An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

The Lies of America

America is a tower.  A tower of lies.  A tower of lies that people have actually come to believe.  So many lies, and none of them even remotely true.  What are the lies?  I will tell them to you.

There is the lies of how inadequate you are.  From TV screens and computer screens come ads where people who are too beautiful to be real are telling you about how you don’t have the body that you should.  That unless you take this pill, eat that food, use this exercise machine, follow that weight loss plan, that you are just another ugly part of society, and how nobody will find you attractive.  Sure, there are ads where beautiful people are saying that you should love who you are, but who do those beautiful people associate with?  More beautiful people.  A lie that keeps people in American in bondage to the idea that they are not good enough.  That they have to be better.

There are the lies of consumer culture.  Things are sold to people for unbelievable amounts of money.  This nation’s economy is built on selling things to people for far more than what they are worth.  But people call this thievery the “free market.”  They will defend this ideal, saying that this is the way it is supposed to be.  With the digital age, you’d think that money would have become outdated.  That we could have grown beyond the petty constraints of our business leaders who have a stranglehold on this country.

There are the lies of government.  People on one side of the fence and the other follow the two massive parties, all the while believing that things are going to change.  If they vote for the person with the D by their name, or the R, things will get better for them.  Both sides seeming unaware that these two letters and the people who follow them are both in bondage.  Bondage to a system of greed and corruption which has consumed not only America, but the entire world.  People passionately defend their beliefs, saying that they will be vindicated.  And all the while, banks are being spoon-fed trillions of dollars, the poor are starving, and the rest are becoming the poor.

The are the lies of childhood.  If you grew up in my generation, you grew up with Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street telling you when you were very young to be nice to the other children.  To share and to help them, because we are all one people.  There are no races, there are no differences.  We are all one, and we have to look out for each other.  But the moment you leave childhood behind, that rug of comfort and what should be truth is pulled out from under you.  You are thrust into a world that tells you that back-stabbing is okay.  That manipulation and cruelty is what is to be expected.  That you shouldn’t help others, but steal from others.  The kindness and compassion of those childhood messages swallowed whole by the maw of greed that our corporate wasteland has become.

There are the lies of potential.  Not that you are being lied to that you have potential, which isn’t true.  The lie that you don’t.  The lie that all you are accomplishing with your efforts and your talent is nothing.  The artisan, the poet, the writer, the dreamer, you tell somebody that you mean to pursue these talents and dreams, and they will laugh at you.  Saying that your head is in the clouds, and you need to come back to planet Earth.  Because talent and art and beauty is not motivated in our society.  We have become so cold and so calloused to the idea that when somebody brings it up, we look on them and feel amusement.  Like they are somebody to mock, instead of somebody to raise up.  Meanwhile, the culture at large raises up people like Justin Bieber, Michael Bay, and a dozen other creators who are easily packaged, easily able to slipped on a label or cover and put out to the public.  Gone are the messages of Marilyn Manson, telling young people not to listen to society, and to know that being who you are is okay.  We now teach conformity, and to be ordinary.  Because your potential is wasted in this country.

But above all, there are the lies of living.  Is it any wonder the public has become so apathetic and disillusioned with their political celebrities, who at this very moment are going around the country and putting on lovely shows?  Nothing has gotten better.  Obama preached a few months after he got into office that “America is back.”  It was a lie that nobody believed.  The people were too smart to be manipulated like that.  Even now, nothing is getting better.  Stagnation and just acceptable are the words that are constantly in the zeitgeist of this country.  We are told that this is the best we can do.

America is built on a foundation of lies, and if something doesn’t change soon, this country will be beyond salvation.  The global economy is falling apart.  It could be a worldwide depression, with the banks and the corporations still making money.  The culmination of our war for independence has been to be told by people who don’t care about you that you need to spend thousands of dollars on s*** you don’t need.  That going in debt is the way to be saved.  How many college students like myself have believed that lie.  So many of them have cried themselves to sleep at night, praying to a God who isn’t real that they will get that next chance.

This is what your civil war was for, America.  This is what protecting yourselves from the Empire of Japan and the Nazis accomplished.  Your marches for civil rights, for women, minorities, gays and lesbians.  It allowed you to be a corporate dumping ground for all their money, while people protesting in the streets get laughed at from balconies above by people so wealthy that they could care less.

Aren’t you proud?  Aren’t all of us proud?

You should be crying.

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The Massive Shift in Social Interaction

Now, brilliant psychologists a thousand times smarter than this columnist have and probably are writing books about how the psychological world and social interaction has changed because of sites like Facebook, but honestly, their books will be dry and boring and few people will care to read them.  This is going to keep it simple, and hopefully be more enjoyable.

Facebook changed everything.  Despite how factually inaccurate the film was, The Social Network did get one thing right – this was a once-in-a-generation “holy shit idea.”  This idea changed things forever and for always.  It has changed the entire face of social interaction with people.  Even as I write this, my Facebook page is open in another tab, telling me what is going on with my friends.

There isn’t much of any college students in America right now, or teenagers, or adults, who are without a Facebook page, and I think it’s a safe bet that you just leave it on while you look at other pages like YouTube or any other sites.  It is amazing how much we have incorporated Facebook into our lives.  It is like the constant connection to your social life.

Think about this: you leave it on why?  To get information about your friends, or strike up a quick conversation, or put up pictures of what you and your friends have done and see what the response is.  The same things that we used to do with phones, visiting people’s homes, and email (back when people actually checked that).

It truly is remarkable just how far that humanity has come within such a short time.  The last 12 years have seen a massive paradigm shift in human interaction and cultural behavior.  This kind of thing used to take place within 100 or dozens of years.  Now, within the space of just 12, we have completely changed how we interact with our fellow human being.

But more than that, this also ties into the fact that everything is becoming digital.  Truly, this is the greatest time to live.  Say what you want about the fact that America’s culture is dying, but the fact is that life has never been as wondrous as it is right now.  Where once people had to travel across great oceans to see what was happening in Britain or Japan, we can now link up webcams and talk to people thousands of miles away.  Video of a person’s adventures can be loaded up and streamed quickly, giving the rest of their friends the chance to see what is going on with the click of a button.  Of course, it will never be as good as going and taking part yourself in these kinds of things, but it does bring us closer together as a species.

Granted, there are problems to this.  For those like myself, chatting online does feel horribly impersonal, not really connecting to the person in a very deep level, but that is a small price to pay for how much progress our species has made.  The internet brought us the world in a way that nobody ever thought before.  It’s so ironic that the government is just now trying to get bills like SOPA, PIPA, or their latest incarnations, ACTA and CISPA to bring the power of the internet to a halt.  It is ten years too late for that.  Sites like Facebook have made the internet something that not only controls business in this country, but has become an integral part of the social contract of the human race.  This government, nor any other, will ever be able to reign it in.  There was a time when it could have been done, but not anymore.

Another great thing about the social sites is that they bring the world of knowledge ever-closer as well.  When a story gets out about something big, it is viral in a second.  Within the span of an hour, there can be a massive viral video that changes how we look at an issue or another person.  Videos like the ones with the police brutalizing the Occupy protestors.  TV-esque networks are even trying to tap into this, like the new network on YouTube, WIGS.  They are making a series of videos on YouTube, much like a TV show.  The idea is ambitious, and although they aren’t getting the views I’m sure they wished, it still shows how much power the internet has over this world.

The government is going to have to come to terms with the fact that the internet is beyond them now.  It is more powerful than any government, or any force.  If they pass something like SOPA someday, there will immediately be a group of hackers who will work to bring us what they don’t want us to have.  Just the way that Prohibition didn’t work, and the drug war isn’t working now.

The world of social interaction has changed, for better and for always.  People will complain about how this is wrong or whatever, but the fact is that they don’t seem to realize that the truth is that what has happened with these sites is that they have linked the world in a way that has never happened before, and never will happen again.

It is an amazing time to be alive.  For sure.

The Hammer of Failure

There is a rather ugly lesson that isn’t really shown in television or movies.  It is a lesson that people learn, and not a lot of people like.  The lesson that a person can try their hardest, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to succeed.  It’s really harsh to hear, but it’s true.  At the same time, while that lesson isn’t being taught, there is something that is being used as a hammer against the entire population – the hammer of failure.

The idea is that advisors, counselors and what have you will tell you that if you don’t do this and that and so on, you are going to be a complete and utter failure.  I cannot begin to tell you how much I have and am still hearing about this now.  You see, I am a smart guy.  I’m not an Einstein genius, but I am pretty smart.  Still, for being intelligent, I was not the best student.

Growing up, I got told by so many people who I was going to fail.  My parents said that I should just drop out of high school.  In hindsight, that might not have been the worst idea.  Public high school in America is a joke, and the punch line is that it is the best that so many of us have.  All the talks, all the pressure, and the endless line about how one is going to fail is just absolutely crushing sometimes.

But this is the tool that our academics seem to think is the most effective way to motivate kids.  It is pounded into their heads, day after day, and there are plenty of smart kids who just don’t do well in school, either because the way things are being taught to them doesn’t mesh with their personalities, or because our academics seem to think that there is a one-size-fits-all test that can determine how smart they are which clearly isn’t what its name implies.

People think that if we tell kids enough that they are going to fail, they are going to get movitated to succeed.  The reality is that if that were ever true, schools would have really high scores and grades.  But, as with issues like the right to bear arms or freedom of speech, the answer aren’t as clear-cut and neat as we would like to think they are.  The fact is that things are a lot more complicated, and students are not all cut from the same cloth.

The fact is that our education system is failing on such a monumental level because educators and the systems they are in have failed to realize the most critical thing that they should – each student is different and they don’t take in knowledge the same way.  Ironically, I am a person who learns by doing.  The only classes that I have really taken something from are the ones where I was out in the world working to create something.  But most college courses are NOT that.  They are a 3X structure – you go to class, have a big test in the middle, and a big test or project (or both) at the end.  That’s it.  That’s now how I and a lot of people that I know work.  I have a friend who is going to be one of the youngest surgeons in this country.  He is a brilliant mind, and has busted his ass because he doesn’t learn like their 3X structure works either.  Thankfully, he has had the luck of having professors to understand his dilemma, and work with him.

We need to stop hammering in that kids will fail if they don’t follow a certain path or do this or that.  Now, before you start thinking it, I am not one of those people who says that It Gets Better.  That is an outright lie, and we know it.  I merely believe that students are not as stupid as we give them credit for, and although some are, I think the bulk just haven’t found their niche.

The benefit is that in the modern age, finding a niche is so much easier, because the internet is open to all walks of life and ways of thinking.  Online, more and more opportunities are growing for more and more people, and while there are a lot who still fall through the cracks, the growth of the internet means that more people will have a way into a space, provided that they are a little proactive in making things happen.

But this attitude of – you’ll fail, you suck, needs to go.  Any educator who uses it, disregard them as a narrow-minded idiot, because that is what they are.  There will be instances where one will fail, and there will be times where a person can try their hardest and not succeed, but here’s the kicker – when we tell kids that they will get better, and that they will find a way, they will keep wanting to try.  When parents and teachers keep telling them that they will fail, they will, because they won’t have the self-confidence to even bother trying, and that is a crime, and absolute crime.

Education needs to get smarter.  Though that may be being a little too optimistic.  America, a nation that makes war against smart.

Barnes and Noble and the PC culture of America

A story that needs to be addressed but is being rather underplayed is of a recent decision by Barnes and Noble.  A Scottsdale resident has accused the chain of descrimination after he was kicked out of the store for being alone in the children’s section.  On the surface, that sounds like there is something to that.  Dig a little deeper, it gets annoying.

The man’s name is Omar Amin.  He is 73 years old.  He was shopping at the store for his grand-children.  An employee escorted him out after a customer reported that he was in the children’s section, alone, which is apparently against store policy because some stores had had problems with sex offenders.  First off, something that needs to be addressed – does Barnes and Noble not realize that there are female sex offenders out there?

The man has claimed that he is being descriminated against, and from where I sit, that is exactly what this is.  The good intentions of the store to protect children are completely irrelevant.  Barnes and Noble commented that they believed that this was the right decision.

By saying that, the second problem comes up – that they believe that blanket villifying of a gender is okay, which it most certainly is not.  This store has openedly endorsed the stereotype of the “dirty old man,” which is not okay.  But more importantly, this draws attention to the issue at hand – we need to STOP being so PC.  This country’s obsession with overreacting and overprotecting and being over-emotional about things is ruining this nation.

Yeah, protecting kids is a good idea, the thing about this is – the kids are not in danger in this instance.  Grandpa shopping for his grandkids is no more of a danger than a raindrop is to an elephant.  These kinds of things have to be taken on a case by case basis.  In fact, most everything has to be taken on a case by case basis.

Part of the problem in America these days is that everybody is so terrified of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person.  Since when did people’s feelings govern how this country conforms?  There are times when it makes sense to be a little bit cautious about an issue, but then there are times like this, where this store wanting to cover it’s rear-end and not be liable has fed into a cultural stereotype that clearly does more harm than good.

It’s ironic that while mega-corporations are desperately trying to cover their respective asses from problems, the rest of us are getting more annoyed at how dumbed-down our culture has become.  It’s all over the place.  TV has become a wasteland for the PC culture.  Film is starting to follow suit, although the racism and sexism of Michael Bay may mean that it isn’t totally over for film yet.

In the book “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” there was a scene where Huck and his gang have a cave.  They would gather there and talk about planning all sorts of crimes like murder and robbery and kidnapping of women to take the cave and seduce.  Could such a book get published anymore?  Not likely.

There are NO polarizing figures in the media anymore.  Back in the 90’s, there was Marilyn Manson, who parents believed was going to cause Columbine and crazy murders (even though the children who were responsible for Columbine were found out not to be Manson fans).  No such figure exists anymore.  The closest that we’ve got is Lady Gaga, and that is a joke.  A completely worthless joke.

America is getting dumber every day, and there is real social and cultural damage being done by stores like Barnes and Noble.  With that said, Amin should sue this store for as much as he can because he was obviously descriminated against, and deserves some compensation from this store for this, because this is absolutely wrong.

But on a larger scale, America needs to stop being scared of offending a soccer mom somewhere.  They aren’t that important, and maintaining a healthy culture and open discourse to ideas and ways of being is far more important.  Protecting kids is great, but we have to be smarter than just to stereotype.

Of course, this America.  That may be asking too much.

I am Anti-War on Memorial Day

It’s not an easy thing to be, to be sure.  While I do respect that fact that a lot of people have died to make this country what it is, there are a lot of problems that I have with this holiday.  The first is this – the idea that all dead soldiers are heroes.

Look, I’m not dogging on all soldiers.  Just like with cops, there are plenty of them that do the job, trying to do the right thing, trying to make things better, and trying to protect their country, even if they are being sent to wars that represent none of those things.  However, they are also plenty of soldiers who are completely psychotic killers who wanted to be given a gun, or jerks who want to have virtually unlimited authority over other people.  To say that every person who has been killed in battle is a hero, you have to make the same statement for the Nazis, or the Huns.  There has to be an understanding that some soldiers who die are not heroes.

The second is that the wars for the last 60 years have been completely and utterly pointless.  The last war that made sense to me as to why it happened was WWII.  Hitler was a monster who was mercilessly killing millions of people, trying to ethnically and ideologically purify the entire planet, and to take over.  The Japanese, while we had cut off their oil, were trying to take over this country.  America was in real danger.  It was clear and present.  What were the Korean and Vietnamese wars about?  Nothing.  It was a mission to stop the Reds from taking over.

Both times, they failed.  They failed for the same reason that Afghanistan and Iraq are failing – because this country invaded a foreign nation, not understanding the determination of the populace to defend their homes.  This nation pointlessly invaded two countries, and in both of them were involved in unbelievably violent and pointlessly brutal wars.  But again, this isn’t the soldier’s fault for being in these wars.  There was a draft back then.

Next up we have the invasion of the Persian Gulf.  This war served no purpose at all.  It was a lot smarter than Korea and Vietnam, since we knew not occupy Iraq and to leave quickly, but it was still a completely useless military action against a nation that stood no threat to us.

However, of all the pointless and brutal wars that have ever been fought, I can see none more pointless and more draining than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They were started under false pretenses by a man who was using these wars as a way to exercise his faith and get petty revenge against people who hadn’t wronged this nation, fueled by the mob-mentality that called out for revenge.

All of this said, while these wars were unbelievably pointless, we mustn’t blame the soldiers.  The average soldier can’t help where he ended up.  Blame the systems that drafted them, or the way we got soldiers into Iraq and Afghanistan by screwing them on deployment and back-handedly having those who are just trying to go into the National Guard end up in Fallujah.

The average soldier has only one loyalty when they are in a foxhole.  They don’t care about king or country in that instance.  Their only concern is with their fellow soldiers who are in that foxhole with them.  A lot of brave men and women have died, not defending this country, but defending each other.  If we are going to memorialize something, let us look at that, and pay homage to how many brave people did everything that they possibly could to protect their fellow soldiers and to protect the people who they trusted to protect them.

And for those who did truly die for this country, like the Revolutionaries at Bunker Hill, or the Union troops at Gettysburg, let’s remember them and give thanks for them preserving this nation.

I am anti-war, but I am also understanding enough to realize that this is not the soldier’s fault, and we should be grateful for them sticking with all the BS that the system puts them through, to look out for each other.  But let’s bring them home!  Let’s get them out of harm’s way, so we don’t have to put more men and women in the ground.

Bring them home.

12th Annual Campus Litter Cleanup at UAA

Well, this is going to be a slightly different kind of post than the kind I usually do.  This fits as it was a little bit different than the kind of story I usually cover.  This was the first time that I really went out and walked a story, getting to see all the elements, and interact with the events and find out everything involved.  It was a lot of fun, and I am hoping to do so again next year, along with do more stories like this when they come up.  The format of this will be a kind of photo slideshow, with text underneath talking about what these pictures are for, and why I have them there.  All pictures can be expanded by clicking on them.  I hope you enjoy.


As you no doubt can infer from the title, this was the 12th time that this event has been held at UAA.  It is in celebration of Earth Day.  The effort is also to help make the campus look nice for the heart run that is going to take place this Saturday.  A lot of groups have supported this effort, and a lot of people came out to help.  We’ll get to that in just a picture.


There were 143 people who particpated in this event, according to the man I spoke to who was leading the project, Erik Ohm.  He was gracious enough to get me all the details after the event, so I could get this out in the most accurate way possible, as is correct of a diligent reporter.  They gathered at around 9:00 in the morning and were given gloves, a trash bag, and a pair of “tongs.”  The tools of the warriors headed out to do battle with what was a battle with a tiny entity that lurked all over campus like ants.


Those involved in this cleanup spread to all corners of campus, including the satellite areas like Housing, Aviation and the University Center.  This was an effort to get the whole campus to look better and be a less littered place.  But as said above, there was a battle against a tiny entity that was the bane of a lot of the people involved in this’ existence.


Cigarette butts.  Yes, this was the most common thing.  Like little ants, they were everywhere, and there was a clear sense of annoyance from those who were using their tongs to try and clean up this almost insurmountable mess of butts.  Not hard to see why.  With so many, having to take the time to pick them up individually, that would get on anybody’s nerves.  As a person who has never condemned or condoned smokers, it at least draws the issue that if a person is going to smoke, could they at least show the courtesy to put their buts in the recepticals around campus for just that, if not putting them out on the cold steeel garbage cans and then throwing them away?  Courtesy was a little lacking.  But the people out cleaning did their best to deal with this barrage of butts (the immature part of me will address that yes, that does sound dirty).


Of course, there were some pieces of litter that were more dangerous, like this lovely mosaic of blue glass that was found by the Wendy Williamson auditorium.  It makes for a charming picture, but a sad reminder that there are some people who aren’t even courteous enough to not be dangerous with other people’s feet.


Though not everything was a bust.  There were prizes for whoever found the strangest and most valuable things on their wanderings.  I was the one who eyed this lovely prize, hanging on a tree.  Somebody lost a good sweatshirt.  Too bad that we are too tall for it.  It is pretty nice.


At the end of the cleanup, around 11:30, the groups came in.  There was a kickin’ barbeque that was held, and the people involved ate their fill (we didn’t get any pictures of it.  Sorry).  The total count of trash that was collected was 143 bags, along with a myriad of other odds and ends, such as car parts, a dog-house, and a children’s pool that was pretty destroyed.  There was 2,940 pounds of trash taken to the dump, while there was a large number of recycleables that were seperated out.  One of the people who participated in the event remarked that the amount of trash was low.  Looking at the final count, he was right.  According to Ohm, there is roughly 150 to 250 bags of trash gathered.  The onlooker theorized that the reason for the low count was the large amount of snow still on campus.

Anchorage got a record high this year in snow, and it will be a while before it is all gone.  The man also remarked that if there was a lot more left, there would either have to be another of these events to have to take place, or facilities would have to take care of it during the summer.  It’s a bummer that so many people can’t just throw away their trash and cigarette butts, but there were 143 people who came out and helped to make campus look better.

Hopefully, with posts like this, and with more support, that number can grow, and awareness can grow with it.  That is the best thing that can happen.

Peace out,

Lefty

Lefty and Music

Several of the people that I keep in touch with saw the post where I reviewed the performance here in Anchorage by the jazz musician, Chris Botti.  They found it kind of odd that that is what we were writing a review about, and more specifically that I seemed to have been incredibly amazed by this concert.  In the interest of explaining things, I thought that I would touch on why this concert was something that I was so glad to be able to see.  This going to be a rather personal post, which isn’t something that we do often, but it was needed to be discussed.

The love of music that I have goes back almost to the beginning of my life.  The first Disney film that I ever saw was “Fantasia.”  It was a work of cinematic mastery, and remains my second-favorite film to date.  It’s ironic that for their third film, Disney did something so absolutely different from everything that they had done before.  And not only that, but this film wasn’t really made for kids.  There were parts that they could enjoy, but to be honest, this film was made almost entirely for adults.

For those who haven’t seen it, Fantasia is a film that combines beautiful classical music with artistry.  There is almost no speaking, aside from the host.  It is pure expression, and the beauty of it is beyond words.  It is, by far, Disney’s best animated film.  But from seeing that film, at the age that I saw it, I was able to get an appreciation for great music.  Complex harmonies, the chords all working together to form the artistic vision, the mass of instruments that had made this creation, I didn’t know what any of those things were when I was a little kid.  But I could see the beauty of the music that I was able to hear and see.  It forever changed the way that I look at music, and how it has had an effect on life.

I think that you can get a glimpse of what a culture is like during a time period exclusively by looking at its music.  Forget the politics, forget the economy, all you need to see in order to determine the state of a culture is to see what music that it creates.  So, the question becomes – what do you see now?  Well, unlike the 60’s and 70’s, where you saw rebellion and deep love, today we see conformity, the need to be up to the horribly low standards, a complete lack of emotional intimacy with the words.  The power of singers like John Lennon, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain is replaced by the emotionless drek of singers like Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.  Never singing about the hard parts.  Love is easy, available, and life is awesome.  Such lies, but we are meant to stomach it.  And let’s not even get started about the fact that nobody seems to have any appreciation for wordless music, which gets its passion from the chords it plays and the instruments playing it.

Probably the only disappointment about Botti’s concert was that I was one of about 20 people in that packed auditorium who was in my own age group.  The bulk of the people in that room were middle-aged to senior.  Botti is a young artist, trying to play to a style that is young.  It should have had a much younger audience.  But it didn’t.  It had so few.  The lack of love for music that we are seeing in the modern culture is truly heart-breaking, because music is something that has absolute power.

The Beatles effectively ruled the world.  When Igor Stravinsky wrote his ballet, the Rite of Spring, it was so controversial that he was driven out of town with the threat of death on his heels.  Music has challenged leaders and ways of thinking, as it should.  Like the written word, it should be about more than just entertaining people.  Millions of neurons fire every single day, and the more you think, the more connections are made through this process.  With our new culture of brainless entertainment, it becoming increasingly clear that good taste is falling through in favor of something that is bright and loud.

If nothing else that I have said means anything to any of you, please take this away – the love of great music should be uniting our culture, and instead, while the Botti concert did sell out, and that is awesome beyond words, it should be selling out by the young.  The youth should have beaten the old people there, with a stick.  Oh yeah, I went there.

Music is power.  Music is passion.  Music is art and it is beauty and it is everything that makes our culture work.  The culture of America is dying, and this is sad beyond belief.  Botti touched on this when he said that one of his favorite places to go was Poland, because of their deep respect for musical artistry.  He was even asked to go there and perform in honor of Frederic Chopin.

We need our culture back.  Though that may be too much to ask.

Peace out,

Lefty

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