liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
One of the great things about the internet is that you get to meet people who are not like you. But that's also one of the problems with the internet; I live a fairly sheltered life and I am in the habit of assuming that most people I interact with generally share most of my values, to the extent of, say, holding broadly egalitarian views. Of course, this is not actually the case!

On Facebook I "friend" just about anyone I've ever interacted with in person more than superficially. So it's a lot of more or less distant relatives, a lot of former colleagues (I'm a bit careful about friending current colleagues), a lot of people I've known and worked with in various Jewish communities across the UK and Scandinavia, some people I've met at conferences, workshops and so on. And my FB feed tends to show really quite a lot of nastiness. Sexist jokes, some quite harmless, on the "naughty postcard" level, but some a lot more actively misogynist and anyway the mass of them tends to get quite wearing. Racist comments, mostly joking; anti-black racism is not acceptable in even my broader circles but people feel free to say just about anything about Gypsies and Muslims (Islam isn't a race!) People picking up and repeating mainstream media and political establishment divide-and-rule rhetoric about asylum seekers, benefit "cheats", "scroungers" etc.

Increasingly it's not just this merely offensive / nasty stuff, it's ultra-nationalist memes and shares. Some of it I'm fairly sure is genuinely innocent; lots of people who aren't British don't know what the BNP is, let alone Britain First. And lots of people who aren't really internet savvy just see something cute or funny or "click like if you are in favour of motherhood and apple-pie" and have no idea that passing this stuff on improves the ranking of ultra-nationalist and hate groups' pages. I posted the following message as a FB status, and it seems to have attracted lots of likes and approval rather than anger, so maybe I'm helping a bit:
I'm friends with people from several different countries and backgrounds here on FB, so I am going to point out something that may be obvious to many of you. The BNP (British National Party) is a far-right hate group. So is the EDL (English Defence League). Britain First is a splinter group from the BNP with more of a clue how to use social media. I don't want to get into a pointless pedantic argument about whether their economic views are literally "fascist" but at the very least they have a lot of neo-Nazi and otherwise violently racist fellow travellers.

I am finding it very upsetting to see their stuff in my Facebook feed. I don't have any reason to believe that most people who share this stuff are actually in favour of extremism and violence against people like me and my friends, which is why I'm making this post.
If you're actually making an informed decision to promote these groups, then I doubt anything I can say is going to convince you. However, if you just enjoy the content, can you perhaps look to other sources for your memes and shares? A lot of the time the content isn't original to these groups anyway, they're just putting up news stories from the mainstream media, common internet memes or random photos on their FB page to garner likes.

You may think you're posting "isn't this cute?", but how it comes across is, "isn't this cute, and by the way I want people like you denied rights, beaten up, deported or killed." I would rather not see a lot of messages like that when I log on to FB.
Still, I am worried that people are supporting the BNP and related groups because they actually hate foreigners and immigrants. Or maybe I always have known people with seriously xenophobic views but they're finding it more acceptable to express those views in public lately. And no, the problem is not purely FB, it's just more visible there because it's so much set up for sharing link-baity images.

Among my closer social circle, the people I generally expect to hold similar values to me even if we don't completely align politically, people are worrying that we're getting too obsessed with showing our allegiance by posting political rants or mockery of tabloid / right-wing views. This stuff is only reaching people who already agree, it's not contributing anything to the general discourse. Indeed, there's some suggestion that anger and mockery helps extremist groups because their potential supporters feel misunderstood and despised by those they perceive as well-off, highly educated and generally privileged.

[personal profile] cryptogirl posted this magnificent rant in the context of the recent election. She points out:
The problem with having a bubble where people shout things that their friends agree with is that nobody else will automatically either care or understand. How many things did you see go by your feeds explaining the elections in any detail- the candidates, what they actually do, their impact on the humble average voter?
She also reinforces the view which I think many of my friends share, as do I, that:
But I do have many friends, and indeed partners, who have different views to my own. That's cool, bro. We can agree to disagree [...] You may have political views diametrically opposed to me. But I generally value friendship over angsting about how you feel about the economy/immigrants.


Along similar lines, though much more measured rather than ranty, the excellent Kate Griffin argues against the idea that you absolutely have to share what’s already being shared and get angry about what everybody else is getting angry about. She makes some excellent points about what is rewarded by attention in social media, versus what's actually socially valuable. I don't in fact use Twitter in the way she's complaining about, so I don't feel the need to make a commitment that I'll only post links there that don't originate from Twitter. But the more general point is valid for me, I do tend to join in with re-echoing sentiments of "aren't those awful people awful" more than I should.

[Note that both the linked pieces use "tribal" to mean caring more about group affiliation than real issues, which is a term that some activists consider racist. I haven't decided yet whether I should stop using the word in a pejorative sense, but I did want to note the objection.]

I mean, people-like-me often do worry about bubbles and how easy the internet makes it to surround ourselves with people who mostly agree with us. I suppose the question is, how far does that go? I generally enjoy (as well as thinking it's important) interacting with people from different backgrounds to myself and having my assumptions tested by respectful discussion with people with different views. But I am not sure I want to extend that to all possible views; I'm not really interested in socializing with people who regard some groups of people as inferior and not worthy of respect. I don't think anyone (other than possibly trolls) is seriously arguing that we have a moral obligation to pay attention to the opinions of people who actively hate us. And it's clearly not viable or desirable to only talk to people who exactly agree politically. So I'm trying to figure out where best to draw the line. This of course is part of the obvious question of how far to be tolerant of intolerance, but I think it is worth talking about specifics.

In general I have no problems being friends with people who vote differently from me, but I do have problems being friends with people who actively support political views I perceive as directly detrimental or even dangerous to me and people I care about. I am fine being friends with people who differ from me about the best way to improve equality between genders and ethnic groups, but I don't know how close I want to be to people who think women and minority gendered people are literally inferior to men, or that people with dark skin aren't really human. A cynic might say that perhaps I'm only willing to "agree to disagree" when the issue at stake is relatively unimportant, but I don't think it's exactly that.

Simply letting seriously bigoted stuff pass because you want to be broad-minded and don't want to start drama does active harm. It helps to create an environment where it's ok to express these sorts of opinions, which I am pretty sure is what's actually going on lately, it's becoming frighteningly "respectable" to be openly racist. Here I differ from people who think that propagating outrage and so-called internet mobs are the worst thing ever. I think it can actually be valuable for lots of people to get angry about unacceptable views and actions, because it makes it clear to those targeted that most of their social circle is on their side. Sure, fact-checking first is a good idea, but simply keeping quiet lends tacit support to the bigots.

Part of it is an Overton window thing. There may not be a clear rational reason why it's fine to be friends with people who support "a different political party", but not people who support ultra-nationalist parties. Except that it's entirely mainstream to vote for a party that gives the home secretary power to jail people without trial and commits British troops to illegal American wars that kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. And it's entirely mainstream to vote for a party that treats human rights as an inconvenient impediment to business profit, harasses disabled people to death, puts millions of people into poverty to the level where they can't afford to eat, and massively undermines the NHS. Those policies do actual, real-world harm, including lethal, they're not just theoretical disagreements about economics or the justice system.

And then there's UKIP. Apparently the mainstream media have decided that UKIP is a major party now, which sort of implies that voting for them should come under the heading of acceptable political disagreement rather than scary extremism. I think there are some people who vote UKIP or spread UKIP propaganda because they genuinely feel that getting Britain out of the EU is so important that it's worth overlooking the racism, and some people who vote for or support UKIP because they're fed up with supposedly mainstream politics and haven't really investigated their policies in detail. Me, I'm seriously scared of UKIP; I'm not convinced their views are actually more "mainstream" or "respectable" than the BNP or the EDL, I think they're just more middle-class. Wearing suits and using standard English with correct spelling and grammar doesn't make racist views into acceptable discourse, but it does lull people from my sort of background into a reassuring sense that these are reasonable normal people like us.

Am I summarily defriending anyone who says anything positive about UKIP? Not yet, but I am making this post which does go against the consensus that you should be tolerant of differing political views in your social circle. And I am giving serious thought to my "escape plan", working out ways to move my life to some other country if UKIP or UKIP-like views gain much further political influence. I appreciate that the BBC and other news outlets massively overstated UKIP's success in the recent election, and anyway the British electorate don't really take Euro and local elections very seriously at the moment. Even so, even a proportionally small amount of political power shifting towards entrenched xenophobes could make life really unpleasant for me. Worse, of course, for people who are more their direct targets, especially Muslims and those with visible markers of their undesirable ethnic background.

That doesn't mean I think yelling at my acquaintances is going to help matters any, but I am not sure that agreeing to disagree about stuff like this is really the best course.

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Date: 2014-06-10 10:59 pm (UTC)
kaberett: a dalek stands at the foot of a flight of stairs, thinking "fuck." (dalek)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
But I generally value friendship over angsting about how you feel about the economy/immigrants.

.......... that's nice and all, except yeah, I DO fucking value my friendship with immigrants and my friendship with people like me reliant on disability benefits more than I fucking value friendships with people who support political parties who want me to crawl off in a ditch and die.

I'm currently without DLA, and have been since March. I am going to be without DLA until at least July and probably longer. Because the attitude to disabled people in this country is such that the DWP can reject my application for continuation of disability benefit (I'm a wheelchair user with multiple incurable chronic conditions) on the grounds that I might have got better since the last time I had to appeal their decision that I wasn't eligible and this is treated as normal and impossible to do anything about and probably not something we even want to do anything about.

There is a word for "valuing friendship over arguments about the economy/immigration", and it is privilege.

The personal is political.
Edited Date: 2014-06-10 11:01 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2014-06-10 11:03 pm (UTC)
kaberett: Overlaid Mars & Venus symbols, with Swiss Army knife tools at other positions around the central circle. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kaberett
I just. I cannot fucking be friends with someone who wants me dead, or thinks that an ideal political situation is one in which I am entirely dependent on the good will of an abusive family. That isn't something I can deal with. I can't.

The suggestion that I should, the implication that it is morally superior to be able to be close to someone who holds views of which that outcome is an integral part, is immensely hurtful.

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Date: 2014-06-10 11:48 pm (UTC)
hollymath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hollymath
Yes to all of this.

A friend told me yesterday about a mutual friend (and American ex-pat, like me)'s vehemence on facebook that people who shared "Britain First" or BNP-esque links, regardless of the content, were really upsetting her. He seemed a little baffled at this, and I found myself trying to explain that even when I know my friends are not bigots, it's like a punch in the face every time I see the nice picture of the D-day veteran with the BNP logo at the top. I have no doubt that he cares about me a lot, but it was clear I wasn't making much sense to him, and that made me tired and sad. If even people who so care about me don't get it...

Eventually he told me that he doesn't really think of me or our ex-pat friend as immigrants. I hear that a lot. It's meant well -- I'm sure people mean it as a compliment. But I never get to forget I'm an immigrant. I never stop being uneasy. I never get to think that arguments about the economy or immigration are abstract.

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Date: 2014-06-11 09:19 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
I think that the economy is huge and complicated and I don't understand it. I would not want to be friends with someone who said "disabled people should all just be left to die"; but I'm not confident enough of my analysis of "what economic choices will improve the situation" to go from "I disagree with you about the best choice of base rate" to "and yours is causing all this misery" (although clearly something, somewhere, is causing all this misery, the misery is real). So I am basically willing to be friends with people who have different ideas about what economic leavers to pull to make everything good because I have insufficient information.

People who think that immigrants should just 'fuck off' I have basically zero time for. But since clearly a lot of people think that I think there is a failure somewhere... I'm really at a loss to know what :( But I think we could start with having more people willing to stand up in public and say "immigrants are great".

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Date: 2014-06-10 11:30 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
A cynic might say that perhaps I'm only willing to "agree to disagree" when the issue at stake is relatively unimportant, but I don't think it's exactly that.

No, that's not cynicism: what's cynical is the idea that I should be prepared to disagree with people whose political position is that I and my friends should be killed. The cynical and/or selfish position isn't "I will not be friends with people who refuse to spend tax money to support the poor or disabled." The cynical position is "my fancy car is worth more than your brother-in-law's life, and this is something you should be prepared to debate in a calm tone while I sneer at you for caring."

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Date: 2014-06-11 05:25 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
I have thinky thoughts, but I am low on spoons. I'll just say, you leave undefined "being friends with", and treat it throughout as a singular thing, one that can be assumed to be understood by the reader, and one that's a kind of honor or blessing one bestows on worthy people.

But friendship comes in many varieties and shades. If I become friendly with my next door neighbor, commiserating over our lousy landlord and comparing mouse-trapping technologies, and I later find out they espouse some oppressive aspirant regime or odious prejudice, should I become cold to them? It would be better than letting the relationship stand unchanged in the name of not making waves. But it seems to me better far is to pursue the relationship, and by impressing them with my humanity and neighborliness, have a basis to say, "Hey, those people your people have it out for? You know, I'm one of them."

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Date: 2014-06-11 09:08 am (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
It's much harder to hate group X when group X means "my helpful neighbour, and that person I see down the shop twice a week, and my son's best friend's mum".

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Date: 2014-06-11 08:34 am (UTC)
simont: (Default)
From: [personal profile] simont
In general I have no problems being friends with people who vote differently from me, but I do have problems being friends with people who actively support political views I perceive as directly detrimental or even dangerous to me and people I care about. I am fine being friends with people who differ from me about the best way to improve equality between genders and ethnic groups, but I don't know how close I want to be to people who think women and minority gendered people are literally inferior to men, or that people with dark skin aren't really human. A cynic might say that perhaps I'm only willing to "agree to disagree" when the issue at stake is relatively unimportant, but I don't think it's exactly that.

Given some of your wording in this paragraph, perhaps it's not so much whether the issue is important, but the more specific and qualitative question of whether it's moral or strategic? It sounds as if you're much more prepared to be tolerant if you have the same ultimate values and goals as somebody else, but different analyses of the strategic question of what actions taken now will best work toward those goals in the future, whereas you're less tolerant of people whose ends, as opposed to their choice of means, differ unacceptably from yours.

If so, that doesn't seem massively unreasonable to me. If nothing else, it's easier to have a useful discussion with somebody who shares your most basic premises, because talking about whether those premises lead to this or that conclusion can often be backed up with useful arguments or evidence. And also, because these strategic questions are essentially factual rather than moral (in that sooner or later evidence will come along about whether some given strategy turned out to be effective), it's easier to feel that even your own opinion might turn out to be wrong, so you don't get so unalterably attached to it. Whereas when the lowest-level axioms are different there's much less of a way to convince people; when those axioms are moral then people get very, very attached to them (the more so if the people this person is willing to not care about include that person, of course); and finally I think it can be much easier to talk past each other – anything one person says, the other person thinks 'But how does that work towards my ultimate goal of [whatever it is you don't agree with them about]?' and then doesn't articulate that clearly enough for it to be instantly clear what the problem is.

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Date: 2014-06-11 09:11 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
I think that is mostly my position. I mean, I'm totally happy to disagree with friends about the best way to achieve a goal - indeed I think it is best if there is a diversity of opinions about "how to achieve this goal" so that we can try out a bunch and see what works. And I'm happy to disagree about what goals are THE MOST IMPORTANT goal to spend my/the government's time/energy/money on, because obviously there are limited resources to spend and lots of important goals...

But I'm not happy to "agree to disagree" when the fundamental goal is "people like me should be barefoot, pregnant, and making you a sammich" because fuck no.

I think the goal of "reform the EU" is a reasonable one, the goal of "leave the EU" seems sorta stupid but not inherently awful, whilst the goal of "get all the Romanians out" is just horrid.

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Date: 2014-06-11 09:02 am (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
I am not going to "agree to disagree" about things which are racist, sexist, or otherwise marginalising.

I think Tony & I are both fairly deliberately pursuing a policy of saying something when we see something, and trying to be as specific as possible e.g. "that joke is racist" or "breakfast meetings will be more difficult for staff with caring responsibilities or who depend on public transport". And we're talking to each other when we do, so it's becoming a norm for us to challenge stuff rather than let it go.

What made me a bit sad was a lot of my colleagues saying "what racist joke?"

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Date: 2014-06-12 04:58 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I've said it before, but I am pleased and impressed by you both making the effort to speak up.

FWIW, to me "agree to disagree" doesn't sound like "say nothing", but more like "challenge the objectionable behaviour, but accept that the person may not instantly reform."

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Date: 2014-06-16 01:28 pm (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel standing in front of the entrance to the London Eye pier (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
I am not going to "agree to disagree" about things which are racist, sexist, or otherwise marginalising.

So this is me thinking aloud, but. Perhaps I am not as hardline as that after all.

Maybe all I mean sometimes is "not let it pass without a challenge".

Maybe sometimes I just make that challenge quite low-key like "that's not my experience" (e.g. in response to 'girls always do X'). This is the sort of thing I do, I realise, in settings where I do have little social influence/capital e.g. the school playground, parents at work talking in the kitchen about their children.

Maybe sometimes I do reach "agree to disagree", even for racism & sexism, for people I like enough and where I think that continuing to have a dance of

[person says thing I find sexist]
[I say 'that's pretty sexist']
[we have huge row / tedious lengthy sidetrack discussion]

is not worth it. Maybe I shift my challenge to "you know what I think about that" and subject-change. That's effectively my redirect for the Topics I Do Not Talk About with my mother and brother. But those topics are examples of "agreeing to disagree", and therefore I probably do end up there, even for racist and sexist things.

[leaving aside all the times I don't challenge things because I don't have the energy for the ensuing argument]

Yeah. I think I'm not as hardline as I painted myself to be there.

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Date: 2014-06-11 09:40 am (UTC)
wychwood: bread and roses (gen - bread and roses)
From: [personal profile] wychwood
I'm not sure there is a consensus that you should be tolerant of differing political views in your social circle, actually - I mean, most people will say that it's good to have a broader range of opinions visible to you, but that's different from being friends with people who hold beliefs you find abhorrent.

(And like many of the previous commenters, I massively disagree with [personal profile] cryptogirl on the friendship vs feelings on immigrants dichotomy she's presenting - I mean, I have friends I disagree with on all sorts of political matters, though mostly relatively mildly, but I feel no desire to spend my time and energy on relationships with people whose attitudes I find actively hateful. I put up with some of it from my grandfather, because he's 85 and and has slightly more excuse, but I don't think I have to swallow attitudes I loathe in order to win some Being the Better Person prize, you know? Very limited subject-specific acquaintances where we carefully don't talk about contentious issues: yes. Serious friendships: no. And I don't think that's an unreasonable attitude.)

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-11 01:54 pm (UTC)
marymac: Noser from Middleman (Default)
From: [personal profile] marymac
I will agree to disagree up to a point. Especially with people who I am not familially or contractually obliged to talk to.

Espousing fascism and other such lovely ideas are firmly on the other side of that point. I can't have a bubble (I want to know who these people in liberal bubbles are and how they manage it). I see this stuff on the street every day of the week, I get UKIP & company on the news on a daily basis, let's not even get into the people in charge of the Assembly, by the time it comes to people saying that kind of thing in my space, I am long, long out of tolerance.

Re: immigrants, pretty sure my friends, colleagues and the neighbour who shouts at my elderly aunt for standing on chairs are contributing substantially more to society than the people who are against them. And in the last case, saving the NHS a substantial amount of money.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-12 10:32 am (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Liberal bubbles> through a careful selection of location, job, friends, hobbies, and online hangouts. And also a careful "policing" of boundaries with social shunning/yelling at people who step over the line from "reasonable disagreement" into "unreasonable bigotry" (which sometimes hauls 'em back onto the Side Of Virtue, and sometimes causes them to fuck off out of the nice liberal bubble; of course it's not always very "nice").

Of course it is a function of my privilege that I have the ability to say things like "I shall live in this nice city" and "this job sucks, I shall get another" and "I refuse to talk to you Mr Bigot" whilst also having things like "a nice house to live in" and "no-one beating the snot out of me".

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Date: 2014-06-12 06:46 am (UTC)
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
From: [personal profile] lavendersparkle
Conversations like this always make me think of the Oscar Wilde quote “It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

Being friends with someone is not the same as not the same as vouching for their moral rectitude. Being friends with someone whose opinions repulse you may well be tedious, in which case you don't have to be friends with them.

I have an odd perspective on this because I hold some unusual political views in an unusual combination and I don't want to put the effort in to find the three other people in the world who agree with me to be friends with. I have taken a dislike to people due to their political views but often this is because they express them in an obnoxious way, rather than because they are further from my political views than other people's.

I don't think that being friends requires you to not talk about issues that you disagree on. I do comment on things that I disagree with to explain why I disagree. Here the charming/tedious line comes in. You can explain why you disagree in a charming way that deepens your friendship or a tedious way that damages it.

Another thing is that my job means that I'm not supposed to express political opinions in public and I've chosen to interpret that quite widely to excuse myself from pointless Facebook arguments other than to correct factually incorrect information. I find it much more pleasant to use social media as a way of sharing pictures of cats and babies.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-06-12 03:44 pm (UTC)
redbird: closeup of me drinking tea (Default)
From: [personal profile] redbird
Being friends with someone may not feel like vouching for their moral rectitude, but if you ever say to one of your friends "Can I bring my friend so-and-so, who you haven't met yet, to your party," that's an implicit "I don't think they will steal your spoons, start a fistfight, or piss on your furniture." If a friend introduced me to someone who later turned out to be a thief and my friend hadn't known it either, we would probably commiserate, and consider together what to do about it. If person A asked to bring person B to my house, and after my house was later broken into I learned that person A knew that B was a professional burglar and cased houses at parties, I would be furious at both of them.

The same would apply if you introduced someone to me and it turned out later that you knew that person hated Jews or queers or blacks, but overlooked it because you thought I'd be delighted to meet someone else who enjoyed birdwatching and could give me a ride to some nearby parks that are good for looking at birds. (I am in two of those three groups.) Because that wouldn't parse as "it's okay, they're both charming," it would parse as somewhere between "this person thinks it's okay to hate people like me" and "this person thinks it's a good idea for me to get into a car with someone who hates people like me."

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Date: 2014-06-12 10:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pjc50.livejournal.com
[Note that both the linked pieces use "tribal" to mean caring more about group affiliation than real issues, which is a term that some activists consider racist. I haven't decided yet whether I should stop using the word in a pejorative sense, but I did want to note the objection.]

You do realise that by writing this in the same article as complaining about UKIP you've just accused her of being racist and as bad as UKIP? And that she is now extremely angry and upset about this?

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Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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