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Archive for June, 2012

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Ever since getting my Kindle in February 2009 I’ve been an active participant on the Kindle Forum at Amazon. I started there just to discuss things about my new toy, but I remained because the forum is full of people who enjoy talking about all sorts of things having to do with books.

However, the main Kindle forum got overrun with Fire issues when it was released late last year and the Kindle Book forum is haphazard as to the quality of discussion. A participant named Ed was great at starting interesting book discussion topics, but he wasn’t real thrilled with that particular forum.

So he’s now set up his own forum on the web called Daily Book Talk. If you look in the Daily Book Talk part of the forum you’ll see that there’s a new discussion topic posted almost every day. People are encouraged to discuss anything they wish to in relation to the topic, and any opinion, including disagreement, is welcome as long as people post respectfully to each other. Other sections of the forum are devoted to things like socializing. The book discussions are kept on topic, though some topic drift is expected and allowed.

So this is an open invitation to anyone who is interested in discussing books to come check it out. If you’d like to join in just register for free, pick a topic to weigh in on, and type away. It’s perfectly acceptable to add to the discussion on older topics. As the forum grows it will bump them for people who might not have seen them yet, and most people like seeing what a new person adds to the conversation.

Hope to see some of you there! (Be sure to drop into the Welcome section and introduce yourself.)

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I’ve added a new review to my Lezzie Books section. This one is for Erosistible by Gill McKnight, a lesbian romance novel set on the fictional island of Eros in the Aegean Sea. Click on the linked title to go directly to my review.

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The Goodbye Girl is more obscured by time than lack of respect or ticket sales, as it was quite popular back in the day. It has a 7.3 rating at IMDB and 87% at Rotten Tomatoes. The movie was released in 1977 and was nominated for five Oscars, with Richard Dreyfuss winning Best Actor.* But if you’re under the age of forty you’re probably only familiar with it if you caught it on TV or your mom owns a copy.

Marsha Mason plays the part of a single mother who isn’t too good at picking men and is unceremoniously dumped at the beginning of the movie via a note left on the mantel of her New York apartment. Richard Dreyfuss plays an actor, fresh from out of town for his big stage debut, with a sublet lease in his pocket for Mason’s apartment. Her boyfriend secretly made the deal, leaving Mason and her daughter, played by Quinn Cummings, high and dry. They decide to share the apartment, and hilarity and romance ensue.

Neil Simon wrote the memorable script. I’m not one of those people who can rattle off lines from movies, but it only took seeing the film once for a lot of the dialogue to sink permanently into the depths of my brain. I just watched the movie again, for what was only the third or fourth time stretched over thirty-five years. Yet, over half of the dialogue was familiar, as if the last time I’d seen it was last week, rather than a couple decades ago.

It’s not difficult to level criticisms at The Goodbye Girl. It’s sentimental and shallow. The characters have no depth to speak of, they’re all just really good with words, tossing off one-liners and sarcastic asides with ease. But if I were asked to sum the movie up with one word I would choose: charming. And don’t forget: funny. The dialogue is witty and intelligent.

The casting is what really elevates The Goodbye Girl into enjoyable entertainment with lasting value. Dreyfuss and Mason have great screen chemistry, and both of them are so darn cute. Cummings is fantastic as the precocious ten-year-old daughter and holds her own with the two experienced actors, easily keeping up with the fast-paced dialogue.

Given the age of the movie, I’m surprised that it holds up as well as it does. It doesn’t feel nearly as dated as many movies from the 70s do. So if you’re looking for a lesser known romantic comedy for your next movie night, or for the next time you need some cheering up, consider giving The Goodbye Girl a try.

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* Dreyfuss was thirty when he won the Oscar. He was the youngest actor to win the award until Adrien Brody won for The Pianist in 2002 at 29 years of age.

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[At the Amazon Kindle Community forum there is a monthly thread where participants list and comment on which books they’re reading at the moment on their Kindles. These aren’t usually full reviews, often  just relatively brief impressions. I’m copying over some of my comments made there into Book Bits posts here.]

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6/5

I finished reading In the Heat of the Night by John Ball. To be honest, I didn’t think it was that great. The movie was very different in many key details, and I think it did a much better job at leaving a lasting impression. Ball’s prose is kinda flat and uninteresting, and the character of Virgil Tibbs is so self-contained that he really has no personality to speak of.

The book also has one of those very long and drawn out scenes near the end where Tibbs explains at length what happened and why, rather than a lot of the pieces being revealed as he learns them while investigating, and I’ve never been a fan of that style of resolution to a mystery novel. One thing that I appreciated a lot more about the book was the character of Sam Woods, the police officer. He’s much more interesting and sympathetic in the book. He seems to be the one most impacted by Tibbs, rather than Chief Gillespie, who in the book comes across as a very petty man.

After that I read Erosistible by Gill McKnight. One of the small lesbian presses I buy books from is having an ebook sale so I picked this and three others up for only $5 each. It’s a romance set on an island in the Aegean Sea and the setting is part of what attracted me to it. The writing is decent enough and humorous at times, but my enjoyment of the book was hindered by the fact that I thought one of the two main characters was a spoiled, selfish brat who frequently acted like a temperamental teenager. Actively disliking one of the protagonists pretty much kills a romance novel.

I’m now reading Finding Magic by Stacia Kane, which was just released yesterday. It’s a novella and only 99 cents. This is a prequel to the Downside Ghosts series in which Chess is a student training with the Church. After reading the first four books (the fifth will be released at the end of this month) it’s neat to go back in time and see Chess in a transitional phase in her life and be given a glimpse into how she ended up the way she is at the start of the series.

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6/7

I finished reading Finding Magic by Stacia Kane. There are currently four books in the series with the fifth due out later this month. I think someone could start with the prequel, and might have an urge to because it takes place several years before the books start chronologically. But I think people would be better off reading it after at least the first couple of novels, in order to get the perspective needed.

It was a good story, nicely paced. It was interesting to see Chess while still in Church training. The novella covers how she chose which church profession to follow and also the early part of her slide into addiction. The one thing I didn’t like is how horribly repetitive it was about her self-loathing. It got really old in the fourth novel also. It’s well established by now she feels that way, so it gets annoying reading those thoughts in detail every few pages. It was important to establish she felt that way back then also, and how it related to the Church taking her in, but after that there’s no need to belabor it that extensively.

I’ve now started V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton. (Thank you again to my anonymous gift giver!) There are about five different plot threads going on, all of which have kept me completely absorbed. But I have to admit to getting slightly antsy that at 20% Kinsey doesn’t have an actual case yet. I’m willing to go along for the ride to see where it takes me though.

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6/14

I finished V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton. It was quite a bit different from her usual in the series, but that’s not a bad thing. I enjoyed it quite a lot with all the different character threads. Joining Kinsey for an adventure is like visiting with an old friend. We were first introduced in 1989. Back then Kinsey was several years older than me and was an experienced woman of the world by comparison. Now I’m more than a decade older than she is and I admit to envying her relative youth. Strange how that works.

In V Kinsey’s timeline is only up to 1988 and that’s become part of my fascination with the series. It’s odd reading a contemporary series (in terms of it still being written now), but so much of it is old school in terms of the tech Kinsey has to work with and how she goes about investigating. Rather than accessing all sorts of info on a computer she wears out a lot of shoe leather, and she relies on her answering machine in the office rather than having a cell phone at her fingertips. It really changes the pace of things.

I’m not sure what I’m going to read next. There are so many books on my Kindle that are waving at me to read them next that I’m going to have a really, really hard time choosing!

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6/15

I’ve started reading Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood. It got it for free a couple days ago and it’s still free right now. I’m about 30% in so far.

It’s set at the end of the 1920s in Melbourne Australia and I’m especially liking the time and place aspects of the book. The plot is unfolding rather slowly and I found myself getting a little anxious for things to move on, but not to the point that it’s making me want to put it down. In fact it’s probably getting me to read it faster.

Greenwood’s writing is a bit different. I can’t find a way to explain what I mean. The writing isn’t bad, it’s just the kind that doesn’t quite flow in a way that I’m used to, so it takes a while to mentally adapt to it, if that makes any sense. Again, it’s not ruining the book by any means, but it’s not as smooth of a read as it could be. Even with those comments, I’m still liking the book and it’s definitely worth picking up for anyone interested in giving it a try.

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6/17

I finished reading Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood. It was very entertaining. I really like the main character, Phryne. She’s feisty and unconventional, but can behave properly in society when she needs to. The other characters are quite colorful as well.

I just looked up the author and see that this is a series that has a lot of books in it, and all or most of them are really reasonably priced. So I’ll very likely be reading more of them in the future. The freebie did its job. :)

Now I’m reading The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block, which is the first book in the Matthew Scudder series. It’s short and I’m already a third of the way through it. I bought it when the price dropped to 99 cents a while back and it’s still available for that price now. This is the fourth Block novel I’ve read. One of his old pulps was a disappointment, but the others, including this one, are all really good. I really like his writing a lot and he deserves his title as a Grand Master.

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Source: Rob Tsinai wakingupnow.com

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I’ve been burning to discuss this ever since I read the study analysis a couple days ago and now have the time to focus on writing this blog post. It’s getting a lot of buzz in the media, but I have refrained from reading any articles about it until after I post my own thoughts so that I can be sure they’re my own.

So what’s making the big splash? A new study published in a peer-review journal called the New Family Structures Survey (NFSS).

Before I get started, take a moment to step into the shoes of a social scientist. Compare these two groups:

Group A:  Adult children who were raised by their married biological mother and biological father from when they were born until they turned 18 or left home.

Group B:  Adult children with a parent who had at least one same-sex relationship from when they were born until they turned 18 or left home, regardless of the family structure in which they were raised.

Make your hypothesis. Do you hypothesize there will be demonstrable differences between Group A and Group B in various categories such as health, employment, and happiness? If so, which group will display better outcomes, Group A or Group B?

Now let’s leave that aside for a bit and discuss the NFSS. At the beginning the study (rightly) discusses sampling flaws in existing studies concerning children raised by gay parents. Most studies have only included lesbian parents with children still in the home, and the samples have been extremely small, non-random, and non-representative. This means that the study results, while sometimes providing useful data, cannot be accurately applied to the population as a whole.

Another important point discussed is that the previous studies have used self-selected samples of mostly white, urban, middle class families. Yet the typical lesbian household with children is lower income and located in conservative areas of the country in which gay populations are low. A high percentage (around 37% according to Census data) of lesbian partners raising children are Hispanic or black.

The obvious conclusion is that gay people living in highly conservative geographical regions and/or subcultures are more likely to have children because they made significant attempts to fit in and live a heterosexual lifestyle. They married, had children with their opposite-sex spouse, and then divorced and found a same-sex partner.

The NFSS used an extensive survey instrument to measure 2988 adult respondents between the ages of 18 and 39 with a sampling that is representative of the US population. The study team made a concerted effort to include respondents who have a lesbian or gay parent in order to collect useful data from a large enough sample size. They ended up with 163 respondents with a lesbian mother and 73 with a gay father, out of the 2988 total. (Twelve respondents reported both a lesbian mother and a gay father. All 12 were put into the gay father group and are included in the count of 73.)

The purported purpose of the study is to compare outcomes based on different family structures. Respondents were grouped into family structure categories to make statistical comparisons between the groups. The categories are: married biological mother and father, lesbian mother, gay father, adopted, divorced later (after the child turned 18 or left home), step family, single parent, and other.

This all sounds pretty good. Until we get to the first problem, which is one of definition. For the purposes of this study a lesbian/gay parent is defined as any parent who has ever had a same-sex relationship from the time the respondent was born until they turned 18 or left home. The survey did not ask if the parent self-identified as gay/lesbian, only if they’d had a qualifying relationship. So a mother who had a single brief fling with another woman, but otherwise identifies as straight, is considered equivalent to a mother who has never had a relationship with a man and has always identified as gay.

Next we get to the glaring, egregious problem with how the study categorized respondents. Any respondent who answered the following question with yes was put into the relevant gay or lesbian parent family category:

S7. From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?

No other criteria were used to refine the gay parent categories. This means that the lesbian mother and gay father groups include adopted children, divorced families, single parent households and so on. No distinction was drawn between a stable lesbian couple who decided to have and raise a child together, and a mother divorced from a heterosexual marriage who is serially monogamous with female partners.

Do you see the problem here? A single group containing a wide variety of family structures was compared to other groups that were defined by their family structure.

The survey did not ask respondents who answered yes to S7 any follow-up questions. No attempt was made to determine if the child had been planned (sperm donation, etc.) or if they were the result of an unplanned pregnancy or failed heterosexual marriage. All respondents filled out a timeline that indicated who they lived with and when, and that was used by the study team to make guesses.

From those guesses, the team estimates that somewhere between 17 and 26 percent of respondents with a lesbian mother might have had a planned origin, and less than 1% of those with gay fathers. 57% of respondents reported living with their lesbian mother and her same-sex partner for at least four months, but only 23% reported living with their mother and her partner for at least three years.

For gay fathers the numbers are even lower. Not surprising since the majority of respondents are from failed families where the father does not have custody. 23% reported living with a gay father and his partner for at least four months and less than 2% for at least three years.

I’m not going to get into the specifics of how the various groups measured up when compared to the IBF (intact biological family) group in the different outcomes measured. (Read the linked report to see the details.) I will summarize by saying the lesbian mother group almost always came out the worst of all the groups, often to a statistically significant degree.

Let’s go back to your hypothesis at the beginning of this post. Did you hypothesize that Group A would have a better outcome when compared to Group B? Common sense would dictate that assumption, and the study certainly supports it.

I don’t find the results surprising. The majority of the respondents in the lesbian mother group are from broken families. Additionally, women (especially divorced women and women of color) have a much more difficult time of it. It shouldn’t be surprising that families headed by women who have a more difficult time getting and keeping jobs, face prejudice on multiple fronts, come from marriages that were often filled with conflict, and overall have a lower income, end up raising children who as adults do not do as well as their peers.

To give the study team their due, they admit “different grouping decisions may affect the results.” Does anyone doubt that the results would be much different if planned children raised in a stable same-sex family were measured as a group? The report discusses this. They admit that planned families with gay or lesbian parents is a relatively new thing in any significant numbers.

The team discusses at some length the difficulty of collecting sizable representative samples because lesbian/gay households are difficult to identify and study. They don’t state this, but it’s obvious that’s partly due to the need to be circumspect or hide in many parts of the country, but also because gay people are a small percentage of the overall population in general.

The good thing about the study is that the extensive survey instrument has produced a lot of data that is now readily available to other social scientists to study, using their own methods of filtering and comparison. So why am I going into all this at such length? Because as soon as I read the report I knew it would be misused, the results obfuscated and perverted to further the anti-gay agenda.

Need proof? Well, it didn’t take long. A new amicus brief filed by the American College of Pediatricians (a discredited socially conservative group of health care professionals) in the Golinski vs. OPM case (challenging the constitutionality of DOMA) is already misrepresenting the study findings. Quoting from the brief:

A brand new study in the peer-reviewed journal Social Science Research uses a large random national sample to assess these outcomes. The study is based on interviews with 3,000 respondents, 175 of whom were raised by two women and 73 by two men.

Except, as we’ve already discussed, very few of the respondents studied were actually raised by two women or two men. The study does not even know how many that description applies to. The brief then gives some of the statistical analysis results, continually using terminology that implies the group being compared is made up of children raised in homes with stable same-sex couples. They draw the conclusion that this clearly indicates families headed by same-sex couples are inferior.

This misrepresentation of the findings can be, and will be, refuted in other briefings and in court by experts. But the point is that this study has now added a new layer of bad science that requires the energy and expense of refuting it. It muddies the waters and gives unwelcome fuel to the campaign against gay Americans. In short, it makes me really, really angry and really, really frustrated.

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5/20

I’m now on the third book in the Fever series by Karen Marie Moning, Faefever. I’m about 80% through and will definitely be buying the next book as soon as I finish. Starting this series is destroying my book budget for the month, even if I did get the first one free!

This is the kind of series where it’s one ongoing story stretching over all the books. None of them have a complete plot that is settled within each book. I guess you could say it’s one ginormous novel broken up into smaller book-sized parts. I know some people don’t like that sort of thing, but I believe the series is complete now, so the only real deterrent is having to spend the money on all five books in a short period of time to read them straight through.

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5/29

Well I finally finished the Fever series. The last book was Shadowfever and was twice as long as the first three books in the series, so took me quite a bit longer. These aren’t books I’ll probably ever read again, but I did very much enjoy reading them straight through. Lots of bad and surprising things happened and it was an entertaining story well-told. There are a few loose ends left open at the end of the fifth and final book, presumably to pave the way for potential future books, but none that made me gnash my teeth at not being resolved. Most of the important stuff was finished up.

There was one oddity about the last book that did bug me. At times the author switched to present tense, even though the previous books (and most of the fifth book) were in past tense. This must have been done intentionally to give a different feeling to those sections, but I never stopped to analyze when and why it was being done. I found it slightly annoying, but not enough that it ruined the reading experience in any way.

After all the darkness and Fae mayhem in five books in a row I needed a distinct change of pace. So I’ve now started Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook. This isn’t the sort of thing I normally read, but it was on sale a couple weeks ago for only 99 cents and I figured what the heck. (It’s $2.99 now. It looks like the author has self-published the ebook versions of her backlist.) And now that purchase is coming in handy for my total change of pace read.

I’m about 20% into it and liking it okay so far. The main character is coming across as depressed and not having any confidence, but there is enough humor to keep me entertained. Sometimes the dialogue comes across as a little awkward, but not enough to make me roll my eyes or want to put the book down.

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5/31

I finished Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook. It was all right, a good choice for clearing out my head after reading five books in the same series in a row. But nothing that will really stick with me. People who normally read that type of book (I think it qualifies as chick-lit) might have more glowing things to say about it.

I’m now reading In the Heat of the Night by John Ball. I got it on sale for 99 cents a while back, it’s $4.99 right now.

This is an example of never realizing a movie was made from a book until someone mentioned it once on this forum a year or two ago. I thought it had been long enough since the last time I saw the movie that it wouldn’t affect me reading it too much, but I guess the movie is so indelible that won’t ever be true. I’m about 20% in (it’s a very short novel) and am constantly making comparisons.

It’s interesting to me that the diner cook and the police officer are much different in the book, more sympathetic (so far anyway). And Virgil Tibbs in the book seems a lot more… can’t think of the word I want, subdued maybe? Poitier really made that character come alive in the movie. (For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I highly recommend the movie.)

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Source AP Photo

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I was reading an article about a news conference that was scheduled to take place yesterday at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The Stonewall was the site of the 1969 riots that propelled the gay rights movement forward. This news conference was held by LGBT groups, who are joining with the NAACP, to call for an end to the NYC “stop-and-frisk” tactic used by police officers.

As Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in an interview, “There was no rational reason to raid the Stonewall Inn in 1969, and there is no rational reason to stop black and Latino men in 2012 and frisk them simply for being who they are.”

To understand why there needs to be an end to stop-and-frisk, this report from the New York Civil Liberties Union is a must read. I’m going to pull out some key statistics from the report (which covers the year 2011) to make it clear why I am posting this. They should give anyone pause.

One of the main reasons given for stop-and-frisk is to recover weapons. However, the numbers show that the link between stops and weapons found is almost non-existent. In 2011 there were seven times as many stops made as in 2002, almost 700,000 in total. Yet the recovery rate of weapons increased by only three one-hundredths of one percent. Weapons are found in only 1.9 percent of frisks.

Ninety percent of young black and Latino men stopped were innocent.

The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406).

In 2011 blacks made up 52.9 percent of stops, Latinos 33.7 percent, and whites only 9.3 percent.

High concentrations of black or Latino populations in some precincts cannot account for those statistics. As an example: “The population of the 17th Precinct, which covers the East Side of Manhattan, has the lowest percentage of black and Latino residents in the city at 7.8 percent, yet 71.4 percent of those stopped in the precinct were black or Latino.”

Quoting from the report: “Young black and Latino males were the targets of a hugely disproportionate number of stops in 2011. While black and Latino males between the ages of 14 and 24 account for only 4.7 percent of the city’s population, they accounted for 41.6 percent of those stopped. By contrast, white males between the ages 14 and 24 make up 2 percent of the city’s population but accounted for 3.8 percent of stops.”

Not all stops result in a frisk. When blacks or Latinos were stopped they were frisked 57.5 percent of the time, compared to only 44.2 percent of the time for whites. More importantly, a weapon was found only 1.8 percent of the time when blacks or Latinos were frisked, but 3.8 percent of the time when whites were frisked.

These statistics, and the rest of the report, illustrate that racial profiling and racial bias strongly influence NYC police officers’ decisions in determining who to stop, and who to frisk once they are stopped. Blacks and Latinos are stopped and frisked at a massively disproportionate amount compared to their city populations and compared to the percentages actually engaged in criminal activity.

I’m not just pointing a finger at NYC here. These were relatively easy statistics for the NYCLU to collect and analyze. You can be sure that this sort of racial bias is showing up in police activities in cities all across the country. I had no idea just how bad it is though, and it’s important to get people to see just what is really going on.

As a side note, check out this article about a man who complained about being racially profiled with stop-and-frisk being put in jail overnight for no reason.

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I just now found out (here) that lesbian author and playwright Sarah Dreher has passed on. She died on April 2nd, just a week after her 75th birthday. It is strange to find out so long after the fact, thinking that someone is still out there doing their thing, only to discover they’ve been gone for two months.

Ms. Dreher’s first novel, Stoner McTavish, was published in 1985 (the year I came out), and was among the first lesbian books I read. It’s an amateur sleuth novel, part of the first wave of the lesbian mystery genre, and a romance, much of which is set in the beauty of the mountains of Wyoming. Stoner has always had a special place in my heart as one of my favorite lesbian characters. She’s funny, dedicated, and charming.

Ms. Dreher published six Stoner McTavish novels in all. She also wrote Solitaire and Brahms, a stand-alone novel about lesbians in the 1950s. It’s a book I’ve enjoyed enough to re-read a couple times. Some of her plays were collected in Lesbian Stages, which I’ve also read.

I’ve always wished that Ms. Dreher was more prolific. I don’t know why she quit writing, or at least publishing, at the end of the 1990s. Some of it was likely due to the combination of getting older and still being busy in her professional life. She had a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and in addition to her private practice co-founded Sunrise-Amanecer, a non-profit organization focused on mental and physical health for underserved populations in her area. She was active with the organization until her death.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to read any of Ms. Dreher’s work, now is a good time to give one a try. She was one of the women who paved the way for current lesbian writers, and I am thankful for her contribution.

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