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Obituaries: Having the final word

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1.  Big Moon signs on for big challenge

Tugboats pull a barge containing the OpenHydro turbine into position near Parrsboro Nova Scotia on Thursday 12th November 2009. Cape Split is in the background.  Big Moon Canada is now testing a prototype turbine in the Bay of Fundy. (CNS/Len Wagg)

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

A tidal energy company that has spent the past two years testing a prototype turbine in the Bay of Fundy near Cape Split is stepping up to take on an even bigger challenge. The Nova Scotia Department of Energy has awarded Big Moon Canada the last available berth at the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) demonstration site on the other side of the bay near Parrsboro.

The berth was vacated a couple of years ago by Open Hydro and Emera after they deployed a massive 10-storey turbine to the ocean floor just days before Open Hydro’s parent company pulled the plug on the venture.

The Open Hydro turbine is not operating and its impact on the marine environment is being monitored by FORCE. The Department of Energy has estimated the abandoned turbine will cost about $4.5 million to retrieve. As a condition of being permitted to lease the former Open Hydro berth to test its tidal technology, the province says Big Moon has put up a security deposit of $4.5 million. The company has until the end of 2024 to remove Open Hydro’s turbine.

Big Moon’s plans for the demonstration site near Parrsboro include testing eight in-stream turbines that will generate 4 MW of electricity. If successful — and that’s a huge IF — the payoff for Big Moon is a 15-year contract with Nova Scotia Power to buy its tidal energy for $475/MWh. That’s less than the $530/MWh other berth-holders had previously negotiated but still about six times higher than the average paid by Nova Scotia Power for other kinds of fuel.

The financing behind Big Moon Canada appears to be associated with principal Lynn Blodgett, a former Xerox Corp executive in the United States. Meanwhile, Big Moon is continuing to work on engineering to produce its first grid-connected tidal power from its current test site near Cape Split. Two years ago, the company signed a contract to produce 5 MW of tidal energy at that site for $350/MWh. The Project is still in its prototype or demonstration phase. Big Moon is currently looking for a fabricator to build the in-stream turbines so it can begin to produce commercial power at the Cape Split site. That contract with NS Power also lasts for 15 years.

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2. The practice of “bad medicine”

A photo of Martha Paynter

Martha Paynter

Martha Paynter — a registered nurse, a PhD Candidate in the Dalhousie University School of Nursing, and the chair of Women’s Wellness Within — writes about the “bad medicine” by health care providers, who are “abdicating their professional responsibilities.”

Paynter’s commentary starts with the story of Jacob Blake, who was shot in the back seven times, and then handcuffed to his hospital bed.

But these practices happen in Nova Scotia, too. As Paynter writes:

This is not a horrific practice unique to Wisconsin, or the United States. This happens in Canadian hospitals too. Four years ago, we protested the shackling of Fliss Cramman while she recovered from major abdominal surgery at the General Hospital in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The mother of four was facing deportation over a technicality. At the time, the province’s then Minister of Justice Diana Whalen said, “It sounded like we had gone a little too far.”

Indeed. Cramman’s shackles were removed. Her deportation was stayed.

Paynter tells us about the The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Mandela Rules, which provide international guidance on health care for prisoners, yet aren’t often taught in professional health programs in Canada, and aren’t officially enacted nor are they legally binding here.

Click here to read Paynter’s full commentary.

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3. Social workers say the Abdis’ story underscores need for a child and youth advocate

Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, says the province needs an independent child and youth advocate. Photo: NSCSS

Yvette d’Entremont talks with Alec Stratford, executive director of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers, who says the province needs an independent child and youth advocate. Stratford was responding to the stories of abuse shared by Fatouma and Abdoul Adbi. The Examiner published two stories about them yesterday. The first story by Tim Bousquet concerns the lawsuit filed by the Abdi sibilings against the province of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. And in the second story, Fatouma Abdi tells El Jones about the abuse and how the system failed her and her brother.

Stratford says there are more of those stories from the child welfare system in Nova Scotia.

A child and youth advocate office is a clear policy point that we know would drastically improve the accountability, transparency and overall effectiveness of our overall child welfare system.

We’ve continued to see the development of a child and youth advocacy office brushed aside and not taken seriously by this province, and that’s what struck us about the stories. There is a clear need and a clear use and a clear call for having an independent child and youth advocate office.

Nova Scotia and Ontario are the only provinces without such an advocate for children and youth. Ontario did have an advocate until last year when the position was cut by Premier Doug Ford.

Click here to read d’Entremont’s entire story.

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4. Province breaks commitment to publish results of schools’ lead testing, union raises concerns about availability of drinking water

A water fountain. Photo: Unsplash/Daniel Hooper

Students are heading back to school on Tuesday and some parents are being told they have to send their kids to school with bottles of water. As Zane Woodford reports, the province still hasn’t proven drinking water in Nova Scotia’s schools isn’t contaminated with lead, even though there was a commitment last year to test the water at every school.

As Woodford reports:

Until last fall, drinking water in most public schools in Nova Scotia had never been tested for lead — a neurotoxin that’s particularly dangerous for children, linked to behavioural issues including decreased IQ and ADHD.

Schools on municipal water supplies — 220 of the total 370, or 59% — had never been tested. Schools with their own well water systems were being tested, but the results were not being compiled or tracked in any sort of central database. And when schools failed their tests, students, parents, and teachers weren’t always being properly notified.

Those were the findings of an investigation coordinated by Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, in partnership with the University of King’s College journalism school, the Toronto Star, the now-defunct StarMetro Halifax and Global News.

After that investigation, Education Minister Zach Churchill said his department would test the water at every school and share the results in a database by September, before the start of school. So, within the next five days, right?

But now the department is saying the plan was to test by September, not release all the test results by September.

Click here to read Woodford’s full story.

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5. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives updates living wage for Halifax to $21.80

It now takes a living wage of $21.80/hr to ” live in dignity and enjoy a decent quality of life,” according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released on Wednesday. Zane Woodford gives us the details on the report, titled “Living wages in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick 2020,” from Chelsea Driscoll and Christine Saulnier.

The report also calculated the living wages for other communities, including Antigonish ($19.55), Bridgewater ($16.80), and Cape Breton Regional Municipality ($17.65). In New Brunswick, the CCPA calculated a living wage of $19.55 for Saint John.

The CCPA’s 2018 living wage calculation was $19.

A reminder: The minimum wage in Nova Scotia is $12.55. In New Brunswick it’s $11.70.

The living wage is calculated for the needs of two adults working full time and who have two young children. Shelter is the largest cost in the calculation, followed by child care and food. The wage will “pay for necessities and provide a cushion above the poverty line.” As Driscoll and Saulnier write:

The living wage is calculated such that the family should be able to avoid severe financial stress, support the healthy development of their children, and participate in the social, civic and cultural lives of their communities. Actual expenses are used to calculate the wage to reflect the rate of pay that families need to meet their basic needs given the costs, available government supports and services, and norms of a specific community.

After this report was released yesterday, I saw many people online sharing that they don’t make a living wage. And these were folks in jobs that required significant education and skill. This is quite common in Nova Scotia.

There aren’t many living wage employers in Halifax. Adsum for Women and Children pays its staff a living wage, though. I talked with executive director Sheri Lecker about this in February 2019 (click here to read that story).

Oh, the Examiner pays a living wage, too. Yeah!

It’s been a while since I did a roundup of jobs that don’t pay a living wage. You can find previous roundups here and here.

I should start collecting those job postings, though. Send along any you see.

And click here to read Woodford’s entire story. 

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6. COVID-19 update

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Mary Campbell at the Cape Breton Spector gives us the daily update on COVID-19 and reports on the conference held by Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang and Education Minister Zach Churchill.

Churchill recapped the details of the back-to-school plan, adding that schools will operate under a full curriculum, with modifications to programs like sports and band. Churchill says there have been improvements made to the online learning process and that more than 1,000 teachers took online training to improve their online teaching skills, in case schools are shut down and students go back to at-home learning. Churchill handed the discussion over to Strang, who talked about how the province will respond when there’s an outbreak in schools, which he says is “inevitable.” As Campbell writes:

He said the response to a case will depend on the answers to a number of key questions, namely:

  • Is this individual a student, staffer or essential visitor?
  • Does this involve a single case or more exposure?
  • Where did the individual likely get infected?
  • When would they have been contagious?
  • Where the in the school and if so, what were their activities? Were they on a school bus? Did they participate in before- or after-school programs?

Public Health will work to classify the individual’s contacts into three categories, high, moderate and low (and here I’m going to crib from the CNS press release that was issued just after the briefing began):

  • an individual is at high risk if they are a close contact. A close contact is someone who was in close and prolonged contact [during the briefing, Strang described this as a minimum of 15 minutes] with a confirmed case of COVID-19 up to 48 hours before symptoms presented. This could include everyone in the class.
  • an individual is at moderate risk if there has not been prolonged contact and they have maintained two metres or six feet from the confirmed case. This would include all students and staff in a shared space who were able to physically distance.
  • an individual is at low risk if they have had limited or casual contact with a confirmed case. This could be incidental contact such as walking past or near the individual in a hallway or other common area.

High risk individuals will be tested and required to self-isolate whether they test positive or negative.

I’ve asked for clarification of the protocols for moderate-risk and low-risk individuals and will update when I hear back from Public Health, it was a bit confusing. I can say that Strang said they would treat “moderate” risk “aggressively.”

Strang says a student who becomes unwell at school will be isolated and sent home ASAP, at which point it is the responsibility of family to follow up with 811 and have the student tested, if necessary. If the student tests negative, they can return to school when they have had no symptoms for 24 hours.

Children who are not well should not go to school.

Strang says schools will only be closed on the advice of Public Health and while they would be “much more likely” to close a classroom, they are prepared, if necessary, to close down a school.

Like the Halifax Examiner, the Cape Breton Spectator relies on subscriptions. Please subscribe here. There’s a great deal for subscribing to both the Examiner and the Spectator.

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Views

1. Obituaries: Having the final word

Earlier this week, someone sent this obituary to me. It’s been making the rounds online, and why wouldn’t it? Holly Blair, who died on Aug. 17, 2020, didn’t pass on; she “exploded into glitter and bats.” What a way to go! I didn’t know Blair, the woman from Idaho, who’s dressed like a witch in her photo, but after reading and chuckling at this obituary I wish I had.

And many people seem to agree. When I checked last night, there were 73 pages of comments on Blair’s memory wall on the Wood River Chapel page, most of them from strangers who saw Blair’s obit circulating on social media. One of the first comments said, “Holly, you will live online forever.” My favourite comment is this one from Tara:

I did not know you, Moon sister. You have already become a part of the Universe, sprinkling your glitter to the masses. Witches unite across lands near and far to honor you. Your name will be spoken from here on out, when women who have never before felt the call say, “I want to be more like Holly Blair.” Many blessings on your journey. Thank you.

I love reading obituaries. Everyone has a story, as they say, and an obituary is the one chance you get to share it with everyone, including many you didn’t even know, after you’ve passed on.

In a Morning File from August, Philip Moscovitch wrote about an obituary he found from a Google alert about stories and news related to Peggy’s Cove. This obit was for a woman in Kentucky named Joy Stevens whose favourite place to visit was Peggy’s Cove. That trip started a love of lighthouses and Joy visited many and collected lighthouse trinkets in her home.

I learned to write obituaries in my first-year newspaper writing class at Ryerson. But the difference with these obituaries is they were for well-known people who were still alive. I know this is a bit creepy, but newspapers, TV and radio stations, and now online publications often have obituaries for well-known people already in the can and ready to publish/broadcast if that person dies.

We got to choose who we wanted to write about. I chose Alexa McDonough. That was 20 years ago and I can’t even remember what I wrote (sorry, Alexa). I chose McDonough because she was from Nova Scotia (I was the only Nova Scotian in that year’s class) and one of the very few women political leaders at the time. I met her briefly once in the hallway at the Roy Building on Barrington Street where I worked. The NDP Caucus office was around the corner from the office where I worked. I remember she said she liked my hair. (I didn’t include that memory in the obit I wrote for her.)

In 2001, at my first gig at CBC in Toronto, I had to update obits already on file, including those for John Kenneth Galbraith and Muhammad Ali. What a writing assignment.

In 2012, the Toronto Star took on an assignment I wish I had thought of before they did. They chose one random obituary and did a feature on the person. It turned out to be such an amazing story. The woman they profiled was Shelagh Gordon, who was 55 when she died suddenly from a brain aneurysm while getting ready to meet her niece to shop for wedding flowers. Star reporter Catherine Porter attended the funeral four days after Gordon died and told the story of her life here. You have to click here to read the entire piece.

To get Gordon’s story, staff from the Star placed letters on every chair at the funeral, asking attendees if they wanted to be interviewed about Shelagh. There were 14 reporters on this assignment who interviewed more than 130 of the 240 guests at the service (I honestly can’t imagine any newspaper having enough reporters to do this now).

In her obituary, Gordon is described as a “loving aunt and mother,” a “special friend.” It opened with, “our world is a small place today without our Shelagh, our rock, our good deed doer, our tradition keeper, our moral compass.”

Porter’s story tells us so much more. As a child Gordon was diagnosed with severe nerve damage in her left ear, which left her with hearing loss. She loved animals. Gordon didn’t marry or have children, but when her sister did, she moved closer and the door of her home was always open to nieces and nephews.

Porter also learned that Gordon’s great-great grandfather Joseph T. Clark was editor-in-chief at the Star.

Porter even got to visit Gordon’s home, including her “lush and creamy” living room, her warm kitchen with the two wishbones on the windowsill, and her closets, which Porter describes as “disasters” stuffed with clothes and shoes.

Porter writes of Gordon’s true calling: “Loving people fiercely and with abandon.”

Porter continues:

Not just family, but friends she met at the dog park, at work, on the street or through her family. The three most uttered sentiments to describe her at her funeral were generous, open-hearted and loyal.

All of this made Porter ask herself: “It’s hard not to feel inadequate listening to these stories. Surely, Shelagh was compensating for some deep feeling of inadequacy. No one is naturally this loving to so many people, right? Or perhaps, Shelagh’s life demonstrates that most of us set the love bar too low.”

Historically, not everyone was remembered in such rich, detailed stories. A couple of years ago, the New York Times started a series called Overlooked, “remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.” Most of its past obits were those of white men. But this series includes the lives of people like Ida B. Wells, an investigative journalist and early leader in the civil rights movement. Or Valerie Solanas, who wrote the SCUM manifesto and attempted to kill Andy Warhol.

Some of the best obituaries I’ve read were from closer to home. On July 7, 2019, the older sister of a school friend of mine passed away. I went to school with Melissa Atkinson in junior high and high school. Her sister, Patti, was a few years old, but I remember meeting her a few times. Melissa and I are friends on Facebook, so I followed their adventures through Patti’s crises, although I never knew the exact details of her health issues. Melissa had a way of sharing the stories, always with lots of humour, without sharing all the private details. Melissa was Patti’s caretaker and there were stories from when Melissa had to call 911 and Patti’s reaction to the good-looking paramedics who would show up at the door. Or the precarious and often hilarious situations Patti got in and from which Melissa had to get her out. Patti was 53 when she died.

Patti Atkinson

Melissa wrote Patti’s obituary and shared it on Facebook (you can read it by clicking here). It started with, “Patti would like to let you know her work here is done. She received an offer for an opportunity of a lifetime. This assignment comes with a huge sign-on bonus plus a reunion with family and friends she has not seen in a long time.” And it summed up a lot of the humour and stories Melissa shared over the last few years of Patti’s life.

In the obit, Melissa is called “Pooh,” Patti’s longtime nickname for her younger sister. One of Patti’s many other nicknames was “Blondie.” All of it was the perfect wrap-up to stories and challenges shared on Facebook.

I talked with Melissa last night about Patti, her story, and that obituary. Melissa says the two never talked about Patti’s final arrangements or her obituary. Their parents both died years ago and neither had married or had children. In her grief, Melissa got some of the bits and pieces for Patti’s obituary from others she found online when she searched for funny obituaries. She wanted Patti’s to reflect her sense of humour. She then customized the details for Patti’s story. After I read it, I saw it making the rounds on local social media channels, just like Holly Blair’s obituary is doing now. And just like Blair’s obituary, when strangers read it, they said they wish they had known Patti, too.

Melissa says when she was writing it, she didn’t want people to wallow in grief over the loss of Patti, but rather remember her for her sense of humour, which got both of them through challenging times. But she did include some advice from Patti:

Some of her personal messages were in there. There was a piece I remember. It was a message telling people to take care of themselves and that was a message she was always telling others. She didn’t take care of her diabetes. She was always very truthful with anyone we met. She made people aware that if you don’t take care of yourself, this could happen to you as well.

Melissa reread the obit about a month after Patti died.

I smiled and said, ‘This is totally her.’ I felt her with me when I was reading it.

Melissa says reading it she knows what Patti would say: “She would chuckle and say, ‘Yup, you did a good job.’”

With COVID-19 and all of our rituals around death and loss under restrictions, the obituary is one ritual we can still take part in. And Melissa has some advice on how to write it:

Make it a happy thing. You want to remember the good times. Yes, you can put in some advice and bring people back to reality, but keep it light.

I wish people wouldn’t wallow in the sadness because the ones who passed away wouldn’t want them to sit in that. We bring on a lot of the grief ourselves.

Melissa has Patti’s obituary bookmarked online and she had laminated bookmarks made with copies, complete with the poem Footprints, Patti’s favourite, on the back. She says she’ll read it again some day. And she still share memories of Patti on Facebook. Melissa says she’s glad people, even strangers, laugh when they read Patti’s obituary and share it with others.

[The obituary] showed some of her personality, both of our personalities. I don’t think she realized how recognizable she was, even when she was here. So, to be able to see that it was carried on in her obituary was awesome.

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2. Speeders in Lower Sackville

On Tuesday, I looked at where the speeders were across the HRM, and learned they were everywhere. There were several reasons I wanted to look into this issue and one was this tweet sent out last week by Paul Russell, councillor for district 15, Lower Sackville. Russell shared that he was setting up speed radar to check what speed drivers were going at two new speed humps in his district.

I emailed Russell to learn more, but didn’t hear back by the time I published Morning File for Tuesday, but he sent me some data yesterday morning. Russell tells me there is a new speed hump on Hillside Drive and another on Cavalier Drive. But those are in school zones. Here’s what Russell sent to me about what the data showed:

I wanted to set up the speed radar there to do a few things. First it would remind people how fast they were going, and some went slow enough that they would be reminded of what 30km/h was like (since they were in a school zone). The second thing is that it would record the speed, so that we could follow up later on with enforcement or other measures.

The speed radar records the number of vehicles every 15 minutes, in 7 km/h increments. It then shows this as a spreadsheet.

This is in the middle of speed humps, so I expected lower speeds. The data shows that, in both cases, people were generally well behaved, although there were some speed demons.

On Hillside Ave it recorded 5,724 cars over about 1.5 days. 5,049 cars went by below 37km/h, and only 5 cars went by over 57km/h.

On Cavalier Drive it recorded 5,745 cars, also over about 1.5 days. 5,067 cars went by below 37km/h and 19 cars went by over 57km/h. Of those, the fastest went over 79km/h. This was in the middle of a school zone, at about 2 p.m. on a weekday, where 34% of the vehicles were above the speed limit. Fortunately, there were no kids around. The next fastest were at 6:30 p.m.

Russell says he plans on running a second set of data before sending it off to the Halifax Regional Police.

Also in Lower Sackville, in district 15, there’s a pilot traffic calming pilot project on Stokil Drive.

New traffic calming measures are now in on Stokil Drive in Lower Sackville. Photo: Paul Russell


Noticed

Martin Delaney got this photo of the fog on Wednesday morning. Photo: Martin Delaney/Twitter

Sara Spike, a cultural historian of rural communities and coasts in Atlantic Canada, wrote this guest editorial about fog for NiCHE, Network in Canadian History and Environment. Spike, who’s also behind the excellent Small History NS account on Twitter, is also a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of New Brunswick, where’s she’s writing a cultural history of fog in Atlantic Canada. As Spike writes in NiCHE, “Atlantic Canada is one of the foggiest places on Earth thanks to a unique convergence of geographical and climatic conditions that cause warm and cool air to meet over the ocean, creating vaporous low-lying clouds that can veil the coasts for hours or days at a time.”

We know that now, but as Spike reports the origins of fog weren’t always known. Spike writes about what people in the past thought of fog in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. About Nova Scotia fog, Spike shares this bit:

In his 1786 Account of the Present State of Nova Scotia, written to assess the prospects of the colony for settlers, Samuel Hollingsworth noted a similar tension between his learned experience of fog in Britain and the fogs he encountered on the other side of the North Atlantic. They are “remarkable for not producing the same disagreeable effects upon the human body, as is observable of fresh water fogs; the influence of the latter often producing the most dangerous diseases, even upon persons that are otherwise healthy, and, to the consumptive or asthmatic, present death. The reason of this difference is, no doubt, to be accounted for, from their different origin; and a particular investigation of the matter is foreign to our purpose.”

Fog was also thought to have an effect on health, with “fresh water fogs” from lakes and bogs being quite dangerous. Spike says Hollingsworth and Major Robert Rogers, who contemplated the fog off the coast of Newfoundland, both thought North Atlantic fog was far less dangerous. These men’s perceptions of fog was also connected with colonialization. As Spike writes:

These descriptions of fog were written by men who contributed to colonization and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples in North America (Rogers as a brutal military officer, Hollingsworth as a promoter of settlement) — they were not politically neutral. In their discussions of fog, these writers incorporated a particularly coastal aspect of the natural world into the production of settler colonial discourse. Fog was frequently used as a device to narrate and dramatize the strangeness and difference that Europeans experienced on the coasts of the Northwestern Atlantic.

British Army captain and engineer William Moorsom, who was stationed in Halifax in the 1820s, believed fog had a “fatal influence” on imported women’s hats. But he also reported it to be much different than the fog at home, which he described as “the orange-coloured, smoke-flavoured cloud, which, in a London November, is wont to lead astray all wandering damsels and stage-coachmen.”

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, the city was covered in fog. It didn’t ruin my fancy imported hat, because I don’t have one (maybe I should get one?), but I did wonder what effect it might have on my mask. No fatal influence, I hope.

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Government

No meetings.


In the harbour

05:00: Taipei Trader, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from New York
06:00: Augusta Luna, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 31 from Moa, Cuba
08:30: YM Upsurgence, container ship, sails from Fairview Cove for New York
12:00: UBC Cyprus, cement carrier, arrives at anchorage from Milaki, Greece for inspection
13:00: AlgoScotia, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
14:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Autoport to Pier 41
15:30: Atlantic Sun, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
16:30: Taipei Trader sails for sea
16:30: UBC Cyprus sails for sea
19:00: Augusta Luna sails for Bilboa, Spain


Footnotes

I said yesterday how proud I felt to be a part of the team at the Examiner. Tim gives us space to write so many interesting and important stories. From Sunday to Wednesday, we published 20 articles.

So, I’m sending out a big thank you to all the readers who subscribe. And if you don’t already, please subscribe, or drop us a donation. Thanks!

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