A moment in time crashes into the now. . .

Written September 11, 2014, Dallas, Texas

There was a noticeable hush at Love Field just before 9 a.m. this morning. It was apparent even at the curbside check-in counter.

The hush gave way to silence as we entered the terminal and encountered the cadre of police officers and uniformed TSA personal standing at attention around the perimeter.

A blue-shirted employee whispered to us that a 9-11 memorial service was being held this morning, but that we could proceed to the gate area if we so desired. Looking around, no one was moving. Nor was anyone speaking. The color guard moved in formal cadence into place in the center of the hall, proudly bearing their burdens; they stood somberly facing the gathering.

It was impossible not to remember the events of that morning 13 years ago. A few words were spoken, but somehow the words seem unimportant. What does stand out as important is that for a few moments this morning at a location far from the awful event itself, there was a unity in remembrance, a realization that life is fragile, that bad things happen, and that Americans must all stand together for good.

For a few moments at Love Field in Dallas, Texas, USA, all was well in the silence.

When the reservations were made a month ago, the significance of the date didn’t register. And, in the days leading up to our planned departure on a morning flight, the date was also forgotten.

It was only when we saw the flags at half staff that the realization took hold.

It was a bit difficult not to choke up just a little to the strains of Amazing Grace. Everyone was invited to join in singing America the Beautiful. Few, however, did so. Retaining a sense of composure was not easy.

The honor guard retreated.

TSA screeners resumed their duties.

Police returned to their posts.

And all the travelers proceeded to their gates, ready to fly off into the present.

That experience prompted this year’s thoughts about 9-11.

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I’d prefer “stirred,” thank you . . .

I was sipping my coffee this morning — actually the mug was sitting on the nightstand next to my bed — when there was a shudder. The dark liquid formed a miniature wave against the side of the white porcelain and I knew. I KNEW!

The time on the clock read 7:02.

Later it was confirmed that a magnitude 5.6 earthquake was recorded at 7:02 a.m. Saturday, with an epicenter close to Pawnee, Okla., some 300 miles distant. That’s a pretty powerful shudder for middle America.

As a high school student in Seattle many moons ago, I felt a few tremors; dishes shook occasionally in the cabinets. West Coast residents get used to them. And who doesn’t know that the tectonic plates below the earth’s surface are constantly shifting?

Then there was the time in Acapulco when I awoke in the middle of the night. The hotel windows rattled and the accompanying rumble made it seem like a tropical storm was blowing in off the bay. That time, the shaking lasted long enough for us to check both the windows and the door to the interior atrium. When we saw other tourists running, we dared to think earthquake. Hotel staff, as it turned out, were unfazed and simply went about their routine duties. And so we returned to bed.

Earthquakes don’t strike in the middle of vacationland, we thought. As it turned out, they did quite regularly. But they were rarely reported, so as not to scare away the tourists. Or so we were told later that day as we sat on the beach sipping our margaritas.

Today, because it was odd to see the coffee sloshing in the cup, I researched earthquakes.

As it turns out, today’s little episode in Pawnee was just that. A small shake in the worldwide scheme of things. In earthquake terminology it was a “modest” temblor, but  it is also the largest quake to be recorded in the past seven days in the area that includes the United States, Canada and Mexico. The list is long, and earthquakes have been felt in Wyoming, Nevada, California, Tennessee, Alaska and Hawaii, not to mention quite a few others in Oklahoma. The event near Pawnee is termed a cluster, and the shocks might continue for a while, according to all reports. The most surprising fact is that they are routine, rather than cause for alarm.

In total, 245 quakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater have been recorded in seven days. Surprised? I certainly was. Worldwide, during the same seven-day period, there have been a handful of others of the magnitude of the Pawnee quake or greater, notably in New Zealand, New Guinea and Indonesia, but at least 245 incidences of 4.0 or greater. One week in the history of earthquake reporting. Two days ago, New Zealand felt a 7.2 earthquake, and a tsunami warning was issued.

What do these shakers portend for “the big one?” Not much, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Today may have been a relatively unusual day for moderate temblors around the globe, but the number of measurable earthquakes annually is around 20,000, or 55 each day. Who knew? USGS experts report that a temporary uptick or decrease in “seismicity is part of the normal fluctuation of earthquake rates.”

As it turns out, what the disaster movies have been feeding us is fiction, in capital letters. Not to make light of serious earthquakes; they can and do occur, and they will no doubt continue to cause damage and loss of life. But, as we learn more about them and as our buildings become more structurally sound, the devastation will also, hopefully, be reduced. Major worries are the damage from collapsing buildings in highly populated areas, and the resulting tsunamis that a shaking earth causes in the world’s oceans.

Also, as it turns out, earthquakes in Oklahoma are not at all uncommon. Actually, the state overtook California’s number two spot for earthquake frequency in 2014, a position it held into 2015. Alaska retains its Number One position — a dubious distinction. But we’ll just have to wait and see the rankings at the end of this year.

If you’re interested in a scientific journey into the world of earthquakes, you might want to read this National Geographic article from 2006. It’s long, but worth it!

 

 

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Adulting: The road is a rocky one, but oh so much fun

There are words in a 13-year-old’s vocabulary that make one sit up and take notice.

I feel as if I have taken a high intensity two week course in generational psychology. The gap is real. But it can be bridged.

Having a 13-year-old granddaughter is a delight. Having a 13-year-old granddaughter for two weeks in a vacation setting, without parents and in unfamiliar (for her) territory is an exercise in ingenuity, frustration, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants management, exasperation, laugh-until-your-sides-hurt silliness, exhaustion, exhilaration, wonderment, total joy, bemusement and occasional flashes of short-lived anger. All of it — the good and not-s0-good, punctuated by a sense that this is real life. Life the way it should be, spontaneous and unrehearsed.

This is what relationships are all about. This is what binds parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren, and it has probably been this way since the concept of family became reality.

Her parents agreed (and so did she, because she was offered a choice) to let our granddaughter stay with us for two weeks longer than the rest of the family. She remained while parents and little brother went on to other adventures.

The adventure that surrounded us was unexpected — and it was awesome.

We had long talks. We also had extended periods of silence. We had smiles and frowns, hugs and giggles as well as “I’ll be in my room” afternoons. And, I have to admit, we had lazy afternoons when the three of us retreated to our individual corners with our tablets and earbuds. We also had some “grrrrrrr” moments — on both sides of the age gap.

At the dinner table one evening, the subject of “growing up” came up in a roundabout way. At one point, she said, “Mom and I have been talking lately about adulting.”

Maybe you can imagine the look of surprise, the giggle that became a guffaw, the bewilderment with which Papa and Grammie greeted that sentence.

Adulting? Adulting, we asked, in amusement. What is adulting?

“Oh, you know,” she replied, “acting like an adult.”

We talked some more, smiled some more, and finished that dinner with good humor, but filled with the wonderment of it all.

Too soon the day came when we put her on the plane (alone) to return to her family. It was an exercise in adulting!!  For all of us.

 

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Memorial Day 2016

20151111_113424Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day. They are, in a sense, the three-legged stool that anchors our union, much in the same way the three branches of government anchor its day-to-day operation. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

But there’s a responsibility that falls to the citizens, not only to elect leaders who will govern well and keep our best interests at heart, but to respect, honor and strengthen our military, to remember those who have given their lives, to thank and care for those who previously served, and to acknowledge those who currently serve in our volunteer forces

If you ask me, it’s a small price to pay: Three days each year that require we take a moment to think about freedom, to exercise responsibility, to display the American flag with pride, to stop what we are doing, to remember, to celebrate our freedom. And, no matter what some may believe, we are free by almost any standard one chooses to apply. We are free, still and yet, because of those died in our military forces, because of those who served and because of those who still serve.

There is an internet piece currently circulating that sets my teeth on edge. It purports to prove what a “warring people” we are – that in our 240 years of existence, we have been “at war” for 222 of them. It is designed, I think, to shock and disappoint. I was shocked and disappointed to read it.

But then I realized that it is exactly that kind of piece, as misleading as it is, that makes us strong. I know as well as others what faults this nation has and what challenges it faces. But, I am not willing to give up on us. Not yet. Not ever!

So, tomorrow, on Memorial Day, I will look up at the flag that flies in my front yard and say a silent and heartfelt prayer for those who did not return from the battlefields. War is, and has been a reality in our history. And, even though we would all like to live in peace, there are worse things than war. And our military men and women fight those battles well, and they fight them for us all.

My  household paused in the same way on Armed Forces Day, May 21. I come from a long line of soldiers, sailors and airmen. I even claim family who fought on separate sides in our own Civil war, and I laud their choices to do their duty as they perceived it at the time.

By November 11, when it is once again time to honor the veterans who wore their uniforms in active duty service, this country’s citizens will already have elected a new leader for the next four years. At the moment, that choice is the cause of much debate and bitter contention. I hope that our choice three days earlier will make our veterans proud. It is this process that they suited up to defend both at home and abroad.

Now, that is something to think about.

That is, after all is said and done, what is required of us, not a great deal for this nation to demand of me and of all its citizens. It is the least we can do for the privileges we have.

It is my hope that all citizens of this United States will stand together and work for good. I realize that, in 2016, many different opinions hold sway, and that the task seems more difficult than it ever has before, at least in my lifetime. But it is still my hope.

And, finally, taking a little time for barbecue on this extended holiday weekend is not a bad idea either!

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Some of my best friends are . . .

I have been thinking lately about that statement. No matter how you finish it off, it somehow sounds wrong, doesn’t it? So why do we keep repeating it?

The only way, I think, that statement makes any sense, is if it ends in this way:

Some of my best friends are no longer here, and I miss them.

Some of us are separated only geographically, some of us by temperament. Other dear friend have moved on to other planes of existence. Many of my former acquaintances are no longer a part of my normal life.

I do not get to laugh with them or sing sad songs with them. I do not have a chance to trade insults or to explore ideas or to share a meal or lift a glass in toast with them. I miss that. I also miss the spice and variety of different viewpoints, different backgrounds, differing perspectives. And, because of the way my mind works, thinking about old friends led to thinking about old wars, and about old songs.  That seems appropriate, in an odd sort of way, because today marks the anniversary of Israel’s independence, and Memorial Day is not long off.

Over a lifetime we all encounter all sorts of people. With some, there is an immediate connection. Others move on quickly; there is no common bond. But one of the characters I encountered during my years in Europe was a British Army sergeant with a glorious Irish voice and a full repertoire of old wartime ditties. Some of them were raw enough to make me blush. Some were haunting, some were fit for long marches; others were meant for the parade field and “Pass in Review” occasions. He also sang ballads and the classic hymns so loved by old ladies and 10-year-olds alike. “Paddy” sang them all, repeatedly and well, much to the delight of anyone within hearing range.

I know that he is no longer around; he seemed old (and weathered) even when I knew him. But I have not forgotten him. Especially now, with observances related to past wars close and pervasive, I think of him and his songs.

Bless ’em All” comes to mind. An irreverent military tune, as many were, this particular one has been sung by many nationalities through many wars. It has also been popularized in numerous movies and has some ever so “politically incorrect” versions, in addition to the more familiar words. Or maybe the original version, written by Welsh songwriter Fred Godfrey is the lesser-known version after all.

Anyway, I remember it as it was performed in a service club in Paris, loudly and with great feeling, by an Irishman who wanted to be anyplace but where he was. Accompanied by an off-key chorus and punctuated by cheers and applause from other soldiers and sailors of a dozen different nationalities, it was a celebration of the kind of friendships that don’t often exist. Some of those present didn’t know the words, but they all got the point. It was just prior to the move of NATO and SHAPE Headquarters from France to Belgium. It was a melancholy moment.

I remember it well. It was one of the last times I saw this group of characters together. I still think of them. They were — we all were — players in a performance that has not been staged again in almost 50 years.

Bless ’em all. Indeed.

 

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Turn up the volume, roll up your sleeves

Insights come in odd ways. They arrive at the strangest times, and in the strangest of places.

This morning I was driving to an appointment. My mind was on the upcoming meeting, and my CD player provided soft background music.

Then I had to turn up the volume. It was an old CD – Kenny Rogers singing Reuben James. And, although I find Kenny’s voice soothing while driving, I rarely listen to the words. This morning, however, I found myself returning to that particular track over and over.

Have you ever listened – carefully – to the words of Reuben James? If not, you should. This morning it seemed to me to be an answer. Well, maybe not an answer, exactly; but it did start me thinking about a lot of things – kindness, peace, acceptance, getting along, respect, honesty, love, goodness, and sadness. Most of all, perhaps, it got me thinking seriously about how to stand up for my beliefs.

The next track, also, had a message. So much so, that I had to push the off button and drive on in silence, deep in thought.

Coward of the County. Remember? “Promise me, son, not to do the things I’ve done. Walk away from trouble if you can. It won’t mean you’re weak if you turn the other cheek; I hope you are old enough to understand. Son, you don’t have to fight to be a man.”

Then, on my way home from the meeting, I turned on AM radio for a traffic and weather check, and once more was surprised. A talk show host was doing his best to describe the way the party system in our country works; actually he accomplished the task quite well.

And then I had to smile at his concluding assessment:

It was something like: “People, if you’re dissatisfied about the current state of affairs in this country, you really ought to READ THE OWNER’S MANUAL.”

As I said, I had to smile. Truly, I almost laughed out loud!

What a concept: That Americans, rather than complaining and being upset by politics, by race relations, by perceived unfairness, by crime and by hunger, by poverty and by low wages and lost opportunities – rather than giving up, we all ought to roll our sleeves up and get to work – together – to make things right. Or at least to try to make things better.

Maybe we ought to read the owner’s manual of humanity and of our Republic, study the basics, learn how to make changes, and then get busy working for the changes we want to see!

Now, that’s a revolutionary concept, one that I could definitely get behind.

It’s too easy these days to complain, point fingers and blame; We have learned to expect others to do the heavy lifting of building a better union.

I was told as a child that life isn’t necessarily fair. I believed it then and I believe it now. I also believe that it can be better for us all, if we only work together to make it so.

What say you?

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My backyard animal farm

101_2068There’s a possum in the yard! And at least one “family” of squirrels, a bunny who might have friends, redbirds and blue jays and a pair of large birds that look like cranes building a nest in a neighbor’s tree. There are also the familiar smaller birds busy building nests, some big round bees that seem to love the space under the eaves of our home, and who knows what else. I haven’t seen a snake, but there might be one. I haven’t seen spiders either, but we do have webs. The lizards will venture out when it’s warm.

Spring – and new activity – has arrived in North Texas.

This year, however, perhaps because of our mild winter, we have witnessed the ongoing escapades of our squirrels for months and enjoyed every minute of it. We have even learned to put up with an occasional stroll through the yard by the neighbor’s cat (no, we are not cat people!) and just a couple of days ago, we were delighted to see another bunny hopping across the grass. 100_1704

About that Possum

But I shuddered at a glimpse of that possum on the patio. There’s just something creepy about a slow-moving, odd-looking, rat-tailed, fur-covered creature with mouse ears, a pointed nose and long whiskers.

So the husband did what any compliant spouse would do; he contacted animal control and made arrangements to pick up a live trap. I certainly didn’t want to hurt the possum; I just had no intention of sharing my patio with “him.”

And then – can you guess?

After a couple of days of watchfulness, and after spotting the possum on various occasions walking along the fence, climbing a utility pole and disappearing between a retaining wall and the wood pickets, we awoke one morning to find him securely trapped in the cage. Apparently the peanut butter had proved irresistible. Of course, it was Sunday and the animal control officer had advised that no one would be available to pick up the trap over the weekend.

A Case of Guilt

I worried that my possum would starve or die of thirst. He didn’t look nearly as threatening behind bars! We have a garden and we were under the (incorrect) impression that possums are vegetarians, so I suggested we offer some cabbage leaves and water. Hubby found my suggestion laughable.

101_2079However, when we were told this morning that animal control would be closed all day Monday as well, the choice was either to feed our unwilling prisoner or release him. We chose the former, and I did some online research.

And now I’m torn. I learned that the lowly possum, more properly “opossum” is really quite unique. As North America’s only marsupial, I learned that they are sometimes termed “nature’s clean up crew” and they are true omnivores, eating everything from cockroaches to small mammals to fruit and grains, and that they are essential to keep the native snake and bug population at bay.

They have opposable “thumbs” on their rear feet and they use their tails to carry burdens as well as occasionally hanging by the tail from a tree limb. Could I learn to love this relative of the kangaroo? I have had past encounters with skunks and raccoons (nasty little pranksters) and with armadillos, packrats and coyotes. At another location, we had also successfully trapped and transported another pair of possums. I remember them differently and was happy to see them depart. But this little creature? I don’t know.

101_2076I like the squirrels – their antics make me smile. And, of course, I like watching the birds. But last year, when the cranes (herons?) arrived to raise their young and flap their wings in one of our trees, they seemed to scare away the other creatures. For several weeks, the visiting bunny and the resident squirrels – even smaller birds — disappeared. Perhaps they just left on vacation, but the timing was odd and we blamed the intruder wings and their swooping flights over our yard. As fall arrived, they left, and our squirrels returned.100_1799

We forgave, and forgot.

We are set on a particular course right now, and will not be “adopting” this particular possum. Instead we will welcome occasional visits from the cottontail, be watchful for snakes in the garden, and continue to follow the activities of our friendly squirrels.

As I write this, a bushy-tailed little visitor is digging up nuts just outside my window. We will also watch those invading “big birds” and hope that they do not scare our squirrels.

Life goes on. Perhaps if another possum wanders into our yard and our lives, we will not be so quick to send him packing!

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Where’s my lightsaber?

Yes, I loved it!

In 1977, I loved the first one. I have seen them all.

What is it about Star Wars?

There are more exciting stories, perhaps, but the thought of traveling to “a galaxy far, far away” never fails to draw me. And hundreds of thousands of others, apparently, also make time to travel to that long-ago time and far-away place, regularly. But, especially when a new movie come out.

It’s such a simple tale — the forces of good battle the forces of evil.

I have always been attracted to such morality plays, and these are the best of the modern best. Aren’t they, though! Even though the middle trilogy got a bit bogged down in special effects and battle scenes, blurring the message somewhat, the underlying allegory remained: Choose a godly life over the distracting forces of evil.

May the force be with you.

If only it were so simple. But, then, maybe the message is that it has never been simple.

We, as humans, keep trying.  . . . We must keep trying. Especially in our modern age.

The search for salvation, then for redemption? It just goes on, doesn’t it?

Now, just how long do I have to wait for the next movie?

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Saddened, and disturbed . . .

Many of my friends, unlike me, do not watch daily news on television. They do, however, like me, consider themselves well-informed, caring, thoughtful individuals and responsible inhabitants of a planet that seems to shrink daily in terms of interactive effects on our daily lives.

We all know all too well the plight of Syrian refugees, missing airlines over the Indian Ocean, shark attacks on far-flung beaches, and how El Chapo and the “Affluenza Teen” were apprehended in Mexico.

We also know a lot of details about David Bowie and his music since his death yesterday (not that I don’t like the music), and about  Leo DeCaprio and Lady Gaga. Okay, that’s fine.

Or is it?

People died yesterday — a lot of them. “Innocent civilians” and at least one child. They were doing nothing more than enjoying a visit to a modern shopping mall in a relatively peaceful and modern section of Baghdad. And many more were injured. They were victims of a brutal Islamic State attack that included a random armed assault followed by suicide bombers followed by a nearby car bomb.

Up to 50 people died yesterday — half a world away, but prompted by the same madness that has brought such attacks to our country and to other nations.

Two separate attacks were carried out in other suburbs of Baghdad — with an additional list of victims. All were the work of ISIS. That group not only claimed responsibility, but warned that there is much more to come, and in more locations around the world.

Accounts, however, are hard to come by. On the Monday night NBC news show, there was not one word. The PBS evening report was brief; it was not the lead story.

Today, the news continues to be bad — very bad, indeed. At least seven Sunni mosques in Iraq were bombed early Tuesday, two Iraqi journalists were shot dead, and bombings occurred in Istanbul, near the famed Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia complex. There are at least 10 dead, most of them German tourists, leading to a stern rebuke from that country’s chancellor, Angela Merkel.

“Today Istanbul was hit. Paris has been hit. Tunisia has been hit. Ankara has been hit before,” Merkel said in Berlin. “International terrorism is once again showing its cruel and inhuman face today.”

One live feed news report, filed by The Washington Post at 10:48 EST Tuesday morning, noted that the Turkish government, after charging the Islamic State with the bombing, had announced a ban on media coverage.

I am saddened. But, more than that, I am disturbed and distraught. I am angry. I feel powerless. Events half a world away affected me deeply yesterday and today. Don’t they affect us all?

I will watch President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address tonight with great expectations. I desperately want him to acknowledge that these attacks speak to the heart and soul of Americans. I want to hear that this is a battle against evil that should be the prime concern of good people everywhere. I do not want to hear that our drones are containing the threat. I most certainly do not want to hear that we are winning. Because, I believe, unless we can find a way to stand together, we have all lost.

People died by violence yesterday. And more died today. And I am upset.

 

 

 

 

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Surviving nature’s fury . . .

It’s sobering.

Storms come in all sizes, in different forms and at different times. Many are predictable and most are forgettable. But, sometimes, those storms hit close to home and close to the heart.

If they don’t impact our neighborhoods directly, it’s easy to turn off the television, go to bed and forget them. Even if the rains pound, the winds swirl and the lights occasionally flicker, most times we awake to calm and the familiar order of things and we go about our lives.

But not always.

Several years ago, I drove through Joplin, Mo., months after a devastating tornado had cut a swath through its landscape. I was stunned that the devastation was still so raw and so widespread. Years before that, I had passed through Wichita Falls following its killer tornado and felt the same sadness – as well as the same awe – at the destructive power of nature.

Saturday night, I watched non-stop weather coverage of tornadoes forming in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the blizzard to the west and the flooding all around, mesmerized by our scientifically accurate ability to pinpoint tornadic rotations. I was astounded by the forecasters’ ability to predict, to the minute, when the devastating forces would arrive in specific communities. I started clocking the heavy rainfall and the winds outside by the images on TV. This is akin to watching real-time war news, I thought, and shuddered at the thought.

It is fascinating. It is awesome. It is awful.

I could not help thinking of the perfect storm – how imperfect it all is.

Watching from the safety of a warm home makes it both more real and less so.

I took the time to text friends and family whose homes on the other side of the Metroplex seemed to be nearer the storm front than my own. And I received back messages and pictures of them “hanging out” in the safest spots available – huddled on the floor of an interior pantry with a 3-year-old and a personal device; another household with three adults and five puppies crowded into a small laundry room for the duration of the storm. Still other friends reported pouring a glass of wine, lighting a fire and waiting for the all clear signal. We all cope in different ways.

The storm passed; everyone I know personally emerged safely, only a little the worse for worry.

This morning, approximately 36 hours after the “weather event” that we had expected and been warned about, officials are assessing damage and affected residents are going about the business of picking up their lives. Sadly, people died; many other lives will never be the same. Still others – perhaps many others – were saved due to the early warnings, continuing media coverage and accurate forecasting.

There are many helpers as well. The emergency crews are out in force. Concern is widespread. The pictures and the accounts of selflessness, caring and assistance are as awesome as the storm itself. We humans are nothing if not resilient.

This one hit close to home, physically and emotionally. Still, I feel like a bystander. I watched the storm from the warmth and comfort of my own home, with my loved one by my side. I am grateful for the weather tracking, news reporting, warning signals and digital communication.

They are all comforting, but maybe they’re problematic as well. Is it possible that it would be better not to know the details in real time? I don’t know the answers. I know that some in this city looked the storm in the face and survived against all odds. I watched their stories on television.

Despite massive damage, only a few lives were lost. That doesn’t make it better, however. We can predict the storms, but we can’t control them. That’s worth a second thought.

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