We need to talk about Laurie Penny

I don’t wish to necessarily single out Laurie Penny for criticism in this post, but she’s such a typical example of the phenomenon I want to write about that I don’t have much choice. If a Nickelodeon was asked to come up with a cartoon of a hard-left third-wave feminist, they’d simply ask an artist to follow Laurie around all day.

In June last year, the estimable David Thompson linked to this piece of hers in the New Statesman:

I had been struggling to find language for my growing anxiety over the fact that, at almost 30, I still have no desire to settle down and form a traditional family. I’ve been waiting, as open-mindedly as possible, for a sudden neo-Darwinian impulse to pair up and reproduce. And yet here I am, and it hasn’t happened. Despite no small amount of social pressure, I am happy as I am.

Study after study has shown that it is men, not women, who benefit most from marriage and long-term partnership. Men who marry are, on the whole, healthier and happier than single men. Married women, by contrast, were no better off than their single counterparts.

If women reject marriage and partnership en masse, the economic and social functioning of modern society will be shaken to its core.

I happen to believe in dismantling the social and economic institutions of marriage and family.

So Laurie is happy and doesn’t want to get married, and thinks marriage is bad for women and she wants to see the institution, and that of the family, destroyed. She then goes on to tell us that:

When partnership ceases to be mandatory, it only becomes more special. Next week, one of my partners is getting married, and this week I went to his stag night as part of the groom’s party. I’m happy for him, and for his fiancee, whose permission I got before mentioning her in this piece.

As regular readers know, Laurie is – or at least was – polyamorous. Well, good for her.

Now here’s what The Times says about Laurie, and they meant it as a compliment:

A writer and polemicist, a bad-ass, contrary, angry, bisexual troublemaker who is never happier than when she’s upsetting someone, or preferably everyone …

Here’s what she had to say about, erm, herself on ABC recently:

I don’t think, as political people, as activists, and as people who care about a livable future for the human race, we should be moderating our language at this point.

The opposite. I think this is when we go harder. Because, ultimately, you can’t do feminism, you can’t do anti-racism, you can’t do any kind of progressive politics if your first objective is to make the other side feel comfortable.

Well, I’m sure some people DO feel uncomfortable with the pace of social change, but I would suggest they get used to it, really. I don’t think it’s my job to make people who are sexist feel more comfortable. I’m not a politician, I’m a writer, and my job is to push the discussion forward.

Here’s what she said about herself (again) in march last year, in another New Statesman article:

I’m happy because I live in my own bubble and give zero fucks – a bit like a teenager.

Here’s Laurie praising her sister:

Here’s how she’s described her love life since her early twenties:

Over the past ten years, I have been a “single poly” with no main partner; I have been in three-person relationships; I have had open relationships and have dated people in open marriages.

Finally, the title of her latest book is called Bitch Doctrine.

Laurie has set out to portray herself, with quite some success, as a badass woman who gives zero-fucks, takes shit from nobody, does whatever the hell she wants (a bit like a teenager), and bucks every societal convention there is. Liberal use of profanity, piercings, dyed hair, and an unconventional sex life all complete the picture of someone who doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Like I said, Penny is somewhat of a cartoon, but she’s far from alone. I follow a handful of radical feminists and polyamorists online and they try so hard to be different they end up looking and sounding exactly the same. Unfortunately they also have something else in common which I haven’t listed. Consider the following tweet, from last June:

For someone who has built a career by demanding men she doesn’t know treat women with greater respect, it is odd she appears to have neglected to ask the same of her partner. Then yesterday, this:

This was about as surprising as Christmas. A feature of the people I mention above is their habit of posting semi-coherent outbursts of raw emotion followed by wallowing self-pity; their moods are up and down like a roller-coaster, one minute saying how happy they are the next moaning how shit life is. I’m not going to link to any examples because these people are, in the main, private individuals who are daft enough to post their mental torments on the internet.

But Laurie Penny is a public figure, writing for major publications and appearing on national television. She uses these platforms to advocate for social changes and encourage others to reject societal norms which, in the opinion of anyone with half a brain, would result in increased unhappiness and the further fracturing of society. In other words, she’s fair game for criticism.

Now I don’t want to make light of her depression, but she has probably brought this on herself. She boasts of being anti-social and nasty, and brags about rejecting conventional intercourse such as engaging in monogamous relationships, and takes delight in making people with whom she disagrees uncomfortable. In short, she sounds pretty damned unpleasant. And now we find the last nine months have been mean to her, she’s been dumped by her partner, and she’s depressed.

Well, there’s a surprise, eh?

Whether she’s realised it is open to question, but Laurie is probably finding that having thousands of sycophantic followers on Twitter and media types praising her “bravery” and calling her a “badass” is no substitute for having one or two genuine close friends and a partner who loves her. The problem is, you can only get those by being occasionally pleasant, which will be difficult for someone who’s made a career out of being the exact opposite.

The fascinating question is did the unpleasantness cause the loneliness, or vice versa? Or is it a vicious circle where a slight rejection when young induces unpleasant behaviour, resulting in loneliness and further unpleasant behaviour?

Alas, I’m just a blogger so I don’t know. But there is an awful lot of this stuff about, particularly in women in their late twenties and thirties. Laurie Penny is just the best example of a widespread problem.

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People in the Wrong Job

In my wanderings through the land I hear a lot of complaints about somebody’s unreasonable behaviour, normally from a person at their work. It can take the form of angry outbursts, inconsistency, micromanagement, pettiness and a host of others, but the complaints are always the same: why the hell is this person behaving like this? It’s making my life a misery!

Why indeed? I decided to start asking some questions each time I heard this, and most of the time the person in question was in a job they were wholly unsuited for. Their knowledge, experience, or – more often – their character, personality, and temperament was completely inadequate for the position they were in. That’s not to say they were stupid or useless, simply that they were in the wrong job.

Let’s suppose you are suddenly plonked into the captain’s seat of a Boeing 777 stood on the tarmac at Heathrow and ordered to take off and fly safely to New York. Unless you’re a trained pilot, we’re going to observe some pretty wild behaviour from you over the next few minutes, most unbecoming of a captain. Being put in a strange environment and asked to perform unfamiliar tasks is highly stressful, and will induce behaviour in people which can seem very odd.

The plane example is absurd, but millions of people find themselves in a similar situation in their day-to-day jobs. The stakes might not be so great, but the expectation levels are higher: nobody will ask an untrained person to fly a plane, but people routinely find themselves in a position they are manifestly unsuited to, yet are expected to perform. Most of the time they’re in a culture – either corporate or national – which frowns upon failure, but with an endless tolerance for muddling through.

If ever I find myself faced with strange or unreasonable behaviour, I step back and try to work out what’s causing it. It’s tempting to say that a person is simply insane or an arse, but that’s a lazy approach. Instead, I look at the situation they’re in and what they’re being asked to do, and see if that matches their competence and character. You know what? It never does. If it did, you’d see different behaviours. People who are in a comfortable position act like they are. Look at the confident swagger of a champion boxer on his way to the ring. It’s because he knows he’s good.

Maybe I’m getting soft in my middle-age, but nowadays I’m less inclined to think people are complete idiots, nasty, or they have something wrong with them. Most of the time they’re simply in the wrong job, and hence under too much stress. Feeling a little sorry for people is easier than getting mad at them.

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Paternal treatment at work

In the comments under this post, dearieme talks about his former bosses:

A couple of bosses were good at directing and encouraging me, one turned out to be a crook and probably going out of his mind, several others just gave me my head. One largely neglected me; he reckoned, I suspect, that if nobody complained I must be doing a good job so he’d put his effort into coping with those who seemed to be a problem. One was scared of me because I was far cleverer than he was.

I’ve had a variety of bosses ranging from very good indeed to people I’d happily see set on fire and shoved under a bus, with plenty in between. But I’m not going to write about them.

Instead, I’ll write about something dearieme’s comments jogged in my memory. There are few advantages of growing old and your hair turning grey, but nevertheless there are some. One is that, past a certain age, people you encounter in your professional life stop trying to be your fucking dad.

I think we’ve all experienced this. You turn up in a new organisation as a relative youngster and some middle-aged bloke introduces himself and starts coming out with lines such as “You have a lot to learn, and somebody like me can show you how things are done” or “If you stick by me I can take you places”. Such statements are always unsolicited and offered soon after your arrival before you can get wind of what everyone else thinks of him. Inevitably, the bloke in question is useless and everyone knows it, hence he must target newcomers if he is to get respect from anyone.

I saw a fair bit of this in my younger days and found it creepy, condescending, awkward, and sad. The language is always paternal, implying a relationship where I will admire him as some sort of mentor and life guru. I always imagined these guys have sons of their own who think their dad is a complete wanker and so they desperately try to gain adoration elsewhere. I even had a recruiter try it once, probably thinking my character was a lot more soft and pleasant than it is. He actually used the phrase “My job is to find young men who need some guidance, and put an arm around them.” He turned out to be about as useful as tits on a fish.

Thankfully this all stopped some years back. I don’t know whether it was my age or it was an Anglo-Saxon thing that the French don’t go in for, but I’m glad because it annoyed the hell out of me. I even had to tell one chap “Thanks, but I have a dad already and I don’t need another”.

None of this is to say that the old dog growling in the corner of the office with 30 plus years of experience under his belt isn’t worth talking to or having as a mentor. I’ve had that before and it’s great. I’m talking about the useless old farts who seek to address personal issues by attempting to create disciples out of unwary youngsters in the office. I’d be curious to know how common this is outside of my own industry.

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The Importance of Individuals

Bloke in Italy makes an interesting point in the comments here:

I don’t like expressing a judgement about a national characteristic – I try very hard to say about people what I would say to their face, and a statement like mine above can only be deeply unfair to most of the individuals concerned…

I was having a conversation on this very point with a friend of mine on Sunday.  My position is that I will say anything I like about a nation state or collective population, but I treat individuals in front of me as I find them.  In other words, I might not like the (say) Iranian government, its policies, the politics, collective habits and customs, and whatever falls under the description of “national character” and I would have no qualms about saying so.  But if I were to meet an Iranian then I would not treat them in a manner that is prejudiced by my feelings on the country as a whole (at least, I hope I wouldn’t).

A nation is more than a collection of individuals and for whatever reason the “national character” does not necessarily reflect the aggregate characters of each citizen.  Somewhere in the process other factors are applied with the result that the collective population can look quite different from its constituent persons.  Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in the Soviet Union, and later Russia: one of the most common things first-time visitors say is how surprised they are by the hospitality and friendliness of the people.  In his excellent book Among the Russians, Colin Thubron says early on “I never again equated the Russian system with the Russian people”.

I have offended many people by making disparaging remarks about their country, but I have offended very few individuals by making disparaging remarks about them (at least, until I’ve got to know them).  I have never understood people taking personal offence at somebody criticising their country, believing it is a reflection on them.  I’ve mentioned it before but one of the things I like about the French is you can slag off Air France, La Poste, and the prefectures and they’ll agree with you: they don’t feel personally insulted because of it.  Alas, the same is not true for many other countries, Australia and Nigeria to name but two.  Remark to an Australian than the prices in pharmacies in Melbourne are extortionate and he’ll say “Fack off home you facking whinging Pom”.

Speaking of Down Under, I remember The New Australian writing on his blog that he had little faith in humanity but plenty of faith in humans.  It was a good line, one that I agree with.  I’ve generally found people collectively to be utter shits but generally very pleasant on an individual level.  TNA also remarked that totalitarian regimes and authoritarian types always put collective humanity over individuals.  The Soviets put everything towards creating the New Soviet Man and a communist society, but had such utter disdain for actual people that they regulated the individual almost out of existence and murdered any that didn’t get with the programme.  Listen to the pronouncements of contemporary politicians worldwide and you’ll realise that viewing individual people as a problem is not unique to the Soviets.

Going back to my earlier example, it would be grossly unfair of me to make assumptions about any Iranian I meet until I’ve been given a chance to assess his individual character.  True, his government might like hanging gays from cranes and threatening to obliterate Israel, but for all I know he has spent twenty years in prison for protesting against that government.  It is hard to think of a country more dysfunctional and unpleasant than Nigeria, yet individual Nigerians are often wonderful people.  I’d like to think I treated those Nigerians I met as individuals and didn’t make sweeping generalisations about them based on what I saw of their country.  Conversely, nobody should have taken what I wrote about Nigeria here as a personal insult (although many did).

In summary, I think the world would be a better place if we stopped attributing such importance to collective groups and the feelings of nation states and just took individuals as we find them.

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Exodus

There are many things that make Paris different from other cities and I’ll not list them here, but one in particular I will mention because I contribute to the effect.

A friend of mine commented the other night that Paris doesn’t have the same festive vibe before Christmas that London does.  I speculated that this is because during public holidays – or more accurately, school holidays – Paris empties.  If I walk up and down the corridors of my office asking people what they are doing over Christmas, very few French will say they are staying in Paris.  As soon as the kids finish school families based in Paris pack themselves up and head of to “the provinces”, i.e. anywhere in France but Paris.  Usually they are heading to one or other of the kids’ grandparents’ places, or back to the region where they come from; even those who are born and raised in Paris will find some in-laws in the countryside to go and dump the kids with.  Nobody wants to stay in Paris over Christmas, and over summer the effect is doubled: the city empties of French people who are replaced with Chinese and American tourists.

The French autoroutes are superb, as is the SNCF – if it is working – but timing is everything.  If you try to leave Paris on a Friday evening when the schools break up you can look forward to one or two hours on the périphérique.  Similarly, if you are foolish enough to return to Paris on the last Sunday of the holidays, you will start hitting traffic jams up to 200km from the city and you can happily add another two hours to the journey. You’ll see hundreds and hundreds of estate cars, family SUVs, and people carriers jam-packed with kids, suitcases, clothes, presents, etc. driven by a middle aged man who looks as though he needs a stiff drink and another holiday – alone.

For my part, I have become enough of a local that I decamp to Annecy during most public holidays, as I will next week.  It is fun to stroll around the office with my appalling French and very English attire and tell people I am leaving Paris for the provinces for Christmas as per the rest of them.  Such things endear you to the French more than pronouncing “Rheims” correctly.

I am sure there are other cities where a mass exodus occurs in advance of a public holiday.  I was in New York the weekend before Labor Day and it was half-empty.  And although people undoubtedly leave London for the weekend and holidays, especially those wealthy enough to have a country pile, you don’t find almost every British family planning to flee the second the kids are out of school.  My guess is this happens in Paris because the provinces are very nice, families ties are still quite strong, it is well situated in the sense that you can depart in any direction, and the transport links are good.  It might also be that non-Parisians come to the city for work but never stop hating the place.

Would any of my readers like to tell me what other cities empty of locals during holiday periods?

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Beauty and Ugliness

I’ll quote from this post by Kurt Schlichter at Townhall to repeat a point I read over in David Thompson’s comments sometime over the summer:

The sexy supernova that was Lena Dunham has somehow petered out, American men apparently possessing eyes and, equally importantly, ears. I’m required to be shallow since I live in LA, but there really is this thing called “inner beauty.” One can mock the utter cluelessness that possesses this dumpy strumpet to flaunt her figure as if she was Cindy Crawford, Jr., but what actually makes her ugly is the fact that she is just a horrible person – entitled, abusive, dishonest, narcissistic, snobbish and amazingly dumb.

The point was that while beauty is skin deep, ugliness goes right to the bone.  I rather liked that phrase.

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Nobody Cares

There’s a fun little anecdote over in the comments at the Grandad’s place:

I retired at 60, and I’ve never regretted  it. I worked for 43 years as a marine engineer and spent a vast amount of time away from my family. Now i have grandkids and have the time to see them on a regular basis. They are the family that I never saw.

Although I was obviously much missed by my outfit that I retired from:

*Ring Ring*

ME: Hello?

Company servant: Hello Nick. Just ringing to ask you to send us your ID card and your anti gas respirator.

ME: OK

*Click*

Bearing in mind that I was the longest serving person for the company in it’s entire history of just over 100 years.

One of the things I thankfully learned very early in my working life is that “the company”, meaning your employer, could not give two hoots about your overall wellbeing.  Cynic that I am, I have been joking for years that if I got squashed/kidnapped/blown-up in the line of work the biggest concern my management would have is that I hadn’t submitted my timesheet that week.

The idea that a company cares who you are or would miss you should you go is one of the most  common misconceptions employees have.  I’ve seen guys resign and expect people to give a shit.  “How come nobody even spoke to me about why?” they ask.  “What about an exit interview?”  They don’t care: you’re gone, somebody else will take your place.  “But they new guy won’t know what to do!” they wail.  “Who cares?”  thinks the management, if they were to think at all.

I lost my best friend earlier this year after a long illness.  When he was diagnosed he was thrashing himself in a job which kept him away from his family and took up almost all of his waking hours.  His efforts were genuinely appreciated as proven by his boss giving a wonderful eulogy at his funeral, but one of the things my friend told me was how quickly they replaced him.  He thought he was the only one who could do this job and as such felt he could never take holidays or work normal hours.  Yet within a day or two of diagnosis the military – for he was a serving officer – replaced him with somebody from a different branch.  The handover took a few hours followed by a single clarification meeting a day or two later and that was that.  The military were good to him throughout and they are missing a phenomenal soldier, but even he was stunned by how quickly they replaced him and how little they missed him in the role.

He told me had he not fallen ill he would have leaped from one assignment to the next, each one more demanding than the last, fighting his way up the rapidly narrowing pyramid that is a military career.  He’d have gotten far, too.  The diagnosis changed all that.  His entire outlook flipped and he effectively quit his work to spend as much time as possible trying to get better and, more successfully, get to know his wife and kids.  He told me shortly before he died that if nothing else, he got to spend a couple of years with his kids which he probably otherwise would not have.  He also advised me that killing yourself in a job is utterly pointless and one should concentrate on enjoying life more.

But he didn’t need to tell me that, I already knew.

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Virtue Signalling in Disguise

I’ve noticed recently that something keeps happening to me that perhaps didn’t happen so much before.

I get asked my opinion on something and the person asking me doesn’t much like the answer I give.  Usually the question is on a topic which is controversial – Brexit, Donald Trump, the Iraq War, George W. Bush, Gun Control, Barack Obama – but only in the global sense.  What I mean by that is within a certain demographic – European, middle-class, degree educated – these topics are not controversial at all, and everyone is in lock-step agreement on each.

Which is where I think I’m surprising people.  I get asked my opinion on Brexit (let’s use that as an example) and I basically say what I said here: I would have been happy enough with a Remain victory for personal reasons, but on principle I am not unhappy to have seen the Leave campaign win because I think major reforms of the EU are long overdue and these would never happen without some cataclysmic event like Brexit forcing the issue.  This is hardly an extreme view but it causes a shock reaction nonetheless.

The immediate effect is for the person to challenge what I’ve said using the first response that comes into their head (“But the British economy will collapse, all the banks will move to Frankfurt!”).  My response in turn is to refute them using the same information, statistics, facts, and arguments I’ve seen presented elsewhere to the same objection.  The thing is, what my interlocutor has not realised, quite understandably, is that I take a keen interest in certain things and read and re-read dozens of lengthy arguments on these subjects which take place on the Internet.  I also have copious amounts of time on my hands.  A lot of the time I then post my own opinions on this here blog, having taken the time to consider each angle and argument carefully so that my stance can be both clearly presented and defended if necessary.  So when I am challenged on my opinion my responses are effectively prepared in advance and rehearsed, and for somebody who has just dipped their toe into the subject without such preparation they find themselves neck deep in an argument they stand almost no chance of winning.

Which makes me appear a bit of an asshole.  I have been accused of being defensive, aggressive, unfriendly, argumentative, and a whole load of other things basically because I can defend a slightly controversial opinion with quick-fire, eloquent responses which I’ve thought through in advance.  And also, probably, because I am a bit of an asshole.

For a while I thought about softening my stance, but I’ve decided against it.  The reason for this is because I figured out a lot of people who ask my opinion on such matters are not asking my opinion at all, they are looking to confirm their own.  As I said earlier in the post, the educated, European, middle-classes agree almost wholeheartedly on these issues: Brexit is bad and Britain’s economy will be fucked and the people who campaigned for it are stupid cowards and the people who voted for it are thick racists.  If you stated that over lunch in any European white-collar office not a single peep of protest would result.

Unless I was sat there.  Okay sure, I like an argument.  I’d start an argument in a coffin, as somebody once said.  But I get annoyed when people ask my opinion only for the purposes of confirming their own, which would allow them to say that they are informed on current affairs without making the effort to hear solid counter-arguments which challenged their own preconceptions and forced them to perhaps modify their views.  I wouldn’t mind if somebody wants a proper discussion on an issue, but most of the time they want a quick agreement of their own position, not a discussion.  And this is nothing more than cheap virtue signalling, and I hate that in any form.

So my advice is:

1. Don’t ask for somebody’s opinion on something if he writes about it on a blog unless you are prepared to hear something you might not like.

2. When you hear an opinion you don’t like from somebody who writes about it on a blog, be prepared for a pretty robust argument should you challenge it.

3. Pay particular attention to points 1 and 2 if the person writing the blog happens to be a bit of an asshole who likes arguing.

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Here be dragons

Via Tim Worstall, I see that the Hungarian government has upset British diplomats by dishing out leaflets saying that Britain has “no-go” zones as a result of its immigration policies.  This follows the row a few weeks back over Air China warning its passengers to be careful in areas of London populated by swarthy folk.

I cite the above merely to remark on the warnings our own Foreign Office gives to British citizens travelling abroad, which either:

1) Warn travelers to stay away from a place which has just witnessed some one-off catastrophe which is all over the news and in which thousands of people have been killed. This warning appears on their website two days after the event.

or

2) Warn travelers to stay away from a country in which something of minor consequence has happened that nevertheless got the British media excited, and life is going on as normal.

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Ten Days in New York

I’m back from New York, having had a fantastic time wandering around, drinking, and hanging out with friends.  What follows are my general observations and thoughts, in no particular order of importance.

New York is massive, I mean seriously big.  I first got an inkling of this when I found the time it took to get from Harlem to 42nd Street on the subway was longer than I thought, and I’d only covered about half of Manhattan.  Later in the week I tried to walk from lower Manhattan to midtown, but gave up as I realised no matter how many blocks I covered I still wasn’t getting much closer.  Later still I stood on the Brooklyn Bridge and looked towards midtown, and realised it was an awfully long way off.  And when I crossed the Robert F. Kennedy bridge into Astoria and looked westwards at Manhattan, it seemed to stretch southwards forever.  Even disregarding Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, Manhattan itself is enormous, on a different scale to anywhere else I’ve lived (Lagos, despite having a population of about 18 million people, isn’t that big geographically).  I quickly realised that simply walking everywhere isn’t really an option in New York.

It took me a while to get used to the subway.  About two days in I figured out that different trains run on the same lines but stop at different stations, and that some trains were “local” – stopping at every station – and some “express” and only stopping at major stations.  And whether a train was local or an express changed with the time of day and the day of the week.  This was all a bit complicated for a farm boy from Wales, but at least it explained why New York subway stations are designed with a third track in the middle: it allows trains to pass through without stopping.

The metro itself worked well enough, and was mercifully air conditioned.  But the stations themselves weren’t, and it was stiflingly hot down there.  The locals seemed to cope with this a lot better than I did, as I was sweating buckets.  I can’t say I liked the subway carriages themselves, the stainless steel design making them look more industrial than perhaps they need to, but they were clean enough.  The same can’t be said for the stations, which were in desperate need of a pressure wash, and the whole system kept reminding me of violent scenes in films from the 1980s.  At least they don’t have Guardian Angels patrolling it any more.  I will say this, though: the people seem a lot friendlier on the New York subway than they are on the London underground or Paris metro.  One chap offered to help me figure out the myriad combinations of stops and express trains – something you’d never see a Parisian doing – and I noticed people spoke and interacted with each other more than anywhere else I’ve seen.  Aside from one bellend who came in dressed like a gangster, shirtless with his pants hanging down his arse and tattoos all over him carrying a ghetto blaster playing music that only reinforced my theory that the louder music is played the worse it is, everyone was awfully polite.

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