A wake-up call / WTF moment in time…

I’ve said before that I’m a political animal at heart. I’ve engaged with parties and politicians since before I was old enough to vote, and have walked to the polling station for every single opportunity since turning 18. Local, National and European elections – I didn’t miss a single one, and I don’t intend to miss any in the future.

What this has created in me, through those years of interest, research, watching, listening, and reading, is – rather unsurprisingly – someone who now sits firmly in the centre of things.

That means that if you’re successful, hard working, and amass a huge personal fortune – good for you. Being rich isn’t a crime – although being poor shouldn’t be treated like one.

Somehow, it is….

I hate seeing people who, whether by their own decisions or not, suffer through lack of health, housing, or opportunity. What I hate even more, however, is seeing people who look at that community and either don’t care or don’t want to care.

So here’s a story for you, hot off the press.

aoc

In the Democratic Primary for New York’s 14th Congessional District, a candidate called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a twenty-eight year old woman with no prior political experience in office at any level, just defeated her opponent Joseph Crowley, a nineteen-year representative who was tipped to become the next House Minority Leader. Outspent 18-1 in campaign funding, she stood on some pretty clear policies, which resonated with voters, and which have elicited a fairly unusual response from Republicans.

What were these policies?

  • Universal, single-payer healthcare for all as a right.
  • Housing as a right.
  • Higher Education for all.
  • Women’s rights.
  • Support for Senior Citizens.
  • Mobilization against Climate Change.
  • Financial controls and the restoration of the Glass Steagall Act, which was put in place to prevent bankers gambling with funds after the 2007 crash.
  • Criminal Justice reform
  • Clean campaign finance
  • Immigration justice and the abolition of ICE
  • Gun control, and an assault weapons ban
  • Solidarity with Puerto Rico

Now, I don’t see anything there that I’d disagree with.

agenda

However – as evidenced by the reaction of the right-wing media and people such as Sean Hannity on Fox News, these are (and I quote) “scary policies”…

What he is saying, is that there are people in this world who would look at a homeless person, and actively appreciate that they are not paying anything in taxes to provide shelter. Who would hear of a neighbour who died because they couldn’t afford to fill prescriptions or go to the doctor, and be actively happy that they weren’t contributing to anybody’s healthcare needs but their own. Who would picket and protest outside clinics providing medical care for pregnant women who might be seeking abortions, and then actively campaign for these children to be denied the opportunity of education, food, welfare, healthcare, housing, or even the chance to feel safe at school. Who see events like the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five journalists were murdered after the President called them ‘the enemy of the people’ (by the way, the 195th mass shooting in America – this year) and then go merrily home to oil their AR-15. And who see the faces of children forcibly removed from their parents, held in cages, sedated and assaulted, and happily ignore this abhorrent state-sponsored abuse because, after all, it’s not like these are our children

This is what happens when a party values having power more than they value the responsibility of wielding power. When they think they are the masters, when in reality they are the servants. When they care more about the people paying them donations and kick-backs than the people whose votes put them in office, and can so easily kick them out. And that is where the real future of power lies.

I truly believe that this US administration have unwittingly shown people that it’s time they took back power – power against corporations and corporate greed, power against the corrupt and the corrupted, power against those who misuse power for personal gain and to further hateful agendas.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ victory in the Primary is one big step in the right direction – one of many steps being taken as the US heads towards their November mid-term elections, which with a voter backlash against the incumbent republicans could see much-needed change and long-overdue humanity coming back to society.

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The Second Amendment – an historical examination

Yet another school shooting in America. Sixteen children and a teacher murdered by a former pupil, who callously set off a fire alarm, knowing that would bring many victims straight to him.

The eighteenth school shooting this year – and we’re barely seven weeks into 2018. To call this a serious problem is to completely understate the very, very obvious. And yet there are still many people who won’t even consider talking about the clear need for stricter control on these weapons.

They try to deflect. They talk about mental illness being the cause – as if other countries are all so very sane. They talk about video games and movies being excessively violent – as if we don’t get the very same material. They talk about criminals still getting guns if the ‘good guys’ can’t. They talk about only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.

All utter rubbish, of course, as we’ll discuss. But there’s one thing that they all talk about, which they believe somehow negates any gun control debate. Their precious second amendment.

So let’s take a look at what this actually says…

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

It’s necessary to pop into the way-back machine to understand the thoughts, environment, and intent behind these twenty-seven words.

In the aftermath of the US War of Independence, America was a very different place to the nation it is today. They had no standing army, no police force, no central means of defending themselves against multiple real threats – the renegade Brits that they had just overcome, other Americans who remained loyal to the Crown, and – then as today – fear of attack by ‘those pesky natives’.

As an attempt to formulate some kind of security structure in this potential vacuum, the Congressional Convention in 1787 proposed that Congress should have the power to raise a standing army and navy, of unlimited size. This caused a rift between anti-federalists and the new government, and so compromises began to take place so that a US Bill of Rights could be adopted, replacing the hated British legislation that still held sway.

One of the key elements in this series of compromises was the fear that, with an armed military force and an unarmed population, it would be too easy in the early days of the nation for the military to take over states by force. As such, the argument for an armed population – for defence of the nation – raged on.

Eventually, after several years and many iterations, the wording was adopted in 1792 as laid out above. The US now had two things – a standing army, albeit under some serious restrictions, and a population with the ability to possess guns, for the express purpose of forming a well regulated public militia force, should the need arise and should the standing army become more of an occupying force than a protecting force.

Let’s pause a second, and consider the phrase ‘well regulated militia’. What does that actually mean?

The term “regulated” means “disciplined” or “trained”. In fact, the US Supreme Court has even defined the phrase “well regulated” as implying the imposition of proper discipline and training.

So as far as the second amendment is concerned, a well regulated militia, is a force of trained, disciplined people, working in protection of their nation against aggression of government.

Over the years, between 1888 when law review articles were first published in the US right up to 1959, every single review article that references the second amendment concluded that it did not guarantee an individual the right to own a gun.

So let’s bring this back to the present, and try and reconcile that with the way that these 27 words are being misinterpreted today.

Well – that in itself is a challenge, because the second amendment isn’t even being used in its entirety.

In the lobby of the NRA headquarters building in Fairfax, Virginia is the second half of the amendment only, emblazoned in gold letters across a wall. They are – unsurprisingly – very keen to declare that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” but conveniently ignore the qualifier about a well regulated militia being necessary. And here’s why…

In 1977, the NRA held it’s annual meeting. People still refer to that meeting today as the “Revolt in Cincinnati”. The leadership of the NRA had decided to move it’s headquarters to Colorado, signalling a retreat from politics. More than a thousand angry pro-gun, pro-republican rebels showed up at the annual convention. By four in the morning, these dissenters had voted out the entire leadership, and activists from factions called The Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee forced their way into power.

The new leadership was overtly dogmatic and ideological. They started to ferment unrest against federal control in many areas of life, such as taxation and land policies. And, as an attempt to remain in power, politicians adjusted their stances on these matters to keep in with the new zealots.

Back to the law, then. In 1960, articles began to appear that strongly argued that the amendment, as written and as accepted for over 160 years, didn’t mean what it always had. I guess Hollywood must play a part in that shift, with their westerns portraying the concept of ‘a good guy with a gun’ to the masses. White hats and black hats, and all that.

Initially, the legal articles didn’t make much difference in the shift of public opinion, but as soon as the radicals at the NRA came to power, that started to change as they combined massive investment in lawyers (to argue their case in law review submissions), political lobbying (together with the promise of backing and financial incentives for politicians that aligned themselves with NRA thought), grants to write pro-gun book reviews, and the establishment of many organisations, such as ‘Academics for the Second Amendment’. Massive amounts of money, pressure, and coercion from the NRA and their activists brought about a seed change in the way that most Americans now view the second amendment.

It’s ironic that most of the people yelling “SECOND AMENDMENT!!!” don’t even realise that they aren’t supporting the constitution, but the NRA bastardisation of an ideal.

And it’s tragic that – unless this changes once again – these same people will defend the rights of people like Nikolas Cruz, who murdered seventeen people at a school in Florida on Feb 14, 2018. They will defend the rights of Stephen Paddock, who on October 1, 2017, murdered 58 people and injures 851 others in a ten-minute shooting spree from a hotel room in Las Vegas. They will defend the rights of Adam Lanza, who on December 14 2012, walked into the grounds of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing twenty children aged between six and seven years old, as well as six staff and his own mother.

They cite mental illness. They cite influences of video games and movies. They cite all manner of things.

They cry that if you take their guns, only criminals will have guns. Personally, I’d far rather the police arrest someone for owning an illegal gun, than arrest them for massacring seventeen people. Because – and this is very important – all of the people I named above were legal gun owners, right up to the point when they became murderers.

However, gun supporters never cite the one thing that would have absolutely prevented these atrocities.

It’s impossible to kill 58 people and injure 851 others in 10 minutes, from a 32nd floor hotel room across the street, without the guns to fire.

It’s impossible to walk into a school and murder seventeen people if you don’t have the weapon to do so.

It’s impossible to massacre twenty children barely starting their school life, if you don’t have the means to deliver that death from the barrel of a gun.

Yes, health issues need to be addressed (although with Mental Health funding in the US being gutted at the moment, and restrictions on mental health suffers owning guns being lifted, it’s hard to see anything going well there). But we all have mental health issues in our countries. Only America arms their mentally ill. And that must stop.

Survivors of the attack in Florida are vocalising their anger towards the laws that failed them and their classmates. One can only hope that their voices are as loud, and as persistent, as they need to be. Because if they aren’t listened to, then all we are doing is waiting for the next time.

 

When is a tax NOT a tax?

I’m sitting here very confused. And whilst you might think that this isn’t unusual, well…. you’d be right.

However, before there are too many comments aimed at me (you know who you all are) let me explain what’s getting me this time.

Here in the UK, we enjoy certain benefits, which is part and parcel of living in this nation we call home. We enjoy the benefit of knowing that – if we fall ill – we will be looked after, irrespective of whether we are rich or poor, whatever our background, race, politics, gender, or any other delineator you can think of: we get sick, we get treated, and thanks to the skills of our medical professionals, we know that if it’s possible to get better, then we most likely will.

We enjoy the benefit of a diverse community, where people are valued for what they bring to us rather than devalued for what we might think they take. We excel at embracing differences.

When the need arises, we have the benefit of truly brave, truly exceptional people in our emergency services. The sight of a copper on the beat, or the sound of a siren signalling the presence of an ambulance or fire engine rushing to an incident, makes almost all of us react with respect for the job they do.

We also have our government and parliament. Now I’m not going to be so churlish as to say they get – or deserve – universal respect. However, I haven’t ever had cause to complain to our parliament over the situation that – were I a US citizen – would have me fuming and firing off emails and letters by the hundreds.

The other day, the Republicans got their Tax plan past the first hurdle towards making it law. Seeing as they have failed to get any other significant bill passed, despite control of all levels of the US Government machinery, makes this a big deal for them. But it appears to have been rushed through with many, many amendments that the legislature simply didn’t have time to fully read or understand before the vote. And as the detail emerges, it seems that there are some elements in this bill which really shouldn’t be there.

Remember – this is a bill about taxation levels.

So why is there a clause in the bill removing restrictions on drilling for oil in the Arctic wildlife preserve?

Why is there a clause removing the requirement for churches not to endorse political candidates (thereby revoking the separation of church and state that is enshrined in the constitution and bringing the potential demise of the First Amendment one step closer)?

Why is there a clause on abortion, reclassifying life as officially starting at conception (I mean – what has that possibly got to do with taxation)?

Why is there a clause reducing the size of some of the US’s most beautiful National Parks by as much as 90%?

There are a bunch of things being pushed through in an apparently desperate attempt to sneak previously failed legislation onto the statute books. And there are some amazingly unfair, even cruel fiscal policies that are bundled into the bill.

Why are welfare programs that help 50% of Americans survive – not thrive, but survive -being defunded so that millionaires with their own private jets can deduct the cost of owning and running them? Medicare itself is being defunded to the tune of $400 BILLION.

Why are student debt relief regulations (which allow young adults with outstanding tuition fee debt to pay the debt without the additional tax burden) being scrapped, so that those with homes worth over $5.49 million can avoid paying tax on their estate when they die?

Why are changes to the mandate put on states to provide healthcare insurance under the ACA being lifted, so that individual states can decide not to treat people with particular illnesses? And so that 13 million people immediately lose their healthcare coverage?

There really are so many elements in this bill which are almost viciously cruel in and of themselves. Bundle them together, and the aim is clear – the ‘family values’ party really doesn’t care about you, unless you are wealthy and can afford to buy them off.

The elderly, the sick, the young, would all be worse off. Whereas certain families, such as – ironically – the Trump family, would be better off to the tune of over a billion dollars a year.

And yes – that’s the worst use of the word ‘ironically’ in the history of language.

I said at the top of this post that I’m confused. And I am. Here’s what confuses me.

How the hell did enough people believe the lies and propaganda that has brought us to this position?

I sure as hell can’t work that out…

Still, look at it this way. Republicans control the Senate, the House of Representatives, the majority of State Governors, the Supreme Court, and the Presidency. This situation hasn’t happened since 1928. And they are truly partying like it’s still the Roaring Twenties.

Let’s remind ourselves of what happened in 1929…

 

The American Way, or the Highway…

I’m following current events in the US with increasing dismay.

The protests / counter protests in Charlottesville over the weekend showed just how much white supremacist fascism feels enabled by the actions of the present government over there.

The death of a young woman, Heather Heyer, and the injuries suffered by many others is horrific, but I fear that the underlying cause that created these events runs far deeper.

‘The American Way’ is often touted as their utopia. It’s all about people being free – free to do, say, live, behave, worship however they want, with little or no interference or control from the state. In principle, that’s a good idea. Sadly, it relies on a principled population to work.

Let’s take the First Amendment – the freedom of speech. Basically, you can say what you like. Even if that’s not what other people like. and they can say so, and you can argue, and you can confront each other’s views, and then suddenly there’s a car being driven into a crowd of people simply because they think differently to you. And people die.

That’s not an issue that specifically surrounds white supremacism, although pretty much all of the recent events have been due to their actions. And the alt-right need to take responsibility, as do all groups, for the impact their views have on society as a whole.

Let’s take the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. Written in the late eighteenth century at a time when there was a clear danger from Native American Indians, rogue English-supporting vigilantes, and claim-jumpers looking to secure the best land for themselves, it made sense that a homestead could be protected.

But it’s not been updated for over two hundred years, and you now have people with an armies’ worth of assault weaponry, quoting ancient legislation as their ‘right’. The rights of these gun-toting mavericks legally outweighs the rights of the rest of society to be protected from their potentially murderous intentions, or any accidents caused by a trigger-happy citizen out shopping (such a dangerous pastime in some states, clearly).

Most other ‘civilised’ countries understand the need to draw a line between the rights of the individual and the rights of society. They know that free speech is important, but hate speech is illegal. They know that having an armed population will only lead to people being shot.

America needs to wake up to the fact that ‘The American Dream’ is in severe danger of being left for dead on the sidewalk, and that only by bringing the edge-case lunatics (white fascists, survivalist weapons hoarders, etc.) into line by protecting the many against the few, will the US start to regain it’s freedom.

Because – after all – the anthem doesn’t just talk about it being ‘the land of the free‘, it also declares itself ‘the home of the brave‘, and it’s time that the brave stood up – like Heather Heyer did – and start to make a difference.

 

I’m feeling lost…

Ever since I was first able, and ever since I knew what it meant, I’ve been a political animal.

I’ve looked at the issues, I’ve listened to what each shade of political opinion had to say,  I’ve formed what I always believe to be informed opinions, and I’ve been able to align myself with people, and with a party, that shared, if not all, then certainly most of my views. That has tended to move me to regard myself as a conservative, to vote that way in local and national elections, and to feel that a country led along those values was more or less the country I wanted to be a part of.

Only now – for the first time – I don’t feel that way.

I look at what’s going on locally, domestically and internationally, and I’m really struggling to find any of my values reflected in any single political stream.

I strongly believe that leaving the EU is the wrong thing for us to commit to, unless we really know what the conditions for life outside the EU will be. If life is better (or at the least not significantly worse) then fine, that’s what we will end up with. I can’t be the only one whose concerns centre around that fact that nobody has a clue, we’re simply heading full-pelt towards an edge without knowing if there’s a good landing place or not.

My local MP (and now Prime Minister) Theresa May campaigned to remain in the EU, and is now seemingly one of the most hard line anti-EU protagonists. This is showing a lack of consistency and personal character that are surely a requirement for anyone in her position. If there was an election tomorrow, I don’t think I could vote for her. Trouble is, I can’t see myself voting Labour or Lib Dem either, whilst UKIP turn my stomach with their views.

As we’re on the topic of leaders with no moral compass, let’s talk Trump.

I utterly abhor what’s going on in the US at the moment. There’s an upsurge in bigotry, racism, hatred and sexism that is given legitimacy by the words and actions of the President. There’s such a clear attempt to stifle any and all dissenting voices, there’s blatant lying from all and sundry, there’s people like Betsy DeVos, surely one of the most unqualified people even in an administration led by someone such as Trump. She’s bought her job, without a doubt. And she’s just one of the many people whose background and documented views should surely disbar them from the very important roles they now fill.

Would I have voted for Clinton? I’m not sure she’d be that much better (although she would certainly be better) so I don’t know.

I certainly wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. His actions leading up to the election (mocking disabled people, branding Mexicans as thieves and rapists, repeatedly lying about his achievements and refusing to release his tax returns) and his actions since taking office (the ban on muslims from countries he has no business dealings with, his faux-divestment of his companies making it very believable that he’s skimming vast amounts of tax dollars into his personal accounts, and his refusal to act in any manner befitting a US President) gives a hint on what’s on the way.

So what do I do, and where do I go? If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s because I do care, that I have to ask the serious question: When you know you need to engage, but all the options make you shy away, how do you make a difference?

 

UPDATE: The 2017 Election Cometh…

 

Old movies, classic comedy and good clean smut…

There’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about going on a nostalgia kick.

In fact, there’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about using the word ‘quintessentially’, which I suspect is only ever followed by the words ‘British’ or ‘English’. You definitely never see anyone describing something as ‘quintessentially German’ – not even goose-stepping.

I’ve recently reconnected with a bunch of stuff from my youth, which leads me to write this epistle.

Here’s the ‘stuff’:

  • Vinyl records played on a proper record player with little tinny speakers
  • Black and white films, of the sort that always used to be on telly on a Sunday afternoon
  • 1960s BBC radio comedy – specifically ‘Round The Horne’
  • B-movie science fiction, generally from the 70s and early 80s

These items, in and of themselves, are fairly normal. You could easily read that list and silently – or audibly – go “meh”…

But it’s more what they evoke than what they deliver.

Take the vinyl records, for example. They, for me, demonstrate that great line from the movie ‘High Fidelity’, when, after Dick tried unsuccessfully to guess how Rob was rearranging his record collection (“Chronological? No… not alphabetical…”) Rob reveals his system will be autobiographical, so that “if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

I’ve not got many vinyl albums, but when I listen to the double live album Babylon By Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers, I’m back home with my parents, them sat watching tv in one room whilst I’m sat next door, listening to one of the world’s greatest protest singers delivering a lyric so great, you don’t realise how revolutionary it was until nearly ten years later… but you remember the message. When I’m listening to Dare by The Human League, or Upstairs at Erics by Yazoo, I’m back in that post-school, pre-serious work period where everything was cool, and I was a part of it.

The old movies? Sunday afternoons in front of the telly were great – especially if it was raining outside, and we sat in front of the fire watching films like ‘The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw‘ with Kenneth More, or – if we were lucky – a Carry On film. All a part of those days when you could watch a film and part of your eight-year-old mind still believed it might be real. And if it was a sci-fi b-movie so bad it’s good, the knowledge that it most certainly wasn’t…

Round The Horne was something I got to later in my childhood, but the repeats of the show were always something I looked out for. The cast was brilliant, with the leader of the gang, Kenneth Horne, often playing the straight man (in all senses) to Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, and another ‘quintessentially’ BBC voice, announcer Douglas Smith. Listening to the show now, it’s remarkable how far they managed to push the boundaries of the BBC back in 1965, when the show was first broadcast. They had plenty of sexually repressed characters, innuendo by the bucketload, and the incredible ‘Julian and Sandy’, two unemployed actors taking on a range of different jobs. They were the most obviously gay couple imaginable, in an age when homosexuality was still illegal. The fact that they could get away with so much still surprises me, such as when they were working as lawyers:

HORNE: Will you take my case?

JULIAN: Well, it depends on what it is. We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.

HORNE: Yes, but apart from that, I need legal advice.

SANDY: Ooh, isn’t he bold?

Comedy nowadays struggles to fit in single entendres, let alone the doubles that Round The Horne was liberally sprinkled with. Entertainment has changed, and not really for the better.

In this age of digital downloads, 3D blockbusters and so called ‘talk-radio’, I’d rather stick with entertainment that… well, entertained.

The School Reunion – How To Survive…

After thirty-four years – yes, THIRTY-FOUR YEARS – tomorrow I will be attending my first ever school reunion. And most of the people there will last have been seen through my eyes on that fateful day in July 1981, when we all escaped through the gates of Haymill Secondary School for the very last time.

I will admit to mixed feelings about tomorrow night. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to getting there and seeing everyone, catching up, and finding out about people’s lives. But there’s a part of me that is wondering just what it’s gonna be like.

Reason: American Movie Reunions.

Yep. Up to now, my knowledge of, and exposure to, school reunions has been entirely covered by movies such as Grosse Point Blank, Peggy Sue Got Married, Something Wild, and of course, the brilliant Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion. And all of these have a stock set of characters that repeat every single time.

There’s the Jock That Never Grew Up. He was a bit of a bully, and a bit of a tosser, back in school, and he still is. Probably worked his way up to Assistant Manager in his dad’s Car Dealership, and did so despite never doing anything useful except show up three days out of five.

There’s the Fallen Princess. Voted the Girl Most Likely To Marry A Millionaire And Live Happily Ever After, she’s somehow found herself in a trailer park with seventeen kids and a real knack for up-cycling curtains into dresses.

Then there’s Mr “Too Good To Be True”.  Whatever he says about his wonderful life, supermodel wife and perfect children… well, you know. He’ll probably claim to have invented Post-It notes…

There will be Farmer Ted, the sad geeky one from school, who after all these years is the sad geeky one from work (work being a public sector job, maybe Post Office or Council Housing) who hasn’t changed a bit.

And finally, there’s the Ugly Duckling. Someone nobody ever expected to succeed, who has turned out into the most successful, wonderful, beautiful/handsome* (delete as applicable) person in the entire world. You know the one in the movies, she’s the one that nobody notices at all until she takes off her glasses and lets her hair down.

That’s all I know. And if I let myself, I’d wonder which of them was me (hopefully NOT the Princess).

But, like the movie directors, I’m missing all the rest. Those who may be played by extras, who go through the story and their lives largely uncredited, but who have brought remarkable stories to the table. Tales of travel and adventure, tales of hard work, sacrifice and reward, tales of children and – in some cases – grandchildren. These are the real successes, people who have lived every second of those 34 years and are there to share and enjoy that with you. Especially when you talk to them and recognise not just the person they have become, but the nerdy boy / giggly girl they used to be as well.

So. As promised, here’s my Secret of Surviving your School Reunion. Have fun, avoid the drama queens and those who look like they’ve just watched life go by, laugh a lot, and hope to hell you can recognise everyone, cos there’s nothing worse than reminiscing with a bunch of strangers who don’t know who on earth you are…

UPDATE!!!!

So the reunion went very well. We had around forty people there, which after thirty-four years was a great turnout. I guess there was a certain amount of “And you used to be….?” for a while, but it was a cool evening of catching up. And yes – most of the stereotypes were there to a degree, but everyone was lovely and pretty much well-adjusted!

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