Posts tagged ‘1980s’

Was it six networks or only five? In all this excitement, they’re ‘Still the One’


I’m sure there are many, many more examples of this tune being used to promote TV networks, but it seems to be a standard in at least three countries I know, and probably far more besides.
   It is, of course, ‘Still the One’, which ABC used in the US to celebrate being the top-rated network there in 1977 for the second consecutive year. It was rare for ABC to be on top, but I think the general consensus was that jiggle TV got them there.
   Australia, which has always had a lot of US influences, then used it for Channel 9 in 1978 and included the original American footage. It would have been properly licensed but in the days before YouTube, and less international travel, few would have known of the origins.
   It was then adapted for the Murdoch Press’s Sky One satellite network in the UK the next decade (did they first see it in Australia?), before being revived by 9 in Australia in 1988. It was adapted once again for TVNZ’s Channel 2 here in New Zealand to kick off the 1990s.
   The slogan was used regularly by 9 as the 1990s dawned though new songs replaced the original, and by the end of the 1990s, both Channel 9 and its NBN sister were using the familiar tune again.
   Was that the end? In 2003, WIN, another Australian network, brought it back for their promos. As far as I can tell, WIN, a regional broadcaster, doesn’t have a connection to 9, but instead has an agreement with the Ten Network there. Just to make things confusing, 9 was using it at the same time, and it continued to do so into the mid-2000s.
   A quick internet search on Duck Duck Go reveals it was originally a song performed by the band Orleans in 1976, from their album Waking and Dreaming. The song was written by the then-married Johanna and John Hall. It charted at number five in the US. Given that it was used by ABC in 1977, it would have been a familiar tune to Americans at the time. I wonder if the Halls expected it would become a TV network standard in so many countries, and what did they think?
   Let me know if there are other countries and networks that used this—I’ve a feeling it went even further!



Channel 9, Australia (1978)

Sky One, UK

Channel 9, Australia (1988)

Channel 2, New Zealand

Channel 9 and NBN, Australia (1998)

WIN, Australia

Channel 9, Australia (2003)

Channel 9, Australia (2006)

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Forget the stereotypes: how immigrants write with English as their second language


How interesting to find a photocopy of a letter my Dad wrote to the Department of Social Welfare in 1986, to apply for National Superannuation on behalf of his parents.
   We had been here less than a decade, but, frankly, Dad’s correspondence was always like this. The whole idea of immigrants coming to Aotearoa with limited English always smacked of racism and intolerance to me, and this letter illustrates that it might actually be our linguistic superiority in mastering another tongue that has racists and xenophobes worried.
   There are some minor errors here, and he could have used a few commas instead of full stops, but it’s on a par with period correspondence from native Anglophones.
   I still have this Underwood typewriter.

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Posted in New Zealand, Wellington | 2 Comments »

Light humour, dark copy


I really love Hong Kong 漫畫 or manhua, and found this in one of the boxes from the move.

   This was before the days of our having a computer scanner, and I had photocopied it out of a magazine or newspaper. There were years the copier was on the blink and everything would come out way darker than it should be—it was only with a bit of photo editing in a modern program that I got it looking better.
   I swear that copier had a psychic circuit like the Tardis. My father was a technician and knew his way around the machine but could never find anything wrong with it. It was fine when new but there were years everything came out too dark. After my mother passed away, the machine went dark instantly. After a period of mourning, without warning, it brightened again and all was back to normal. The computer monitor at the time did the same thing: I had to set it to its maximum setting to see the screen properly. And around the same time, it fixed itself, and I could turn it back to where it was. Gadgets in mourning.
   Usually you just hear stories of light bulbs frying but we were more high-tech.
   When Dad’s Imac gave up the ghost days after he died (actually, that was the first time we tried to switch it on after he passed away), I didn’t bother trying to get it fixed. I had a sense it wouldn’t be worth it.

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Is there a type that works from home more easily?


Olivia St Redfern has featured yours truly in her lockdown day 2, part 1 podcast, so I decided to record another response.
   It brings to mind something Steve McQueen once said. ‘I’m not an actor. I’m a reactor.’ As in, he could react to a line from another actor.
   Anyone who has seen McQueen in a film, certainly anything post-Blob, would dispute that—the king of cool was an excellent actor. But for now, as someone who had avoided doing a podcast for two decades, I “react” to Olivia’s episodes, and recorded a response on Anchor:

   At some point I might do an entry independently but considering the first has only had one listen (out of hundreds who might read a blog post of mine), then there’s not a huge incentive! (Update: that episode has doubled its audience to two.)
   History tells us that it took a while for Melrose Place to be seen as more than a 90210 spin-off, for instance. And Joey never managed it post-Friends.
   This second one does make one point about working from home. As mentioned before, I’ve been doing this since 1987, so the only difference with the lockdown (and the days leading up to it) is that I don’t feel as “special”. But I also know that not everyone is enjoying their work arrangements, such as this British QC:

   I posted my 12 tips for working from home, but when chatting to Amanda today, there might be a bit more to it than that. Maybe there’s something about one’s personality that makes working from home easier.
   While I have things to do each day, I don’t make lists. I’m more substantive than procedural. In the daytime, I try to answer emails or see to urgent stuff. I almost never do accounts at night: that’s another daytime pursuit. I know to reserve time to do those but I don’t religiously set it to 2 p.m., for instance. The beauty of working from home is flexibility, so why re-create a regimented schedule?
   At night I tend to do more creative things, e.g. design and art direction. My work day is extended because I enjoy my work.
   My advice to those making the shift is to do away with the lists. Know the direction and get things done as the inspiration hits you. It’s meant to be calmer than the bustle of office life.

People should find exponential growth an easy concept to grasp, at least those of us of a certain age. Heather Locklear taught all of us with Fabergé shampoo.

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The death of Holden


GM pulled out of Russia and India, so with hindsight, those of us Down Under, with a far smaller total population, shouldn’t have thought we were particularly special.
   Even where GM remains, such as South Korea, there’s a broken model range, with a big gap where the Cruze used to be.
   It’s becoming apparent that GM, with no more right-hand-drive markets to cater for, will be a company that only offers full lines in China and the Americas.
   Some GM-watchers have been calling for the demise of Holden for years, just as they had called for the deaths of Oldsmobile and Pontiac years before. But as I argued in a letter published in the (also-defunct) Condé Nast Portfolio, each brand occupies unique territory, and, had they not been diluted, could still appeal to certain buyers that more mainstream ones, e.g. Chevrolet, cannot reach.
   Holden was always a tough case in Australia, where we noted it was very tied to nationalism. Once local manufacture finished, its sales plummeted.
   It wasn’t the case in New Zealand, where all cars had been imported for decades and we never had the sense that Holden was our ‘own car’. However, GM New Zealand (as it then was) had created a handful of Holdens unique to this market that the Australians never saw. Once upon a time, it was a more independent beast.
   When Holden ceased Australian manufacture, sales didn’t drop the same way in this country. With Kiwis loving entries in the CD market, the Commodore isn’t an uncommon sight, and remains the choice of the police.
   But the same argument of economies of scale applies to New Zealand, a country with a population of five million: GM had no desire to allow this country much wiggle room compared with Australia. Whatever happened there would necessarily happen here.
   Those 600 jobs that are going include redundancies in New Zealand.
   Over the years it had seemed Holden was on life support. There was a golden age where the HQ series and its derivatives flew the Holden flag high, but after the oil crises, there was a real possibility the company could have bit the dust in the mid-1980s, becoming an import-only operation.
   A plan circulated within GM to replace the top Holdens with Cadillacs, while the rest of the range would be made up of cars from around the GM empire—which, in those days, included Opel and Isuzu.
   But the Australians won the day and the VN Commodore got the green light. By the end of the 1990s, Holden was in great shape, including an export programme for cars based off the VT Commodore.
   You could say history repeated itself with the global financial crisis in the late 2000s—where GM, keen to continue, asked for US$50,000 million from the US taxpayer. But perhaps more importantly, it sold the controlling stake in its venture with SAIC of China to its Chinese partner for a mere US$85 million. That was one deal that allowed GM to raise funds elsewhere, but it also saw the beginning of a technological transfer to China. Even after GM bought back the share, SAIC would get control of the JV’s sales’ company.
   Numerous SAIC cars were built on GM platforms—the Roewe 950, for example. Cars made by GM ventures began appearing with SAIC-owned brands—the MG Hector in India, a rebadged Baojun 530, for one; it also appears as the second-generation Chevrolet Captiva in some other markets. Once upon a time GM might have earned a royalty for any car built on its tech, but it’s unlikely here as the two companies share in the profits.
   While SAIC hasn’t succeeded with MG Down Under, you notice more of a push these days, and it has already made an impact in New Zealand with the Maxus commercial line-up, rebadged LDV. Export sales aren’t a big deal for the Chinese giant, but with the Chinese economy slowing, they could be eyeing up more international markets.
   With SAIC keen to get more of the action for themselves, GM’s operations in many of its outposts became irrelevant.
   Holden held on for dear life and arguably had one of its more competitive ranges for years—but in this context, GM might not have had much choice.
   It has little to do with the consolidation of markets and all to do with much higher-level strategic decisions. After all, hardly anyone in China will have grown up with idea of Holden being Australia’s own car.

This post also appears in Drivetribe and Lucire Men.

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Posted in business, cars, China, New Zealand, USA | 2 Comments »

In the 1980s, I thought society would evolve to become more efficient and smarter


Growing up in a relatively wealthy country in the 1980s, after getting through most of the 1970s, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the world would just keep getting better and things would make more sense as humans evolved.
   From a teenager’s perspective: home computers, with a modulator–demodulator (modem), could bring you information instantaneously and from around the world. As an immigrant kid, that excited me: contact with people “back home” and from other places, making communication quicker. You could hear from others, and you could help others who needed you. And if you didn’t have a computer that could connect to a bulletin board, there was Teletext, which gave you regularly updated information through your TV set.
   Cars were getting more aerodynamic, which meant they would use less fuel, and that was understood universally to be a good thing. MPVs were very practical vehicles that had small footprints yet fitted a lot of people, or stuff, inside. Here in New Zealand, natural gas-powered dual-fuel cars were mainstream, and that meant we weren’t reliant on overseas oil. They also didn’t pollute anywhere near what petrol did—they burned cleanly.
   And since saving energy was understood to be a good thing, who knew? Before long solar power would be the norm for new homes and we’d be putting electricity back into the grid.

Alex Snyder/Wayne National Forest/Creative Commons

   I also heard about recycling for the first time as a teen, and that seemed like a good thing—all that old paper and plastic could have a second life.
   People were interested in being more efficient because no one wanted a repeat of the oil shocks of the 1970s. Nor did we want the government imposing carless days on us again.
   That same teenager would have thought that by the dawn of the 21st century—if the US and Soviet Union behaved—we’d have evolved to have recognized that we had the tools to make things better.
   When the internet came to our house in the 1990s, I saw it as a direct evolution of the 1980s’ optimism. It made sense.
   So through that lens, a lot of what the world looks like today doesn’t make sense.
   We have connected computers, milliards which are handheld, yet some of us are addicted to them and others use them to express outrage, rather than delight in having any contact at all with people thousands of miles away.
   SUVs outsell regular cars in some size segments. They are less aerodynamic, use more fuel, and are less efficient. We have American companies—Ford in the US and Holden here—saying that they’ll stop selling cars in most segments in favour of utility trucks, crossovers and SUVs. Petrol is expensive, and I complain about it, but I guess no one else thinks it’s expensive. Dual-fuel cars are a thing of the past here, for the most part, yet lots of people marvel at hybrids, conveniently forgetting we were decades ahead in the 1980s.
   And solar power isn’t the norm.
   We still, happily, recycle—but not everything we collect winds up being recycled. We have an awareness, but if we kept on progressing as I expected us to when I was Greta Thunberg’s age, then we wouldn’t have Greta Thunberg reminding us that we haven’t.
   I wonder if others in middle age realize that humans have the potential to go forward, and in many respects we do—but collectively there are enough of us who go backward and prevent any real advance in society.
   I like to have the same optimism as teenage me about the future. In terms of myself, many things bring me happiness, particularly in my personal and work lives. Yet in terms of society, I wonder if I can be as optimistic. I know deep down that we are interested in efficiency and treating our planet better (or we say we are), so then who are the ones holding us back, and what are we doing that stops us moving forward? Is it personal greed, hoping others will pick up the slack? Many of us choose products and services from companies that align with our views about what we want—yet are we doing the same when it comes to politicians?

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Social media sheeple don’t know they’re sheeple


Andrew R. Tester/Creative Commons

It’s pretty hard to deactivate one’s Facebook. When I ceased posting in 2017 and reduced my activity to client stuff and group management, I made sure that I had no more Facebook sign-ons left. But it turns out that Lucire’s Twitter-to-Facebook page script relies on my account.
   I did look today and got caught up in a thread which reminded me why I don’t tend to look at the feed. Usual behaviour: person offended by a friend’s post. Spewed out opinions disguised as fact. Got called out. Couldn’t back them up. Then began obfuscating and attacking the messenger.
   It would be funny if it weren’t so obvious these days—and that this person thinks they are intelligent. Social media have allowed those under the average IQ to believe they are the superior beings in the human race, because they have an audience and enough dopamine hits from likes to back up that feeling.
   To heck with facts. We also find the same folks despise expertise, and truth is the obvious casualty.
   I still remember last year one gentleman having a go at me for a Tweet that joked about MSG in ‘white people food’ (a term, I should note, that whites use), then proceeded to tell me all the incidents of racism perpetrated by my race that he had witnessed—all without recognizing that what he was doing was putting forth a “master race” argument on how his race was better and more tolerant. A racist who slams others over race. It stuck in my mind as a brilliant exemplar of ignorance and pigheadedness. I’d link it but he’s deleted it—I hadn’t expected the cowardice—but it was a great example of how the original message became the pretext to attack someone rather than engage. (Incidentally, there’s plenty of MSG in occidental food—just look out for those 600 numbers, and fast food joints are particularly nasty.)
   I know there’ll always be more sheeple than independent thinkers. I know there’ll always be more who’ll swallow BS than analyse something for themselves. But it’s still disappointing to see it writ so large in this social-media-democratized world of ours.
   Of course everyone should have a voice, a freedom to say their piece.
   But in a bigger forum it would also be useful for all of us to have some sense of self-control and admit it when we don’t have evidence or we’re not experts in the area. I don’t think that’s likely unless schools are training kids some netiquette, what an actual debate looks like, and how social media “debates” are not debates.
   I’d never go on a forum to debate my GP over medicine. And if I did, I’d qualify my statements with ‘As a layman, I would have thought …’ and allow myself to be corrected by people who know more than me in their specialist area.
   In the 1980s, the Scots comedian Robbie Coltrane said the difference between a Briton and an American was that the Brit might recognize their limitations and say, ‘I didn’t go to a very good school,’ whereas the American would say, ‘If he comes over here, I’ll shoot him.’ But in 2020 I doubt such a distinction exists, certainly not online. A Briton is as likely as an American, or a New Zealander for that matter, to be anti-expert and truth- and fact-resistant.
   I don’t know where that puts society. When I talked about leaving Twitter, one very active and knowledgeable friend in the South Island said he would stay because he ‘didn’t want to let the bastards win,’ or a sentiment to that effect. Sometimes I feel retreat leaves some of us in a gated community while the Morlocks go wild in Big Tech forums. And there would be absolutely no point to such an arrangement, because we enrich each other in society through contact, not isolation.
   So how do you educate others who are so resistant to education, so unwilling to enter into a debate without character assassinations? Is this why the social media sites love us so much, because some of us think that the only way to get through with facts is to shout?
   A religious person might advance the idea of living life better and to lead by example. Don’t preach it, show it. That doesn’t mean isolation, but it does mean demonstrating that not being an arsehole is enriching. Sounds good to me, except, with some so self-obsessed with ignorance, will they even recognize that that’s what’s happening? When this person on Facebook was called out today, I don’t think she realized it. It’s easier in the real world, and not so much in the virtual one where people are so caught up in their own head.

PS.: Let my friend and colleague Peter Fraterdeus have the last word here:

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Capitalism falls down when it’s rigged


Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, touches on a few points that resonate with my readings over the years.
   He believes capitalism, as a system, is not a bad one, but it is bad when it is ‘rigged’; and that Aristotle was indeed right (as history has since proved) that a sizeable middle class is necessary for the functioning of a democracy.
   We know that the US, for instance, doesn’t really do much about monopolies, having redefined them since the 1980s as essentially OK if no one gets charged more. Hence, Wolf, citing Prof Thomas Philippon’s The Great Reversal, notes that the spikes in M&A activity in the US has weakened competition. I should note that this isn’t the province of “the right”—Philippon also shows that M&A activity reduced under Nixon.
   I alluded to the lack of competition driving down innovation, but Wolf adds that it has driven up prices (so much for the US’s stance, since people are being charged more), and resulted in lower investment and lower productivity growth.
   In line with some of my recent posts, Wolf says, ‘In the past decade, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined have made over 400 acquisitions globally. Dominant companies should not be given a free hand to buy potential rivals. Such market and political power is unacceptable. A refurbishment of competition policy should start from the assumption that mergers and acquisitions need to be properly justified.’
   History shows us that Big Tech’s acquisitions have not been healthy to consumers, especially on the privacy front; they colluded to suppress wages before getting busted. In a serious case, according to one company, Google itself commits outright intellectual property theft: ‘Google would solicit a party to share with it highly confidential trade secrets under a non-disclosure agreement, conduct negotiations with the party, then terminate negotiations with the party professing a lack of interest in the party’s technology, followed by the unlawful use of the party’s trade secrets in its business.’ (The case, Attia v. Google, is ongoing, I believe.) Their own Federal Trade Commission said Google ‘used anticompetitive tactics and abused its monopoly power in ways that harmed Internet users and rivals,’ quoting the Murdoch Press. We see many undesirable patterns with other firms there exercising monopoly powers, some of which I’ve detailed on this blog, and so far, only Europe has had the cohones to slap Google with massive fines (in the milliards, since 2017), though other jurisdictions have begun to investigate.
   As New Zealand seeks to reexamine its Commerce Act, we need to ensure that we don’t merely parrot the US and UK approach.
   Wolf also notes that inequality ‘undermines social mobility; weakens aggregate demand and slows economic growth.’ The central point I’ve made before on Twitter: why would I want people to do poorly when those same people are potentially my customers? It seems to be good capitalism to ensure there’s a healthy base of consumers.

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Seasonal Canadian humour


My thanks to Sydney-based photographer Robert Catto for linking me to this one, especially near the festive season.

   It is funnier than the one I took in Sweden many years ago, which in pun-land could be racist:

   The sad thing is, at some point, the majority will not get the top joke.
   I have a ringtone on my phone for SMSs, namely Derek Flint’s ringtone from In Like Flint.
   If I mention In Like Flint, in my circles there’d be about one person every two years who’ll get what I mean.
   Twenty years ago, everyone would have said, ‘Who’s Derek Flint? That’s Austin Powers’ ringtone!’
   Today, some of my younger readers will ask, ‘Who’s Austin Powers?’

So far, only a tiny handful of people get my reference when I say, ‘Dear guards, Jeffrey can be taken off suicide watch. Signed, Epstein’s mother.’
   No, what Epstein did to his victims—children—is no laughing matter.
   However, I don’t think I’m alone in needing humour as an anchor for my sanity when the news is abhorrent.

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Reflections about Lee Iacocca—unfortunately, not all of it is positive


The car Lee Iacocca will be remembered for, the 1965 Ford Mustang on the right.

Before I found out about Lee Iacocca’s passing, on the same day I Tweeted about one of the cars he was behind when he was president of Ford: the 1975 US Granada. Basically, Iacocca understood that Americans wanted style. That really was at the core of his thinking. It’s also why the Granada—really a warmed-over, restyled Falcon that had its roots in the late 1950s—was always compared to Mercedes-Benz models. It was a mass-market American pastiche of the German car, with the same size. It had a grille and hood ornament. But it was frightfully slow, underpowered, and heavy, one of the most inefficient cars that Americans could buy.
   It’s the antithesis of the Mustang, which Iacocca arguably spearheaded, though in his autobiography, he noted that so many people claimed to be the father of the Mustang that he didn’t want to be seen with the mother (or words to that effect—the book’s next to my partner who’s already gone to sleep as I write).
   That was a stylish car, too. It was a Falcon-based coupé. But it could be specified with the right power to match its looks, and it was priced and marketed brilliantly. Ford hit a home run, and Iacocca’s reputation as a car industry guru was sealed.
   He was also the man who came up with the idea for the Lincoln Continental Mark III. No, not the 1950s one (which technically wasn’t a Lincoln), the one that came out in the 1960s (Ford didn’t really follow a sequential numbering system—remember it went Mark, Mark II, III, IV, V, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII). The idea: stick a Rolls-Royce grille on a Thunderbird. It beat the Cadillac Eldorado, and Iacocca finished the ’60s on a high.
   I felt that history hadn’t been kind to the Mustang II, which also came out under Iacocca’s watch. The fact was it was a sales’ hit, at a time when Detroit was reeling from the 1973 fuel crisis. No V8s initially, which in the 21st century looks like a misstep; in 1974 it would have looked smart. Growing up, we didn’t think the II was as bad as history remembers.
   But the US range was, in some ways, lazy. GM was downsizing but Iacocca noted that people were still buying big cars. To give the impression of downsizing, Ford just renamed the Torino the LTD II. Look, it’s a smaller LTD! Not really: here was yet another car on old tech with another pastiche luxury-car grille.
   When Iacocca was fired from Ford, he went to Chrysler, and pulled off his greatest sales’ job yet: to secure loan guarantees from the Carter administration and turn the company around with a range of modern, front-wheel-drive cars. The K-car, and its derivatives, were a demonstration of great platform-sharing. He noted in his autobiography that Chrysler even worked out a way to shave a tiny amount from the length to fit more Ks on a railroad car. And Iacocca’s penchant for style re-emerged: not long after the original Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries, there were fancied up Chrysler LeBarons, and a woody wagon, then a convertible, the first factory US one since the 1976 Cadillac Eldorado. Most importantly, Chrysler got the T-115 minivans on sale before Renault got its Espace out, though after Nissan launched the first MPV, the smaller Prairie. Nevertheless, the minivan was an efficient family vehicle, and changed the face of motoring. Iacocca was right when he believed people want style, because it’s the SUV that has succeeded the MPV and minivan. SUVs are hardly efficient in most circumstances, but here we are in 2019, with minivan sales projected to fall, though Chrysler has managed to stay the market leader in its own country.
   Chrysler paid back its loans years early, and it was under Iacocca that the company acquired American Motors Corp., getting the Jeep brand (the real prize) in the process. And it’s thanks to François Castaing and others who came across from AMC that Chrysler wound up with its LH sedans, the “cab-forward” models that proved to be one of the company’s hits in the 1990s.
   While having saved Chrysler, it was burdened with acquisitions, and in Iacocca’s final full year as Chairman Lee, the company posted a $795 million loss, with the recession partly to blame. The press joked that LH stood for Last Hope.
   It’s an incredible record, with some amazing hits. They do outnumber the duds. But what really mars it is an incident of sexual harassment I learned some years ago that never appears in the official biographies. Now, I don’t have a sworn affidavit, so you can treat this as hearsay. But until I heard that from a good friend—the woman who was harassed—Iacocca was a personal hero of mine. I bought the autobiography. I could forgive the financial disgrace Chrysler was in for 1991—one year out of nearly a dozen isn’t a bad run, even though the writing was on the wall when so much money was spent on acquisitions, hurting working capital.
   I know, his daughters and their kids won’t appreciate what I just said. That it’s wrong to speak ill of the dead, especially when they can’t answer back. You could say that that was the era he was from, in an industry steeped in male privilege—his boss at Ford, Henry the second, was carrying on an affair behind his wife’s back. You might say that one incident that I know of shouldn’t mar this incredible business record. He has left his mark on history. It’s just when it happens to one of your own friends that it’s closer to home, and it’s hard for me to offer the effortless praise I would normally have done if not for that knowledge.

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