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Week of 17 March 2003

Latest Update : Sunday, 23 March 2003 11:34 -0500

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Monday, 17 March 2003

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10:34 - It appears that war is imminent. As I've said, we're attacking the wrong country first. We need to destroy Iraq, certainly, but Saudi Arabia and North Korea are the direct threats and should have higher priority. Even Iran should take priority over Iraq. But the US should be committed to destroying Iraq, and I support any action that furthers that goal.

Unfortunately, it's not at all clear that the US is committed to destroying Iraq. I was appalled by Mr. Bush's wishy-washy comments last night. Minimizing Iraqi casualties, rebuilding Iraq after the war, and establishing a Palestinian state should have no priority at all, and his comment about using revenues from our oilfields in Iraq to benefit the Iraqi people shows that Mr. Bush has his priorities totally wrong. What about benefiting US people? What about recouping our costs, not just the direct costs associated with the war itself, but the indirect costs of what Islamic terrorism has done to the US economy? One of the primary goals of this war should be a massive transfer of wealth from Islamic nations to the US, both to benefit our own people and to remove those assets from the control of people who will use them to harm us.

"We have prepared ourselves for all kinds of war. For many months, tens of thousands have volunteered to serve as martyrdom-seekers in the battle with the American enemy." --Saddam Hussein

All that really means is that US and Allied forces will not be inclined to accept surrender by Iraqi forces. That, of course, is the main reason why Saddam is encouraging his soldiers to act as suicide bombers. Once his soldiers realize that US and Allied forces are likely  to shoot Iraqis who try to surrender, they'll be much less likely to try to surrender. Perhaps some French advice is needed here. Surely the French have mastered surrendering under any conditions.

Ultimately, it won't matter. US and Allied soldiers will be loathe to shoot surrendering Iraqis. Until, that is, the first incident when Iraqis pretending to surrender set off a suicide bomb. At that point, it'll be hard to prevent US and Allied soldiers from shooting any Iraqi soldier they see. Just ask any US soldier who served in the Pacific during WWII.



Tuesday, 18 March 2003

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10:53 - I was extremely disappointed, although not surprised, at Mr. Bush's statement last night. It is difficult to imagine a less war-like declaration of war. I'd hoped (but not expected) to hear something like this:

1. There are a lot of Iraqis we don't like. Here is a list of them. Deliver their heads to us within 24 hours.

2. You are occupying oil fields that belong to us. You have wired them with explosives. Remove those explosives and walk away from those oil fields now, leaving them undamaged. For each oil well you damage or destroy, we will obliterate one of your cities.

3. Lay down your arms immediately and walk away from them. Any Iraqi national caught with arms will be shot out of hand, whether or not he has surrendered. If anyone fires on US forces, we will destroy the entire area from which he fired on us.

4. Any building or site that displays an Iraqi or Islamic flag will be fired upon. Any building or site that does not display a white flag may be fired upon. All mosques and other Islamic religious sites will be destroyed, and all Islamic religious leaders will be shot. Anyone who conceals or otherwise aids Islamic religious leaders will be shot.

5. We will accept surrender of Iraqi military forces and civilians until the first time someone surrendering abuses our graciousness by setting off a suicide bomb or otherwise harming US troops. If that occurs, we will no longer accept surrender by any Iraqi, soldier or civilian. We will simply obliterate anything and anyone in our way.

6. If your forces use chemical or biological weapons against us once, we will nuke Baghdad into molten, radioactive glass as a final warning. If your forces use chemical or biological weapons against us a second time, we will nuke every population center in Iraq, down to the smallest village.

7. Any Iraqi who wishes to surrender on these terms may do so, but must demonstrate his sincerity by eating a ham sandwich and pissing on a copy of the Koran.




Wednesday, 19 March 2003

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11:40 - Everyone seems to think the balloon will go up this evening. I don't think so. President Bush was very careful not to say that our troops would move immediately after the deadline passed. There are certainly disadvantages to delaying the invasion, but there are numerous offsetting advantages. The full moon certainly argues against going now, and the longer we make them wait the more likely average Iraqi soldiers are to lay down their arms. Waiting gets on people's nerves, and that's all to the good as far as giving the Iraqis time to take counsel from their fears. Of course, our own folks want to get moving as well, so it's a trade-off. On balance, I suspect it's worth waiting.

I keep reading more news articles that say we must minimize Iraqi civilian casualties, and those articles enrage me. Not because I particularly want to kill Iraqi civilians, but because those articles never make clear the price in blood of taking enemy casualties into consideration. Certainly, if someone polls the US people and asks, "Should US forces do everything possible to minimize civilian Iraqi casualties?" the answer will be a resounding "yes". If instead that poll asked the real question, "Should we accept an increase, possibly substantial, in the number of US soldiers killed and wounded in return for a smaller number of Iraqi civilian casualties?", the answer would be (I hope) a resounding, "Hell, no".

Well, that's the trade-off, people, whether you like it or not. We can fight this war with the goal of minimizing US casualties or we can fight this war with the goal of minimizing Iraqi casualties. We can't do both. Which would you pick? When our forces arrive at the gates of Baghdad, there are two choices: (a) take Baghdad like Grant took Richmond, without concern for Iraqi casualties, or (b) take Baghdad one building at a time, which turns into another Stalingrad. If we choose the former, there are going to be piles of dead Iraqis, but relatively few dead Americans. If we choose the latter, there may well be tens of thousands of dead on both sides. You might argue that there is a choice (c) lay siege to Baghdad and starve them out, but that's a non-starter. It's going to be (a) or (b). Which one do you want? If you pick (b), please make sure to explain your reasoning to those of your friends and neighbors who have fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, wives, and husbands out there on the sharp end.

For myself, I'll choose (a) every time. As George Patton so cogently observed, the way to win a war isn't to die for your country. The way to win a war is to make the other son of a bitch die for his. If stomping Baghdad flat using FAEs or nukes is what it takes to minimize our casualties, I'm all in favor of it. I don't want to see one American, Brit, or Aussie soldier die needlessly. Going in easy is going to cost us casualties. Going in hard, ferociously, is going to minimize our own casualties. In the long run, it will probably also minimize Iraqi casualties.

I've been remiss in posting warnings and such lately. First, here's yet another critical IIS flaw, to which I was alerted by Roland Dobbins, Paul Robichaux, and others. You've probably heard about it already, but if not and if you're running IIS you need to be aware of it. And Roland also sends the following:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Linux kernel/ptrace local root exploit
Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003 01:32:56 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Jerry Pournelle, Robert Thompson, Brian Bilbrey, Greg Lincoln, Tom Syroid

This is a local root exploit (not directly exploitable remotely) - please post ASAP, thanks (don't know why this isn't getting more publicity in the usual places)!




Thursday, 20 March 2003

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10:39 - I happened to check the FoxNews.com website last night just before 2200, and noticed that they had a "breaking news" banner up saying that the attack had commenced. I found that extremely odd, given that it was about dawn in Baghdad. Why would US "We Own the Night" forces attack at the worst possible time for us and the best possible time for Iraq? I assumed that we were simply plinking Iraqi targets, as I predicted last week.

But, what the heck, it was worth a look, so I turned on the TV and flipped back and forth between FoxNews and CNN. One of them, CNN I think, had a pair of "military experts", a retired three-star Air Force general and a retired two-star Army general. By that time, the commentators were saying that this was probably not the beginning of the real attack, which should have been obvious given that their live cameras pointed at Baghdad weren't showing any explosions. But no, said the "experts". This was the real deal. The kick-off of the invasion campaign. According to them, all of our troops massed on the southern border of Iraq were now rolling into Iraq. Huh? Why would any commander in his right mind do that? Our guys can see in the dark. The bad guys can't.

But I confess that the opinions of these two so-called experts gave me pause. I don't know much at all about military affairs, and I'm certainly no tactician, let alone a strategist. Surely these two guys, with five stars between them, should have at least some clue about what was going on. Obviously not. It seems to me that CNN needs some new military experts.

The monsoons have started here in Winston-Salem. Around 9:30 last night, the rain started, with occasional thunder. By 10:30 or so, we had some pretty strong thunderstorms moving through the area, with heavy downpours. The thunderstorms continued throughout most of the night, and the downpour continues as I write this. Barbara took down our rain gauges to prevent them from cracking during freezing weather, but I'd guess that we've had four to six inches of rain since last night, with more to come.

We're under a flood watch here, which is no joke. The street immediately behind us adjoins a flood plain, and when I drove past it on the way to and from visiting my mother this morning it looked like a lake. We looked at a house on that street before we bought our current home. That house had a plimsoll line halfway up the foundation showing the high-water mark of the last flood. Those folks must have had about four feet of water in their basement. No, thanks.

Microsoft has issued a warning for yet another "have your way with me" security flaw. Don't confuse this with yesterday's critical security hole. This is an all-new critical security hole. See the details at:


This hole allows an attacker to gain control of your computer. You need not be using Internet Explorer to be affected. All you need do is visit a malicious web site or open (or preview) an HTML mail. Disabling active scripting renders you immune, but Microsoft suggests that you do that only as a temporary solution. I have to wonder what planet Microsoft is living on. Anyone with any sense disabled active scripting long ago.

12:21 - Ever wonder why nVIDIA drivers aren't Open Source? This article has a clue. Apparently, nVIDIA 41.09 and higher drivers have "stringent checks to comply with Macrovision requirements". nVIDIA says "The BT868 and Conexant CX25870 TV encoders do not support Macrovision. If your graphics card is equipped with one of these TV encoders, then it will not support DVD playback with our 41.09 drivers and above." I guess it wouldn't do to allow people to play the DVDs they've purchased on hardware that doesn't support DRM.



Friday, 21 March 2003

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10:57 - Today is the 318th birthday of the greatest composer the world has ever known. Johann Sebastian Bach, born this day in 1685.

"If things seem to be going well, you're walking into an ambush." That warning, which probably dates back to Alexander the Great, keeps coming to mind as I watch reports of US forces rolling across Iraq, essentially unopposed. Of course, barring local firefights, there's not much the Iraqi forces can do to ambush coalition forces. Except, that is, by attacking with what a news commentator yesterday referred to as "chemological" weapons.

I don't think that will happen, simply because it must be obvious to everyone in Iraq that they have lost the war, even before the US and UK have weighed in with the bulk of their forces and weapons. Saddam Hussein, if he is still alive, must realize that he is in the same position after two days of war that Adolph Hitler found himself in after more than five years of war. Like Berlin in the spring of 1945, Baghdad will shortly find itself encircled by superior forces that are prepared to pound his capital city to rubble.

Of course, Saddam doesn't care about that any more than Hitler did. Nothing matters to Saddam except himself. If he is to die, he has no concern with what happens to his country and capital after his death. That means that Saddam, if he is still alive, will probably order the use of chemological weapons. Whether any of his commanders are foolish enough to obey that order is the question. I expect none of them to be so foolish. There's little point to putting a rope around one's own neck when the war is so clearly lost.

If coalition forces do finish the job so quickly, that begs the question, "What next?" To my way of thinking, we have a large assault force well placed in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. If I were Iran's rulers, I'd be very nervous. Iran is our enemy. No one can doubt that Iran sponsors terrorism against the US. They have admitted it more than once. Tactically, it would be a relatively straightforward task for US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan to cross the borders into Iran. Iran could no more stand up to those forces than Iraq has. Less so, actually. With Iraqi ports secured, the US needn't worry about logistics. Iran might last a week against such an invasion. At that point, having invaded and occupied Iraq and Iran, the US forces could turn on Saudi Arabia and Syria, both of which are enemies of the US, both of which sponsor terrorism against the US, and neither of which would last a day. We have the army in place, and I see no reason not to use it to clean up this mess for once and all.

When I suggested this to my mother this morning, she commented that the US had no legal authority to invade these other countries. I pointed out that the US is sovereign, and needs no external authority to wage war against its enemies. The UN be damned. A law without the means to enforce it is meaningless. International law is what the US says it is, because the US is the only nation capable of enforcing its will on other countries. Everyone talks about bringing peace to the Middle East. Well, the only way that's going to happen is to enforce peace on the countries in that region, and the only country capable of doing that is the US.

Do it now, I say. Do it while we have the forces there to get the job done. In the long run, a lot fewer people will die, ours and theirs, if the US goes in now and cleans house.

I'm working on the USB chapter right now, and a few days ago I started to experiment with USB under Linux. I had all kinds of weird problems, using multiple Linux boxes and multiple USB devices. I had about concluded that USB under Linux wasn't ready for primetime, and sent out a message to that effect to my backchannel Linux mailing list. I got many responses, all of which basically said, "Linux works fine for me with USB." So I did some further exploration. I sent the following message to the backchannel this morning.

Thanks to all. My problem was, get this, the *cable*. It was an HP cable, which looks to be of high quality, but obviously isn't. What's strange is that it worked without errors on several Windows systems, but using it on three different Linux boxes produced a plethora of strange errors. When I replaced it with another cable all the weird stuff stopped, so it must be the cable. I haven't tried it again with a Windows system, so perhaps it coincidentally went bad between the last time I used it with Windows and the time I started playing with USB on Linux.

I'm still running Red Hat 8.0, which IIRC is kernel 2.4.19, so I need to do something if I want USB 2.0 support. Does anyone know when RH 8.1 is going to ship? I'm not sure if it's worth downloading the beta or if I should just wait for the official release. I assume that RH 8.1 will use a USB 2.0-capable kernel.

It appears the forecast is reasonably favorable for tomorrow night, so we'll probably head up to Pilot Mountain to do a warm-up session for the Messier Marathon next week. Astronomical twilight ends at 2002 tomorrow night, and moonrise isn't until 2356, so we'll have nearly four hours of full dark to work with. My personal goal is to bag half the Messier catalog (55 objects) in that four-hour period. That gives me a bit over four minutes to locate and log each object, so I'll be moving quickly.

We'll probably head up even if the weather isn't perfect. It's been so long since we've had a chance to observe that we're all out of practice. We need to get the kinks worked out before we undertake the real Messier Marathon session at the end of this month. That lasts from dusk to dawn, and the goal is to locate and log all 110 Messier Objects. Barbara decided that she didn't want to Marathon, but she will be attempting to complete the Messier list. She has already logged nearly 80 of the objects, which leaves her 30 or so to bag. The majority of those are the five galaxies in Leo (M65, M66, M95, M96, and M105) and the objects in or near the Coma-Virgo Clutter (nearly 20 objects, mostly galaxies).

Robert Graham, Paul Jones, Steve Childers, and I will be doing the full Marathon. Several others will be there, including Barbara, Bonnie Richardson, and Mary Chervenak, but they will just be working their own lists rather than participating in the formal Marathon. None of us are really expecting to complete the Marathon. Of the 110 total Messier Objects, I think any of us would be happy to log 90 and delighted to get over 100.

Push comes to shove both during the early evening and the time immediately before dawn. In the early evening, the problem is that there are quite a few objects that are setting before it's fully dark. Those objects (M74, M77, M76, M33, and M110 in particular) have pretty low surface brightness, which makes them difficult to see even if you succeed in getting them in the eyepiece. Adding to the difficulty is that they are very low, and when an object is near the horizon you are looking through an awful lot of air, or what we call "muck". The same thing is true, but in reverse, as dawn approaches. The final objects (M15, M2, M72, M73, and M30) rise not long before the sun rises, and they must be located and logged while they are very low on the horizon in a brightening sky.

Those ten objects are extremely difficult under the conditions prevailing on Marathon night, but even if we miss all of them we can still rack up a score of 100, which is not too shabby. Many, many Marathoners have gotten 109 objects. The one they miss is usually M74 as they start the Marathon, or M30 as they end it. I'm not sure which would be worse, missing M74 to start and knowing there was now no way to complete the Marathon, or logging 109 objects successfully and then missing M30 at the very last.

12:51 - France, useless to the last, has now "pre-vetoed" a proposed UN resolution that would assign the US and UK responsibility for administering post-war Iraq. Chirac has made it abundantly clear that France has no legitimate place on the UN Security Council. If the US remains a member of the UN, it should be only to exercise its veto over any measure France proposes. It's clear that the UN is a do-nothing debating society, and should have no role in post-war Iraq, or indeed in international events from this point forward.

As I read about the first allied casualties in this campaign, it occurred to me that for the first time actual warfare may be proving less dangerous than training. As sad as these losses are, they are probably lower than might be expected during a training exercise with 300,000 troops. I hope that we can finish the job with no more allied losses, although that's probably not realistic.

For the Iraqis, of course, this is anything but a training exercise. Now that the actual bombing campaign has started, there must be many Iraqis dying in Baghdad.

13:16 - Here's an interesting political quiz. My score is shown below. What I found interesting was not so much the quiz itself, but the results. With nearly two million people taking the quiz, "Libertarian" has a substantial lead overall. To some extent these results are skewed by the fact that techies tend to have libertarian sensibilities, but even so these results are surprising.





Saturday, 22 March 2003

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11:29 - This war is a huge mistake, but not for the reasons that the moron anti-war protesters think. As I watched General Franks' briefing this morning, I couldn't help but think that this is the first Politically Correct war in all of history. We are fighting it for all the wrong reasons, and with all the wrong goals. Our stated goal is to create a democratic government in post-war Iraq, but an Islamic democracy is an oxymoron. Even if such a thing were possible, it would not be possible in Iraq, which is not a nation and never has been. Iraq is an arbitrary creation. It came into being literally as a result of a British colonial officer drawing lines on a map. It is foolish to expect such a motley group of disparate peoples to somehow coalesce into a true nation state. They hate each other almost as much as they hate us, perhaps more.

Any artificial nation-state we create will last only until another strongman comes along, probably with the support of Islamic leaders, and under their control. The New Iraq will be just as much an enemy of the US as was the Old Iraq. If used to be that "giving comfort and aid to the enemy" was a capital crime. Now it is official US policy. We plan to rebuild Iraq into a stronger, richer enemy of the US. How stupid can we be?

All of this is result of the Politically Correct axiom that it is unacceptable to wage war on a religion. Why should that be so? Islam declared war on the West a millennium ago, and we have continually been at war with Islam ever since. We haven't noticed, of course, because Islam is pathetic, but we are at war nonetheless. The goal of Islam, as a religion, is to destroy us. An honest Islamic (another oxymoron) would admit that. In practical terms, you'll never hear such an admission, because Islam teaches that it is not only acceptable but admirable to lie to us infidels.

I have taken the trouble to read the Koran, in more than one translation. I suspect few other Westerners have done so. If you doubt what I say, read the Koran yourself, keeping in mind that Islam is a fundamentalist religion and that what you are reading is what Islamic religious leaders teach their flocks. Islam teaches its adherents to conquer, kill, and enslave the rest of the world. That's us, folks.

Islam is the enemy, and until we recognize and acknowledge that fact and act accordingly, nothing we do will make us safer from Islamic terrorists. Jerry Pournelle tells me that we have to build "golden bridges" for our enemies, leaving them a way out. Ordinarily, I'd agree with him. If we were fighting a non-Islamic enemy, it would indeed make sense to allow our enemy to surrender gracefully. It would even make sense to help our enemies rebuild, with the goal of converting enemies to friends. We did that after WWII with Germany and Japan. But what Pournelle fails to see is that while it was possible to convert those enemies to friends, the same is not always true. Germany and Japan were not engaged in a religious war against the US. Germany and Japan had no religious leaders encouraging their followers to engage in religious war against the US. Germany and Japan were and are true nation-states that could be counted upon ultimately to act in their own self-interest, not theocracies serving a higher truth.

In the long run, the current war will gain us nothing, and will lose us a lot. What we should be doing is attacking Islam itself. The hell with government buildings and communications centers. Our "Shock and Awe" campaign should be directed at Islam. We should be targeting mosques and religious leaders, not communications facilities and generals. The targets of our "decapitation" strikes should have been religious leaders in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Islamic countries. Kill their political and military leaders, certainly, but the real long-term solution is to destroy Islam itself.

Mark my words. As the leaders of Islam come to realize that they are immune from US attack, they will become even more frenzied in their exhortations to attack us. Our attempts to eliminate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are essentially pointless. Producing chemical and biological weapons doesn't require the resources of a nation-state. The knowledge required is already widely available, and there's no way to put that particular djinn back in the bottle. In reality, the only effect of this war will be to further enrage Islamic terrorists and to further their resolve to harm the US. The only solution to that is to recognize who the enemy is and take the war to them. I don't expect that to happen.



Sunday, 23 March 2003

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11:34 - Thanks to Wayne Ketner for forwarding a link to an article from Time Magazine that points out France's real motivations in opposing war with Iraq. Actually, I think Krauthammer is much too kind to France. France is a petty country, in every sense of the word. It has earned the ridicule with which important nations treat it, and more. The proper response to France is simply to continue the French jokes. France is, after all, a joke. Even they must realize that.

Roland Dobbins sends the following warning about Windows 2000 upgrades breaking the computer.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Specifics of problems with Microsoft security update for WebDAV vulnerability
Date: Sat, 22 Mar 2003 09:35:14 -0800
From: Roland Dobbins
To: Jerry Pournelle, Robert Bruce Thompson


There's a major issue for users trying to update Windows 2000 SP2 boxes to which various hotfixes were applied, hotfixes received directly from Microsoft Product Support Services (PSS).

Those particular hotfixes contained a copy of NTOSKRNL.EXE with a version number between 5.0.2195.4797 - 5.0.2195.4928 inclusive. These machines should be will upgraded to Windows 2000 SP3 -prior- to installing the MS03-007 fix for the WebDAV vulnerability.

Note that Windows Update apparently can't check the NSOSKRNL.EXE version, so auto-updating can hose your box, if you're running the NSOSKRNL.EXE versions listed above.


We went up to Pilot Mountain last night to observe. We arrived at about 1815, about 20 minutes before sunset. We were joined by Steve Childers, Tom Tomlinson, and Perry Pruette. From the end of civil twilight at about 1900 until the end of astronomical twilight at 2002, we practiced locating objects before full darkness. We concluded that it is nearly impossible to see galaxies before the end of astronomical twilight. From the end of astronomical twilight until about 2230, we had excellent conditions. Barbara, Steve, and I bagged 25 or so objects each, and we weren't hurrying. Steve wasn't using his circles, so all of the ones he bagged he got the old-fashioned way. He also had his new eyepiece along. The 27mm Pan is a very nice eyepiece. It "feels" Pentax-like in terms of eye relief and FOV.

We weren't able to practice the first dozen or so objects because the trees were in the way. But we did have a good time getting a lot of other objects. I wasn't really trying to bang out any serious numbers, mainly because Barbara and I were sharing the scope. If I'd had the scope to myself, I probably could have logged 50 to 60 objects without too much difficulty. Barbara is getting quite good at locating M-objects. She was lacking the five Leo objects, and decided to go after them. She always has a bit of trouble orienting herself in Leo, but once I'd pointed out Regulus, Denebola, and Chort to her, she nailed M65/66 in about two minutes, and M95/96/105 in about another two or three minutes.

I decided to work on my Binocular Messier list, and was able to get several of the "Tougher" objects and even a couple of the "Challenge" objects, including the galaxies M81/82 and M51. Steve wouldn't believe me that I got M81/82 in my binocular until he got it in his main scope. I told him to look through his 9X50 finder, and sure enough he was able to see M81/82 clearly in the finder. He remains convinced that the difference between 7X50 and 9X50 is what prevented him from seeing M81/82 in his binocular. Hmmm.

We decided to start on the Coma/Virgo Clutter about 2230 or so. Unfortunately, by then the transparency had become mediocre. Steve, Barbara, and I all got M56/60 in the 10" Dobs, but transparency was bad enough that I couldn't see any of the NGC objects that were in the same FOV, even with averted vision. Oh, well. We finally packed it in at about 2315 and headed home.

I'm hoping that Friday night will be equally good so that we can go out and get some serious practice in for the Marathon.



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