Angels from Another Pin
(Eschatological aspirations)


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31 January 2003 ::   Their bed technology is light years behind their space-going chicken technology  
Deliberative polling is a technique in which a group representing a cross-section of all Americans is brought into one place and allowed to quiz experts on a subject for several days, then polled to see how their opinions on the subject have changed. This polling method casts light on the moderate and, overall, sensible character of the American people. The Founding Fathers' belief that the ends of the political spectrum would eventually cancel out and leave the moderate center to make policy turns out to be true. And, for once, I see a journalist who actually freakin' gets the idea behind moderate politics:
American leaders too rarely understand that while some moderates are wafflers, many offer a genuinely different view of how the country can move forward. In the changing numbers of the poll, one finds such an alternate vision -- as opposed to mere mushy centrism. Among other things, one finds: a vision of a forceful and strong America...

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A Korean-American author visits North Korea in the company of old men who are blinded by their memories of pre-war Korea. She finds a nation where there is no heat even for visitors whom the government wishes to impress, where hundreds practice dance outside for days in subzero temperatures to celebrate the birthday of their Great Leader, and where siblings separated for decades are allowed only to visit one another for two hours under the watchful eyes of government functionaries.

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The "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall" programming Web page is a fascinating exercise in comparative programming. The page details how to code up a program that will "sing" the old round "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" in several hundred languages.

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30 January 2003 ::   As they say, "If you can't stand the heat, don't steal the presidency."  
The next page of A Miracle of Science is up, and it arrives with a Zen-like silence in the "Jon Sez" and "Mark Sez" columns for your added enjoyment.

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It's one thing to be rich and arrogant. It's quite another thing to be rich, arrogant, and stupid.

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Ancient Greeks may have mistaken elephant fossils for the dread Cyclops.

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Ben Loukota
Greg Costikyan's article "Talk Like a Gamer" explains the varied ways in which video game enthusiasts express themselves. The article contained a few words I have never heard, mostly because I never play first-person shooters.

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29 January 2003 ::   It's stopped rainin', ev'rybody's in a play / And don't you know / It's a beautiful new day  
I find it faintly alarming that Japan's interest rates became negative a short time ago. This is something my economics teacher told me, long ago in the 1980s, is usually a sign of a very bad economy.

I'm looking into buying a house right now, and I would probably sell an internal organ to get a negative interest rate on the mortgage.

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I like any news article with both "science" and "zap" in its URL. This particular article contains a little more information about transcranial magnetic stimulation.

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Glenn Juskiewicz

28 January 2003 ::   In my time, airships were made with balloons! Hot air! And you had to fight Teddy Ruxpin if you wanted one!  
Angels continues today with another generalized smear of a famous person: Rush Limbaugh sings! Yeah, it's a petty, personal, ad hominem attack. But I think it's both funny and on-target. Even if you disagree with the sentiments (which I don't) you have to admire the skill with which the song is edited together.

Um...don't play this while your Mom or boss is nearby.

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I think it is pretty much the textbook definiton of "you suck" when historians in a grasping, totalitarian nation disregard your claims that the aforementioned totalitarian nation's history is wonderful and glorious. Translation: Gavin Menzies sucks.

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Mike Ryan


27 January 2003 ::   I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world, because they'd never expect it.  
The next page of A Miracle of Science has been unleashed upon the world like a fleet of orbiting atomic death-rays. Except they're nice death-rays. Cute, Sanrio-esque death-rays. Orbiting fluffy bunny death-ray satellites.

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Scientists have discovered that a number of different insects, including beetles, crickets, ants, butterflies, cockroaches, and dragonflies, compress their tracheae to speed the transfer of oxygen into their bodies. This discovery was made possible by the use of synchrotron radiation to x-ray living insects.

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25 January 2003 ::   I've got a Beowulf cluster of atomic supermen  
Supervillains enjoy the power (literally) of Linux: "Linux gives us the power we need to crush those who oppose us. It's compatible with our orbital brain-lasers."

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Mark Sachs


24 January 2003 ::   There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it  
Kelly Borst has sent us fan art for A Miracle of Science. Vurra cool.

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The most recently discovered feathered dinosaur, Microraptor qui, is not only strange and fascinating, it's beautiful.

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Among the commentary on anti-intellectualism in this Christian Science Monitor article is the comment that UMBC has cheerleaders for its chess team.

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Baen Books, a publishing house which has little to recommend it (its books disintegrate, its editors let grammatical errors slip though, and its suite of authors write crap) has at least partially redeemed itself by putting a bunch of Retief stories online for free.

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23 January 2003 ::   I don't know how much time a dime was supposed to buy, but The Relaxinator was either broken or it really, really liked us --Alyce Wilson  
We meet Caprice's aunt in the new page of A Miracle of Science.

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Chemists John Reader and Gerald Joyce have developed an artificial genetic code that uses only two bases. While this may seem like just an exercise in clever chemistry, it points to another possible answer to the question of how life began on Earth:
None of the products made this way is a particularly stunning catalyst. But they work. The best, containing just U [uracil] and D [the non-natural base diaminopurine], links to the RNA target 36,000 times faster than in the absence of any catalyst at all. In other words, a two-letter ribozyme is a lot better than nothing.

D isn't too difficult to create from the kind of ingredients that were probably available on the early Earth, say Reader and Joyce. They also point out the advantage of an RNA-like molecule that contains no C: cytosine decomposes quite quickly if it gets warm.

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A flexible, credit card-sized hard drive with onboard encryption that costs $15 strikes me as a very good idea.

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Glenn Juskiewicz

22 January 2003 ::   She's a vengeful little goddess with an ancient crown to fight  
Woo! LEGO Junkbot is back. If you don't remember Junkbot from the last time he appeared on Angels, he's a little LEGO robot who has to solve a series of puzzles, Nintendo-style.

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Glenn Juskiewicz
This is one of those odd things that turn into a short-lived Internet meme, making the creator a lot of money over its short lifespan. The drive bay cigarette lighter is exactly the sort of oddity that seems to appeal to the meme-consuming crowd.

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Glenn Juskiewicz

21 January 2003 ::   "Luck is my middle name," said Rincewind, indistinctly. "Mind you, my first name is Bad."  

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The mad theorem put forward by Gavin Menzies that the Chinese discovered Kansas has the newspapers in Kansas searching their thesauruses for new words meaning "loony" and historians at Kansas universities searching for polite ways to say "pile of manure." I am not making this up:
The [Kansas City] Star sought the opinion of an archaeologist at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The interview was brief -- filled with expletives about "fun" history books and something about "the Loch Ness monster." Then the professor hung up, apparently in disgust, without saying goodbye.

Another archaeologist, Donald Blakeslee of Wichita State University, tried to keep his tongue in check.

He said evidence that Menzies cited of a 15th-century Chinese invasion of the Midwest was "the equivalent of what you would call a meadow mountain -- a cow pie. How do I say this delicately?"

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Michael Shermer explains why scientists are skeptical about claims of psychic powers.

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20 January 2003 ::   Right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant  
If you have never read Reverend King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech, you are missing one of the great orations of history. Find somewhere quiet and read it out loud to yourself. Or find somewhere loud and read it to others, which is how it is meant to be read. This speech is one of the jewels of our intellectual heritage.

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The next page of A Miracle of Science is up. On this page we discover another person named Quevillion.

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17 January 2003 ::   The grace! The elegance! The sultry voice! The mocking comments and the musical whack of iron against skull... --Mark Sachs  
I saw an interview with Gavin Menzies on CNN a week or so ago. The man, who has hashed together a spurious line of reasoning pointing to the Chinese discovering the New World before Columbus, talks and acts like a typical crank. I almost expected him to start ranting about the Time Cube.

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One of those sentences that will rattle around in your head until it lodges somewhere in your subconscious: For all problems, assume a perfectly spherical Jesus of constant density D.

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16 January 2003 ::   You should stab deep if you would kill a king  
This site is now number one in a Google search for the phrase "the unmistakable cone of ignorance." I couldn't be happier.

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Melancholia by Jupiterlight: new A Miracle of Science.

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Victor Petrenko has discovered a way to make ice melt itself off power lines using just 50 watts per 100 kilometres of line. The idea is fairly simple, and utterly brilliant. You may remember Mr. Petrenko's name - he's the same fellow who used this idea of the electrical control of ice's melting to invent brakes for skis.

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Christopher Wanjek debunks everything from magnetic therapy to homeopathy to chi energy. I love debunkers. They make me feel good about science.

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15 January 2003 ::   Speaker for the d00d  
This article on the dearth of young women studying computer science is remarkable not for the information it contains, but for the fascinating narrowness of its view. The author, Karen Stabiner, appears to have interviewed persons exclusively at upper-class schools and at small, exclusive corporations. The author's idea of speaking to someone at a dot-com is to get a quote from "Laurie Petersen, a senior vice president at the boutique investment bank Gruppo, Levey & Company, [who] is a self-taught computer whiz who built a bridge from newspaper reporting to her current job working on technology start-ups." If that isn't an example of a journalist getting her pull-quotes out of her Rolodex, I don't know what is. I wouldn't be at all surprised to discover the author spoke to Ms. Petersen at a lunch they have every week to chat. I expect better reporting than this from the New York Times.

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The recently discovered gullies on Mars may have been cut not by liquid water but by a mad slurry of sublimating carbon dioxide ice.
[University of Melbourne geologist Dr Nick] Hoffman suggests NASA researchers missed these most exciting events happening in the gullies as they have been focussed on looking for liquid water in late summer.

"In the Martian Spring, when carbon dioxide frost and snow at temperatures of minus130 degrees Centigrade still fill the valleys, flow events are occurring. The flows cut through the frost at temperatures that would turn battery acid into building stone," he says.

"Nothing based on water can flow at these temperatures, so the culprit must be defrosting carbon dioxide.

"But carbon dioxide doesn't melt on Mars; it boils directly from the solid (a process called 'sublimation'). Instead of a trickle or gush of liquid pouring down the gully, the flow appears to be a flurry of boiling dry ice avalanching down the gully. The boiling dry ice acts like a amarda of miniature hovercraft carrying a shower of sand, dust, and tumbling rocks down the slope, carving out the gullies as it goes.

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14 January 2003 ::   The water in the first panel is inexplicably shifting to the right as, presumably, Ganymede initiates a one-tenth G deorbital burn to leave the Solar System entirely  
Speaking of money, this exhibit of American paper currency from the Bebee Collection is pretty cool. Some of them, such as this 1880 thousand-dollar bill, look like they came from some weird alternate reality.

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I had always wondered how the Romans plated their coins with silver before the invention of electroplating, and now I know.
Throughout Roman history, we find plated coins were often produced. These were sometimes out and out fakes produced by counterfeiters and were sometimes produced officially by the mints. In the days of the Republic and early empire, plated coins were produced by covering copper blanks with a sheet of silver on both sides and heating to weld the metals together. Alternatively, clean heated copper could be dipped into molten silver. Both required a great deal of labor to produce coins so the incentive for profit was not extremely high and this kind of forgery did not become as widespread as it could have if a cheap method of plating had been found. When these ancient plated coins are found, they are still quite collectible if they are truly ancient forgeries. This kind of forgery is called a fourre.

The method of plating that was used in the Third and Fourth Centuries was quite different. The Roman moneyers had discovered that copper is readily etched away by certain acids and corrosive salts that will leave silver untouched. A coin blank was made in the regular way of an alloy containing about 5% silver, sometimes less. The blank was then dipped in a "pickle" solution of corrosive salts and acid. Sometimes the blank was heated and dipped again to speed up the process. The copper was dissolved out, leaving a microscopically thin layer of pure, spongy silver on the surface of the blank. When the blank was struck up with the emperor's portrait and the design on the reverse, the sponge silver was flattened down and spread across the surface of the coin, leaving a beautiful, brilliant silvery finish on the coin. This soon wore off in circulation, though, leaving an ugly gray, brown, white, or black splotchy surface on the coin.

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13 January 2003 ::   And there might have to be, if not a long twilight struggle, then at least a serious all-nighter with some dismally poor lighting  
I'm probably not making a wild prognostication when I say I think military robots will have as much of an impact on warfare in the current century as the airplane had on the previous century. The next wave of American robots (and it's really only Americans who are in this field so far) are being redesigned and upgraded in the field like something out of science fiction:
Later, [solders in the field in Afghanistan] offered advice, complaining that the signal wasn't penetrating the walls of deep caves. So Tom Frost, an iRobot engineer at the scene, built a makeshift network of radio repeaters by scavenging old Soviet trucks that littered Bagram Air Base.

And when soldiers asked Frost if PackBot could work with the computers integrated into their clothing, he downloaded the necessary code over a satellite.

The soldiers also scribbled a drawing of their idea for an extendable neck. The company was already working on that, but made it a top priority.

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The next page of A Miracle of Science is up, in which we see Benjamin actually showing emotion.

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The website of the Coordinated Highways Action Response Team provides an up-to-date map containing traffic and dangerous weather data for the state of Maryland. For free. Very keen.

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11 January 2003 ::   At the end of the Council of Elrond, everyone concluded that 'Shards of Narsil' would be a great name for a band  
Brookings Institute graph

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10 January 2003 ::   Some people have a way with words, while others... er... thingy  
Here are some Victorian-era experiments for you to try (if you are totally mad). I particularly like the fountain of fire that involves several extremely inflammable and poisonous substances and the experiment that requires one to play with hydrogen gas.

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Futurama transcripts!
[Film:] Narrator: Global warming! Or: None like it hot!

[Susie cries when her ice-cream melts]

Narrator: Hehehe. You're probably wondering why your ice-cream went away. Well Susie, the culprit isn't foreigners, it's global warming.

Susie: Gwoba wobble?

Narrator: Ye.. Yeah. Meet Mr. Sunbeam. He comes all the way from the sun to visit earth!

Mr. Sunbeam: Hello, Earth! Just poppin' in to brighten your day! La-la-la, la-la-la-la! And now, I'll be on my way.

Greenhouse gas: Not so fast, Sunbeam. We're greenhouse gases. You ain't goin' nowhere.

[The greenhouse gases beat up Mr. Sunbeam]

Mr. Sunbeam: Ow, it hurts!

Narrator: Pretty soon, Earth is chocked full of sun beams, their rotting corpses heating our atmosphere!

[The greenhouse gases laugh and count their money]

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9 January 2003 ::   You might call me "lazy", but I'm calling you "empowered" --Mike Ryan  
The newest page of A Miracle of Science contains revelations about Io, as well as the last of the reader names from the contest we ran back in October.

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The New York Times has a fairly long article on the variable speed of light theories which have been rattling around physics lately, together with one scientist's suggestion for how to actually test his theory. This is the sign that a scientist isn't a crank - he or she is actually putting forward an experiment which can be used to test his or her theories.

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Scientists viewing the occultation of a quasar by Jupiter have confirmed that the speed of gravity is equal to the speed of light within their margin of error. There is a slightly less detailed article on this same discovery at the Washington Post website.

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8 January 2003 ::   Wow! It's like they're the Wal-Mart of evil! Hold on... Wal-Mart's the Wal-Mart of evil.  
Today is the birthday of my partner in crime, Mark Sachs. Pelt him with good wishes in the Discussion area!

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Nintendo is facing competition from cellular phones as well as from from other console makers, so it is launching a new version of the Game Boy.

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Craig Powell
Two words that do not belong together: Inspirational socks.

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Jessica Gothie
Fred Coppersmith has another dead-on parody of the idiot articles in the Daily Collegian with this commentary on the mythical box shortage:
"I'm less than pleased with this recent turn of events," says Dr. Eugene Everett Curmudgeon, distinguished professor of interpretative dance and self-described boxicologist. "This isn't the Penn State I know and love." Curmudgeon is only one of a growing number of area residents to add his name to a petition demanding the University take action -- and although these names also include three of his own imaginary friends and no less than seven of his fifteen pet cats, Curmudgeon is undeterred.
I do rather wonder about the line which calls the box shortage "a crisis many at the University trace back to that fateful day in the fall of 1996, when newly appointed University president Graham Spanier instituted his by now infamous Three Boxes of Cardboard Program." This sounds like a parody of some actual event, which would have happened long after my time at PSU.

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Proof We Are Living in the Future, Part 743: Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory have invented a laser-driven cell-depositing device which may eventually be used to close surgical incisions.

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7 January 2003 ::   This is a test of the emergency broadcast chicken  
The US Treasury explains how they make the working dies with which they create coins.

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Fred Coppersmith is back with a How To we can all use.
Yes, itís a sad fact, but guns play an important role in any successful bank robbery. You could try distracting the teller with a rambunctious puppy dog or a tasty piece of chocolate, or you could tell the bank manager that his mother is outside in the rain and you'll just guard the vault for him, if thatís all right, while he goes outside to bring her a towel. But trust me on this, you'll be better off with a gun and threatening to blow everybodyís head off if the mother------s move

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6 January 2003 ::   Unless that anti-gravity resolution goes through, your helium balloons are never even getting near their arachnid overlords  
What can you do if you're a president (or his administration) who has been saying the economy is getting better, flying in the face of actual economic data? Why, you can shut down the Labor Department project which gathers layoff data, of course!

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A Miracle of Science is back on the air, and it contains robots dreaming of socks. I swear I am not making this up.

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The existence of a Y2K patch for a menu display bug in the TRS-80 Model 100 proves my supposition that there is no hardware so outdated that someone, somewhere, isn't still using it.

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3 January 2003 ::   "Moltar, give me Jeff Foxworthy or give me death!"
"Uh... do I get to pick?"
 
Alyce Wilson, a friend of mine, has started an online journal which you are all commanded to read. The sudden influx of traffic should bring Tripod to its knees.

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At a party over the holiday, I was discussing the problems of access capitalists in the current administration. New Treasury Secretary John Snow was an overpaid and undertrained CEO at CSX who oversaw the company as its stock dropped and it used the government to batter its competitors.

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2 January 2003 ::   I want to create an omelet that expresses the meaninglessness of existence, and instead they taste like cheese  
I have updated A Miracle of Science with a short lesson on how Mark and I create the comic. Contrary to what you may have heard, sacrifices to evil gods are not involved. Not even to make Photoshop work properly.

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The future is now with the Ecliptic Enterprises RocketCam gallery!

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1 January 2003 ::   It's earthboy calling on frequency ten, all far out galaxies  
Fred Coppersmith lays down the high weirdness with the last two missives from Stuart J. Trousers.
Do you know what else I don't trust? Magnets. It sounds crazy, I know, but thatís just how it is. I can't exactly pin it down, but thereís something about them that I just don't like. It sometimes seems like theyíre everywhere, running up and down my refrigerator door like barnacles stuck on the underbelly of a ship, crawling like little metal rats into every dark magnetic corner they can find, lying in wait at the bottom of the cellar stairs with a knife already bloodied from that morningís kill, a sacrificial offering to some all-consuming totemic god who, even now, cries out for blood! blood! blood!

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(The Side of the Angels)

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