Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: November 2014

Sunday

30

November 2014

0

COMMENTS

Should The Walking Dead Revisit Its Seasonal Episode Count?

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The Walking Dead will air its “season finale” tonight. The quotation marks are there to highlight the somewhat grey area surrounding that phrase. While the show comes back in February, AMC is advertising this as a finale and past seasons have showed us that this show puts more stock in providing a noteworthy midseason break than many other shows that use the same practice.

The rationale behind splitting up a season into two parts is clear. It’s a common way for cable shows to expand their episode counts beyond the standard thirteen. In the case of The Walking Dead, it also allows the show to keep plotlines fresh. Season two was the only one to use a thirteen-episode model. The group’s elongated stay at Herschel’s farm provided plenty of reasons why this isn’t the greatest idea.

Problem is that the show has changed quite a bit since then beyond just the cast changes, though it’s worth noting that only seven of the characters from season two are still alive. This isn’t a show where the characters stay in one place for very long anymore. It’s also followed Lost’s later season model in keeping its ensemble cast separated into groups for large periods of time.

This makes splitting up the seasons into eight episode blocks problematic. There is a ton of stuff going on and its happening to tons of characters. Remember how little screen time T-Dog and Beth got back when everyone was just hanging out on the farm? The cast has grown exponentially since then while the death count has slowed down, leaving the show with the task of figuring out what to do with all its characters.

The simple answer? Expand the episode count to twenty.

This is neither unprecedented nor ridiculous in nature. The SyFy Channel’s old Sci-Fi Friday block of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica used this model to great success. None of these shows were quite the phenomenon that The Walking Dead is either. This show is AMC’s cash cow, especially with Breaking Bad over and Mad Men on its way out. There’s nothing really standing in the way of more episodes.

You can make the argument that The Walking Dead is the most popular cable show of all time. Its ratings crush most of what’s on network TV and that doesn’t take in harder to quantify numbers like Twitter traffic and Netflix views. It may not be a contender in many awards shows, but it has what matters most, the interest of the people.

We can use the critical complaints to examine why a switch would be a good idea from a storyline perspective. Splitting up the season the way The Walking Dead does creates the need for an extra finale and primer, which also affects episode progression. The constant rise/fall dynamic makes for great suspense and anticipation, but it also takes precious screen time away from advancing the plot. This problem is exacerbated by extreme character centric episodes that leave out the bulk of the cast.

Which is probably the point. Urgency exists mostly in the eyes of the characters. For the show itself, it’s not really headed in a specific direction. Since the prison, the characters have been roaming, but so has the plot. That’s really all it can do.

If you look at the last three eight episode blocks, you see a pattern. The first episode wraps up the cliffhanger and there’s at least two episodes dedicated to very specific character studies that leave out the majority of the cast. Excluding the finale, that leaves four episodes to get the plot forward before it needs to blow things up again (sometimes literally). For a show with such a large cast, that’s not enough time at all.

Expanding the episode count would make Beth or Governor centric type episodes easier to stomach. Its easy to see why the show likes these types of episodes, but this isn’t the type of show that can afford to toss episodes away on non-essential characters. Adding more episodes lets the show have its cake and eat it too, with plenty of filler.

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Wednesday

26

November 2014

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The Similarities of “Baby Got Back” and “All About that Bass”

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture, Social Issues

I had an interesting experience on my way to Dunkin Donuts yesterday. While flicking through the radio stations, I encountered Six Mix-a-Lot’s classic “Baby Got Back” (not Nicki Minaj’s painful “Anaconda” pseudo cover). After indulging in the perennial favorite of middle school mixers, I switched channels only to find Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass.” This bizarre coincidence got me thinking about the overall message of these two songs.

At first glance, we might call Trainor self-empowering and Mix-a-Lot misogynistic. Which sort of makes sense but you could also look at it a different way. Trainor says love your body and Mix-a-Lot says he loves your body. That’s kind of nice right?

Both songs address the issue of “skinny bitches” Mix-a-Lot opens his songs with a conversation between two condescending, presumably small butted, women criticizing the tushie of another girl, denounced as a prostitute until Mix-a-Lot jumps in to start the song. Trainor addresses them herself with “go ahead and tell them skinny bitches that,” with regards to her plans to bring booty back (it’s still somewhat unclear where it went in the first place). It wouldn’t be fair to Trainor to not mention that she says she just playing, though that phrase has been a major bone of contention against the song as people have accused her of “skinny shaming.”

We also see a similar love of genuine curves from both performers. Both take shots at the silicone Barbie look. Trainor “won’t be no stick figure silicone Barbie doll,” expressing a concurring opinion to Mi¬x-a-Lot’s “silicone parts of made for toys.”

The difference in message deviates on the matters of romance as to be expected. Trainor is speaking from a personal standpoint. Mix-a-Lot is an observer and a fan. So whose message with regards to matters of the heart is better?

Mix-a-Lot’s

You might be shaking your head at this point. But look at what Trainor uses to address suitors. She says her mother has told her “boys like a little more booty to hold at night,” which is another rallying point for her critics. This one is perhaps more legitimate than the “skinny bitches” comment as she’s essentially using outside perception as a factor in determining her own self worth.

This is something that Mix-a-Lot has to do. He is an outside observer. This matters in terms of the context of the message itself. It’s harder to dismiss the commentary of a curvaceous woman speaking about being curvaceous than the words of a man who calls himself Sir Mix-a-Lot.

Which is actually unfair to Mix-a-Lot. The inspiration for this article came from a line in “Baby Got Back,” where he says “so Cosmo says your fat, well I ain’t down with that.” Couple that with his earlier assertions that he’d “rather stay and play,” and you get a picture of a man who’s not necessarily as misogynistic as one might think at first glance.

So what to take away from all of this? Both of these songs essentially preach the same message. Love your body. This is somewhat skewed in the case of Mix-a-Lot as the sexual innuendos tend to dissipate one’s desire to analyze his message. But Trainor’s isn’t exactly perfect either. These songs really aren’t all that different, which really just means you should love your body regardless of what a musician wants to tell you.

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Tuesday

25

November 2014

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COMMENTS

Breaking Down the Hanley Ramirez/Pablo Sandoval Signings and the Red Sox Roster Crunch

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Breaking Down the Hanley Ramirez/Pablo Sandoval Signings and the Red Sox Roster Crunch

The Red Sox shocked the baseball world yesterday by agreeing to terms with not one, but two, of the top free agents in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. This is somewhat puzzling for two reasons. Many top baseball analysts projected both to hit nine figures. Ramirez could hit that mark with his vesting option, but the 4/88 he settled for seems a bit low, especially in November. The exact terms of Sandoval’s contract remain to be seen, but the 5/95 reported amount is also somewhat low for playoff proven panda. The fact that most had Ramirez pegged for a permanent move to third complicated the roster.

The Sox also have one of baseball’s most impressive logjams on their hands with their outfield with Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Yoenis Cespedes, Daniel Nava, and Jackie Bradley Jr. all under contract. It’s clear that one or two of them needed to go even before you factor in Ramirez and Sandoval. Some early reports have left field as a possibility for Ramirez, but first let’s look at all the pieces before we can determine who goes where.

To make things a little easier, we can take second base, designated hitter, and catcher out of the equation. Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, and Christian Vasquez will man those positions. Even if you’re not convinced with Vasquez as a major leaguer, none of the aforementioned players will take his place anyway. With starting pitching to address, it seems unlikely that Ben Cherington will look to add a costly option at catcher anyway, likely preferring a veteran backstop to mentor Vasquez and eventually Blake Swihart.

So there are six positions for about a million players, many of whom are legitimate starters. The fact that Cherington is essentially forced to trade a couple might hinder their value, but the overall bleak state of free agency should mean that there are plenty of suitors. But who to trade? And for what?

The first thing to consider is that this logjam is really only a problem for this season. The three most likely trade options are Cespedes, Victorino, and Mike Napoli as all three only have one more year on their contracts. Napoli’s grit and beard fit perfectly with the team and played a major role in the 2013 World Series but the case could also be made that he’s their most desirable commodity that the team could stand to lose. The team is said to be somewhat sour on Cespedes, which could hamper his return, and Victorino spent much of last season on the DL. The Sox would likely have to eat a couple million to send Victorino away before Spring Training unless a team is quite desperate (I’m not sure I’d rule that out).

Trading Napoli would allow Sandoval to man first. Despite his size, he’s actually a pretty good third baseman, but Hanley’s limitations at shortstop could prompt the team to put him at the hot corner instead. It seems somewhat unlikely that Ramirez will play short unless the team trades Xander Boegarts. Craig figures to be the backup first baseman, though I’d imagine the team would trade him for just about anything.

The problem is that the team’s biggest need is frontline starting pitching and three players with only a year left on their deals aren’t going to net that kind of return. Moving two to the same team isn’t terrible likely given the salaries involved. Teams don’t typically trade aces for anything besides top prospects and the Sox have something special in Betts and I think they know that. Cole Hamels is the most desirable trade target, but Ruben Amaro isn’t going to part with him unless he gets a mammoth return back.

The Reds have four starters who will hit free agency next year in Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, and Mike Leake. The Sox would love either Cueto or Latos and the Reds look to want to contend in 2015, suggesting that the two could be trade partners. The problem is that Latos was injured for much of last year and Cueto deserves a king’s ransom that the Sox don’t seem particularly likely to provide.

A reunion with Jon Lester would solve some of this mess. I’d say the Ramirez and Sandoval signings could prompt Lester to return to Beantown, but he won’t come cheap and has plenty of other suitors. James Shields poor playoff performance made a laughing stock of his “Big Game James” nickname, but could be a good fit if the price is right. With the below market signings the Sox just pulled off, I think there’s more value in him than might have been expected.

The outfield projects to at least have Castillo manning center and likely Betts somewhere as well. That leaves one spot for Victorino and Cespedes assuming Craig and Nava are destined for the bench and JBJ goes to AAA or another team. If both get traded, Ramirez could factor in at left, but I have a hard time seeing it happen.

The Sox are not going to bet on Victorino’s health to the point where he’ll be guaranteed a starting spot. Keeping him around on the bench is a possibility if there aren’t any appealing trade scenarios, but the Sox should try to move him for bullpen pieces or fringe prospects as long as they can move 80% or so of his salary. Nava put up a 3.3 WAR season and has more value than people might give him credit for considering he’s a platoon player. The Sox won’t trade a valuable cost effective piece for nothing.

My guess is that Victorino and Napoli are the ones to go unless Cespedes can bring back a starter. The Sox have prospects that teams will be interested in, increasing the chances for some sort of package revolving around one of these guys or Nava. I wouldn’t rule out a Boegarts trade, but the possible landing spots are vague. The same holds true for Craig, which makes the Lackey trade look even worse than it did when it was made, though Joe Kelly is an interesting pitcher to watch. It seems like a bit of a waste to play Sandoval at first and I wouldn’t rule out the idea that Ramirez might be tapped for short, but that seems unlike from a defensive standpoint.

This is all contingent on the trade market, which Boston figures to be quite active in. From an offensive standpoint, these moves solidify one of Boston’s weak points from last season. But the team needs to figure out its rotation or these moves will be for naught. Signing both players looks somewhat excessive considering the logjam, but the Sox got two fantastic bargains and the bleak free agent market for next year make prudence of particular importance.

I’ll have another article on the shifting culture of the Sox at some point. To keep up with my articles, please like me on Facebook or subscribe via e-mail (or both).

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Tuesday

18

November 2014

1

COMMENTS

Is the Qualifying Offer Working?

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As MLB’s Hot Stove got turned up a bit with the rather unexpected five year, $82 million dollar contract handed out to Russell Martin by the Blue Jays, I thought I’d look at the Qualifying Offer. The QO is in its third year of existence and saw another offseason go by without a single player accepting the one year $15.3 million dollar contract required for teams to receive draft pick compensation. This is sharp contrast to the old compensation system, which usually had a couple of players accept each year.

Which brings the question of the effectiveness of such an offer if no player is interested in accepting the offer. This was a major bone of contention for last years crop as the agents for Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jiminez, Stephen Drew, and a Nelson Cruz all complained ad nauseam about the negative effect the offer had on their clients. Before we examine the legitimacy of their complaints, I wanted to first explain the old system a little bit to see the differences.

Under the old Type A/B system, players were categorized by the Elias Sports Bureau into tiers that determined draft pick compensation. Type A’s netted the former team either a first or second round pick depending on the ranking of the signing team plus a sandwich pick. Type B’s did not require a loss of draft pick for the signing team, but earned the former team a sandwich pick and type C’s didn’t really factor into the equation. If a player accepted, unlike the QO which is determined by the average earnings of the top 125 players, the old system forced players to negotiate with teams as they would under salary arbitration. This model seems a bit archaic especially considering the rise in pre-arbitration extensions and it makes sense that teams and players alike would wish to gravitate away from this often hostile practice. The one advantage for players was that their salary could not be less than 80% of their current deal, making a pillow contract style situation at least somewhat appealing.

The problem with the old system was that it was unfair to players who were typically undervalued by free agency. Career middle relievers like Jason Frasor could be ranked at Type As alongside closers as the rankings failed to differentiate between types of relievers and as such, these sorts of players were practically forced into accepting these deals. Bench/utility players were sometimes victims of this as well, creating somewhat of a double-edged sword. More playing time would likely mean a greater salary, but becoming a type A free agent would negate those benefits fairly quickly. It’s really no surprise that this was done away with.

The QO lets teams determine the value of their players. A career middle reliever like Frasor could in theory be offered one, but compensation no longer acts as a hindrance to players like him. Players traded midseason can no longer be tied to compensation, increasing the risk in making such acquisitions.

So why do players hate it so much? Why does no one want a $15.3 million dollar payday?

We’ve seen a drastic shift in mentality with regards to dollars vs. years. Young players frequently take below market value extensions to get the guaranteed money, which has radically changed free agency as a whole. Fifteen million is a bigger, one year payday than many of these players would get, but it’s still only a year. An injury or a down season would have a big impact on the future. Jimenez’ four year deal with the Orioles pays him an AAV less than the $14.1 QO he was offered last year, but his poor performance this season would’ve taken a big contract off the table.

Of last year’s crop, it’s hard to really say really say that any of them made a mistake turning their QO’s down. All the players mentioned are guilty of drastically overvaluing their markets, which served as more of a deterrent than the draft pick. Santana wasn’t a $100 million dollar pitcher and Cruz was never going to get close to $75 million regardless of the draft pick. Drew and Morales probably should have considering Scott Boras’ insistence that both deserved elite salaries despite the numerous question marks surrounding both players. Pillow contracts would’ve gone a long way and now both players find themselves in unenviable positions.

To put it simply, there hasn’t been a straight case of “you have no market because you’re tied to a draft pick.” Sure it makes certain teams less interested, like the case of Michael Bourn and the Mets two years ago. But that’s also another case of a player who was hurt because he waited too long for his market to develop.

Perhaps the best example of this was seen last year with Ricky Nolasco and Matt Garza. Nolasco was viewed as a tier below Garza, Jimenez, and Santana, but wound up with a four year $49 million dollar deal that was a lot closer to Garza and Jimenez’ 4/50 deals. All three have vesting options with performance bonuses that could make any of the three the highest paid overall, though we won’t know that for a couple years. Oddly enough, Nolasco and Garza were not tied to compensation.

The big difference between these pitchers was that timing. Nolasco signed at the end of November. Garza waited until the end of January and Jimenez waited almost another month before inking his deal. Teams had spent most their available money by that point. It’s hard to really blame the draft pick when players want drastically more money than anyone is realistically willing to pay them.

Michael Cuddyer’s recent deal with the Mets prevented him from likely becoming the first player to accept the QO. The Rockies were criticized for extending what looked like a gross overpay to a player who spent much of the season on the DL, but the Mets quickly made that look like a great decision. A one year overpay of a few million wouldn’t hurt most teams, but the cash strapped Rockies might have been in trouble. But they valued both the draft pick and Cuddyer and now have something to show for it.

It’s hard to argue that the QO benefits larger market teams over smaller ones either to an extreme extent either. This year the Pirates handed out the same amount of QOs as the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox combined. There’s plenty of parity in the QO and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon.

The QO is not perfect, but it’s also not really the drastic hindrance that it’s made out to be either. Players are offered a sweet one-year deal and if they don’t like it, they can test the market. But testing the market has its risks and when the waiting game doesn’t work out, it’s easy to blame the QO. That doesn’t mean that it’s at fault or that it should be changed.

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Tuesday

11

November 2014

0

COMMENTS

Season 5 of Downton Abbey Bides Its Time While Waiting for the End

Written by , Posted in Blog, Downton Abbey, Pop Culture

Change has always had a consistent presence on Downton Abbey. Being a period drama, we have a fairly good idea of where the show is going to go as it creeps closer to its inevitable finale. Despite this, the show has done a remarkable job in breathing new life into the old house and decaying aristocratic society.

We saw this particularly in season three with the arrivals of Alfred, Jimmy, and Ivy, which gave the show’s dynamic a breath of fresh air. The youth movement did wonders to negate the feeling that from here on out, life at Downton would veer from the extravagant to the simplistic. With Alfred’s departure in series four, Ivy’s after the Christmas Special, and Jimmy’s after the first episode of series five, that youthful energy is all but gone, leaving Daisy in a similar holding pattern she was in at the start of the show.

The absence of the three of these characters isn’t a big loss from a story perspective. Eight episodes is hardly enough time to adequately address the show’s ensemble cast anyway. Their departures address something that we’d all rather avoid. Things are winding down and now it’s starting to show.

The future was a predominant theme is season five. Carson, Hughes, Patmore, and the Bates all made arrangements for their retirements while Tom continued to grapple with his desire to leave for America while taking Sybbie’s best interests into consideration. Lord Grantham continued to weigh the interests of the village against his obligation to preserve the way of life that can be threatened by those whose interest lie solely in monetary game. Mrs. Crawley debates a marriage proposal to the disdain of Lady Violet, who fears losing her treasured companion as selfish as that may be.

Problem is, this is all familiar territory. Edith and Tom’s storylines are merely continuations of plots from last season that could, and probably should have been wrapped up. Lady Rose’s late season courtship with Atticus is just about the only fresh plotline to be had other than Mrs. Crawley, who unexpectedly found herself in possession of one of the show’s better stories.

The Bates remain the biggest thorn in Julian Fellows’ paw. He has never really known what to do with them. Sadly, this has resulted in yet another murder plotline that’s even more droll and tedious as the first. It’s hard to imagine that #freebates was ever a legitimate fan rally as the couple hasn’t had a positive moment in years.

Fan sentiment also provides a roadblock for Lady Edith and her illegitimate child. It’s sad story. It isn’t a particularly interesting one and Edith’s years of being an annoying/whiney character didn’t do the plot any favors. After five seasons of watching her mope around, it’s hard to care.

This season had a few shining moments worth remembering. Miss Bunting quickly became of the most hated characters in the show’s history and Fellow’s timed her depature perfectly as to not allow her to overstay her welcome (or rather unwelcome). Thomas received redemption of sorts from Dr. Clarkson in one of the season’s most touching moments. Molesley was Molesley and as such, got his own article.

I watched an old season two episode in between episodes to see the contrast between then and now. It’s to be expected that shows drop off a bit as they get older. Even a worldwide phenomenon like Downton.

The problem is that Downton has an identity crisis, a problem that’s existed since the World War I storyline ended but was exacerbated by Matthew’s death. The show knows where it’s going, but it doesn’t know what to do with itself in the meantime. It seems to be a fairly safe assumption that next season will be the final one, which may not be such a bad idea.

Downton Abbey is certainly more entertaining the most of what’s on TV, but it’s also clear that the show is well past its prime. Fellows overindulged in repetitive storylines and drew out others unnecessarily. It’s hard to call season five bad, but when the bar was raised so high from previous years, the drop in quality is a tad unfortunate. The Dowager would certainly not be impressed.

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Friday

7

November 2014

0

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Mr. Molesley: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Written by , Posted in Blog, Downton Abbey, Pop Culture

From his first appearance in episode two, it would be hard to tell that Joseph Molesley would become one of Downton Abbey’s most endearing characters. From butler to valet to laborer to footman, Molesley has a list of occupations rivaled only by Thomas. The backwards progression of these jobs naturally lead to a consistent suffering matched only by Lady Edith. Yet as season five comes to a close, Molesley goes on, earning both the adoration and respect of his fellow workers and viewers alike.

Molesley begins his time on Downton as the butler to Mrs. Crawley, a job that appears to have been organized by either Robert or Violet as Molesley was away from the area at the start of the show. He continued to be a minor character and occasional comic relief throughout the first season. His standout moment was perhaps when Matthew struggled to embrace his services, creating a unique moment where the lavish excess of the upper class is countered by the pride that a person like Molesley takes in his duties.

We see this evolve in season two as Molesley finds himself with little to do in Mrs. Crawley’s absence. Rather than sit around twiddling his thumbs, Molesley makes himself useful at the big house. This is overshadowed by his accidental drunkenness brought on by wine tasting and his failed romantic overtures directed at Anna. Season two establishes Molesley as the good-natured Mr. Bean like klutz destined to be Julian Fellows’ whipping boy.

This “Molesley must suffer” mentality continues in season three. With Matthew engaged to Lady Mary, it makes sense that Molesley would be destined for the big house as the valet to the heir of Downton. Problem is that Matthew doesn’t want a valet. But then he gets one for some strange reason, only it’s not Molesley. It’s Alfred. Without the interference by a jealous Thomas, who insisted that Alfred was not ready for such duties, Molesley might still be in the service of Mrs. Crawley.

Molesley’s high status as Matthew’s valet was short lived. While Mary and Mrs. Crawley could recover their statuses following Matthew’s death, there was no one for Molesley to valet for. Season four showed Fellows’ love of making Molesley suffer as convenient landing destinations for his services were foiled using spotty logic. Mrs. Crawley could’ve easily taken him back as butler and Spratt could have been kicked to the curb following his sabotage of Molesley’s audition. So poor Joesph had to settle for the lowly job of second footman.

The problem is that the positive outcomes would’ve taken him away from the big house, which at this point is where he belongs. The staff has taken quite a beating over the past two years, seeing O’Brien, Alfred, Jimmy, and Ivy all leave. The latter three weren’t exactly replaced by new characters, making Molesley even more important.

There are two distinct versions of Molesley that the viewer gets to see. There’s the drunken bumblehead who loses at cricket and can’t seem to catch a break. But then there’s the man who shows a genuine desire to help others like Baxter and Daisy and of course, the strong man victory in the season three Christmas special.

Mrs. Patmore’s scolding of Daisy for her treatment of Molesley was what prompted me to write this article. In telling Daisy to be nice to people who are kind, Patmore reminds us why people like Molesley are special. They’re rare.

Molesley has had his fair shares of ups and downs, but besides his reluctance to accept the footman position, which received a rather rude response from Carson, he takes his fortunes in stride (even his strong man carnival victory). How many of us can say the same?

Through five seasons, Molesley has grown from a background comic relief figure to the heart and soul of Downton Abbey. He’s an older worker facing uncertain times without the capital of Carson, Hughes, Patmore, and the Bates, who can all invest in retirement options. But you wouldn’t know that just by looking at him. He’s neither the best looking nor the most interesting person on the show, but his consistent good nature sets him apart from the rest of the cast and earns him a place in the viewer’s hearts.

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