50/50: #3 – Poetry selections

50/50 is a series of 50-word capsule reviews I’m doing in conjunction with my pledge to read 50 books in 2012. The next 50/50 will be Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Selected Poems, James Tate (1991)

Simple sensations crawling out the vivid dark: “Here the tendons in the swans’ wings stretch / feel the tautness of their futuristic necks.” Two decades’ irony, queasy particularity: tomorrow and yesterday “immigrants with one shirt between them,” skin a lace “of salt and disease.” This “exquisite emptiness“: “ground for fine flowers.”

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Spectrum Culture album reviews: Poliça – Give You The Ghost and Emily Wells – Mama

Another cd double header. Emily Wells and the voice behind Poliça both are crafters of impressive music and charismatic frontwomen. Their music stands for itself. Read about, and watch, below:

“Amongster” leads off the record with scratchy, Wall of Sound synth squealing in My Bloody Valentine-sized wallops, coming across like some glitchy club track slowed way down, while Leaneagh’s vocals skate verbal figure-eights around incessantly tapped rims. Her presence first paddles along in and then releases itself fully to the song’s chaotic percussive intensity. A basic hip-hop beat and evocative background textures lay down the steadily easy constructs of “I See My Mother,” more rim-riding sketching out the clip of a nighttime urban walkabout, beneath glaring lights and through dark alleyways. Leaneagh comes through in staggered vocal layers set at heavy delay, lending unexpected elegance to verses such as, “She’s letting down her long black hair.” “Violent Games,” by contrast, has a gruffly adrenalized start, Leaneagh’s fractious vocals at odds with her admission, “Man by my enemy, oh but he knows/ My needs.”

Read the rest at Spectrum Culture.

Gentle counting off launches opening track “Piece Of It,” Wells manifesting first in a gaseous butane hiss against the barest, wailing melodica flailing in a wash of upright bass, ukulele and plucked violin strings. Later in the imbalanced waltz, having wavered softly among liltingly impressionistic, paper-thin instrumentation for a spell, her vocals come cross-directionally and ghastly sounding, layers of Wells singing concomitantly, “Get a little piece and then give it away.” It’s a fitting induction that leads seamlessly into follow-up “Dirty Sneakers And Underwear,” on which Wells incorporates the hip-hop rhythms and breathless inflections found previously elsewhere, and for which she is at least partly known. Big drum strikes and atmospheric samples carry it out as Wells half-moans, half-sighs, again in multiplicity, “You got your hands on me.”

And here’s the rest at Spectrum.

Thanks for reading!

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50/50: #2 – Written on the Body

50/50 is a series of 50-word capsule reviews I am doing in conjunction with my pledge to read 50 books in 2012. Hope you enjoy. The next 50/50 will be James Tate’s “Selected Poems.”

image courtesy of 4.bp.blogspot.com

Written on the Body, Jeanette Winterson (1992)


Genderless narrator. Extended prose poem style; ecstatic, spiraling ruminations on love. A more accessible, less frighteningly abstruse Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Rapturous in parts, slightly repetitive in others. “Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there.” An affair intensely felt.

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50/50: 50 book reviews, 50 words each – #1 – The Postman Always Rings Twice

Between now and 2012’s end, I’ve pledged (to myself? to the library gods?) to read 50 books, and to do a series of 50-word book reviews for each title, dubbed “50/50.” This is the first. Hope you enjoy. The next 50/50 will be Jeanette Winterson’s “Written on the Body.”

image courtesy of wikimedia

The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain (1934)


L.A. outskirts, early ‘30s. Recidivist drifter finds work in dusty truck stop diner, bites coworker afraid she looks Mexican. They fall in love, decide to off her “greasy” Greek husband, the diner’s owner. Try, fail. Try again. Romance fiery, cruel but weighty, well-paced run-up and twist. Potboiler, but tasty, thriller.

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Spectrum Culture music reviews: Animal Joy (Shearwater) & Le Voyage Dans La Lune (Air)

Two albums, two diametrically dissimilar approaches. Shearwater is emotional, muted and occasionally ecstatic, building their sound up around simple arrangements and melodies; Air is just about what you’d expect from a couple of French guys tooling around with a crapload of keyboards and effects and a soft spot for spacey atmospherics and lounge.

After three records of muted insularity (Palo Santo), explorations taken on the wing (Rook) and heady island-hopping over open water (Golden Archipelago), it was about time Shearwater got in touch with its baser impulses. The loosely unified “Island Arc” trilogy put to bed like a grim and intricate yet surprisingly brilliant fairy tale, the Texas-based trio led by Jonathan Meiburg (percussionist Thor Harris and bassist Kim Burke backing him) was in need of a change of pace, musically speaking. Whether the hurried Animal Joy embodies such a departure, or is just the appendix or final extension of a running focus, is matter for debate, but what it is – shimmering and raw, full and biting – is in any case remarkable, and a big deal for a group that began as an outlet primarily for softer output from Meiburg and onetime Shearwater member Will Sheff that didn’t have a home on records put out during their joint stint in Okkervil River.

“Animal Joy” is available for streaming in full on YouTube. And the rest be found here.

And here’s Air, beginning with a clip from from the short (Georges Méliès’ iconic film of the same name) scored with their music:

Starting with rolling timpani deployed over a languid rhythm, injections of atmospheric, static-laden guitar and busy orchestral flourishes that pop up like pockets of space debris, veteran electronic duo Air’s Le Voyage Dans la Lune gets off to a familiar, if unremarkable, start. Granted, “Astronomic Club” is not much like “La Femme D’Argent” or even the Space Age dancehall jam “Venus” (kick-offs to their 1998 debut, the iconic Moon Safari, and 2004’s Talkie-Walkie, respectively), but in low-frequency noise and garbled sampling possesses a sort of understated cosmic charm. As is the rest of Le Voyage, the track is both buoyed by and tied up in indelible symbiosis with the source of its inspiration: Georges Méliès’ 1902 short film of the same name, to which Air’s Le Voyage was composed as a companion when a long-lost hand-colorized print of the pioneering cinematic narrative about six astronomers traveling to the moon was restored in 2010. (The restoration, with its new score, premiered at last year’s Cannes.) “Astronomic Club” never quite makes a solid landing though – clocking in at only three minutes and change, it’s too insubstantial to even form strong opinions of – a criticism that could also be leveled at the album as a whole, given its paltry 31-minute running time and somewhat lackluster delivery.

The rest: back on Spectrum.

Thanks for reading!

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Spectrum Culture book reviews: The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama; Something to Say by Richard Klin

Book reviews: love to do ’em, but they take about 10,000x the effort of a music, film or concert review, so I don’t do them often enough. Here’s two recent ones from yours, truly.

First is Francis Fukuyama’s “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Vol. 1)”:

image courtesy of profilebooks.com

When you’re penning a two-volume series ambitiously titled The Origins of Political Order, every word counts. When it comes to the word count of political philosopher Francis Fukuyama’s newest book, it’s a rather large one, splayed out over 600 pages. Cognizant of that, perhaps it’s better to spare the extraneous; Fukuyama’s investigation concerns no less than the historical development of human social organization from tribes, bands, clans and chiefdoms through 10,000 years to kingdoms, empires and modern democracies, examining in particular the origins of three political institutions: the state itself, the rule of law and accountable government. By no means mutually inclusive, they’ve been either present or noticeably absent from every regime in history at some time or another, and throughout history the most effective states have successfully leveraged the latter two in support of itself, the first. Beginning with ancient Chinese tribalism – one of the earliest known forms of political organizations – and hopscotching eras and regions, Fukuyama makes note of where those three institutions succeeded and where they led nations (both real and de jure or only technically existent) to ruin.

Read the rest over at Spectrum Culture.

Second is Richard Klin (and photographer Lily Prince), “Something to Say: Thoughts on Art and Politics in America”

image courtesy of spectrumculture.com

To what extent and in what proportions do art and politics converge? Should they at all? These two concepts’ messy ideological footprints (and any overlap between them) comprise the purview of Richard Klin and Lily Prince’s Something to Say, containing 15 profiles of both famous and lesser-known artists on career-long quests for a better world. Finding this intersection and thus learning what specific influences hold the most sway for each individual creator – in his or her own words, pooled among some of the most esteemed and most treasured artists of the past few decades – is the book’s aim, and in that modest goal it is largely successful. The book’s subjects, likely owing to the important issues to which they feel personally connected, weave gratifying if slightly scatterbrained (or one might use the kinder “open-ended”) tales of success and failure in their respective fields. Overall, Klin’s actual presence within the profiles is unobtrusive, almost nonexistent save for providing a contextual construct, even as the questions and descriptions he leaves behind populate the book’s pages; mostly he relays as much background as is necessary only before allowing his subjects to fill in the blanks – to tell the stories themselves, as they should be told.

And the rest? Spectrum Culture, of course.

Thanks for reading! Coming soon will be reviews of James Gleick’s The Information and a few concert/album reviews. Cheers!

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Spectrum Culture music reviews: Laura Gibson’s “La Grande,” rediscover of Lia Ices’ “Grown Unknown”

Two reviews, four vids. Haunted-voiced female singer-songwriters. A good day for everybody involved.

First, Laura Gibson’s new album, the spectral “La Grande”:

Due to enlistment of percussionists Matthew Rubin Berger and Rachel Blumberg as well as appearances from Calexico’s Joey Burns and the Decemberists’ Jenny Conlee, La Grande is a decidedly dissimilar creature from Gibson’s first two records, 2006’s If You Come to Greet Me and 2009’s Beast of Seasons. Though both provided substantial proof, in evocative lyricism and fragile folk-pop songcraft, as to why each could be appreciated in its own right, neither attempted the exuberant grandeur or ambitious leaps that fill La Grande. Gibson’s spider web-thin vocals remain but are this time underlined doubly thick by more precise and energetic arrangements, hissing AM radio static and punctuating bass drum and rim taps, as on the title track, La Grande’s opener and a sonic racehorse that rollicks forth with Gibson recalling a “pine-bearded hill” near which “still, to this day/ I can hear the whistle blow/ I can smell the sage burn.”

And the rest: Right here.

I also did a rediscover of early 2011’s “Grown Unknown,” from Lia Ices:

Having ditched Rare Book Room for Jagjaguwar following release of her 2008 debut, Necima, last January’s Grown Unknown saw the unleashing of a rawer, more colorful side to New York singer-songwriter Lia Ices’ sound, even while it retained some of the stark dolorous beauty of her first record. Exploding in percussive- and piano-led fractals and feathery, funereal dirges, it’s an expert showcase for the classically trained but experimentally inclined Ices’ strengths, sufficiently developed and on occasionally stunning display just two entries into her nascent career.

The remainder be here.

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Spectrum Culture concert reviews: Papercuts, Sea & Cake/Lia Ices, Minus the Bear/Velvet Teen, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside

This one’s a four-fer!

First up is my review of Aughts icons Minus the Bear and the Velvet Teen, at the Doug Fir on Nov. 8:

image courtesy of behindthehype.com

Minus the Bear entered with “Thank You For Being A Friend” blaring on the P.A., their Velvet Teen compatriots standing off in the back row hollering in support. Vocalist-guitarist Jake Snider and bassist Cory Murchy, having long lost their tousled, early-indie-era locks, both sported full, messianic beards and long hair. Pulling largely from the recent Planet of Ice and Omni era for their first five tunes in advance of delving into Highly Refined Pirates, the latter was definitely the highlight for the crowd, which lit up palpably as soon as the opening seconds of “Thanks for the Killer Game of Crisco® Twister” could be made out beneath the waves of applause following the previous disco beat-heavy but surprisingly flat rendition of “Fine +2 Pts.”

Read the rest at Spectrum Culture.

Next up is local favorites and the Willamette Week’s Best New Band of 2010, Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside, at the Wonder Ballroom Nov. 18:

…loping onstage piecemeal to overly raucous appreciation from the front rows, Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside spared no delay before ringing in “Nightmares,” the slow-burning closer off their debut LP Dirty Radio, vocalist Ford’s full-voiced delivery cracking ever so slightly (“Sometimes I wish it would all collapse/ And I could finally fall on my ass“) as bassist Tyler Tornfelt, drummer Ford Tennis and guitarist Jeff Munger glided through the rendition. After transitioning directly into the title tune off 2009 EP Not An Animal, a simple “Thank you s’much” from Ford was sufficient to launch them into another stretch of tracks mining the young outfit’s favorite territory: freewheeling and jazzy, Golden Oldies-style rock ‘n’ roll imbued with raw punk irreverence and topped with Ford’s abdominal yowls and Etta James purrs.

The rest, again, can be found at Spectrum Culture.

Third is the odd pairing of Chicago’s easy, breezy indie jazz-rocker veterans the Sea & Cake with New York’s young upstart songstress Lia Ices, also at the Doug Fir, on Dec. 8:

For all the enthusiasm shown by the crowd for up-and-comer Lia Ices, seconds after the show’s jazzy Chicago headliners took the stage, it was pretty clear who most of the sold-out audience had paid to come watch. The crowd erupting immediately in whistles and howls at the appearance of the quartet; several concertgoers began hurling mild personal insults as well as song requests, ignored or fielded by co-vocalist co-guitarists Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt. Mostly ignored, except in the case of a surprise dance-inducing rendition of “Jacking the Ball” (off their 1994 self-titled debut) that Prekop introduced halfway through the set with, “I’ll take what I can get.” But in terms of gain and contribution, Prekop, Prewitt, John McEntire (drums) and Eric Claridge (bass) brought more to bear than a willingness to appease listeners desiring them to dig deep into their discography (although they played material from several of their nine studio LPs). Wielding an almost preternatural unity on all 19 songs performed that night, the Sea and Cake had no trouble marching through a wide range of moods, from the lurching experimental valleys of earlier records to the tight, poppy strains of “Crossing Line” (from 2007′s Everybody), the latter enveloping Prekop and Prewitt’s capo tones on guitar and the rich brassy twang of Claridge’s bass.

The rest be here.

Last is the most recent — Papercuts at Portland’s Bunk Bar, December 10:

Dreary nights… have little on Papercuts’ quietly defiant preciousness, nor on the painstaking arrangements [lead guitarist/vocalist Jason] Quever puts at the center of nearly every Papercuts tune, even below the vaulted ceiling and pale, dim lights of combination sandwich shop/art gallery/drinking hole/music venue Bunk Bar, situated in Portland’s gritty industrial east waterfront district. Inside, the casual vibe and low-key setup (Bunk Bar lacking a stage in the traditional sense of the word) lent Quever, backed by frequent contributors David Enos (keys), Frankie Koeller (bass) and Graham Hill (drums), the air of someone playing an open mic, or just charitably scoring bar patrons’ Saturday evening with lush compositions pulled in at least some small part from a decidedly bygone, and more lo-fi, era.

And the rest of this piece is located, of course, back at Spectrum Culture.

Whew! More Spectrum reviews, Poetry365 (365ish?) and other content to follow soon. Thanks for reading!

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Spectrum Culture film feature, Oeuvre: Samuel Fuller – The Crimson Kimono

More from our Sam Fuller series. Strangely, Crimson Kimono has the dubious distinction of remaining one of the only mainstream American dramas featuring an Asian-American male in a leading role, more than a half-century after its release. More backlogged Spectrum reviews to come soon (as well as, hopefully, some more original material from me).

After a stripper (“Sugar Torch”) is gunned down in the street, LAPD detectives Sgt. Charlie Bancroft and Joe Kojaku (Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta) are tasked with picking her killer out from a short list of unsavory types while keeping young college co-ed and artist Christine Downes (Victoria Shaw), key witness and acquaintance of the deceased, out of harm’s way. This, in the inexplicable mores of the era (or at least in the logic of Samuel Fuller’s 1959 post-noir The Crimson Kimono), requires the precocious creative shack up with the detectives in their hotel suite – safer than her sorority house, they reason – where, to no great surprise, a love triangle develops between the very-dissimilar officers and their attractive ward. The tautly formal yet sensitive Kojaku plays piano, while the more unprofessional and headstrong Bancroft, with a jawline of chiseled granite, launches double-entendres at the young woman, and the conflict between the “knucklehead” upstart and grizzled veteran is underlined by deeper hints of ethnic tension and reinforced by their mirrored affections. In a vocabulary already well-established by writer-director Fuller, it’s a story of star-crossed lovers. Like his previous China Gate, one of its primary focuses is race and on the difference between hatred born of bigotry (one of Fuller’s enduring themes) and “normal, healthy, jealous hate.”

Read the rest here: Spectrum Culture – Oeuvre: Samuel Fuller – The Crimson Kimono

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Open letter to fellow supporters of Occupy Portland: Occupy Portland 2.0

[Note: Please feel free to copy, alter or distribute.]

Hello fellow Occupiers,

First of all, for the sake of the movement and its progress I strongly support all those willing to form a contingent of any size to stay in the camp and face arrest come Sunday morning. Although many in the public will be relieved the parks have been cleared (however temporarily) and others view it as a blow or setback for OP, if those remaining are peaceful as well as steadfast in the face of all police action, any outcome will be an overall benefit, increasing our overall visibility and presence in the media and public consciousness.

What happens at 3 or 4am Sunday morning after the police have left, whether to reoccupy the park or not, is something which I think no individual person or even OP itself can control. That being said, I think the scheduled clearing of the camp is the perfect opportunity for the adoption of new tactics in the spirit of the idea of “Occupy 2.0.” Below are some realities I feel the movements faces, and some options for what could come next.

Given that, as an Occupy movement we must occupy something, as well as:

a) With talk of occupying multiple parks simultaneously, there’s some idea floating around that our resources are unlimited. We need to be realistic, but still reach for greatness. Our ideas hold infinite power, but our personnel/popular support and logistical capacity is not currently sufficient for action like that. Moreover, spreading ourselves thin (in any way) presents the police with an obvious advantage when it comes to closing down individual parks and arresting smaller numbers of campers. We are strongest when we are united, at our most diverse and out in force of numbers.

b) A portion of the public’s negative reactions to our occupation(s) have stemmed from perception (correct or not) that OP caused significant damage to the parks, presented a public safety risk and cost taxpayers money (in the form of police presence and park cleanup/repair). Conversely, these concerns provide a major strategic resource: we will grow in public support if we use principles of sustainability and occupy without doing damage or putting undue stress on already strained City resources (or even to save the City money, so as to focus on funding other essential services); many already with avowed sympathy with our cause would be swayed to our side. There is reason to believe this represents a large segment of the general population.

c) It is getting colder. As the temperature continues to drop, the chances of someone in a long-term camp freezing to death increases, and the reality of long-term logistics for such a camp become infinitely more complex.

d) As occupiers, community members and human beings, we (in our strength of numbers) have not just an obligation but a fantastic opportunity to fill a serious need obviously vacated by national, state and local gov’t. — that of feeding, sheltering and/or otherwise assisting and lending our aid (material, emotional, political and otherwise) to the housing-insecure and those cast aside.

e) At this time OP’s weakness is not in self-policing, nor in muddled messaging, but in outreach. This movement is not just a movement, or an occupation, but is the seed of national discussion. If we self-represent as the 99%, it behooves us to resemble the 99% more than in name. We’ve done a good job of this, peaceful egalitarianism (talk about your basic human values) being at the root of our movement, but need to recapture the diversity present in the first marches. As much of the occupation’s power as possible must be invested in arms of promotion (there doesn’t have to be a limit to how many or what form they take). Sunday’s amazingness was a testament to the hard work so many occupiers have done, forsaking jobs, school, families, friends and the comforts of home to do so. Let’s continue that trend.

I feel that:

1) We need to redouble our focus on non-violence, and add to that objective improvement of the public good and employment of fully sustainable practices. In other words, we need to do what corporations are not doing: take care of the environment, take care of people, improve or at least cast no footprint where we’ve been, clean up after ourselves and contribute demonstrably, altruistically and wholly to the public good. This could include everything from cutting out all food packaging in the kitchen to forming a permanent cleanup squad before/after events to discouraging people from putting out cigarette butts on the ground. Perhaps efforts in this vein would even reduce or eliminate police presence at our gatherings. [Edit: realism.] (b, d)

2) Rather than occupy a specific park through the winter, organize rotating daily marches and overnight sit-ins at various parks in the Metro region. These overnight or short-term sit-ins operate on a changing basis so as to reduce physical and environmental impact on the site (and to, by peacefully assembling in changing locations, reduce chance of police action). For the marches, we come out en masse to create visibility, rally, talk to folks, draw them out, march in their neighborhoods and set up temporary camp in a different park/area each day, hold evening GAs and have all-night civic issue debates, cuddle-ins, political philosophy readings, quiet dance parties, etc. As daily action we organize free events for the benefit of all citizens including bank action marches, picketing bad corporate citizens, putting on concerts like the one at Pioneer Square, community-wide potlucks and swaps, public food tours and gardening info sessions, skill seminars, Reclaim The Streets actions, film screenings, local credit union/local biz events, trash pick-ups, vacant housing reclamation, repainting homes, fundraisers for those in danger of being foreclosed on, etc. These are all basic elements of community, humanism and civic duty which a Civil Society should provide but which ours presently does not. (a, b)

3) Reach out to all not currently involved. Tap into the underground wellspring of public support we certifiably (and as of Sunday, demonstrably) enjoy. More street team, media and outreach committee focus. This could include door-to-door, community discussions, co-organizational events, etc. Give bike advocates, fiscal conservatives, public health advocates, families, downtown office workers and those living out past 82nd or over the West Hills more reason and opportunity to march and act with us, and work with existing groups of citizens with common cause. As we (along with other strategies) do more events for the public benefit, spread march routes all over the city and manifest the ideal of benefiting the public good, others will attract. (At this point, if OP or OWS achieves critical mass, it won’t matter what or where we occupy. We will have all the people with us. Who will arrest us if the police are with us?) Perhaps a rather important element to outreach is to allow more people (in fact, hundreds upon hundreds just here in town, if not more), who sympathize and want to help but are somehow unable, to participate via internet. (a, c, e)

4) Contribute demonstrably and constantly to improving the plight of those on the street, addicted to drugs and emotionally troubled. To start with, we need to take care of our many housing-insecure (or volitionally nomadic), and otherwise vulnerable friends, continue to work closely with them and to help fill the need gap (in keeping with idea 1). If this means setting up clean, well-organized R2D2 spinoffs in vacant lots around the city and large public food gardens, so be it. As part of outreach, and part of events, we can march with them, visit shelters, squats and encampments to break bread with those staying there, deliver donated goods/gear or medical supplies to rehab clinics, crowdsource people’s bail, etc. (d)

5) Maintain some office space (on top of all other occupations decided on). We need a warm and dry place for computers and equipment to function, to organize large-scale events (like in 1-3), and for GAs when it is too unpleasant out. If we add an online participatory model to the GA, we can run broader-based GAs within a given space (to accommodate all those who choose to be physically present). (c, e)

6) At winter’s end, we can begin talking about re-occupying something longterm, when we have the logistical experience and widespread popular support under our belts (or at least improving). (c)

Remember the key is to build a widespread, peaceful and sustainable movement!

Of course, the great thing about this popular consensus model and movement is that if there are good reasons for us to stop doing something we’re trying out, or to start doing something differently, that option is always open to us. (And additionally, we can continue doing all the many things that have and continue to work!) So I hope that this and any other suggestions generated or decided on in the coming weeks regarding the future of this movement will carry with them the caveat that we can always reconsider. But we have such a huge opportunity to take this to Occupy Portland 2.0 that I could not resist sharing my ideas.

If this movement is an organism, it was conceived October 6 and born on Sunday. Now, let’s help it learn to walk and talk!

Thanks for your time!

Joe Clinkenbeard

[Note: This is a living document. Changes will be made (see below).
Edit Nov 10: Yeah. I definitely had two #4s and two letter ‘d’s in those lists. Whoops. Results of being rushed ‘to press.’ Fixed. Also I’ve gone through and cleaned up a bit here and there.
Edit Nov 14: Edited for timeliness, as clearing has already occurred.]

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