Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Update on Gas Shortage

OK, it appears I was wrong, sort of, about a gas shortage. Some stations have actually closed down cuz they was outta gas. The Minister for Lack of Energy in Ontariario, Duncan Donut, says about 10% are experiencing a squeeze at any given time. His reaction to people driving about looking for a station with gas? So What!

"You have to put things in perspective," he says.

OK. Here's the perspective. Two events, a fire at a refinery and a simultaneous rail strike, have put the entire province into a furor, cost industry a lot of money, made people a little panicky, and incidentally cost the operators of those empty gas stations a good portion of their yearly income...

So what. Eh?

Do you think the Minister for Lack of Energy might deign to come up with a contingency plan for the future? After all, this was not a major catastrophe. Only a couple of events coinciding.

Premier Faulton McGuilty called it "the perfect storm," implying it was a sequence of events that was so unlikely it could never be repeated. Come on! If the province is vulnerable as a result of these two events, how would we survive a more concerted effort to disrupt supply?

Gee! Maybe it's time to introduce new and stiffer anti-terrorist laws, hold gas guzzlers in detention without counsel until they surrender their pipelines, and send them to a Middle East country where they might be tortured if they don't reveal the source of their gas...

Or we could examine the gas distribution system in the province and figure out how to make it more reliable. Which would be a job for Minister Duncan (So What) Donut. God help us.

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Update #2 on Anti-Terrorist Laws

Well, well, the Supreme Court of Canada made waves in the New York Times. An editorial on the 27th praised the Court for its decision to limit the sweeping powers of security certificates.

Ok, so not everybody thinks the NY Times is such a big deal, but you all remember what Frank Sinatra said..."If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere..."

First of all, the editorial reminded me that the Court was unanimous in its decision. (But it also wasn't completely dismissive of the concept of security certificates.)

Secondly, the editorial compared the legal situation in the US unfavourably to that in Canada:
The contrast with the United States could not be more disturbing. The Canadian court ruling came just days after a federal appeals court in Washington ruled that Congress could deny inmates of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp the ancient right to challenge their confinement in court. The 2006 military tribunals law revoked that right for a select group who had been designated “illegal enemy combatants” without a semblance of judicial process.

In late January, Canada created another unflattering contrast with United States policy when it offered a formal apology and financial compensation to Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was a victim of Mr. Bush’s decision to approve open-ended detentions, summary deportations and even torture after 9/11.
And thirdly, it gave high praise to the Court at the end:
Lawmakers have only to look to the Canadian court for easy-to-follow directions back to the high ground on basic human rights and civil liberties.
Canada is not the US. It is not Australia. It is not France or Germany or Great Britain. Thank God, too, it is not Iraq or Saudi Arabia, oily as they may be.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is the day the other two laws lapse, having been defeated in the House of Common Bawdy Houses a couple days ago. There was an enormous degree of politicking going on around this, which I find rather distasteful. It just seems to me certain laws or principles are beyond muckraking politics and civil liberties is one of them (or group of them...civil liberties are...a group of them...how the hell do you say this grammatically?)

Related to this, I'm embarrassed to see the tone of the commentary I've been reading on the Net, on blogs and in comments and on public sites. I'm beginning to think the more I read these sites, the less I like the people who read them (or comment on them).

Oops! What did I just say? I don't like people who read and comment on blogs? (But am I not one of them? If you prick me, do I not blog?)

Let's say, certain sites. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I signed up with Digg. I've been on there a few times since, and some of the people commenting on submitted articles are real jerks. Downright rude. Clever sometimes, but rude in the process, even abusive. Same goes for some of the conservative political blogs I've been on. And the jerks come from all sides of the spectrum.

As with many things in life, the readers of these sites most often go there to reinforce the views they already hold. If someone with a different point of view or even a more nuanced one wades into the fray, he/she is liable to be pilloried and called all sorts of unspeakable names.

A little civility please!

In our blogosphere. And in our civil society. It seems to me that Canada is coming back to its senses (a little) since the orgy of fear created by 9/11. In other words a more civil civil society.

(Then again, we did throw a little girl off the soccer field for wearing a hijab....)

PS. I have a copy of the Supreme Court's decision, but it's something like 80 pages and my reading list is already too long. I'll let you know if I dig anything out of it...

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Song of the Day

This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide by The Kings. A Canajun band from the late 70s/early 80s. One-hit wonders, but what a hit!

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Yoni School (US) Election Watch Pt. 7

According to Salon.com and an ABC interview, even Jimmy Carter is urging Al Gore to run. Now, I don't know if a Jimmy Carter endorsement is something you want or not. Waddoo Ino? I'm only a Canajun from Lunchbucket. But at least it's a former president. (Seeing as how he ain't likely to get the endorsement of his former boss...)

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Security Certificates No Longer Secure

It's a damn good thing I'm not a journalist cuz I probably would have been fired before now. Here I've been on about security certificates in the last couple of weeks, and I didn't even know that there was a case before the Supreme Court. (Or maybe I knew, once, but forgot.) Anyway, I didn't hear about this until the day before the decision came down.

(Interesting, that phrase "came down" as in "coming from on high" as in "someone above us" as in "Supreme" as in "highest court in the land" and the decision tumbles down to us lower humans willy nilly...which is another interesting expression originally rendered, I think, as "will he, nill he"....but enough digression...)

This was no minor decision. It made the top of NY Times headlines. In large measure, the court agrees with what I think...(and a good thing too! otherwise, the court woulda been wrong...) Quoting from the Times (cuz I forgot to bookmark a Canajun page):
“The overarching principle of fundamental justice that applies here is this: before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair judicial process,” Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin wrote in the ruling.
Well, duh! You wouldn't think it would take the Supreme Court to figure that out.

I must remind people, however, as I had to be reminded, that these cases centre around non-citizens who were actually ordered deported. So, for Canajuns, the question is: how did these people get into the country in the first place, and why were they not simply deported when the appeals process was done? It seems to me that any country has the right to decide who gets to stay and who doesn't, and they don't even really have to give a reason. "Entry Refused" stamped on the passport. Done.

There should not be any circumstance, really, like the one these men have been in...confinement, secret hearings, secret evidence, no right to defend oneself. I'm still baffled as to why they were/are being held. The whole matter should have been expedited.

But then, I'm not CSIS. I'm not the RCMP. I'm not the Minister. I'm not the Supreme Court.

At least now the guvment has some direction and a clear statement that the way it's been going about things is not kosher. (Again, I say, we should not need the Supreme Court to tell us this.)

According to the Times, this is quite a departure from the Murrican headspace:
The decision reflected striking differences from the current legal climate in the United States. In the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Congress stripped the federal courts of authority to hear challenges, through petitions for writs of habeas corpus, to the open-ended confinement of foreign terrorism suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

A federal appeals court in Washington upheld the constitutionality of that law this week, dismissing 13 cases brought on behalf of 63 Guantánamo detainees.
And a good thing we're not following that lead, sez this Canajun. I would think the poor Murrican eagle, symbol of liberty, is suffering a severe case of whiplash from the way its civil rights neck has been twisted in the last five years. Leave it to Canajun beavers to gnaw away at the worry lines on the eagle's brow.

Not everyone agrees with me, tho. I read comments on the Hawgtown Grope & Flail report about the court's decision. A lot of people cursing Pierre Elliott Trudeau for saddling us with the Charter of Rights. (No mention that the first Charter was actually introduced by Diefenbaker...) A lot of people hysterically predicting terrorist doom. As far as I'm concerned, a lot of people being downright ignorant and abusive on both sides. Which is why I don't spend a lot of time reading the comments on public sites like that. (Unlike here, of course, where the discourse is highly civilised and unfailingly thoughtful.)

So, there we go again, wandering off from the Murrican way. In some ways, tho, we're not straying too far. Parliament has a year to get its act together, ie. its new Security Certificate Act. Security Certificates will not disappear. But at least these issues will be dealt with in a more open, fairer, and much more timely fashion.

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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Housekeeping 3

The latest installment of Larry Keiler: The Unauthorized Autobiography is up.

A reminder about GoodSearch. I've used it frequently since I first posted about it. Usually it's pretty good, leads you to the links you're looking for. But now and then it misses the mark. So I Google.

A reminder, also, about my Zeno's Paradox post. Sorry, you can't see the actual page unless you have the password.

Also, Mental Blog Wiki is in place. This is another opportunity for collaborative fooling around. If you're interested contact me by comment here, or my email is obtainable in my profile.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Event at Lunchbucket U.


Click on the "Connecting Communities" image to get full size.

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Update on Anti-Terrorist Laws

The acrimoniousness of the debate about these laws (including an attempted low blow on a Gliberal MP by Prime Minister Stephen Harpie in the House of Common Bawdy Houses) is a clear demonstration of the essential dichotomy our (western) society has experienced since 9/11. The pendulum has two ends: preservation of civil liberties; and maintenance of security.

Proponents of extending the laws say these extraordinary powers are necessary -- just in case we need them.

Opponents point to the fact that we have never yet used them, that good ordinary police work is sufficient, and therefore they are not necessary.

I say nothing at all justifies the abrogation of fundamental civil liberties such as the right to a fair trial, the right to representation, the right to face one's accuser, the right to know the evidence against one, the freedom from torture.

To contemplate the possibility that such fundamental rights can be by-passed even temporarily (and what is temporary? Five years, as is the case with some of those held under security certificates?) is to admit that Canada is no longer a democratic state.

Of what use is security if our civil liberties are not secure?

Has the pendulum swung too far? I think it has. What do you think?

As for the political elements of this. The Gliberals are taking a bit of a beating about this, because they're opposing the extension of the laws...laws which they themselves introduced. If I remember correctly, they opposed the sunset clause at the time. Now they're trying to take advantage of it. I'm inclined to let the Gliberals get away with this (cuz I oppose the laws). The so-called sunset clause was included for a reason. These are extreme measures and should not be allowed to stand unexamined. Now it's time to examine them, and thoughtful, conscientious MPs are allowed to change their minds about whether they are necessary.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Gas Causes Heartburn in Ontariario

Last week there was a fire at an Imperial oil refinery in Nanticoke. This, along with a strike by CN Rail conductors and engineers, has disrupted the distribution of gas in Ontariario. Today, the price of gas shot up to over 96 cents/litre in some places...Lunchbucket being one of them. Even tho the international price has generally fallen recently. In fact, it's about the same as it was a year ago, but the local price of gas is more like 16 cents/litre more.

Because one refinery in the province had a fire.

Now, admittedly, this refinery is responsible for a significant percentage of the provincial capacity. (Do I smell "putting all your eggs in one basket"?) But still, it's one refinery. One company.

Oddly enough, every company raised its prices. Supply and demand? The news today was all about a shortage...except for the reports that said maybe 75 stations out of Imperial's 450 were running short. Nobody else is running short. Why? Cuz there is no shortage.

How long will we tolerate oil company collusion?

There is, however, collusion, or my name ain't Larry Keiler. A local radio reporter spoke to an employee at a competing gas station and asked him why, since only one company's supply was affected, all the companies had raised their prices. This employee actually used these words: "Because we have to stay competitive." !!!!

Excuse me? Am I standing on my head? Since when does "competitive" mean you match your competitor's upward spiral? I thought competition meant that you might use a competitor's weakness to your advantage.

You see, the more this happens, the more I am convinced that we must find alternative and better ways to move ourselves around, if only to punish the companies that have grown obscenely rich by exploiting our need. Wouldn't we all feel so much better if we didn't need them anymore?

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Yoni School (US) Election Watch Pt. 6

Is Al Gore in Favour of the Draft?


I can't remember whether I wrote about this before. Maybe I did. But there's a strong movement going on among US Democrats to draft Al Gore. He's riding pretty high since the release of An Inconvenient Truth. That movie is nominated for an Oscar. And Gore himself has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize! (I'm not quite sure how an environmental campaign qualifies as contributing to world peace, at least not in the specific sense, but there you go.)

The Democrats For Gore have an online petition, presumably to convince Gore that there's lots of support out there, just waiting for him to commit. I think you have to be Murrican to sign it, though.

It's not just the Yanks who are now slobbering over Gore. (In fact, the Yanks may not be slobbering over him at all...that remains to be seen...) It just so happens that Gore is doing his Inconvenient Truth slide show at the University of Hawgtown tonight. I heard that tickets (at $20 per) sold out within minutes and as of earlier today, scalpers were asking $400! Oh, if only those were campaign contributions!

I'm tellin' ya, somethin's gonna happen yet! Clinton and Obama watch out! Gore may just sneak up the middle.

Meanwhile, in a matter only tangentially related, today is the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. (And, ironically enough, of the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848.) The Mothercorp radio program The Current today interviewed Austin Clarke, the Barbados-born Canadian novelist and winner of the Giller Prize in 2002. Clarke actually interviewed Malcolm X in 1963 for the Mothercorp, and then spent a day with him just a few months before he was killed. He had some interesting things to say about that period of Murrican history, about Harlem in those days, and about Malcolm's career as a civil rights leader.

Eventually, though, the interview with Clarke moved around to developments in the US election race...Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. It was here that he made a most astonishing statement: that he would not be surprised if Obama were assassinated!

He said this quite straightforwardly, without much preamble. It was stunning...and it went by so quickly it could easily have been missed.

But what a thing to say! Here the US is poised, potentially, at a supremely historic moment: the possibility of electing either a woman as president for the first time, or a black man for the first time. That the possibility even arises is a profound statement about the evolution of Murrican society. But Clarke is suggesting that the US is not quite ready for such radical choices, that atavistic tendencies will resurface, and that by default one of these choices will have to be eliminated (with extreme prejudice, as they say.) What a statement to make on the anniversary of an historic assassination, one of a series in an era of disastrous political killings.

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Song of the Day

ImageChef.com - Create custom images

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Housekeeping 2

You will notice some new buttons added to Mental Blog in general and to new posts in particular. One is Digg and the other is Diigo.

Digg! diigo it

Without going into a lot of detail, let me say that they're both sort of similar in intent (which might explain why the names are so similar.) Call them "social networking" or, in the case of Diigo "social annotation". Part of their purpose is to find interesting articles and sites on the web and to tell others about them.

The reason they're on the blog now is because I have registered with these sites. And I'd like you to do me a favour. If you are a member of one of these, please check out the posts on Mental Blog and if you find one that catches your fancy, click on the Diggit or Add to Diigo button.

There's a Diggit button in the sidebar at the top. You see the big fat 0? That's cuz nobody's dugg anything here so far (which isn't all that surprising since I've only begun this part of the adventure.) But I'd like to change that number to 1 at least. I could do it myself, that's allowed to a limited extent, but let's just say Larry's modest. So, if you're a member of one these groups (or Technorati), help me out please.

And if you're not a member, check them out. I'd say they're not for everybody, but then who am I to say? Here's the link for Diigo. And here's the link for Digg.

Housekeeping 1

I've taken out the message board. Only two legitimate people used it. The rest were a**hole spammers. Since it was a free version, there was no way to block the messages, only delete them. Next time I want Viagra online, I'll put it back up & collect the addresses that accumulate.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

407 ETR Gives With One Hand, But...

Doesn't she look excited? Doesn't she look happy? Who wouldn't be happy? What could make you happier than 407 ETR Rewards?

The 407 ETR is the infamous toll highway of Ontariario, built by the NDP (aka National Deficit Party)(aka Nearly Democratic Party)(aka Normally Defeated Party) guvment in the 1990s. ETR stands for Electronic Toll Road. When it was first opened they touted their electronic tolling system which uses a transponder (and if you don't have one of those they take a picture of your license plate and send you a bill.) The system caused quite a few billing problems in the early days, and still does today sometimes. But it's better than it used to be.

Revenue from the highway used to go to the province. But after the Newly Defeated Party gave up the ghost and bowed out in favour of Mike Harass and his Neo-Constipators, the highway was sold to a private consortium in a deal that caused consternation among many citizens because it was so sweet for the consortium. In other words, the 407 ETR is a private highway now. That explains, maybe, in part, why the billing system has improved a little. But there are still problems (you can hear them periodically on talk radio) and the company has a reputation for arrogance and unresponsiveness.

Ontariario's latest guvment, run by Gliberals, has had clashes with the 407 ETR company as complaints have continued to come in and tolls have increased steadily. (This goes to show why public highways, as essential services, ought not to be controlled privately...it makes me think of toll collectors on medieval bridges: Thou shalt not pass! Unless you pass some cash!) But for the past year and a half, the company has been constructing extra lanes on parts of the highway, which has improved traffic flow (and revenue too, one would think.)

Anyway, 407 ETR must have been taking some PR lessons, plus I think they made a deal with the Ontariario guvment, because a couple of weeks ago, with great fanfare they introduced their ETR rewards program.

It's a complicated piece of business. And really not much of a reward. Have a look below:

ETR Rewards is our way of thanking you for choosing to use Highway 407 ETR.

Using 407 ETR is a great way to skip ahead of congestion and get home faster. Now, it will also earn you great rewards!

And, unlike other rewards programs, there is no membership fee or sign-up process.

When You Qualify:

We will contact you by mail when eligible for ETR Rewards. The letter will outline:

  • what tier you are in;
  • your free monthly kilometres; and
  • monthly gas savings using your ETR Rewards Gas Card (included with the letter).

In addition, your monthly 407 ETR bill will highlight your total savings on tolls and remaining free kilometres.

Eligibility:

To be eligible for ETR Rewards, you must:

  • use a light vehicle transponder;
  • have no outstanding balance greater than 35 days; and
  • travel at least 400 kilometres per month on 407 ETR during the qualifying six-month period.

Tiers:

There are four tiers in the program, which are based on the average number of transponder kilometres driven on 407 ETR. Each tier offers a set amount of free weekend kilometres and savings on gasoline purchases.

Drive more, save more! Accounts will be assessed every six months to determine if they qualify for the program and if so, for which tier. The Program phases extend from February to July 2007, and August 2007 to January 2008. At the end of each period, customers will be advised of their tier status for the next period of the program.

Drive more, save more! Four tiers. Transponder kilometres. Assessment every six months. Free weekend kilometres. (Lovely, since most people use the 407 during the week. It's called commuting!) Excuse me while I call my accountant to figure this out for me.

I do admit that the Gas Rewards is legit -- 3 cents off per litre -- but the number of litres you're eligible for is also determined by how many kilometres you've driven.

OK. It's all good. 407 got good press. HWSRN, who uses the highway regularly got his wish. He always said he wanted the 407 to give the regular customers a bonus. They're the ones paying the shareholders' dividends, after all. He got his notice of bonus. He got his Gas Rewards card. He registered. He signed up. He got 3 cents off. So he was pleased. For a second.

Last week his bill came in the mail. At the top of the bill, it says this:

Effective February 1, 2007, new toll rates and fees will apply.

How can you not be happy? We all get our reward...in the end.


Digg!
diigo it

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Maiden Voyage

HWSRN tells me he and the new van (still not definitely named) just completed their first paid run. On a Sunday night. 121 kilometres to Hawgtown and back.

He sez it was smooth sailing all the way.






He sez the 6 cylinder V-Tec responds like a racehorse.









He sez the transmission shifts slick as a whistle.












He sez he can probably come up with clichés all night long. (The first is a metaphor. The second is a simile. The third is a lot of hot air.)



C,mon, I said "simile" not "smiley".


I sez if he keeps it up he'll join me here at the Yoni School. They'll put him in ze coolah, tie him up and give him a clichectomy before he can say "Jack Kerouac".








HWSRN sez the size difference is noticeable. Inside. Wider. Longer. Faster. Further. Size matters. HWSRN is becoming visibly agitated. Time to put him in the cold shower.



HWSRN sez he made enough to cover about half of his first loan payment. Only 103 more to go.

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Yoni School Election Watch Pt. 8

Let's Get the Green Party in the Televised Debates!
(And while we're at it...let's have real debates.)

Here's a link to a petition to get the Green Party in the televised debates. There are no debates yet. There's no election...yet! But my Spidey sense tells me that Stephen Harpie & the Constipators are angling to engineer an election...ie. make it appear that it's someone else's fault. After all, we are seeing negative campaign-style ads already...sans campaign.

So, the Green Party wants in. And they should be in. They received a respectable number of votes in the last federal election, albeit spread across the country without being able to capture a seat. They claim they will receive more than 1 million in the next election. They run candidates in every riding, which is more than you can say for the Floc Québecois. In this period of heightened environmental awareness, they have a message that deserves to be heard.

The petition is directed towards CEOs & presidents of the major TV networks who, I would think, are only part of the debate equation. The other political parties most likely would want to exclude the Greens. Maybe there should be another petition. Or maybe you should all write or email or phone your local MP and the leaders of all the other parties and tell 'em what you think.

As for me, I don't know whether I agree with everything the Green Party espouses. In fact, I'm sure I don't. I don't completely agree with anybody. (I hate it when I hear people on call-in radio say, "I absolutely agree with you..." and then blithely demonstrate that they're not quite sure they agree, or they agree about something else entirely, or they misunderstood the question, or they really wanted to demonstrate how closed-minded they are...) Anyway, I don't agree with anybody. I should be called Larry NO!

However. I absolutely agree that the Green Party should be included in the national televised debates that will surely be held when the next election is called. Let Liz May Have Her Say!

Meanwhile, for those interested, here's the link to the Green Party of Canada website.

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15 Textbook disclaimer stickers

Wording for the first disclaimer is taken verbatim from the sticker designed by the Cobb County School District ("A community with a passion for learning") in Georgia. The other 14 demonstrate the real meaning of a scientific "theory" as well as the true motivations of the School Board members and their creationist supporters....

I discovered this while cruising Digg, which I've only just signed up for, as if I have the time for this. You have to click below to see the article/page.

(This post was sent directly from Digg, which is interesting, because so far they're the only external site that seems to be able to post directly to the blog. (Except for Googledocs, which, of course, doesn't seem to be able to include a title...)

(But then, Digg didn't include my line spacing. I had to come back and edit it.)

read more | digg story

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Change of the Guard

Out with the old...

















...In with the new.










Minnie Van Nice is being sent out pasture after an intense and productive career on the mad highways of southern Ontariario. 670,000 kilometres worth. Even at that, she still runs pretty well, and it was a shame to let her go. But the body just wasn't holding up. Still, HWSRN is sorry that the photo shows her in such a salty and dusty state, because she actually looks pretty good when she's fresh out of the carwash.

The new van has no name. Perhaps you would like to name her/him. It's a 2003 Oddity, with just over 80,000k, which is rather remarkable in itself, if you ask me. Bigger inside, cuz the second row of seats comes right out, unlike Minnie where they just folded up. This bodes more and possibly heavier work. HWSRN thinks the guy who sold it to him (and also sold Minnie to him) thought it was a little too extravagant for courier work...electric side doors, electric everything...but HWSRN insists if he has to live in his vehicle, he wants it comfy.

So there they are, the Road Warriors, the old soldier and the new recruit. Send your suggestions for a name.

BTW, you'll notice the prevalence of snow. Winter arrived late in Lunchbucket, but since it came, we've had just as much as we would have anyway.

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Mental Blog Repair 1

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