So I’m doing a con of sorts on March 6

One of my fellow McFarland authors suggested recently that as we can’t safely arrange any events to sell our books, we do one online (unofficially — this is not a McFarland promotion, just a bunch of writers). We all liked the idea, so we’re doing various presentations the afternoon of March 6 via Zoom. Link is on the poster.Here’s the start of the schedule (you can find the whole thing if you go to the Virtual Voices page on FB). I’ll be speaking about political paranoia on film and TV, the same topic I covered in my third book for McFarland. I think I’ll have to condense the topic quite a bit to cover it in under 10 minutes.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Stoicism, forgiveness and other links

Some years back I posted about pundits who insist death and suffering are good for us. That thinking is still around: faced with last week’s snowpocalypse, Mayor Tim Boyd of Colorado City TX brushed off constituents asking for help: “only the strong survive” so stop asking for handouts! A few years earlier, Trump-worshipping Rush Limbaugh took the same tack in response to the Trump Virus: why can’t people be stoic like the Donner Party?

So it’s no surprise Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has apparently been prioritizing vaccine delivery to well-connected communities. When called on it, he said critics should shut up or he’d just yank that county’s entire supply.

Next, forgiveness. In a post from a few years back, Fred Clark discusses Matthew 18, which says if a fellow Christian sins against you, you should confront them quietly and privately. Clark points out this is used as a get-out-of-jail-free card: You can’t report my assault to the cops/the papers, you have to keep it between us! Or in the case of the authors of Selling Satan, that they shouldn’t publish an investigative report on fake Satanist and Christian con-man Mike Warnke because Matthew 18! Clark: “One important thing about both of these teachings of Jesus is that they’re about conflicts between two, and only two, people. Both of them get quite a bit more complicated when there’s a third party involved. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek,” Jesus said, “turn the other also.” But what if they strike someone else? “If another member of the church sins against you,” Jesus said, “go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” But what if the other member of the church sins against someone else? You can’t turn someone else’s other cheek. Nor can you require someone else to do so.”

In other news:

Biden revoked Trump’s Muslim travel ban, but there’s more Trump immigration policy to undo.

Fred Clark explains QAnon is old antisemitic wine in new bottles.

Lindsey Graham continues toadying to Trump.

Trump attorney Lin Wood, meanwhile, is facing disciplinary action for his lawyering in Trump’s defense. His solution: dox the State Bar.

Some members of the Southern Baptist Conference are pushing against its rigid conservative doctrine. Conservatives are pushing back.

Biden’s Interior Department nominee, Deb Hyland, isn’t a fan of mining and oil drilling on public lands. Conservatives are pushing back against her, too. And several states want to make protesting fossil fuels a criminal act; in Michigan even if they’re merely arrested on a construction site it could be ten years in prison.

Last week I said that not speaking ill of the dead meant Rush Limbaugh’s admirers would get to paint him for history. Case in point, Gov. DeSantis (yes, again) lowering state flags to half-mast to honor a man he says “connect with his listeners across the fruited plain — the hard-working, God-fearing and patriotic Americans who were and are the subject of derision and ridicule by the legacy media.” Apparently he’s fine when the media spread derision and ridicule for gays, women and people of color because that was Limbaugh’s stock in trade.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger came out against Trump. Some of his family are shocked that he would judge a great Christian man — doesn’t Kinzinger know we are all sinners? And don’t accuse them of hypocrisy because “we are not judging you. This is just our opinion!”

Right-wing shitbags are still claiming persecution is coming. One troll I argued with recently insisted that Biden keeping the National Guard in Washington was clear sign Biden was ready to become a tyrant. There are good reasons they’re still there — the threat isn’t over. And they’re still downplaying the Sedition Day assault.

“Listening to a panel of thinky conservatives talking about the imagined ideology behind cancel culture and you’d think that racism and sexism were ideas invented by millennial progressives to punish people with true ideas for speaking.” — Will Wilkinson

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Liking stuff made by horrible people

The question of how we deal with discovering art we love — music, plays, film, books — has been created by someone awful is not an easy one. I can generally separate the art from the person, but other people simply can’t. Unless it’s a gut decision — e.g. I don’t want to read Orson Scott Card’s fiction since his rants about Obama enlisting black street gangs as his secret police (I still value his  writing how-to books though) — it requires some sort of moral calculus: is anyone racist/sexist/homophobic objectionable (obviously I’m focusing on liberal issues here, though I realize conservatives face this issue too)? Is one tasteless homophobic joke a decade ago a deal breaker (I have no specific case in mind)? What if they committed sexual assault and served their prison time? Now that Baen Books has been caught out allowing lots of far-right rhetoric in their online forum, Baen’s Bar (some details here and here) is anyone who publishes with them tacitly supporting extremism?

My views haven’t changed since I posted about this a few years back: it’s a personal decision (ditto if the writing itself is problematic in some way). If A doesn’t want to read J. K. Rowling because she’s so anti-trans that’s perfectly reasonable, but I  don’t think reading her means someone’s endorsing her views. Not everyone agrees though. Right-winger Michael Medved once admitted he didn’t want to give a good review to a film because he’d heard the screenwriter donated to Democrats; his review was actually favorable, but he did see No Review as a valid option.

Conversely, Erik Loomis at Lawyers, Guns and Money thinks judging art based on the creator’s personal life is bullshit: “The problem with just saying “I’m not going to listen to this” or “I’m never watching a Woody Allen or Roman Polanski film” is that it not only rapidly turns into judging art based on the personal behavior of who made it, which is an artistic black hole, but it also ignores the fact that most art is a collaborative process and you are also erasing a lot of great people in the process.” Refuse to watch Woody Allen and you miss great actors; refuse to listen to Phil Spector-produced music and you penalize Darlene Love and other talented singers.

Loomis quotes Amanda Marcotte dismissing Judging The Creator as “narcissistic self-involvement” and “self-purity as a substitute for activism” — besides, even if the director and the actors are good people, how do you know the cinematographer wasn’t an abuser, huh? So what’s the point?

I think they’re full of it. While it’s certainly true that piously refusing to listen can be a demonstration of self-purity, it can also be sincere; I have an automatic hackles-rising reaction to this kind “oh, you’re just virtue-signaling” dismissal of other people’s positions. And the argument that shunning bigots or rapists is pointless because there are other bigots and rapists you don’t know to shun is dumbass. A personal decision not to buy books written by known child molesters is not invalid because other authors you like may be molesting in secret. Sure, if Marcotte and Loomis want to separate art and artist, that’s cool — like I said, I do — but holding that out as the solution? Not so much.

It’s true that if you don’t watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer because Joss Whedon is a creepy person (Michelle Trachtenberg, who was 15 on the show, says it was policy he would never be left alone with her) you miss out on some awesome performances by the cast. And Darlene Love’s singing is indeed awesome. But guess what? If you never saw a single episode of Buffy you’d still be able to fill your life with amazing performances by amazing actors. While Spector has had a huge impact on pop, I’m guessing one could live a full musical life stuffed with talented singers even if you never heard anything he’d had his hands on (I “guess” because I don’t have the musical expertise to be certain). There’s a lot of great stuff in the world, so much we’ll never listen to/watch all of it. Using the creator’s morals as a sorting system isn’t inherently a bad solution.

Liberal evangelical Fred Clark writes that in some cases, separating creator and creation can be toxic: if we’ve taken inspiration from Buffy, did we absorb some of Whedon’s negative attitudes along with the good stuff? Clark derived much insight from books by theologian John Howard Yoder “and I don’t know what to do with that, because while I had no idea at the time I was reading and underlining and wrestling with the profound ideas expressed in that book, it turns out that John Howard Yoder was a serial rapist and a deeply twisted spiritual abuser.” He quotes from Christian author Tanya Marlow: “What does it say to survivors of abuse everywhere when the church quotes from sexual predators as authorities on human life or the things of God?”

Like I said, I have no clear answer to any of this. But you’re stuck with my thoughts anyway.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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More “you think YOU’RE having a bad day?” covers

First by Mort Meskin—Then by Bob Brown —And Dick Dillin—And Dillin again —George Roussos—And Gene Colan —#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Everyone knew (and other undead sexist links)

“One of the worst things about experiencing gender discrimination, hostile work environments and sexual harassment over the many years of my career was that I was usually believed. ” — TV writer Marti Noxon on how the abusers she dealt with were an open secret on their TV shows but nobody did anything (I think this post of mine is relevant). Noxon doesn’t reference Joss Whedon in her column, but others have — including Michelle Trachtenberg, who was 15 when she was on the show (and says a rule developed never to let Whedon be alone with her). Eliza Dushku weighs in too.

Noxon also has some good suggestions for shows (I’d say any organization) dealing with problems of this sort. No alcohol or drugs on the set. Interview people who leave the show to find out if there were problems. Have a succession plan in place so that your star/show-runner isn’t indispensable. Because it’s not enough to take abusers and harassers down, we have to block whatever vulnerabilities in the system let them get away with it.

Here’s another system that let them get away with it. Allegedly the Lincoln Project did too (male/male in this case). Influential evangelical Ravi Zacharias got away with abuse for years, leaving some of his followers questioning what he taught. This is probably wise. For reasons why, Fred Clark discusses his admiration for abusive monster John Howard Yoder’s writing and having to ” try to separate the truths they taught me from the lies I might also have learned from them.”

Testosterone levels are not a practical way to screen out trans-women from women’s sports.

“I don’t get why, when I recently made an appointment with a pediatric ophthalmologist, the nice young woman who helped me had to ask — just “to be sure” — if I was indeed the policy holder for my daughter’s health insurance.” — Fernanda Santos on experiencing the way society treats single women.

Why do women have wide hips? According to an incel, hips are handles that make it easy for men to rape them, which proves rape is natural. Another incel advocates a twisted version of communism where men control the means of reproduction, which is to say women.

Sexist/racist writing advice: “Make your Latino family more Latino. Like have them make tamales for Christmas.” “Wrote a Desi character into my show and an exec said: ‘she seems too regular, I wanna see her be really fucking Indian'” “I once had someone outright tell me as a woman I couldn’t write realistic men and I was too young to write believable older women.”

According to his classmates at Patrick Henry College, newly elected NC congressman Madison Cawthorn was a notorious campus sexual predator.

“Mental health experts have recently begun to explore the connection between public acts of violence and misogyny, which is a connection many women already knew existed, and that is why their skin runs cold when they hear someone calling, Oh, Naaaaaaancy.” — Monica Hesse on the Jan. 6 men hunting Nancy Pelosi.

Support for the fossil fuel industry may be that it represents a performative masculinity.

The Pentagon delayed promoting female generals for fear of pushback from the Trump administration.

To wrap up with, Tennessee conservative Rep. Jerry Sexton has filed a bill that would give fathers the right to veto a woman’s abortion. They don’t have to present DNA, simply sign an affidavit that they’re the father and present it to a court; if the court accepts it, the woman faces penalties if she goes ahead. Reading the bill’s text and about paternity rights in Tennessee, it strikes me that there’s a)nothing that says a rapist can’t do this; b)the father’s name doesn’t automatically go on the birth certificate, which sounds as if it won’t, for example, obligate him to pay child support (I’m not an attorney so this is only a guess).

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A little research reading

Edited by Michael Stein, ALIEN INVASIONS!: The History of Aliens in Pop Culture caused me a sliver of anxiety as it covers similar terrain to Alien Visitors; fortunately it’s different enough from what I’ll be doing I don’t think it’ll kill my market.

This is a big-picture book running from 19th century pre-War of the Worlds stories of alien visitors through the silents, the pulps, comics and movies of the 1950s on to the more recent works such as Arrival. This would be more useful to someone starting from scratch — even before Alien Visitors my knowledge of this subject was well above average — and some of its conclusions (the Invaders From Mars sucking people into the Earth to enslave is a metaphor for Commie propaganda!) are just daft. It also suffers from the lack of an index which makes it inconvenient when looking for something specific such as Algol. More lavish in its illustration than I’ll be able to afford, though.

I recently started work on a paper about golems in specfic, to be published in an academic book on the subject. As part of that project, I read THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD by Jonathan Kellerman and his son Jesse Kellerman. Back when I read a lot more mysteries I always enjoyed the older Kellerman’s work but this book is a mess.

The story gives us two alternating and apparently unrelated narratives (I don’t think anyone will be surprised they tie together eventually). One concerns Jacob Lev, an alcoholic former homicide cop demoted to traffic detail. To his surprise he’s suddenly transferred to Special Projects and assigned to investigate a head found without a body. It turns out the head belongs to an infamous serial killer, so who did him in? In the other plotline we follow Asham, the sister of Cain and Abel, torn between which of them to marry. Eventually, she dies and bizarrely becomes the soul force poured into the Golem of Prague. Who is still around, in a much-mutated form — rather like a comic-book shapeshifter “Mai” can become an oozing wave of mud or a swarm of giant beetles.

Compared to this mess, Marvel’s Golem was Watchmen. At 500 pages the murder investigation is unbelievably tedious and the Bible stuff isn’t much better — do we really need such a cumbersome origin for the Golem of Prague? The ending is a mess, even given it’s explained in the sequel. The only thing I liked was that Jacob’s a high-functioning alcoholic, still drinking but able to do this job. I’ve read a lot of fiction where becoming alcoholic Monday means you’re living in the gutter by Wednesday; some alcoholics manage to keep the balls in the air a lot longer.

The sequel, THE GOLEM OF PARIS was marginally better for making sense of the mythos: Special Projects is actually run by Nephilim who use Mai as their executioner. Only now she’s out loose so they need to destroy or contain her again, particularly as the Russians are now hunting her for their own use. Better, but not good — this is another long book with another uninteresting murder mystery. I’m just glad there’ve been no more sequels since this one.

#SFWApro. Cover by Ernie Chan; all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Alien visitors in movies, plus Swamp Thing!

The book Alien Invasions lists ALGOL, THE TRAGEDY OF POWER (1920) as one of the first alien-invader movies: a traveler from the Algol star-system gives a miner (Emil Janning) the secret of generating infinite electrical power. This liberates him and his fellows from the mines and makes him wealthy, but the worldwide demand for increasing amounts of power soon has people slaving away in factories to afford it, little better than miners. Unfortunately this vision of brutal capitalism pales compared to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and I’m not sure this even qualifies for Alien Visitors: the alleged alien could just as easily be some kind of evil spirit. “The devil — yes, that’s what I’ll be from now on.”

Saturday Night Live has spunoff countless skits into movies, many of them flops, which is why I passed on CONEHEADS (1993) when it hit the theaters. Catching it for Alien Visitors it turned out to be surprisingly good. Pointy-headed aliens Dan Ackroyd and Jane Curtin arrive on Earth in the early 1970s to scout it out for conquest, but after their ship crashes they’re forced to adapt to Earthly life as best they can. Complicating things are malevolent xenophobes David Spade and Michael McKean who want these illegal immigrants gone (this would double bill well with the 1990s film Here Comes the Munsters, which had a similar pro-immigration theme). Very enjoyable with a strong cast including Chris Farley, Phil Hartman, Laraine Newman, Drew Carrey, Adam Sandler, Jason Alexander, Jan Hooks and Michael Richard; part of the fun is that they’re more obviously ETs than Robin Williams’ Mork from Ork, but everyone treats them as pretty much normal.  “I read in a magazine that you can talk to me about anything.”

Kids on a family vacation discover pint-sized ALIENS IN THE ATTIC (2009) and have to thwart their plan to recover an ET McGuffin from the basement, then summon their space fleet to conquer us. And as the aliens have mind-control weapons that work on adults, but not kids, clearly the siblings and cousins will have to do it their own. Standard kidvid adventure; like Coneheads this relies on one alien bluffing his people into calling off the invasion to save the world. “They were arguing and fighting — then their lips hugged!”

Following on The Asylum’s War of the Worlds came the 2008 sequel WAR OF THE WORLDS 2: The Next Wave, in which C. Thomas Howell as George Herbert learns an alien mother ship has popped out of a wormhole (“That’s why we didn’t see them coming.”) and gets abducted as one of the guinea pigs the ETs are using to find a cure for their vulnerability to Earth bacteria. This looks cheaper than the first film (CGI space walkers rather than the insectoid alien tanks, and lots of scenes set in small rooms) and curiously establishes the invaders are indeed Martians. Even more curiously this throws in a time-travel element that doesn’t seem to affect the plot at all.   “It’s a tachyon cloud and it’s spreading — it’s a time hole!”

SWAMP THING (2019) was a TV series that just managed to complete its run on DC’s streaming service before that shut its doors. It’s now streaming on the CW, but regrettably that network is not going to pick it up. The story has CDC doctor Abigal Arcane (Crystal Reed) returning to her hometown of Marais, Louisiana, to fight a mysterious plant-based pathogen. There she meets maverick scientist Alec Holland, who’s convinced the disease is tied in to local power player Avery Sunderland (Will Patton), but bis attempts to prove it transform him into — well, three guesses, not that you’ll need them.

This was well done with a good cast (including Ian Ziering as the Blue Devil and Virginia Madsen as Sunderland’s long-suffering wife) and a lot of DC characters and references including the Phantom Stranger, Madam Xanadu, the Floronic Man and the Rot. Obviously they hoped for big things to come; even though they didn’t get them, the Easter Eggs add to the fun. “The swamp wants me to kill you — but I can’t bring myself to do that.”

#SFWApro. Cover by Bernie Wrightson, all rights to image remain with current holder.

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Today I stopped work and ate the frog

You may be familiar with the time-management term eat the frog. The idea is that if there’s something you’ve been putting off, you force yourself to do it first thing in the morning. That way you get it done, you have a feeling of accomplishment and everything else looks easy.

Between lack of sleep and the added demands of Wisp on top of the dogs, I’ve been letting a lot of frogs slide. Today I decided to skip most of my work (practically speaking, that only left me a couple of hours short) and get them done. Cleaning the kitchen. Cleaning the fridge. Cleaning my disgusting bathroom. Sorting through paperwork. Sorting out my browser bookmarks and deleting useless items from my desktop. A couple of paperwork things TYG delegated to me.

Done! Now I can kick back this weekend without being haunted by the feeling I should get up and clean stuff.

Of course that meant the week was underwhelming for productivity. The lack of sleep didn’t help, and having Wisp around when I wake up early apparently leads to me not starting work as early as I would otherwise. I got some research reading done, and a bunch of Leaf articles. I published an article on the Bronze Age Shade, the Changing Man over at Atomic Junkshop, plus a Valentine’s Day post about the film Quest for Love.

I also began proofing the hard copy of Undead Sexist Cliches. This is not the cover that will be on the book, but it will do for now. Think of it as a cover non-reveal.

The bad news: I did find some errors and places where I had to tighten up my writing. The good: not that many. It’s a pretty clean manuscript.

Another good: Got my royalty statement for my books from McFarland. Not a lot of money, but the fact it’s still coming in, even on books more than a decade old, is pretty damn cool.

I got some movies watched for Alien Visitors but no writing done. Despite which, I consider this a satisfactory week. Particularly getting to those damn frogs.

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Filed under Nonfiction, Now and Then We Time Travel, Time management and goals, Undead Sexist Cliches: The Book, Writing

A dog with a ribbon in his hair. And then Wisp.

I’ve had this photo on my laptop since Christmas, but I forgot to post it. Better late than never, right? For the record, we didn’t keep it on more than a second, otherwise it would have ended up in Plushie’s mouth.

Now, the Wisp stuff. Last weekend, Wisp’s habit of mewing for attention in the middle of the night left me really wiped out. My friend Dana said if I just stay upstairs and don’t come down, eventually Wisp would give up. I decided to try that — she’d still wake me up mewing but I’d just have to go into my room and write instead of going downstairs. No chance to brew any tea, but Dana was right, I couldn’t keep letting Wisp wake me up at 12:30 or 1 AM.

Next night, instead, she came right into the bedroom and joined me (I was in the spare bedroom after the dogs’ restlessness forced me to relocate). First she tried snuggling close, then she settled onto the comforter at the foot of the bed and I went back to sleep.

Monday night she came up again, but I couldn’t make it back to sleep.

Tuesday was … nuts. Plushie was restless and woke me up. I went downstairs and read for a bit, started to feel ready to go back to sleep … and Wisp showed. Later I went to sleep on the couch and she, after an hour sitting on the far side of the room, decided to perch on the back of the couch right over my face. Distracting. Tuesday night, though, she went upstairs when I did and settled in quite comfortably. I slept like a log.

Wednesday night, Wisp was in the bed before I was but I didn’t sleep so well. I’m not sure if it was the cat lying next to me inhibiting my normal shifting in sleep or just random bad sleep luck. Last night I took an Ambien so when this goes live I may still be asleep.

We’ve also bought a laser pointer to tease her with. Wisp loves chasing the red dot; what we didn’t expect is that Trixie interprets the cat rushing around as a sign she’s ready to play. Trixie ends up giving her a play  bow or similar gestures, and gets a little baffled the cat doesn’t respond the way Plushie does.

It’s remarkable to look back at some of my cat videos from a couple of years ago and see how far Wisp has come from when she could barely bring herself to cross the threshold. It’s been her choice, but I feel absurdly proud of me and TYG for bringing her this far.

#SFWApro.

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Rush Limbaugh has passed beyond this vale of tears … which he helped make more miserable.

I won’t gloat over Rush Limbaugh’s death, but I have no qualms speaking ill of the dead.

J.D. Vance is shocked — shocked — that people are being cruel towards “a man who changed media forever,” but Limbaugh didn’t change it in good ways. He spread misogyny and racism and called tween Chelsea Clinton the White House dog. When Democrats were in power, government was a threat to American freedom. When Republicans were in power, anyone who said government was a threat to our rights was the real threat. He was an all-out Trump supporter. As Erik Loomis points out, his hypocrisy included being a drug user who denounced drug users and a sexual sleaze who slut-shamed (more on hat). He helped push America into a nation that could elect Trump.

And he had no qualms with being cruel towards the dead. He celebrated Kurt Cobain’s passing, mocked AIDS victims — so let him die as he lived.

The alternative is to allow people like Josh Hawley to paint Limbaugh as a champion of the oppressed rather than the oppressor. And as Fred Clark says, speaking ill of the dead is how we warn other people they’re on the wrong path: “To refuse to speak ill of the dead when that is what their lives deserve is, according to Dickens, to withhold grace from others who are still living as the Marleys and Limbaughs lived. To refrain from celebrating the death of Rush Limbaugh is to consign Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson to inexorable damnation.” Not that I think Carlson or Hannity will change, but the point still stands.

So here’s a few of Limbaugh’s deep thoughts that I included in Undead Sexist Cliches:

Rush Limbaugh claimed worrying about football players getting concussions is “chickifying” men.

Limbaugh blamed feminism for male violence and school shootings.

He claimed feminism only exists so ugly women can have power (not a new idea in antifeminism)

He argued that men are innately violent and therefore it’s women’s duty to put their lives on hold and tame them with marriage.

“You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, so long as there is one element,” Rush Limbaugh said in 2016. “Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police.” He means this as a bad thing. He also claims that “no means yes if you know how to spot it. Seduction used to be an art, now of course it’s ‘brutish’ and ‘predatory'” adding that he’s fine with men doing whatever it takes to get laid.

He hates the idea of birth control allowing ““no responsibility, no consequences sex.”

When Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke said the university’s mandatory student health insurance should cover birth control, Limbaugh said “she wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex, she can’t afford the contraception,” ergo Fluke was a prostitute.

The world is not lessened by his passing, not one iota.

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