Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Let the Games Begin!  or Why the Complainers Should Stop Complaining and Learn to Like the Appointed

You know, Knox County should be grateful for the way things turned out today. They got some of the smartest people in the County to do their voting for them.

Here's how it worked. 80% of the people living in Knox County weren't interested in voting for the County Commissioners, and stayed home. That left the most active and dedicated 20% of Knox Countians to vote for the Commissioners. That is in itself a good thing, as laziness is never a good selector for a quality electorate. Next, the County Commissioners realized that even if the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled them ineligible to serve, Tennessee State law ruled out a special election and made it mandatory for them to choose their own successors.

No wonder they ran. They had a win win situation. They knew that if things went against them, they'd still be able to stay in control by appointing their son, or father, or wife to continue on for them.

Heck, I want somebody with that kind of foresight and ability to plan in charge of my county.

Here's what really gets to me. Only 20% of those eligible to vote actually voted. And of those, the overwhelming majority voted for incumbents, term limits be damned. So by my figures, there are only about 3 people in Knox County that have a right to bitch about the results of the election.

And Randy Tyree is two of them.

So quit whining and complaining. You got what you wanted.

Or maybe just what you deserved.

PS: I'll bet anybody $20 that the majority of the commissioners appointed today will be elected to full terms if they decide to run.

Any takers?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Microsoft Zune

Short version: I bought a Zune.

I like it.

Longer version:

I've been wanting to get a music player for over a year now, but couldn't find one a really liked. During my days of dreaming about winning the World Series of Poker, I thought about getting a pair of Oakley Thumps, but I could never bring myself to pay $250 for sunglasses, and the limited capabilities and memory of the mp3 player didn't do much for me either. I also didn't want to get an iPod because, well, it's an apple. I was leaning towards a Creative zen, similar to the one I got for my son this Christmas when I saw the Zune.

I liked the 30G of memory, and the larger screen, and yielding to a long delayed impulse, I got it.

Installation was smooth on my laptop, taking about 20 minutes in total, including searching my computer for all its media files and ading them to my library, then automatically syncing the library to the Zune, which leads to my first quibble.

What if there are files on my computer that I don't want synced? What if I have those kind of files? You know, the ones I wouldn't want just anybody seeing? Not that I do, mind you, I'm just asking is all. How do I get them off my Zune once they're there? Deleting files from the Zune is not a very intuitive process; there's no DELETE function on the Zune itself. Instead, you have to delete the file from your library and resync. Of course, that doesn't help you with the files the come preinstalled on the Zune. Since they aren't part of my library, I have no idea how to remove them from the Zune.

Moving on, once the Zune is synced and charged, you're ready to listen and play your files. This couldn't be easier. The interface is very easy to navigate, and the large screen keeps everything clear. I could easily move through and pick out what I wanted to hear. For me, the only problem is that there is no STOP button. Once a song starts, you can pause it, but you can't stop it except by choosing another song, or a video, or by shutting off the Zune. This may be a common feature of MP3 players, or a simple function of my ignorance due to the total lack of documentation that comes with the Zune. In either case, a plainly accessible stop button would be nice.

The Zune software installed on my laptop takes care of all ripping chores and moves very quickly. I can rip a CD to my library in a couple of minutes or so, and then the next time I sync or charge my Zune, I'm good to go with my newly ripped music. Downloading is also a breeze. The Zune comes with a free 14 day trial subscription to Zune Pass, the Microsoft version of NetFlix. For $15 a month, about the cost of a CD, you can download all the music you want from their website, and it will play on your Zune or your computer for as long as you keep up your subscription. These downloads do not include burning rights, so you can't make a CD copy unless you actually purchase the song. You have the option of either using the subscription service, or purchasing entire albums or individual tracks. A full album in most cases will cost you about $11 bucks, with individual songs going for just under a buck.

And that brings us to the nitty gritty; DRM. The Zune has implemented a DRM mechanism that some folks don't like at all. First, the Zune is not compatible with earlier Microsoft DRM schemes, so songs purchased using those schemes will not play on the Zune. To a new adopter like me, this is no big deal, but to somebody who has already invested a few hundred bucks in music, this could be a deal breaker. In order to play their paid-for songs, they'll have to convert them to the mp3 format, or burn them to a CD and re-rip them.

On the other hand, Microsoft did make provisions for some file sharing. Zunes have built in Wi-Fi, and can share files back and forth with other Zunes within about 30'. DRM protected files can be shared with other users, who have three days, or three plays of the tune before they have to purchase it for themselves.

Now, I don't have a problem with any of this. I believe in paying a fair price for what I get, and I don't see any reason why people think they should be able to get music for free.Using the Zune Pass, I can listen to hundreds of songs a month, and if I like them, I can buy them and burn them to a CD cheaper than I could buy the CD without knowing what's on it.

This is a win-win; I get more music cheaply, and the artist and the record company still make money.

Now, there is a small fly in the DRM scheme. If I load content that is not copyrighted on my Zune, and share it with other Zunes in a protected, ie wma format, the three day three play limit is still in effect, and there's no key to turn it off. Of course, the quick fix to that is to load non protected material in a non protected format, like mp3.

Pretty simple.

As it should be clear to almost anybody, the DRM scheme in use on the Zune can be easily bypassed by virtually anybody with a computer and an internet connection, but it makes it very easy for those of us who want to be honest to do so, without extorting ungodly amounts of money from us.

Now, you may have noticed that I haven't talked much about the video side of the Zune. There's a good reason for that. AS far as I can tell, the Zune is very limited in the number of video formats and codecs it will support. None of the videos on my laptop, no, not even those made the jump. Included in the Zune help is a link to a webpage with instructions on how to download Windows Media Encoder, and use it to convert your video files to the appropriate format and codec. I ran through a couple of videos I got from You Tube and the process worked fine, and the resulting videos played very nicely on the Zune screen. I would be happier if the Zune supported more video formats, but that's going to be a simple fix for Microsoft to make.

I'm in the process of taking my Firefly DVDs and converting them for my Zune. Now technically, this is a copyright violation, since I have to defeat the copy protection on the discs to do this, but I'm pretty sure that copyright laws exist to protect the content, not the format, and I bought the content fair and square. Fair use has always allowed for people to make archival copies, and that's what I'm doing. By the way, the Zune software makes it very easy to disable video file sharing, and I did so.

All in all, I'm very happy with the Zune. The most glaring deficiency is the lack of support for more video formats, and that's one that I hope will be addressed by a firmware upgrade in the near future. It's a shame to have that nice big screen with little to show on it. The integration of the Zune with it's PC software and the Zune Marketplace, especially with Zune Pass, is excellent. Every album I've looked for was available, from early Bill Cosby to the Kingston Trio, to John Mellencamp's latest.

Buff up the video, and I'll be totally satisfied.

Posted by Rich
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The Martha Stewart Proscutorial Gambit

First, Martha Stewart was sent to prison for supposedly lying to cover up a crime she was never charged with, much less convicted of.

Now, Scooter Libby is on trial for lying to cover up a leak from Dick Cheney that we now know didn't come from anyone in Cheney's office.

And coming soon to a courtroom in North Carolina, I'm betting we'll see the three defendants in the Duke rape case charged with obstruction of justice for failing to cop a plea to a crime they are no longer being charged with.

Does anybody else get the feeling that prosecutors are out of control and a bit power mad?

Posted by Rich
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Monday, January 29, 2007

Rodney Carrington

Yes, he's country.

Yes, his comedy is not appropriate for small children or small minds for that matter.

And yes, he'll make you laugh your butt off.

I saw Rodney about three years ago when he was in Knoxville before he became a Hollywood star. When he came through then, he had no sponsor, no opening act, and came out after the show to sign autographs and meet with his fans.

This time, he was sponsored by Copenhagen, who sent along two lovely girls to look lovely and throw clothing, unfortunately not their own, out into the audience. He also had an opening act, Mark Gross, who used to write for Rodney's show.

A lot has changed for Rodney since the last time I saw him, but one thing is still the same.

He's one of the funniest guys out there.

All comics have a shtick, a specialty that they build an act around. For Jeff Foxworthy, it was "You might be a redneck." For Bill Engvall, it was "Here's your sign." And for Jerry Seinfeld, it was convincing people that he was funny.

Rodney's bit is his songs. Now, for a singing comic to be funny, the first requirement is that he can actually sing. You want the audience laughing at your songs, not your atrocious voice. Fortunately for Rodney, he's got that covered. He might not ever win a Grammy for singing, but he won't drive you from the theater shrieking in pain either. His songs, including audience favorites like "Dear Penis, (sung while two 6' penises slowly inflate on stage)" "Titties and Beer," and the classics "Burning Sensation," and "I Think I'm Dancing with a Man" are a musical extension of his stand up act, which is clearly not family material. But material that would be offensive or shocking in clumsier comedic hands (think Andrew Dice Clay) turns to pure comedic gold for Rodney. It's like the difference between Porky's, and the lame sequels.

I think what makes Rodney so much fun to watch is the joy that is evident in his eyes as he's on stage. So many comedians, like the opener Mark Gross, fuel their comedy with anger or frustration, that it's nice to see a guy on stage who genuinely enjoys what he's doing. Rodney's energy is infectious, and he's having such a good time on stage that you can't help but go along and have a good time with him.

The bottom line is that when I left the Tennessee Theater after the show, my cheeks hurt from smiling and my sides hurt from laughing. And you can't ask for anything more than that from a comedian.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

My State of the Union Address.

My fellow Americans,

I come to you tonight to report on the state of our union, and I'm sad to say that America has become small. Where once stood a great nation that dared to dream great dreams, now sits a nation dedicated to mediocrity. Excellence is punished and failure rewarded. Men and women with bold visions and ambition pay a high price for their success. We love our heroes, but we love tearing them down even more.

Our leaders have become small. Where once America was lead by Jefferson, Adams and Lincoln, all men of conviction and courage, now we are lead by Clinton and Bush, men who lack the courage of their convictions. Consensus has replaced leadership; expediency and compromise have taken the place of principles and honor, and we are all diminished by it. We've seen an administration that dared to respond proactively to an attack on our soil punished for that daring, not just by our international enemies, but by the political opposition within. For daring to stand up to the declared enemies of our nation and saying with firm resolve "No More!", they have been compared to the worst tyrants ever seen on this sorry globe. We've seen national security reduced from the keystone of our continued existence to just another political ploy, a bargaining chip to be used to win elections. To make matters worse, even those who should be resisting this debasement have now joined in the unholy dance. In truth, neither party does anything other than pay lip service to national security; they both use it to achieve their own short sighted and selfish political goals.

I hear your boos, and your cries of outrage, but let me ask you one question: If either party were truly committed to national security, would our borders be undefended? Would we allow tens of thousands of people to cross illegally, with near complete impunity?

No! No, our borders would be closed and those who tried them would be caught and swiftly sent back where they came from. But instead of trying to close the borders to get them under control, our leaders only talk about how to fairly deal with those who have already crossed illegally. And by "fairly" I most definitely do not mean justly. Justice is a concept that has been replaced in America by fairness, and again, we are greatly diminished because of it. "Fairness" means only what the speaker believes it to mean. There is no objective measure of fairness. Justice is hard enough, but by making laws and enforcing them, there is at least some small portion of objectivity.

But we the people no longer stand for justice; justice requires the dispassionate and rational exercise of intellect. We prefer instead the warm soft fuzzy feel of "fairness." Unfortunately one man's "fairness" is another man's tyranny.

Shortly after taking control of Congress, Committee Chair and Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich announced that he plans to revive the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting. If passed, the Fairness Doctrine will make the Federal Government the sole arbiter of what can be said on broadcast television and radio, and that my friends and neighbors, should be a possibility that makes all of us, left or right, shudder in horror. Instead, we calculate our advantage or disadvantage under the new laws, and if it hurts our enemies more than us, we support it.

And far from being an isolated incident, this only cements a trend growing within our government. Senate Bill 1 contained language that could have been used to force citizen journalists like myself to register with the Federal Government if I wished to make my opinions known to my Senator or Representative. Can you imagine? Having to get government approval to send a message to my representative?

Didn't we go to war with our government over that very idea just over 200 years ago?

And it isn't just the Democrats . Trent Lott wanted us to shut up about earmarks, remarking that he was sick and tired of hearing from his constituents about it. And John McCain of McCain-Feingold infamy is a Republican. Our "representatives" in Washington seem to care more for acquiring power than representing our wishes; they want us to shut up and be good little subjects. They know what's best for us, even if we don't. Just ask former Senator Bill Frist, who attached anti-gambling provisions at midnight to a port security bill. He knew that citizens would oppose unwarranted restrictions on their freedoms, but because he knows what's best for us, he passed the legislation in the dark of night, before we could object and be heard.

Didn't we go to war with our government over that just over 200 years ago?

The problem isn't just national, it's local. Here in Tennessee, we've got a man wanting to tax porn to pay for food. In California, the state wants the power to tell parents how to raise their children. In many states, the government wants to tell business owners whether they can allow their patrons to smoke or not. Our states are demanding the right to tell us how fast we can drive, what safety devices we MUST use, and how we must dress for certain activities. These are impositions that our forefathers would have fought tooth and nail.

We are smaller men now and that is the true cause of America's loss of greatness. We, the people, no longer feel the urge for greatness. We've been brainwashed into believing that it is enough to be OK. We've bought in to the notion that excellence is somehow suspect, that folks who achieve more must have cheated, or been helped, or exploited others who were less fortunate. We resent their success because it points out our failures, and so rather than emulate them and achieve our own success, we rationalize away their success, and rejoice when they fall.

We have become a small minded people choosing small minded men to represent us.

And the future is bleak, my friends. If a Jefferson,a Franklin, a Lincoln were to appear today, he wouldn't get elected dog catcher. If JFK gave his "Ask not what your country can do for you.." speech today, he might face impeachment proceedings from his own party. Is there a Patrick Henry among us today, a leader who can rouse the common man and reignite America's promise?

And if there is such a man, will we respond?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Aaron Sorkin:  Reality is Great, Especially When you Can Fake It

I was watching Studio 60 tonight, and I couldn't help noticing that according to Aaron Sorkin and company, there's no difference between a soldier uttering an expletive during a newscast because of an attack and a "singer" intentionally ripping a woman's clothing off during a televised sporting event.

If he really wanted to make a point about how courageous his crusading liberal characters are, he could have had Jack Rudolph defending Simon Styles for ripping off Harriet Hayes' bra during the news segment. I guess he felt that wasn't a compelling storyline.

But what can you really expect from a guy who made up a show about how wonderful a Bill Clinton presidency might have been if Bill Clinton hadn't been been, well, Bill Clinton.

Posted by Rich
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BlogFest Details

OK, here are the details for the next BlogFest
Where: Calhoun's on Kingston Pike at I-140
When: Saturday, February 10 starting at 5:00PM
Who: Everybody
Why: Because.

See you there!

Posted by Rich
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Monday, January 22, 2007

It’sThat Time Again!

OK folks, time for another blog fest. I'm thinking of holding it February 10th to avoid Super Bowl conflicts.

I've been requested to move the bash out to the west for a change, and someplace a little more family friendly.

Any suggestions?

Posted by Rich
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So, You’re Against President Bush’s Policy in Iraq.


What are you basing your opposition on? Here's a few questions that anyone who wants to hod an intelligent informed opinion should be able to answer easily.

  1. What's the difference between a Shia and a Sunni Muslim?
  2. What is Wahabbi Islam?
  3. What is the majority in Iraq, Sunni or Shia?
  4. Which was Saddam Hussein and his riuling Ba'ath party?
  5. Which flavor of Islam dominates Iran?
  6. Who is Muqtada al Sadr?
  7. Are the militias running about in Iraq Shia or Sunni?
  8. Are the Kurds Muslims?
  9. Who is Nouri al Maliki?
  10. Is he Sunni or Shia?
  11. Who is Abdul Aziz al Hakim?
  12. What is Sharia?
  13. Define dhimmi.
  14. What are America's stated goals in Iraq?
  15. What are the difficulties facing us in reaching those goals?
  16. How does the current strategic proposals enable the US to meet those goals?

If you can answer these questions, then you are qualified to hold an opinion on the relative merits and weaknesses of the Bush administrations approach in Iraq. If you can't, your opinion, whether for or against, is codswallop.

But don't feel bad; you're in good company. The new Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee can't answer most of these questions either.

By the way, the first 14 questions can be answered in less than an hour using your favorite search engine. The last two require a little more effort and logical analysis, but for anyone who hasn't rotted their brain with 4 years of institutionalization, it shouldn't prove to be too difficult.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, January 19, 2007

A Newspaper Blog that is Actually Blogging!

I always knew that Michael Silence was one of the ones who got it. He's understood the nature of blogging for quite awhile now; he's even gone through the inevitable, "Why am I doing this?" phase that strikes all of us. Apparently Jack McElroy also gets it. Not only did he open up his newsroom to me, but now he's using Micheal's blog as a way to post all the latest buzz about the Knox County term limited officials and their potential replacements.

It's no real surprise to us; it's what we do all the time. But I want to point out that it is a major shift in style for a newspaper to do what we do. The KNS is adapting to the new news cycle, where stories won't wait 24 hours for updates. And that's a good thing if they want to survive.

On the other hand, it's also a shift in content and standards as well, as Dave Keim makes clear in one of his posts:
Our editor, Jack McElroy, suggested using Michael's blog to keep folks abreast of the latest buzz about who's being mentioned to replace term-limited officeholders. I've been posting much of what we hear. We're also posting updates to as we get firmer confirmation and details, with reporters Rebecca Ferrar and Scott Barker primarily working the story.

In other words, they're using Michael's blog to post information that doesn't meet the standards for publication in the paper. It's either unconfirmed, or there aren't enough details to back putting the story in the paper or on the news portions of the KNS website.

But it's good enough for blog fodder.

That gives me an uneasy feeling. It's great to have the information flowing so freely, but I don't like seeing the blog used as a sort of ghetto for information that doesn't quite cut the mustard for publication. If you're going to make No Silence Here the go to source for all things related to this story, in order to maintain credibility, the you should follow the same standards there as you require for the rest of the newspaper.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, January 18, 2007

An Easy Way to Lower your Blood Pressure

Have a grandchild fall asleep on your shoulder.

Just in case you wondered about the light blogging...

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Boy, I was WAY off!

I predicted a Florida win, but only by 6 points. Even so, most people thought I was nuts.

Not anymore. It just goes to show you what a team can do when properly motivated and coached. Of course, the SEC does have a way of making Heisman Trophy winners look bad (Vinny Testaverde and Eddie George spring to mind.) so Troy Smith shouldn't feel too badly, although I don't see how he can feel good about less than 90 yards offense for the entire freakin' game!

Florida played a beautiful game of football tonight, totally demolishing the myth of the Big 10. IN the second half, the Gators went to a ball control ground and pound style of offense that should have given the advantage to OSU, but the Gators were able to beat the Buckeyes at their own game, and ground away 30 minutes of clock time without ever letting OSU mount a scoring threat.

I'll celebrate an SEC National Championship for the rest of the week, then it'll be time to get back to hating Florida. But until then, well done Florida!

Posted by Rich
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Monday, January 08, 2007

Monstrous Beat

This is the first bad beat story I've ever posted, and if I'm really really lucky, it will be the only one.

But I'm not gonna hold my breath on that one.

I was playing in a freeroll tournament online, and we were in the 4th level. Blinds were 50/100 and I was the small blind.

I got A 4c. The 2 players in early position folded, the next guy called, 1 more folded the next guy called and the dealer folded. I completed, then the BB raised it 200. It was called around and we went to a 4 way flop.

The flop came 4h 4d Jd, giving me a very sneaky set with an ace kicker. I checked, BB bet out 1000. Middle caller folded, late player and I both called. I was thinking that BB may have had jacks for a higher set, given the pre-flop raise.

The turn came Ad, giving me a full house fours full of aces, and putting a possible flush on the board.

I saw dollar signs, baby!

Meanwhile, BB had the late guy on tilt from an earlier beat, so I was counting on that distraction to help me disguise my monster.

I checked, BB checked, and late man went all in declaring he had trips. Since he was on tilt, I figured he was telling the truth, and he had the other 4. I called, putting me all in as did the BB, who had us both covered. BB had KcKd giving him 2 pair and 4 to a flush, both hands I had beat. Late man had 3 fours and that was it. If he caught an ace, we would chop. BB needed a K to beat me on the river.

HE CAUGHT THE %^*(&^$%$!!

I'm not very happy right now, but I did manage not to throw my laptop across the room, so if you think about it, in a way, I'm up about 800 bucks.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Wecome Back, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! etc etc etc

The holidays are over, and as you can tell from my first post back, I'm in a peachy mood and filled with optimism, peace, joy, and love for my fellow man.

Or maybe it's just gas from the eggnog.

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays as much or more than I did, although as presents go, it's hard to beat a beautiful grandson. I'm quickly discovering the joys of grandpappyhood, chief among them being the ability to pass Mason off to his mother for required maintenance. It's like being able to afford to take your new car to the dealership instead of trying to change the oil yourself.

More good news; we don't have to listen anymore to Michigan fans whine about not being allowed to lose to Ohio State again, thanks to USC. On the downside, the SEC is 0-2 against the Big 10, who by the way still haven't figured out how that 10 + 1 is not 10 anymore, which means we'll have to listen to ESPN brag for another year.

The Muslims showed their ecumenicalism by giving the world a Christmas gift when they sent Saddam Hussein off to meet Allah in person. You know, as much aid as we're giving them, they could pay a little bit back by teaching us how to make death row a short stay facility, instead of a rent controlled condo.

Today we learn that there's an investigation being launched because some of the men guarding Hussein may have taunted him as they lead him to the gallows. Obviously this is a problem, because Hussein should have been treated with all the humanity and respect he deserved. Unfortunately, feeding him toes first into a wood chipper was ruled out as being cruel and inhumane.

Gerald Ford achieved a greatness in death that he was never granted in life. It's odd how a man who during his life was remembered only for falling down a flight of stairs is suddenly one of the greatest president who ever lived. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but does it creep anybody else out how much the Democrats are fawning over a President who really was selected, not elected?

James Brown died, and I'm sure his last words were "Good God!"

I went to see the Rocky movie and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn't planning on going, but the buzz was strong enough I decided to check out a matinée, and I'm glad I did. I'm not going to do a big review, but I will say that the name of the movie should have been called Adrien.

The Democrats are now saying that in the spirit of bipartisanship, they're going to let the Republicans take the first few weeks of the next session of Congress off while they ram their agenda down America's throat pass the measures that are most desperately needed to strengthen our country. Like federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

And global warming has gotten so bad that we're now airlifting hay to feed cows in Kansas because they're snowed in.

So, did you miss me?

Posted by Rich
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A Tale of Two Teams

The Vols came out flat and flaccid, and played like they couldn't care less.

On the other hand, the Boise State Broncos played with fire, passion, and fun.

Guess which team won their game?

I was going to write more about the Vols, but why should I try harder than they did?

Posted by Rich
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