Blood-sucking insects, will they spoil our west coast paradise?

Blood-sucking insects, will they spoil our west coast paradise?

Is the horse about to leave barn?  /  Beauty, who used to live on Torrene Road  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

There are more than 100 trillion mosquitoes cruising around the planet, including swarm annoying folks who live around the Black Creek salt marsh, and all of them are looking to suck your blood.

This week, some residents around Miracle Beach and the salt marsh, told CBC News they were “prisoners in their own homes” and that it was “like an apocalypse.”

One woman said, “We also have cancer-causing [mosquito repellant] that we’re spraying on our children in mass quantities,” she said.

Decafnation isn’t convinced of the wisdom of that, but after reading author Timothy C. Winegard’s description in a New York Times article of what a mosquito actually does, extreme measures don’t seem out of line.

“She gently lands on your ankle and inserts two serrated mandible cutting blades and saws into your skin, while two other retractors open a passage for the proboscis. With this straw she sucks your blood, while a sixth needle pumps in saliva that contains an anticoagulant that prevents blood from clotting. This shortens her feeding time, lessening the likelihood that you splat her across your ankle.”


If you’re lucky, all the mosquito leaves behind is an itchy bump. If you’re not, the little bugger could have infected you with malaria, West Nile, Zika, dengue or Yellow Fever, and you could be dead. Winegard says mosquitoes kill 700,000 people every year and may have killed half of the 108 billion humans who have ever lived.

The Miracle Beach folks are getting a taste of mosquito nastiness that refugees from eastern Canada have endured for centuries.

One of the great things about living on the west coast has always been the absence of insects, especially the blood-sucking kind. But changing climate conditions have encouraged mosquitoes — and probably other species as well — to seek out the O blood types (their favorite) of Canadians chillin’ on the coast.

Welcome to our new reality.

When Comox Valley kids return to classrooms in September, schools are supposed to know who has been immunized and who hasn’t. The province’s new Vaccination Status Reporting Regulation went into effect July 1.

Under the new immunization registry requirements, all parents and guardians must submit their children’s vaccination records before they can enter public schools.

Recent outbreaks of measles in BC should remind us that deadly viruses never completely disappear.

Measles was declared eradicated in 2000. But there has been increasing numbers of confirmed cases recently. The resurgence of a disease that not long ago was killing nearly half a million people annually around the world, stresses the importance to remain vigilant about vaccinations.

In particular, parents must continue to immunize their children.

Health experts estimate that immunizations have prevented more than 103 million cases of contagious diseases in the last 100 years. Vaccines eliminated smallpox, which killed more than 500 million people. Before the whooping cough vaccine was created in 1940, more than 10,000 people were dying every year from the disease in North America.
Parents who don’t immunize their children are gambling on more than their own child’s risk of contracting highly communicable diseases. They are putting others at risk, too, including children medically ineligible for immunization and cancer patients on chemotherapy.

Mike Fournier, a former Fifth Street sports shop owner and one of the driving forces behind the original Comox Valley Search and Rescue team, has contacted Decafnation with an update on the mysterious disappearance of a hiker in Strathcona Park back in 1977. Two weeks ago, we posted a story about that strange occurrence of events and said that the hiker, Duane Bressler, was never found.

But it turns out we didn’t look deep enough into the old Comox District Free Press archives. Fournier contacted us to say the Bressler’s body was eventually found, more than a year after he disappeared. Some hikers in the area of Mt. Septimus and Green Lake provided a tip that led the SAR team to the steep cliffs between Price Creek and Green Lake.

You can read the story here.




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Woodstock icon living in Comox, 3L developers defeated, and public wants bold action

Woodstock icon living in Comox, 3L developers defeated, and public wants bold action

It wasn’t Woodstock, but the Comox Valley Renaissance Faires in the 1970s came close  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

This week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the “Aquarian Exposition” informally known as the Woodstock festival. Over three days, more than 400,00 people came together for peace and created a definitive moment in popular music and an apex of the counterculture and anti-Vietnam War movement.

But did you know the iconic image of the biggest rock festival of all time features a Comox Valley resident?

Jessie Kerr, of Comox, says she is the young woman in rose-colored glasses and a flowered dress that she had made herself and wrapped up in a blanket with a man on the morning after rain turned the festival site into a mudslide.

The photo, by Burk Uzzle, appears on the cover of the album Woodstock: Music from the Original Soundtrack and More and has illustrated numerous article and documentaries of the event.

CBC radio interviewed Kerr Thursday morning — Aug. 15, 1969 was the first day of the festival — because a New York couple, Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, have claimed for years that they are the people in the photograph, not Kerr. The New York Times, Time magazine and other media outlets have written about the Ercolines, who have basked in their mini-celebrity status.

Kerr said she never wanted the fame that might have come from being recognized as the person in the famous photograph, but she wants the record set straight. It’s just a little annoying, she said, that another person is claiming to be her.

The Cumberland Wild music festival might not attract as many people, but the spirit of music-infused community will live on in the village starting today and running through to midnight on Sunday.

The BC Supreme Court has called out 3L Developments for their unfounded allegations and their several attempts to bend a community-supported document (the Regional Growth Strategy) through lawsuits. The court said none of 3L’s allegations were proven, including the claim of a racist comment they said was made by Area C Director Edwin Grieve.

This should put an end to 3L’s attempts to build a 1,000 house subdivision in the triangle between the Puntledge and Browns rivers. But it probably won’t be the last we hear from the development company or its principal, David Dutcyvich.

Dutcyvich may still try to develop the property in large, multi-acre lots that could be allowed under current zoning. But that might not be profitable, and 3L could try to sell the land or just hold it as an investment and try again down the road.

But he will undoubtedly continue to deny access to Stotan Falls, the popular summer swimming site, through his property, which he has every right to do. But doing so won’t win him any support from the court of public opinion.

Dutcyvich’s company created a contentious and litigious relationship with the Comox Valley Regional District, and made itself an easy target in the process.

BC Ferries hasn’t made many Comox Valley friends either, despite their good intentions.

The diesel-pwered ferry from Buckley Bay to Denman Island has run afoul.The plastic sheathing on the underwater cables is breaking off and polluting Baynes Sound. Some of the plastic is washing up on nearby beaches, but a lot more is probably staying in the water where it will break down into micro beads and poison marine life.

Climate Change Quiz: Who said this?

“Failure to adequately transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy — by either political or business leaders — will further erode public trust in the institutions that underpin our society.”

A) The Sierra Club
B) David Suzuki
C) Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada

If you guessed “C,” you’re probably an accountant because who else would figure this staid group to join the climate emergency movement?

But our nation’s CPAs have submitted recommendations to the House of Commons this week for overhauling the federal tax system to address the business issues of climate change. They say the current system “isn’t up to the job.”

“If Canada’s economy is to become cleaner and low-carbon, digital and data-driven, and more globally integrated and competitive, Canada’s tax system is not up to the job,” CPA Canada said this week.

According to a national survey conducted by Abacus Data in July, the Canadian public supports bold actions to combat climate change that go far beyond what all levels of government are willing to undertake.

“My main takeaway from this national opinion survey … is that the public is ahead of our politics. A large share of Canadians is already deeply worried about the climate crisis, and they are increasingly ready for bold and ambitious actions,” said Seth Klein, a former director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — BC Office, who commissioned the survey.

The survey results show that 75 percent of Canadians are worried about climate change, and 42 percent think it’s an emergency. Almost half were ready for an immediate shift to 100 percent clean energy sources and another 37 percent agreed with the shift but didn’t think getting to 100 percent clean energy was possible in the short term.

Most importantly, the survey showed that up to 84 percent of Canadians would support bolder legislative or other government actions to reduce carbon emissions.

Klein said the survey counters the typical reasons given by elected officials for not moving more quickly from fossil fuels to clean energy sources. Politicians typically justify non-actions because it would be “political suicide,” a notion the survey results appear to debunk.




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The Week: logging in the watershed, update on Comox parade ban and more

The Week: logging in the watershed, update on Comox parade ban and more

“I can’t believe what these newspapers are publishing!”  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

One of Decafnation’s regular contributors, Pat Carl, struck a nerve with her report this week on a visit to TimberWest’s logging operations around the Cruickshank River. Her article reported on the devastation she observed in the Comox Valley’s source of drinking water.

And that set off long strings of comments on Decafnation and on various Facebook pages. Some defenders of logging in the Comox Lake Watershed wrote wearily long diatribes that included attacks on Carl and this website, and those spoke for themselves.

The fact remains that logging above Comox Lake is a major reason why taxpayers are funding a $120-plus million water treatment plant.

But it’s not the only factor.

In fact, the Comox Lake Watershed Plan highlights camping, swimming and hiking as activities just as hazardous to the watershed as timber harvesting.

And that raises the question of whether Comox Lake should be a no-go conservation area that prohibits ATVs, dogs and fossil-fuel spilling motorboats.

Short update to Comox Mayor Russ Arnott’s chilling attempt to stifle free speech by ordering the Nautical Days parade marshall to rescind her approval of a Mack Laing Heritage Society float. Arnott justified his dictate by referring to many complaints of “alarming and inappropriate behaviour” by Mack Laing supporters in the Courtenay Canada Day parade.

But checking with the Courtenay parade marshall, Scott Mossing, reveals a different story.

Mossing says, “I can confirm that I have not received nor have any complaints regarding Mack Laing Heritage Society’s involvement in the July 1st Parade.”

It makes you wonder where Arnott got his information.

The Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission will reconsider on Tuesday a request from the Curtis Road Residents Association to add the Area B representation to their deliberations.

Odours from the sewage treatment plant have plagued Curtis Road homeowners for more than 30 years and, despite some improvements from new technology, still isn’t acceptable to them. Besides the loss of enjoyment of their homes at certain times, the strong odours have also significantly devalued their properties.

At its last meeting, the Comox Valley Regional District board pushed the CRRA’s request back to the sewage commission for reconsideration.

The commission previously couldn’t decide, with a vote to allow Area B representation ending in a tie because the CFB Comox delegate missed the meeting. Courtenay directors were in favour of allowing representation in some form, but Comox directors were not.

The CFB delegate may not show up again. The Department of Defense doesn’t like getting tangled in local politics, so it’s possible the military delegate will avoid this meeting, too.

But even with a deciding vote present, directors might choose to wait for the much-anticipated staff report and recommendations emanating from last year’s omnibus report on governance of the regional district’s water and sewage commissions.

The governance study was commissioned after CVRD engineers scrapped a plan about two years ago to patch the current sewerage system that included building a new pump station in the neighbourhood of Croteau Beach. There were serious technical problems with that plan and considerable public push-back.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report this week that blames agriculture for rising temperatures and the release of greenhouse gases. More specifically, the report says how we produce our food is a large part of the climate change problem.

And if we don’t change the way we eat, the report predicts the instability of our global food supply.

Short summary: eating less meat equals less heat. Agriculture generates 44 percent of all methane gas emissions and up to 37 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gases. Agriculture leads to deforestation.

The report recommends encouraging diets based on plants and grains, which take less land to produce than meat. And they have specific recommendations to improve food production’s negative effects on the environment.




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The Week: Town of Comox parade denial was a petty ploy

The Week: Town of Comox parade denial was a petty ploy

Canada Day parade crowd in Courtenay, circa late 1970s  /  George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Update: Courtenay Canada Day parade chairman Scott Mossing says “I can confirm that I have not received nor have any complaints regarding Mack Laing Heritage Society’s involvement in the July 1st Parade.”


Another week has come and gone and once again the Town of Comox has done something stupid. If it seems like The Week criticizes Mayor Russ Arnott and his gang a lot, it’s just because “the powers that be” at town hall can’t help making themselves a target.

This week, Mayor Russ Arnott called Nautical Days parade organizer Wendy Petrie and demanded that she revoke her approval of an application by the Mack Laing Heritage Society to appear in the Nautical Days parade. His justification: the “alarming” and “inappropriate behaviour” of MLHS in the Courtenay Canada Day parade.

After telling the Mack Laing society they were prohibited from being in the parade, Petrie later convinced Arnott to reverse his order and she rescinded the denial later in the week. She says the group is once again welcome in the parade.

But the MLHS says the rescinding order came too late and “some special participants and supporters … were not able to attend or assist, having made other arrangements. Given the restrictions placed on us, which are not listed in the official ‘Parade Guidelines’, we felt it best to cancel our appearance.”

Petrie told Decafnation in a telephone interview that the special restrictions — not to have petitions or hand out any negative paraphernalia with participants or spectators — apply to all political groups in the parade.

But there is something seriously “alarming” about this turn of events. Mayor Arnott has attempted to stifle the free expression of genuinely-held viewpoints that run contrary to his own. And it appears that he used his position to do so without Town Council support.

Could the mayor have committed a violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedom?

Were the other Comox councillors aware of his actions and do they support them?

Arnott’s personal feelings about the Mack Laing society also put Petrie, a dedicated volunteer who has organized the Comox parade four times in the past, in a difficult spot.  

FURTHER READING: Who is Mack Laing and what is this dispute about?

Petrie said she agonized over how to tell MLHS they could not participate in the parade. In the rejection email to MLHS on July 30 — eight days after approving their parade application — Petrie wrote that while “researching” the society’s “alarming behaviour” and after hearing “from many people how inappropriate your behaviour was” in the Courtenay Canada Day parade that the MLHS application had been denied entry into the town’s “family-oriented” parade.

What was this “alarming” and “inappropriate” behaviour that might threaten family values in Comox?

During the July 1 parade, MLHS supporters say they handed out a few tee-shirts and a bag with the society’s logo. They also carried a banner saying “Join us to preserve heritage” and signs that said “Mack Laing Matters” and “Keep the Trust.”

They were accompanied in walking the parade route by well-known local fiddler Jocie Brooks, the granddaughter of naturalist painter Alan Brooks, who was a close friend of Mack Laing.

Scary stuff, indeed.

It’s clear that the decision to exclude Mack Laing from this weekend’s parade was made after Arnott discovered the society had been approved. Petrie, in fact, freely admits that she didn’t make the decision to reverse her approval and deny entry. She agrees it was a raw deal.

In subsequent emails to MLHS, Petrie says, “I know I was looking forward to having you, but this was not my decision. I have to listen to the powers that be.” And, later she says, “I am as disappointed as you are.”

Mayor Russ Arnott’s actions — and/or whoever else conspired in this travesty — played petty politics.

Arnott doesn’t want the public to hear about Mack Laing. He doesn’t want the Mack Laing Heritage Society to generate any additional support for forcing the town to abide the terms of the famous naturalist’s trust agreement . He wants the Mack Laing debate to just go away.

So he kicks them out of a parade. Sounds like middle school.

But the “alarming and inappropriate behaviour” here is that an elected official would use his position to prevent the free expression of ideas. Mack Laing supporters have a different point of view from Arnott about the town’s action in regards to Mack Laing’s trust and the fate of his heritage home, called Shakesides. Thankfully, expressing differing points of view is still legal in this country.

An email sent to Arnott inviting him to explain his actions have not been answered. Petrie responded quickly with a phone call. 

On a related topic, the Comox Valley Record recently took a strong stand against anything in local parades except horse-drawn wagons, clowns, animals and bands.

In the editorial, Record editor Terry Farrell writes, “Put the fun back into parades, and for a change, leave the politicking at home.”

Farrell makes an exception for local elected officials, but doesn’t explain why. Maybe he classifies them as clowns or animals. They certainly don’t put any more fun in a parade than the real targets of his editorial: the Green Party and the Mack Laing Heritage Society.

And how do commercial vehicles offering nothing but their business names add to the fun in a parade? Farrell doesn’t mention them.

Besides the fuzzy argument that tries to distinguish between local politicians and federal or provincial ones, and between acceptable nonprofit organizations and not-acceptable ones (the ones he doesn’t like?), Farrell makes one point on which we can agree: Parades should be fun, not sombre events.

Parade participation or not, there is a federal election coming on Oct. 21, and the political parties have already started their pre-official election campaign campaigning. See the Election Countdown Timer on the Decafnation home page.

One of the interesting debates already occurring concerns the possible shifting of traditional NDP votes to the Green Party. Strong NDP advocates are all over social media slamming Green Party leader Elizabeth May in an attempt to discourage this shift. They have blasted her for, among other things, saying she might consider an alliance with Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives under certain circumstances.

But NDP stalwarts can relax because, according to Scheer, that’s not going to happen.

In an ad that keeps popping up on The Week’s Facebook page, Byron Horner, the Conservative candidate for Courtenay-Alberni, says don’t be fooled by the new Green Party slogan. “The Green Party is a Left-Wing Big Government party that would economically devastate Islanders who own a car or a home. Thinking about the Green Party? Read the fine print.”

It appears there will be at least one federal election all-candidates forum in the Comox Valley. Details to follow.



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What does ‘climate emergency’ mean? And, were the Vikings smoking weed?

What does ‘climate emergency’ mean? And, were the Vikings smoking weed?

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

When our local governments declare a “climate emergency” what does that really mean? Is it simply a statement to recognize that climate change is real? Is it merely a trendy thing to do, something to show how aware the elected officials want to appear?

Or, does the act of declaring a climate emergency carry with it a moral obligation to consider the best environmental outcome of every council decision and all staff activity? If a local government isn’t doing absolutely everything it can to stop fouling our planet, then are they  just giving lip service to populism?

If a local government doesn’t walk the talk, they perpetuate the idea that we can all carry on doing what we’ve always done, business as usual, and everything will be all right. Because, hey, we declared a “climate emergency.”

Case in point. The Town of Comox has declared a climate emergency. But are those just words to appeal to the masses, or is the town now applying the best environmental practices to everything it does?

The town is currently tearing up Noel Avenue between Pritchard and Torrence roads. They are doing road reconstruction, concrete curbs and sidewalks, a Brooklyn Creek culvert replacement, asphalt paving and line painting.

But did the town, which recognizes there is a climate emergency, even consider the environmental best practices of adding rain gardens and other forms of stormwater infiltration that would help prevent the pollution of Brooklyn Creek and ultimately Comox harbour?

No. The response from the town to Decafnation was, “There was (sic) no storm main infrastructure upgrades required.”

Doesn’t a climate emergency “require” the town to do whatever it can to make our environment cleaner? When a road is being reconstructed, that’s a perfect opportunity to apply an environmental best practice, in this case creating ways to let rainwater soak into the ground and let nature do the cleansing.

With new concrete curbs and gutters, it will be decades before the town feels financially justified to tear it up again to add infiltration galleries. Now is the time to do it, both from a financial and environmental perspective.

Where are our elected representatives like Alex Bissinger, who brought the climate emergency motion to Comox Council? And why aren’t they holding the public works staff accountable for failing to seize this opportunity?

Of course, adding rain gardens to better handle stormwater won’t solve the “climate emergency” by itself. But it’s walking the talk. Not doing these small things does the opposite.

— Comox could learn a thing or two from the City of Courtenay’s upper Fifth Street project that included rain gardens and narrowing of the impervious asphalt surface. Courtenay is currently developing a new integrated stormwater management plan that we hope will require all new road reconstruction in Courtenay to follow the Fifth Street plan.

— Speaking of not walking the talk, the City of Prince George is set to approve and accept a Calgary company’s proposal to build a $5.56 billion petrochemical plant there. It will produce polyethene plastic to Asia. The city’s mayor says the project promises great economic potential for the city and the province.

No climate emergency there, apparently.

— On the other hand, Norway has refused to allow drilling for billions of barrels of oil near the Lofoten islands in the Arctic. Again, showing how shallow our awareness of a “climate emergency” really is, this has left other Norwegian politicians and the oil industry “surprised and disappointed.”

— No surprise or disappointment in Alberta, however, where federal and provincial regulators — and we use that word loosely — have green-lighted the largest ever tar sands open-pit mine.

— And finally this week, it has been discovered that the ancient Viking explorers may have been smoking pot when they discovered Newfoundland. That explains a lot.



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The Week: the effects of drought, but who really owns the water?

The Week: the effects of drought, but who really owns the water?

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

The small amount of rain that fell on the Comox Valley recently isn’t enough to offset the drought we’ve been experiencing since February. Low water levels in Comox Lake, and in most of our streams, have brought around the nearly annual stage two water restrictions.

BC Hydro has reduced flows from the lake into the Puntledge River to below minimum fish habitat levels to ensure there will be enough water later to release into the river when the fall chinook start to run.

According to Hydro, precipitation in June was just 33 percent of the average rainfall, and they are not forecasting improvement through the end of September. The forecast for the three-month period of July through September is 56 percent of normal.

That’s better than 2015 when there wasn’t virtually no snowpack and the three-month forecast was 32 percent of normal.

So what happens to the fish in the Puntledge?

BC Hydro’s Stephen Watson told Decafnation that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have captured most of the summer Chinooks for broodstock. They have also trucked some of the salmon up to the lake, where they hope the fish will spawn in the Cruikshank River.

Low water levels necessitate balancing the risk for fish with power requirements more years than it doesn’t. And, we suspect it will begin happening sooner every year as climate change alters our weather patterns.

Here’s a question you probably never expected to hear: who owns the water?

When rain falls on our planet, it fills up our lakes and streams and replenishes our aquifers. Like the air, rain is just there for everyone, and the concept of “ownership” never enters the conversation.

But down in New Mexico, there’s a legal battle brewing over the privatization of public waterways. And it’s not unlike the Comox Valley concerns about Stotan Falls.

The Guardian newspaper recently reported, “Water itself has always been a public resource for people to fish, paddle, wade and float in. Private landowners have long taken unsanctioned steps to keep the public out of waterways, as in the recent case of an Arizona man convicted of shooting at kayakers boating down a river that runs through his land.”

But the New Mexico state government quietly passed legislation giving private ownership of public waters that flow through privately-owned land. Public access advocates are fighting back, but it will be expensive just to win back what already belonged to the public.

Some good news from Comox Valley schools: Indigenous students in the Comox Valley are graduating at a rate higher than the provincial average.

Seventy-seven percent of Indigenous students in School District 71 completed Grade 12 for the 2017/18 school year. That was a bit higher than the provincial average of 70 percent.

On June 18, the Office of the Auditor General of British Columbia released a progress audit on the Ministry of Education’s changes since the office’s 2015 report on the education of Aboriginal (now referred to as Indigenous) students in the B.C. public school system.

Just a few years prior, in the 2013-14 school year, only 58 percent of Indigenous students graduated.

Got your earthquake survival kit up to date?

Modern technology has enabled scientists to track hurricanes and tornadoes as they develop, giving people time to seek safe shelter. But the recent earthquakes that struck the BC coast and Northern California this week reminds us that it’s the suddenness and unpredictability of temblors that makes them so frightening and potentially deadly.

Even a slightly bigger earthquake that comes without an early-warning system could have easily caused fatalities.

The entire west coast is an earthquake-prone region because it lies within the Ring of Fire, the zone of the frequent earthquake and volcanic activity circling the Pacific Ocean. More than 90 percent of all earthquakes and 80 percent of the most destructive quakes occur in the Ring of Fire.

Vancouver Island also sits on a major fault line, where geologists have determined a subduction zone earthquake – the most powerful type of deadly quakes – occurs every 400 to 600 years. The last one rocked our region in 1700. Do the math.

The US Federal Emergency Management Administration estimates that a megaquake on our coast and the ensuing tsunami would cause about $80 billion in damages and an unimaginable death toll. Dozens of freeway bridges would collapse, entire coastal communities would be submerged. It’s only a matter of time.

California is ahead of Canada in creating shake alert systems. Scientists at the University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey are working on a warning system that would eventually be made available to the public.

But early warning systems would give less than a minute’s notice – just enough to shut down automated systems like pipelines, send out text alerts to cell phones or make elevators stop at the next floor and open their doors.

It would be foolish for individuals and property owners to think that such a system was a reason to put off preparations for a major quake. The big shake is coming, and we’d better be ready.




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