Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Want Iran not to have nukes? Then get rid of our own.

To understand my basic philosophy that underpins what I’m about to say, please read my post on love of neighbor.

Here’s something more:

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

–Mark 9:35

We Americans commonly think of ourselves as being first in the world. We are the sole remaining “superpower.” We are the richest country. Our workers are the most productive. God loves us the most. And so on. Regardless of our distorted self-image, America does possess great power, prestige, and wealth. Other countries look up to us as the big kid on the block.

For the past several decades, however, we have not been acting enough out of love of neighbor; instead, our motivation has been love of self. We have not been the servant of all; instead, we have expected service and obedience. We have not set the best example possible for other countries. Whether we are better or worse than they is irrelevant. We have not loved enough; we have not served enough. We have not lived up to our potential.

We may find countries like Iran distasteful in many ways; we may find them to be our juniors in wealth, achievement, and sophistication. If we practiced love of neighbor, however, we would deal with such countries by serving as an impeccable example of beneficence and rectitude. If we were good and right, however, we would not possess nuclear weapons.

There is no moral way to possess, much less use, a weapon that could annihilate a city. To kill and destroy on that scale is  an abomination; it’s unthinkable. Yet we possess thousands of nuclear-tipped missiles and even keep them targeted on cities, ready to go should the president so order.

Merely by possessing such weapons, we create fear in the world. If I may switch from Western spirituality to Eastern, that’s bad karma. One cannot create fear without paying a price. Moreover, since other countries look up to us as the big kid on the block, if we have nukes, then they want them, too.

I’m not a pacifist. Just as there needs to be a police force to take care of people doing bad stuff on a small scale, there needs to be a military–not necessarily our military–to stop people from doing bad stuff on a larger scale. But nukes can’t be used to do that; they can only be used to threaten other countries with complete destruction.

Oh, I know how a certain breed of right-winger feels about the matter. We’ve got to be tough! Have a huge military, carry a big stick–we’ve got to be number one! And God is on our side, so it’s all going to work out. If we don’t do that, the colors of the flag will run, and we’ll be–you know, like France or Sweden or something–not number one!

Again, I must return to the Bible quote. If we want to be a true number one, we must be last. We must serve. And just about the greatest thing we could do for the world right now is give up our nukes. That’s right. Dismantle them and use the fissile material in nuclear reactors (I’m not saying nuclear power is great, but we’ve got the plants…).

What would happen if we did this? Would Russia launch a strike against us and take us over? No. Would any other country start a war with us now if eschewed the awesome might of nuclear arms? No.

Would terrorists be more likely to attack us? No, less likely. It’s probably the single greatest thing we could do to prevent a “suitcase nuke” attack on American soil. If there’s anything the terrorists respect, it’s symbols, and it would be a big symbolic mismatch to set off the first terrorist nuke in a country without nuclear weapons (not that I wish this to happen to any country in our place).

Would we lose respect in the world? No, we would gain respect. Would our enemies fear our military less? No, inasmuch as they know we can’t use nukes anyway.

What would happen, however, is that the prestige of becoming a nuclear power would go down the toilet. If the hipster US doesn’t need nukes, then who really does?

At the end of the day, our species needs to evolve to the point where countries are not going to attack each other and kill large numbers of people in the process. The planet won’t permit that any more. We must choose now, collectively, as a species, to embrace love of neighbor as our MO. If the United States is really what it thinks it is–what it would like to be–then it should lead by giving up its dangerous toys.

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We don't give medical care to people because they deserve it

We don’t give medical care to people because they deserve it. We don’t give it to them because they earn it. This is a simple–and important–concept that I’ve yet to hear clearly expressed in the ongoing medical care debate.

This isn’t merely my ideal; this is how the United States actually behaves. Proving the point is simple enough: we provide medical care–free of charge–to everyone in prison. To robbers, murderers, serial killers. Even people on death row that we’re going to kill anyway.

Prisoners don’t just get medical care for life-threatening illnesses. I personally know a psychiatrist who works in an Indiana maximum security prison. If prisoners require psychological treatment, including medication, they get it. We manage to provide health care to convicted criminals–yet somehow we can’t do the same for ordinary hard-working people. A travesty.

The wingnuts currently opposing health care don’t understand what a complete joke this situation makes the US seem to the rest of the industrialized world. Then again, they most likely don’t care. These are the people, who, completely ignorant of France, make fun of France. These are the people willfully wallowing in Sarah Palin-style ignorance. These are the people whose very identity is based on a childish and anachronistic right wing brand. Like our high imprisonment rate and use of the death penalty, the lack of access to medical care is another factor that separates us from the modern states we should like to consider our equals, if not our inferiors.

If we fail to implement health care at this juncture, the United States will continue its downward slide toward pariah-statehood. More and more, it will be a country that brays of freedom and equality while failing to assure the basic necessities that make these ideals possible.

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The key to understanding the self-branding of the right: "American Honky-Tonk Bar Association"

I don’t have a problem with genuine conservatives and libertarians, although I disagree with them quite a bit. Mitch Daniels and Richard Lugar are two Republican politicians in Indiana I respect (and I voted for Mitch in the past election). I’m disgusted, however, with the right-wingers whose actions are not based on a rational assessment of what is good for the United Stated but instead on a brand.

What do I mean by “brand” in this case?

I was watching the 1967 movie The President’s Analyst recently (definitely in my Top 10 of all time), and William Daniels (probably most famous as the voice of K.I.T.T. on Knight Rider) plays a good, patriotic, gun-toting, suburban liberal who has this to say about his right-wing neighbors (I’m writing this from memory, but it’s close):

…Big American flag up all the time. You know, real fascists.

It’s common knowledge that there was a conservative movement in 1967, but the fact that the same brand was around (and recognized as such) back then was surprising to me.

The best, most succinct explication of this brand in popular culture is perhaps the song American Honky-Tonk Bar Association (lyrics), a hit song on the 1993 Garth Brooks album In Pieces (written by Kennedy/Rushing, according to This song doesn’t just hint at a political perspective; it’s a political manifesto in country song form!

Despite my political disagreement with the song, I love it, and it’s on my iPod. It’s just a great, twangy country song, and I can understand where the lyrics are coming from. I was a self-identifying conservative in 1994, when I voted Republican in the mid-term election that gave control of both houses to the GOP. I continued to so self-identify until the 2000 election, when I supported Al Gore but did not vote (I missed the 1992, 1996, and 2000 elections from being in Japan; it really isn’t easy to absentee vote when you live abroad). I voted for Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008.

There are a few reasons why I considered myself conservative until 2000:

  • I was raised in a self-identifying Republican household.
  • As a kid, I was told Reagan was good, he seemed good, and in fact I still think that, overall, he was good and the right president for the times (many, many caveats go along with this statement!).
  • Contrariwise, I really hated Bill Clinton. He always struck me as a smug, sleazy jackass, and this opinion hasn’t changed much over time (I now think he was an able administrator and his politics were mostly in the right direction).
  • I liked the conservative message of small government. I like order. Small and orderly sounds good. The “Contract with America” sounded good.
  • I was young and ignorant of many things.

I point out these things to emphasize that I despise the current right-wing brand not because I have always opposed conservatism or was raised a Democrat or a liberal.

A few lines from the song:

When Uncle Sam dips in your pocket
For most things you don’t mind
But when your dollar goes to all of those
Standing in a welfare line

Small government, personal responsibility, etc. Many would say that the racist dog whistle is in here, too.

It represents the hardhat
Gunrack, achin’-back
Over-taxed, flag-wavin’, fun-lovin’ crowd
Their heart is in the music
And they love to play it loud

The rest is all here. These are the Sarah Palin lovers, the real red-blooded Americans. Not the East Coast “elites.” By implication, the members of the Association are white and nominally Christian.

The brand is the same today as it was in 1993. The only problem is that the world is not the same.

  • In 1993, we’d just had two Republican presidents with genuine accomplishments: Reagan and Bush the Elder. In 2009, the last Republican president is widely acknowledged to be one of the worst in the country’s history, and his many failures were the direct effects of his right-wing worldview.
  • In 1994, the idea of small government still seemed plausible. The Contract with America, however, ended up a disaster, and G.W. Bush and his Republican Congress only increased the size of government. Finally, in 2008 and 2009, the government has had to step in and save the private sector from itself. The “small government” meme is now for suckers only.
  • The most recent Republican candidates–McCain and Palin–were freaks. McCain a freak by choice, Palin by inclination, it would seem.

In other words, you have a brand without a product. Lacking ideas and credibility, composed only of words and images itself, all the right can do to the left is expectorate negative words and images and hope they stick: calling Obama a Nazi, appealing to patriotic images at “tea parties,” shouting down Democrats with slogans at “town hells,” and painting a picture of national health care that includes “Death Panels.”

A brand without a product, however, can’t last. The American right, at least in its current form, is evaporating. Maybe intelligent Republicans like Mitch Daniels can regroup, rebrand, and rebuild before it’s too late.

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Movie review: "Observe and Report" shows us how hard it is to love ourselves


Observe and Report on IMDb
Observe and Report on Metacritic
Observe and Report on Rotten Tomatoes

Matt Rouge’s score: 4.5/5.0

Pros. Very strong performances by all. Engaging story. Dead-on satire of many familiar things. Interesting characters.

Cons. At 88 minutes, the movie feels a little short. The characters are interesting enough to support several more scenes adding to the story and laugh count. Some of the dialog and character behaviors are over the top even for the movie’s wild, farcical style.

Observe and Report is the story of Ronnie Barnhardt, a bipolar mall cop who is trying to catch a flasher and creating a considerable mess in the process. It’s a dark comedy full of expletives, nudity, and material that may shock and offend. The reviews among both pro and amateur critics are definitely mixed, but I found it to be a hilarious movie with an important message for our times. I highly recommend it.

I think this message is striking a deep chord in people, whether their view of the film is positive or negative, but I have yet to see it articulated in any review. It may be possible that even the film’s creators were not cognizant of it but instead worked with it on a gut level. Once one sees the message, however, it is striking and obvious. Here it is:

In today’s society, we feel miserable and invalidated until one of our dreams comes true in a way that everyone must recognize.

Ronnie craves validation; one of his chief characteristics is insecurity. He wants to become a real cop and dreams, most nights, of saving the world from a black cloud of evil and earning the approbation of the masses.

In some dimensions, Ronnie is hyper-competent. He defeats six crackheads single-handedly. He takes on a troop of cops, losing but doing palpable damage. Ronnie passes every test to get into the police academy save one: the psych evaluation. At the same time, Ronnie is a complete, unhinged idiot. He fails to detect who has been burglarizing the mall at night, instead suggesting suspects on the basis of race. When it comes to relationships of any type, Ronnie is completely clueless.

Ronnie is a complex character, combining both admirable traits and despicable. Persons’ reactions to him are likewise complex: his boss, despite misgivings, supports him, and the cute girl working at the cinnamon bun shop finds him admirable and attractive.

Now we come to our own discomfort in watching Ronnie. We are in the same boat. We don’t know what to think of ourselves.

In our own minds, we are fighting the good fight, but we see others on the opposite side who are equally confident. Or perhaps equally in doubt. We waver. We worry that we are like Ronnie, clueless and not aware of our own cluelessness. We consider how other people think about us, hoping to find validation in their opinions, but we sense–we know–that opinions are divided. Some people love us; others hate us. Some people at work admire us; others mock us. Some praise; others trash. Our friends and family love us, mostly, but we are aware of their bias. (In Observe and Report there is a wonderful scene in which Ronnie’s mom deconstructs the very notion of a parent’s validation, observing that her affirmation of her son’s dreams is merely what a parent is expected to say.)

We long to accomplish one great thing (e.g., becoming a police officer, nabbing a sex offender) that once and for all will prove that we deserve the respect of others and ourselves, but satisfaction is elusive.

I remember job hunting in Chicago in 1994, and I sat next to a guy on the South Shore, and we had a very good conversation. “The thing about Americans,” he said, “is that no one’s satisfied until they become a doctor or a lawyer–something like that.” He was right then, and he’s even more right now. In 2009, as in 1994, it’s hard to love ourselves as we are, and Observe and Report invites us to face that difficulty as few movies ever have.

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The changes in Iran are changes in the world

I pray for as little suffering as possible in Iran as great changes unfold there.

The energy coming out of that country is truly amazing. In the United States, owing to the lens of the MSM through which we have seen the country for the past several decades, we have grown used to images of crowds chanting in favor of the regime and against the US and the West. Now, however, connected to the people there by Twitter, cell phone cameras, and other technologies, we see that the people there not only look like us and act like us, they are us. We are one people in the world, and nowhere can we tolerate injustice and violence.

I don’t feel the government there can last another two months. Put another way, I feel that something good and positive and as magnitudinous as the fall of the Berlin Wall is about to happen. It has started in Iran, but it will not end there. The changes in Iran are changes in the world.

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Indiana, make gay marriage legal

In general, I am not down on Indiana. I’m a writer, so I could live anywhere, but I live here because I like it. Some people say that Indiana is “conservative,” perhaps even reactionary, but I don’t really buy it. Our state has certain characteristics that sometimes are misunderstood.

I was especially proud of Indiana when Barack Obama carried the state in November, and I was also proud to be a Hoosier when a proposed ban on gay marriage failed in 2007.

Now here is one of those characteristics: Hoosiers are practical. We have a very good, very practical governor, Mitch Daniels. We have a strong manufacturing base. We have excellent corporations based here. If something looks as though it might get in the way of doing business, it’s likely to fail here. Hence, according to the Purple Pew,

“House Democrats took a stand today against ill-crafted legislation that would have done more harm than good,” Indiana Democratic Dan Parker said. “This wasn’t a vote against traditional marriage; it was a vote for protecting vulnerable Hoosiers and promoting job growth.” (


Several prominent Indiana businesses opposed the amendment for fear it would limit Indiana’s job growth as it would send a message to the nation that Indiana is a state that subscribes to discriminatory practices. The five businesses that opposed the amendment, according to Indiana Equality, are Emmis Communications, Cummins Inc., Dow AgroSciences, WellPoint, Inc., and Eli Lilly.

Emphasis added.

Give big business credit where it’s due: they knew that disincenting gay people from being in Indiana could only do our state economy and themselves grievous harm. This, of course, was not the most noble reason for supporting the ban, but it’s a respectable reason nonetheless. Funny how a “conservative” state like Indiana gave this idiotic bill the air, whereas a “liberal” state like California actually went ahead and banned gay marriage.

The governor makes frequent trips to Asia and elsewhere to attract business and investment, and he does quite a good job. Governor Daniels, in practical Hoosier fashion, should now affirm in our state the natural right of gay people to marry. Showing that Indiana is ahead of the pack in this fashion will not only attract the best and brightest gay persons to participate in our economy and polity; it will be of great benefit to Indiana’s image–the state’s brand image, if you will. And that, too, can only be good for business.

Most importantly, however, it’s the right thing to do. Like Dick Cheney, we all have gay friends and relatives whom we know in our hearts deserve fair and equitable treatment, not to mention equal protection under the law as the 14th amendment requires. It’s time for “conservative” Indiana to take a stand.

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The ultimate cause of the economic crisis: ignorance

A pithy story about a great thinker:

A lady once asked [Samuel Johnson] how he came to define ‘pastern’, the knee of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as might be expected, he at once answered, “Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.”

When it comes to the worldwide economic crisis, we are not so wise as Johnson. We cannot admit, simply, that we never knew how to manage our evolving economic structure in the first place, that we were ignorant of what we were doing. We compound the ignorance by accusing the financiers or the Republicans or even the Democrats of knowingly doing the wrong thing, when in fact they were doing the wrong thing without knowing it was so.

Do the financiers deserve our anger and our reproach? Yes, inasmuch as they were doing the wrong thing and asserting their knowledge without having any. Do the Republicans deserve the same? Yes, for the identical reason. The Democrats are by no means off the hook, however, since they, too, rode the wave of the late 1990s in more or less satisfied complacency.

Let me restate my point: We were ignorant of how to run the economy, and we compound the ignorance if we place blame incorrectly. For example, it’s poppycock to say that it’s G.W. Bush’s and the Republicans’ fault because they were lax and reckless in the area of financial regulation. They were lax and reckless. They may have been more lax and reckless than were Clinton et al. But can we claim with any certainty that a particular set of regulations could have prevented this whole mess? No, we cannot. (Obviously, we can imagine some extreme kind of regulatory regime that had been able to prevent all these ills; but can’t claim that such a regime had simultaneously preserved all of the desirable aspects of the economy.)

We human beings are very good at putting an erudite spin on whatever we are doing. Back in the 1780s, chemists were writing very smart, very scholarly texts about the role of phlogiston and calx. They were not totally on the wrong track, but they were far from correct. Slowly, eventually, people who supported a correct theory of oxidation arrived, participated in the battle of ideas as the minority, and eventually won because they were correct.

Likewise, until recently, you could find all manner of books and blogs and television programs and whatnot about why the economy was exactly as it should be. At any given time, of course, there are doomsayers of both the credible and crackpot variety warning us about an impending economic collapse, but their ideas and claims in recent years had no influence. Now, however, that things have incontrovertibly gone to merde, the media instructs, explains, and edifies concerning the causes and characters as though it were all the most intelligible and obvious thing.

The ex post facto chatter is just a magnified version of what may be seen in real time on Google or Yahoo or CNBC or any other news source concerning the movement of the stock market: the moment the market rises or falls a palpable amount, bang! They have the cause explained–right there for you! “Investors bargain hunting as doldrums recede.” “Dow dips on semi-unfavorable consumer confidence numbers.” Sometimes they even know what the market will do before it does it: “SNP set to inch upward after Fed chairman feeds frenzy.” And so on.

The media is only reflecting our discomfort with ignorance. We want to know and, if we don’t, we’ll pretend we do. Meanwhile, we pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and–whoops!–we find that we’ve royally screwed with the planet’s temperature. We create all manner of technology, celebrate it and our increasingly connected and peaceful world with World’s Fairs–then, within a span of twenty years, we fight two World Wars. We genetically modify crops and–who knows what will happen? We radically alter the structure of the economy in such and such a way and–we know what happened. But why?

It’s not satisfying to recognize ignorance as the ultimate cause of our plight, but it’s the correct first step, one I do not see being taken in the media. Along with the explaining and blaming without sufficient knowledge may be found the misconception that the roots of the problem are shallow and recently grown. In other words, our method of managing the economy was hunky-dory when Clinton was president, but then Bush was in charge and… nonsense! Again, we don’t know exactly when we went wrong, or how.

George Bernard Shaw, in his introduction to the play Heartbreak House, which deals with WWI, talks at length about that war’s causes. One passage made a big impression on me:

Nature’s Long Credits

Nature’s way of dealing with unhealthy conditions is unfortunately not one that compels us to conduct a solvent hygiene on a cash basis. She demoralizes us with long credits and reckless overdrafts, and then pulls us up cruelly with catastrophic bankruptcies. Take, for example, common domestic sanitation. A whole city generation may neglect it utterly and scandalously, if not with absolute impunity, yet without any evil consequences that anyone thinks of tracing to it. In a hospital two generations of medical students may tolerate dirt and carelessness, and then go out into general practice to spread the doctrine that fresh air is a fad, and sanitation an imposture set up to make profits for plumbers. Then suddenly Nature takes her revenge. She strikes at the city with a pestilence and at the hospital with an epidemic of hospital gangrene, slaughtering right and left until the innocent young have paid for the guilty old, and the account is balanced. And then she goes to sleep again and gives another period of credit, with the same result.

This is what has just happened in our political hygiene. Political science has been as recklessly neglected by Governments and electorates during my lifetime as sanitary science was in the days of Charles the Second.

I find it interesting that Shaw uses a financial metaphor to make his point! In any case, we are currently ignorant of correct “economic hygiene,” and we furthermore do not know when and where and how we went awry. Correct hygiene must now begin with our admission that we do not know the cause of the disease or how to cure it. Certainly, there are some sensible practices that we can and must put into practice immediately, but, until our science of economics improves, we will continue to proceed on a trial and error basis, celebrating the booms and enduring the inevitable busts.

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Rouge Musings for November 17, 2008

You can’t really make anybody do anything–including yourself. I have been meaning to write a whole post on this, but the one sentence suffices, I think.

One thing I always wonder when the GOP is chanting, “Lower taxes, lower taxes,” is just what tax rates they think would serve the country best? You can’t assume that taxes should always be lower than what they are, and basic math tells us there is a rate than which nothing lower is possible.

I am in love with Brahms’ second string sextet. The tonality reminds me of Debussy. In the second movement, the scherzo, Brahms delivers one of those sinuous dances with tears in its eyes. Brahms, Brahms, Brahms–how much you have taught me in the past five months, I cannot even begin to relate. Thank you, dear friend!

I continue my relationship with Beethoven’s 8th Symphony; for more than a year now it has been a shot in my spiritual arm, so to speak. Four movements, four melodic tours de force. It’s Beethoven, so of course you are getting brilliant instrumentation, but this has special appeal to me. This symphony is short (Beethoven’s shortest, in fact), punchy, upbeat, and unforgettable. I am curious why it is not more well known.

I have this two-CD set as well, “The Best of Boccherini.” He is, in a word, great. I really need to explore his work more, as does the world, for he has been overly ignored.

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Rouge Political Musings for November 6, 2008

This is not a political blog, but so much of what has just happened in our country affects Spirit that I am impelled to comment somewhat in detail.

About Obama’s victory I will be brief. It is a great thing for our country, for our planet, and for our species. I voted for the man with utmost enthusiasm (i.e., not as the lesser of two evils this time) and think he will be a truly great president.

On NPR yesterday, there was a senior citizen who said he had said to his children (paraphrasing), “Now that Obama had been elected, I think we will find a cure for cancer.” I was struck dumb by the truth contained within this statement. This is how karmic shifts happen. Let me get into this a little deeper here.

I recall seeing a book in a resale shop in 1988 or 1989 called The Miracle of Jimmy Carter (which was of course from 1976). People had high hopes for Carter, and, although I don’t totally agree, the convential wisdom is that Carter was a failure. I had a friend opine to me yesterday that Obama would be “our Jimmy Carter,” to be followed by “our Ronald Reagan.”

But no, Obama is different. Everyone can see the mark of greatness on the man; most of those who oppose him (unlike my friend) don’t fear that he will be ineffective, but rather he will be too effective in going in what they consider the wrong direction. I think it ironic and yet entirely proper that the first African-American president has so many superlative qualities that his historic blackness will be seen, in retrospect, as an attractive yet relatively minor part of the whole he will have offered the nation.

Obama’s election is a great shift for our country–no, I should say for our species. Naturally, the fact that people of all races joined together in choosing him is a very great blow to racism, and yet–there is so much more at work here. Obama’s perhaps greatest gift among many is his ability to channel and mediate the talents and strengths of others (which is to say, leadership, but of an extraordinary kind). He has demonstrated this gift through his many political accomplishments, including his magnificent campaign, maybe the best run in all of world politics to date.

Indiana came through for Obama–that makes me proud.

§           §           §

On the negative side, California’s Proposition 8 is a disgrace. California? In Indiana, which is supposed to be so conservative, we have already rejected the nonsense of such a constitutional amendment. My friend pointed out to me that one big difference is that the California Supreme Court had its ruling permitting gay marriage, and thus the conservatives or wingnuts or whoever in California were motivated to do the whole Proposition 8 thing. In Indiana, no such situation pertains.

That is true, but other states have already done preemptive strikes, so to speak, of one type or another, and Indiana, to its credit, deep-sixed such an idea without too big a fuss. The argument that seemed to work in Indiana against such appalling bigotry is that a constitutional amendment would scare away gays, who tend to be educated and have money and–oh yes, they have money! It may not be the most altruistic and pure motive of all, but there are worse. Indiana may have its conservative side, but it also knows on which side its bread is buttered.

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