Wonder Woman: the Perez reboot, Year 2.5 thru Three (approximately)

My repeated observation (here and here) about reareding George Perez’ reboot of Wonder Woman is that the stories have been good but not quite as good as they seemed at the time. The run I’m covering now, from #20 through #35 is by contrast a lot better, though it doesn’t start off that way. “Who Killed Myndi Mayer?” has Wonder Woman and the Boston PD investigate the death of the flamboyant publicist for the Wonder Woman Foundation. It’s competently done, but it ends being an anti-drug preachment (cocaine! Cocaine is the killer!). And Myndi was such a mismatch with Diana, I’d have liked to see them spend more time together.

Next we get a story that will have repercussions for a while: the gods decide to leave Olympus due to Darkseid corrupting it (I forget which Big Event that was) and so with Wonder Woman’s help, they depart (Perez drew this one and the visuals are great) for a New Olympus. Hermes, however, stays behind, feeling that the gods should be doing more to help humanity rather than sitting on New Olympus gazing into their own navels. He sets up his own church in Boston, hands out miracles like Halloween candy, but unfortunately the last of the Gorgons and the ancient, accursed murderer Ixion have plans to exploit the situation … This leads to lots of discussion about gods, faith and religion but it doesn’t get overbearing. Afterwards, Hermes sticks around, eventually moving in with Steve, but stops trying to attract followers. Meanwhile the Amazons begin debating whether it’s time to open their island to outsiders, ultimately deciding yes.

Then we get a crossover with the Invasion! event, which brings Diana into the Justice League for the first time in post-Crisis continuity and lets her work with more of DC’s female heroes. And then we get a huge plotline that runs just about all of year three. It starts with Barbara Minerva, the latest version of the Cheetah, using two alien warriors left behind at the end of the Invasion to help her steal Diana’s magic lasso.

Setting off in pursuit, Diana winds up in Egypt where she gets the lowdown on the Cheetah’s origin from her aide, Chuma. She also discovers the existence of Bana-Mighdal, an isolated community of Amazons, vastly more brutal than the women of Themiscrya. They sell weapons and mercenary services, reproduce by kidnapping men (as most of the locals are Middle Eastern, these Amazons are dark-skinned) and dispose ruthlessly of anyone who gets in their way. Eventually Diana learns that when Circe arranged the murder of Theseus’ Amazon wife Antiope a handful of Amazons there completely misinterpreted events, turning them hostile to both the men and women of the outside world. Diana tries to explain the error but since none of them know Hippolyta is still alive, they don’t believe Diana’s claim to be her daughter — come on, she’d be thousands of years old! Wonder Woman has to battle the Amazons, the Cheetah and then when she finally wins over the queen, an angry usurper murders the queen and sends out Shim’tar, a seemingly ustoppable warrior woman who kicks Diana’s butt hard. Ultimately, with the help of Hermes, she discovers Shim’tar is powered by the Girdle of Gaia, linked to Diana’s lasso, so by pitting the lasso’s pure energy against Shim’tar’s tainted abuse of the Girdle, Wonder Woman destroys her foe. Bana Mighdal is apparently destroyed, though I believe it (or at least its former inhabitants) turn up again.

There’s a lot of spectacular action without losing any of the character bits Perez’ run was noted for. I do think the art goes down some after he stops penciling it, but overall this is a great stretch to reread.

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Thom Tillis, Trump and other political links

To his credit, NC Sen. Thom Tillis has joined in the criticism of Trump for proposing we postpone the election (not to mention threatening to sue Nevada for having universal mail-in voting). I’ve written to him saying I hope he sticks by that as the election approaches. Particularly given that Republicans are reluctant to vote by mail thanks to Trump, and that could hurt their voters turning out (ah, irony!). Though if you live in Florida, Trump’s decided mail-in voting is fine. Perhaps it’s no surprise right-winger Josh Bernstein literally says seniors should be willing to die to re-elect Trump.

Unfortunately both Tillis and Sen. Richard “Trump Virus Insider Trading” Barr are in favor of equipping police with military weapons. And Tillis blames Hispanics for their high rate of Trump Virus infection.

“Previous Trump chiefs of staff Reince Priebus, John Kelly and (to a lesser extent) Mick Mulvaney tried to temper the president’s wildest instincts. Under Meadows, Trump seems to have no guardrails

“What’s more, with polls showing Trump’s popularity on the decline and widespread disapproval of his management of the viral outbreak, staffers have concocted a positive feedback loop for the boss. They present him with fawning media commentary and craft charts with statistics that back up the president’s claim that the administration has done a great — even historically excellent — job fighting the virus.” — because what do the deaths matter compared to salving President Man-Baby’s fragile fee-fees?

Let’s give some credit to Joe Biden who predicted Trump’s proposal and got wrapped by some reporters for being alarmist. And I’m already seeing speculation how despite a lack of legal authority Trump could do it, or at least use a shift to discredit the probable Biden victory. Meanwhile Trump pouts that it’s so unfair he’s so unpopular. And when Dr. Fauci threw out the New York Yankees’ opening pitch, Trump lied they invited him first.

Vanity Fair does a great job looking at how Jared Kushner’s task-force plans for massive testing failed miserably. LGM points out one aspect that should have been the headline: Kushner gave up on testing partly because he anticipated blue states getting hit worse which would work out well for Republicans.

Monica Hesse says Trump’s “understanding of women voters is based on six reruns of Happy Days plus a vacuum cleaner ad from 1957,” but it’s behind his warning to suburban women that Joe Biden will ruin the suburbs.

Homeland Security used a terrorist-watch system to monitor journalists who published critical leaks. And judges are releasing Portland protesters on the condition they give up their right to peaceful assembly and protest.

Eric Metaxas thinks he has a crushing comeback to Black Lives Matter: Jesus was white so are you saying he had white privilege? Jesus was not white.

Just how messed up is America?

Schools can specify how long a student’s dress must be, but they can’t make you wear a mask?

“In a country that has the virus under control, fewer than 5 percent of tests come back positive, according to World Health Organization guidelines. Many countries have reached that benchmark. The United States, even with the large recent volume of tests, has not.” — the NYT looks at how massively we’ve failed.

Here’s some good news: the Democratic Party mainstream says if Republicans fill a vacant Supreme Court seat this year, they’ll consider adding seats to the court under a Biden administration. If Republicans want to play hardball, this is a fair tactic to play back at them. Malevolent Sheriff Joe Arpaio failed his political comeback. And New York’s attorney general wants to dissolve the NRA, leading to Alexandra Petri’s funny column.

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Slavers, Leigh Brackett and a friend of mine: stuff read

THIS VAST SOUTHERN EMPIRE: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy by Matthew Karp looks at how American slave states saw England’s 1830s decision to abolish slavery as the beginning of a 19th century Cold War: Britain’s influence could pressure other states into emancipating, eventually leaving the U.S. isolated (though many Southerners were convinced ending slavery was so obviously absurd it would inevitably fail). As the 3/5 clause in the Constitution gave the South disproportionate clout in the federal government, the result was an aggressive foreign policy built around sustaining and allying with slave states such as Brazil, Texas and Cuba (thoughts of England liberating Cuba and creating a nation of black revolutionaries were a major Southern bogeyman) and building up a strong enough military to counteract any overt free-the-slaves moves from Britain. Extremely interesting.

I wrapped up my Leigh Brackett rereading with THE HALFLING AND OTHER STORIES, which strikes me as a very “typical” collection of her works: the titular hardboiled SF yarn about a carnie owner and his mysterious new entertaining, mysterious quests on unknown worlds (Citadel on Lost Ages and Lake of the Gone Forever), and the Eric John Stark story Enchantress of Venus. Less typically there’s the Zenna Hnederson-esque The Truants, the suprisingly upbeat The Shadows and the biting critique of racism, All the Colors of the Rainbow. Overall, excellent (Gone Forever works much better for me now that I’m old enough to have known loss).

And my friend Allegra Gullino has a short story, Jezebel’s Escape in the latest issue of Eldritch Science.

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Reporters, voyeurs and horror: this week’s viewing

I’ve never been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940) but I find myself appreciating it more as part of my ongoing Hitchcock viewing: making the first third of the film a comedy makes more sense when compared to The Thirty-Nine Steps or The Lady Vanishes. It still doesn’t work as well as they do though.Joel McCrea plays a crime reporter whose boss ships him off to Europe on the theory a hardnosed investigator with a nose for news will get better scoops than foreign correspondents who just send in the latest government press releases. In Europe McCrea falls hard for Laraine Day, daughter of peace activist Herbert Marshall — this is where the comedy comes in — and meets with a prominent Dutch politician who’s a key player in whether Europe goes to war or not (I don’t really see how the guy could have stopped it, but I’ll accept the premise). When the politician is apparently murdered, McCrea realizes the man was an imposter; Nazi agents have kidnapped the real pol to get the truth about his secret treaty negotiations. Can McCrea rescue him in time? “Your childish mind is as out of place in Europe as you are in my bedroom.”

sex, lies and videotape (1989) blew me away when I saw it in theaters, between it’s frank, unconventional discussions of sexual dysfunction and the presence of Andie McDowell and Laura San Giacamo as sisters in Baton Rouge. They’re in a triangle with McDowell’s husband Peter Gallagher but when his college friend, voyeuristic James Spader shows up, the triangle becomes unstable.

Rewatching now I think that, as Roger Ebert put it, the results are more clever than enlightening; I don’t find it convincing that everyone has as much self-awareness as they do, let alone that they can discuss themselves articulately and without any impulse to lie or shade the truth. This problem has turned me off several Woody Allen films over the year but here the movie holds my interest, primarily because of the strong cast and their relationships. It is more clever than enlightening but it is very clever, and that was good enough. “What would you know about a normal frame of mind?”

I watched AMULET (2020) as part of a streaming program by the local Carolina Theatre but it was definitely not worth the price (but hey, I can say that about lots of films I’ve seen at the nearest multiplex). Nun Imelda Staunton sends a burned-out foreign veteran to move in with a woman and her deranged mother. Everything’s dark and moody with occasional shocks (and to their credit they are indeed shocking) before we learn Mom is a demon the woman is reluctantly forced to watch over. And from there, we accelerate to an ending that made absolutely no sense. I do not recommend it. “Forward is not the only way, Tomaz — there are other roads.”

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It was overall a good hand, but not the cards I expected

So after putting lots of extra effort into Leaf work the previous couple of weeks the latest cycle of articles ended last week. I figured I’d make up for the lost time on personal project this week … but to my surprise, the new cycle started up Monday. As I like making money, I immediately started claiming Leafs, but it was a little disappointing. My work on Impossible Takes a Little Longer Monday morning really felt good and I wanted more. However for the moment it’ll have to wait as Undead Sexist Cliches, Questionable Minds and my Alien Visitors film book come first.

Unfortunately, my sleep Monday – Wednesday night was for shit. The first two nights may be the Zoom writing meetings — I’m beginning to feel there’s something to the idea being on computers/phones in the hours before bedtime interferes with sleep. Wednesday night Trixie, who’s been very restless of late, paced up and down for a bit, clacking her claws on the hardwood floor. That woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. As a result I didn’t get much done beyond Leaf, and some work on Chapter Four of Undead Sexist Cliches (feminism destroys families, education and the workplace!).

I thought I’d make up for that today a little, but today I woke up sick and draggy. No, doesn’t appear to be COVID-19, most likely it;s allergy-based (possibly because that morning I was coping with Wisp and Trixie, I forgot my meds). I know from experience the best treatment is simply to do nothing all day, and so I did.

On the plus side, I’m seeing a marked improvement in my juggling this week, and much better focusing in my meditation practice. So at least something of my own is getting done. And I did make money, which right now is very reassuring.

I’ll leave you with this uncredited cover (though a friend of mine says the art is by Emsh). #SFWApro, all rights to image remain with current holde.r

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Nature photography

I saw this the other day while walking Trixie. It amused me.Here’s the plant in our container garden, now at least six feet tall and blooming.

While I don’t have a photo, Wisp came into the house Monday and checked out the downstairs for the first time in months. As usual, as soon as she realized I was following her, she decided she wanted out again. Then next morning, during the rain from Isaias, she came in and got breakfast.Then TYG let Trixie come downstairs and I spent about thirty minutes petting both animals and making sure neither one went for the other. We had one quick squabble, no teeth or claws deployed on either side.Finally Trixie settled with me on the couch and Wisp took up residence on the pillow. Eventually she went out after the rain had died.

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An anthology blows up and other links about books, movies, recipes and reporting

So my friend John Hartness of Falstaff Books posted this week on Facebook about some problems with the anthology Flashing Swords #6 (following up on a series of anthologies published around 50 years ago). It seems the publisher was blindsided by editor Robert M. Price and didn’t realize Price hadn’t signed or sent the authors contracts for the stories included therein, and had credited himself as copyright holder (the publisher admits that was a screw-up on their part). The authors were also upset with Price’s foreword, which veers into undead sexist cliches about how women need to stop crying rape, feminists hate het sex, and participation-trophy cliches (he is hardly the first anthologist to do stuff like this). The publisher, to their credit, says they’re killing the book and paying the writers a kill fee, which is precisely the way to handle a mess like this.

Due to the Trump Virus, it looks like the gap between theatrical release and streaming will narrow a lot.

DAW head Betsy Wolheim thinks Patrick Rothfuss hasn’t written anything on the third Kingkiller Chronicles book. This has led to much speculation by my writing friends why she didn’t keep her opinions in house: is he seriously missing deadlines? How close is he really to getting finished? Does it hurt specfic in general if people assume “maybe it’s better if I wait until all the books are out” and don’t buy into series early. One person linked to an article from a few years ago in which Penguin took very late authors to court.

Fifteen years ago, cable was home entertainment’s big dog. Now cable falters as streaming rises.

“This was a time of “Mean Streets” and “The Poseidon Adventure.” “American Graffiti” and “Last Tango in Paris.” “Airport” sequels and “Aguirre, the Wrath of God.” Edgy political thrillers, socially aware satires and mainstream melodramas managed to coexist with B-movies, porn and Warholian provocations. Regardless of their artistic aspirations, most were enormously entertaining.” — Ann Hornaday on why seventies film rocked. It’s an interesting take but as someone generally skeptical about How We Have Fallen Since Decade X, I’m not sure I agree (it rapidly turns into a standard grumble about all those CGI superhero movies taking up the multiplex).

Who exactly gets credit as a recipe creator?

Who should get immortalized in bird names?

An author pushed his book higher on the bestseller list by buying copies himself.

Years ago, critic Leonard Maltin discussed the problem of rating and reviewing a movie when the original version has been re-edited and is no longer available. A few years ago on Inverse, an article discussed the problem of finding the original Han Shot First Star Wars.

I wrote a while back about how bad management had killed reporting at Deadspin. Most of the staff who quit are back with a new project.

And here’s a Virgil Finlay cover to close with.

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Magic like plastic (this is a good thing): Cast a Deadly Spell

The opening text crawl of CAST A DEADLY SPELL (1991) tells us it’s 1948 in L.A. and everybody uses magic. We never learn where or when that started, but the movie makes the premise so real I don’t need to know more.

Everyone takes magic as a given; like plastic or television in the same era, it’s an exciting new invention that’s changing the world and everyone’s on-board. Well, everyone but protagonist Phil Lovecraft (Fred Ward), whose refusal to work magic marks him as an oddball, like someone who refuses to get a cell phone when landlines are so much better. For Phil, it’s part of his stubborn, incorruptible streak: he’s his own man and can’t be bought or controlled. Magic gives someone or something else a small piece of your soul, and Phil can’t stand anyone owning his.

Magic is everywhere in this movie. In a police station scene we see a typewriter printing a report by itself; file cabinets open and manila folders fly out when the secretary needs them. In other scenes people light cigarettes by touch (Phil uses matches) or levitates cocktail shakers. Sneering crime boss Borden (Clancy Brown) has replaced his regular goon squad with zombies: no need to pay them, they don’t get any ideas about double-crossing the boss and when they start to rot he just orders more from Haiti. There’s also a neat little detail I didn’t catch on first or second viewing: one newspaper has a front page article on magic eliminating LA’s smog right next to coverage of Robert Mitchum’s then-infamous pot bust (Mitchum gets the headline).

Lovecraft is your classic hard-drinking chain-smoking PI, hired by Hackshaw (David Warner) to recover a lost copy of the Necronomicon. The first time I watched this I agreed with Borden that it seemed like pure coincidence Lovecraft got entangled in this case. Rewatching it’s obvious that Hackshaw picked Phil because he knows the gumshoe doesn’t use magic. When Hackshaw drops the name of the Necronomicon and Lovecraft doesn’t react, Hackshaw smiles; he’s found a detective who’s ignorant enough to turn over the book and won’t try to tap it for himself. And won’t suspect why Hackshaw wants it turned over no later than midnight in a couple of days.

Leaving the Hackshaw estate, Lovecraft encounters his new client’s daughter, Olivia (Alexandra Powers) whom we first see hunting a unicorn. She comes on to Phil like a classic noir bad girl but he sees through her (if she wasn’t a virgin, she wouldn’t be trying to hunt unicorns). Later in the film, when he gets to know her, she turns out to be quite sweet, though restless at the way her father keeps her locked away from the world.

Meanwhile we see the ill-fated weasel Mickey (Ken Thorley), a former employee of Hackshaw’s, deliver the book to Borden. It turns out to be a fake copy (Mickey plans to sell the real one back to Hackshaw) but the packet of money Borden paid him with is just paper. Then Borden’s sorcerous aide, Tugwell (Raymond O’Connor) whips up the paper in a small magical cyclone and kills Mickey by literally the death of a thousand (paper) cuts. That’s another thing I like about the film: magic is colorful and interesting. Things like the paper cuts or Tugwell “setting the runes” on Lovecraft make even mundane TK tricks like levitating files seem magical rather than psi.

The struggle for the book is more personal than Lovecraft expects because Borden’s his corrupt former partner, from when they were cops together. Not only that but Borden got Phil’s lost love, Connie (Julianne Moore) in the breakup. Borden and Connie both think Phil’s a fool for being so incorruptible but Connie’s not immune to that old feeling they had. But Hackshaw’s deadline is approaching, Borden’s playing hardball, and Lovecraft’s landlady and sort-of friend Kropotkin (Arnetia Walker) is seeing signs Los Angeles is ground zero for the apocalypse. Lovecraft, however, will not back down, not from man, gargoyle or god …

I highly recommend this movie. I do not, however, recommend the sequel Witch Hunt, which replaced Ward with Dennis Hopper and made the anti-Communist witch hunts of the 1950s into a real witch hunt. It’s much less interesting than a world in which magic is amazing, yet taken for granted.

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Star Trek: A bite of the Apple

When I reviewed the first season of Star Trek I mentioned that I could spot many of the tropes the show would run into the ground in later seasons. While I’ll cover most of that in the review of S2 after I wrap it up, I’ll focus on one episode, The Apple, as an example of how not to do it.

The Enterprise is checking out a beautiful, newly discovered planet that looks like a garden of Eden. Until a flowering plant launches thorns at one of the red shirts and kills him. Another gets blasted by an unstable, explosive stone. A third is killed by disintegrating lightning — seriously, it’s almost like a self-parody of the red shirts trope. And now a force on the planet is now draining energy from the Enterprise.

In contrast to the environment, the inhabitants of the planet are peaceful, gentle souls; when Kirk strikes one of them for spying on the away team, the guy is so shocked he cries. The population makes up a small village that serves as votaries to the god Vaal, who lives in a cave with a dragon/serpent mouth. Spock figures out that Vaal is a supercomputer buried deep in the planet with the cave as an access point. Vaal keeps his acolytes in ageless perfect health and prelapsarian innocence, with no children or sex (though one young couple starts to figure it out from watching Chekhov and a yeoman make out); this being the era when married couples on TV were shown sleeping in twin beds, the efforts to tackle the topic are painfully euphemistic.

McCoy and Spock debate the merits of this system: the inhabitants are comfortable, cared for and healthy but they’re little better than Vaal’s slaves. Spock argues they’re content and should be left alone; McCoy advocates for freeing them from the shackles they don’t know they’re wearing (I’ll come back to this topic in another post). But as often happens with the Prime Directive, it’s a moot point: Vaal’s out to destroy the intruders so they have to destroy him first. Eventually by cutting off his food supply (the rocks, though that isn’t clear) and blasting him with phasers, the burn the computer out. The natives will have the chance to develop as a culture naturally and having babies instead of being preserved in amber, though a dubious Spock compares this afterwards to casting Adam and Eve out of the garden. Kirk points out that out of everyone on the ship, Spock looks the most like Satan … and we end.

This was the second world-controlling computer (more will follow the Enterprise encountered after Return of the Archons but there we got enough backstory to make sense of things: Landru, the great leader, programmed the computer to carry on after he was gone and keep society from breaking down (if you haven’t seen the episode, suffice to say things didn’t work as planned). Here I have no idea where Vaal came from; did the village’s ancestors build it and the computer took over? There’s no indication other than Vaal they’ve ever been that advanced. Why is the planet so full of booby-traps? Is it naturally deadly, because the villagers don’t seem to find it so, or is it set up by Vaal, in which case why? Does it see that many visitors? And if one of the natives falls on the exploding rocks or triggers a thorn-flower, do they then have sex to restore the population? The Enterprise crew brings that up but in all the hemming and hawing about discussing S-E-X, they never get an answer. Maybe because an answer would probably require the innocent natives having had sex.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, “cool worldbuilding” is not something that makes me want to grab a book and read it. But if you’re building a world, it does have to make sense. If I have questions afterwards they should be in the category of “I want to see more!” not “how the heck can that make sense?” The Apple, unfortunately, falls into the second category.

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Handicapped spaces, masks, resentment and being better people

Handicapped spaces, Fred Clark says, are a reminder “we’re capable of choosing not to be assholes.”

” …seeing those designated parking spaces should also be a reminder that it always is a choice — something that we must choose again and again, perpetually, because we are all also capable of choosing the other way. So we can see those spaces and be reminded that this was a choice we needed to bind ourselves to. We can, and should, be proud that this was a commitment we made, and we can and should be humbled and cautious due to the realization that this was a commitment we needed to make because we know ourselves to be more than capable of failing to live up to it. Laws reserving accessible parking spaces, in other words, are an expression of what Reinhold Niebuhr was getting at when he said that our capacity for justice makes democracy possible, while our inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

The same logic, Clark suggests, applies to masks and wear-a-mask policies: we can choose to be decent people and minimize other people’s risk of infection. But instead, large numbers of people are choosing resentment — how dare people ask us to be considerate! How dare they tell us we have to obey a rule to protect other customers! “Those with genuine grievances do not, for the most part, seek or find their identity in being aggrieved. They may hunger and thirst for justice, but they are not obsessed with resentment. The oppressed, outcast, abused, and exploited would seem to have every right to live their lives shaped by a seething resentment, but the vast majority of them do not do so. That’s an astonishing and beautiful thing — so strange, in fact, that when one of our most eloquent public figures tried to articulate it in a speech, he wound up breaking into song.” Instead, “Most of the resentment in this world is “felt” by the haves, rather than by the have nots. This may seem decidedly un-natural and illogical, but it is nevertheless the case. Those who have no legitimate grievance, those who enjoy the benefits of what was rightly due to the deprived are more often the ones whose lives are shaped by seething resentment and by feeling perpetually aggrieved.”

Both posts are excellent. I recommend clicking on the links and reading the whole thing. Plus a Love. Joy. Feminism post about how evangelicals came out against the ADA because while they were in favor of helping the disabled (they said), making it a requirement was a monstrous imposition on their freedom not to let people in wheelchairs access church easily

And because it feels relevant to the theme, I’ll add a quote from Aldous Huxley: “Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptibly worse than it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself. “

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