center of power, which is not the IRS. I mean, if I worked for the IRS, I’d want it to be in a city I love. Does anybody love DC?

(People who live in DC are hereby advised to tell me why I shouldn’t be so cynical. A good response will get its own blog post!)

Besides, I can imagine that DC is full of pencil-pushing day jobs. Why not move them away from where there’s an excess, and move them to places where they’re needed? Then again, DC isn’t exactly economically fluorishing. Perhaps these government jobs should move where they’re needed… uh… to DC.

Come to think of it, this has all just fallen apart in my head. If this idea would be a good jobs initiative, why isn’t DC awash in more jobs than it can handle? I looked on Wikipedia and found—in a well-cited article and a section within that uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the DC Department of Employment Services as its sources for these facts—that “As of May 2008, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 3.5%; the lowest rate among the 40 largest metro areas in the nation. It is also lower than the national average unemployment rate during the same period of 5.2%.” (source here, PDF) And yet, the rates within the city vary wildly: “in May 2008, unemployment ranged from 1.7% in affluent Ward 3 in upper Northwest D.C. to 17.2% in poorer Ward 8 in Southeast.” (source here, PDF) So, DC has a lot of jobs, but they aren’t spread out very evenly. Of course, I need to know (sadly) if that’s unusual for a US city, and where the problems are.

So, maybe DC should be sending some of its jobs into different areas. Obviously, though, they wouldn’t want to hire unqualified people simply to improve a neighborhood’s beleaguered economy; on the other hand, what if the people in the poor areas are caught in a cycle of poverty and poor education? What if they’ve worked hard and played by the rules and still come up short? I don’t know any of that. I like to boast about my first-year economics education (mainly, it serves to make me sad that so many world leaders and at least one candidate for President—hint: the old guy, who favors drilling and does not understand that introducing slightly more oil into the international market after a ten-year wait will have no effect now and a negligible one then), but I can’t tell you jack-squat about how to measure the availability of jobs across communities and how discrepancies typically come about (other than the usual scientific advice of “take everything in context”).

This is (wow, I’m on a tangent) all part of why I feel it would be excellent for all government data to be available in easily-interoperable data markup formats, like XML, that would encode the results and methodology of all government surveys in a uniform way. Then, armchair sociologists like me could have a go at the data and detect trends that even the most hard-working member of the Beltway fishbowl might miss. And, economic policies of politicians would have to stand up to serious scrutiny from citizens, able to see every direct and indirect effect in its full context. So, we’d get to see how the effects of bold plans—like, say, moving the IRS to New Orleans—would play out in cold, hard, interoperable data.

(That’s a suggestion to government web designers everywhere: just give us the data! We’ll get to work right away on doing cool things with it. Right-o!)

Palin comparison

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:29 pm

I haven’t written about Sarah Palin, here, mainly because (a) I hate her, (b) I hate her, (c) I hate her, hate her, hate her and I darkly suspect that this is on purpose, a GOP strategy to get me blinded with rage and throw me off my game. (I’ve had the feeling that this is how conservatives feel about Hillary Clinton. Of course, before taking office, Hillary was a lawyer, not a beauty queen and sportscaster. Err, I’m leaving out “board of Wal-Mart” and “twelve-year first lady” from my description of Hillary’s life before becoming a Senator, but I feel I need to qualify any comparison between Hillary and Palin so as to avoid making a massive insult to Hillary’s service.) Any talk of just how gol-durn charming Palin is kind of distracts from the fact that she wants to take reproductive choice away from women even in cases of rape, she wants to drill in ANWR and once believed an oil pipeline was a “task from God,” she was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it (and then, kept the money!), she’s willing to go to war with Russia, she thinks that humans are not responsible for global warming despite massive evidence to the contrary, as mayor she fired (and then rehired, after an outcry) the head librarian for not censoring books she found inappropriate, and she is so new to public life that the rest of her is an unsettling blank slate (an awfully inappropriate shell game for John McCain to be playing). And, John McCain becoming President would mean a pretty good chance of her being sworn in by succession.

I don’t need to tell you what a disaster this would be for the country. What could would a woman President be if she would set back women’s rights a thousand years? Can we afford the damage she would do to the environment and the further global wars she seems willing to get us involved in? We tried a longtime failed CEO, baseball manager, and brief governor of Texas as President and look what that got us. Barack Obama may not have been in government that long, but his career as community organizer, Constitutional law professor, voting-rights lawyer, and state- and federal-level Senator is deep, broad and well-documented. And, unlike Palin, Obama’s history gives us a thorough sense of his governing philosophy. In Palin’s case, the few glimpses we get from her history are uniformly terrifying.

If you want to make the unspeakable comparison between the intelligent, erudite Obama, the tough and calculating mind behind instincts of consensus and productivity, and the folksy Palin who makes every attempt to buttress the impression that she is thoroughly vacuous (and beholden to a vague but horrifying ideology), Palin just fell off the turnip truck yesterday. She is thoroughly unqualified to succeed the President in the midst of a crisis; her only qualification is that she is just like us. And, I’m sorry, I want the President to be extraordinary. I don’t want him or her to be just like me, though I would prefer a Vice President who uses the same public transportation as the rest of us (it’s always good when legislators use the services they create, as it allows them to understand the services’ strengths and weaknesses and motivates them to improve the services) rather than one who bills the taxpayers for travel costs when staying at her own home.

Wow, uhhh, I was trying to avoid talking about Palin. Well, so much for that. What I was going to say is read Christopher Priest’s post here if you want to know how I feel about Palin. I guess, here is more on how I feel about Palin.

I’ve Finally Decided That I Hate Her (According To Me)

That tinny voice. The Prom Queen hair-doo. The Tina Fey thing. But, mostly, the audacity at work here. Governor Sarah Palin is, to me, a walking, breathing insult to: (1) Hillary Clinton’s PUMAS, (2) Hillary Clinton, (3) her historic campaign—which Palin is directly benefitting from in a very cheap way, (4) polar bears, (5) most anyone who graduated middle school.

….

I don’t buy the McCain campaign’s flimsy assertion that they’ve kept Palin off the grid to protect her from reporters “pouncing” on her about her pregnant kid. Memo to McCain campaign: she’s running for Vice President with an old guy who looks exhausted every time I see him. She *needs* to be pounced on. Had McCain selected anyone else, they’d be getting pounced on. Getting pounced on is what happens when you spring people on us at the last minutes. If Sarah Palin can’t take the heat of Chris Matthews and the boys, she’s really in the wrong racket.

And, don’t get me wrong. I think the prospect of a John McCain presidency is terrifying in itself. My two big worries of such a prospect are a) the fact that his personal history and attitude towards Iraq strongly indicate to me that he wants to refight Vietnam and get it right this time, and b) the fact that he wants to continue Bush’s style of Supreme Court appointments, which would swing the court entirely to the side that has consistently been in favor of the rights of the rich and powerful against  the larger American community. (The infamous Ledbetter case involved a woman who sued because she was paid considerably less than equally qualified and productive men at her company, and the Court ruled that she could not because she had found out long after the pay discrepancy began. Sucks to be you, women! Oh, and don’t forget the time that they cut the historic punitive damages from the Exxon-Valdez disaster down to a paltry $500 million because they arbitrarily believed that maritime cases should have punitive damages no greater than the amount of damage caused, which really strains the notion of “punitive” damages altogether. And there was the time they ruled that the Second Amendment means that you can keep a loaded handgun on you in the slums of D.C., despite the fact that handguns would not be the weapon of choice of a well-regulated militia. I could go on forever, but this post wasn’t supposed to be about the Supreme Court…)

I should also note that McCain’s singleminded devotion to conservative economic policies that he doesn’t even understand would mean a Hoover-like slavishness to Bush’s “Big Deal” plan for the economy. It’s clear that, in times like these, we need someone who can use liberal and conservative policies together to get the job done, someone with FDR-like vision to help the country get through the economic doldrums. John McCain doesn’t just not know the Federal Reserve interest rate from his elbow, he has promised to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich and powerful and rallied the conservative base by promising more of the same, something far more costly (especially given their ineffectiveness shown so far) than Obama’s comparatively fiscally modest plans (PDF) for slightly higher taxes on the rich and a healthcare plan that would prevent you from being financially ruined by ordinary human sickness. It’s a constant drumbeat from the Obama campaign, but it’s true: McCain thinks you’re on your own, McCain’s world is one in which the government can give money to the already rich and it will eventually trickle down. If it doesn’t, well, then it sucks to be you for not fitting into their preconcieved mental framework.

I digress. A McCain presidency would be a disaster for everyone. But making a vacuous conservative ideologue with virtually no traceable history (and what she has is terrifying!) a 72-year-old heartbeat with a history of cancer away from the Presidency… that would make the Bush presidency look like a picnic in the park. …If there are any parks left, when Sarah Palin’s finished with them.

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