Montie: a Time for Anger

“If this country collapses, we will start from the homes of those who say it should collapse. I’ve told you and God has also opened the way. These judges who are trying to put oxygen in the raging fire, I know all their houses. I know where the judges live in Accra here. I can show you. I know their quarters; the Supreme Court Judges. I also know the High Court Judges. If they dare, they should bring something, it will start in their residences, in their neighbourhoods…”

“When we finish them, then it’s over. Then we come and govern our country because they don’t wish this country well so they have to go. When we say farewell to them, then those of us who wish well for this country can hold on to the country and govern this country. So you, they should sit there and think because they are Supreme Court judges, they can do anything…”

For reasons I’m yet to understand, I have deep reserves of patience. I can end a year counting on one hand the number of times I’ve felt anger. It’s usually a brief feeling. My brain kicks in: “What’s the point? Let it go.” I usually do.

Last week was different. I spent parts of it trying to contain an anger in my chest, keeping it from crushing my lungs, wrapping itself around my throat, and choking me from within, on its way to my lips.

The Montie Affair

Last week, the Supreme Court found three men from the radio station ‘Montie FM’ – Salifu Maase, Godwin Ako Gunn & Alistair Tairo Nelson – guilty of contempt, sentencing them each to four months in prison and a hefty fine. They had threatened members of the Court with violence and death during a live broadcast (more or less thirty-four years to the day that the body out of which the ruling party was born infamously killed three high court judges).

In response to the court’s judgment, a petition has been created, asking President Mahama to pardon the trio through a constitutional provision that gives him the discretion to do so. It has apparently amassed thousands of signatures, including those of several high-profile ministers of state whose inclusion has raised many an eyebrow.

The arguments for freeing the Trio vary. While there is some consensus that the crime was indeed grave, there is also consensus that the four-month sentence was ‘harsh’ (strange: I understand it is not the maximum sentence for such crimes) and that the three should be freed, as ‘they have shown remorse’ (don’t most prisoners?) In an official statement, the NDC framed the judgment as an attack on free media and freedom of expression (something disputed by the Ghana Journalists Association).

I’ll say this:

One of the first things I was taught during my law degree was that the law does not exist in a vacuum. Just because the President has the constitutional right to exercise discretion doesn’t mean he should. Context is everything and there is a lot of context to sift through here. There are others far, far wisermore informed and wittier than me who make compelling counter-arguments and perspectives. I hope the President listens to those perspectives as much as he does the cacophony surrounding him.

Baring My Biases

I have long believed that the ancestors reserve some of the darkest corners of the underworld for radio presenters who place party politics above a love of country, especially during the election season. I have marveled at the recklessness of presenters and panelists on stations often owned by politicians or their financiers; at how regularly such pundits push hard-won press freedoms to their absolute limit – taking us to the brink of violence with them – with utter impunity.

In places where the opposition is limited or ineffective, journalism is incredibly important. To call it the Fourth Estate does not do it justice. Journalists are our defenders. They become our daily opposition: doing the research, asking the hard questions, holding power accountable, advocating for change, risking their lives to help us all see the truth through the smoke; giving us the information we need to make informed decisions. It is noble, underappreciated but important work. It is central to democracy.

I responded to the Supreme Court ruling on the Montie Trio with relief. Finally, someone was holding these pundits-pretending-to-be-journalists accountable in a manner within the boundaries of the law, in a way that the National Media Commission has (understandably) not been given the teeth to.

Anger and Empathy

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love… We must strive every day so that this love of living humanity will be transformed into actual deeds, into acts that serve as examples, as a moving force.”

These words – by Ernesto Ché Guevara – are ones I try to live by. Anger too is a moving force, but it moves in a different way. It can twist Love, subverting it and transmuting it into something unrecognizable. I have had difficulty fitting anger into my worldview.

Back when I was on Twitter, for example, there was a news story (I forget which one) that prompted me to go on a rant about anger being ‘unconstructive.’ It provoked a series of annoyed tweets from my friend, KinnaReads, who called me out for my ‘kumbaya’ position, reminding me (if I recall correctly) that anger has a place, whether it is constructive or not. We discussed it offline and I came to agree with her. I just didn’t see how to reconcile it with my worldview.

I believe in (impractical) things like empathy because the act of stepping into someone else’s shoes – however different they are from me or however we disagree – humanizes them/their position, which in turn helps me see the entire picture.

It leads me closer to Truth.

I’ve always presumed that anger is incompatible with love and empathy. Last Sunday however, I was reminded that it isn’t:

How Hill House Helped

After expressing my anger and dissonance to my Friends Meeting last Sunday, we discussed some perspectives that helped me to connect more than a few dots:

1. Empathy is cool, but it has to be complete

Much as I disagree with what they do, my inner pacficist forces me to empathize with the Montie Three. They are people too. They are afraid of jail. They have families. They are sorry. Etc etc. Empathy demands that I acknowledge that they spoke so passionately for a reason: the ongoing mess over the voters register – an important matter that should concern us all. Their frustrations clearly ran over.

That said, someone at Hill House who I have endless admiration for reminded me that my empathy should also extend to the judges whose lives were threatened. It should extend to their families. It should extend to Ghanaians who wish to live in a peacefully country that is not pushed to the brink in the name of party politics and the punditry of stations like Oman, Gold and Montie. Or Ghanaians who want to leave the dark days of killing judges behind. It should extend to the 13,000 or so remand prisoners who have been scooped up from our streets on suspicion of crimes and have since languished in jail waiting for one common trial – not even at the Supreme Court, mind you. It should extend to their families who haven’t seen or heard from them since.

2. Anger is a secondary emotion

Anger is usually a product of fear. So when you feel it, it is worth asking oneself what fear is behind your anger. For example, as a dear friend’s mother pointed out at the meeting, there is a fear in parts of the world that is resulting from all the various civil rights advances and the perception of being under attack. That fear has now become an anger that is threatening to undermine those liberties and advances.

My anger is the result of a fear that media impunity will result in our country plunging into chaos. It reminds me of Rwanda’s Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines: the station that catalysed the Rwandan genocide.

One’s response to such anger should always be to slow down: pause, think, reflect… and only then to react. If the Montie 3 had done this, they wouldn’t be in their predicament today. And we wouldn’t be facing yet another prospect of party politics being placed over the national interest.

3. Jesus and the Whip

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I always forget about John 2:15.

The anger itself isn’t a problem: it’s human. Divine too, apparently. The issue is perhaps what you do with your anger. Again, perhaps this is where the Trio slipped and as my good friend put it at the meeting, “punishing people is the price we pay for having standards.”

So what am I doing with my anger?

It’s made me think. I’ve shared it (first at the meeting now here). And I’m adding my voice to those calling on the President to not undermine the Supreme Court (it’ll be constitutional but, as I mentioned earlier, the law does not exist in a vacuum). I’m afraid I’m not his biggest fan, but that does not deny him my empathy too. I suspect that he needs as much pressure from everyone else as he has from that petition if he’s going to make a decision in all our best interests, and not just those of his party disciples.

Takashie is Our National Philosophy

The subject of dumsor came up briefly at our Friends meeting two Sundays ago.

I cannot remember the question she was responding to, but my fellow friend Edwina said something along the lines of:

“If you are sitting in dumsor and they are trying to tell you that there is no dumsor, why should you take anything they say seriously?”

I couldn’t agree more.

It is deeply depressing (and actually really insulting) when – in fear of its potential effect on their power – our leaders deny the very existence of our problems. Or try to get technical about them, playing word games… with words that we created.

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I’m not saying our government has done nothing towards ending the power crisis: things had improved until a month or two ago. I’ll do that rare thing and commend them for such small mercies.

However, when I am sitting in dumsor, don’t try and tell me that it is not dumsor. It’s bad enough that you haven’t solved our problem; don’t insult our intelligence/experience too. Just give us our dumsor schedule. You know: the one you won’t stick to anyway. Yes. That one.

politicans-and-diapers

We will be voting at the end of the year. I believe in actual choice, and I just don’t see enough difference between our two leading parties. Some – maybe – but little by way of genuine, inspirational, transformational leadership.

My dream candidate (another post for another day) would be a little more radical than Ghana is presently used to. For what should be obvious reasons, there are certain things he or she would ban senior government officials from access to, including:

  • The right to fly abroad for medical treatment
  • The right to educate their children abroad (before Masters degree level)
  • Generators
  • Water tanks
  • Motorcades to cut through traffic

I could go on.

I’m not saying politicians need to work for free, but we do need to find urgent ways of getting people to look at politics as public service and not some fast track route towards personal gain (or a way of repaying the massive debts our politicians incur in order to become politicians). And we need politicians who feel what we feel, and who put people over politics/money/resources as a result.

John-Mensah-Sarbah

Example: way back in the day, there was a general belief that the social value of land was more important than its commercial value (you know… the kind of thing South Africa’s Abahlali Basemjondolo are all about). That alone is as good an example of people being more important than money as any. But that’s only the beginning of this story.

When the British colonial government basically tried  (with the Crown Lands Bill of 1897) to claim all land they saw just ‘sitting there’ (ancestral/inherited lands) for the British Empire, Ghanaians were understandably horrified. Patriots including John Mensah Sarbah founded the Aboriginal Rights Protection Society to shut that nonsense down, partly by:

  1. Studying all proposed colonial measures
  2. Giving political education to the people
  3. Making the people understand the effect of these measures

Yet another example of putting people first.

After the Society campaigned successfully for the Bill to be rescinded, Sarbah refused to take any money for his role in their success, explaining that it was an honour to serve his people.

Now that’s leadership I can get behind.

Today we have a new national philosophy and it has little room for crazy ideas like public service and putting people first. It’s not Christianity: please. We might wear fine robes on Sundays, pray in loud tongues and such, but look around you: we are waaaaay too practical a people to actually practice such universally lauded religious principles as turning the other cheek or treating people the way we would have them treat us. Our society would look very different if we did.

No. Our real national philosophy is takashie: forcing our way ahead by any means necessary, often at the expense of others.

Where we have a choice between demonstrating a love of others or using takashie, the latter usually wins. Open your eyes and you’ll see examples, everywhere and every day. In little things. Like driving in traffic. In haggling prices. In (not) queuing. Etc, etc.

Each man/woman for him/herself and God for us all… and that’s the problem:

Takashie is an understandable response to the frustrations of living in Ghana. Nevertheless, our leaders come from among us. They are living reflections of what we really believe in: not as individuals, but as a society. If we each resort to daily takashie, why should we expect our leaders to – by some random miracle – do any different?

Sure: some countries are lucky enough to get officials who think differently and who help move their countries forward as a result. But that’s just it, isn’t it: luck. Such leaders are miracles.

Which makes our choice a tricky one: ‘Aben Wo Ha‘ vs. ‘Dabi Dabi 3by3 Yie‘.

Either we continue to get by on takashie, continue to produce more of the same leaders and vote them in with the expectation that they will suddenly and miraculously become benevolent (with enough competence to match that benevolence).

Or maybe we should all start thinking about our individual roles in changing the society out of which our leaders emerge.

 

 

Trips to Thug-O

I was going to write a long rant about this, but there’s no point. So I’ll just say this.

1. It makes no difference whether you enter Togo through the official border or the illegal one. Tried both. Your choice is simply whether you wish to be screwed by people in uniform or people without. Choose wisely. Choose unwisely. Makes no difference.

2. If you ever want a reason to feel like Ghana is progressing, visit Togo by land.

I’m sure my Togolese brethren are wonderful people.

But by the time you go through Togolese customs, you’ll miss Ghana Police.

Fin.

The Bastard (Not a Poem)

I am not the good man I try to be
I am like any other
Struggling
With all the flaws that being a man (and human) entails

I will make mistakes
I have made mistakes
Some of which I’m not proud
Some of which I’m yet to learn were mistakes

As I try to reach a standard
Please don’t mistake me for that standard
It is a mistake I sometimes make myself
And it is a dangerous one

For it leads to hurt
When distance is discovered
Between who I am
And who I am trying to be

Distance that I try (and often fail) to shorten
Hurt I wish I could undo

Oteiba

Oteiba

#LittleRebel #Kasapoley #Ntampiwaa #KookieBoogie #LittleBigSister #Oteiba

Before she left, my beloved Kukuwah and I were so inseparable that people joked that I would never find a companion while she was in the picture. It’s hard to imagine that we come from different mothers: our lives are a living testament to the fact that ‘Step’ doesn’t have to mean emnity and siblinghood can conquer all.

I have watched Kukuwah grow from the quiet toddler who was surgically attached to my leg; to the outspoken teenager who made me question my taste in music (tcheew) while treating me like her own personal Google; to the young woman who then STOLE my taste in music and learned to think for herself; to this young queen GODDESS who now sits on top of the world in Canada and shines on me. It has been amazing watching you grow. You’re my younger sister but I look up to you in strength, in resilience, and most certainly in style.

I. Am. So. Proud. Of. You.

… and I miss you. Horribly. Social media cannot contain this love koraa: cyberspace is far too small. I cannot wait to see you again. #BringBackThisGirl #SheWhomCanadaStole

Happy Birthday, Ekua Oteiba.

May this day – this year – bring you closer to your dreams, closer to fulfillment, closer to Love… closer to a ticket back to Ghana, damn it!

To Whom It May ConcErn: Happy Birthday, President of Africa – a Story by Noviolet Bulawayo

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We get to Number 10 to find the president raising fists all over. On the big wall around the power station that caught fire last Sunday, on the tall gates of the blue Zioja church, on the fat pole where we sometimes play spin, on the shed where Clifford cuts hair, on the durawall that surrounds the tuck-shops where old ladies sit selling all sorts of stuff, on the sides of the shed where people wait for combis to town, on the trees along the main road—the posters are everywhere. We stand in a huddle by the power station wall and tilt our heads and look at the posters one by one even though they are exactly the same.

Godknows says, Who put him up there? Why did they put him up?

Well, whose face would you rather, your father’s? Bastard says. He elbows Godknows out of the way and steps to the wall to study the president. It’s early morning but the sun is already high above our heads, searing us like we owe it money. In the distance, radios blare the morning news but it doesn’t take long before the sound cuts out. Years ago it used to be you’d hear all kinds of noise from people mad at the power cuts but not anymore.

Down the main road, cars drive drunken-like to dodge potholes. When they approach us heads stick out the windows to look. We turn from the wall and watch the cars with the sun in our eyes and stand akimbo, posing like we made the posters ourselves. Now and then somebody shouts, whistles, pumps a fist in approval, and we pump fists back, proud because standing here under the president like this makes us feel something strange and awesome in the pits of our stomach.

Those numbers don’t even need to be there, it’s like they’re just spoiling things, Sbho says, nodding at the posters.

Can’t you see it says ninety? Godknows says.

Of course we can see that, any idiot can, I say.

Well, then it’s only a number, it doesn’t need to stand for anything, like look over there at that yellow sign that says 25, who said it must mean something? Godknows says.

Or maybe that’s just his favorite number, like mine is twelv—

You all are dunderheads and you just need to stop talking, Chipo says, and I laugh, shield my eyes with my hand. Jesus, the sun.

That’s his age. Don’t you know it’s his birthday tomorrow and there’s a big party at Fields stadium? That’s why they have all these posters, Stina says. He leans against the wall and relaxes into it, rubs his arms like it’s cold under the sun. We look at the president anew now, like we’ve never seen him in our lives. Stina knows everything but on this one I think maybe he doesn’t know what he is talking about, I mean, even Khulu, my grandfather, doesn’t look this great and he is not even close to ninety. Khulu just looks like a proper old person—wrinkled skin, stooping back, grey hairs. Something is wrong with his left knee and mother can’t raise the money the hospital wants for an operation even though she works and works and works, so that adds to Khulu’s old person’s gait. He also has this habit of just dozing all over the place, and forgets stuff, and says things that do not make sense, like this morning I gave him his tea black because there was no milk, and he looked at me real hard and said, Is there sense eating like paupers with all this wealth that we fought for? and I had to suppress a giggle and look next door at NaNqo wringing her laundry so Khulu didn’t see I thought he was plain crazy.

The president is so beautiful I wish he were my own grandfather. There are no serious wrinkles on his face. His black skin looks so fresh and finely polished – if you could buy skin, his would be expensive none of us would afford it. And look at his neatly trimmed hair, besides a small hint of grey at the front it’s real nice and black, just like the little strip running from his nose to the top lip. Then he has these clean glasses that just go with his face. I don’t care what Stina says but I’ve never seen a ninety-year-old who looks like this.

Heh, the police are here; I thought maybe they were not coming back after yesterday, Sbho says, pointing down the road.

Why wouldn’t they come? I mean the stupids are here everyday like they heard thieves are born on this road, Bastard says. His voice is disgust, is like he will spit something poisonous.

Down the road, just a little past the shade where people wait for combis to town, the traffic police have gathered. They wear these crazy lime-colored sleeves and carry these boards and notebooks and pens, like they are getting ready to write stories. There are five of them—two women who wear matching hats and grey shirts and navy trousers with these cargo pockets at the side. The men wear shoes the color of dry blood and grey shirts and khaki trousers that match the potholes on the road. We watch them split up so there’s three manning cars coming from town, two on the side manning cars going to town. Already, the short female one is flagging a lorry carrying a squad of men in city council uniforms.

We see Brother Nkululeko at the top of the road and we know him from his cheap China yellow shirt that he never takes off and his gait and the battery-operated radio that he always cradles in the nook of the elbow. We watch him cross at the traffic light that hasn’t worked in a while and start to come our way, stop by the squad of girls in Townsend uniforms. We see him start talking to them with his body. The girls just stand and clutch their book bags and watch him. When Brother Nkust reaches a hand toward the tall one she takes a step back as if he reeks. He reaches for the next and she too does the same, and it goes on and on we start giggling, but we’re careful Brother Nkust doesn’t see us because we know what he can do to us. We see him finally throw his free hand in the air to tell the girls fokolo, make that turn of his, and proceed our way, his gait like he owns the road, all of it, even with the potholes, with the tar that’s chipping away at the edges. When he gets within earshot he turns back to the girls, who will not hear him now, and yells, Keep making like your vaginas are made of diamonds and see who’s taking you to school, dunders!

When Brother Nkust sees the president he thrusts his radio into Bastard’s arms and walks up to the wall. We hear him mutter, My father, and then he bows his head respectfully.

Is he praying? Should we all bow our heads too? Sbho says.

He means the president, Stina says.

What, the president is Brother Nkust’s father for real? Godknows says, and Stina shakes his head. I have to keep moving my feet even though I’m standing in one place because the earth is just so hot under my feet, it is burning.

This man, Brother Nkust says, tapping a poster with a crooked index finger and nodding. This man, Long live this man, his Excellency, Happy Birthday Africa President, Brother Nkust says, now his fists in the air to match the president.

He is no longer just talking to us, but to the cars that are passing by, to the people inside the cars, to the people that the people inside the cars left at home, to the policemen who are stopping the cars, to the money that the policemen are collecting from the drivers of those cars and stuffing in their own pockets, to the Townsend girls who rejected him, to the cars that will stop for those girls, to the students and teachers the Townsend girls will find at their school, to the Main road that will take those girls and everybody else to their destinations, to the potholes on the road, to the men who built the road, to the trees and khaki grass and rocks and litter around us, to the brightest sun above that is mauling everything.

Do you have any idea just what this man has done for you, for us, for this country? Brother Nkust says, his finger on the president. I look at his faded, saggy jeans, at his threadbare shirt with the dark armpit stains, at his dusty zhing-zhong flip flops, and think of how his voice, thick and proud and sure, does not match him. If you closed your eyes you’d think it were coming from a man dressed like the president—in a beautiful blue suit and milk-white shirt and spotted tie and flowers on his breast pocket.

Did he die for our sins, too, I mean like Jesus? Godknows says. Stina and Bastard hi-five, laugh. Brother Nkust looks at Godknows real serious, and then at Stina and Bastard.

It’s no laughing matter, boys, and when you’re a little older, you’ll know. You see this place, this location, and this whole country? Everything in it is ours, Brother Nkust says. Now we aren’t even paying attention to Brother Nkust; now we’re looking at this beautiful strange car coasting down the main road. It’s red at the top and black at the bottom, folds and furrows all over. It looks more like a thing than a car, and I just wonder what it’s doing on this tattered road. When it gets to the police they stand aside and fold their hands and watch it pass. Brother Nkust whistles, nods his head.

Now, did you see that, boys? That’s one of the most expensive cars out there; the only one of its kind in this country and it was here. On our road! Brother Nkust is gesturing wildly now, his face alight as if the car is his.

How did the person get one of the most expensive cars out there? Godknows says.

Because he’s a thief, Stina says, and kicks a brick, hard, as if it’s made of plastic. He doesn’t even wince. The brightness disappears from Brother Nkust’s face and he looks visibly upset, like Stina just insulted his mother.

Hey-hey, boy, watch your mouth now-now. That’s Mr. M’s car, and he’s no thief. That’s how people get hurt, talking about what they don’t even know, Brother Nkust says. You can tell the warning in his voice. Stina shrugs, stares at the sun.

Who is Mr. M? Sbho says.

That Minister of Mines dude. Owns this bank and all these businesses and houses. They are thieves, all of them, do you know how much they pay themselves, do you even know? Stina’s face is ugly, his voice breaking like he really’s been stolen from, like that crazy car we’ve just seen was meant to be his. Bastard shakes his head, walks up to the president.

Yo, man. When I grow up I’m really joining the government, shiiiiiit, Bastard says.

What’s your problem, boy? Just what are you being disrespectful for? Now Brother Nkust’s voice is hardening. Sbho and I look at each other.

Man, get a grip and open your eyes and quit talking shit, Stina says. There is something angry and alive in his voice, something that makes me want to clap for him but then I decide, from Brother Nkust’s clenched face, not to do it. Everyone is looking at Stina with respect because we’ve never heard him sound like this, especially with a grown man.

I mean, look at you, Brother Nkust. In a country-country you’d be at work, holding a decent job and making money to take care of your family and living in a decent house with electricity and a toilet with water to flush when you take a shit—

Before Stina has finished his sentence, Brother Nkust knocks him down with a two-feet and he is lying on the ground, struggling under Brother Nkust who is pummeling him with fists. We all yell at Brother Nkust to leave Stina alone, and Bastard tries to pull him off, but he keeps clobbering. He is unmovable. Stina yells, saying things that drive Brother Nkust madder and madder so the blows keep coming. I glance behind us, at the president, down the road at the police who are busy making money. Cars slow down and honk but they keep going. It’s only when this old woman carrying a bunch of brooms appears from nowhere. She starts hitting Brother Nkust with the brooms until he gets off Stina and walks away, waving fists and yelling insults. Nobody tells him he is leaving his dead radio behind.

Later, after the old woman has gone, after Stina has dusted himself off, after we have covered the small drops of his blood with soil, after we have yelled all the insults we know at Brother Nkust’s retreating back, we sit in a row under the president, our backs against the wall, and just watch the main road. The sun has proper exhausted us by now. Somebody’s stomach growls and we laugh. Stina sits with his elbows resting on his thighs, palms covering his eyes, which means he is thinking. We sit watching and waiting, after what happened we know it’s best we wait for Stina to decide what we do next. Finally, when I’m thinking we’d explode like popcorn from the sun, Stina stands and confronts the wall. Then, without a word, he reaches up and starts taking the president down but the poster refuses to budge, like maybe it was ironed there. Stina tugs and pulls, tugs and pulls. We all rise.

Originally from the Munyori Literary Journal

Music: Blitz the Ambassador’s ‘Native Sun’

For someone who doesn’t write much, I’ve been lucky to have received a lot of praise for my writing before. However, today I would like to shine the light on someone else who doesn’t write as much as he’d like to, but who makes me think of retiring every single time he does.

Eli @elidot Tetteh: this one’s for you.

#DayOfTheDot

Kobby Ankomah-Graham

Today marks the global release of Blitz the Ambassador’s brilliant new album, ‘Native Sun’, which you can hear in its entirety here.

I’ve been talking about this album since before I almost snapped my neck bopping my head to it at the preview party Blitz hosted at Rockstone’s Office a couple of months back.

I was going to write a long review about it using words like:

“A conversation between Africa and America. Highlife and hip-hop. Ebo Taylor and Big Daddy Kane…”

and…

“If ‘Native Sun’ doesn’t work then – seriously – any Ghanaian aiming at the international market may need to rethink the idea.”

Scratch that though. Instead, let me share with you the thoughts of someone whose musical opinion I value more than almost anyone I know – Eli Tetteh – who just tweeted the following:

“I’d like to issue a formal apology to @kobbygraham. I’m sorry…

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