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Miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings
Friday, September 30, 2005
School Bus Carrying About 42 Children Overturns - New York Times
This happened to me in fifth grade on an unpaved road in Houston. When the bus first went off the road, I thought, Cool, we're gonna be stuck in a ditch and late for school - something that happened from time to time. But then we kept going. And, hey, isn't that a tree I see through the windshield (I was sitting near the front)?

Suddenly the tree, the grass, the sky, and whatever else I could see turned at a sharp 90 degree angle. The seat in front of my brother (then in the 1st grade) and me collapsed for some reason - he needed a few stitches above his eye. Another boy his age, but very small, needed 13 stitches in his head, as I recall. He was okay, but the girl he bled all over was pretty freaked out.

I got my brother and the other kid into the cab of a pickup truck that stopped to help, and I jumped in the bed. We sped to the school, where they called an ambulance (no cellies back then).

One more thing I remember: in the school office later that day, all the kids on the bus called their parents. A kindergardener named Keith said, "Hi, Mom, the bus crashed and a couple of kids are bloody, but I'm OK, bye!" and hung up the phone. I could only imagine the look on his mother's face.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Some News
John Roberts is the new chief justice. You may be surprised to know that Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Hilary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and Diane Feinstein voted against him.

In other news, Tori Spelling decided to divorce her husband just fourteen months after her million-dollar wedding. You may be surprised to know that Hollywood people are really self-centered.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Confessions of a Hollywood Republican
Screenwriter Robert Avrech on his experiences. A sample, riffing on the idea that he hid his political views for fear of being denied work:

I'm a Republican. A heretofore secret Hollywood Republican. I know men and women who are heavy drug addicts and they have no problem finding employment in Hollywood. I know men and women who are gambling addicts and they work pretty regularly. There's even a director who was arrested for child molestation and yet was hired by Disney - yes, Disney - to helm a picture, and people defended this decision by saying even child molesters have a right to work. I would bet my bottom dollar that all these people are on the correct side of the political spectrum. They are liberal democrats.

He also says he goes to the shooting range with several members of his shul regularly. Bean - might be time to change synagogue affiliations (or at least become an associate member....).
Someone Stole His Bagel
Psychotoddler just posted his recollections of our IM conversation yesterday. It's not bad, but the actual conversation I pulled from the archive is actually funnier.

PT: somebody stole my bagel
Doctor Bean: oh. no. I'm sorry. I swear it wasn't me.
PT: i'm trying to be good
Doctor Bean: we have about 4 stale ones from Friday here in the office but they'll be even worse when they get to you
PT: i feel like michael corleone
Doctor Bean: non sequitor. don't follow
Doctor Bean: they keep pulling you back in?
PT: i'm trying to be a good boy, eat reasonably
PT: i brought a little toaster bagel with some cream cheese
PT: and someone either threw it out or ate it
Doctor Bean: but for some reason it transmorgified to a corned beef sandwich?
PT: and the only kosher stuff at the gas station is cookies
PT: what can i do
PT: starve?
PT: i have to eat the cookies
Doctor Bean: eat the cookies
PT: my hand has been forced
Doctor Bean: te absolvo
PT: the cookies and the diet coke
Doctor Bean: diet coke? yum!
PT: and one of those kellog's breakfast bars
Doctor Bean: keep a stash of kosher healthy stuff at the office
PT: i'll start my diet tomorrow
PT: new topic
Doctor Bean: you may find it hard without some external plan to keep you accountable.
Doctor Bean: ok no more about that
PT: that was the stash, btw
PT: need a bigger stash
Doctor Bean: i'm listening to dennis prager in the office.
Doctor Bean: you've heard of him?
PT: i've heard of him but he doesn't come by my office
PT: conservative guy
Doctor Bean: he's on the radio 11 - 2 your time
Doctor Bean: http://www2.krla870.com/listen/
Doctor Bean: that's the link to listen to his show
PT: i can't listen here
Doctor Bean: ok. never mind.
PT: the palestinian will shoot rockets at me
Doctor Bean: ha!

PT: good cookie
Doctor Bean: enjoy the diet coke too
PT: it's growing on me
PT: like a fungus
Doctor Bean: new drug rep. hubba hubba. altace for everyone! on me!

Doctor Bean: i gotta watch some very borring training videos about the new EMR version, but it's hard to concentrate with the drug rep walking around.
PT: pretend she's a cylon
Doctor Bean: that makes her more desirable, just more dangerous
Doctor Bean: ok. gotta focus. bye
PT: bye
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
In Passing
Bob Denver died on Sept 2, right after Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf Coast and right before William Rehnquist died. I felt a little bad that Gilligan's death got so little attention. So, here's to you, little buddy.

Don Adams died Sept 25. I hear that he was a Marine who fought on Guadalcanal. Here's to you, Maxwell Smart.
Monday, September 26, 2005
Rolling Up Al Qaeda Worldwide
Lest you believe the gloom and doom anti-war protestors, let me bring you two bits of good news about the global war on Islamofascism that you may have missed.

U.S Special Forces Kill Abu Azzam who was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's head honcho in Iraq. That's gotta be making al-Zarqawi sweat. I'm going out on a limb and predicting that al-Zarqawi will be dead or captured by year's end.

Bin Laden is isolated geographically and in terms of communication.

If the next presidential election cycle starts with Iraq a more-or-less functioning capitalist democracy, Saddam Hussein having been tried and executed, and Bin Laden's head on a spit in the White House rose garden, what do you suppose the Democrat's chances will be?
Book Review -- Freakonomics
A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
By Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Freakonomics is a bit like Seinfeld. It's a book about nothing. But the authors admit to this from the start. Or at least it's a book not about any one thing. It has no unifying theme unless you count a brilliant economist using huge databases to find surprising answers to offbeat questions a unifying theme. Each chapter is a look at a different problem and its unexpected answers, for example: many sumo wrestlers cheat, swimming pools are more dangerous to children than guns, and there's not much that parents can do that increases their children's chance to succeed. It's a very quick and enjoyable read and it has interesting lessons for the way facts tend to upend our preconceptions. It's also much shorter and much more entertaining than the other non-fiction books I've reviewed here.
Previous book reviews:
The Bell Curve Doctor Bean
Ender's Game Ralphie
Guns, Germs, and Steel Doctor Bean
Ender's Game Doctor Bean
One Book List Oven
Armed attack dolphins loose in the Gulf of Mexico
I guess it's better than sharks with freakin' laser beams on their heads.
Sunday, September 25, 2005
I Love It When You Talk Geeky To Me
Mirty, owner of Mirty's Place, is starting a new blog called CodeScripter which will help us neophytes make our blogs better. Visit. Learn something. Thank her.
Umpteenth verse, same as the first
Western Word has been keeping count of how many Gaza-based attacks on Israel Sharon would tolerate in its "zero-tolerance" policy.

Israel has finally responded, and the AP has this editorial comment in its "news" account of the story:

The new offensive dubbed 'Operation First Rain' dashed hopes that Israel's recently completed Gaza withdrawal would help restart peace talks and left a seven-month-old cease-fire teetering on the brink of collapse.
Here's the first sentence in the story:

Israeli aircraft blasted suspected Palestinian weapons facilities in Gaza on Sunday and authorities arrested hundreds of militants in the West Bank, launching an offensive against the Islamic group Hamas after it bombarded Israeli towns with rockets.
So, the bombardment by Hamas was not threatening to a cease-fire or peace talks. But you knew that already.

In fact, this is so run-of-the-mill, there's really no point in blogging it. But I like virtually hearing myself virtually talk.
Thursday, September 22, 2005

The more I think about it, it really is the flashbulb reflection in the cat's eyes that makes this the funniest picture of all time. I mean, it's humbling enough to be a cat being ****ed by a dog. It should be the ultimate of all indignities.

But the reflection of the flashbulb reminds us that there is a 3rd party here. Someone who, if it occurred to him, could help the cat. It may even be the cat's owner. Someone the cat trusted. Someone who, rather than helping the cat, opted instead to break out his instamatic, and snap this photo. The ultimate betrayal is not the dog; the dog's just doing what dogs do... on some level, the cat may even understand this... wrong place, wrong time, some days the dog gets you.... but the betrayal by the person wielding the camera is consuming. This is a cat who will never trust again. Ever.
UN response to death of Simon Wiesenthal
Tee hee.
Cool clock
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Church, chapels, Jews
A baseball chaplain is suspended from the Washington Nationals after nodding his head to a question about whether or not Jews are doomed.

There are a lot of things to ponder about this story - whether religions should shy away from their beliefs because of bad publicity, whether or not Jews should care if others think they are doomed, the implications of calling another religious group doomed, and the general question of why is everyone still so freakin' obsessed with the Jews?

But, by far, the most pressing question in my mind is - baseball teams got chaplains? What are they, going into battle? Do they need religious counseling after being on the bad end of a strikeout? This is at once fascinating and preposterous. I don't have any kind of a chapel at my job. I go to religious services at a religious institution. That way, if my clergyman says something controversial, my employer doesn't have to even think about distancing the company from the statement.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Book Review – The Bell Curve
The Bell Curve
Intellignece and Class Structure in American Life

Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray

It has been 11 years since this important book was published. It initially raised a firestorm of protest and controversy, though, as far as I know, none of its findings have been seriously challenged in the intervening years.

The Bell Curve is a very detailed scholarly review of what is known about the distribution of intelligence in America. As such it is primarily (as the title suggests) a book about statistics. It does not attempt to explain the biological roots of intelligence; it is not a neurology or psychology book. It rather deals with populations, and asks questions such as: Is intelligence an actual quantity that can be reliably measured? Does this quantity predict other useful things with any accuracy? How does this quantity vary between individuals and between groups?

The authors with painstaking references to the original data assert and support the following points:

The authors then build on this foundational data by examining current affirmative action policies, both in education and in the workplace. They show that the magnitude of the advantage currently given to ethnic minorities is dramatically higher than what would be defensible given the initial stated goals of affirmative action, i.e. to assure that the institutions are casting a very wide net in encouraging applicants and that in cases in which two applicants have very similar qualifications, every effort is made to give the minority applicant the nod. Current affirmative action policies don't resemble these goals at all and have essentially devolved into two separate applications processes, one for whites (and non-protected minorities such as Asians) and another for protected minorities. These processes are entirely independent of each other and applicants from one pool are never compared to applicants in the other. The only goal is to assure that the mandated numbers of minority applicants are accepted, regardless of how low the qualifications of those applicants are, or how high those of the white applicants are. The statistical differences reported in the qualifications between accepted white and minority applicants are surprising – usually over a full standard deviation. The authors argue that, besides the obvious cost to the white (often poor white) applicants who lose the positions to much less qualified minority applicants, society in general pays other serious costs, including making minority achievement suspect, and lowering the economic efficiency of companies that are forced to hire much less productive employees.

In the last chapter the authors recommend remedies to the problems that they assert are caused by policies that ignore variability in intelligence. They do not recommend abandoning affirmative action, but instead suggest returning to the radical vision of individualism imagined by the Founding Fathers in which Americans are thought primarily as individuals. Then if small advantages must be given to groups that have been historically disadvantaged, they do not object, but this advantage must be small in comparison to the weight given the individual's achievements.

The book is very interesting, but some parts are a bit dry, and it is not short. Nevertheless I think it's must-reading for any who still support affirmative action, or who believe that the Federal Government's role in the last 50 years in education and employment has been positive. It's been 11 years. It would be nice to see some policymakers take it seriously.
Previous book reviews:
Ender's Game Ralphie
Guns, Germs, and Steel Doctor Bean
Ender's Game Doctor Bean
One Book List Oven
Monday, September 19, 2005
Madam, I'm Adam
There's a relatively new antibiotic called Ketek. Everything I've read about it suggests that it's no better than older antibiotics, but it costs more. Nevertheless, I really like it because it's a palindrome. I've been prescribing it to all my patients named Bob. And Eve.
An American Hero
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
In Iceland We Sing Because Our Doodads Freeze
Yesterday I discovered the Icelandic band Sigur Ros, which in Icelandic means Victory Rose. In the subsequent web browsing I've hear their music described as alternative, post-rock, and ambient. The group is composed of four men and the vocalist sings a mixture of Icelandic and nonsense lyrics in falsetto. (It's all Icelandic to me.) The result is quite captivating. Their most recent album is available as a stream on their website. Take a listen.

You can read more about them and find more links to their music in this NRO article by John Miller who likes them despite confessing in a previous article his love of Iron Maiden.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
It was four years ago today
Apologies in advance. I replaced the Salvation Army logo & link with a 9/11 image. I figure that the few people who read here and the greater number of people who post here have already made a donation somewhere or other. In any case, I just commented it out so we can restore it tomorrow.

I have to admit that this anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy has passed me by without a trace, so to speak. This is my fault, of course. On one hand, it still feels so close to me, and I think about it so often, that I don't feel like I need a day of commemoration. On the other hand, I know I won't feel like this forever and it's important to establish some sort of ritual (I'm using a lowercase "r" here, 'cause I don't mean religious) to mark the date.

What to do? A nationwide moment of silence sounds hokey, but they do that in Israel (for certain dates) along with a siren and it's pretty effective. Of course, Israel's a whole lot smaller, and they have other ceremonies for those kinds of days as well. In 2002 & 2003, there were some military-type flyovers. I have to say that was actually a little unnerving, since we were still on high alert for attacks on that symbolic day.

Any suggestions? Did anyone out there make an effort to do something relevant? (I admit I did not.)
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Why We're Joining the NRA
Knowing that ball-and-chain and I are crazy right wingers, you may be surprised to hear that we haven't already been card-carrying members of the NRA for many years. We haven't been. Like any huge lobbying group, the NRA takes a lot of specific positions, some of which we've always disagreed with, and while we're generally for handgun ownership, we thought we disagreed with the NRA on enough issues to wish them well but stay out. The main issue of disagreement has been handgun registration. I've never had a big problem with it. I figure if we have to register cars with the government, it makes sense to register guns. I always thought my ideal compromise would be a state that registers firearms but allows any mentally healthy gun owner who has no criminal record and who completes the relevant training to have a concealed-carry permit if he applies for one.

Most recently, ball-and-chain has become increasingly suspicious that there are people in the government who either through incompetence or well-meaning naiveté or blind ideology would confiscate legally-owned firearms. Then today the news proved her right.

This article in the New York Times (registration required) is about New Orleans residents whose property was relatively unharmed and who have refused to leave. The most terrifying part was a throw away line in the ninth paragraph.
To reduce the risk of violent confrontation, the police began confiscating firearms on Thursday, even those legally owned.
ball-and-chain and I almost lost it when we read this. "Reduce the risk of violent confrontation"? How do firearms owned by good citizens increase that risk? I assert that the firearms owned by Treppenwitz and Og decrease the risk of violent confrontation. Why in the world would New Orleans disarm law-abiding citizens? That will simply make them unable to defend themselves from a violent confrontation.

When pro-gun advocates have argued that registration is simply a tool to enable disarmament at some future date, I've always thought that this was the ravings of paranoid ideologues. They were right. The time I would most be counting on my handgun is after a major disaster, when police services are stretched very thin or entirely unavailable. That's when they decide to disarm law-abiding citizens?! Hell no! After a major earthquake if Sheila Kuehl decides California is better off if I'm unarmed, I'm not going to cooperate.

That's all it took to push us over the edge. We're members.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
I birthed a Vulcan
We have mentioned Stretch a few times on this blog. Many of you probably think that he is an average 10-year-old boy. You are wrong. He is a Vulcan. For those of you who did not spend your college years watching Star Trek reruns and movies, let me fill you in. Spock, from the USS Enterprise was a Vulcan. You remember the pointy ears. You may not remember the lack of human emotion. Spock’s every decision was based on logic. Spock was half-human and therefore could understand a little bit about feelings. My son is the same. Recently, he brought home one of those goofy, beginning-of-the-year assignments designed to let your new teacher learn about you and, touchingly, to teach you a little about yourself. It is titled “How I Really Feel.” Here are some of Stretch’s answers (his comments follow the dash)
When I have to read, I- read
I get angry when- I don’t have enough steak (meaning when he’s hungry)
I wish my parents knew- rocket science
I can’t understand why- people get sad so easily
I wish my mother- knew chemistry
People think I- am weird, I agree
When I finish High School- I’ll become an engineer
For me, studying- is stupid
I feel proud when- I figure something out before anyone else
I wish I could- fly, no doubt
I am at my best when- I eat food from PKD (a local kosher deli)

Even more priceless are the ones he left blank. They indicate an inability to understand the emotional component that others experience in certain situations.
To be grown up-
I feel bad when- ( I actually quizzed him about this one. He said he never feels bad)
I wish my teachers-
Going to college-
When I take my report card home- (In response to my query, the best he could reach for was “I put it down.”)
I would like to be-

Reading this over again, I realize that he really does sound odd. However, it can also be read as being about someone who is totally content with himself and his life. He can’t answer “I would like to be” because he is totally content with who he is. Also, he is readily able to understand others’ emotions (like his sisters’). He just doesn’t have any. Furthermore, he’s a really sweet kid as evidenced by the final question from this assignment that he left blank.

I wish my father-

I asked him about this one too. He said he didn’t know what he was supposed to write. I suggested that he think of something that his father was lacking and fill it in. He looked at me incredulously, and said
“Dad isn’t lacking anything”
And I couldn’t disagree
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Test Me For Everything
A common misperception among patients is that laboratory testing of their blood tells me absolutely everything about their health. They think that if their blood is drawn then all diseases will be either diagnosed or ruled out, because their blood will be tested for everything, like with a Star Trek tricorder, or a level 4 diagnostic. If later I tell them that their cholesterol is normal they assume this also means that I've ruled out pancreatic cancer, or a brain tumor, or being flattened by a truck tomorrow. This is a typical discussion.

Me: Mrs. Jones, the blood tests that I ordered last week showed some inflammation in your liver. Have previous doctors said anything about this?

Mrs. Jones: No, and my gynecologist just checked my blood a month ago. He said he was checking my hormones.

Me: Do you know if liver tests were in the tests he ordered?

Mrs. Jones: Oh, I'm sure he checked everything.

Me: Oh, I'm sure he didn't.

Mrs. Jones: You mean he didn't do all the tests? Does he think I'm in an HMO or something?

Me: No. I just mean that there are hundreds of different available blood tests and the vast majority have nothing to do with your specific issues. No one gets every test, and if anyone did, most of the tests wouldn't give any useful information.

Mrs. Jones: But he said everything was OK.

Me: He meant everything he checked was OK.

Mrs. Jones: So my liver might not have been OK? Should he have checked my liver?

Me: I'm not saying that, I'm just curious if he did, just because that will give me a clue about how long this has been going on.

Mrs. Jones: So what did he test for?

Me: I don't know. I'll call his office and ask him to fax me those results. Meanwhile I'd like to do some more blood tests to check what might be wrong with your liver and make sure that you don't have viral hepatitis.

Mrs. Jones: OK, but this time please test me for everything.

My previous reflections on doctoring:

Vitamins = Crap (Mostly)
You Should Know Better Than That
I Really Appreciated This Visit
If I could be a doctor...
If I could be an astronaut...
Gawsh, You’re Awful Purdy!
Going Around
What Is It?
The Secret To Longevity
Thank You, Doctor
Senior Sadness
Monday, September 05, 2005
Say what you want about Moveon.org (and I've got plenty to say), but you've gotta give props for their creating a website to try to provide housing for Katrina refugees.

And I found the site from a link on the Salvation Army site. Go figure.
Unnatural Disaster: A Hurricane Exposes the Man-Made Disaster of the Welfare State

I've been trying to come to grips with the difference between the local reaction to the disaster on the Gulf Coast and other disasters I've seen in the past in the U.S. Looting, rape, murder, obstruction on one hand vs. pulling together, lifting up and surviving on the other. This piece by Robert Tracinski makes some sense.
Louisiana's Wetlands @ National Geographic Magazine
Prescient Article from National Geographic, October of 2004

"It was a broiling August afternoon in New Orleans, Louisiana, the Big Easy, the City That Care Forgot. Those who ventured outside moved as if they were swimming in tupelo honey. Those inside paid silent homage to the man who invented air-conditioning as they watched TV "storm teams" warn of a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing surprising there: Hurricanes in August are as much a part of life in this town as hangovers on Ash Wednesday.

But the next day the storm gathered steam and drew a bead on the city. As the whirling maelstrom approached the coast, more than a million people evacuated to higher ground. Some 200,000 remained, however—the car-less, the homeless, the aged and infirm, and those die-hard New Orleanians who look for any excuse to throw a party.

The storm hit Breton Sound with the fury of a nuclear warhead, pushing a deadly storm surge into Lake Pontchartrain. The water crept to the top of the massive berm that holds back the lake and then spilled over. Nearly 80 percent of New Orleans lies below sea level—more than eight feet below in places—so the water poured in. A liquid brown wall washed over the brick ranch homes of Gentilly, over the clapboard houses of the Ninth Ward, over the white-columned porches of the Garden District, until it raced through the bars and strip joints on Bourbon Street like the pale rider of the Apocalypse. As it reached 25 feet (eight meters) over parts of the city, people climbed onto roofs to escape it.

Thousands drowned in the murky brew that was soon contaminated by sewage and industrial waste. Thousands more who survived the flood later perished from dehydration and disease as they waited to be rescued. It took two months to pump the city dry, and by then the Big Easy was buried under a blanket of putrid sediment, a million people were homeless, and 50,000 were dead. It was the worst natural disaster in the history of the United States.

When did this calamity happen? It hasn't—yet. But the doomsday scenario is not far-fetched. The Federal Emergency Management Agency lists a hurricane strike on New Orleans as one of the most dire threats to the nation, up there with a large earthquake in California or a terrorist attack on New York City. "

Without knowing enough yet to direct blame, it sure seems like there should have been a much better plan in place for this one. If you know it's coming eventually, and when it does, you have several days warning, it's inexcusable that so many were left behind... and equally unforgiveable for help to be so late and misdirected in the aftermath.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Chief Justice Rehnquist Dies at His Home - Yahoo! News
Judicial politics about to come to a head.
Friday, September 02, 2005
The Thin Veneer of Civilization
The aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans and Mississippi is getting attention which is much-deserved. But I'm struck by a part of the story that hasn't had much play. (ball-and-chain actually told me that Dennis Prager talked about this, but I didn't hear him.) I'm struck by how fragile civil society is. I've been camping and hiking in relatively uninhabited areas, but I never really felt that I had left civilization. At the most remote, I was never more than a few hours away from emergency medical care in an American hospital. I was never without a buddy who could get help if I was injured. I never ran out of food or water.

For a few days New Orleans left civilization. There is no reasonable way to still call what is left there a city. New Orleans is a former city. No one really expected what nature did to New Orleans, though a city built below sea level should expect occasional flooding. The biggest surprise to me, though, was how people behaved. It seems that if you turn off water, power, and phones, and keep the police away for a few days, civilization dissolves. There was looting, rapes, and murders on a scale that won't be clearly documented for months, if ever. In 48 hours the rules of citizenship crumbled and were replaced by the law of the jungle. I wonder if this is universal. I wonder if some groups of men in desperate situations with no law enforcement anticipated would still behave according to the law simply because they think of the law not as a cop's baton but as a contract they each have with one another. Maybe not, but if not, then civilization is only a thin veneer of modern conveniences shellacked over our very primitive nature. I would like to be very disappointed at the roving gangs that took over New Orleans, but I guess I would have to know that not all people behave similarly in those conditions.

Meanwhile all of us should double-check that we have enough nonperishable food and bottled water in our house for our entire families for a few days, and think about a plan to keep your family safe if your home is suddenly in the jungle.

Oh, and one last thing. Without even discussing it with me, ball-and-chain did the right thing. She gave some money through the Salvation Army website. If you own a home which is still standing, and all your loved ones have plenty to eat, you should too.
Fortune Cookie, Part VI
The person who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
First Comment
I've never understood commenters who get excited over adding the first comment to a post. I haven't it seen it happen here in the coffeehouse, but I see it in a few other places. What is the big deal?

Being the first one to use a public restroom after it's been cleaned - now, that is something to crow about.

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