Uncommon Sense

November 29, 2021

Note—This was written almost a decade ago but it seems worthwhile to repost it from time to time. SR

Campaign Finance Contributions:
A Form of Political Speech or Influence Peddling?

A White Paper by Steve Ruis
February 2012

Obviously the federal government is bought and paid for and, unfortunately, not by you or me. In the past 40 years the political deck has been stacked in favor of the very rich who have gotten very much richer and against the rest of Americans who have benefitted minimally in comparison. This is undeniable. So, the question of political corruption is a natural one and all such discussions quickly lead to its source: donations of political monies to campaigns. It seems like the wealthiest people and corporations have made greater contributions to our representatives than have we, so those officials are doing what they want rather than what we want. It is a proven fact of psychology that if someone gives you a gift, you will feel grateful and will feel a need to reciprocate. So, such “contributions” automatically generate the need to reciprocate if the system didn’t reinforce that need (which it does).

But when are such gifts “ordinary” a part of the political process and when do they constitute influence peddling, which is illegal? This is the core question.

One solution to the political money conundrum is a simple concept, namely that money for a candidate or an issue may only be raised from people who live in the affected jurisdiction. For mayor’s races, funds may only be raised within the city’s limits. Candidates for U.S. Senator may raise funds from anyone in their state. Presidential candidates my raise funds from anyone in the U.S. House of Representatives candidates may only raise funds in their districts. Water district commissioners may only raise funds from residents of their water district, and so forth. Opponents of a ballot initiative may only raise funds in the district that initiative, should it become law, would have an effect.

In this manner only the people who that candidate will represent or who that law will apply to may fund the political efforts that determine whether that campaign will succeed or fail. This is critical, because people who live in the jurisdiction will be represented by that candidate or affected by that initiative or legislation, and people who live outside that jurisdiction will not. This draws a clean line between ordinary political speech and influence peddling. Outsiders cannot justify political contributions as the person or issue at stake does not affect them directly, consequently all such donations of money, that is from “outsiders” (literally), are de facto attempts to buy influence and should be illegal.

Outsiders will still have their say. They will speak on the airwaves (television, radio, blogs, newspapers, etc.) and their speech is free. They could even rent a hall in the district and deliver speeches. All of this is free speech. But in any circumstances in which that speech isn’t free of cost and where political money comes into play, that must be regulated. There have been myriad efforts to determine the sources of the funding for such political efforts, but the laws, in effect, protect such anonymity. Groups are allowed to form with names like “Americans for Liberty” and “Moms for Apple Pie” and “Citizens United” who then become political actors. All efforts to require disclosure to date have been somewhat easily avoided.

But if we think like voters, the solution is straightforward. As a voter, I want to know whether the person(s) paying for the ad/brochure/event is/are a stakeholder or an outsider. If the ad doesn’t come from a group or individual in the jurisdiction using funds collected in the jurisdiction, it must be clearly labeled “Paid for by Outsiders.” If they want to go on and also state that the ad was paid for by “Americans for Freedom” they may certainly do so, as part of their free speech right, but the “Paid for by Outsiders” must come first and be more prominent than any other such identification. And such efforts may not be coordinated with official “in district” campaigns.

This gives voters the information they need. It also has an amazing array of secondary benefits. For one, the burden of raising funds for any political office, except for President, will be greatly lessened. Official or unofficial campaigns may only raise funds in a candidate’s district. Candidates do not need to be negotiating deals with all kinds of sources of out-of-district funds, as this would be illegal. In order to get constituents to donate, there must be communication explaining why the money is needed and what it is to be used for and what services the candidate is offering voters. This is clean and open politics.

Lobbyists would have much less influence because their speech would be in the form of just words and not money unless the ones hiring them came from a legislator’s district. (One cannot borrow or hire someone else’s primary residence for the purpose of making political donations just as one cannot buy someone else’s vote.)

This policy puts a burden on a candidate to build a base in the district in which they intend to run for office. No more, for example, would candidates from out of state be moving in short-term to establish residency and then using out-of-state funds to win a seat in the U.S. Senate, then moving to Washington with no connection whatsoever with the communities they represent. Candidates will probably need to build up a local reputation based on deeds to constituents in order to raise funds with them, all in all a good thing. Otherwise they won’t get elected to higher office in the first place.

The total amount of money involved in campaigns will decrease and so the money actually raised and spent will have to be spent more wisely (one hopes on higher quality communication than “attack ads”).

Sitting representatives will need to tend to constituents more closely as they are the only sources of funds for any re-election campaigns. This is to the good.

And, I am sure, more benefits will come to your mind as you consider this policy further.

The recent Supreme Court decision (“Citizens United”) to allow corporations unfettered political spending is certainly problematic. But if the Court thought it wise to take a business fiction (that a business can become a person) and apply it to politics, we need to carry that to its obvious conclusion. Just as individuals have a “primary address” that determines the districts they vote in and the offices they vote for, this should also be the case for “corporate citizens.” Let us say that the U.S. corporate headquarters shall be the “primary residence” of the corporation and this establishes the districts of residence that determine to whom they can donate political money. Of course, they can still form groups to get their “free speech” rights for topics of concern to them, but they cannot contribute directly to any out of district candidates or issue groups and any “free speech” messages beamed into those other districts must be clearly labeled “Paid for by Outsiders,” because that’s who they would be. Employees of the corporation who live in a particular district could make donations as they wanted but the corporation itself could not, unless that district contains the “primary residence” of the corporation. Nor could the corporations instruct employees to make donations or provide funds for them to do so.

This would apply to labor unions and all benevolent organizations as well.

Now some might claim that this could emasculate political parties as they couldn’t steer events by collecting money from whatever sources and then pouring it into wherever they wanted. Quite the contrary, what would be required of any such body: political party, PAC, Better Business Bureau, etc., is that they become better organized and that they develop local bodies of constituents in districts to collect funds for them and distribute them. Funds earmarked for national offices, like President, could flow through to the national office of the organization but for “in state” offices the funds would have to stay in state, etc. And funds collected for in-state candidates could not be funneled to other states.

Political parties and unions can still support their “people” with web sites, phone calls, advice from experts, etc, as long as everyone pays their own communication bills. If they call a candidate with advice, that is free speech, if they call voters with a message, it must begin with “This Message is Paid for by Outsiders.” Talk and written communication aren’t being regulated, political money is. Experts could give advice but not work for a campaign unless the campaign paid them for their work. (It is a fine line, but something is better than nothing. Advice is speech but having someone come in and organize one’s campaign office, set up their computers or phone bank, etc. is donated labor.)

Organizations who could not get people to work for them could not substitute money for bodies unless that money was local. Rich people and large corporations would still have a great deal of influence in their localities but would they want to pay very large sums of money for smallish elections? Probably not. Currently we have billionaires using large amounts of money to leverage entire national elections. Their influence would be greatly curtailed by this proposal. They could still pay for a great many communication pieces to exercise their free speech rights and as long as they were labeled “Paid for by Outsiders,” they would be within the law.

If one wanted to be really tough, a pre-election audit might be required but the spirit of this proposal is more in the line of post-election audits. If someone was found to have significantly (not trivially) violated this law, their election could be invalidated. This would encourage people to “do it right” from the beginning. (England has just recently invalidated an election to the House of Commons because a candidate lied about his opponent. Taking money from outsiders illegally and then claiming one did not is a very significant lie (and would be illegal) which should be punished.)

This proposal would require legislation to implement and since it affects everyone it can be expected to draw fire. Since it creates a level playing field but one which still greatly favors incumbents (Who else is in a better position to do good work for their constituents?) contrary arguments by sitting politicians would be hard to rationalize. Politicians who vigorously oppose such legislation would clearly be doing so because they are beholden to monied interests as the power of those interests would be greatly curtailed. That is where the major opposition will come from.

What is more American, more constitutional, more revolutionary than re-establishing the sanctity of “one man, one vote” and free speech? At the time of the creation of the Constitution, a secret ballot was considered highly objectionable. The people needed to know who voted for whom and for what. (This ideal still holds in our Congress where votes are all public.) Secret ballots only came in much later in our history, which makes our support for “anonymous” political money all the more puzzling. Anonymous political speech was practiced by almost every one of the “founding fathers” (by writing under nom de plumes, for example) but if someone were to have paid them for their “free speech,” they would have been strung up from the nearest tree.

It is time to control political speech/money as we control regular speech. It is considered illegal to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater with no fire involved. Such speech is not protected by the First Amendment. So, let’s clean up politics and simply by erecting a firewall between political outsiders who are not directly represented in an election and the candidates and constituents who are.

November 28, 2021

Let’s Take It and Run With It

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:48 am

It is Sunday again, so it is time for another religion post! Steve

* * *

Christian theologians insist that human beings were created by their god. Let’s, for the sake of argument, accept this and see where it leads.

The question to be addressed here is “Why?” This god is claimed to be all-knowing, all-powerful, all-American, all-everything, etc. It is perfect, complete, needing nothing. So, why would it create human beings? According to the creation story in Genesis 2, Adam was created to tend Yahweh’s garden, the so-called Garden of Eden. So, he was created as a gardener and as an animal wrangler of some sort since it was not just the plants he was to tend. (For those of you who claim the other creation story, in Genesis 1, doesn’t mention this reason, well if you get to “pick and choose” from scripture, so do I.)

Modern Christians insist that their god wants a “personal relationship” with his created human beings. Is this why we were created? I mean the Garden thing didn’t work out and, according to the story, we were shipped off and told to populate the Earth. Maybe we were created to hold up our end in these personal relationships.

So, consider the dynamics of the people in this relationship. Yahweh already knows everything you are going to say and do, so spontaneity is not involved. You can’t provide any ideas not already known to Yahweh, so creativity is not involved. In fact, Yahweh’s abilities are so far beyond yours that the relationship is woefully and massively lopsided.

If you are a pet owner, consider the relationship between you and, say, your pet cat. You are closer to your cat than God is to you, so how would you feel if your cat started to show obvious signs of worshipping you. At first you would not believe it, but when it repeated the signs over and over you would have to accept it. What would your cat’s worship mean to you? I am sure you would suspect that they were doing it for the kibble or whatever you provide to feed the beastie. Would you be flattered? I don’t think so. I think you would be embarrassed, and unwilling to tell your friends about your cat’s strange behavior . . . unless it was to ridicule it.

Now, imagine you had a pet lizard or snake. We still aren’t even getting close to the difference between you and this god, but those pets would be closer than a cat would be to representing that distance.

So, what kind of relationship can there be between this all-everything god and a human being? It seems that being a pet is the very best that could be expected. Expecting some sort of fulfilling relationship is bizarre as what do you have to offer to even hold up your end of any conversation? Nothing novel, nothing new, nothing that isn’t already known, no surprises, etc.

How good of a friend can you be? In fact, how good of a pet can you be?

Now that you see that a personal relationship between you, an ordinary human being, and an all-knowing, etc. god is impossible, ask yourself: Why did this god create us? Possibly a clue is in the Book of Isaiah: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7 KJV). Maybe Yahweh created human beings as his instrument to create evil. Why should He have to do all the heavy lifting? Some of us create evil, others good, some do both, and Yahweh keeps His word.

You gotta a better idea?

Burning

Last night I saw a documentary, aptly titled “Burning,” on the massive fire season experienced by Australia in 2019. Australia is well acquainted with fires, but in the past never had more than about 5% of the “Bush” burned in any one season. In 2019, over 20% of the Bush burned, including rainforests which had never burned in human knowledge because they were “too wet.”

The footage was heartbreaking, not because so many lost their homes, but also because billions of wild animals died from smoke inhalation and by burning. I cannot get an image of a koala with its fur on fire out of my mind.

Before during and after all of this, the Australian government, described as “right-leaning” by the very right-wing media, so, hard right is probably the best label for it, denied climate change was a factor and blamed the large number of fires happening concurrently on arsonists. (Rupert Murdock is from Australia, no?)

I wonder is any public person challenged these claims of “arson” by politicians and news readers by asking questions like: “How do you know this?” and “If you have knowledge of acts of arson, you need to turn in those arsonists now, so do you? Do you have actual knowledge or are you just blowing smoke?”

The same pols and news readers/commenters also claimed that climate change had nothing to do with the burning of the entire continent. Similarly: “How do you know this?” “What are your sources?” etc. are questions that should have been asked. (They might have been but considering the state of the media, I suspect not.)

Also, nowhere in all of the presentations was there any mention of where the politicians involved got their donations? “Follow the money” is a time worn aphorism that is as true today as it was when first spoken, but the documentarians didn’t mention political money at all. Possibly there is a cultural taboo associated with talking about political money, or the documentarians wanted to avoid the controversy involved which would take away from their message. People should be able to put two and two together.

At the end, the statement was made that the average atmospheric temperature increase due to global atmospheric warming has been 1.1 degrees Celsius. Australia, however has experience a 1.5 degree Celsius increase and could be a harbinger of things to come. They made a comparison of the awful fire seasons experienced in places like California, where 14+ million acres burned. Other catastrophes were listed, most smaller. Australia saw 59 million acres burn in its fires. Can you imagine what California would be like were it to experience fires of the same magnitude.

Of course, when the ultraconservative government was petitioned for more firefighters and fire equipment in advance as all of the signs indicated would be a very bad fire season, they stood pat. Actual, we don’t know what they did as they didn’t reply to the request, even to say “no.”

And, in Ted Cruz fashion, the Prime Minister went off to holiday in Hawaii during the middle of the catastrophe. His justification was that he wasn’t going to be holding a shovel of a hose, so he was not needed.

I don’t know whether to be relieved or disgusted that Trumpian troglodytes exist all over the planet.

November 26, 2021

Another Example of “Corporations Would Never . . .”

We have been told for years by staunch business defenders that corporations can be trusted, that they don’ need no stinkin’ regulations because “they would never, ever do anything underhanded that would damage their reputations.”

Here is yet another example of corporations and their executives lying and even placing servicemen’s lives at risk, to make even more fucking money.

32 Years of Fraud
At hand, capitalism is great and profitable, but it does create a greedy society that forces people into taking fraudulent actions just to beat their competitors. I have seen many cases but this must be the worst by far. For the past 32 years, the Director of Metallurgy at Bradken Inc. in Tacoma has been falsifying the test results that measure the toughness of steel used to produce the hulls and other parts of U.S. submarines.

During the investigation to identify the source of poor quality steel the Department of Justice had identified at fault Bradken Inc. which has been the main supplier of steel for the U.S. Navy. The company is the one producing the hulls for ships and submarines as well as creating steel based on the strict requirements of the U.S. Navy. If a steel bach fails the metallurgist’s test then it cannot be used to produce anything for the U.S. Navy.

Elaine Thomas has been the Director of the metallurgy lab at Badken Inc. for the past 32 years and during her whole time, she had falsified the results for over 240 productions of steel. Getting that high quality of steel required by the Navy is difficult and it’s normal to have a few batches fail. Of course, this costs the company a lot, therefore someone ended up making a lot of money in the process. (Source: historyofyesterday.com)

Learning

Filed under: Culture,Education,Philosophy — Steve Ruis @ 8:07 am
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I subscribe to a newsletter called “The Daily Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Everyday Life” Written in part by Ryan Holiday, I think, available at dailystoic.com. Stoic philosophy is a very pragmatic philosophy, over 2000 years old, and is quite pertinent today, since academic philosophers seem to have abandoned the public sphere.

Stoicism main concern was and is how to live a good life. Here is an excerpt from today’s newsletter:

“Because, as Marcus Aurelius wrote, those suffering humans are us, and we are them. To allow harm to come to them—through indifference, through callousness—is to allow harm to come to ourselves. It’s why the most magnificent moment of Marcus’s reign was the day he decided to sell off the palace furnishings to keep Rome going—to help those in need. Hierocles was a Roman Stoic who spoke of “circles of concern.” Our first concern, he said, was our mind, but beyond this was our concern for our bodies, for our immediate family, then our extended family. Like concentric rings, these circles were followed by our concern for our community, our city, our country, our empire, our world. The work of philosophy, he said, was to draw this outer concern inward, to learn how to care as much as possible for as many people as possible, to do as much good for them as possible. This is our obligation. It is our duty to help others. To serve others. To illustrate those virtues of courage and justice toward and for and through others.”

Nothing new under the sun, indeed. Obviously, we are slow learners or we have been taught poorly (through lack of recognition of what is really important).

November 25, 2021

Conservative Business People, Listen Up

Filed under: Business,History,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:21 am
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You’all have been claiming that the U.S. government, aka guvmint, should be run like a business and I have a case study for you in which I agree.

What would you think about one of the divisions of your corporation which has not met a goal in twenty years, run up huge overruns on their budget, and recently failed an external audit because they couldn’t even perform an internal audit. They could not account for billions of company dollars that they spent, they think.

It is time for that underperforming sinkhole of profits to go, no?

I am talking about the Pentagon here, which needs a name change to Penta-gone.

We have been fighting a so-called “War on Terror” for easily twenty years and, well, help me count the victories: #1 We assassinated Osama Bin Laden, uh #2 . . . uh, #2 . . . well, there aren’t any other victories major or minor.

Okay, this nonperformance resulted in budget cuts, right? Let’s see, the Pentagon’s budget for the year 2000 was 378 billion U.S. dollars, about 3.5% of our GDP. In 2020, the Pentagon’s budget was 738 billion U.S. dollars. What? All of that abject failure to meet any military goals and the Pentagon’s budget doubled? Doubled!

What business principle is it that a woefully performing governmental division gets its budget doubled and nobody loses their job?

Are these the business practices you are recommending? Yes or no—don’t wait for the translation—yes or no?

November 24, 2021

Driving the GOP into an Early Grave

The navigator-in-chief of the Republican Party sure seems to be Donald J. Trump. Let’s see how he has prompted the growth of the GOP since his elevation into that position.

  • The GOP has gotten tied ever more closely to Evangelical Christianity.
    • The GOP has become more anti-science based.
    • The GOP has become tied to alternative facts that they just make up
    • The GOP has become tied to news media that are estranged from decent journalism
    • The GOP has sought out voter suppression instead of expanding their base
    • etc.

There are some consequences to this. Here are just a few:
• Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020. That proportion has generally held steady since 2017 (15% in 2017, 2018, and 2019). There are some that argue that the politicization of churches has accelerated this drop in evangelicalism.
• But supporting anti-vaccination and anti-mask fringe groups, the GOP has put more of its members at risk, especially since currently the GOP constituency is quite old. These policies are disproportionally resulting in Republicans getting sick and/or dying. The GOP is killing off its own members.
• By refusing to expand their bases and focusing on voter suppression more, the GOP is undermining their future. As their membership gets older, whiter, and less connected with reality, joining the GOP seems more and more like joining a cult, so they are losing traction with young people.
• By undermining trust in societies institutions, the GOP is undermining their own ideology. And is members are trusting their doctors, teachers, local officials, etc. less and less, creating more and more disharmony.

As I watched this unfold, I thought Mr. Trump was driving the GOP into a ditch. Now it looks as if, by doubling down, he is driving the GOP into an early grave,

R.I.P. GOP.

Archeology and Propaganda

Filed under: Culture,History,Morality,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 10:29 am
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I am told, in an article in The Guardian, that a new book telling the story of the painstaking process to preserve the 1,200-year-old Faddan More Psalter is coming out.

Imagine a book dropped into an Irish bog and then being dug up 1200 years later. Yes, it was more than a bit of a mess, but some of it survived, and a conservator took years in finding what could be found. For example, the leather cover had a papyrus lining, which means it was probably created in Egypt.

Not mentioned in the article I read is that this book was a propaganda tool of an invading religion, working to destroy all of the native Irish religions. Not mentioning this is like writing a review of Mein Kampf and not mentioning WW2 or the Holocaust.

Christians have felt justified for millennia in invading foreign countries and “proselytizing,” that is setting up their religion to vanquish the religions already in place. We look at these invaders, who are “on mission,” as being good people doing good things. But ask the Native Americans how they felt about invading “settlers” taking over the land and instituting Christianity in exchange. African Americans were brought to this country in the millions and then systematically stripped of their families, their cultures, their religions, and their dignity, and of course their freedom, and were paid with “the Baby Jesus.” The devotion of present day African Americans to their Christian Churches is perplexing, considering those churches supported their ancestors enslavement (and Jim Crow, and . . .).

As an archeology fan boy, I like to see antiquities recovered from their supposed graves, but they always need to be placed into their contexts, to the best of our ability. That psalter was a weapon of an invading army of Catholic Christians. Tell it like it was, not how it is now.

November 21, 2021

Kyle Rittenhouse Redux

Filed under: Culture,The Law,The News — Steve Ruis @ 9:28 am
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So, the criminal trial is over and Kyle Rittenhouse is off the hook, right? Well . . .

Mr. Rittenhouse is off the hook for jail time, but now, one would expect, the civil suits should begin. I believe “wrongful death” cases will be brought, one for each victim, and I do not expect Mr. Rittenhouse to win all of these or even one of these.

The penalties in wrongful death suits can sometimes be discharged in bankruptcy courts but that is not a done deal. The amounts of money in such penalties are often tied to the amounts of money the dead people could have made had they lived, so Mr. Rittenhouse is looking at a future of being a very poor person, or . . . if the right wing assholes of this country embrace him, he could have a decent life but, of course, his notoriety will follow him.

November 16, 2021

False Witness—Worth Reading

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
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This book is a cheap buy on Amazon.com and is also available as a free download on the author’s website, so this was not written to make money. What is does make instead is a lot of sense.

Have you ever considered the Holy Bible and the amazing number of contradictions in it? For example, God forbids human sacrifices over and over and yet uses one to lift the curse he simply voiced. These contradictions have a significant reason for their existence says Keith Michael, who wrote False Witness, the subtitle of which is telling: “How the Christian Church Built a Foundation of Lies.”

You might suspect that the author is an atheist. He is not. He is definitely a god-believer. However, he points out (chapter and verse) how the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible was redacted almost into oblivion by the priestly class and how the New Testament is the work of Paul’s clique, which bastardized the actual message of Jesus, and the disciples and apostles of Jesus, etc. He points out how the “lies” can be identified and also points out where the truth is to be found in the Bible.

I found this work very convincing. For one, he brought up a force that was involved in all of the scriptures that most people do not mention: marketing. Writing scripture that people didn’t want to read is bad for business, so all scripture is written for a market. He hammers this point home by pointing out the experience of pastors who don’t meet the needs of their church’s parishioners. A pastor who preaches or shares information that upsets his “customers” soon finds himself looking for another job. The real job of a pastor is to reinforce the feelings of his listeners that they are good people, better than most actually, and that their religious beliefs are indeed correct. A pastor who points out how his listener’s beliefs are wrong will soon be out of a job. The end of scripture written so is to be declared heretical and then erased from history.

For example, do you understand the concept of Original Sin? For many it is the crux of Christianity because without it, there is no need for a savior, no? Mr. Michael points out in great detail that in Ezekiel 18, Yahweh himself states unequivocally that sin can not be inherited or transferred, and also another can pay for your sins. Pastors don’t quote this passage in the Bible because in it God cuts the legs out from under Christianity in just a few chapters.

Mr. Michaels points out how Paul/Saul lied his way into prominence and then because his faction won the wars over the faction of James, Peter, all of the remaining disciples, etc. (thanks mostly to the Romans razing Jerusalem to the ground), his version of Christianity is the one we ended up with and it makes no sense whatsoever.

If you chop out the priestly edits from the OT (they are even referred to negatively by several prophets speaking for God) and Paul’s lies, what you end up is rather nice, doable, helpful religion focused upon God, not Jesus.

As an atheist, I had a third viewpoint. There were the Yahweh centric folks in the OT, and the Jesus centric folks in the NT writing for their points of view. Then there were the redactors focusing upon good business as a goal. Mr. Michaels sees the God-centric aspects of the OT and NT as being the true god of the Bible, whereas I see them as people of one delusion as opposed to the others who are peoples of other delusions.

This was a very informative book in that I learned a great deal and I recommend it highly. I warn you that the writing is not first tier and the author does more than a little chest beating, but it is not all that off-putting.

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