Night Owl Mk. II

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Boldfaced statements are parts of the original essay (or a subsequent reply) to which the respondent has directed his comments.

Italicized/emphasized comments prefaced by (R) are those of the respondent and are presented unedited.

My replies appear under the respondent's comments in blue text and are prefaced by my initials (MB).

This is the first of a three-part reply. Select the "Go to next reply" link at the end of each part to read the next part of the reply.

This can't be extrapolated into a general statement that marijuana (or other drug) use can be portrayed as "victimless".
(R) my intent here was not to extrapolate any such statement. What I was attempting to say here, and corroborate with the reasoning later in the response, was that "victimlessness" does not meet any acceptable standard for deciding the issue. Victimlessness (or non-victimlessness) as applied to individual acts (like my example) must be applied case by case, and cannot tell us about whether an action should be banned for all or not. Nor, as you say, can it tell us that an action should be acceptable for all or not. Thus the "victimlessness" (god, that's an unwieldy word!) status of an act doesn't help us at all.
(MB) Whether or not some activity or behavior can be classified as "victimless" must be decided by the combination of the likelihood of causing damage to others and the severity of the potential damage. If a substantial number of people cannot engage in the activity in question in a manner that will guarantee the safety of others, it makes little sense to classify that activity as "victimless" only because there are a few who might do it safely and responsibly. In these cases, it is reasonable to either regulate or criminalize the activity based upon the concern for the general welfare of the public.

(R) This is admittedly a re-statement of a large part of my first argument; I assure you we'll head off in some new directions as we proceed. However, the reason I made this point (and make it again here) is to counter the assertion in your original essay that drug use (generally) is not "victimless", by way of supporting its prohibition. You can't anymore claim that than I could if I did say drug use WAS victimless. Which I did not. Small and entirely conceptual distinction, sure, but fine distinctions are the currency in which precisely reasoned arguments truck.
(MB) The only problem here is that the available evidence would seem to side with my view. I realize that you may well be a safe and responsible individual, but you are in the minority. Heck, I know how to handle fireworks safely, but still must respect the fact that they are illegal for personal use here in Georgia because there are so many who can't use them responsibly and cause much injury and damage to themselves and others in the process.

I don't drink and I won't attempt to defend the overuse or misuse of alcohol. That being said, there is clear evidence that alcohol can be used safely in small to moderate amounts (what is often euphemistically called "social drinking").
(R) Oh boy, here we go. This claim is advanced by people defending the current traditionally-supported but, to some, inequitable state of affairs re alcohol and marijuana. I would ask you this: can you present any clear evidence that marijuana CANNOT be used safely in small to moderate amounts?
(MB) Yes. There is compelling medical evidence that marijuana smoking is more harmful than cigarette smoking. In addition, the main active chemical in marijuana produces has hallucinative effect when used in any amount. The human body is capable of dealing with small amounts of alcohol without deleterious or permanent effect. The same does not happen with the THC in marijuana.
    Now, to anticipate a point, let me say that I believe that alcohol would also be a banned substance if it had just been invented or popularized this century. But, the fact that it's not likely to happen given the history and social impact of alcohol over the eons is no support for making any other substance legal. Marijuana will have to be defended on its own merits.

(R) (I know you have a later assertion against comparing the two; don't worry about rebutting this with that angle now, I'll examine that later on in this response).
(MB) Saying that marijuana should be legal because alcohol is legal is a common argument that really does little more than say that "two wrongs make a right". Like I said, marijuana and the use of it will need to be defended on their own.

(R) At least from my experience, I have never seen any good evidence that smoking pot (in moderation, as "social drinkers" use alcohol) has any material negative consequences.
(MB) It would seem, then, that you are familiar with that evidence but just choose not to accept it. Perhaps you could state some of this evidence and explain why you don't agree with it?

(R) Excuse me if I seem to be calling you predictable here, but your next argument will go rather like this:
(MB) If using the available evidence is being "predictable", then I guess I'll have to plead guilty...*grin*

(R) 1) The substantive difference here is that social drinkers do not drink to get drunk, while marijuana users indulge for no other reason than to get high.
(MB) One could disprove this statement by demonstrating that marijuana users would continue to smoke it in similar quantities if the THC was removed. I rather doubt that many users would pay the street price for marijuana if there was no chance of getting high from it.

(R) 2) Being high or drunk, among other things, means that the user's judgment is impaired.
(MB) I think this is beyond doubt.

(R) 3) Impaired judgment is a negative consequence; its potential for creating acts of harm to others outweighs the superficial and self-centered state of "fun" or any other benefits that may (or may not) be derived by the user at the time...
(MB) Again, I think that it is very difficult to argue otherwise.

(R) ..., ergo 4) The consequences of marijuana use are negative on balance, and it is the government's obligation to protect the larger society from its negative consequences.
(MB) Since the government has a vested interest in protecting the general welfare of the population, it is reasonable for it to enact any legislation that attempts to do just that.

(R) Did I get that right? Okay, let's hammer on it a bit:
(MB) I have no objection to the points as stated. Let's see where you'll go from here...

(R) Problems with 1) above: Intoxication is a continuum. One beer doesn't affect most people mentally very much (although its relaxant qualities are present even at this level; how else to explain the prevalence of the one drink after a hard day at work?); three has significant effects on judgment in some, but not others; six can light up a lot of folks; twelve likely will cause a session of devout prayer to the porcelain deity, among other consequences.
(MB) Of course. Since people are not identical, different amounts of any substance with have different effects. Laws restricting such substances, therefore, must be based on the average effect of the use of specific amounts on the majority of people. No such law will be a perfect solution. The best that can be done is to address the majority of cases.

(R) One cannot absolutely draw a line where social drinking (which doesn't wish for significant mental alteration) ends and heavier drinking (which does) begins, or make a clear moral distinction between the two (unless we're comparing one person with one glass of wine in their system against another with three bottles in the tank, say).
(MB) Actually, such lines can be drawn even if they might be a bit fuzzy at the edges. Numerous medical studies have measured the effect of alcohol in the body (both for raw amounts and rate of consumption) and have established a BAC (blood alcohol content) percentage that is used as the basis for legal intoxication. Because of this, it could be stated as a rule of thumb that "social drinking" will not raise one's BAC to the level considered to be legally intoxicated.

(R) If the euphemistic "social drinking" is what it says it is, drinkers should have absolutely no problem ingesting non-alcoholic wines and beers. These products have been around for years and years and have not built up any significant sales (or, more importantly for the "social" aspect, gained any serious social acceptance), while the regular stuff is a multi-billion dollar industry.
(MB) I agree completely. One big obstacle against wider acceptance of non-alcoholic beverages is that men don't consider them "manly". The advertising used for them doesn't help much, either. Ads for non-alcoholic beers rarely do more than stress responsible drinking while ads for "regular" beers feature all sorts of macho-type activities.

(R) This is the exact counterpart to your statement about marijuana users not smoking hemp which doesn't contain THC, and the "taste" issue is a canard assuredly, but a canard on both sides of the fence.
(MB) Actually, the two are not exact counterparts because of the patterns of usage of alcohol and marijuana. The question of smoking THC-free marijuana is an important one. Is there any reason to believe that marijuana would be popular if it didn't get you high?
    I agree that taste is a trivial issue, but consider that marijuana is not cross-bred to improve its taste while the taste of beer is a major component of its appeal -- or, at least, of the choice between brands.

(R) Rather comparably, most marijuana "intoxication" is mild; there is a reason why it is referred to as a "soft" drug.
(MB) Once one is already intoxicated, the level of intoxication just makes a bad situation worse. If one is "not very drunk", he is still drunk and is still suffering from the concurrent effects.

(R) At least in my body (and I have no medical evidence to support the belief that I'm unusual in this regard), smoking one joint produces mental impairment maybe equivalent to two beers (although the effects are different, so it's hard to say what the right number is; it's certainly not more than that; and it ABSOLUTELY is not a ratio-scalable comparison, due to the diminshing returns principle I'll discuss in a sec.)
(MB) Two beers are enough to raise the BAC of many people to a state of legal intoxication if they are consumed over a short period of time and whether or not they were consumed "socially" or privately. If one joint is capable of doing that, it's difficult to say that marijuana can be used without deleterious effect.

(R) Using the same logic employed to justify the moral superiority of "social drinking", my smoking one joint should qualify as "social smoking" (the only type of smoking in which I ever indulge, anymore).
(MB) I didn't say (or mean to imply) that social drinking is "morally superior" to using marijuana. I said only that alcohol can be used without deleterious effect.

(R) The only differences in severity, really, reside at the immoderate level of use.
(MB) As I said before, once one becomes intoxicated, getting more intoxicated just makes a bad situation worse. It's hard to claim the moral high ground by saying, "I'm not as stoned as you are"...*grin*

(R) Marijuana, pharmacologically, has a rather severe principle of "diminishing returns". If I smoke four fat joints by myself (I would be totally stoned if I did so), and decided to smoke a fifth, I would not get much more intoxicant effect. I might get a little sleepier, but I was already pretty sleepy after the fourth one. However, we hear often from folks regretting their current discomfort due to alcohol overuse: "Had one too many". For good reason; that fifth tequila shot will affect you profoundly, nearly as profoundly as the third or fourth. Alcohol's diminishing returns principle waits an awful long time to kick in.
(MB) This is due to the fact that alcohol and THC affect the body differently. Alcohol content builds up in the blood the more one drinks and is absorbed into and affects the body proportionately to the amount that is consumed. Since THC primarily affects the brain, once a synapse or endorphin receptor is affected, it's affected. It really can't be affected "more". Once enough of them are shut down or short-circuited, the brain can't even function properly and pretty much shuts the body down (which you feel as "getting sleepy").
    What you call the "diminishing returns principle" is nothing more than the level of intoxication that the user's body/brain can stand. Obviously, everybody has their own level.

(R) The "diminishing returns" principle of a substance is a safeguard, obviously; the best evidence of marijuana's remarkable diminution of cumulative impairment is found in the fact that there are no verified cases of death due to marijuana overdose.
(MB) That's most likely because the brain shuts down and prevents the smoker from ingesting enough THC to kill himself. This can hardly be upheld as a "good point" of using marijuana, however.

(R) (I am aware, as I hope you would be, that every once in a while we see a list of the numbers of drug-induced deaths which include marijuana at high levels. This is absolutely disingenuous; the figures that appear there are derived by including every drug in the system of the overdoser at the time. Thus, if some fool smoked a joint and then ingested a gigantic and fatal dose of heroin, both marijuana and heroin are credited (?) as causing the death. Which clearly is not the case.)
(MB) Agreed. There are dubious data on both sides of the argument. Marijuana's direct contribution to the death of the user is in the same manner that smoking cigarettes contributes to the death of the smoker.

(R) To sum up this section: 1) above (I realize I've stated "what you're going to argue"; you could conceivably run me around a tree on that point, but you've argued in favor of all four statements above in the past.),...
(MB) Of course. One must always include the standard arguments, although I wouldn't state them if I knew that any of them had conclusive refutations.

(R) ...anyway, 1) above states that there is a substantive difference between social drinking and (any) marijuana smoking. For the reasons I've just outlined, there is not.
(MB) I hope I've been able to point out some of the differences.

(R) Alcohol is a drug; the rehab kooks are wrong on lots of things, but they have that right. It produces a profound change in perception and faculties, as other drugs do. That it's legal is a meaningless distinction, unless you're discussing the morality of breaking laws (which we are not doing).
(MB) I agree that alcohol is a drug. However, like all drugs, its effects are proportional to the amount used. That must be considered in any comparison of one substance vs. another.

(R) Your "drugs vs. Drugs" distinction is entirely semantic, an artifice, loaded to help prove your point. You wouldn't let me get away with that sort of thing; I won't let you get away with it either.
(MB) Call it "semantic" if you wish, but there's no reason to say that all substances are equal. My distinction between "drugs" and "Drugs" is primarily one of whether or not a given substance can be used in small or moderate amounts without deleterious effect. Thus, in the parlance of my essay, alcohol and caffeine are "drugs" while marijuana and crack are "Drugs". This does not say that "drugs" are "good".

(R) 2) "Being high or drunk means that the user's judgment is impaired". Literally true; well, at least literally true that judgment is affected. I can think of cases where, say, drinking one beer might HELP one's judgment: for example, a person who is needlessly anxious in a social situation might be sufficiently loosened up by a beer to realize his anxiety is groundless, or at least not to mindlessly obey the faulty logic that created the anxiety.
(MB) Anxiety is not a matter of judgment. Indeed, in your example, "loosening up" may well involve turning off one's natural defense mechanisms (in other words, his "better judgment"). Sure, the result might be favorable, but it's not a matter of judgment like the decision whether or not to drive after a little too much "loosening up".

(R) No, it doesn't solve the problem, but we still take medicine when we have a cold, even though the medicine does not "cure" the cold.
(MB) Correct, but a cold is a physical problem, while your example is a matter of psychology or logic. Incidentally, I never take cold medicine since I know that it actually inhibits your body's natural defenses for the sake of alleviating some symptoms. Not coincidentally, I rarely ever have a cold that lasts more than two days while most of my friends pop loads of pills and end up suffering for two weeks.

(R) Pain relief (physical or emotional) is a legitimate benefit of drugs (cold medicines, Prozac, or marijuana).
(MB) Isn't this something you chided me for doing earlier? Certainly, you won't try to argue that pain relief is a primary reason for smoking pot! There are also far more effective, non-hallucinative, and non-addictive ways of alleviating pain. Why does the marijuana lobby argue that it should be legal because of its supposed pain relief qualities yet balk at any concurrent requirements that a doctor's prescription be required?

(R) Relaxation, social comfort, stress relief, relief from the symptoms of depression or illness...drugs do provide these good things for many people.
(MB) So do such other things as massages, meditation, group therapy, and natural remedies.

(R) That's an aside; we're talking about significant impairment. Again, we recognize "the continuum of intoxication", from sober to slightly buzzed to high to tipsy to drunken to plastered to unconscious. At what point does the impairment resulting from drug use become significant or material?
(MB) We've already discussed the medical determination of BAC levels for alcohol. Certainly, you must agree that there is *some* level beyond which intoxication becomes significant, right? Legal BAC levels might not be perfect. They might even be too low. But, if one considers the rationale for them, wouldn't you agree that it is better to be on the strict and conservative side?

(R) Most people can make decisions just fine while slightly buzzed, say. And as you say (I copy from one of your replies here): No two people react in the same way (to a substance). Where can we draw the line separating "not enough impairment to worry about" from "impairment of a degree we should worry about"? We can't read minds; we can only judge by the consequences of the acts of the person (sober or blitzed). Which, again, will be different for everyone.
(MB) Again, the laws for intoxication are based upon averages for the majority. Our legal system draws arbitrary lines for all sorts of things. There's another common argument about whether or not 18 should be the "age of adulthood". For some it is, for some it isn't, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere. A mature 16-year old doesn't invalidate the line any more than an immature 26-year old does. The line is one that works for the majority.
    Levels of legal intoxication are similarly drawn. Some people are still lucid at BAC levels twice the legal limit while others are absolutely bombed at 0.05%. Clearly, no perfect line can be drawn, but it should also be clear that some line should be drawn as a preventative measure.

(R) 3) Impaired judgment is a negative consequence etc...well, yes, it is, whether self-inflicted or inflicted externally (as in the case of retardation, say).
(MB) This is a disingenuous argument unless you're trying to claim that voluntary intoxication and retardation are equivalent. In any case, I doubt you'll find any state that will allow a severely retarded person to drive, for example, if his handicap prevents him from doing so safely.

(R) This does not lead us to conclude, however, that in all cases (or even the majority of cases) the negative of impaired judgment outweighs the benefits to the user.
(MB) I can't imagine any personal benefit of intoxication that outweighs a negative impact that might be caused to another person.

(R) Contrary to the beliefs of many people who have little or no familiarity with drugs, most people, even severely impaired, do not turn into evil monsters;
(MB) You don't have to be "evil" in order to cause harm to others through impaired judgment brought on by drug use. Certainly, it can't be said that drunk drivers are "evil". But, we also have a vested interest in preventing drunk driving because of the unquestioned potential for harm associated with it.

(R) ...most of the people on any given day that get drunk or stoned don't hurt anyone else. Like normal, they have their fun responsibly, mind their business, and go home and go to bed.
(MB) I agree. However, it only takes once, and the more one gets drunk or stoned, the more likely he is to eventually hurt somebody else. The victim certainly won't have much sympathy for the fact that the person who injured him "did his thing" safely any number of times in the past. That one tragic time carries much more weight than any number of safe uses.

(R) There are cases to the contrary, to be sure, and the more often and heavily a person uses, the more likely he is to be involved in some negative act resulting from impaired judgment. But that's an argument about moderation, not drug use itself.
(MB) In the previous paragraph, you referred to "getting drunk or stoned". Now, you're speaking about moderation. The two are mutually-exclusive.

(R) And by the way, the oft-proffered example of the girl who drank too much and slept with someone she shouldn't have? I would think her inhibitions weren't all that ironclad in the first place, frankly, and she's attempting to blame her mistakes on a common liquid rather than admitting that she's either a slut, or at least gullible and naive, deep down act of rationalization, totally.
(MB) Is this an example of somebody's judgment being "improved" by the use of one's preferred substance? I'm afraid that I find your conclusion somewhat disturbing here. Abuse of an intoxicating substance tends to remove the normal inhibitions that are an integral part of everybody's natural defense mechanisms. Therefore, one may well do things "under the influence" that they would never consider while fully sober. That is not an indictment of the individual's morals or convictions. In the case of the girl in your example, since sex is such a basic and primal instinct, the removal of inhibitions should well be expected to allow that instinct to be acted upon. Why do you think that it's such a popular macho barbarism to "get her drunk" if a guy want to "score" with his date?

(R) 4) The proposition that marijuana use is on balance negative largely rests on your assertion that there are no worthy positive consequences to counter-balance it. Is the act of making yourself feel better by altering your brain chemistry inherently immoral?
(MB) Immoral? It's not an issue of "morality". It's an issue of common sense. You're also making the invalid assumption that "feeling better" is the only effect of one's altered brain chemistry. It's also a rather nebulous term. What exact kind(s) of "feeling better" is being achieved and is it a real thing or an artifact produced by the real intoxication produced by the use of the substance? Also, is there no other non-intoxicating way of "feeling better"?

(R) Some would say yes, but that argument gets stretched real thin. What about Prozac and the like, which affect your brain chemistry quite profoundly (though over a longer period of time)?
(MB) Prozac and the like are prescription drugs and are not legal for use without a doctor's prescription. One can also become addicted to such drugs if used improperly. Also, laws against such things as driving while impaired also cover the effects of prescription drugs.

(R) Or eating chocolate to boost your mood when you're feeling heartsick and feel like doing something for yourself?
(MB) Chocolate contains an enzyme that is similar to endorphines. However, the amount is insufficient to cause intoxication. If that was not so, the use of chocolate would likely also be restricted or outlawed.

(R) Or administering anesthetics in surgery, for that matter?
(MB) I don't think that the merits of surgical anesthesia even need to be discussed.

(R) "Escapist" behaviors are not at all necessarily bad; they're often helpful to many people (including myself, at times) to feel recharged enough to do greater good in their world.
(MB) I think it's a major stretch to parallel marijuana use with such things as bungee jumping. Whatever the effects of marijuana might be for you, I seriously doubt that an adrenaline rush is one of them. On the contrary, its touted merits for "relaxation" would be the exact opposite of the effects of activities that produce an adrenaline rush. BTW, do you seriously believe that marijuana use enables you to do "greater good"?

(R) As to the argument that drug users are by and large non-productive members of society, I would agree that most immoderate drug users are (definitely including alcoholics). Again, the distinction made here concerns moderation. There is no evidence that moderate use of drugs (which is very possible) is a severe societal problem.
(MB) That's why it is considered "moderate" use. However, because some substances can be used in moderation does not mean that all can.

(R) And since the government cannot practically enforce a law mandating moderation (what's moderate is different for everyone, anyway), the only choice it has is either to ban the practice altogether, or allow the practice (while continuing to punish tort acts by people under the influence or not, allowing no excuses - as it currently does regarding alcohol).
(MB) Of course, drawing lines that divide "moderate" from "immoderate" use assumes that the substance in question can be used in those differing ways. The current laws regarding alcohol abuse effectively establish that alcohol can be safely consumed at a rate of one drink per hour. Since you have previously equated the effect of smoking one joint as being roughly equal to drinking two beers, and since I doubt that it takes you one hour to smoke one joint, this suggests that smoking that single joint would produce an effect equivalent to consuming alcohol at a rate that would produce legal intoxication.

(R) (Quick note: when I say "allow the practice" I am referring to allowing the practice for adults with capacity. Our society very rightly seeks to protect children, as we acknowledge that they don't have the faculties to make decisions about adult issues like sex and drugs for themselves. The 18 rules (for sex) or 21 rules (for alcohol) in this country are arbitrary, but there isn't another practical way to do that.)
(MB) At least we agree on this...*grin*

(R) Ah, a breather...
(MB) Not bad so far. Let's see where else we'll go...

(R) A bit about where the burden of proof resides here. I think you're probably already correct about this, but I'd like to make sure. You articulated well in one of the "evolution/creation" responses about the need for the positive claim (i.e. the existence of God, or the Great Green Arkleseizure) to be proven, as a negative claim cannot be proven (no one can prove the GGA didn't create everything, say). It is easy to assume that the advocates of legalization (as they advocate a change in the status quo) have the positive claim. Not so; our government is predicated on individual freedom as the presumptive situation. That's not to say that that freedom is total, that we should have anarchy; your swinging fist allegory is legit. But, the presumption being that of individual freedom, it's on the government to show why any specific act should be banned.
(MB) The Preamble to the Constitution says nothing about individual freedom, but it does explicitly mention insuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare. It is, therefore, clear that society, in general, is more important than the whims of any particular individual. Individual freedoms are protected, of course, but not when they would conflict with the needs and welfare of the general public.
    You are correct in saying that the government must show why any specific act should be banned. However, once that act *has* been banned, the burden of proof shifts to those who wish to overturn the standing law. While the marijuana advocates have succeeded in softening some laws, they haven't yet succeeded in showing why its use should be entirely legalized.

(R) In many cases, that's easy; we have laws against rape and murder because they hurt other people very directly and very severely.
(MB) Without question.

(R) I don't believe the government (or anyone else) has proven that allowing people the choice in what to put in their bodies and what not to has been (or would be) permitting us to hurt each other.
(MB) This is clearly incorrect. If the previous history of the effects of marijuana use had been neutral or beneficial, it would not be illegal. I think that there's some idea that the ban on marijuana is purely arbitrary. There are certainly enough research assets in this country to conclusively establish the harmlessness, benefits, or benign nature of marijuana -- if they existed. That's where the battle will have to be won. No amount of "let me have my fun" pleas will stand any chance of changing anything.

(R) The laws against tort crimes remain, whether the perpetrator is sober or high as a kite - as it should be.
(MB) Agreed. The crime should always be punished. But, if we abhor the crimes, why not also attempt to restrict or criminalize things that demonstrably increases the probability that the crime will be committed if it can't be shown that there is no corresponding and greater benefits to be gained from those things?

(R) The tort crime laws are not a gray area - if I rape somebody, I have directly and materially injured them with no possible justification for such a wanton act of evil. But in the gray areas, the burden of proof resides with those who want to forbid us a practice (if there's no positive act of the legislature producing a law against doing a thing, it's legal to do it.) or to continue an existing ban.
(MB) Again, this smacks of a belief that laws against marijuana are purely arbitrary in nature. There's quite enough evidence that has been presented in the numerous legal debates on marijuana laws to put that notion to rest.

(R) Speaking of weighing effects, the existence of drug prohibition has negative consequences also; it creates a huge black-market which the government cannot regulate even if it needs to, and which benefits the worst elements of our society as all black markets do.
(MB) *Anything* that has value to somebody and which the government has made illegal will foster the development of a black market to supply it. Money talks, and *somebody* will listen. The only way to eliminate black markets is to make *everything* legal. I doubt you'll advocate doing that.

(R) Its selective enforcement needlessly harasses (and steals money and possessions from, through our grotesquely abusive system of asset forfeiture laws) innocent people who haven't hurt anyone.
(MB) "Selective enforcement"? Why should the laws against marijuana be enforced any differently from the laws banning anything else? If you are guilty, you are subject to the prescribed legal penalties. It doesn't get much simpler than that.

(R) Worst of all in my opinion, it represents a lack of progress, a turning away from realizing our dream of a nation of free men.
(MB) You are still a "free man" even though you can't do everything that might appeal to you. The country does not become a "police state" because the laws are enforced.

(R) Not to say "totally" free; we should not be free to rape each other, or shout "Fire!" in a crowded "God hates fags" rally. (Well, that might be okay.)
(MB) *grin*

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