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The nature of discussion

Guest ford hallam

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Guest ford hallam

Morning all,


Like most of you I've been enjoying the lively and varied point of view that have been expressed recently regarding the nature of art and expression.


Something that occurs to me though is the way we present our ideas, or opinions, and the way they subsequently change, or not, as the case may be.


There is a lot of evidence emerging from the field of cognative studies that seems to suggest that we humans ( I'm making an assumption here, not having met you all :) ) tend to form most of our fundamental opinions and concepts about the world and our interactions, on a purely emotional basis. These "decisions" take place in the older, more primitive part of the brain. What happens next is that the more conscious part of the brain then constructs a suitable "defence" of the position taken. It does this by selecting infomation that supports the premise and ignores those that don't. The problem with this process is blindingly obvious, we are constantly putting the cart before the horse.


The net effect of this habitual way of thinking, and here we include everyone who likes to claim that they don't like to intellectualise too much, is that we make a remarkable number of subconcious assumptions about the truth or validity of our own opinions without ever really examining them in any sort of objective way.


I'll take an old chestnut as an example, one I've heard on this very forum, "I don't know a lot about art but I know what I like"


At first glance it would seem to a perfectly reasonable statement, even expressing a little humility perhaps. In fact it is remarkably revealing of quite the opposite. Most peoples exposure to and thereby sensitivity to "art" is confined to and defined by that which they grow up surrounded by and is further "informed" by a rather basic popular conception. So while it may be true that " I recognise what I like" it is not true that " I know what I like". By this I mean that if we are unaware of why we make the aesthetic choices we do how can we even be sure they are in fact our own and not the result of conditioning.


A further difficulty then also arises when we attempt to distance ourselves from our opinions so that we might stand a chance of assessing them more critically. We tend to define ourselves by our memories, experiences and opinions, so any challenge to those cherished ideas is generally met with a certain degree of discomfort, or even outright panic. All this despite the fact that we know that an opinion is merely an expression of an incomplete, possibly even inaccurate, collection of "facts".



I think I'll stop my musing at this stage and hear what you may feel about what I've been rambling on about.


I'll be back later....Namaste, Ford :D

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Hello Squamata brain


Have you ever read THE FEELING OF WHAT HAPPENS by Antonio Damasio?


What part do you believe levels of intelligence and awakeness play in creating the opinions we think we hold?.


Ps.. Note I say... "....we think we hold?".... just another avenue to explore :)

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Morning to all.


The consideration on emotions ruling our choices, likes or dislikes seems obvious to me. The real question is our awareness of what those emotions are and why those particular ones are there. Our early experiences shape our lives in all aspects. Those experiences good or ill form our basis to our approach to all things including art. Of course exposure to influences later in life change and modify our opinions as we age but there is still the fundamental pattern laid down in our early years.


From my readings by artists, about artists and discussions with artists (substitute crafts people if it makes you more comfortable) it is obvious that most if not all of us think to much ( I have been told this more times than is possible to count). One result of this is hopefully a self awareness that helps us to formulate and modify our opinions. I personally think that this self awareness and pursuit of a personal truth is the core to the creative process. Why else would we study our work so intently before starting and be such harsh personal critics afterward. This process is somewhat akin to peeling an onion. As you peel back the layers the more intense the experience becomes and the closer you get to the core of what an onion is. The process is not always pleasant and some are willing to go further than others, both artistically and personally. I think they are intertwined to such a degree as to be inseparable.


The fact that this question was proposed here and the fact that opinions are being presented illustrates the point.



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I do believe you neglected to mention 'choice'.....something we all have and fail to exercise to it's full potential far too often. :)




Have I really neglected to mention 'choice' Kathleen... It seems to me that 'choice' is at the very essence of what Fords post is all about... do we consciously choose the opinions we hold or is there other less cognitive fuctions at work.


Did you choose to miss that? :D

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Guest ford hallam

Hiya Ganglia function ;) ,


Yes, I read Damasio's book, you recommended it to me some years ago. I thought the role of conciousness, or awakeness would follow as the discussion opened up. As for intelligence, I assume you mean in a more general emotional way :D:unsure:


Hi Kathleen,


I suggested that there seems to growing evidence that all of our opinions are as the result of an initial emotional reaction, I wasn't talking about the emotional reaction itself. The problem results when we are unaware of this initial trigger in the formation of our opinions, or in the process of making any particular choice, aesthetic ones, for instance.


Hello Mark,


I don't think we think too much, what often passes for all this so called thinking is actually just more of the same old circular generalisations and vaguaries. What I'm questioning is the validity of these "habitual" modes of thinking, which, as I'm suggesting, are invariably a lot less revealing in terms of ourselves than we generally assume. If in fact we were perhaps a little more insightful with regard to ourselves ( here I mean "the self" ) then perhaps there would be less wooly thinking and less regurgitation of the same old worn out ideas.


I like your analogy of peeling an onion, what happens when you finally peel away the last layer and there is nothing left though? Where is the "self"?

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It's similar to impulse buying. You might think that you have to have something. Some with lots of cash, just buy "it". Many forget about "it" after a while and "it" collects dust. Some of us think about buying "it" for a long time and even budget our money to afford "it". We might then treasure our purchase for a long time. An idea, sketch , rough draft, etc. might or might not stand the test of further scrutiny by the creator, but if it's "good" (here we go again), then it might develop into something of substance. It's all emotional, but it's also intellectual, as well.

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I agree that a great deal of the same old thinking takes place. The analogy of peeling the onion serves to illustrate this point. Becoming aware of one's self takes brutal honesty, painful searching and realization and finally the willingness to stand on totally unfamiliar ground. The peeling process with an onion is intense and unless you happen to just love onions most people quit long before they hit the center. The experience lingers long afterwards on your hands just like the any serious self examination does mentally. Of course what I am speaking of is a conscious effort to be aware of why you make the choices you make. If those choices are made on some primal level or need professional psychiatric to modify then this discussion is pointless anyway.


Part of the purpose of joining this forum for me and to posting on threads like this is to break and explore those woolly and old worn out ideas you speak of. I think it takes a certain degree of bravery to post ones ideas or work, putting it in the arena of public scrutiny. Being willing to accept the criticism or arguments and to seriously examine their validity is what separates the onion peelers. Setting aside the ego which is basically all those emotions,experiences and triggers of which you speak. To admit to yourself that the position you have taken is wrong, realizing why it is wrong and accepting it as such is a growth experience.


Decisions with one's work can definitely be traced to these habitual thoughts you speak of. To take a retrospective view of your own work will reveal whether or not you have a progression of technical skill, maturity of design or both. Oft times I have seen work by artists that has been described as mature work, what I see is often an idea being worn out and repeated. An idea has been refined and reworked until it can be presented in varying formats...mature work.


The ability to become self aware, to avoid those habitual responses takes honesty, bravery and work. None of these prove to be very popular when applied to one's own position or thoughts in the public domain. It is easier to play it safe with the "regurgitation of the same old worn out ideas". You cannot change without admitting in some form that you were wrong, misguided, uninformed, stubborn or immature. I don't see people standing in line to admit to any of those ideas.


Finally, people generally are not willing to throw away what is safe and secure to venture out away from their normal self image. What will I do, what will I replace the old with, will I be accepted? The initial emotional response you speak of..safety and security.


While this automated manner of thinking may be accepted as valid by the majority, I feel that the pursuit to break these "habitual" modes of thinking is what creative people do to varying degrees. By encouraging the public and themselves to see in a different manner "habitual" process are altered.


What do you get when you peel all the layers away? The layers are the garbage we carry and the fear we hide behind, it smells just like the onion (figuratively speaking) and is stronger as you get to the center. In the center there are no more layers and no smell only the essence and the truth.



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Guest ford hallam

Thanks Mark,


I think that you've pretty much summed up the situation as we seem to understand it. You made mention though, as did I, of those aspects of our decision making that are beyond our awareness. I wonder if we could use any particular strategy to try and circumvent these habits or at least help throw up responses that may be a little less predictable?


Karl mentioned the need for play ( on the other thread ), should we encourage more risk taking, a little less contrived "striving" towards a desired outcome. Even deliberately going against our own instincts in the way we create might reveal previously unimagined possibilities. Anything to help loosen the grip of our idea of what we sun-consiously expect our work to look like.


And to add a little to the pot here's an interesting editorial I came accross last night, it's slightly off the point but a good read none the less.



Opinionated – and proud to admit it


I love opinions so much, I keep on having more of them. The famous Telegraph journalist Colin Welch had lots, too. His critics called him "viewy", a term that cheered him greatly. Interesting opinions are surprisingly rare so, when the timorous come across them, they are often alarmed. That rarity has real value. Yet although opinions are valuable, they can be disturbing. The best ones almost certainly are.


But how odd that to be called "opinionated" is to be insulted. It's always happening to me. Some years ago, I expressed unpolitical views about the dire practical and aesthetic deficiencies of a candidate for an award in the Design Council's Millennium Products scheme that I was judging, along with a lot of po-faced high-ups.


Someone said: "That's just your opinion," as if to undermine my credibility. So I explained that my opinion was based on a lifetime's experience of looking at things. Of course, this is a posture that threatens rudely to disturb the ripple-free pool of consensus that surrounds polite – or politically ambitious – people.


The academic and literary critic George Steiner is also a man of strong opinions. Explaining why he knew his subject better than others, Steiner wrote a bravura sentence designed to lose him what few friends he might have had among the legions of limp, multicultural relativists who inhabit Britain's universities: "The difference between the judgment of a great critic and that of a semi-literate censorious fool lies in its range of inferred or cited reference, in the lucidity and rhetorical strength of articulation or in the accidental addendum which is that of a critic who is a creator in his own right."


Steiner, a Jew, also cheerfully trod in the dangerous territory between fact and opinion when he once pointed out that no worthwhile mathematical discovery has been made by a native of sub-Saharan Africa. He thus made the direct link between opinions and outrage all too clear for the faint-hearted. But the truth is that opinions require knowledge and a quest for knowledge is a defining characteristic of civilisation. Yet total knowledge, let alone complete understanding, always escapes us; it is an elusive destination.


Gustave Flaubert made this subject his own more than a hundred years ago, when he compiled his Dictionnaire des Idées Reçues (A Dictionary of Platitudes). His intention was to satirise the lazy, conventional, conformist ideologues of his day. He soon realised the problems of cataloguing opinions. The whole process involves corrosive reflections that can be intellectually and physically exhausting. Trying to catalogue opinions was a disturbingly ambiguous intellectual adventure which drove Flaubert to moan: "Je doute de tout, même mon doute" (I doubt everything, even my doubt).


There are perhaps three types of opinion. The first is the educated man's opinion that certain popular beliefs are stupid. The second is the sort that drove Flaubert to near madness, the opinion that certain original thoughts are stupid. Third, there is the conventional "wisdom" about what is correct.


Opinions flourish only in periods or cultures without a dominant religion. A medieval monk in his Cluniac abbey or a contemporary mullah in his mosque and, indeed, a fine Victorian gentleman, had little use for original opinions. The collective opinions of religion are inflexible dogma, not interesting expressions of private thought. The best opinions are contrarian, not conformist, although that is in itself a matter of opinion.


It is this irreverent quality that attracted Flaubert, the perpetual adolescent. And it was for the same reason that the Duke of Wellington disapproved of his soldiers cheering because this was very nearly an expression of a personal opinion and, by suggestion, insubordination or even mutiny.


Great minds think alike and fools, it is said, never differ. That is a collective opinion. But in my opinion, it is wrong: the fact is, great minds are almost always singular. Alexander Pope's "confederacy of dunces" slipped easily into the language, rather suggesting a general acknowledgement that stupidity is commonplace. Certainly that was what Flaubert believed as he battled against the entrenched boorishness of the middle-classes, with their platitudes and their dull, unathletic minds. Better be mentally fit and jump to conclusions.


We have some great opinion-makers today, but they are not politicians. Politicians are too timid. Instead, the statesmen of ideas who metabolise our lives are the talented misfits who sit more comfortably outside the system. Will Self is an example. Self once told me that love and sex have only a vicarious relationship. It is fine, he said, to have sex with someone you hate. In Self's opinion, the only sin is to be indifferent to your sexual partner.


And then, of course, there is John Mortimer, our national living treasure, a rich source of humane, life-enhancing opinions. Mortimer should have his own radio channel and broadcast his endearing opinions on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness 24-7. He should be the National Curriculum.


Among women, business and the media are better incubators of opinion than the universities (where proper academic conventions and improper fashionable fallacies combine to inhibit free expression of interesting ideas). The slightly dotty Anita Roddick is one of our very best opinion-makers, a reminder that success often reveals infirmities that failure would allow to remain hidden.


And then there is the divine Nigella who has forged an intellectual relationship between fairy cakes and lascivious eroticism at least as odd - and as compelling - as Roddick's association of foot-balm with environmental awareness.


Opinions make you think, or at least stop you being stupid. Or perhaps, less charitably, help to disguise it. Certainly, whatever the interpretation, they provide comfort. Sometimes, passionately held opinions are stupid ones.


But Wittgenstein believed that if people never did stupid things, nothing intelligent would ever happen.


In this sense, human progress depends on the continuing practice of forming opinions. So progress, or at least a form of it, is assured. And so it is enchanting to consider the etymology of "idiot". Nowadays meaning someone of deficient intellect, it originally meant an independent person with ideas of his own. So if you are idiotic, you are civilised. Some may find that a challenging opinion.

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In response to Ford's question: "So while it may be true that " I recognize what I like" it is not true that " I know what I like". By this I mean that if we are unaware of why we make the aesthetic choices we do how can we even be sure they are in fact our own and not the result of conditioning."


I am aware that I make personal aesthetic choices based on conditioning, memories or experiences, etc. For example, I am an enormous fan of Canadian northwest coast Native art, particularly that of the Haida. My love for this art form began when I was 4 or 5 years old, and I used to look at a couple of miniature argillite (a black slate-like stone) totem poles that my dad had, and try to create similar renditions of them in whatever material was at hand, often the wooden studs of our unfinished basement.


My father's family is from the west coast of Canada, and when we visited for the first time, I was seven. I saw these pieces up close for the first time, and became obsessed with carving. It is now over 35 years later, and I can still vividly remember standing beside Robert Davidson while he was actually working on a miniature argillite pole in the window of a jewellery store in Victoria, asking him incessant questions that can only come from a seven-year-old, and showing him the piece that I was working on, which I always carried in my pocket. I can even picture the shapes of his tools.


Since that time, I have evolved, at least artistically if not mentally, but I still believe this art form to be one of the worlds greatest. Curiously, it leaves my wife completely cold. In fact, it was her reaction, or lack thereof, that caused me to, as Kathleen put it "step aside, look & listen carefully and examine oneself as to the reasoning behind the 'emotional' reaction." I recognize that my appreciation for this art is based in part on an emotional connection, as well as an understanding of the forms and the culture in which it was/is created, and am completely comfortable with this.


What role does intelligence or knowledge play? Consider Van Gogh's "The Fields", which is currently up for auction.

(from CBC) "The Fields (Wheat Fields ), will be put on the block with an estimated price of $34 million US, announced Sotheby's auction house.


In a letter to his brother, Theo van Gogh, dated July 10, 1890, he described having just painted what some say is The Fields, along with two other works.


"They are vast fields of wheat under troubled skies, and I did not need to go out of my way to try to express sadness and extreme loneliness.… I almost think that these canvases will tell you what I cannot say in words, the health and restorative forces that I see in the country," wrote the artist."


The painting, depicting a straw-colored field under a blue sky, is believed to have been completed just 19 days before the artist's death. Van Gogh died on July 29, 1890, having shot himself in the chest two days earlier while in the grips of deep depression." One of van Gogh's last landscapes to be auctioned


The piece at that time took on an additional context. The average viewer might see an expression of loneliness, and hope in the work, but without a knowledge of the artist's life, and that this was one of his last works, there is no possible way that they would have an in-depth understanding of the piece, or the same emotional response.


On a similar but opposite note, while viewing a Picasso sketch (sorry, I really don't mean to pick on Picasso) one might see a considerable amount of feeling and emotion in the spontaneity of the lines, and be truly moved. However, if it was learned that he was simply scribbling something on a piece of paper while sitting at a café, and throwing it over his shoulder to watch people fight over it in the street, should this change the effect of the drawing?


This influence of knowledge of history is also true of many "styles" or "movements" of art, where a knowledge of the symbolism or meaning of various elements comes into play, and adds other layers to the onion.


What do we project from our own reaction onto a piece as the artist's intent, assuming that he or she was thinking the same things that we do when we see it?


I find this process of thinking about thinking very riveting, but at the same time writing about it is a bit like trying to grab smoke.



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I agree and have experience with the influences of my early exposure to art. My father was a picture framer and I was exposed daily to 2D work of every kind on a daily basis. Weekends would expose me to drawing from life sessions, painting and study classes and as I got older I traveled with various artist that taught painting at various colleges etc. This greatly influenced me as I had discussions and critiques from these artists.


I was taught that fear is what holds us back in all arenas of life, especially in art. Most adults draw like pre teens because that is when peer pressure really kicked in and the creative expression stopped. On a personal level I have been consciously fighting that fear of expression and all that is attached to it for a number of years now. Thus the copper bracelet that is in progress that was mentioned in another thread. As Ford has asked "do we need to take more risks" my answer is most definitely! What is there to lose? A little time , a little material? I have 7 small carvings (8" x 10" or less) in process now that are all experiments with a theme of rabbits and such, all of which I have never carved before. In every piece I do I push a little more trying something different or going farther with what I have done. If it fails, as did my first 2 bracelet attempts, it is an event not a life defining moment nor has it put me into poverty.


As for breaking the habitual thought process, this forum has helped me edge towards that goal. By putting ones self into an unfamiliar or challenging environment our decisions and thought processes are questioned. Hopefully this changes or alters those routine knee jerk reactions and processes. Ideally my dream is to place myself in a totally different environment and culture where my mode of thinking and decision making process comes into question on all fronts. To be with carvers from another culture, away from normal, would have to alter processes. Of course success would be totally dependent on being open instead of bringing garbage to the table. Ford, you should have some ideas on this.


Enough of the thinking, its late and its possible a ramble will take place if it hasn't already.



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  • 2 weeks later...
Guest ford hallam

Hi Mark,


I have been exceptionally fortunate in being able to spend time in an very alien culture (Japan) to the one I was raised in. My exposure to very different cultures, modes of thinking and expression actually began as a child growing up in apartheid South Africa though. One of the most vicious and insidious aspects of that social condition was the viewing of anyone not like us, ie; white, as "the other" and therefore not worthy of consideration. Despite the official intention to lump everyone not "pure white" ( not sure there are many of those here anyway ;)) together in some vague amorphous mass, cultural differences and personalities shone though anyway. The effect on me, (and I'm certainly not claiming that I was any sort of "enlightened white African", I was a product of my enviroment just like everyone else), as I matured and begun to question, and think for myself, was to recognise the validity of a vast range of expressions. I may not personally enjoy them all, just as not everyone appreciates much of contemporary art, never-the-less I think it important to try to develop a slightly more objective understanding of aesthetics we don't instinctively feel an affinity with. In my experience this suspension of my habitual "tastes" has opened up previously unimagined areas of expression for me.


The aesthetics of Japan are actually a very good case in point. In my view many Westerners ( not too sure about Orientals ) espouse a love of Japanese art and aesthetics but in fact are really only aware of those aspects that they are already predisposed to. Those aspects that are not at all familiar, or even regarded as "ugly" are simply passed over or remain invisible. It this this superficial and lazy view that reduces a culture to a stereotypical characature. It also seems to be profoundly arrogant to define a culture solely in terms of those aspects we appreciate and approve of.


Take sushi, for instance. It has become immensely popular around the world in recent years but in reality what we eat and enjoy outside of Japan is for the most part a very different thing to what one can enjoy in it's homeland. The ubiquitous "Calaifornia roll" ( which my wife absolutely loves) with avocado and salmon, is a prime example. You won't find that in any serious sushiya in Japan. In fact you won't even find raw salmon used at all, it's too oily and the smell is a bit overpowering to the purist. So while there is an army of westerners who enjoy this exported version of sushi it can be argued that they have rarely, if ever, had the real thing.


What I see in the way most cultures borrow from each other ( and the Japanese are past masters in this. ) is the same tendancy to cherry pick that which suits the taste of the borrower or to modify it to suit local tastes. What this means then is that the real differences, and by extension those aspects that are most foreign to us are missed. This seems to me to be a great loss. There is a rather sad ( in my view ) tendancy today, particularly in the West, to treat the artistic heritage of foregn and exotic cultures as a vast clip-art catalogue. For me this seems disrespectful and facile. It does nothing to promote any real multi-culturalism nor does it help us develop any genuine empathy for those people not like us.


Relationships that grow, between individuals or cultures, do so, not despite the differences but rather because there has been a genuine communication of these differences and appreciation of them.


With regard to working in an initially very alien artistic culture I have found that adopting a somewhat empty stance has allowed a degree of "naturalisation" to occur, almost by osmosis. The subtle but insidious problem that we generally face when exposed to new aesthetis expression is that we tend to evaluate it, or judge it, on the basis of own previously ( clearly limited and unqualified ) formed aesthetic opinions, most of which were acquired unconsiously. I have extremely strong views on my own aesthetics and work but I seem to have been able to evolve a degree of detachment from my own personal taste. I am continually finding new ways into areas of the many different aesthetics of Japan. Many were previously only dimly percieved while others occasionally surpise me but that this is still happening reassures me that I'm not closing down my perception and that it is continually evolving in response to fresh imput.


I'm not sure that this ramble has gone in the "right" direction but I've written it now so "what the hey....!" :)


Namaste, Ford

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Very excellent posts here!



What you have been saying about keeping an "empty" mind( i think this is the same as a truly open mind) when exposed to new cultural experiences is so right on.

Ae ego-centric cultural view tends to keep us apart and waters down the wine, so to speak, by, as you referred to, borrowing the "groovy" surface aspects of another culture and plastering them onto one's own. If you can keep aware and open enough to actually comprehend another way of life(perception) then you can begin to appreciate it without marring it.

Thanks for the great topic.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi Mike, there are really just over 400 members. It may be that the spam registrations pushed it beyond 1600, and we were very busy before, researching and deleting all of that. Sometime in the past year, with the software upgrade and the complex registration regimine those spam and bot registrations have dropped nearly to zero.


Still, many folks lurk, or are busy, or are on to other things. We all get busy at the same time it seems, also the change of season affects everyone around the world, and the participation slows down. I for one have been called away from home a lot lately. I've slept in my own bed five nights out of the past 15, using borrowed computers to keep tab on you wonderful folks. Thus, my concentration for the great discussions has been quite diluted, as well as a lack of anything to show for being a carver, have kept me rather quiet on these pages. When family calls motherwifesisterdaughter. . . . . I look forward to having time to call my own again.


Others perhaps just want to learn about the how and what of carving, and leave the why and philosophy to those who enjoy such pursuits. We all have different interests, which makes this such an interesting and strong forum.


The northern hemisphere is growing dark as the nights lengthen and the chill advances with rain and clouds (at least here in Minnesota, having had two days with some sun since October began). The southern hemisphere is brightening and pulling folks out doors for all the glories of lovely weather. Each season change has its life and homeplace chores, so I'll bet some hours are being transfered to those activities. We will regroup in time, I do believe. It has happened before!


Regarding my lack of leadership with posing topics in this slow time, I rely on the creative minds of others to work on it, and I apologize for doing so. Sometimes I just cannot keep all of the balls in the air. I did make some suggestions in a message in the Admin Announcements, hoping to stir the questions that might start more topic discussions. Thanks everyone for your good participation, you all make this a great forum.



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