Class Warfare Blog

July 10, 2018

How Stupid Are We?

Are teachers taking “penny wise, pound foolish” to a new extreme? Not long ago we were treated to a display of anti-worker politics in the state of Wisconsin by its newly elected Republican governor and its republican dominated state houses. According to, there were consequences for state workers “One Wisconsin labor organization representing teachers lost 60 percent of its members. Overall in Wisconsin, the percentage of union members in the workforce declined from 14.1 percent in 2011 to 9 percent in 2016. Simultaneously, pay and benefits declined. For teachers, salaries sank 2.6 percent and benefits dropped 18.6 percent.”

Now, consider that union dues are somewhere around $100 per month, working ten months per year so the total cost is about $1000. By “saving” that money by dropping their union membership or refusing to pay “fair share fees” (which BTW by law cannot include charges for political representation, which makes the SCOTUS ruling based upon free speech a farce), this is what the total cost was: apparently those unions lost $3000 per year in fringe benefits right away ( and then they lost even more in salary reductions and missed salary increases. Save $1000 to lose $6000-$10,000 or possibly your job! What a bargain! Sign me up … not!

Boy, all of you teachers fleeing your unions or refusing to pay fair share fees are really showing them!

Politically teachers need to wake up. The people behind these political moves are anti-union, pro-business plutocrats. They are not your friends. You do not have access to them. Your union, on the other hand, is made up of your colleagues, who you do have access to, and if you do not like the direction your union is going, you can run for office and change it from within!

I learned this lesson the hard way also … but I did learn it.

Support your local union or start counting your food stamps because that is where you are going.





May 15, 2018

The Basic Problem with Our Religions

Filed under: Culture,Education,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:09 am
Tags: , , , ,

A philosopher named Owen Flanagan quoted someone as saying that “A good human life is lived at the intersection of the true, the good, and the beautiful.” It seems that we all come equipped to determine what is true, what is good, and what is beautiful as part of our basic makeup, so if the aphorism is true, we all have the capability of living a good life. But if you ask a Christian apologist what is the true, what is the good, and what is the beautiful, they will respond that God/Jesus is the truth, only He is truly good, and He and His love are the beautiful. Humans, on the other hand, are depraved, sinful, and unworthy, and that none of those three (truth, good, beauty) come from anywhere but their god. Humans can be saved from their sinfulness, but only through faith in their god or at least obey the gods directives as interpreted by their gods servants.

I am reminded of a phenomenon of the 1970’s and 1980’s called Erhard Seminars Training or EST. This was a self-improvement program designed to improve the lives of the participants. The beginning of the course was described as being brutal as the participants were verbally abused into a state of pliable acceptance, then they were built up into different people, presumably better. Old school military training was similar, but the initial stages were more physical. “Recruits” were abused verbally and physically to make them more pliable for training into better soldiers (any number of movies have highlighted these processes—Private Benjamin, Full Metal Jacket, An Officer and a Gentleman, etc.).

The religions in this country favor depicting potential believers as being unworthy, sinful, even abominable, before offering the “cure.” They describe the world around us as being filled with temptations and dangers, for which they have, of course, solutions. They refer to their followers as docile animals, as their “flock,” as “lambs and sheep,” and as children, with priests referring to their parishioners as their children (My Son, My Daughter, My Child) and accept the title of “Father,” all of which disempowers the parishioners and puts them into the pliable state of a child, ready for indoctrination.

As a teacher I was taught that my primary goal was to provide a “safe learning environment” for my students, so they could learn free of coercion, bullying, sarcasm, and humiliation. I taught college kids, adults, so was that requirement because all of my students had already been safely religiously indoctrinated as children and it was now not okay to coerce them? Why does this “safe, learning environment” requirement not apply to religions, which terrorize young children with images of their loved ones burning in Hell. (Please don’t tell me this doesn’t happen, I have spoken to too many people who have confessed their nightmares regarding their grandparents or other loved ones roasting in fire.)

Why do not we use, as a theme for educating our children the simple phrase “a good human life is lived at the intersection of the true, the good, and the beautiful” and operate as if we believed that?

Spelling Counts! (Really!)

Filed under: Education,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 9:13 am

Every city has assholes in it, but apparently KC is above average.

April 29, 2018

Wither Public Education?

I was reading a comment recently that in the U.S. no one expects to be given housing or food and drink or medical care, but all parents expect their children to be given a good education. The “why” of this was immediately apparent … because we have already paid for it. Education is funded through property taxes and state taxes with a smidgen of federal funds thrown (but always with strings attached, so those are not funds to support ongoing efforts). If you are a homeowner and say that you are unfairly singled out for these taxes, please realize that those of us who do not own our homes (of which I am one) pay rent, which is used by the rental unit’s owner to pay his property taxes. And we all pay income taxes or other taxes to our states. We are also not paying just for our own kid’s educations, but everyone’s, as part of the commonweal.

So, in our “pay as you go” culture, we have paid for the “go” but it is currently under attack.

As a scientist and a trained meeting facilitator and a sports coach I know that the most important part of solving problems is the careful elucidation of what the real problem is. If you misidentify the problem, the odds of you solving it plummet.

With regard to public education, the problems have been misidentified for years. Starting roughly in 1983 with the publishing of a major (and very flawed) study given the title of “A Nation at Risk,” which launched the false narrative that American public schools were failing, a systematic false narrative about “the problem” was being proffered. The nation, at the time of that study, was in the throes of a recession, and the authors of the report blamed the schools, which is patently stupid because the lag period between youths being in public schools and being out in society where they can have a major impact on the economy has to be measured in decades. Nothing happening now could be caused by the state of schools now; twenty years ago, maybe.

In any case, since that time a major disinformation campaign has been continuously waged against public schools (they are failing and the sky is falling, too). The current object of that campaign is to “privatize” public schools so as to extract profits from them. The justification for the profits is as spurious as the disinformation about what is wrong with our schools. The justification is that “market forces,” aka “school choice,” will solve all of the problems. This is a belief in what I call “market woo” and really should be advanced by “experts” dressed up as witch doctors because it has as much value as does spiritual medicine. The real justification for the profits is the profits themselves. Being able to extract profits from the huge pile of money set aside to educate our kids is the primary motive and it has the oligarchs drooling.

As to the “real problem” with public schools I offer the following: if you segregate out public schools in relatively wealthy parts of the U.S., you will find that they perform at very high levels. Massachusetts public schools, for example, perform on international tests higher than the current darlings of those tests, e.g. Singapore, Finland, etc. This fact alone obliterates the claim that government cannot do public schools well.

Now, if you think I am going to follow this up with a claim that schools are underfunded, you will be quite wrong. They are often underfunded and that is part of the problem, but school funding alone will not make the schools that are not performing at a high level do so. (The wealthy cannot claim that school funding is not an issue when they are sending their own children to schools that have very high levels of funding.) Careful studies show that there are real roadblocks to performance in schools. (Hint: teacher competence is not a major concern here, even though that has been part of the misinformation smear campaign of the oligarchs.) The roadblocks are poverty, racism, and violence. In school districts where the students are chronically hungry and receive threats of violence on a frequent basis, we now have solid research showing that almost nothing else can be done to raise performance up to the levels of schools in which these forces are absent. Asking the schools to fix these problems is stupid. We can ameliorate them a little. We can escort students to and from schools, but they are being preyed upon in the neighborhoods as well. Fear for one’s physical safety is an all-consuming distraction. We can provide school breakfasts and lunches (and I recommend we do that for all students) and by so doing that we can ameliorate the effects of hunger on being able to concentrate in class. (My son wrote a history of school lunch programs, so we have a great deal of history with regard to what does and does not work in that, plus we have examples in other countries as to what is possible.)

It is now clear that the “reformers” claims of the value of vouchers and charter schools are bogus. These “solutions” were proffered as solutions for “the problem.” Since the problem was a false construct in the first place, the solutions were hardly likely to work and have been proven not to. They also have unleashed a tide of corruption as fly-by-night charter operations which have bilked states out of many millions of dollars. This has become such a common event that a premature closing of charter schools has become commonplace.

This is a con, pure and simple. The con artists (in order to extract our money) established “the problem” and “the solution.” (Any time the problem and solution come from the same source, you know it is a con.) The con artists did a good job of obfuscating who is behind the scam, but we can see it all now. And politicians, who are receiving “campaign donations” from charter schools(!!), are always willing to “serve the public” by giving us what we want: “school choice.” But we don’t want school choice, that is their solution. We want the good education for our children that we have paid for.

A careful consideration of the real issues shows that the “crisis” in our schools was not there in the first place. The real problems center on inconsistency. We demonstrate, on a daily basis that we can “do” public schools very, very well but we also demonstrate that we are willing to accept a very much lower standard of performance in some schools. Much of this attitude is racist and some is politically and religiously motivated, but it does not solve “the problem.”

If we want to continue the “pay as you go” system we have created, with all of its incentives, what is the incentive in crippling some of our citizens with a poor education, so they cannot earn enough to pay for a decent life for themselves and their families? The answer is that there is none, that the effort to undermine the education of the poor is fueled out of animus and this just has to stop.

We can start by “calling bullshit” on the public education reformers. If you need any ammunition, any of Diane Ravitch’s recent books will do (Reign of Error or The Death and Life of the Great American School System, etc.) And do realize that our democracy is teetering. While we should be making efforts to strengthen it, it is being undermined by authoritarian rich assholes and one of their leverage points is public education. Privatize that, let public schools wither away, and our democracy is in extreme peril.

April 28, 2018

Give Me the Child …

Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man.
Jesuit maxim widely attributed to Ignatius Loyola;

In a blog post on the website of The Institute for New Economic Thinking (The Corporate Plan to Groom U.S. Kids for Servitude by Wiping Out Public Schools by Lynn Parramore—April 6, 2018) the author summarizes part of the opinion of Gordon Lafer, Associate Professor at the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon, thus:

Lafer explains that in the new system, the children of the wealthy will be taught a broad, rich curriculum in small classes led by experienced teachers. The kind of thing everybody wants for kids. But the majority of America’s children will be consigned to a narrow curriculum delivered in large classes by inexperienced staff —or through digital platforms with no teachers at all.

Most kids will be trained for a life that is more circumscribed, less vibrant, and, quite literally, shorter, than what past generations have known. (Research shows that the lifespan gap between haves and have-nots is large and rapidly growing). They will be groomed for insecure service jobs that dull their minds and depress their spirits.

She went on to say: “In the words of Noam Chomsky… ‘students will be controlled and disciplined.’ Most will go to school without developing their creativity or experiencing doing things on their own.”

While reading this I am also reading the book “Why We Do What We Do: The Dynamics of Personal Autonomy” by Edward L. Deci. I reached a point in that book in which a long standing question of mine got answered. That question is: why do kids in kindergarten and the early stages of their educations show so much curiosity when that is no longer in evidence when they get to middle school and high school?” It seemed to me that education had the effect of beating the curiosity out of kids. I wondered why. According to Deci “It is truly amazing, as pointed up by our (research) findings, that if people are ongoingly treated as if they were either passive mechanisms or barbarians needing to be controlled, they will begin to act more and more that way (p. 84).” Controlling behavior includes structuring the environment, establishing the rules, enforcing the rules, defining the rewards, etc.

When Chomsky says “students will be controlled and disciplined” he is saying “more than they are now,” the effect of which is to stifle curiosity, creativity, political will to resist the “rules,” etc.

The oligarch’s effort to dismantle public education and remake it under their “leadership” is motivated by a desire for worker drones that will shut up, do what they are told, accept whatever salary and benefits they are offered, and not make problems.

It seems that 1984 is coming, just 30 years later than predicted. And there is no Big Brother;  there are, however, quite a number very wealthy men, old white men, who are auditioning for the role.

March 2, 2018

A Review of Ugly Delicious

Filed under: Culture,Education,Race — Steve Ruis @ 11:04 am
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I just finished watching a Netflix serial documentary Ugly Delicious with David Chang and a bunch of other chefs and food writers … and comedians (?). The term ugly delicious is what David Chang uses for home cooked food that everyone loves which doesn’t show up on restaurant menus. Mr. Chang is a celebrity mega-chef but an ordinary guy, in the sense of he doesn’t put on airs. (Chefs used to be ordinary guys/gals but now that we have made some of them celebrities, some have gotten a bit … aloof, shall we say.)

I had read a review of Ugly Delicious in the NY Times that was a bit sniffy, objecting to Mr. Chang’s use of the F-word for one, which I found ordinary and refreshing. (The Times reviewers seem to all come from the Pecksniff Academy.)

The show is not just about food, but food as a element of culture, how food is interwoven with culture, privilege, and racism. For example, in Japan fried chicken and watermelon is a big seller in restaurants. In the U.S. you would not find that combination on a menu unless it was a black-owned and back-operated restaurant, and then maybe not then, too. Mr. Chang is seen educating himself (and us) about the racism involved in fried chicken (in the U.S. and nowhere else).

Another theme is that American appreciation of Asian foods is stuck on a stultified menu that almost cannot be changed: fried rice, eggroll, and General Tso’s Chicken, etc. … and if it is Asian food it needs to be cheap. When tourists go the China and get authentic Chinese food, they are often disappointed as it is nothing like what is served here. One element of what has created this situation is indeed racism, but one aspect of this wasn’t touched upon. It seems to be the case that a person’s taste in foods seems to be set by the time they are about six years old. If children are fed hot peppers, in that time, they will like hot foods later, for example. I now live in the Midwest and I hear people complain about a dish being “too spicy” because it included Fresno chilies. Fresno chilies! For the Midwesterners reading this, Fresno green chilies are right next to Bell peppers in heat, there is almost none. But children raised on bland food would find them too spicy to eat as adults. The lesson here is if you want to have your children grow up to appreciate a full range of food tastes, don’t shackle them while they are young. If they have a narrow diet while young, they will have a narrow diet when older, same is true for a wider diet. (I had a mixed upbringing, having a wide variety of dishes served to me, but regarding vegetables, we ate a lot of green beans and corn and not much else. So, I like vegetables, as long as they were green beans and corn. I have since learned to like other veggies, but Brussels sprouts eluded me for almost 70 years and cauliflower almost as long. (It doesn’t help that Midwesterners boil all vegetables until mushy and if not, they are creamed or fried. My mother was from Iowa, even though I was born in California.)

Of course, there are extremes for every palette. Mr. Chang relates a story of when he first tried “Hot Chicken” and bragged a little about liking “very hot” food before being served. I will not spoil the story by relating it here, but let me just say Mr. Chang had an out-of-body experience.

This is not a series just about food. It is about people and how food can bring us together as one big family. Very touching, very well told stories, and fascinating, at least to this old fart.

Highly recommended—worth watching—Ugly Delicious.

Addendum I wonder what the budget was for this series as they shot footage all over the world. If Netflix can keep up the pace, I will keep subscribing.

February 2, 2018

Do You Buy This Argument?

Clearly our educational system is failing, heck it has failed. In the last 100 years, the average IQ of Americans has been stuck at 100 and if we are going to solve the problems of the future, we need to get smarter!

Is this a valid argument?

Do you accept it?

You should not.

IQ tests are “re-normed” every year, that is the average IQ test score, whatever it is, is defined to be a score of 100. Studies have shown that actual IQ scores are 10% higher now than they were 100 years ago, which means that a tester with a score of 100 (aka “average”) now would have had scores 110 back then or a tester back then who scored a 100 would score a 90 now.

So, this “complaint” about “the system” is taking what is actually a positive result and making it sound negative. This is not a new practice. People have been cherry-picking evidence since the dawn of making arguments. Often this is exacerbated by ignorance but possibly as often this is done with full knowledge of such distortions. The unfortunate thing for us is this practice is becoming acceptable to large swaths of the American people.

We see it in politics and we see in religion. For example, Christian apologists keep trotting out arguments that were disproved centuries ago as if they were new. I can’t believe all of them are ignorant to the facts, so some of this is done deliberately. What happens to an apologist who is caught out, basically telling an “untruth”? The answer: nothing. Similarly, in politics, politicians who lie and are shown to have known the truth ahead of the lie suffer no ill effects. We used to have a joke from many, many years ago that went: Q: How can you tell a politician is lying?, A: His lips are moving. This was considered funny and was based partially upon the fact that politicians are not allowed to tell the truth in many cases due to security issues (it is illegal to release “top secret” info) or they have been ordered by political superiors to not tell the truth yet (timing issues), etc. Now, lying is so commonplace that politicians don’t even bother responding to journalists who catch them lying. It is almost as if they are saying “Of course I was lying … didn’t you see my lips move, fool!”

If we are to save our democracy, we need to become better participants as citizens. We need to make sure there is a penalty for lying. To do this we need to stop trying to be universal experts in every political issue that comes up as that is a Herculean task and we are not demigods. Pick a topic (climate change, dark money, gerrymandering, whatever) and set out to become educated about that topic. Heck pick two topics, but whatever topics you pick, learn about the nuances. Then fire away.

In the absence of an educated citizenry, we will fall victim to arguments that sound valid, such as the one above, created by those wanting to manipulate the process and do not care for the truth, the people as a whole, or democracy in particular. We are many, they are few. No matter how many of us chose to become “experts” in a particular topic, we will still be many and they will still be few. But if we continue to flounder and, watching the “news,” bounce from topic to topic we really know nothing about, we will fail. We are many and they are few … and it is easier to organize a few than many.

Oh, and the answers you seek are not available on the “news.” In fact, I am not sure there is anything of value any more in the “news,” so if you think you are keeping up on current events because you watch “the news” on TV, you are being duped. I never watch TV “news” and when I stopped, I became much better informed on the issues I care about.

January 19, 2018

Bollocks, A Steaming Load In Fact

Filed under: Economics,Education — Steve Ruis @ 1:06 pm
Tags: , ,

Maryville University, of St. Louis, Missouri, USA, has been running a television commercial touting its services. Up front they say “Maryville University has been disrupting Higher Education by putting students first.” Whoa, this must be some place.

I wonder when this began. Maybe it was in 1921 when it converted from a secondary school to a junior college. Or maybe in 1923 when it became a four year college. Huh, two years of experience as a college of only freshmen and sophomores and they learned how to serve juniors and seniors as well. Now, that’s creative disruption.

But then maybe it was in 1961 when it became a liberal arts college, or 1968 when it became co-ed. No, it was 1991 when it became a university, surely that’s when it began.

This university could not have a more mundane history, jumping through hoops, moving up the academic hierarchy, playing by all of the rules.

The commercial says that “the higher education system is broken.” Really? Maybe it is due to all of that creative disruption on Maryville’s part.

I have been a vocal critic of higher education for at least the last 50 years, but the system is far from broken. Most of the countries around the world would die to have such a system in their country (China foremost on the list). But, costs to students have been spiraling out of control for quite some time and I do not see anything, including market forces, doing anything to curb these. Maryville is a private university that has tuition, I am sure. Let’s see … “Tuition for Maryville University of Saint Louis is $25,558 for the 2015/2016 academic year. This is 5% cheaper than the national average private non-profit four year college tuition of $26,851. The cost is 57% more expensive than the average Missouri tuition of $16,299 for 4 year colleges (my emphases).” Gee, I wonder if this is what they mean by “putting students first?”

Really, what does “putting students first” mean? First in line at the cafeteria? Certainly first in line at the Bursar’s Office to pay their tuition (57% higher than the average Missouri tuition).

And the whole idea of “creative disruption” was bogus from the get go. No such phenomenon seems to exist except in the minds of business consultants.

So, this TV advert is just another load of bollocks to get people to pony up four times $25,558 (that’s $102,232 … if you can finish in four years (most cannot)) for a four-year education. We can only hope it was written by an intern in one of their communications programs.

Listen, I was either a student or a professor in colleges from 1964-2006, that’s … 42 years … yeah, that’s right, and I never even heard of a college or university that didn’t believe that their primary mission was to serve … society … by serving students. Students do not come first, but they were and are the focus of everything done. Students do not set the standards, they do not determine the curriculum, they certainly don’t determine times, dates, places, costs, etc.

But they are the main focus of everything done.

Please do not misunderstand me. I had colleagues more interested in their careers than their students. They do exist! (They are … out there!) But they are not the norm, nowhere near it. Most teachers are good hearted people who want to do a better job than they did before. The staff and administrators were very much the same. The Boards of Trustees were focussed on students, too, even though they were about as removed from the process as you can be and still be a part of it.

But students are the main focus of everything done … everywhere in U.S. Higher Ed.

Well, except when it comes to big-time college athletics … allow me to … <grumble, grumble, grumble …>


November 28, 2017

Proving the World is Flat

Filed under: Education,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:54 am
Tags: , ,

It is somehow a newsworthy item that a gentleman wants to launch himself into the upper atmosphere to prove the Earth is flat. Why this is newsworthy is beyond me. There are crazy people everywhere.

If you are a person who believes the world is flat (it looks flat, doesn’t it), there are a number of simple things you can do in lieu of shooting oneself into the upper atmosphere. Here are a few.

  1. At 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, telephone someone half way around the world. They will be mightily pissed to you for waking them up, it being deep into the night where they are (2 or 3 o’clock in the morning)! If the Earth were flat, the sun would rise and set at the same time (roughly, ignoring refraction effects) everywhere.
  2. Go outside at night and observe the Southern Cross in the “heavens.” Unless you live in the Southern hemisphere (below the equator) the Southern Cross is a constellation that cannot be seen. This is because “straight” up points in quite different directions around the globe.
  3. Try to sell winter clothing right now in Australia. The Australians will ignore you because it is late spring there right now and summer is coming. If the Earth were flat it would be the same season everywhere simultaneously.
  4. Set a camera up to take a photo in the direction of the sun once a week at the same time. Overlay the results and what you will get is shown in the photo (the white stripes are made by leaving the lens open for a time and showing the path of the Sun in the Sky on three occasions, the angle is an indicator of your latitude on the globe). If the Sun were orbiting a flat earth, you would not get this pattern. The pattern you would get depends on whether the flat disk Earth is rotating but you wouldn’t get this pattern. This pattern stems from the fact that the Earth’s rotational axis tilts 23.5 degrees relative the plane it revolves around the sun. As the Earth nods to the Sun then away, the angle the Sun appears in the sky changes.
  5. Go to an observatory and ask to be shown the planets. All of them, including the Sun, rotate on an axis. (Galileo used one of the first telescopes to show the moons of Jupiter actually move around Jupiter.) You might want to ask why it is that Earth is the only one that does not, but don’t ask the astronomers as they will have trouble recovering from laughing their asses off.

You do not need a rocket to show the Earth is flat or round, you just need the ability to communicate. The Greeks did this about 2300 years ago. They measured the shadows of a stick stuck straight into the ground at quite different locations and found that the stick cast a different length shadow at roughly the same time (being determined when the sun is highest in the sky, aka local “noon”). If the Earth were flat, the shadow would be the same length at the same time everywhere. The Greeks used the differences in the lengths of the shadow to calculate the size of the Earth and came quite close to the modern value.

Maybe this doesn’t appeal to people who believe the Earth is flat because, well: math. It is hard and makes them tremble with fear. The other thing that seems to be the case of these people is that they cannot get up off of their fat assess and research the proofs. It only requires an Internet search … and some thought.

November 24, 2017

Students as Slaves (to Debt)

I have been writing a great deal about coerced labor recently. Here is a new manifestation of it. In a “reform” of the bankruptcy laws (ca 2005, I think), it became all but impossible for students to discharge their student loans in a bankruptcy. The argument was that way too may students, especially those with lucrative incomes in their futures (doctors, lawyers, etc.), were discharging their debts through bankruptcy while they were still destitute, before their careers took off.

Well, a the Philadelphia Fed decided that claim was worth a look and so they did. Here is what they found:

Philadelphia Fed Study Debunks Main Argument for Student Debt Slavery

Basically no such pattern of such behavior can be found. So, why should such a bullshit argument be advanced in the first place?

Hello? The entire purpose of this legislation was to enslave students. Remember back in the 1970’s when students were marching in the streets against the War in Vietnam. Students! Showing no respect for their elders. And, besides they were just liberal voters in waiting. By making student loans almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy, a sizable number of students were taught the lesson to “sit down, shut up, and do as you were told.” The elites know how to run the country better than you do, including lying and cheating to achieve their ends.

You may have also noticed absolutely no hue and cry regarding how colleges have gotten so very much more expensive coming from conservatives. Being a conservative means you do not want the riffraff elevated, disturbing the natural order of things. They need to learn their place in a stable society. The larger the student debt, the longer the period of debt slavery.

Must reading on the Naked Capitalism site: Capitalism: Not With a Bang But With a (Prolonged) Whimper

If you want to see what we are in for, read this article. I just ordered the book mentioned.

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