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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ex-RH CEO Alberto Vitale Sill Has a Lot to Say About Publishing | Publishing Perspectives

Ex-RH CEO Alberto Vitale Sill Has a Lot to Say About Publishing | Publishing Perspectives:

Alberto Vitale is nearly 80 years old. He ran Random House  from 1989 until 2002. The difference between his viewpoint and the leadership of the current mainstream big publishing houses is astounding. Most of the quotes I’ve pulled from the interview say things that I think are totally obvious, but are heresy to ”publishing insiders”. I used to wonder if I really just didn’t know enough about the publishing business and there was some sort of insider knowledge that would change my mind. There aren’t a whole lot of people who can lay claim to having more experience in publishing than Vitale. Reading this interview leads me to think that this stuff really is as obvious as it seems. For the folks who are on the inside of publishing, I would like to call it this bit of wisdom from Vitale: I think everyone spending time talking about threats is wasting a lot of time and a lot of goodwill.
-William Ockham

Tip of the hat to The Passive Voice Blog for this.
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Why Republicans Oppose the Individual Health-Care Mandate : The New Yorker

Why Republicans Oppose the Individual Health-Care Mandate : The New Yorker:

 "This process led, eventually, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—better known as Obamacare—which also included an individual mandate. But, as that bill came closer to passing, Republicans began coalescing around the mandate, which polling showed to be one of the legislation’s least popular elements. In December, 2009, in a vote on the bill, every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate “unconstitutional.”

This shift—Democrats lining up behind the Republican-crafted mandate, and Republicans declaring it not just inappropriate policy but contrary to the wishes of the Founders—shocked Wyden. “I would characterize the Washington, D.C., relationship with the individual mandate as truly schizophrenic,” he said."

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Politics - James Fallows - WaWa vs. the Post Office: Bus-capade Update - The Atlantic

Politics - James Fallows - WaWa vs. the Post Office: Bus-capade Update - The Atlantic:

Facts do matter.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Superversive - Quotha (Plus ça change Dept.)

Now that anyone is free to print whatever they wish, they often disregard that which is best and instead write, merely for the sake of entertainment, what would best be forgotten, or, better still be erased from all books.
—Niccolò Perotti, 1471

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Little Girl Gone

I like Brett Battles, especially his Jonathan Quinn series.  This book features Logan Harper and is your basic chase novel that for whatever reason winds up in Thailand with connections to Burma. Logan stumbles on some men about to kill a friend of his, and against his better judgment, he agrees to try to help locate the missing daughter of the man, a Burmese refugee. The rationale for her disappearance is metered out as the chase progresses.

How the information is dispensed irritated me. It's the cheap way of building suspense, i.e., the hero learns something key but what that revelation is, is revealed only to other characters creating suspense for the reader but not the participants. For example, Logan learns of a certain relationship, tells his Thai sidekick, "Logan told him..." who is astonished, but the reader is left in the dark.  Now, I don’t mind not knowing, but it seems an artificial and cheap way of building anticipation.
Not as good as the Quinn series, but entertaining. The word "thriller" is tossed around way too loosely these days.

Perfect for the dental office waiting room.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Indie v Traditional Publishing « Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Business Rusch: Hurry Up. Wait. « Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

"The problem comes in trying to talk from one side of the publishing divide to the other.
Since folks steeped in traditional publishing only look at how well a book does in its first  year—really, its first month–on the stands, traditional publishing folk look at almost all indie titles as failures.
Think about it: If you expect a book to sell thousands if not tens of thousands (maybe hundreds of thousands) of copies in its first year, and you hear that someone is happy with 500 sales scattered over 12 months, you’d see that as a failure too.
The folks who believe in indie publishing only hear that a book goes out of print in less than a year, and is probably done earning after that point (except for a few high-priced e-book sales), and they wonder who would ever sign a deal like that. After all, books can now last forever. Or as long as we read books electronically and in paper form. The virtual bookshelf means that books don’t have to go away to make way for next month’s books. Books will remain easy to find with the click of a mouse.
Traditional publishing doesn’t want to hear that a book might sell 10,000 copies in 10 years. The economics of their business make such a concept laughable. No traditional publishing house could remain in business right now with that kind of sales record. (For more on how traditional publishing economics work, see the blogs I’ve labeled “The Publishing Series.”  They’re a little dated, but still accurate.)"

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bugs and Beasts Before the Law | The Public Domain Review

Bugs and Beasts Before the Law | The Public Domain Review:

Quote: On 5 March 1986 some villagers near Malacca in Malaysia beat to death a dog, which they believed was one of a gang of thieves who transform themselves into animals to carry out their crimes. The story was reported on the front page of the London Financial Times. “When a dog bites a man,” it is said, “that’s not news; but when a man bites a dog, that is news”.

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Politics - Conor Friedersdorf - The Case for Revealing (Some) Classified Information - The Atlantic

Politics - Conor Friedersdorf - The Case for Revealing (Some) Classified Information - The Atlantic:

"What fewer Americans grasp, because it is so much less intuitive, are the costs of state secrets. Excessive classification can jeopardize our safety, our liberty, and our system of government. Some leaks actually make us safer and help to protect our values. It's easier to see how if you imagine the world as champions of secrecy would have it. What would post-9/11 America be like if the government was able to prevent every national-security leak from reaching the public? Figures like Senators McCain and Feinstein talk as if we'd be better off. 

Actually, it isn't so."

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New York Subway System Mocks Hyperbole

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York:

The New York subway system, much like the city itself, mocks hyperbole.  The tracks, if stretched end to end, would travel from New York City to Chicago.  It has its own police force of 4,250 employees, larger than that of Atlanta of Boston, and it has 469 stations.  Forty-six percent of New Yorkers use it to travel to work and Wall Street would cease to function without it.

The book recounts the numerous physical and political barriers that need to be surmounted in accomplishing the huge feat.  It's hard to overestimate the impact the system had on the city which relied on surface transport provided mostly by horse=drawn trolleys, making at best three to five miles per hour.  The streets were incredibly congested. Crossing the street was a risky proposition.

Beyond the edge of transportation availability was a rural wasteland, and much of the impetus for building the subway network was from those who feared the middle class might leave New York City. Land surrounding the new stations became quite valuable and -- no surprise -- many fortunes were made by those who knew the routes ahead of time and could purchase land before the prices skyrocketed.

The New York City Transit Authority was created to reconcile the conflicting desires of the public:  low fares yet high quality service. The NYCTA was supposed to bring management principles and eliminate the need for public subsidies. Ironically, Hood blames the systems decline during the sixties on "the ideology of business management, insulating transit management from the public, and lessening the accountability of top elected officials for transit decisions."

This is a fascinating book that illuminates the  political and engineering feats required to complete the system.

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Saturday, June 09, 2012

MIBURN: Review of We Are Not Afraid

I happened to watch the movie Mississippi Burning again recently and was instantly returned to the events of 1964 and 1965, the year I graduated high school. I had forgotten how bad things were. Random lynchings, murder, intimidation, arson; they seemed to be regular occurrences, our own Kristallnacht, if you will, except it lasted much, much longer. There is no question prejudice still bedevils us, but it is remarkable how much has changed since 1964.

The FBI has declassified many of the documents from its files related to MIBURN and, while heavily redacted, still make interesting reading. [] This book is still one of the best summarizing events.

"Jordan stood in the road with his gun at his side. ’Well, he drawled solemnly, ’You didn’t leave me nothing but a nigger, but at least I killed me a nigger. " This is a book everyone should read. They use the murder of the three civil rights workers as a backdrop for a thorough and frightening history of the civil rights movement during the early 60s. The movie Mississippi Burning was loosely based on the same incidents.

"Mississippi Burning" or MIBURN was the FBI code word for the investigation in Mississippi. The situation in Mississippi was truly horrifying. Blacks were routinely murdered, beaten and terrorized with the full complicity of the local police. In 1958 a black professor at Alcorn (a local black college) sought admission to the University of Mississippi. He was of course denied admission and when the word. got out of his attempt he was dragged from his home and declared legally insane and committed. Another black, a graduate of the University of Chicago, applied in 1959 for a summer session course at the University of Mississippi. He was shortly thereafter framed for stealing 5 sacks of chicken feed and sentenced to 7 years at hard labor.

Mississippi had been targeted by SNOC (the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee,) CORE, (the Congress on Racial Equality) and several other civil rights groups for a massive voter registration campaign. Neshoba County, where the murders were committed, was so racially uptight that the children of a. mulatto couple "formed a covenant to live their lives in celibacy to prevent their blood strain from being passed to another generation." The KKK was very active; most of the local police were members. From the moment of their arrival the civil rights workers were the targets of bomb threats, intimidation, and harassment. The courage of these students knowing that they might be facing imminent death is truly astonishing. The list of bombings, arrests, and beatings between June 16 and August 14, 1964, for example, ran to 34 single-spaced typed legal sized pages. (The three murders were committed on June 21, 1964.)

It is also ironic and sad that the nation's ire was aroused only after two white students were killed. While searching for the three bodies many bodies of brutalized and mutilated blacks were discovered including, tragically, one which was never identified; that of a fourteen year old boy who was discovered wearing a CORE T-shirt. Black leaders became ,justifiably bitter. One additional irony. The authors present substantial evidence that it was LBJ’s refusal to seat the Mississippi Freedom Party at the Democratic National Convention in 1964 that led to the rise of the black power movement. The phrase "black power" was first used at that convention. What astonishes me is that despite the mounting frustration and bitterness which had accumulated over the years, Martin Luther King’s nonviolent approach still managed. to obtain such a wide base of support.

This is an important book, although the incredible amount of hatred portrayed, will truly depress the reader. The Nazis obviously had no corner on the brutality market. Personally, I think Mississippi would have made a terrific place to store toxic waste.  Or is that redundant.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Does Genre Fiction Outlast Lit Fic?

Genre Fiction Like Sci-Fi Has Clearest Social Critiques - Room for Debate -

 "The literary novel, a 20th century invention, continues its critical dominance as the only “serious” fiction. But the literary novel has never been a place to look for social or political protest, and the writers who dealt in such matters — Dickens, Sinclair, Wells, Stowe, Zola, Orwell — were never considered “serious” writers in their own times.

Social and political issues can still be found in contemporary novels, from racism in the U.S., apartheid in South Africa and colonialism in many places to corruption and injustice everywhere. But, with a few notable exceptions, the more attention the author gives to the issue, the less literary the novel will be considered."

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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Golden Age of Passenger Airships

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships : Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg:

OK, I've read about  4 books now on the Hindenburg and the history of the dirigibles, including one that suggests the great crash at Lakehurst in 1937 was caused by sabotage  (I can't remember the title at the moment). The overwhelming evidence suggests it was faulty flying, very tight turns made by the captain (Eckener was not aboard as a result of his anti-Nazi activities) that stressed the frame, causing a rip in the fabric and a hydrogen leak which was then ignited by St. Elmo's fire as a result of the thunderstorm which had just passed. Many storms were moving through the area, and the captain was anxious to get the ship tied down and the passengers disembarked. Eye-witness testimony of the static electricity charge and leak was not available to the board of inquiry and did not surface until several years later. There was a theory proposed several years ago that the flammable skin of the dirigible caught fire and that it was not a hydrogen fire at all. The "mythbusters" show tested his theory. Their conclusion was it was indeed a hydrogen fire.  Regardless of the cause, it was the end of Eckener's dream and of what had been an extremely safe (the Graf Zeppelin had traveled more than 1,000,000 kilometers with nary an injury,) fast, and comfortable method of crossing the Atlantic.

This book is the memoir/recollections of Harold Dick, a very early certified dirigible pilot who probably made more trips in dirigibles than anyone else. He was sent to Friedrichshafen as a representative of the Goodyear company to learn as much as he could about construction and operation of the huge airships. It's fascinating.

Included are some very rare photographs including one of the Hindenburg's damaged fin. Goebbels, anxious to reap some propaganda value from the airship as soon as possible, forced the captain to lift off in difficult conditions, a strong tailwind. That, coupled with a less than fully experienced helmsman, forced the huge tailfin into the ground causing damage that had to be repaired.  Eckener (see [book:Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine  The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel|558912],) by this time anathema to the Nazis for his persistent antagonism to the little mustachioed corporal's politics, had lost control of the company.  Dick, who was present when the accident occurred had a camera hidden in his coat which escaped confiscation by the Nazi authorities anxious to hide evidence of the accident.

There are also extremely interesting diagrams and drawings of the frames of the airships as well as minute detail of fuel and gas requirements. The Graf Zeppelin, for example, had twelve upper and lower gas cells, the lower ones designated as fuel cells which contained 750,000 cubic feet of "Blau" gas (not blue gas --blau means blue in German-- but named after Hermann Blau, the inventor) which was a mixture of hydrogen and propane.  Blau gas had a specific gravity of 1.6 which meant that "its consumption by the engines did not lighten the ship, and hydrogen did not have to be valved off wastefully during the flight to keep the ship in static equilibrium as would have been the case if gasoline had been burned." Dick has actual weights and contents of several flights as examples of how fuels were used and weights compensated for.

Dick, who made several round-trips on the Graf Zeppelin during its regular trips to South America describes the trips in detail. The political situation in Europe being what it was, the Graf was permitted to fly over France nly through a very narrow corridor. Because the gas would be blown off through valves as the ship gained altitude, it was advantageous to fly as low as possible, usually around 650 feet, spectacular viewing for the passengers, but a security risk for the French.  All photographic equipment was secured to assure the French no one was taking pictures of any military value. (In one of those interesting what-if scenarios, the Hindenburg was not permitted any flight over France, the military situation having worsened by 1937, and was forced to take a northern route over Belgium and then the English Channel, added several hours to the trip. Had they arrived earlier, they might have missed the thunderstorms.)

The 5317 mile trip to Rio de Janeiro took about 80 hours (normal cruising speed was about 72 mph), the return trip some 10 hours longer due to headwinds.  On the way back they would proceed up the Rhone Valley, another problem because of frequent thunderstorms and gas venting could become a conduit for lightning to enter the ship and the hydrogen cells, not something to be encouraged, so they would go high to fill the cells to full capacity then drop by 150 feet to add a margin of gas compression so there would be less danger of automatic venting.  Officers in the control car would call out the apparent location of lightning flashes and they would zigzag through the valley to avoid them.  It must have been spectacular, especially since they would often fly underneath the storms where wind gusts were more likely to be horizontal rather than vertical and much easier to compensate for.  Being actually struck by lightning was not considered a problem because the steel structure acted like a Faraday cage.  Sloping windows provided passengers with a dramatic view of the countryside and storm.

The lifting power of any lighter than air gas is determined  from the difference between it's weight for 1000 cubic feet (H=5.61 lbs) subtracted from the same volume of air (80.72 lbs) so the lift is 75.11 lbs per 1000 cubic feet. This static lifting power cannot be exceeded and is usually less if the gas is contaminated. so to lift 210,000 lbs required 3,250,000 cubic feet of hydrogen.  Given that the Graf Zeppelin weighed 150,000 lbs empty it had a useful capacity of 60,000 lbs. Not  a whole lot.  The Hindenburg, to be economical, had to be larger for more lifting capacity and also because it was designed for use with Helium which has less lifting power. As it turned out, the invasion of Austria, made the purchase of helium from the U.S. politically impossible so the ship was forced to use hydrogen.

The fiery end of the Hindenburg, World War II, and rapid advances in aerodynamic technology ended airship passenger travel.  There has been significant recent interest in using rigid airships to transport huge construction projects such as parts of bridges since they have tremendous lifting power and the ability to move large objects over long distances very economically and directly.

See this issue of Popular Science:

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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Inspector Zhang Gets His Wish!

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Inspector Zhang Gets His Wish!:

A charming homage to John Dickson Carr, master of the "locked room" mysteries. Zhang is excited because he has been called to the location of a murder in which the scene is straight out of Carr and Zhang recognizes that in Singapore, where few crimes are committed, he may never get another opportunity to emulate the great literary detectives.  Sergeant Lee plays Watson to Zhang's assumed role of Holmes.

A man is found dead in his hotel room, stabbed, but with no murder weapon in the room and CCTV showing that no one had entered or left the room during the very small window of time when he had to have been killed.  Zhang runs through the classic definitions of locked room possibilities, violating protocol by refusing to permit Lee to call for Forensics, insisting he will solve the crime using only his "little gray cells."

Free short story on Kindle. Leather has written a series of Inspector Zhang stories that are quite entertaining and very inexpensive.

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'Just Love': Vatican criticizes Sist Margaret Farley's book on human sexuality.

'Just Love': Vatican criticizes Sist Margaret Farley's book on human sexuality.:

 "One wag wrote the headline should have been:   "Award-winning PhD and former Yale faculty member gets chastised by group of men whose most briliant idea is to blame the butler."

Then again, as another noted: "The Church's position is on sex is strict, and is hallowed by many centuries of tradition: 
Sex must be between a husband and wife, or between a priest and a child."
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Monday, June 04, 2012

Be sure to salt those fries!

We Only Think We Know the Truth About Salt -

 "The idea that eating less salt can worsen health outcomes may sound bizarre, but it also has biological plausibility and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, too. A 1972 paper in The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the less salt people ate, the higher their levels of a substance secreted by the kidneys, called renin, which set off a physiological cascade of events that seemed to end with an increased risk of heart disease. In this scenario: eat less salt, secrete more renin, get heart disease, die prematurely."

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Four Confirmed Dead in Two Days on Everest and Lhotse - Page 1 | Mount Everest |

Four Confirmed Dead in Two Days on Everest and Lhotse - Page 1 | Mount Everest |

This is totally insane. One guy wanted to take his beloved bicycle to the summit.  What are these people on? Thousands have summit-ed since 1954. What possible purpose is served by sending up more except to enrich the guide companies.  One girl bragged about the 2500 euros she had raised for some charity. Why not just donate the 70,000$ it costs to go  on the expedition.  Something is seriously out of whack.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

More on Reason v Emotion

The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science | Mother Jones:

 "From that day forward, the Seekers, previously shy of the press and indifferent toward evangelizing, began to proselytize. "Their sense of urgency was enormous," wrote Festinger. The devastation of all they had believed had made them even more certain of their beliefs."

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Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of Three Cups of Deceit: How Greg Mortenson, Humanitarian Hero, Lost His Way:

Having enjoyed Krakauer’s work in the past, I picked up this Kindle single on spec. Turns out to be quite a read. Krakauer was an emotional and financial supporter of Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time, the mountaineer who created a non-profit empire building schools in Pakistan ostensibly as a way to thwart the influence of the Taliban and Islamic revolutionary teaching. He became somewhat of a cult figure and was soon jetting around the country giving inspiring talks about his good works. Emphasis on *his* good works.

Krakauer, who had donated $75,000 to Mortenson’s foundation, the Central Asia Institute, became disenchanted as he heard more and more stories of misuse of funds by Mortenson and his lack of accountability. This single is the story of Mortenson and Krakauer’s investigation into the Foundation.

That story is interesting enough, but I have become intrigued by the thesis proposed by Jonathan Haidt in The Righteous Mind As it happens, I poked around the 60 Minutes website, seeking more information about the Mortenson case. In early April 2011, they broadcast a story detailing some of the allegations against Mortenson and his foundation. I didn’t watch the show, but I did read all 354 comments about the story on their website. Commenters were divided into two camps: those who had an emotional attachment to Mortenson and his good works and who accepted everything he said at face value; and the other, a very small minority (perhaps 10%), who were more interested in presenting evidence of Mortenson’s malfeasance, arguing that just doing “some” good was not enough to ignore facts related to his lack of accountability and problems with the CAI. Both sides would respond to each other but rarely listen to what the other was saying. It seemed to me a classic example of what Haidt saw in the dichotomy between emotional and rational ways of looking at issues. I won’t try to summarize Haidt’s book here but will save that for my review later. Nevertheless, it was disheartening to see how little communication surfaced in the comments between the two groups which consolidated based on their respective pre-conceptions.

A good friend and I discussed this with regard to the Wisconsin recall election, Andy unable to understand why so many union members were voting for Walker, totally against their economic interests, and I trying to apply Haidt noting that it represented a difference in prioritizing values. If, for example, you believe that supporting authority and that same-sex marriage is an abomination, your view of the world will be less influenced by the economic interests valued more highly by other groups. (That’s presented perhaps a little simplistically, but I think you’ll get the idea.

Since Krakauer’s little essay appeared (by the way, I love Kindle shorts) Mortenson has settled for more than a $million with the Montana Attorney General (he was charged, among other things, with using CAI funds for personal expenses and the IRS was after him also for not declaring those as income.) The CharityWatch organization (American Institute of Philanthropy) has also published several articles detailing the CAI’s malfeasance. 


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Friday, June 01, 2012

Scrivener's Error - Re the Apple response to DOJ

Scrivener's Error:

 "Overall, this Answer gets a C. Not a C#, or a C++. It reflects the real problem with being in a conspiracy: The self-interest of the individual conspirators often leads them to betray each other. It is entirely possible that, after years of litigation, Apple will be able to limit some of the monetary remedies as they apply directly to Apple (although, in an interdependent retail supply system, anything it saves there will be eaten up in lost profits). However, if Apple is only an "agent", it will only do as well as its "principal(s)"... and is breaching its duty of loyalty to its principal(s)12 with the specific nature of its Answer."

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Does Seeking Fairness Hurt Everyone?

Greece, the Euro, and Behavioral Economics : The New Yorker:

 "The basic problem is that we care so much about fairness that we are often willing to sacrifice economic well-being to enforce it. Behavioral economists have shown that a sizable percentage of people are willing to pay real money to punish people who are taking from a common pot but not contributing to it. Just to insure that shirkers get what they deserve, we are prepared to make ourselves poorer. Similarly, a famous experiment known as the ultimatum game—one person offers another a cut of a sum of money and the second person decides whether or not to accept—shows that people will walk away from free money if they feel that an offer is unfair. Thus, even when there’s a solution that would leave everyone better off, a fixation on fairness can make agreement impossible."

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