Please, Have a Merry. Please. Oh, and get rid of the Orange Jerk!


Saturday, September 01, 2018


I would describe 1775 as a year of significant events; Lexington and Concord and Bunker Hill; in Germany it was the year the last woman was hanged as a witch; and then there was the hurricane. One random afternoon that late summer, over the bone dry high pressure incubator that is the 3 ½ million square miles of the Sahara Desert, where the summertime temperature can reach 135 F (57.7 C), a monster was conceived.
Of course the Sahara alone, for all its hot breath, cannot produce a monster. It also requires a womb,  - in the case of the great Atlantic hurricanes , the Sahel, an Arabic word meaning “shoreline”. Far from the sea, this is where the sands of the great desert meet the shrub and trees of the savanna. Every April to September, at about 16 degrees north latitude, (what is called the Intra-Tropical Convergence Zone) the hot dry easterly Jet Stream off the Sahara meets the rainy season humidity spinning westward over the Sahel, and pulses of thunderstorms burst forth from thin air, one after another, with a new wave forming every three to four days.
Most of the storms which form over the great Niger River Bend, over Mauritania, Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote Diviore, fade and are forgotten like drops of water in a dry riverbed. But a few cumulus towers collide with the cold air above 42,000 feet, forming anvil topped thunderheads. The anvils form because as the air rises the temperature and its ability to hold moisture drops. The flat lid marks the boundary between the humid troposphere and the arid stratosphere. And eventually, once the thunderstorms grow large enough and last long enough, their squall line of angry air passes yet another Sahal, this one the border between Africa and the tropical Atlantic Ocean.
Some 300 miles off the African coast, what was at first an easterly wave of thunder storms, sails past the Cape Verde Islands like a stately fluffy fleet of sailing ships of the line. And now it is persistence that chooses which storm will earn fame. Over time the friction between the troposphere below and the jet stream above convert the vertical heat engine of the thunderstorms into a horizontal sweep, gathering together squalls and storms and driving them in a counter-clockwise spin. Sometime in mid-August of 1775, as one spinning storm set sail for the new world, it became a nameless tropical depression over the open sea. Unnoticed because their was nobody with a barometer close at hand.
When Christopher Columbus first invaded in the Caribbean, at the end of the fifteenth century, he found people across the region who revered a capricious god of storms known as “Hunrakan”, “Hurakan”, or “Aracan”. Having never heard of the Sahara or the Sahel, the residents of the Windward Islands of Martinique and Dominica, could not have imagined the source of the violence that assaulted them almost without warning on Friday, 25 August, 1775. So, of course, they ascribed it to the mysterious work of the god, this one named Hurricane.
 A report from St. Croix described how ships at anchor desperately slipped their cables, seeking the relative safety of the open sea. It was as likely as not that such gambles resulted in an enigmatic death. Fifty years later the British Admiralty would estimate that each year 5% of all ships in the Caribbean were lost to such storms, taking as many as a thousand sailors each year to watery graves.
One such sailor, Captain John Tollemache of HMS Scorpion, fought this particular storm of 1775 as he crossed down the coast from British occupied Boston, to Bermuda. A week later, on Saturday, 2 September, 1775,  The Storm brushed across the outer banks of North Carolina, causing extensive property damage, taking 163 lives in the port of New Bern and destroying the corn crops of Parasquotank County.  The Williamsburg “Virginia Gazette” mourned that, “…most of the mill dams are broke, and corn laid almost level with the ground…many ships…drove ashore and damaged at Norfolk, Hampton and York”.  The British warship H.M.S. Mercury was forced from her blockade of Norfolk, “…and driven aground in shoal water.”  Patriots picked her bones and liberated her cargo, as a gift of the gale.
With its center still off shore this unnamed hurricane swept up Chesapeake Bay.  At 8 on Sunday morning, 3 September, Philadelphia was being pounded by a constant rain . The wind was from the Southeast and the barometric dropped to 29.5 inches of mercury.  By 3 that afternoon the wind had shifted to the Southwest, and records speak of the “highest tide ever known” -  what modern weathermen and women would call a storm surge.   At Newport, Rhode Island, the wind shifted from the Northeast to Southeast between 10am and 2:30pm.  As that Sunday ended and the 4th of September began, the storm turned northwestward, and headed out to sea. There was only one landmass in the new world remaining between the hurricane and its ultimate fate over the cold waters of the Labrador Current; Newfoundland.
There were thousands of fishermen on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. September was the peak season for the long finned squid (Logilo pealiei), used as bait for Cod fishing. And fishermen from all around the Atlantic basin came here every fall to take their share of the bounty.
 But this season the squid had made no appearance until late in the afternoon of Saturday, 9 September  when they suddenly descended on the jigging hooks in an ominous blizzard. The squid were even attacking each other while writhing on the hooks.  What was driving these cephalopods to such as frenzy?
As the fishermen happily pulled in their abundance they noticed that the dying sun was blazing in an odd orange tint, and that the wind was freshening and gathering. As darkness enveloped the fishing fleets the more cautious captains made for Salvage Point or Ochre Pit Cove. But none of these anchorages felt protected enough.
That night the sea and the air conspired to murder men and their works. Ships which had thought they were safe, were battered onto rocky shores. In Northern Bay (two above) three hundred sailors and fishermen drowned by morning, their white and bloated bodies strewn across the rocks like beached dolphins. They now lie in a mass grave in the Provincial Park. Human bones would continue to wash ashore on this beach for years to come.
At Harbor Grace, 30 miles to the south, 300 boats and all their crews were lost while at anchor. In Placentia (above), dawn found the most substantial community in Newfoundland at the time, with almost 2,000 residents,  awash in a six foot storm surge. Those who survived did so by climbing into the rafters of their attics. A fishing schooner was thrown up on the beach overnight. The only surviving crew member was a boy, lashed to the wheel. Off the Avalon Peninsula two navy schooners were sunk and dozens of fishing ships dismasted and left adrift.
In the narrow harbor at St. Johns (above), on the east coast, the storm surge was 30 feet, and seven hundred boats , large and small were submerged and smashed to bits against each other and the rocks. Fishermen from St; Johns, pulling in their nets on Tuesday, 12 September, found between 20 and 30 human bodies tangled in them.
After it was all over a review of the losses listed by Lloyds would produce the startling figure of 4,000 dead, mostly Irish and English, in the fishing fleets off Newfoundland. Rear Admiral Robert Duff, Governor of Newfoundland, attempted to detail the disaster for his superiors back in London; “I am sorry to inform your Lordship that…the fishing works in those places…were in a great measure defaced…I cannot give your Lordship a very correct estimate of the damages sustained by this storm; but (you) should image…that the amount of it in shipping, boats, fishing works etc. cannot be less than thirty thousand pounds…” (about $40 million today). There was barely a house left on Newfoundland with an intact roof or chimney, even if they had not been flooded out. The hurricane of September 1775 remains, more than two hundred years later, Canada’s deadliest natural disaster. For decades afterward the survivors on Conception Bay claimed to still hear the desperate cries of the lost souls in the cold surf.
As for the storm itself, conceived over the hot dry Sahara and born of the warm equatorial waters, it could not simply die. Once over the colder currents of the North Atlantic the storm converted from a warm core to a cold one, drawing a diminished power not merely from air pressure variations but also from temperature divisions, becoming just another in the unending string of common “baroclinic” cyclones that march across Europe. But I like to think that this was the particular storm that passed over Carrickfergus castle, outside of Belfast, Ireland in 1775, and which brought with it such violent and continuous lightening and thunder that it was said the Scotch and Irish fairies were doing battle in the heavens above.
That would be a significant enough ending for such a significant storm in such a significant year.
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Friday, August 31, 2018


I can't make up my mind about climate change. Will we adjust our behavior in time, or does the human species lack the intelligence to survive? I hope the answer is yes and no, I worry the answer is no and yes. It seems to come down to how you define “intelligence”, by the smartest of us or the most obstinate? There are over 7 billion human brains working at this moment, and too many it seems are convinced meteorologists can't accurately predict if it will rain tomorrow, so of course scientists can't predict the average temperature a hundred years from now. But the first is almost impossible to predict, while the second is just extremely difficult.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration says “The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time”, while the Climate Impacts Group offers a more pragmatic definition; "You pick your vacation destination based on the climate but you pack your suitcase based on the weather." And it all started with a Swedish triple threat – he was an arrogant, racist atheist. But he was a very smart chemist. In fact Svante Arrhenius was so far ahead of his instructors that they gave his PhD dissertation a “C”, and in 1903 that same work won him the Noble Prize in Chemistry.
Growing up with those long cold Swedish winter nights made the racist Svante (above) curious as to why we weren't still having ice ages.  Being a chemist he naturally thought chemistry might provide the answer.  His knew that the sun heated the ground during the day, and reflected most of that energy back into the air as infrared radiation, otherwise known as heat.  He suspected that the more carbon dioxide and water vapor there was in the air, the less of that reflected infrared radiation could escape into space. What he came up with in 1896 was his greenhouse law; “If the quantity of (carbon dioxide) increases in geometric progression, the augmentation of the temperature will increase nearly in arithmetic progression.”   He ran the numbers, and found, as he wrote a decade later, “...any doubling of the percentage of carbon dioxide in the air would raise the temperature of the earth's surface by 4 degrees Celsius; and if the carbon dioxide were increased fourfold, the temperature would rise by 8 degrees C.”   Svante had predicted global warming and climate change, four years before the 20th century had begun.
Poor old Svante. He had to do his calculations the old fashioned way – using unpaid graduate students who labored for hours with pencils and papers and slide rules.  And he made a couple of bad assumptions. He figured clouds were pretty much a wash, since they both reflected sunlight from their tops, and trapped heat under their shadows.  He was right about that, but he missed how sensitive the climate was to carbon dioxide by half.   In other words he saw that burning coal and oil and wood released carbon into the air, but he didn't realize how really bad that was.  In fact, being Swedish, he was looking forward to more beach weather.
It was the geologists who provided what I think is the most convincing piece of the puzzle, they just did not know it for a long time. You see, they were looking for gold and diamonds and copper and coal and oil and even water, which they did by first drilling a lot of holes all over the place. Now, each hole was an experiment, and these rock farmers recorded everything about the holes as they drilled them, including the temperature at various depths. Most of those numbers were kept secret by the companies that collected them. But eventually the more social geologists were able to collect a record of what they called the geothermal gradient world wide. They found that as a general rule at anything less than 200 feet the temperature was about 11 degrees Celsius – or 55 degrees Fahrenheit.  Below that you have to figure in ground water, rock type, how close you are to a volcano - but as a general rule the temperature goes up about 1 degree Celsius for every additional 1,000 feet down the hole you go.  And it wasn't until much later that other graduate students noticed that as a general rule, up close the general rules did not add up.
Plotting out the temperatures in great detail and very exactly, and allowing for volcanoes and such, still produced a steady rising temperature curve as you went down.  But on the other end, at the top of the holes, things were a little odd.  The line there seemed to be steeper than it ought to - not enough that it kept the rock hounds up at night, but it did nag at them.  And then somebody compared the carbon 14 dating of the rocks through which these holes had been bored, at the top.  And suddenly the ages and the temperatures of the upper rocks of the holes started to make sense. The closer you got to the surface, and the younger the rocks got, the higher the temperatures were above that general rule, beginning about 500 years ago, about the start of the industrial revolution, when a growing number of smoke stacks started spewing out all that carbon that Svante had measured .And in 1998, a century after the chemist Svante started this,  three geologists , Henry Pollock, Shapeeng Huang and Po-Yu Shen provided geological confirmation of global warming. “The subsurface temperatures ...indicate that Earth's mean surface temperature has increased by about 1.0° (C) over the past five centuries.”
So two independent fields of science, chemistry and geology, had each independently produced a picture of a warming planet for the previous 500 years, and predicted it would continue to warm. Together they produced a coherent, unified story with an explanation. Glaciologist, the only scientists whose field of study melts if they don't work fast enough, had independently stumbled on a third proof. Snow falling on glaciers today has more carbon in it than water melted out glacier ice formed five hundred years ago, and far more than the snow that fell a thousand years ago. And the amount of carbon in the snow is increasing. And it wasn't until very recently that meteorologists got into this discussion, which was to be expected, since, their field of study is what every other scientist calls “background noise”.
Let me give you an example of that noise; from December 1st , 1801 to January 31st , 1802, only about an inch of snow fell in Albany, New York, a spot which on average gets closer to 32 inches during those two months. The temperature ranged between 4 and 10 degrees Celsius (40 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit), when it is normally around minus 3 Celsius (mid 20's Fahrenheit ). Along the Ohio River, in eastern Ohio, 3 inches of snow fell on November first in 1801, but after that they suffered not even another hard frosts for the rest of the entire winter. In January of 1802 tulips and violets bloomed in New Haven, Connecticut, and on the 28th of that month Salem, Massachusetts saw the thermometer hit 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 Fahrenheit). No less a numbers freak than Thomas Jefferson became convinced that “The change which has taken place in our climate is one of those facts which all men...are sensible of...”  And this was before the industrial revolution!
Less than 20 years later came the other extreme, the summer of 1816. On June 6th, snow fell in Albany, New York. Ice was observed on rivers and lakes in July and August as far south as Pennsylvania. Farmers in Massachusetts got a crop in that summer, but so little that oats were selling for 10 times what they had sold for the previous year. World wide probably 40,000 people died of starvation. It was referred to as “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death”, or “The Year Without a Summer”, and it was probably caused by the April 10th , 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, the largest volcanic eruption in the last ten thousand years. To my mind, that is the real difference between weather and climate – weather is a record of extremes, and climate is a record of the average between them.
Yes, the 700 volcanoes that erupt every year throw about half a million tons of carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, and a super volcano like Tambora may doubled that amount once or twice a century. But ever day humans spew 88 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere. Can there really be any doubt about why old extremes are becoming our new normal, or what is responsible for it?
Every scientific method we use to look at the past 500 years, every experiment we come up with to test what has happened over the last five centuries, tells us that the new normal is climate change, and that our industrial revolution is the one new factor over the last five hundred years that is driving our new normal to new climate extremes.  From this point forward there really is only one question more we have to ask. Does the human species lack the intelligence to survive? And the answer is up to all those idiots who voted for Donald Trump.
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Thursday, August 30, 2018


“Politics have no relation to morals”
Niccolo Machiavelli - “The Prince” - 1513
I would say that 1835 was, like most years, a revolutionary year in America. Inspired by pro-slavery gringo emigrants, Texas rebelled against anti-slavery Mexico. In Boston, five thousand bigots broke into a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, and dragged abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison through the streets at the end of a rope. In South Carolina 36 slaves and one 60 year old free-black carpenter were hanged for trying to organize a slave revolt. Down in Florida the Second Seminole War broke out when Native Americans refused to surrender their freedom and their homes. And along the shores of Lake Erie, free whites did their very best to start a war over possession of 268 square miles of swamp known as “The Toledo Strip”.
In truth, the Great Black Swamp was what film maker Alfred Hitchcock would call a "magoffin'. It was not what people were really fighting over, even tho it was what people were fighting over. It was not even much of a swamp by Louisiana standards. It was great only because it occupied a swath of land 40 miles wide and 120 miles long, in the northwest corner Ohio – which was a little far north for a swamp.
It was really a remnant of the ice ages, a collection of ponds and marshes interspersed with hillocks, filled and drained by the 130 mile long Maumee River, which rose from the high ground around Fort Wayne,  Indiana and fed into Lake Erie.  It's only claim to fame was that it formed a natural barrier between the state of Ohio and the territory of Michigan. The Black Swamp was certainly not desirable  farmland, but it provided a bumper crop of mosquitoes each summer, and they, and the malaria they carried, made life difficult for any intrepid surveyors who might set up their theodolites upon such soggy ground.
“Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
The first real attempt to draw the border was made in 1817, when Michigan Territory hired surveyor William Harris. According to the “Harris Line” the mouth of the Maumee River was in Michigan, below the swamp. In 1818 Ohio responded by hiring John Fulton to survey the border, which he found five miles further north, avoiding the swamp by going above it. Taken together the two lines bracketed the Great Black Swamp. And while the desire of a surveyor to avoid all those mosquitoes was understandable, the residents of Ohio and Michigan were confused. They appealed to Washington, D.C.  But abiding by the political rule that whatever you do will make somebody angry with you, the Federal politicians decided to do nothing. After all, nobody would fight for ownership of a swamp. Would  they?
Then in 1825 the Erie Canal opened, connecting the port of New York City with the Great Lakes. It proved to be such an economic revolution that plans were immediately drawn up for a port at the mouth of the Maumee River, and a canal up that river to Fort Wayne, Indiana (statehood granted in 1816), where it would connect to another canal to be built down the Wabash River, to the Ohio and thence to the Mississippi. Those canals would make the port at Toledo (which was established by Ohio in 1832) the hub of transportation for the entire center of the continent. A Toledo lawyer, John Fitch, noted that already it was the general opinion that “no place on the lake except Buffalo will rival it.” Quite a claim to fame - almost as big as Buffalo. The politically active residents of Michigan Territory became convinced that Ohio politicians were trying to steal Toledo from them. Which was true.
The politics finally solidified when hot-headed 23 year old Stephen Mason was appointed Territorial Governor of Michigan. He was a gift from President Andrew Jackson, a man who appreciated hot heads. And under pressure from other hot heads in the territory,  Governor Mason issued the “Pains and Penalties Act” of 12 February, 1835,  making it illegal for a non-Michigan resident to enforce Ohio law in Toledo, Michigan Territory.
The Cleveland, Ohio newspapers called the Michigan claim to Toledo “as absurd as it is ridiculous.” And on 23 February, the defiant Ohio General Assembly, playing to their own base, voted to “run the border” of the Fulton Line, meaning to mark it again as Toledo, Ohio, with stone posts that clearly said so. Then on April Fool’s day Michigan held local elections in the Toledo Strip. On 6 April, Ohio held competing local elections in the Toledo Strip. Somebody was going to have to disappoint their supporters..
“Before all else be armed.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
Two days later a Michigan Country sheriff and an armed posse of 40 men rode into Toledo to enforce the Penalties Act. Several men snuck into the home of Benjamin Stickney, who was an “Ohio patriot” or an Phio Nut - depending on which side of the border you lived on. He was also a major in the Ohio militia. Now, even allowing for how little humanity knew at the time about dysfunctional parenting, the level of strangeness displayed by Benjamin Stickney toward his own children is staggering. This respected member of the Ohio community named his eldest son “Number One” and his younger son “Number Two”. Stickney also had a daughter, but we don't know what he called her. I suspect it might have been “Light Sleeper”.
You see, on the night of 8 April, 1835,  the girl was awakened by a noise, and she stepped into the hall to investigate. A creeping Michigan deputy clamped a hand over the startled child’s mouth, and held her silent, lest she shout a warning to her father.  Alas, Benjamin Stickney would not have heard her, as he was not at home. So two of his house guests were arrested and taken north for arraignment. Two days later they were released on bail.
In handbills and letters to Ohio newspapers Major Stickney inflated the posse to 300 men “armed with muskets and bayonetts". He claimed that the deputies had tried to gouge out his eyes (he wasn't there)  and had “throttled” his daughter.  He urged his fellow buckeyes to “turn out en masse to protect  their northern border and restrain the savage barbarity of the hordes of the north.”  Ohio Governor Robert Lucas, another Jackson Democrat,  sent 40 men to guard his surveyors and ordered the 100,000 members of the state militia to assemble in the tiny town of Perryville, Ohio, just up the Maumee River from Toledo. Only 10,000 actually responded and most of them never got to Perryville, because they got lost in the swamp.
Meanwhile on Sunday 21 April a Michigan posse 30 strong, caught the Ohio “line runners” relaxing in camp.   Most of the buckeyes broke for the woods, but nine of the protecting militia were caught in the open. When the Michigan posse fired a volley over their heads they wisely surrendered. All seven were unharmed but were arrested for violating the “Pains and Penalties Act”. And on Monday morning six were granted bail and two were released after a warning to behave. The only Ohioan who remained in jail was Jonathan Fletcher, a hot head who refused to post bail “on principle.” In the annals of Michigan this encounter was memorialized as the “Battle of Phillip’s Corner”, since the encounter had occurred in a field owned by Eli Phillips, who supported Michigan.
“The distinction between children and adults, while probably useful for some purposes, is at bottom a specious one, I feel. There are only individual egos, crazy for love.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
The smell of gunpowder had brought a degree of sanity back to Governor Mason, and in the spirit of good will he suspended enforcement of his Pains and Penalties Act. But now it was the Ohio legislature’s turn to appease their base. Kidnapping was already illegal in Ohio, but buckeye politicians felt it necessary to pass a new law providing hard labor for kidnapping anyone from Ohio. And they made Toledo the capital of a new Ohio county.
In Toledo one observer noted “Men (were) galloping about – guns getting ready – wagons being filled with people and hurrying off, and everybody in commotion “ The little town of just 1,250 citizens had become a magnet for every nut case, political hot head and pugnacious drifter in the Midwest. In July, two Michigan deputies tried to hold an auction of property seized for non payment of Michigan taxes, and a gang of Ohio “patriots”, led by Number Two Strikney, broke up the auction. So, on 12 July 1835 a Michigan arrest warrant was issued for the son-of-a-patriot, for disturbing the peace.  Number Two, upon learning of the warrant, sent a message to the Michigan Sheriff to stay out of Toledo, if he wanted to live.
That threat set Michigan Governor Mason off again. He ordered 250 men into Toledo, under Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood, to arrest Number Two and his "gang". Most of the Ohio “patriots” ran safely for the Maumee River border, but Number Two didn’t make it. When Sheriff Wood physically grabbed Number Two, he pulled what in Ohio was called a pen knife and in Michigan described as “a dirk”.  “Two” stabbed the sheriff in the leg and disappeared across the Maumee River. The wound was minor and the sheriff was able to ride back across the border that night, having paused to arrest Number Two’s father, Major Stickney, and drag him back to Michigan, tied to the back of a horse. But before leaving town the Michiganders also smashed the offices of the pro-Ohio Toledo Gazette, behaving, claimed the paper, worse than an “Algerian robbery or Turkish persecution.” It seemed the residents were finally running short of hyperbole. What was left but gunpowder?
“A wise ruler ought never to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interests.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513.
It was at this point that Andrew Jackson finally stepped in and on 29 August, 1835 removed Mason as governor of Michigan Territory. Jackson also let it be known that Michigan would only be allowed to become a state after they accepted that Toledo was a town in Ohio. It was a bitter pill for the Badger rabble to swallow, particularly after all that rabble rousing, but as a sop for hurt feelings, the federal government granted Michigan the additional territory known as the Northern Peninsula. Michigan was finally admitted into the union, sans Toledo, on 26 January, 1837.
So Ohio won. The canals were dug, and the buckeyes benefited from the taxes paid by the port at the mouth of the Maumee River.  In 1842 1,578 barrels of flour and 12,976 bushels of wheat were shipped through Toledo, Ohio, and taxed.  By 1852 the totals were a quarter million barrels flour and almost two million bushels of wheat. But Toledo did not become the transportation hub for the Midwest, because canal technology was superseded by the railroads, and Chicago superseded Toledo; none of which the Ohio patriots could have predicted in 1835.
Meanwhile, in 1844, a party of surveyors was marking out the second place prize for Michigan, the Upper Peninsula,  when they found their compasses spinning wildly. This was caused by one of the largest concentrations of iron ore ever found on the planet Earth, the Marquette Range, which was surrounded by one of the largest concentrations of copper ore ever found on the Earth. Beginning in 1847 and continuing over the next one hundred years and fifty years, over a billion tons of iron and several billion tons of copper were removed from those hills. None of the Michigan patriots could have predicted that, either.
The truth was the future contained a bounty beyond the imagination of the patriots who willing to kill each other in 1835, all for possession of a swamp – and not a great swamp at that. Does that make any sense?  It is a basic rule of human history - That which people are willing to murder for today, they may give away tomorrow, and what they want to give away today may be worth a fortune to their children.  Folks, you might remember that rule, next time a hot head starts calling for a war.
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