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So, the title obviously indicates that I’m not getting back to the defense again today, but that’s because, after a rather miserable week, I’ve got the week end.

And there are some good things about the weekend.  There’s a nearly three day Murder, She Wrote marathon on one of the Lifetime channels, which  means I can indulge my obsessions with the fair play mystery in both print and on screen. 

A friend of mine sent me the entire Dorothy L. Sayers opus a while back, and I still have some of those to reread, and I’ve got a lot of Christie, and a ton of the Joan Hess Claire Malloy series.

So, on the mystery front, I’m in good shape.

The other thing, though, is not so wonderful–sometme in the next 36 hours, we’re going to get hit with the first nor’easter in the season.

And it’s not even Halloween.

They’re projecting six to twelve inches of snow overnight Saturday into Sunday, plus some snow and freezing ran today. 

As prepping for nor’easters go, I’m not in bad shape, although I didn’t run out yesterday and buy forty thousand bags of potato chips.

That’s what we do in New England when we’re faced with being snowed in.  We buy potato chips.

The temperatures are then preducted to get high again, into the 40s, and into the 50s, and then close enough to 60 to make no difference.  I don’t expect this will be an onerous shoveling  job.

I’ve got a teenaged boy for the shoveling job, a house full of food (although no potatoes, which means I either make the corned beef with just carrots or skip it until I feel it’s safe to go out to the store), all those books I’m talking about and a manuscript that has started to go a little better, finally.

And the blog.

As long as the electricity holds out.

And no, I’m not afraid of driving in the rain that comes before the snow.  That’s not the safety I crave.  I crave the safety of being out of the way of crazed little old ladies stocking up on potato chips as if the Armegeddon had come and the chips were the only food safe from fallout contamination.

But, for what it’s worth, a couple of observations along the way:

I’m with Robert.  The modern university–public or private–is one of the least free-speech-friendly places on earth.  Between the endless speech codes (which are not about “civility” but about declaring certain ideas to be unexpressible) to the mandatory “orientation” sessions featuring coercive roleplaying sessions meant to brainwash new students into having the “right” ideas about race, religion, sexuality and who knows what else,  they’ve become the place in this society where you’re least likely to find a free expression of ideas. 

And no, I don’t think this mirrors real life.  Certainly, in real life, we get to discuss whether or not affirmative action (in its various guises) results in people of different races being judged by different standards, whether or not the practice of various sexual acts is a good thing or a bad thing for society as a whole,  and whether illegal immigration should be halted altogether.

It’s why I’ve never liked Donna Shalala.  She was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin when the SCOTUS struck down that university system’s speech code–TWICE–as unConstitutional restriction on speech, and her response was:  we’re going to go on doing this until we get a court that will let us have what we want.

In the second place, I read an essay put up on FB by Cathy F that I wish all of you would read, but I’m having trouble, as usual, getting the link up:


Try that one.  Copy and paste if you have to.

But I’d really like to see some reactions to that.

But back to the Catholic and Protestant versions of the Enlightenment, and why the US revolution was the first and last ever fought exactly on philosophy–later.

I’ve got to fear the snow.

Written by janeh

October 29th, 2011 at 9:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

48 Responses to 'Egregious'

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  1. I wish you peace in the snow.

    Real freedom to debate depends on where you live your “real life.” Living near Lichfield and Yale may be very different from living in the shadow of Oklahoma Baptist University, Oral Roberts University, and the Daily Oklahoman aka the Daily Disappointment.

    Thank you very much for the link. I’ll forward it to my successor and see what the social welfare policy students think. “Game” is the keyword.


    29 Oct 11 at 10:27 am

  2. I actually tried to post that link here first, and couldn’t make it work. I figured if I sent it to you on facebook, you’d get it here. Thanks!

    And I think it’s true. I really don’t get people who think that if you got rid of all financial support for people who aren’t working, that they would just buck up and get a job. As opposed to turning to crime or rioting or whatever. I’ve got an acquaintance from Kentucky who says that if food stamps didn’t exist, the people from inner city Philadelphia who need food would just move out to the country and start subsistence farms. Um, yeah.

    Cathy F


    29 Oct 11 at 11:28 am

  3. And the campuses that I have knowledge of are nothing like what Jane is talking about, so it’s got to be at the very least not universal.

    Cathy F


    29 Oct 11 at 11:30 am

  4. And I am sitting here watching the snow being very grateful that my trainer cancelled our workout for today.


    29 Oct 11 at 11:31 am

  5. Good article on SSI, but I thought everybody already knew that stuff? Except people living in some fantasy where John Galt/Jesus/Aliens/Recycling/The Singularity is going to Save Us All.


    29 Oct 11 at 3:06 pm

  6. I live in Australia and have never heard of SSI. There is a series of military science fiction novels by David Weber featuring Honor Harrington. The SSI reminded me of the “Dolists” in the People’s Republic of Haven. Not a pleasant model to consider!


    29 Oct 11 at 5:03 pm

  7. Good luck with the storm. I think it’s going to miss us. Well, we don’t get much local news on weekends, and the weather channel said eastern Canada would be hit, but they think anything east of Toronto is ‘eastern Canada’, and in this case, they meant the system would hit New Brunswick after it finished with the US. I’m well east of New Brunswick.

    The author of that essay may well have some good points, but one thing that strikes me is the assumption that everyone in poor neighbourhoods is going to turn violent and dangerous if not provided with the modern equivalent of bread and circuses. Of course, it doesn’t take ‘everyone’ to cause a lot of damage and misery, but still, what used to be called the ‘deserving poor’ still exist, are still citizens, and really deserve decent services and protection against the more vicious of their neighbours,

    Of course, I don’t think I’ve ever been in an American slum, and my quiet little neighbourhood is fairly safe as long as you’re not a poodle (the latest alleged drug dealer to set up shop here has trained pit bulls, and I don’t mean they’re trained to do party tricks). But I was struck during my many visits to relatives who used to live in the most notorious part of Toronto how normal it usually was – most people were the elderly and disabled (really disabled!) poor or new immigrants, and were quite law-abiding.

    Of course there were the others…. But although I do understand that the existance of poor people who AREN’T thugs could be ignored for rhetorical purposes in the essay, they shouldn’t be in real life.


    29 Oct 11 at 7:18 pm

  8. As usual, I agree with Cheryl.

    In all of human history, nobody has ever found a satisfactory permanent solution to poverty. These problems don’t have “solutions”. It’s fatuous for anyone to suggest otherwise. They can only be managed, and only in a way which our liberal western democracies will tolerate. How the problems were caused, or arose, will be endlessly debated, but understanding causes is necessary to help avoid further exacerbating the problems by sending good money after bad. However, agreeing on a “cause” is only the first step in finding agreement on the best ways to manage the situation. Sitting around playing the blame game is counterproductive.

    But if the “solution” is to have an uncontrollable number of welfare/SSI recipients being supported indefinitely by a demographically self-limiting number of productive citizens, the end is nigh and it won’t be pretty.


    29 Oct 11 at 8:11 pm

  9. And, on a somewhat lighter note, but apropos:


    And the website really, truly does exist. I peeked.

    What an amazingly sheltered life I’ve led!


    30 Oct 11 at 4:01 am

  10. Knowing “causes” can be helpful, but identifying and replicating interventions that actually work is even more helpful. Federal SSI for the very, very poor is an improvement over many of the state Aid to the Aged programs that existed prior to 1974. If food stamps and Medicaid didn’t exist, neither would grocery stores and clinics in poor areas. Like bookstores and libraries, grocery stores and clinics need income.

    In my experience (casework, off and on from 1970 to 1997; Episcopal priest’s ex wife) the people in very low income neighborhoods are not much different from the people in very high income neighborhoods. A percentage are as amoral as Machiavelli’s Prince, the majority are good people doing what they can with what they have, and another percentage are blessed to have checks that come regularly, since they could not manage for themselves by themselves.

    Ducking “blue ice” generated by those who conflate the amoral minority with the incompetent minority is part of the job when working to address poverty. Communities would probably not thrive with the application of the principles of John Gault (a figment of Ayn Rand’s imagination), universal subsistence farming with 40 acres and a mule, or disposable diapers for all.

    One size does not fit all, whether it’s disposable diapers or economic interventions. Evidence-based interventions might help. I suspect the evidence would be more reliable if evidence collectors and providers could manage to lower their levels of mutual distrust and contempt.


    30 Oct 11 at 6:04 am

  11. “But if the “solution” is to have an uncontrollable number of welfare/SSI recipients being supported indefinitely by a demographically self-limiting number of productive citizens, the end is nigh and it won’t be pretty.”

    With Mique on that. I’ve lived long enough now to watch people drift into this sort of program. They don’t seem to come out, and they have children who never come out either. Without either legal restrictions or serious social sanctions–AKA shame–there’s no reason for the situation not to keep getting worse until it hits bottom. And bottom could be Fall of the Roman Empire grim.

    I’d also note that while $600 a month really isn’t very much, collecting as Phineas Fogg, Phineas S. Fogg, Pineas Fog and Finn Fog makes a pretty decent income. (For that matter, it wouldn’t keep you from having an off the books job.)

    MM, are you suggesting that Oral Roberts doesn’t indoctrinate students, but Harvard does? I had, in a way, thought better of Oral Roberts. So nearly as I can see, the more seriously a university takes itself and its educational mission, the more the Thought Police have sway. Jane pointed out once that somewhere in the late 60’s or early 70’s, they doubled down on indoctrination, but stopped talking about forming character–with exceptions like Antioch and Liberty U. I think what happened was that pretty much the entire Top Tier realized that the character they now intended to form was not one which would be approved of by the alumni, the Board of Governors or by the state legislators. So, as occurs in other human activities, they do it, but don’t talk about it.

    But the Real World only asks that I do as I’m told and not incite mutiny. It’s the university which has thought crimes, anonymous informants and star chamber proceedings. It begins with taking my money to promote causes I oppose, but it ends much further along the same road.


    30 Oct 11 at 1:29 pm

  12. Please, give me some nuances here. Some very poor families produce children who are very poor all their lives. Some very poor families produce children who move into the working, middle, or rich classes. Some rich families produce children who are downwardly mobile. The US has a class system, but it’s not a rigorously enforced caste system.

    Once again – indocrination happens. The Ivy League can turn students into a well-rehearsed cast of characters approved by the real producers and directors. The fundamentalists put on a somewhat different, but equally thoroughly rehearsed show. When Jane gets back to history, Protestants and Catholics put on different shows, but the shows are still scripted, cast, and directed. Some shows attract large audiences. Some shows, like Antioch and Liberty, appeal to a discerning few. I’d like to hear that Antioch’s revival is a sucess.

    Universities, other tax-supported enterprises, and businesses (Enron?) have agendas, politics, and political correctness. Any time someone buys a roll of Brawny paper towels, the Kochs have a little more money to put into causes the customer may or may not oppose. Tax money may wind up funding a family planning clinic or a war. University orientation may promote accepting diversity (aka not running off any paying customers) and university budgets include projects that have little relevance to educating students.

    When and how have social institutions taken a different road?


    30 Oct 11 at 7:50 pm

  13. MM, how did we get from “the liberal arts universities are the great bastions of free speech and free inquiry” to “indoctrination happens: Go Antioch!?” One or the other, please.

    However, I do think there’s rather more than a nuance elsewhere. If someone–you say, or the Kochs–is paid for goods or services, that person may do what he or she wishes with the money. It’s called private property. And freedom. That’s not what’s under discussion when a “tax-supported enterprise”–Indiana University, say, or Michigan–takes the money to promote an ideology. THAT is the setting up of an established church.
    At one time, liberals were said to be opposed to such a thing. Now it appears they’re only opposed to the establishment of other churches. The counter-reformation Papacy could say as much. To say that “within these walls you must accept X as moral and Y as a fact not subject to inquiry–in fact, on demand you must verbally assent to these things” is to remove oneself as far from free speech and free inquiry as it’s possible to go.

    Which is how our universities pretty well lost any moral standing in such matters.


    30 Oct 11 at 11:12 pm

  14. Liberal arts universities can be places where free speech and free inquiry occur, or they can be seething cauldrons of agendas, politics, and left or right wing political correctness. Once the administration of a public or private institution has control of funds (from whatever sources) it is highly likely to promote some ideology on a spectrum from anarchist to reactionary, or simply focus on sports, the true faith of many “educational” institutions. Chances are some students, faculty members and staff will support the ideology, and some won’t. Consequences vary. Antioch has reopened.

    Jane, how is the snow treating you? How are the boys holding up?


    31 Oct 11 at 6:42 am

  15. It does seem, based on a very unscientific reading of news reports that I can almost invariably guess which side of an issue the students are taking when I see a headline along the lines of ‘University students protest’.

    If the issue is political, the students are complaining that something is either sponsored by an Israeli group or that a pro-Israeli group has put up posters or set up an information booth.

    If the issue is social, same as above except the people the students are complaining about are anti-abortion.

    Two exceptions:

    If someone or some group has invited a prominent and controversial (and usually conservative) American to speak, he or she will certainly be picketed by students with anti-American slogans.

    All intellectuals and would-be intellectuals in Quebec are pro-separation. Even if they were recently elected as an MP for a federal party and are now temporary head of said party, they will have belonged to a separatist party in the past or uttered some pro-separatist sentiments.

    Now, there are thousands of other students who either belong to no groups or hold bake sales to fund charities or groups supporting things like the study of French or the end-of-term party for the history students or various religions. But the ones who kick up enough noise to get media attention always seem to be anti-Israel and the US, pro-abortion, and, I suspect, are probably strong supporters of that ‘Occupy’ lot who claim to represent my interests, as though they knew what my interests are.

    They’re a minority maybe, but they’re a very vocal one, and they don’t like it at all if people with opposing views give speeches or put up posters promoting views they disagree with.

    On an aside – I just watched most of an old movie about Oliver Cromwell. Maybe because of the recent discussion here, I was struck by the heavy-handedness with which the Roundheads were presented as the lovers of democracy (Cromwell’s role late in life notwithstanding) and the Royalists as dictators.

    That, and the fact that Richard Harris was very good-looking as a young man.


    31 Oct 11 at 10:44 am

  16. Cheryl, apart from “heavy-handedness” don’t forget the absolute falsification of history in “Cromwell.” Setting aside having the Member from Cambridge staying behind to confron Charles when in real life he fled with the other “birds,” if there were any justice, the descendants of “Black Tom” Fairfax–the REAL Parliamentary commander at Naseby–would have had the makings of a spectacular lawsuit. I get a little tired of the “I can slander anyone I want because he’s dead and it’s just a movie” routine. (Don’t get me started on Cameron’s “Titanic.”)

    Side issue: to say “controversial” and conservative” on your generic liberal arts campus is to be redundant. Nominal conservatives are allowed to quibble with the implementation of a left-liberal agenda. But to call the campus consensus on their claims of moral superiority or to challenge the underlying assumptions is regarded as the ultimate outrage. Murderers are much better received and given respectful hearings. Then the people who bar conservative speakers for “security reasons” and impose draconian “speech codes” on conservative students talk about their commitment to free speech and free inquiry and call their OPPONENTS anti-intellectual.


    31 Oct 11 at 4:59 pm

  17. Generic Liberal University seems to have few affiliates between the Appalachian mountains and the Rockies. Campus consensus is that majoring in business is a good way to go. ROTC does pretty well. Newspapers, TV, radio are right-thinking supporters of the Republican party and sports coverage.


    1 Nov 11 at 7:53 am

  18. You can’t expect historical accuracy in movies or TV shows. I don’t know the period well enough to be bothered by innaccuracies in Cromwell, and anyway I dozed off halfway through.

    I became disillusioned with ‘The Tudors’ when they sort of combined Henry’s two sisters and showed the composite as committing a murder that neither of the originals could have, not least because neither of them married the King of Portugal. I didn’t mind the innacuracies in ‘Anna Bolena’, perhaps because they sang it all. (Anne Boleyn as a saintly and extremely forgiving madwoman!)


    1 Nov 11 at 8:35 am

  19. It may be a while before Jane is able to update her blog. Facebook updates indicate that a tree fell on her house in the storm, with damage at the time not obvious and all dwellers okay. Then the power went out, last word was Friday before it’s restored. So talk among yourselves. ;)


    1 Nov 11 at 10:57 am

  20. Thank you, Lymaree. I was beginning to wonder. I have my Facebook account disabled.

    I’m staying out of the discussion about universities and speech codes. Its impossible to judge US afairs from Australia because the media tends to give room only to extreme cases (at either end of the political spectrum). Reading US papers or opinion pieces on the Internet is just as confusing. How do I decide between Paul Krugman and Vincent Davis Hanson?


    1 Nov 11 at 1:23 pm

  21. No, you can’t expect historical accuracy from movies–but you ought to be able to, at least on that level, and if you don’t get at least a cursory knowledge of the history elsewhere, you’ll get it from movies like “Cromwell” and “Titanic” and learn lies.

    It can be done right. Consider “Gettysburg,” “Patton,” “1776,” “The Longest Day” and “A Bridge Too Far”–sometimes overdramatized, and some minor characters combined, but overall more accurate than many of my son’s schoolbooks. If you want to tell a story inspired by a historical incident but not to tell it truthfully, you change the names: “Fort Apache” “Inherit the Wind” and “The Horse Soldiers” are examples. (I’m waffling on “The Wind and the Lion” which I love dearly, but carried exageration to the point of falsehood.)

    There’s an ethical point, as far as I’m concerned. Apart from an abstract obligation to the truth, If you use a real person’s name, the fact that he’s dead does not give you moral license to blacken his reputation.

    And I’m not pursuing campus politics further because we’re just hurling generalizations at each other. I’d still like to know when Indiana University, and Michigan University–not to mention Wisconsin–became bastions of conservatism, though.


    1 Nov 11 at 4:02 pm

  22. I suppose even a bad movie can inspire interest – I read a biography of Catherine the Great after watching a movie about her because I knew almost nothing about her and her times and wanted to find out how much of the stuff in the movie was true.

    Last night, I watched the second part of ‘Hogfather’, and in the interview in the extras, Terry Pratchett talked about the importance of learning to believe little lies (like Santa Claus) as preparation for believing the big ones (like justice) because we can then act on he big ones to change our world. I don’t really agree with him on the idea that all these abstractions like justice aren’t real, but it did remind me that some lies serve a useful purpose. For example (and I think many places have similar examples) I was taught a lot of stuff about the history of my home province that more recent research has indicated isn’t really quite true. Most of it had a theme of sturdy independance, mistrust of official authority, and the use of ingenuity and toughness to get through bad times. For example, we weren’t a ‘proper’ colony for a long time; Britain actively discouraged permanent settlement so that no locals would rival the British for control of the fish. So the British made rules forbidding people to overwinter, or to build houses with chimneys, or to build within a certain distance of the coast. But we showed them! We stayed and survived anyway! Now, there’s some truth in this, but not nearly as much as we were taught. I generally disapprove of lies about the historical record (and other things). And yet, these lies fostered a common identity in tough times and enouraged some positive characteristics. But we shouldn’t do wrong so good will ensue…I’m ambivalent about the whole concept of truth and lies in history.

    And then we get to the point at which we acknowledge that we can’t know the whole truth about the past, and easily misinterpret what we do have evidence for.

    History is tough.


    2 Nov 11 at 7:00 am

  23. “But if the “solution” is to have an uncontrollable number of welfare/SSI recipients being supported indefinitely by a demographically self-limiting number of productive citizens, the end is nigh and it won’t be pretty.”

    The stats circulation are that tnere are 5 unemployed people for every job.

    As technology continues to displace (i.e., unemploy) people faster than new jobs are being created that will only get worse.

    As the owners of, well practically everything, continue to pay the people who do still have work at the same rate, sometimes less as what they get paid fails to keep up with inflation, then wealth will get ever more concentrated — so long as it’s considered “class warfare” by a party willing to throw the entire country under the bus rather than raise any taxes on “job creators” (who actually engage in negative job creation).

    There are only two ways out of this dilemma. One is to manage to raise taxes and increase the “dole” so that displaced workers don’t starve as the economy also completely collapses from lack sufficient cash circulating to keep it going.

    The second would be to raise those taxes on those “job creators) with deductions allowed only for investements which might actually create jobs, and whatever other taxes and regulations would incentivise(?, apologies if that grates) investment in enteprises that actually create jobs and wealth vs. financial bubbles >>>AND<<< decrase the "normal work week" from 40 hours down to 30 or even 20 while raising overtime rates so that companies would have incentive to hire more workers creating a demand for bodies that might also succeed in raising base wages.

    The third would be to find a way to make more people "owners" so that instead of taxing others to transfer wealth, eveyone now gets "dividends" instead.

    I mean really, what's the difference between a "welfare" recipient and a trust fund baby other than the moral judgments of the monied classess that make it ok to sponge off a trust fund?


    2 Nov 11 at 12:16 pm

  24. The trust fund people are living off private gifts and the welfare recipient is living off public gifts? If you consider that some of the public gifts aren’t voluntarily given, that’s a big difference.

    I don’t see them starving, either.

    As for the taxes, I confess myself confused. It seems to me that in a healthy economy there’s space for the very rich and for people like me who, well, aren’t rich and never will be.

    Perhaps a little more protection against the more rapacious financial practices would help keep things in balance a bit. I particularly don’t see how your no. 3 would work without the government owning all sources of wealth and then sharing out the ‘dividends’. That’s been tried, and it was disasterous.


    2 Nov 11 at 1:40 pm

  25. I’m a little intrigued by the notion that labor-saving machinery lies at the root of unemployment. We had serious unemployment crises when shovelling coal was good steady work, and when shovels rather than bulldozers made roads. If technology displaces jobs faster than new jobs are created, then the 16th Century ought to have been a worker’s paradise. Read the Elizabethans on “sturdy beggars” some time.

    If there are five people unemployed for every job, how can half the total population be working? I think the statistic needs a little clarification.

    That said, I think a drastic simplification of the tax code is long past due. If we tossed the volumes of special exemptions and arcane definitions, we’d get the same revenue at a lower rate, and honest people wouldn’t need to fear an IRS audit. I’d also favor a deduction for investments likely to boost employment–but there we are, taxing rich people–who mostly do the investing–at a lower rate.


    2 Nov 11 at 3:54 pm

  26. I think Michael meant 5 unemployed people for every job vacancy. That is the nature of recessions. During booms, there are more vacancies than unemployed people. I agree with Robert about labor-saving machinery.


    2 Nov 11 at 6:03 pm

  27. The difference between trust fund babies and welfare recipients is that the the TFBs’ income depends on the trust fund performing. It will not provide any significant income at all if it’s not invested constructively, and constructive investment implies investment in wealth generating corporations or, at worst, in government bonds. While many TFBs are indeed despicable people, the trust fund concept itself is not. It’s important to distinguish between the two.

    As Cheryl says, socialism, ie the nationalisation of production, distribution and exchange, has been tried many times always with disastrous results. Similarly, to tax the wealth-generating classes beyond a point where they are willing to cooperate is a losing strategy because not only are these people the very engine of our economies, they are also in a position to divert their resources elsewhere.

    As for tax audits, is it really true – as I’ve read – that American politicians have the power to order tax audits on their political enemies, and that American government bureaucrats actually obey such directions?

    Finally, anyone who still believes that taxing the rich till the pips squeak is a tenable strategy should read Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics”.


    2 Nov 11 at 10:37 pm

  28. I didn’t say anyting about the 16th century, or even the 19th or 20th, at least the first 3/4 of the 20th. But that said, it’s my observation that technology has advanced to the point that it’s steadily climbing up the skill heirarchy in terms of the kinds of jobs it displaces. Steam shovels replaced hand shovels, but even as that was happening new markets requiring new manufactuing facilities and workers were opening up, so the laborers moved from shoveling dirt to assembling stuff. Later, when automatation started taking away some of the factory jobs, the economy was creating new fields of work and new jobs. That was great. The economy, particularly post WWII boomed, unemployment was probably as low as it will ever get, and a rising tide floated all boats.

    But what’s been happening, at least since the 90’s and particularly with this recession is that companies keep shedding jobs far far faster than any new jobs are being created, this even as the company in question posts record profits – and doesn’t give the remaining people, who in many cases are now doing the work two people used to do (or more) get no raises commensurate with their increased productivity. All the money goes to the folks at the top of the pyramid.

    And they have nothing to spend that money on because the economy has stagnated because, surprise, no one has any money to spend except for people who already have more than what they need and practically everything they want — so they go looking for the next financial chimera to sink their cash into. They certainly can’t invest it in any new industries, because no markets are growing so there aren’t any new industries to invest in.

    “If there are five people unemployed for every job, how can half the total population be working.”

    The math is pretty simple, even if the raw data isn’t perfect.

    It’s not that companies aren’t hiring at all, it’s that per month only so many jobs get created or opens up for whatever reason. For every job that actually comes available, there are apporoximately 5 people out of work, many of the actively looking, some who’ve finally given up.

    Just today – ” An estimated 5,000 people waited in line in Murfreesboro Wednesday, hoping to get one of 1,600 jobs at Nissan as the automaker ramps up hiring for a new battery plant at its Smyrna complex….Sheer said people showed up as early as 4 a.m. for a chance to get their applications in.” http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/story/2011-11-03/nissan-plant-hiring-tennessee/51054800/1

    That’s a meer 1/3.125 ratio, but still, less than 1/3 of the applicants will “get a job”. Two out of three will remain out of work or – compaired to the princely (yes, sarcasm, shoot me) $12.50/hr remain underemployed.

    McDonalds this summer had a hiring event where they hired, in this one event 60,000 people — out of over a million applicants. So out of every 16 applicants willing to to a minimum wage fast food job, only one got the opportutnity to go home stinking of fried food. The rest had to keep looking for some other scut job.

    And I’m rambling so I’ll quite for now.


    3 Nov 11 at 9:16 am

  29. Quit. Quit for now.


    3 Nov 11 at 9:44 am

  30. I have a personal and informal system of rating the local economic situation based on whether or not the fast food places need to advertise for workers. Right now, they do, but I realize that makes us unusually financially healthy by American standards these days, not that I’M seeing much of the money, but then, I do have a steady job, which is something to be grateful for.

    That being said, first of all, there’s nothing particularly shameful about working in a fast food restaurant, or any other form of scut work, as long as it’s done honestly and well. By the very nature of things, scut work is not going to pay well and may be quite physically demanding, but it can do reasonably well to keep food on the table when nothing else is available, although of course, it won’t fund a traditionally middle-class livestyle, not unless several family members do it. But I can’t quite see resorting to that type of work, or child or elder care, or cleaning as the end of the world unless of course, you’re one of those who can’t find even that, or you’re like someone I knew who was unemployed during another period of economic hard times and wouldn’t even consider taking that kind of job because he thought it would hurt his chances of moving into one on the same level of his previous one, which I suppose it might have done. Or not. He didn’t get what he was looking for anyway but he eventually found something reasonably good in which to ride out this latest storm.

    I think the companies making profits at the expense of their employees will eventually pay at the hands of companies which have and keep better employees. Because sooner or later things will improve, and the employees will have more choices again. Maybe in the interim, they should look into unionization. They will, if things get bad enough, even in the US which is no haven for organized labour.

    I think there are and will remain jobs at various skill levels. There are demographic changes – the burgeoning group of elderly will want help, much of which can be unskilled or require low skills. Automation still makes jobs that were difficult much more simple – look at how office work has changed! – while machinery at the cutting edge require more skilled workers.


    3 Nov 11 at 11:04 am

  31. Five unemployed for every job OPENING I can believe. That missing word is important.
    But I’m not quite ready to declare open season on ATMs and photocopiers. We’ve been having panics and recessions for a long time, and introducing labor-saving devices since the Neolithic Age without a permanent increase in unemployment. Nor does “since the 1990’s” give you much of a baseline. What was the ratio of unemployed to job openings in 1981, for instance? Let alone the distant days of Eisenhower. I believe the authors of THIS TIME IS DIFFERENT described us as being “right on track” for an asset price-driven recession–which is depressing, if true.

    But that doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right. The date usually given for the US economy becoming less friendly–meaning less or no income growth for a line worker–is about 1973. I tend to rate that as just about the time the “Great Society” bureaucracy of LBJ and Nixon started to bite: OSHA, EPA and hundreds of programs for the “caring professions.” I KNOW they were billed as helping out the little people. I don’t think that matters. When you have thousands of pages of detailed and contradictory laws and regulations, the big winners are politicians and bureaucrats, and the big losers are the people who never went to school with a US Rep and never maxed out their campaign contributions. I don’t say you can’t have a safe workplace, clean air and prosperous unskilled labor all at one time. I do say you can’t do it the way we went about it, and making the system less politician and bureaucrat-friendly will meet with FEROCIOUS resistance.
    (Does anyone believe we have thousands of pages of tax code to make the wealthy and influential pay? Rest assured we have them to ensure they don’t have to–but do have to keep the politicians sweet. The line between bribery and extortion is pretty hazy sometimes.)

    I would also keep im mind that the late 1980’s and early 1990’s represent a tremendous opening of the world economy–from Dresden to Shanghai and from Murmansk to Sri Lanka a billion or more workers left collective farms and make-work factories and were expected to produce EFFICIENTLY. It’s made a huge difference to the Han Chinese, the Indians and the Central Europeans, and even in Russia you don’t see workers demanding to be herded back to the state farms. But while we added a billion workers and many capitalists, we didn’t add any additional capital–no additional stamping machines drill presses or computer-driven lathes came with the workers. You could figure then that for the next generation, the edge would be to the man who owned the factory. The way you cure that is more capital accumulation. So our political class is screaming for increased spending from the same income and putting increased taxes on those so gauche as to save and invest, while doubling down on those complex laws and bureaucrats mentioned above.

    As the man says, when you’re in a hole, stop digging. We still seem to the shovelling away.

    OH, Mique? Harry Truman called the head the the Internal Revenue Service to his office and told the man to audit all Truman’s political enemies. The IRS chief flatly refused, and Truman saw the point and backed down. To my knowledge no elected politician has managed to get anyone’s Federal returns audited since, and state returns are usually so simple that an honest man has noting to fear from an audit–which is what I was ranting about with the tax code earlier. But it should be noted that some IRS agents can work any case they want–given that, over the long haul, they’re finding enough money to justify themselves. US taxpayers are very careful what they say on television or radio about the IRS itself, if they know what’s good for them.


    3 Nov 11 at 5:05 pm

  32. Mr. Fisher, I would raise the point that while your description is correct for past historical trends and for certain classes of jobs, the primary cause of unemployment in the US today is not technological advance.

    On the contrary, jobs are migrating to other countries which often have a relatively primitive technological base. That is, low tech slave labor is replacing high tech automation, not the other way around. The immediate “problem” is not technological displacement, but spoiled Americans reluctant to accept a decline to the standards of living of whatever nation on Earth is poorest in any given decade.

    Turns out Malthus was right, in the long run.


    3 Nov 11 at 7:11 pm

  33. Low tech “slave labor”? I’m old enough to remember when that complaint was made about Japan. Then about South Korea, And now its Malaysia and Thailand. The best way to raise the standard of living of people in a low wage country is to employ them.


    3 Nov 11 at 10:05 pm

  34. Not slave labour, no. ‘Slave’ doesn’t mean someone who is willing to work for salaries I wouldn’t consider and under conditions I’d rather not accept. It means someone who cannot leave his employer, and who can be transferred to another employer against his will. I’m always reminded of professional athletes, for some reason.

    Most of these Chinese, Indians etc are choosing the factories over even worse economic situations back home on the farm. An exception is the Indian call centre workers, who are generally well-paid and well-educated by local standards. Such jobs are coveted.

    And when situations are really bad, even the Chinese, who live in a very repressive state, protest. They’re already formidable competitors in international trade, and like John, I would expect the Chinese and Indians to follow the path of the Japanese and Koreans. North America and Europe are being left behind. Greece and the other weaker European states are examples of what happens when you try to have a working modern welfare state without a solid, functional economy as a base.


    4 Nov 11 at 6:50 am

  35. In my fortunate life, I spent 2.5 years living in the lap of relative luxury in Malaysia during the early 70s. As an officer and a gentleman, the Air Force covered the cost of our employing two servants, a cook and an amah. Our first two servants were two Chinese sisters, the elder sister, the cook, stayed with us for our entire posting there. Our first amah, her younger sister, stayed with us for about the first year or so.

    By local standards, the women were paid wages that were well above average for that type of work, iirc about $M150 and $M130 repectively per _month_ – at that time the equivalent of about $US50 and $US40 a month. In similar (non-government) local employment, they might have earned half that if they were lucky. As uneducated Chinese, they were not likely to get any sort of government job. Those were reserved for Bumiputras – literally “Princes of the Earth”, ie Malays.

    When she came to us, the elder sister was almost exactly the same age as my wife and I, then 31. (This, incidentally, meant that she was a child during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia which we never discussed because it was a terrible experience for Chinese people wherever the Japanese reached during that war that they never liked to recall. But it meant that she was a very mature 31, with a breadth and depth of life experience which we could only admire.)

    On the other hand, her sister was really only a girl, barely 18 years of age. She was a real child of her Age of Aquarius generation – a lovely kid who worshiped our two babies and spoilt them rotten, but who was not happy working as a domestic servant even though she earnt considerably more than she could have earnt in other avenues of employment open to someone of her race, class, sex and education at that time. According to her sister, she only reluctantly agreed to work for us mainly because her parents wouldn’t tolerate her sitting at home doing nothing. (People in the western world who worry about racism, sexism and all the other anti-human rights -isms should take a reality check sometime and go live in Asia for an appreciable period – say a year or more. You’ll feel a whole lot better about your own countries’ efforts to eliminate those undesirable -isms when you return and will feel far less inclined to pontificate about it. However glacially slow progress at home may seem right now, it will very much seem to have been fast-forwarded when you return.

    Anyhow, the younger sister left us to go to work at piece-work rates in a children’s garment factory – as genuine a sweatshop as any in Asia at that time, which probably means considerably worse than anything there nowadays. I don’t know whether she was paid a minimum wage there relying on piecework to bring her earnings up to something respectable, but she felt confident that although earning much less at the start than we paid her, she had the potential to earn more if she worked hard enough. I can only assume that she was content with that arrangement because she never sought to come back to work for us again, despite her sister being assured by us that the offer remained open if ever she wanted to.

    So, their attitude to this sort of labour is very, very different to ours. They do not see entry level jobs as menial scut work. They look to the long term and see them as an opportunity to learn skills which they might be able to use to start their own businesses some day, or to enable them to move up the career ladder or take whatever opportunities arise.

    It is well within living memory when this situation was the norm in our own countries, and if we ever get back to that same situation, it will be as much our own faults as anyone else’s, including the demonised “rich”. Anyone interested enough can just read some Australian media to see the process in action where, just as the unions have destroyed the US motor industry, other unions are in the process of destroying Qantas, one of the oldest and best airlines in the world which is likely to disappear from the world’s skyways within a matter of months.


    4 Nov 11 at 8:16 am

  36. We need unions. Like all powerful entities, they can destroy as well as create, but they’re the only really powerful tool workers have against large employers, particularly organized groups of large employers. Walking away from an unnecessarily dangerous or poorly paid job isn’t much of a weapon if no one else in the industry will hire you.

    I don’t know much about the Quantas strike. One here – quashed by government action – came AFTER the unions had made very significant concessions, and at a point at which the airline in quesions was doing much better than it had been,but disagreed with the union as to whether this constituted enough of a recovery to give more to its employees, as agreed. I wonder if it’s true that no airline has ever really made a profit, not if you take into account subsidies and other funds to help stave off bankruptcy? It’s hard to believe, but there fee structures are weird.

    We used to have the attitude that any honest work was worth doing, and worth doing well. Well, some of us did. Not the aristocrats, of course, but some of the middle classes and the working classes.


    4 Nov 11 at 8:48 am

  37. I am very much pro-union in principle, but very much anti-union thuggishness. These days, unions here in Oz are so poorly perceived in the community at large that they now represent fewer than 25% of the total workforce and the overwhelming majority of those who belong to unions are in government employment, ie the very sectors of the workforce at least risk of unfair exploitation by greedy or unfair employers.

    Union leadership today consists predominantly, if not quite exclusively, of tertiary-educated political activists who have never in their lives held down a “real” job in their chosen industry or elsewhere. Their career goal seems to be to move into a safe seat in State or Federal Parliament via the Labor Party which is, historically, the creature of the Trade Union movement in this country. The interests of their members run a very distant second, at best, in the priorities of many if not most union leaders here. Almost daily, incredible stories of union officials’ corruption are exposed even in the most left-leaning media. Google “NSW Health Services Union” to see the sort of thing that goes on in a union which purports to represent the poorest section of the Health Services workforce, ie the cleaners and other menial workers.

    As for Qantas (it’s an acronym, so no “u”), the disputes (and there are several) are not about pay (they are much better paid than most of the employees of competing airlines), but about the Unions demands to be allowed to interfere in management decisions. If I were a total cynic, I would say that the unions’ strategy is to force the Australian Government to renationalise the airline. If they can achieve that, they can then restore the status quo ante of a grossly feather-bedded workforce which forced the then Australian Labor government to sell the airline in the first place because it could no longer justify the public capital subventions necessare to maintain the airline’s international competitiveness in what had become a very globalised industry.

    What it is, in this instance, is sheer bastardry by a bunch of thugs who would terrify the worst Mafia goons running the US Teamsters in its prime.


    4 Nov 11 at 9:21 am

  38. You undoubtedly know the Australian situation better than I do – and I can think of abuses and problems here, although nothing as egregious s what you describe. Like I said, powerful tools can damage as well as protect.

    I grew up in a union town, in a family in which we didn’t discuss union issues much because some of us were members, more weren’t and all had strong opinions on unions, so any discussion became deadlocked sooner rather than later!

    I’ve been a member of a couple as an adult – not particularly corrupt ones, I must say, although I’ve been on the outs with them once or twice. They’re useful tools, that’s all. Sometimes faulty, sometimes dangerous, sometimes essential.


    4 Nov 11 at 1:06 pm

  39. On that we can agree, Cheryl. Like any tool, they need to be used carefully as a means to an end, and not as ends in themselves.


    4 Nov 11 at 8:37 pm

  40. With Mique on unions. They’re necessary–or at least very helpful–for dealing with large private-sector corporations with huge piles of unskilled labor. But I start getting very worried when they object to secret ballots. There is a REASON for secret ballots, and the people who object to them seldom do so for benevolent reasons. I also have my doubts about unions of workers who have a legal monopoly on the work and can vote for or against the people who pay their salaries.

    As regards cheap labor, I find it encouraging when you just can’t hire people to do something anymore. I did two tours in South Korea. On the first tour (1984) I could buy hand-carved jade for family members. By the second tour (1995) it was all machine work. Korean labor had become too expensive to permit hand carving. We get that in the US too, and don’t recognize it. Read Golden Age mysteries and look at the jobs eliminated, not by automation–but by rising wages. Shoe-shine stands and pumping gas, door to door salesmen, “newsies” and domestic help have gone away, because the people who used to do that work can make better money doing something else. Or does anyone want to make the case that our standard of living is lower than it was when Philo Vance and Nero Wolfe solved murders in Manhattan? The young among us will live–I hope!–to do for themselves things they now pay someone else to do.


    4 Nov 11 at 11:10 pm

  41. Live-in domestic help has gone away for anyone not a multi-millionaire, but I think the number of people who hire periodic housekeepers is much larger than it was. My mother’s generation of middle-class wives, even if they worked outside the home, cleaned their own houses, at least until their children were old enough to take over. (ask me how I know). They wouldn’t have considered even bi-weekly help something they could afford, and there was a certain feeling that somehow hiring it done wasn’t quite as good.

    I started hiring housekeepers when I became a single mother and a new mother at the same time. I figured I could clean my house, or I could spend time with my child, but I couldn’t do both. Seems like most folks in my current neighborhood, solidly middle-class, hire both their lawn work and their housework out.

    Yes, many of the people who do this labor are probably undocumented, here in S. California, but we deliberately employ an agency which pays a living wage (they better, because they cost twice as much as the cheap services!) and gives their employees benefits and insurance. Those ladies clean like the professionals they are, and we appreciate them and treat them that way.

    People who used to shine shoes and pump gas are flipping burgers or manning cash registers these days. Except in Oregon, where they still pump your gas for you, it’s the law, and a very odd one, too. Or waiting tables, which is still not subject to minimum wage laws, since tips are supposed to make up for that. Yeah, right.

    The job in the old movies that is most indicative of automation replacing workers is elevator operator. Switchboard operator comes to mind too. Anyplace human control can be replaced by machines or computers. I don’t think elevator buttons were invented because it got too expensive to pay a person to sit in a box 8 hours a day.


    5 Nov 11 at 2:39 am

  42. Re unions (or anything else) – no secret ballot is a BIG warning sign! I must admit I’ve not encountered that myself in a union, or in anything larger than a small committee taking a vote after an issue has been thoroughly hashed out so everyone knows what the conclusion is without a vote, but we’re a committee, so we must vote anyway.

    My mother was a little unusual – she did hire a maid briefly, when she was working and her children were young. I never knew of anyone else hiring household help, unless you count hiring a teenaged babysitter.

    To my mind, one of the sectors in which there are more and more jobs for the unskilled and uneducated (and others, but others can usually earn more doing something else) is the ‘service sector’ – not just fast food places, but providing assistance for the elderly and disabled. People further up in the middle class than I am have a cleaner come in, say, once a week, although no one I know does. But for an elderly woman able to live alone and with really very little mess to clean up, a woman who comes in a couple of hours every two weeks to do the bathroom, kitchen and a bit of vacuuming is a very affordable godsend. It means she doesn’t have to try to do it herself,
    her busy and employed or distant children (if they exist) don’t have to try do it. And the cleaner works for other people and businesses and seems perfectly happy with the arrangement. A couple I know was considering hiring a cleaner and struggling a bit with middle-class guilt – the idea that they might be exploiting the cleaner. They interviewed a cleaner recommended by friends, and she said ‘You don’t like cleaning, I do, and I like earning a bit of money. What’s the problem?’ So they hired her. And neither they nor I live in areas with undocumented workers, although some of the citizens who do this kind of work undoubtedly don’t report their earnings to the tax people. But there are ways to ensure you’re above board on that, too. In the days when they needed child care, some of my friends insisted on hiring people who didn’t mind having their income reported so that they’d be covered for EI, CPP and Workman’s Comp.

    There are all kinds of jobs like this. Meals on Wheels uses a lot of volunteers (and needs more, at least locally), but have organizers and cooks are paid. Foot nurses and blood-takers will come to your home for very reasonable fees. Home care workers, depending on their training and experience, can be hired do anything from bathing and personal care to picking up groceries.

    And we’re all getting older. Unless we die first, we’ll probably all need a bit of assistance, and even if we have children, and they’re working nearby (that last bit is increasingly uncommon) it would probably make a lot more economic sense to have them continue earning their salaries while helping us out a bit on weekends while a few hours of paid help every week or two makes life a lot better and keeps us out of those horrendously expensive seniors’ high rise complexed, where they promise the world for a MINIMUM of $3,000 a month – plus, of course, extra fees if you actually need someone to bring you your pills or your meals or take care of your feet. So the demand is increasing for private care in one’s own home.


    5 Nov 11 at 8:34 am

  43. WIth Cheryl and Mique on home health. I’ve had a cleaning woman come in 1 morning every 2 weeks for years. Even I couldn’t stand the results of bachelor housekeeping!

    And my lawn and garden work has been hired out for years after I had a case of heat exhaustion. Sitting at a desk all day long is not good preparation for mowing lawns in 40C (100F) temperatures.

    I also use a podiatrist but I go to her office, she doesn’t come to the house.


    5 Nov 11 at 9:54 am

  44. Did I touch a sore spot on domestic help? I didn’t mean to.

    I tried to avoid using as examples jobs like elevator or switchboard operator–or shoemaker, profession of many of my ancestors–which were pretty clearly eliminated by automation. (Of course, if you’d like to go back to paying $500+ for a pair of shoes, maybe I could learn the trade. The reason automation eliminates jobs is that it makes goods and services cheaper.)

    But we didn’t automate pumping gas or shining shoes. I gather flipping burgers and waiting tables is supposed to be unsatisfactory? I did my time washing dishes and never reached such exalted levels in foodery. But yes, we all work–or hope to work, or should work at something. Sometimes it’s not skilled, but dirty or exhausting. The point is that rising productivity eliminates the least productive jobs–and that if the job can’t be eliminated, you’ll have to pay more to get someone to do it.

    The domestic help thing is interesting. Read old novels and note who–by profession–has servants, and how many. Down to 1914, Britain had more people “in service” than in factories–and these were not people who got to go home to their own families at night. Increasingly, young people could make more money for fewer hours doing something else–enough money to have their own place, and not a small room in the attic. Even importing 30 million unskilled laborers hasn’t returned America to the labor conditions of Mary Roberts Rhinehart’s day, though it’s a help to many two-income households.

    I am not saying having or being household help is in any way reprehensible. Some of us need custom-made shoes, too. I’m saying over the long haul of the modern West the price of things has fallen and the price of labor has risen. Which is why we have paper plates and dishwashers–and why “computer” now means a machine, when it once meant a woman adding a column of figures. I like technological advances and increasing productivity, even though it means shipping toy soldiers to Sri Lanka to be painted because the women of London won’t work for those wages any more.

    Purely a side issue, I have some sympathy with the Oregon and New Jersey laws forbidding pumping one’s own gas, and with those “washroom attendants” you find in mainland Europe. If we really are accumulating unskilled and unemployable labor, that’s one way to find them useful work. But I think such things should be done very seldom and very carefully to make sure you’re only helping people who need help and not just blocking economic progress, like requiring stokers on diesel locomotives. (Yes, it was done–“union rules.”) Are New Jersey and Oregon paying less to unemployed unskilled laborers? Because the unskilled laborers are surely paying more for a tank of gas.


    5 Nov 11 at 10:13 am

  45. I think the link’s dead, but try copying and pasting this:


    It’s a New York Review of Books article on the modern American university education system, and I’m pretty sure if Jane had power, it would already be the subject of a blog. Certainly worth reading regardless.


    5 Nov 11 at 12:41 pm

  46. I don’t have a sore spot regarding household help! I thought I was just adding a bit from my own experiences to Lymaree’s comments and re-emphasizing something I’ve probably said before about the kind of jobs I see as opening up for people with little in the way of skills and education, and providing, for some of them, a pathway to better paid and more skilled employment.

    There’s been some fascinating stuff written about the massive numbers of (mostly) women who were ‘in service’ until quite recently, but I don’t see that set-up as becoming viable again any time soon; it requires an enormous disparity in income, far more than we have now. But several people can jointly afford to pay a worker come in for a few hours and do the kind of job that can’t easily be automated yet, and that can no longer be done for free by the youngest daughter or wife of oldest son or whoever else it is local tradition specifies.

    Eventually, no doubt, the cost of household help of this kind will be beyond reach, and the unskilled will have to find something else someone will pay them to do and the rest of us will use whatever substitute gets invented to get our groceries and wash our hair.

    The development of the profession of nursing may be related. You start off with Florence Nightingale getting some respectability for women who cared for the sick who weren’t related to them, and once that had been achieved, the battle for greater responsibility, professional recognition and pay began. Now, many nurses specialize, some in things like research and administration, and the idea of hands-on service to the sick decreased to the point where one recent graduate allegedly responded to intstruction to provide some very messy and personal assistance to a patient with ‘I didn’t go to university for four years to do THAT!’.

    But THAT has to be done, and so first one and now two levels of caregivers with less training and pay than registered nurses are taking a bigger and bigger role of health care. I think they’re currently called Licenced Practical Nurses and Personal Care Workers locally, but I suspect titles differ by area.

    I keep wondering if, as the more ambitious and able LPNs and PCWs advance their role, the less desireable aspects of it will be left for some other group not yet in existance!


    5 Nov 11 at 7:01 pm

  47. For what it’s worth, here’s a view from over the oggin:


    A follow-up is here:


    None of this would come as any surprise to both my daughters-in-law who had children, including their first babies, in London hospitals in the early Noughties. One of them lay for 11 hours in labour without seeing a nurse. Friends who are nurses here in Oz say that the situation is similar or worse here. Regular horror stories in the media confirm that things are certainly not quite right throughout the health system. Not all of the problems are caused by nurses, or even doctors. As the article Robert posted shows them to be in academia, the dread administrators, who in the local health system rival the numbers of actual health professionals, soak up a disproportionate share of the health budget.


    5 Nov 11 at 9:45 pm

  48. Cheryl, almost certainly so. There is analogous situation in military history: stick an infantryman on a quadraped–horse, mule, whatever–to get him to the battlefield, call him “cragoon” or “mounted infantry” and in less than a generation his regiment is cavalry and MUCH too exalted to fight on foot so you have to do the same thing with another unit. (Works with motor transport today.)

    Otherwise: anyone remember the discussion about three weelks back on the advantage of a like-minded culture? Observe what night we switch back and forth on Daylight Savings in the US. It’s an implicit assumption that missing Early Service is much less important than missing First Shift. Looked at the other way, we’ll soon be taking the 25th of Decenber off–not Eid, Hannakuh or, for that matter, May 1st. Neither decision is wrong. But other communities with different interests of priorities would make other decisions.


    6 Nov 11 at 8:46 am

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