Social-Climbers Vs. Stuff-Builders
October 31, 2010, 5:34 pm
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Saw news of another one of those ‘liberal gene’/’what makes a liberal’ studies. I won’t bother linking it because (1) you will have no trouble finding it if you really care and (2) it’s so stupid and pointless. I wonder why academic researchers are so interested in studying psychological/biological differences between conservatives and ‘liberals’, in which it miraculously turns out that conservatives are conservatives because they are fearful/closed-minded whereas ‘liberals’ are ‘liberals’ because they are adventure-seeking and open-minded? Hah hah. I do enjoy me some funny rhetorical questions.

I’m not going to do a study of my own (because it’s so stupid and pointless) but here is the broad outline of what my alternative thesis would be. I’ll give credit to this Marginal Revolution commenter for coming quite close to the truth by saying

people want free-market competition in areas where they are strong, and protection and regulation in areas where they are weak

To expand on this a bit, one would therefore expect the following patterns to cluster together.

  • eloquence, charisma, and charm – i.e., ability to win large numbers of other people over, be ‘cool’
  • a system in which the above traits by themselves, with no additional effort, make you well-rewarded and maximally powerful over other people – i.e., ‘liberalism’ (leftism)

Similarly, these go together:

  • foresight, focused work-ethic, ability to build things, devotion to close friends and family
  • a system in which the people with these traits get to keep the maximal fruits of their labor in the things and institutions they build – i.e., conservatism

A lot of other things simply follow from these two disjoint polarities of human skill (social-climbing, vs. stuff-building). This explains why ‘liberals’ view the government as a form of extended family whereas conservatives view the government as, at best, an intrusion into their family. It explains why ‘liberals’ want a maximally-powerful state whereas conservatives want basic defense from the state and little else. It explains why ‘liberals’ are impressed by degrees and awards (i.e. credentials and accolades that socially-skillful people have won from navigating social institutions) whereas conservatives are skeptical of them. It explains why conservatism is so closely aligned with minimizing taxes (letting stuff-builders keep the stuff they build) whereas at times it seems that almost the entire motivating drive of ‘liberals’ is to always and ever-increasingly make taxes as high as possible (to maximize the amount of stuff that is aggregated under the control of the credentialed charismatics).

This is why the archetype of a ‘liberal’ is Barack Obama – accoladed and credentialed up the wazoo, eloquent in a vague and substanceless way, easily able to win large numbers of strange people and acquaintances over (while apparently having few actual close friendships), never has accomplished or built an actual tangible thing in his life. It’s far more difficult to identify the archetype of a conservative – it might be, say, Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, though people probably don’t know enough about him to be sure, or for calling him an ‘archetype’ to actually be useful. This is because if conservatism had an archetype, it would have to be someone who is not a politician (or ‘celebrity’) at all, the modern vocation of ‘politics’ being essentially antithetical to everything conservatives stand for.

The point is, it’s easy to identify these two orthogonal human skills – social skills, and building/industriousness skills – that correlate with ‘liberalism’ and conservatism respectively. Both skills are useful, of course. But it’s only natural that people who see themselves as naturally, lopsidedly better (whether due to genetics or not) at one or the other are attracted to a social system that maximally rewards their particular skill set.

Healthcare, healthcare
October 26, 2010, 9:25 am
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My first stab at one of these movies. I hadn’t realized till recently that this was actually a free web-based service people were using to make them. Kind of clever, although (surprisingly) I’m a bit less comfortable wading into what becomes almost literal sock-puppetry than you might think.

Anyway, this is a dialogue representing what the great “healthcare” debate had always sounded like to me. And…enjoy:

Grand Convoluted Theories To Explain The Obvious
October 24, 2010, 3:21 pm
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An emerging theme in some recent posts – people seem attracted to grand, elegant theories that explain what is already obvious.

Below I addressed the Robin Hanson theory that the left v. right divide traces back to foragers vs. farmers, when the obvious reality is that in both cases we’re just talking about property rights being violated vs. respected.

More recently I noted that women all seem to think men are “threatened” by women with careers, when the obvious reality is that a woman’s career simply doesn’t bring anything of value to the table for a man, anymore than a woman’s ugliness would.

Parents develop and purport to believe in theories about finding ‘good schools’ with ‘good teachers’ to which to send their kids and do a bunch of ostentatious ‘research’ about it and spend a lot of ostentatious money to do it, when the obvious reality is that parents just want to buy things like a high-status, non-lower-class (and low-class-racial-group) peer group for their kids.

And those are just the posts on my front page…

So why exactly are people attracted to these convoluted theories, instead of just acknowledging the obvious realities there in front of their nose for them to see? I plan to work up a convoluted, psychological theory about all this and promise to blog about it at some point.

Why Men Don’t Care About Womens’ Careers
October 24, 2010, 2:24 pm
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Neo makes the observation that women with high-status careers tend to have a harder time finding a mate. As he says, in part this is because men don’t care about a woman’s career. But that only really scratches the surface. Because, why don’t men care about a woman’s career?

Let me throw this out there as the main reason:

Because in any future relationship with such a woman, men instinctively know they would either (a) have to be the breadwinner anyway, regardless of how well she does in her career, or (b) not be the breadwinner, not make more money – and be thought of as an unmanly beta. The implicit choice – for a man considering whether to go long-term with a high-status career woman – is (a), or (b). And neither is appealing. Is it?

If with such a woman, a man could check out of his career and just go with (b). Or, he could stick with the high-status-career woman, but (a) still have to focus on his own career, and face the proposition of being a two-high-powered-career couple, with salaries to match but (more importantly – to the man), with the lack of focus on home life that results.

Which option is supposed to be appealing to a man?

This isn’t feminist, or enlightened of me, to put out there. But more importantly, I think it’s the truth: a woman’s high-status career is bringing nothing to the table that is of any use to a man. It’s not like he can think “well she’s making $X so I can slack off”. (Or, he can think that, but be beta.) So her career does not relieve him of any responsibilities. It doesn’t help him. All it does is take her attention and focus out of the home for extended periods of time. But his attention and focus has to be out of the home for extended periods of the time (because he’s a man – unless he wants to be thought of as not one).

In this way, a woman having a powered career is about as much use and appeal to a man as if she had a time-consuming hobby. For women, careers are options. For men, they are obligatory. If a woman with a JD or an M.D. had a family and decided to take time off for the career, absolutely no one would think twice about it. Good for her! But if a man were to do the equivalent – raised eyebrows. Oh, there might be a bunch of faux “I think that’s great!” comments from certain types, but they wouldn’t really mean it. Deep down.

The man can’t “check out” of his career, and still be a man, and still think of himself as doing his part for his family. The woman can. And everyone knows this deep down. This is why women with high-status careers have no appeal to the typical man. It is as if they are advertising that they have a distracting hobby that will take her away from him, not help him, and make his life more difficult. And then they wonder why they don’t have suitors, and blame it on men being “threatened” by their being “strong” women with vaunted careers. It’s closer to the truth to say that by focusing so much on their own careers, they are preparing for having lives without men. And so – often – that’s exactly what they get.

This is a Neanderthal, retrograde thing to say. And it is what I think.

UPDATE: This notion of men finding strong/career woman “threatening” is a bit fascinating to me. So many women go around saying this that I can only assume it’s what they actually believe. But if you think it through logically & take to heart what I’ve written above, saying “men don’t want career women cuz they find career women threatening” is almost like saying “men don’t want ugly women cuz they find ugly women threatening“. In a way I suppose it’s true (probably, men are ‘threatened’ by the prospect of being attached to an ugly woman for life!) but this sort of thing is a grand reach for some esoteric, psychological, phobia type explanation to explain what really has a far more obvious and straightforward explanation.

The Torture Continues
October 24, 2010, 12:55 pm
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So now the Giants are going to the World Series. Of course last night’s game went down to the ninth inning, the Giants clinging to a one-run lead on the road, and the closer facing Ryan Howard with two baserunners, that he’d walked. Of course.


I am officially 50% balder and 50% grayer from having watched that torture. What an exciting game. I hate it so much. And the best/worst part it, they’re going to go the World Series and do the same thing all over again. Just kill me now.

Shovel Fantasies
October 20, 2010, 3:28 am
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I gather (not that I read/heard it directly) that President Obama admitted somewhere that there’s basically no such thing as a ‘shovel-ready project’ for the government to dump ‘stimulus’ money on. Lefty-blogger reaction to this has been entertaining, to say the least. Imagine you’re Matthew Yglesias or Ezra Klein and you lavished who knows how many keystrokes and man-hours in 2009 writing blog post after blog post about how ‘stimulus’ could and should be used on ‘shovel-ready projects’. And now here’s President Obama, the guy whose torch you thought you were carrying, saying they don’t exist. How do you react? You play defense that’s how! Serious, desperate defense. And so you write articles and blog posts. Many, many of them. Making convincing, substantive arguments such as: There are too ‘shovel-ready projects’!

Amusing, but it stems from what was always a somewhat ugly side of this whole silly ‘shovel-ready’ meme. Basically, what ‘shovel-ready’ was always about was upper-middle-class lefties openly fantasizing about putting armies of peasants to work doing things that…upper-middle-class lefties wanted done.

Imagine you’re a young, well-off, ‘stuff-white-people-like’ type left-wing blogger, and you like to go to walkable downtown areas to eat in trendy restaurants. You spot – let’s say – some trash on the ground, a chipped sidewalk, a dried-out plant fixture next to the non-functioning fountain on the corner.

‘How ugly,’ you think. And this makes your otherwise nice, yuppie evening 0.2% less pleasant. But then a light-bulb goes off in your head: ‘Wait! What about all those unemployed people I keep reading about?’, you think to yourself. ‘Couldn’t they be, like, put to work fixing this stuff up for me?’

Those aren’t the sort of words anyone uses to put forth the viewpoint, of course. But it amounts to the same sentiment. And if you don’t believe me, here’s Matthew Yglesias proposing using federal stimulus to fix ‘potholes, cracked sidewalks, or other minor problems’ (that he has noticed/photographed). He also mentions sidewalks here, here, and here. The message comes through loud and clear: Matthew Yglesias walks on a lot of sidewalks, and when he does, by gum, he wants them looking spiffy!

So (therefore) that’s what tax money should be spent on. Employing the peasants to clean up and arrange the things around Matthew Yglesias’s life and lifestyle, so as to make it more pleasant and convenient. (Also see: high-speed rails, bridges, shiny bus terminals, spiffy electronic signs, etc.)

There’s a common rebuttal to what I’m saying and it is: but don’t you want things to be nice? It’s nice when things are nice! So what’s wrong with suggesting that if we’re gonna do stimulus, it be used to make things nice? (Etc.) (I may not be painting this rebuttal in the best possible light, I grant.)

My answer is there’s nothing wrong with things being nice and spiffy and infrastructure being great and grand. Nothing at all. But if that’s what you want, pay for it your damn self. When all these people talk about ‘stimulus’ being dumped on ‘shovel-ready’ projects (of their choosing, of course), they’re not talking about them spending their money to improve all these things they want improved. They’re talking about spending other peoples’ money. And those other people may have different priorities and concerns for their budgets, priorities that don’t align so coincidentally well with the obsessions and fixations of a young, hip, well-to-do city dweller. Should a truck driver in Iowa be taxed more (or his children implicitly taxed more, by borrowing) so that Matthew Yglesias has a nice new high-speed-rail line to ride on, more buses for peasants to ride (so that the streets are clearer for him), etc.? Well, certainly Matthew Yglesias thinks so.

The ‘shovel-ready’ story is and always was a seductive one, for precisely the reason that it was a case where openly puerile fantasies (of peasant armies doing labor for you, but being paid with other peoples’ money) could masquerade as concern for the poor and unemployed. And it’s precisely because the story was so seductive that we are now seeing the hissy fit that results when these peoples’ pied piper admits it was all a craven crock of shit. The wonder is not why these people are now reacting the way they are; the wonder is that their arguments were ever taken seriously in the first place.

Against Foragers And Other Ancient Retrogrades
October 19, 2010, 5:47 am
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Still catching up on my Google Reader perpetually-1000+ unread queue, I finally caught up with the Robin Hanson series of posts on “foragers vs. farmers” (click over there & read further dates, there’s more if you’re interested) that I had already seen responses to on other blogs. The basic idea is that ancient humanity were natural ‘foragers’, then with the advent of farming they became ‘farmers’, but with wealth allowing us to surpass farming we (well, some of us – i.e. lefties) are reverting back to our (more “natural”?) ‘forager’ ways. In other words, the lefty-righty divide is just a modern projection of the ancient forager vs. farming divide, and foraging is destined for a comeback.

It’s a somewhat interesting idea, if not all that original. Theories of how modern political fault lines trace back to some ancient fissure are a dime a dozen and have obvious appeal, if (usually) less obvious accuracy or usefulness.

Although it is meant to explain a different phenomenon, this one is actually quite similar to the “Mercurians vs. Apollonians” theory of Yuri Slezkine. That theory primarily addresses the issue of anti-Semitism and related prejudices, by telling a story of society that pits the more martial/real-goods-producing groups (“Apollonians”) against the peddlers/middlemen who support and supply them (“Mercurians”) – with Jews (and Armenians, Chinese in places) being examples the latter. That maps pretty well onto Hanson’s view of the world, since Apollonians are basically just farmers by another name. So in both cases we have theories of society’s dichotomies in which ‘conservative’ is linked to a farming tradition, which seems reasonable enough, and pitted against some ‘other’ tradition that they resent.

Now, Hanson’s view of society seems to lack “Mercurians” altogether, which is an interesting oversight. Does he think their influence is minor? Does he think the farmer-peddler split unimportant for the political fault lines he thinks he’s explaining?

There is a more basic problem with Hanson’s take however, which is that in outlining the traits of farmers vs. foragers – and congratulating himself for how miraculously well they map onto conservative vs. liberal – he (unless I missed it) actually seems to miss the main difference between farmers and foragers, one that is more fundamental than any of the other traits he mentions:

Farmers, by definition, have property.

They have property to protect. They have real assets to lose. They have put real capital – their blood and sweat – into this property. After all, while a ‘forager’ can grab some berries and carry them in his arms, and eat them on the spot, the one salient characteristic of a ‘farm’, any farm, is that it is a sizable plot of land on which incomplete/not-fully-realized work has been done, but whose boundaries and contents can’t be fully held/hoarded by one person alone at all times. And so farmers inevitably need force, or the threat of force, or a principle of property rights (preferably all three) to defend it. No one who is a farmer will lack this concern for property or the need for its defense. No one who is a forager, by contrast, will have an interest in property defense; almost the contrary, in fact.

So sure, there’s a natural conflict between ‘farmers’ and ‘foragers’. This is because people who are farmers respect property rights and by definition have a lifestyle whose very feasibility requires that others do, or are forced to do, the same, whereas people who are foragers, by definition, do not respect property rights, if they even possess the concept at all. Property rights and usage is practically the defining difference between foragers and farmers.

But wait a minute then. We’ve identified that Hanson’s “Type A” group has this trait: doesn’t respect property rights. And Hanson’s “Type B” group: cares about property rights. So lo and behold, has Robin Hanson just discovered the brilliant newsflash that the righty vs. lefty divide traces to whether property rights are respected on the one hand, or treated as malleable and ‘collective’ on the other? You mean right vs. left is about whether people get to keep more of their property or take more of others’??

Stop the presses!

Once you realize that property rights underlie, in a basic and fundamental way, both the forager/farmer divide and the modern culture wars of which it is supposedly the forerunner, it renders the whole ‘forager/farmer’ construct somewhat superfluous. Yet Hanson doesn’t seem to play up, or even mention, the property rights angle at all (or if he does, he touches on it lightly, as I missed it). So it’s as if he’s done a bunch of reading about sports and decided that the San Francisco Giants want to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers because of the resurfacing of an ancient deep-seated hatred between sports teams who have Black uniforms vs. Blue uniforms making them want to beat each other in games – which is true enough, sort of – rather than due to the more obvious, fundamental, and wholly overt fact that they are two groups who by definition have opposing goals that can’t both be achieved (=to win the game).

This blindness to the obvious, fundamental common cause between the culture war he’s trying to explain and the analogy he’s trying to use to explain it leads to further problems. Because private property rights are left out altogether (and “Mercurians”, i.e. Jews or any group that is metaphorically-Jewish, are left out as well), in Hanson’s storytelling, ‘forager’ sounds great and natural, whereas ‘farmer’ sounds like a backwards, retrograde aberration. The farmer is essentially stuck in the Middle Ages. It was just a necessary phase that humanity had to go through, but now can outgrow, because of the internet (or something). The basic story is that of the ordeal or the gauntlet: everything was nice and natural; but we had to go through an awkward ‘farming’ phase; but now we’re out the other side and can go back to everything being nice and natural. I can see the appeal of this story, I suppose. It is also preposterous and puerile, not to mention highly one-dimensional.

Because what if you instead told a story like the following – and let me bold the elements that Hanson seems to have omitted:

First, humanity mostly foraged. And they were very very poor, and it was bad for the ecosystem because foragers would ransack one environment for their food and then move on to the next. Then, farming was discovered. It was touch and go for a while due to the natural conflict between foragers and farmers, never fully resolved, but systems of property rights were discovered and defended, by necessity, and due to its obvious superior output, farming survived and dominated. This is in no small part because farming allowed for trade because done with care and intelligence it created surpluses. Trade, in turn, allowed for specialization which made everyone richer. With trade also came cities, and “Mercurians”, a class of people who could serve as knowledge-based middlemen; this lubricated trade and made it more efficient, allowing for greater wealth increases and specialization than previously realized.

I could just keep continuing, on up through The Enlightenment, and Science, and Liberal Democracy (with Better, More Efficient And Therefore More Eco-Friendly Farming showing up somewhere in the mix) – but it’s not really necessary. One can already see that instead of Hanson’s ‘ordeal’ or ‘awkward phase’ story of human society, if you don’t leave stuff out you can actually tell a more normal, plausible story involving society simply (in fits and starts, not always without setbacks) inventing stuff and getting better – one of those inventions being farming, another (related) invention being real property rights.

Yet Hanson makes farming sound like a retrograde aberration that (as a necessary evil at best) interrupted all the beautiful, glorious foraging. Actually, if anything the interruption in question was private property, and far from being retrograde, it was a very important technological advance, a prerequisite for much of the wealth explosion that has come since. The anti-’farmer’ (i.e., anti-production and property rights) vibe Hanson’s story gives off veers uncomfortably close to Marxian/socialist critiques of ‘capitalism’. But it is those who, like socialists, seek to reject or discredit private property who are the retrograde ones, for wishing to overturn what is (along with trade, and specialization, and cities, and communication, and the scientific method, and republican forms of government) a key milestone in human development, built on other milestones and on which those further milestones depended.

If you squint your eyes it’s easy to fantasize that ‘foragers’ might dominate future society if you pit them solely against the ‘farmer’ straw man (and forget that ‘farming’ serves as a metaphor for ‘being productive’ in the construction). After all, ‘farming’ does sound awfully retrograde and on a manpower basis we do indeed do less and less of it (and good for us!), so hey, maybe somehow technology and Craigslist and Starbuck’s free wi-fi hotspots (or something) will let us all just ‘forage’, blog, and whatnot, thus making the ‘farming’ component of society obsolete. But it’s far more difficult to defend a vision of the future, at least a vision of future human prosperity, in which the actual forager mindset – i.e. a basic rejection of property rights, of future-oriented planning, and of specialization, among other things – is widespread.

So I’m not keen to embrace this metaphor of foragers vs. farmers as explaining lefty-righty divides, and I think it leaves much out. However, if I must use it, I should warn: it is not at all flattering to whoever is meant to be the ‘foragers’ in the analogy.

Top And Bottom Vs. Middle
October 19, 2010, 2:13 am
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It’s been fascinating to watch the issue of badly- or mis-transferred mortgages make its journey from what seemed like a far-flung conspiracy theory in 2008 (when I first heard about it) to something that at least somewhat plausibly threatens to lead to huge losses, if not collapsing the whole system. I should have know that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. What else should I have expected of a fundamentally socialist enterprise in disguise?

The striking thing is who will be hurt. There is much anger directed at the mortgage financiers who walked away with giant bonuses, at the expense of others. Let’s grant then, for the sake of the argument, that they were in top, winning layers of a fraudulent pyramid scheme. But what we’re seeing now – in the foreclosure freeze and related litigations – is a movement to let just one more participating layer walk away with a profit as well.

The final layer, of course, are the people who “bought” (borrowed) homes that they couldn’t afford by taking out artificially-cheap mortgages they never intended to pay off, instead hoping to pass it off to another sucker – either by finding someone to pay off its liability (i.e. “refinance” their mortgage at a lower rate), or by flipping the house altogether.

We are now asked to feel sorry for these people. Oh isn’t it horrible that they are going to be foreclosed upon! They can’t and haven’t been paying their mortgages for 6-12 months now. But the paperwork is all messed up and stuff. So let’s just not foreclose!

Result: while this drags out, these people get to live in houses they didn’t pay for, for free. Heck they may even end up with title free and clear (who knows). Thus there are two groups of winners: the “top” (financiers) and the “bottom” (mortgage deadbeats who get McMansions or at least live rent-free on technicalities). And one, big, silent group of losers: the rules-abiding middle class, people who either didn’t take out mortgages above their means, or people who didn’t even lever up to “buy” a house in the first place. They get nothing but squeezed by higher taxes and higher mortgage rates the next time they do try to “buy” a house.

Top and bottom win, middle loses. Is that the right solution?

Well of course. It’s the entire left-wing strategy in a social democracy. Like I said, what else should I expect?

Groups Of Girls
October 17, 2010, 3:36 am
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I am certain I’m not only speaking for myself when I say that all this lively, two-way talk and discussion of The Runaways we’ve gotten going here on the highly active and participatory, yet closely-knit RWCG discussion-board community has of course put us all in the mind of girl groups in general. What are my favorite girl groups you ask? And where are they now? Thanks for asking! (But I’m not going to answer the where are they now one. Too often the answer is “they’re, like, old“, and that’s no fun.)

Ok so first, what about The Runaways. Now, it really paid to get into the Runaways in the early/mid ’90s like I did, because you could always find countless $3.99 Runaways CDs in used record store bins. I think the government subsidized their mass reprint (to help stimulate the economy). The great thing was that all of them were slight variations of each other. Like, one would be a Japan-only collection of 12 songs, and you had never seen it before, but 10 of them were on that other Runaways collection you bought the day before. By statute, all Runaways albums contain “Cherry Bomb”, just in case you hadn’t already heard it 3 bajillion and 1 times before. But (at the risk of expelling myself from civil society) I would actually have to say my favorite Runaways song of all time is “Takeover”, Joan Jett’s Cold War Jeremiad that I still think was remarkably insightful and prescient:

I think the Russians got a weather machine
I think they’re planning a takeover scheme
Doin’ a good job on our countryside
They want to be our friends, but it’s an obvious lie

They buried New York and they drowned L.A.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ll see the next day
I know the Russian’s are behind this shit
No ones goin’ to know it until it’s too late

Takeover they’re taking over
How long till they get everyone
Takeover they’re taking over
How can we be so dumb

Now at this point, with apologies to Courtney Love and L7 and 4 Non Blondes and all that crappy ’90s stuff, if you ask me it only makes sense to proceed directly to The Donnas. The Donnas are like a prettier, more spoiled/polished version of the Runaways except they didn’t break up, they seem to still be around well into their budding yuppie cougar years, which is a shame, cuz they seem to just keep getting more boring as they grow up. Which is why it’s hard to believe that at one point they were this awesome:

Back to the ex-Runaways, rumor has it one of them went on to be in the Bangles. Below is them trying to play a Big Star song, raising the question: Susanna Hoffs is pretty and all, but why did women in the ’80s think guys wanted their hair to be so big that it dwarfed their bodies and made their bodies look smaller and less curvy by comparison? Was everyone in the ’80s under the mistaken impression that guys were more interested in womens’ hair than in their bodies? Or was that (implausible as it sounds) actually the case in the ’80s? Were all guys just gay in the ’80s? Anyway:

Can you mention the Bangles without simultaneously speaking of the Go-Gos? I suppose you can, but it’s awfully hard. So here are the Go-Gos. I never got into them as much as other girl groups (I’m not even sure if the problem is that they had too many lesbians, or too few? Seriously, what is optimal for a girl group – it’s hard to say?). But I do think they were pretty good in their day, indeed supposedly the following is one of the greatest pop songs ever written. And I have to admit, it’s pretty good:

The Shaggs, of course, were not. But if you’re a hipster who needs a girl group whose music to ironically pretend to like, there ain’t none better:

Continuing, here’s a clip of Mel Blanc on The Tonight Show:

Wait, what’s that doing here? Sorry, seems to be some sort of clerical error. But wasn’t that awesome?

The Pandoras seem like they should have been bigger:

Last but not least, to my great shame I have only recently begun to appreciate how much of it all goes back to the Shangri-Las:

Are the Shangri-Las given enough credit nowadays? I’m honestly not sure. But they were some group of girls weren’t they?

October 14, 2010, 4:08 am
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I tried the ‘random post’ feature at the top of this page a few times, and I came to a conclusion, one I’ve stated before and will repeatedly state again:

I’m a surprisingly kick-ass blogger.

Some of the posts I’ve come across on my blog strike me as surprisingly insightful and fascinating to me, or at least just entertaining (to me). I would totally read me if I wasn’t me. Indeed, it’s practically a tragedy that I’m me. I feel like I’m missing out on me!

Some examples that stuck out to me as an example of the greatness of me, gathered by me in no particular order:

If you’re anything like me, and relatively new to me and my oeuvre, you may get a kick out of at least some of them. I know me did.

Indie Schmindie
October 12, 2010, 11:35 pm
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From the department of “News headlines that irritate me so much, they make me vow not to read the article, except that I then can’t resist skimming the article to gather evidence for my blog post on why the article is stupid and should not be read”:

Indie Rock Grows Up: New releases from Sufjan Stevens, Belle & Sebastian, and Antony & the Johnsons are proof that a little grown-folks music never hurt anyone.

Okay. First of all, can I just ask, once and for all, what the fuck does “indie rock” mean. As far as I can tell, it’s nothing more than what in the 1980s we used to call “alternative”, except, slightly more overtly gay. (Just as, the modern-day term “hipster” also basically just seems to mean what we used to call “alternative”, except, the fashion leans more toward looking like a homeless person – ill-fitting clothes, no one combing their hair, etc. And also, often, gay.)

When I first heard this term “indie” sometime in the early ’90s, I was smugly explained that there are some record labels that are Major Record Labels, and that (therefore, you see) “indie” connotes a band that’s not on a Major Record Label. And so that’s what it is. And why it’s important. So there. You dilettante.

That means – let me just complete the thought in the only logical way possible – that if you’re speaking of an ‘indie rock’ band, a band whose records you have heard and like and own, that they’re on some other record label. Just, like, a kinda smaller one.

Oh-kay. Am I supposed to be impressed? What about that exactly is supposed to make me automatically swoon with fascination? I honestly don’t give a fuck what record label distributed the records I like. Why does anyone??

The real problem with “indie” though is that (whatever rational and useful meaning it may have once had, or not), like “alternative”, for many it has somehow unjustifiably morphed into denoting not an economic category of band, but a style of music. Hence you get columns like this bandying about the term “indie rock” as if there’s a recognizable style of music that goes by that name. As if I could hum some bars of a Belle & Sebastian song (which, by the way, I’m sorry but to me “Belle & Sebastian” are and always will be characters from Disney’s The Little Mermaid) and someone unfamiliar with Belle & Sebastian could somehow go, “Golly, that sounds like an indie rock song! I like indie rock! Who does that indie rock song? I want to go get their indie rock album!”

So right from the start we have this article that speaks about this ill-defined, incoherent category of music. And then, on top of that, it gets it wrong. See, the premise of this article seems to be that ‘indie rock’ (whatever the fuck that is!) is somehow associated with very young people. And (therefore) that’s why it’s noteworthy that these new releases are by ‘mature’, older artists etc. (i.e., ‘indie rock’ artists who are older than they used to be when they released albums in the past.)

Argh! That’s the premise for this article? None of this makes any sense to begin with! The author has just totally made up a new rule about ‘indie rock’ for which there’s no evidence (that it’s for young people and surprising if older people are into it) and is now liberally sprinkling it throughout the thesis of this stupid article! Has he confused ‘indie rock’ with (the almost equally dumb category from the ’80s-’90s) ‘college rock’? I don’t even want to know and I don’t care.

I just know that I refuse to read that article! It’s so dumb!

And I Wonder If She Will Stay, My Little Runaway. Run Run Run Run Runaway.
October 12, 2010, 5:47 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

According to legend, there’s been a Runaways movie in the works, off an on, for some 25 years (originally supposedly to star Cherie Currie as herself), and looking at the recent Runaways film they finally made, it’s hard to understand why: the basic story, at least as presented here, ultimately just isn’t that interesting. A bunch of girls had a flash in the pan band, did a bunch of cliche rock and roll stuff, and then the band disbanded. Now it may be that somewhere in there, there were other, better stories to tell than Cherie Currie’s drug use and her and Jett’s proto-lesbian flirtations (which evidently the director really wanted to focus on). But who knows, maybe there weren’t. Do we really think the movie would have been more interesting had it focused more on Lita Ford?

Despite those misgivings, The Runaways is worth watching for two reasons: 1. Joan Jett, and 2. Michael Shannon.

Michael Shannon, who I’d never heard of, is the name of the guy who plays Kim Fowley, and he basically steals every scene that he’s in. I have no idea if that’s what Kim Fowley’s really like, but it almost doesn’t matter. It’s just a great performance. Kim Fowley the character is a total asshole, and I ended up really liking and respecting him, and wanting to see more of his antics. That’s the sign of a great performance.

Joan Jett, meanwhile, I hope needs no introduction nor explanation. She is played by that skinny chick who’s in those teen vampire movies (or something). But the thing this movie (otherwise a typical soapy celeb biopic with de rigeur scenes of succumbing to drugs, etc.) accomplishes, almost in spite of itself, is that it manages to convince you that Joan Jett is somehow underappreciated. As if this movie has uncovered a long lost unsung rock hero.

That’s somewhat nonsense of course. How can it be true? Joan Jett is widely known and celebrated as a rock pioneer and legend. I assume at some point or another she’ll be inducted into that ‘Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’ thing. So anyone doesn’t know Joan Jett by now, that’s their problem. I can say that I like Joan Jett (and I do, even more so after this movie), but I surely can’t get away with saying that somehow makes me part of any small, discerning, select, elite group whose refined tastes rise above those of the uneducated ignorant masses, and I won’t even try.

Anyway, to its credit the latter half of the Runaways movie transitions into using mostly Joan Jett songs (rather than Runaways songs) and by the end, you’re basically left just wanting more Jett. Indeed, I almost wish they’d just gone ahead and made a Joan Jett movie, with the Runaways era as the first act. But absent that, this was pretty good.

Because after all, I like Joan Jett, which makes me part of any small, discerning, select, elite group whose refined tastes rise above those of the uneducated ignorant masses.

October 11, 2010, 5:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I put stars on these links at some point in the last month or so. That must have meant I liked them, right?

  • Arnold Kling’s essay The Era Of Expert Failure.
  • How Jackie Chan beats James Bond.
  • Billie Joe Armstrong made his Broadway debut. Now, I could be wrong, but I don’t think ‘making your Broadway debut’ is very punk rock. Just think if you went back in time to 1994 and explained to someone who had just been exposed to Dookie that this dude would end up on Broadway. It would be much funnier than your standard ‘Ronald-Reagan, President??’ joke in the typical 1950s time travel scenario.
  • A CDO Cure for Europe? (HT Catherine Austin Fitts) To me, this is one of the signs we’re living in a perpetual Ponzi scheme. The only ‘solutions’ anyone ever comes up with? More Ponzi! Given my line of work though, I guess I really shouldn’t complain.
  • Steven Landsburg with a rather shockingly overt case of lying with data presentation.
  • Steve Sailer, succinctly quoteworthy, summarizes all my views on identity politics and the media in two sentences:

    Hispanic voters have sensibly ambivalent feelings about illegal immigration. The press routinely ignores this because they talk to professional Hispanic activists who are all in favor of increasing the population of Hispanics in the U.S. to boost their personal careers by giving them more putative followers to claim to be the leaders of.

  • Noah Millman on the purpose of banking.

Playoff Baseball Is Torture
October 11, 2010, 12:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I could tolerate (mostly) watching some of the half-innings when the Giants were at bat. I couldn’t tolerate watching the half-innings when the Braves hit. Then somewhere around the 7th inning I bailed altogether, knowing I couldn’t stomach any late-inning stress, preferring to just check in with the score from time to time via Blackberry. So I missed the 2-out hit that tied it and the error that put the Giants ahead. But, I also spared myself a heart attack.

There’s something deeply wrong when a baseball fan, such as myself, can barely even tolerate actually watching the actual sport that is the subject of my fandom as it’s being played.

On the bright side, this:

If the Giants survive much longer into these playoffs, I’m going to need some serious medication. I’m talking hard core opiates.

(Images shamefully stolen from here)

Liberalism: The Path To Inequality
October 10, 2010, 9:02 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The story of The Girl With The Fuck PowerPoint (which I assume is destined to be next in line in those “The Girl With…” novels that everyone spontaneously decided to read in airports and subways?) nestles nicely into the intersection of a lot of my obsessions (not to mention internet memes) lately: if nothing else, it’s got to be catnip for the whole ‘game’ community.

The shallowness of ‘education’ is the most immediate takeaway. Here, after all, is a ‘cute’ (? or at least, well-coiffed and upper-middle-class looking) girl who, most likely, was a ‘gifted’ schoolage apple of her parents’ eye, and after perhaps years and years of tremendous effort and parental support, SAT prep courses and after-school activities, was successfully and proudly shipped off to Duke (a ‘good college’), evidently to spend her four years of ‘education’, a pricetag approaching or perhaps exceeding $200k, there doing little more than trying to screw lax players. That at the culmination of this 20+ year trek her ‘gifted’ talents were put to use making this oh so ‘clever’ PowerPoint only serves to add irony to insult.

The question arises: Couldn’t she have spent all her free time emptily screwing a bunch of jocks after pickups at Hooter’s without spending all that daddy-money? Of course she could’ve. (Granted, they may have been football players rather than lacrosse players. Seriously, what the hell is it with lacrosse anyway?) But without the figleaf of doing it all while getting an (ahem) education, such behavior would’ve just made her white trash instead of the go-getter, respectiable, upper-class coed with (presumably) a book- and movie-deal, perhaps advice column and not inconceivably her own talkshow in her future, that she is. Ah, the undeniable value of Montessori preschools, ‘good teachers’ and small class sizes finally pays off!

Okay, I’m filling in like 40% of this argument using solely my imagination to totally make stuff up, but stay with me. (And besides, I might have guessed all that 100% correctly.)

What I really wanted to post about here is how this fits a larger pattern that’s becoming more and more obvious in our politics: namely, inequality. It’s been dawning on me that I am in total agreement with the left about something: that ours is a society characterized by increasing inequality, powerful wealthy elites on top and a shrinking/suppressed middle class. Where I’m in disagreement is the cause.

But before I get into that, what does any of this have to do with inequality in the first place, you ask? For the long version, read Whiskey on this subject. Let me try to summarize the thesis as this: this ‘liberated’ female behavior helps mostly alpha-males, and leaves the larger, silent beta majority as losers in the sexual roulette game. Alpha-males essentially end up with moving, interchangeable harems wherever they go, while beta males have to accept the used-up dregs. (I know it’s a bit distasteful, but try pondering, for example, what sort of man will eventually end up marrying Ms. Owens.)

What is the cause of this? The cause is sexual liberation, of course – i.e., one of the great social achievements of liberalism. In other words, we have here an instance of a liberal idea, advocated in the name of equality, that has the effect of increasing inequality.

I do not think this is an isolated example. The point I wanted to make is that virtually all ‘liberal’ policies, perhaps especially those put forth in the name of equality, have the effect of increasing inequality.

Can it be denied, for example, that welfare increases inequality? Because of welfare, there is a ‘welfare class’, a virtual national plantation of people who are, in effect, ‘kept’ as wards of the state, generation after generation, whose lives and livelihoods are (if not literally slave-like) at least at the whim of those in control of government handouts and ‘programs’. Or how about more topical issues, such as Obamacare or bank reform? Both, I claim, will end up only increasing inequality. When it comes to health care, Obamacare or not, it’s not like wealthy Park Avenue denizens will change how they get health care one iota – all that will happen is that upper-class style health care and methods of obtaining/paying for health care will be available to fewer and fewer of the rest of us as Obamacare tightens its grip. Similarly, bank reform may be supported via populist slogans and passed in the name of sticking it to the bankers, but I can almost guarantee the actual effect will be only to increase the control and wealth of those at the top of the banking system – those with the connections and capital to navigate the ever-increasing web of regulations and institutions thrown at it in the name of equality.

I would almost put it forth as a defining property of the left: it is that faction which advocates inequality-increasing actions in the name of ‘equality’. Elite liberals advocate such policies (consciously or not) because, ultimately, they will benefit from them. Non-elite liberals advocate them because they sound good, are pitched with egalitarian rhetoric, and after all, they don’t know any better. And what about the rest of us?

Well, not to worry. Because in the end, we too will get fucked.

The Rhetorical Presidency, And It Feels So Right
October 10, 2010, 1:18 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Shortly after President Obama’s inauguration, I observed that he didn’t actually seem to be doing anything:

President Obama has an outside shot at being the first ‘Rhetorical President’ – the first administration in history in which policy is conducted entirely via empty rhetoric.

As far as I’m concerned, this was prescient, and I should be getting more credit for this brilliant observation, within the blogosphere and without – the world over. Okay, maybe that’s going overboard, but still.

If you try to think of a list of Things Obama Has Done, probably the only significant, tangible thing that you’ll be able to come up with is ‘Obamacare’. (Sorry but stuff like ‘nominating Justices that any other (D) President would have nominated’ doesn’t really count in my book.) Granted that ‘Obamacare’ (whatever the hell it is exactly) seems to be a big tangible thing. But even that:

  1. was pushed through by Democrats in Congress and otherwise wouldn’t have happened,
  2. is basically undefined, i.e. the bureaucracy/regulatory fourth branch of government is going to have to invent/make it up as they go along, since Congress didn’t know what the fuck they voted for and no one else really does either,
  3. whatever it is, is entirely in our future (at the moment, not a single person is getting their health care via something called or related to ‘Obamacare’, or for that matter in any other manner than they already were), and
  4. to the extent that it’s affected anyones’ lives thus far, that effect has been entirely negative – coverage being dropped, insurers closing up shop, employers being stingy with head count, etc.

So fine, I’ll add ‘Obamacare’ to my existing list of Zero Things Done if you insist, Obama fans. But is there anything else? Anything real? Not to mention, anything positive to speak of?

The fascinating thing is, to Obama’s supporters, it doesn’t really seem to matter. The appeal of President Obama lies less in what he does or doesn’t do than simply in who he is, what his image is, what he represents, and how it makes (certain type of) people feel to know that he is the President.

Certain people, at least the hard core of Obama’s supporters, simply feel good about knowing that the President is Barack Obama. He doesn’t seem to have to actually do anything to create that feel-good glow among those people – nor does it seem there is anything he can possibly do to dissipate it. The appeal of his Presidency has less to do with tangible accomplishments or wishes for the country and everything to do with pop culture fashion statements. It’s like their favorite band or movie being #1, or the Cool Guy being class President instead of the Geeky Nerd; if Obama is the President, things just feel right.

Given that this is his appeal, I don’t know how to rebut it, other than to ridicule it.

They Keep Torturing Me, I Keep Coming Back For More
October 4, 2010, 5:08 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Humm Baby

Let’s see. In my memory:

1986: Giants compete in the NL West (at least, I remember being at Candlestick for a sweep of a doubleheader against the Astros, which put the Giants in first place, or something like that) only to get no-hit by Mike Scott as the Astros clinch.

1987: Giants favored to win the World Series, get beat by, like, that skinny shortstop who did those backflips and that other 1B named Clark that they traded away

1989: Giants get QUAKE’D

1993: Giants win 103 games and don’t make the playoffs because due to a still-unexplained scheduling quirk the Atlanta Braves finish the season with like 39 games against a minor league team playfully called the “Colorado Rockies”

1997: Giants by all scientific measurements had the best team in the NL, but the Florida Marlins are selected in some smoky backroom to fulfill the prophecy of Back to the Future II by making the World Series. After all, Florida had been a team for almost five whole years by that point, it was about time they got a World Series under their belt.

1998: 73 home runs just wasn’t enough. Barry should have hit like 80+

2000: J.T. Snow nearly causes me to get into a car accident with excitement when he ties the Mets with a 3-run homer in the bottom of the ninth (as I listen on the car radio driving down 880). And then, they lose anyway.

2002: The season of which nobody must ever, ever speak again

2003: Aw hell, I think it was that fricking Florida team again. And Jose Cruz, Jr. dropped a flyball. Another 100-win season wasted.

So now the Giants are back in the playoffs. What new tortures for Giants fans’ hearts await? Stay tuned.

October 3, 2010, 10:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

I actually listened to some ‘albums’ this weekend. Remember that? Remember those?

The difference between listening to music via albums, and listening to your music as mp3s on an iPod, is like the difference between slowly enjoying a decent home-cooked meal and loading up your plate at a Vegas buffet. I’m not saying one is necessarily better than the other, and there can be some tasty stuff at buffets, but certainly too much of them can make you miss that home cooking if not send you to the restrooms. It had been awhile since I’d even tried to listen to an ‘album’, and I was struck by how relaxing it was. Also, I kept encountering songs that (paradoxically) I really like but which I know I would have skipped on an iPod. It felt like a gift to be able to slow down and enjoy those songs – as if the iPod doesn’t let me.

The key difference is that when listening to your iPod, there are always hundreds of other artists and songs you could switch to by pressing a button. Your finger’s always on that trigger. But once you’ve put a physical ‘album’ on (whether in record or tape or CD form), it takes that minimal amount of effort – not very much, but some – to switch the album. And usually this effort is sufficient to prevent you from doing it willy-nilly. This seems to be a case where having a near-infinite amount of choice changes the experience fundamentally. Our music listening habits are destined to become more and more “ADHD” oriented.

I am not a Luddite or anti-iPod by any means but there is something to be said for the idea that there can be too much choice.

Global Warming: Belief Without Knowledge, Idiocy Without Shame
October 2, 2010, 1:16 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

To follow up on the previously-posted case of envirofascism, something’s been bugging me:

Why don’t lefties feel embarrassed to take strong stances in cases where they don’t know what they’re talking about? Why do they lack humility about their ignorance?

Global warming is a classic example of a topic where most of the people who fervently believe in it literally don’t know what they’re talking about. (Yes, there are exceptions, but here and below I’m speaking generally.) Yet it’s also a case where, evidently, these peoples’ views are uniquely strong and haughty and self-righteous and, in some cases, violently fascist.

Right or wrong, the theory of catastrophic, human-induced global warming is based entirely on computer models. For the most part, the lefties who believe in global warming:

  • haven’t looked at these computer models
  • don’t know what goes into building the computer models
  • don’t know the approach generally used for the models (i.e. that they generally try to assimilate uncertain data into an uncertain model)
  • don’t know what input data are needed for the computer models
  • don’t know the reliability of or error bars around that input data
  • don’t know that there are error bars around the input data
  • or where it comes from or how it was assembled and scrubbed
  • don’t know the mathematical limitations of the models
  • don’t know that there are mathematical limitations of the models
  • don’t know the assumptions behind the models
  • don’t know the shortcuts and simplifications used to get the models to be tractable calculations
  • don’t know the sensitivity of the models to error bars in the input data
  • don’t know that the models are sensitive to uncertainty in input data
  • and, even if they knew all this, don’t even really know in any detail what the model results are anyway (or more accurately, whose models say what, under what assumptions).
  • They just know, i.e. heard, or were told as schoolkids, that ‘all the models say there will be global warming’

In short, they don’t know what they’re talking about. I mean, not really. Do they? If you look at this “apology” posted by “Franny”, there’s this at the bottom:

Franny, Lizzie, Eugenie and the whole 10:10 team

Now really. I know this is presumptuous of me (two can play this belief-from ignorance game!), and nothing against “Franny, Lizzie, and Eugenie”, who I’m sure are lovely British girls from nice families who did their A-levels and are fun at parties and like Coldplay and everything, but what are the odds that prior to deciding to be involved in this publicity campaign – and note, presumably this is their “job”, essentially the modern Euro version of a ‘sitting-on-chairs’ job – what are the odds any of these girls (or, really, any of 99% of global warming believers) sat down and familiarized themselves with the equations of oceano-atmospheric science, and with the numerical methods used to solve them, before shooting their mouth off about it and starting “jobs” devoted to spreading the related propaganda.

I suppose, like most global warming believers, they’d say they don’t have to and shouldn’t have to, because they heard a professor talk about, or read an article about, global warming, way back when, and that’s an expert, and that’s good enough, because it puts them on the side of experts. Maybe. Hey Franny, what was the name of that professor? Can you cite the paper or article you initially read that convinced you of the reality of global warming?

Can anyone?

Oh. Right. I see. It doesn’t matter because the view is so widely accepted among “all the scientists”. See, the “consensus” is that global warming is real. And that’s all you need. “There was, like, a poll of scientists, or whatever, and like 99% of them said Yes it’s real. I read that somewhere, you see, I think on a blog. So that’s what convinced me and you have no case!”

Really? What poll? What was its methodology? Who was polled exactly? Where was it published? Surely you remember, since it convinced you of the truth of a claim which leads you to believe society needs to be overhauled.

Sorry, no, they don’t know what they’re talking about. So how did lefties get convinced of global warming in the first place, without knowing anything about it. Why did they get convinced of it. Why was it so easy to convince them of a thing, in this instance, but not others? A thing which has such radical ramifications? Is there any other plausible explanation besides this one:

They wanted to be convinced of it, because they like its ramifications, because those ramifications seem to coincide with political aims they already wanted.

And not only did they get convinced, but they’ve now become imbued with such self-righteousness on the subject that they’re comfortable with murdering dissenters. Over a thing they don’t really know jack squat about.

This is what I find strange. I mean, I’m not saying I’m an expert on anything in particular, but I’m pretty highly educated, I’ve learned a lot about this and that, and been in a few different advanced and specialized fields in my day. And in any of those subjects, I’d be totally embarrassed to act as most of the left does over global warming – a subject on which most of them don’t know 1% as much as I know about three or four scientific/technical subjects (including oceano-atmospheric science). Totally embarrassed.

People who really know things, you see, don’t turn them into doctrines. People who really know things also know how much they don’t know. They speak on their subjects with knowledge and confidence where appropriate, to be sure, but also with a proper amount of humility and care to delineate where their knowledge may be fuzzy, where the boundaries of their knowledge lie, where there is debate about their view, in short: where they might be wrong. Indeed, that’s all part of knowledge.

Frannie, Lizzie, and Eugenie clearly have no freaking clue just how much they don’t know. And they have no inkling that they could actually be wrong. This is precisely because they don’t know a damn thing about their chosen propaganda subject in the first place.

So why do they believe in it so strongly? It appears to me that (when motivations/incentives are there, as I think they are in this case) the lesser the knowledge, the more fervent – and, not coincidentally, dangerous – the belief. But I don’t know a good remedy, other than to try to embarrass people who speak and act this way, for not knowing what the f**k they’re talking about.

The problem is, what if they don’t get embarrassed about that? What if they are impervious to embarrassment over being such presumptuous ignoramuses? What then? I admit, I’m at a loss. I’m stumped. Because I literally don’t and can’t understand not getting embarrassed about that. In some ways it’s the most baffling thing of all to me in the global warming debate.

Well After All, You Can’t Spell Environmental Without “Mental”
October 2, 2010, 12:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Just sick. One of the sickest things I’ve ever seen.

The only possible saving grace is if the person who made this propaganda film secretly disagrees with its message and wanted to sabotage it, like a double agent.

Because if not: sick.

HT Reason


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