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Abortion to Scale

June 10, 2013 8 comments

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Most people seem to have some instinct toward moral utilitarianism – generally speaking, more suffering is worse than less. Well, at least the vast majority’s initial response to the trolley problem suggests that. With that in mind, I wanted to use a similar framework to help clarify the ethics of abortion.

Many of us are familiar with the concept that abortion equals murder. So let’s examine the math that leads anyone to believe that.

If you were faced with preventing the death of either

A) An 8 year old child with a mother that wants to kill him or:

B) You could stop the voluntary abortion of an unborn fetus

Which would you choose?

Or do you accept the standard that all life is morally equal and allow chance to determine from two evenly horrible choices?

If you grudging accept that the 8 year old child is more valuable for some reason, but still want to maintain that the unconscious fetus has significant moral weight than it follows that there must be some number of voluntary abortions that would tip the scale in your calculation forcing you to accept the death of the 8 year old innocent child to prevent the termination of some number of fetuses. What is that number for you? Would 100 abortions be the number that demanded you explain to an emotional and confused child that his or her life could be saved, but 100 fetuses is just too many let expire. Or is it 1000? Would 1 million justify it for you when explaining to the child’s friends and family why you made your choice?

Undoubtably there are some principled religious purists that will flip the coin and answer that the 8 year old child and the unborn fetus truly are morally equivalent and would allow the conscious child to die if that’s what chance dictates. It’s worth knowing who believes that. Who but the most extreme could maintain such a compassionless position? When confronted directly it becomes apparent very quickly that a living person is more valuable than a clump of cells. And once you start accounting for the reasons why those two entities deserve different moral values, the logical path toward consequentialism and the pro-choice view materializes.

I find a living sentient person so much more valuable that no number of voluntary abortions could persuade me allow an 8 year old to die in order to save them. Doesn’t that imply that I place zero moral weight on the unborn of mothers choosing abortions? Actually, yes. And you should value conscious life infinitely more as well.

(Ultrasound image from UPMC)

Categories: Reproductive Rights

Music Break

Everyone appreciates some 1980s nostalgia as my friend, Marcos, runs through an amazing set of ’80s movies after his love.

Categories: Music

The Femnesty Flood

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I’ve unearthed a truly fascinating editorial from the late 1950s. I’m not sure if it can provide any insights on any of our modern political problems; I’ll leave that for readers to decide. Obviously there was no internet back then so I’ve gone ahead and hyperlinked some of this author’s references (where possible) so everyone can better understand what his contemporaries were saying and to provide greater context to his arguments.

If United States’ economy is going to survive it should stick to the principles that made it the envy of the world. There is a war on our workplaces as a continuing invasion of females empty out of our homes and lay siege to our traditions. For centuries, America has successfully increased the wealth of our homes and our nation. Now, for the sake of pseudo-fairness we’re going to undermine the best workforce in the world. As Alabama Senator Jeff Buzz accurately points out, “I believe the interest that needs to be protected is the national interest of the United States, and that includes existing workers today, workers whose wages have been pulled down, without doubt, by a large flow of these new workers.” For that reason it would be profoundly unfair to the millions of currently employed ladies to allow new women laborers to expand recklessly into the workforce.

To the rest of the members in Congress, who is supposed to look out for our existing workers today if not you?

Today, women in general are far less educated than the average male worker; permitting a flood of undereducated workers is destabilizing enough, but “the growing number of undereducated people crossing into the workforce have hurt less educated existing workers,” as the Center for Female Studies observes. Our social scientists have demonstrated that women on average have lower IQs than America’s male population. If any women are going to be working outside their homes -if we’re going to let them into our workplaces- we should be careful to only allow the high IQ groups. Distinguished researcher Jason Poorbeer put it best,

The average IQ of women in the United States is substantially lower than that of male workers, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ groups and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market. Selecting high-IQ women would ameliorate these problems.

No one is saying that no woman can get a job in the US, but we need to be careful about how many we are going to allow on a pathway out of the household. After all, any considerable increase in the number of workers will, by the laws of statistics, increase the number of workers’ compensation claims that companies and taxpayers will undoubtably pay. If we legalize the working status of all these women, they’ll be entitled to all the federal, state, and local benefits that come along with legally working here in the US such as the company’s health insurance benefits. As former Senator and Inheritance Foundation president, Jim DeCoin, notes “They pay some taxes, but what they take out of the tax system is much, much greater.”

Let’s take a look at the common under-the-table industry of baby-sitting – by the way, “under-the-table” is a cowardly euphemism for “illegal black market.” I won’t be frightened by the politically correct! Everyone knows these illegal girls pay no taxes and compete for measly wages. What makes so-called feminists believe that turning the whole economy into a baby-sitting ring writ large would be good for women? We have our test case: lots of undereducated girls all competing for jobs that “male workers just won’t do” produces a market-wage no one can live on.

It’s sophistry to think that importing this culture of lawlessness and feminity will be good for American business. Where are the successful woman-led businesses now? There is a reason why males have dominated our capitalist system so far. The culture of the home and the culture of business fundamentally differ. Famed economist Tom Wosell has it right. There is no inherent right to work in the US and bringing in a culture that has been far less successful in providing decent lives and decent livelihoods is dangerous and irreversible.

It’s clear the liberals in Congress are only doing this for politics. They clearly expect the women’s vote to be an electoral bonanza for them if they pander to the female crowd. But the existing workers of America aren’t going to hide in the shadows of the voting booth. Any congressman that supports reforming our workplace laws to encourage migration from the household needs to reconsider and put America’s existing workers first.

(photo from Heart&Soul Photography)

Categories: Immigration

Due Process and Indefinite Skepticism

April 25, 2013 Leave a comment

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As more evidence mounts it has become increasing clear that the Boston Marathon bombers were influenced by their radical Islamic faith. Yet, some writers have acted as if noticing that is unjustified Islamophobia.

Glenn Greenwald:

But beyond that issue, even those assuming the guilt of the Tsarnaev brothers seem to have no basis at all for claiming that this was an act of “terrorism” in a way that would meaningfully distinguish it from Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tuscon and Columbine. All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism (by contrast, virtually every person who knew the younger brother has emphatically said that he never evinced political or religious extremism).

Others like Kevin Drum and Conor Friedersdorf, agree, and take the position that we should just remain agnostics on whether the suspects’ interpretation of Islam played a role in their actions until more evidence proves it.

So I am grateful for reminders from cooler heads about how frequently what everyone “knows” to be true turns out to be false. At worst, those warnings delay the moment when an inevitable conclusion is reached, as I suspect will be true in this case. That delay is the worst thing that could happen. Is that so bad?

There should be no objection to waiting for evidence and displaying skepticism toward knee-jerk assumptions. Everyone is and ought to be legally entitled to due-process to prove any guilt. But the problem with writers such as Greenwald and others that are quick to label opponents as Islamophobes is that their skepticism never ends – in practice they remain permanent agnostics that religion could really motivate terrorists or other enemies of civil society.  Scott Atran, for all his valuable insights, argues that “the greatest predictor from going from support [of the Jihad] to violence has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with whether you belong to a soccer club or not.” This type of statement is representative of those who divorce statistics from a coherent casual theory.

Everyone agrees that politics, social alienation, nationalism, and brain structure are reasonable factors in the casual chain, but for some religious apologists their Pyrrhonian skepticism only kicks in when you point out that some doctrines of Islam contribute to violent acts. Even Greenwald is happy to cite politics as the suspects’ motivation in another post despite chastising everyone else with a reminder that “media-presented evidence is no substitute for due process and an adversarial trial” when they mention religion.

Given what we know, we can provisionally consider the Tsarnaev brothers terrorists that are more than likely partially motivated by religious ideology. Obviously it’s not impossible that’s wrong (which is why we have due process), but it’d be a strange scenario indeed for something so important to their lives to NOT have influenced their actions.

Tamerlan was apparently kicked out of his mosque for being too extreme in his religion. A foreign government noticed and alerted the US that he was potentially a dangerous religious extremist before the bombings. They had an interest in Jihadist videos. Tamerlan traveled to areas that are “hotbeds” of political and religious extremism. The two brothers committed an act seemingly designed to purposefully create public terror and, as Dzhokhar says, “he and his brother had learned to make the pressure-cooker bombs that they used at the marathon from Inspire, the online Al Qaeda magazine.” Neither brother has a known history of diagnosed mental health problems. At a certain point when data begins to fit into a coherent theory it verges into reasonable inference. I’m more than happy to concede nothing is “proven,” but again, I refuse to not notice out loud what is obviously the most likely scenario – religious ideology inspired these two alleged terrorists.

If it’s true that some people unfairly and prejudiciously assume any suspected terrorist is an Islamic fanatic -and that unfortunately happens- a converse is also true; some people overcompensate and go to unreasonable lengths to deny what is most parsimonious: those seemingly radical Islamic bombers of innocent civilians at a highly public event were actually radical Islamic terrorists.

(photo: John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Categories: Religion

Why is the Earth Warming So Much?

I’ve explained before that the globe is definitely getting hotter and the temperature is rising at an accelerating rate. The journal Science now updates the famous “hockey stick” graph with evidence from many “indirect temperature indicators — such as pollen and shells from marine organisms.”

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Climate science deniers enjoy trying to undermine graphs like this. Sometimes they claim the warming isn’t unprecedented and other times they claim the climate is actually cooling. I’ll let them sort this apparent contradiction out for themselves, but what really demonstrates the evil trickery of climate scientists is not the direction or rate of warming at all. Look at the x-axis: the date goes back 11,500 years! We all know that the Earth is only 6,000 years old so something isn’t right. So allow me to modestly challenge the expertise of the study’s researchers and the editors of Science who probably know less than I do about these fields.

History and modern polling have all shown that the world is becoming less religious. It also just so happens that shortly after Darwin published On the Origin of Species and evolution became accepted by mainstream science, one of the most popular reasons for theistic belief (the argument from design) crumbled. Forget the industrial revolution; it JUST SO HAPPENS that we see the spike in temperature precisely during the neo-Darwinian synthesis in the early 20th century.

Isn’t it more likely that the earth is heating due to advancing hell-fire rather than a common innocuous gas like carbon dioxide? The correlation of falling religiosity and rising world temperature is obvious.

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I’d be curious for “scientists” to study that indirect temperature indicator.

Categories: Climate Change

Critics still haven’t learned

February 25, 2013 Leave a comment

When it comes to predictions, don’t challenge Nate Silver…

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Even when it’s about the Oscars:

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Categories: Statistics Tags:

The Case for Gin or: How to Eat an Onion

February 13, 2013 4 comments

“Oh, I don’t like gin.” Bartenders too often acquiesce to this common opinion.  Why do so many people have this attitude? Simple, right? They taste gin and they “don’t like gin.”

Most spirits are drinkable straight, but gin is generally meant to be mixed. It’s the quintessential cocktail spirit. If I handed you a raw onion and told you to try it, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t enjoy that teary bite. So, do you not like onions?

As “internet personality” Maddox writes, “everything worth eating has onions in it.” Between raw onions, cooked onions, fried onions, and onion-powder, onions give pretty much everything flavor. You know what doesn’t have flavor? Vodka.

“Oh but Dan, I like flavored vodkas!” Oh ya? Well, I have news for you: Gin is basically flavored vodka. It’s a typically a neutral spirit infused with a basket of botanicals. I won’t get delve into the history of gin right here, but the gin most people are familiar with utilizes juniper berries as its predominant ingredient. But the distillery can use whatever combination of botanicals it chooses such as licorice root, lemon peel, or lavender.

I’ve decided to ease the skeptics in by highlighting a gin that’s infused with cucumber and rose petals: Hendrick’s. Today’s cocktail is a Legal Sea Foods invention (with my slight modifications).  I present the Deadrise (named after a traditional fishing boat that is often used to catch oysters).

  • 1.5 oz Hendrick’s gin
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • Muddle 3 cucumber “coins” (about half inch thick)
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 2 dashes of grapefruit bitters

Hard Shake with ice. Double strain; Served Up. Feel free to enjoy with oysters.

Another cocktail I really adore that uses a more common style of gin is the Bohemian. The drink was created by the great Boston bartender, Misty Kalkofen.

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  • 1 oz Beefeater Gin
  • 1 oz St. Germain
  • 1 oz Grapefruit Juice
  • 1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters

Hard Shake with ice. Served Up.

St. Germain has wonderful floral notes and a touch of candied grapefruit flavor that makes it a perfect match for actual grapefruit juice and the brightness of a London Dry gin. Revealing to people that there is gin in the drink, and the surprise that follows, after they tell me how much they enjoy it is one of my small pleasures in life.

Categories: Cocktail

Bullet Points

December 21, 2012 16 comments

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Gun rights advocates correctly argue that we shouldn’t base public policy off one extreme incident. Tragically, we have enough gun violence every year to justify increasing restrictions on firearms. If one horrific massacre prompts action to reduce the likelihood of future violence at least we’re learning.

With over 300 million guns in the US, the protection of the 2nd Amendment, and the content of public opinion it’s neither possible nor desirable to make America completely gun-free.  So what reasonable controls can we strengthen or institute to make America safer?

Wait! I can hear you now: “You haven’t established that gun controls make it safer.” If guns are harder to get, criminals will just substitute another weapon.

First of all, guns make it much easier to kill someone, which is why murder rates and gun murders are highly correlated.

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Also, inconveniently for the faith-based belief that more guns lead to less violence, America is the industrialized country that has the most guns and the most violence. Not only that, the late ’80s/early ’90s saw the beginning of a dramatic drop in the number of homes with the types of guns most frequently used in violent crimes. The decline of gun ownership has roughly tracked the decline in violence. (See The Monkey Cage for more)

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Not only is there a correlation of “states with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence,” but other researchers studied the effect of the expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban on violence. Since a state level ban remained California, but not in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico it’s possible to determine if having easier access to assault weapons increases homicides in those places of close proximity. Unsurprisingly, it does, establishing more than just simple correlation.

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(2004 is the year the assault weapons ban expired)

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So, again, what reasonable controls can we strengthen or institute to make America safer?

  • A comprehensive assault weapons ban

We’ve already seen evidence that an assault weapons ban prevents some homicides, but gun control opponents usually retreat to mocking people’s ignorance of the difference between assault weapons and automatic weapons. Somehow when they point out that automatic weapons/machine guns are strictly regulated and are almost never used in violent crimes/massacres it doesn’t fully disrupt the cognitive dissonance when they’re claiming gun controls on criminals are both impossible and counterproductive.

  • Ban all high-capacity magazines and clips.

If you’re going hunting for anything other than a human, you don’t need more than 10 bullets in one magazine. Curiously, Clayton Cramer, at the National Review argues that high-capacity magazines simultaneously have no advantage to the shooter and that a civilian might need it in a gun fight.

How much actual “advantage” does a high-capacity magazine give to a monster who is shooting unarmed people? Practically none.

[…]

While it is rare for either a police officer or a civilian to need 15 or 20 rounds in a gunfight, it is not unknown, and in some cases it is the difference between life and death for individuals engaged in self-defense.

[…]

During the riots following the Rodney King trial, many shopkeepers in the Korean section of Los Angeles confronted mobs threatening to loot and burn the stores. Some of the shopkeepers used high-capacity magazines in rifles to avoid taking lives.

Got that? Monsters spraying innocent civilians gain virtually no advantage from high-capacity magazines, but shopkeepers would be practically forced to gun down rioters unless they have “30-round magazines in their rifles.”

  • Close the gun-show loophole and make everyone subject to a background check

Here’s a simple regulation. To make sure that anyone with a violent criminal record or certain types of mental illness doesn’t have easy access to firearms make everyone -every time- subject to a background check, a waiting period, and government approved safety training.

  • Limit the number of guns a single person can own

Sorry, you don’t need your own personal armory of 30 guns to go hunting or protect your home. It just increases the risk they fall into the wrong hands (or that you’re the problem yourself). Come on, is 5 enough?

  • The Chris Rock Solution: Limit the number of bullets a person can own / or tax each bullet heavily

Israel, for example, limits gun owners to 50 rounds annually. This will make it more difficult for criminals and gangs to acquire and mantain bullets, but will leave individuals with enough to protect themselves if they choose to own a gun. If this too severely limits hunters, we could tax bullets, register them, or both.

Every solution I’ve proposed isn’t going to end all violence or prevent all criminals from acquiring deadly weapons, but they should help without curtailing freedoms excessively or without the costs outweighing the benefits. The public policy nihilism some gun rights advocates display is remarkable for the conspicuousness of bias. Right-wingers that would never dream of legalizing all drugs, argue it’s impossible to stop criminals from acquiring guns. How many of those same people think guns and other weapons should be allowed on airplanes because “if we outlaw guns only outlaws will have guns”?

What about solutions that don’t work?

There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred. In this school of 450 students, a sizeable number of whom were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys (it was a K–6 school), all the personnel — the teachers, the principal, the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the “reading specialist” — were female. There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. Women and small children are sitting ducks for mass-murderers.

Somehow my mother who was a quote, reading specialist, and a woman kept her students safe all those years.

  • Arm everyone!

Alan Jacobs in The American Conservative counters,

But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.

Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Moreover, the person who wishes to live this way, to maintain order at universal gunpoint, has an absolute trust in his own ability to use weapons wisely and well: he never for a moment asks whether he can be trusted with a gun. Of course he can! (But in literature we call this hubris.)

It’s not coincidence that nations with less guns have less violence. Steven Pinker in his exhaustive study on violence finds that the more we escape that Hobbesian “every person for themselves” approach the more violence declines.

  • More God

Religious extremists like Mike Huckabee and the Westboro Bapist Church think that if we were only more pious as a nation, we’d have less violence. Huckabee argues that if we only taught things like “thou shalt not kill” our society wouldn’t reflect its godlessness in the form of violent massacres. I’ll just assume he’s not aware that the least religious countries on earth are some of the least violent or that violence has fallen since official school prayer was ruled unconstitutional.

Gun control isn’t about banning all weapons. Like so many other Americans, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to have fun and learn some skills  at a shooting range.

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If you want to own a gun, that’s your right, but society has a responsibility to regulate and restrict what you can own for the safety of everyone.

Categories: Violence

America’s Quantum Taxes

November 30, 2012 Leave a comment

How Our Tax System is Both a Particle and a Wave

Young_DiffractionThe CBO recently released a report on the effective marginal tax rates for low- and moderate-income workers and once you account for federal and state income taxes, federal payroll taxes, and SNAP (food stamp) benefits the tax system for these workers looks pretty flat.

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Higher income groups pay roughly the same range of tax rates (or too often less) as the working class groups we see graphed above, so we basically have a de facto flat tax. As economic’s professor and former advisor to Mitt Romney, Greg Mankiw, points out, “we could repeal all these taxes and transfer programs, replace them with a flat tax along with a universal lump-sum grant, and achieve approximately the same overall degree of progressivity.” Saying “same overall degree of progressivity” is another way of saying no progressivity.

The United States is often thought of having a highly progressive tax code because most of the revenue we generate comes from the richest Americans. But if our effective marginal tax rates are basically flat, how are our revenues so “progressive”? Inequality. People at the top end of the income distribution must own a disproportionately large share of the national income.

Eduardo Porter, writing in the New York Times, is right that we shouldn’t get overly fixated on tax progressivity; our concern should be raising enough money to fund programs that can benefit the poor and the middle class.

[T]he government’s success at combating income inequality is determined less by the progressivity of either the tax code or the benefits than by the amount of tax revenue that the government can spend on programs that benefit the middle class and the poor.

[…]

The entire budget for cash assistance for families in the United States amounts to one-tenth of 1 percent of the nation’s economic output. The average across the O.E.C.D. nations is 11 times bigger.

Porter argues that European style flat taxes (e.g. VAT, carbon taxes) can raise more revenue to pay for larger benefits. But we don’t have that type of flat tax. Just like the wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics, where particles exhibit the characteristics of both waves and particles, the United States created an astonishing tax system: A highly inefficient de facto flat tax that somehow manages to disproportionally rely on the rich while collecting insufficient revenue and doing next to nothing about inequality. It’s simultaneously flat and progressive and, to paraphrase Richard Feynman, nobody understands the tax code.

(image: Thomas Young’s sketch of two-slit diffraction of light)

Turns Out Single Moms Aren’t All Raising Murderers

November 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Sociology professor Philip Cohen shares some data from the Census Bureau to demolish the myth that single-parent households were responsible for rising crime rates starting in the ’60s.

Violent crime has fallen through the floor (or at least back to the rates of the 1970s) relative to the bad old days. And this is true not just for homicide but also for rape and other assaults. At the same time, the decline of marriage has continued apace.

Cohen doesn’t mention it, but the theory that single-parent families are definitively worse for kids’ outcomes is also undermined by comparing why families have one parent.

As you can see from this chart, children that were raised by single parents because of the death of one parent do almost as well as kids from two-parent families. This is almost certainly because, counterintuitively, genetics and peer-groups play a much larger role than parenting does.

So why has violence gone down recently? That requires a complex explanation, but the short answer is the state got more effective at controlling crime (e.g. locking more criminals up; hiring more cops). Additionally, although it’s harder to quantify, the 1990s saw the re-ignition of what Steven Pinker calls “The Civilizing Process” where more people began to feel like the criminal justice system was less capricious and more legitimate while the glorification of violence fell out of favor.

One positive legacy of the 1960s was the revolutions in civil rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, and gay rights, which began to consolidate power in the 1990s as the baby boomers became the establishment. Their targeting of rape, battering, hate crimes, gay-bashing, and child abuse reframed law-and-order from a reactionary cause to a progressive one, and their efforts to make the home, work-place, schools, and streets safer for vulnerable groups (as in the feminist “Take Back the Night” protests) made these environments safer for everyone.

We may be able to make further progress by continuing to make the justice system more fair. Although the ‘War on Drugs’ may be responsible for locking up many criminals in its wide cage, it also delegitimizes the state’s authority in many communities where local citizens feel like the police are discriminatory, inconsistent, and untrustworthy.

Stable families are better for children, but there is no reason to blame single-mothers when they already have enough responsibilities.

Categories: Justice Tags: ,
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