November 30, 2010

Favorite Year

There isn't really a bad song on the Dixie Chicks' 2006 album, "Taking the Long Way." Its most frequently played track is "Not Ready to Make Nice" and rightly so. But I really really like this one, and it finally turned up on YouTube.

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November 29, 2010

Can't anyone play this game?

Sure, let's freeze federal pay for two years. It's anti-stimulative, since federal workers buy things as much as everyone else, and there's sure as hell no chance of getting any new fiscal stimulus out of Congress, but what the heck. Then let's announce it without getting any quid pro quo from the Republicans, like extending unemployment benefits for those who are about to lose them.

The Obama Administration may be damned good at policy, but it's amateurish at politics.

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On Wikileaks

Disclaimer: I haven't read any of the disclosed documents in detail.

I have an opinion about the material I've seen excerpted, though: why is the world in an uproar about some of these thoughts? I mean, any casual observer could agree that Nikolas Sarkozy is a vainglorious guy, that Vladimir Putin is a bully of the first order, that Angela Merkel temporizes, and that Silvio Berlusconi is ineffective.

Likewise, is it any surprise that the Saudis and the Gulf States (Sunni Muslims all) expressed deep concern about Shia Iran's attempts to develop nuclear weapons? It's not even much of a surprise that they'd just as soon have the Americans bomb Iran; when have the Saudis in particular not wanted the US to solve its problems for it? Is it any surprise that the US and South Korea have developed plans for the possible collapse of North Korea? I would hope there would be contingency plans for such an event.

Sure this is embarrassing for all concerned, but if embarrassment is the most serious consequence of these leaks, the world will survive.

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November 28, 2010

Classmate photos

Back in June I mentioned I was keeping a gallery of photos from my high school classmates as they hit the magic (or infernal, depending on your point of view) 60th birthday.

This has been amazing. I've received 139 pictures. Granted about half of them are from the party I mentioned in that post, a lot of my classmates have still been motivated enough to keep sending me pictures, and it's been fun for everybody.

It's an unusual thing to say, but I'm glad I volunteered!

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November 27, 2010

Here's a new source for cooks

New to me, anyway. Yesterday's mail brought us a catalog from Pendery's, an outfit which specializes in chile peppers, spices and seasonings. It's located in Fort Worth, it's been around since 1870, and it's a real treat to look at and drool over. It's got more chile and chile blend powders than you can imagine, from the mild to the Scoville-didn't-dare-rate-this variety. It's also got spice glassware, mortars and pestles, and salsas and seasonings.

If you're looking for these goodies and can't find them at your local supermarket, this place might be a good start. It could be a Christmas gift-shoppers paradise for the cooks in your family too.

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November 26, 2010

Store avoidance

It's very kind of the NCAA (and I rarely have anything good to say about that outfit) to have lots of football on so I don't even have to go out of my house today. There's a major shopping center at the intersection at the bottom of my hill, so I might could be caught in Black Friday traffic even if I had no intention of going near the mall.

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November 25, 2010

Gobble, he said, and gobbled he was

"Greater love hath no bird than this, that a bird lay down his life for those higher up the food chain."

From Events

My brother-in-law carves up the ritual bird, Thanksgiving 2010.

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If it's Thanksgiving, it must be Arlo

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!
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November 24, 2010

Book recommendations

I mentioned here that I had Connie Willis's All Clear and couldn't wait to read it. Well, I have. I re-read Blackout, the first half of the two-volume story, just to get up to speed before starting All Clear, so I didn't finish it until 2:00am Monday morning.

If you're interested in the perils of life in London during The Blitz, the nine-month period between September 1940 and May 1941 when the Nazis bombed the capital (and other cities) trying to soften up England for invasion, these are your books. The principal point of view is that of three time-traveling historians from Oxford in 2060 whose drops or pickup sites have mysteriously closed so they can't get back to their own time. They live in desperate fear of doing something which will change history and cause Britain to lose the war, and one of them has an additional reason to want to get out: she's been back to World War II once already and doesn't know what might happen if she's there and overlaps her previous visit.

Willis writes so evocatively of the war and so fondly of her characters that the reader is swept into the story and is really pulling hard for them to figure out what the hell happened to keep them there and how to correct it. The time travel is always present as something the characters worry over, but it doesn't overwhelm the real story, that of people in desperate situations trying to overcome them.

I really enjoyed these books. It's easy to see why Willis has won as many sci-fi awards as she has (ten Hugos, six Nebulas) and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2009.

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November 23, 2010

Turkey Day prep

Got my whole olives, got my celery, got the prepped turkey dinner from Safeway on order for pickup Thursday morning, and got my decorative gourds.

Did you know there's a place in the business of providing those dried baby pumpkins and miniature Indian corn to supermarkets all over the country? It's true.

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November 22, 2010

An unhappy anniversary

[Re-posted from Nov. 22, 2003}

47 years ago today I was a 13-year old 8th grader at Edgar Allen Poe Intermediate in Alexandria, Va. It was an ordinary school day until about 2:20 in the afternoon, when we were changing classrooms, and suddenly a rumor was flying that the President had been shot. That was confirmed about 10 minutes later, and we were sent home early. I got home to find my mother in shock (Dad was in Antarctica), and we spent the remainder of the weekend, as did so many other Americans, glued to the TV screen. We were in disbelief, of course; "this doesn't happen in America," we thought. Of course, it had happened before, as we all quickly learned. That weekend I learned more about McKinley, Garfield, Harrison and other Presidential deaths in office than I'd ever learned before. I was fortunate enough to wangle a ride to Arlington Cemetery on that Monday, the 25th, where I stood about 500-1000 yards from the gravesite, along with many many other people. Neither Mom nor I have any memory of who I got a ride with, why she felt it was OK for me to go, or any other details. I just remember standing there among all those people, trying to make sense of it.

Since then this country has had similar national tragedies, of course, from the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. through the Challenger explosion to September 11. In every instance it seemed to me that time just stopped for several days as we all sat in front of television screens trying to absorb what we were seeing. To me, the different thing about the JFK assassination is that it was a double shock; first the President's murder, followed two days later by the murder of the suspected killer (on national television, no less). I think the Oswald murder was the catalyst for all the subsequent conspiracy theories; to my knowledge nobody has ever seriously espoused similar theories about the RFK or MLK murders. The killing of the principal suspect by a nobody is a plot line we've all read in murder mysteries; Ruby had no known motive for shooting Oswald, so he must have been a pawn for a larger interest. I've never bought any of the theories; despite the fact that he had been living in Russia for a while, and he had suspicious contacts with Cuba, I think those were incidental. I think Oswald acted alone.

Who else has memories of that weekend?

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November 21, 2010

Yum, sourdough!

From Events

I didn't make this from scratch. Fleischmann's makes several bread mixes in a box; put the mix into your bread pan, add water, turn it on and away it goes. This was their sourdough mix. I'm trying to grow sourdough starter.

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November 20, 2010

Hypocrisy, but what's new?

So the Republicans in Congress are in an uproar because the Fed Chairman says things they don't like.

Funny. When the Fed Chairman says things they do like, as Greenspan did in 2001 when he implicitly endorsed the first round of Bush tax cuts, they fell all over themselves patting him on the back.

Now they want to strip the Fed of its mandate to reduce unemployment.

What's changed? The wrong party holds the White House and has different policy objectives. That's it.


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Why yes, this is self-righteous. What of it?

My self-cleaning oven is one hour into its cleaning mode so it will be nice and shiny for Thanksgiving.

No, I have no hovercraft.

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November 19, 2010

Inflation is "under control," they say

Usually I ask "they" just what the hell "they" buy and whose money are "they" using; I rarely see prices of anything I buy go down.

However. I just paid $1.37 for a 40W, 48-inch long fluorescent bulb for my kitchen's overhead fixture. I haven't bought one of these in a long time, but I can't believe it was cheaper than that when I did.

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November 18, 2010

Paycheck Fairness Act fails

It seems Senator Mitch McConnell has a great deal of leverage over his fellow Republicans in the Senate. How else explain the votes of the three Republican women Senators in that body denying paycheck equality to all the women in the United States? Senators Hutchison, Snowe and Collins all voted against cloture on that legislation yesterday, ensuring that it would never even come up for discussion by the full body.

If I were a lousy mean-spirited Democratic Senator I'd introduce legislation that would immediately cut the salaries of female United States Senators to 77% of the amount paid to men.

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November 17, 2010

Is our Congress learning?

Economic growth equals deficit reduction. It's as simple as that.

As people go to work again, they begin to pay taxes again. As they pay taxes into the Treasury, the amount of borrowing Treasury needs to do drops and the deficit falls.

Why do I have to keep repeating this?

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November 16, 2010

Alas for 13-year-old cars

I took the car in to a body shop this morning, and they determined really quickly that the part that the trunk latch attaches to is badly rusted and not in stock. I think it's a formerly-solid piece of metal that runs the width of the trunk. They told me they would try to find the part (if it's still available anywhere; this is a 1997 Geo Metro, after all) and get me an estimate of how much it would cost to repair it. In the meantime they disconnected the sensor which tells the trunk light to turn on when the lid is lifted. Hopefully that solves the battery-drain problem. I suspect the estimate will come in at between $500 - $1000.

While at the shop I asked them to give me an estimate for a full body rust repair and paint job, just to get a datapoint. Their off-the-cuff guess was $4000. Gulp.

Postscript or addendum: The shop asked me for my e-mail address and told me they'd e-mail the estimate to me. Shade tree mechanics have certainly changed!

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November 15, 2010

Battery mystery resolved, perhaps

I think what's happening with the recurrently-draining car battery is that the trunk lid latch has worked itself loose from its solid moorings. That means that, while it closes, it's not as tight as it should be and the sensor which tells the trunk light to turn on is continually tripped. Over time that's enough electrical use to eventually take the battery charge down.

We'll find out. I have an appointment tomorrow morning at a body shop to have them repair it. I hope I'm right.

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November 14, 2010

Lazy laundry day

Oh. The bread, despite the weird behavior of the machine, turned out just fine.

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November 13, 2010

Stubborn electro-mechanical things

So I thought I'd make another loaf of bread with my new gadget, this time a Scandinavian Light Rye. I happily measured, poured, and placed the ingredients in order in the bread pan and turned it on to the appropriate size and time.

Then I realized I'd skipped a line in the recipe and forgotten the brown sugar. I managed to stop the machine about six minutes into the knead cycle and added its aromatic goodness and restarted the machine. Then the infernal device took on a life of its own. It decided that the addition of those tablespoons pushed the mixture into 2-lb. loaf size rather than the 1 1/2-lb I'd been measuring for, and that because of that it should work for 15 minutes longer than the 2:53 the smaller loaf called for.

I don't have a clue how this is going to turn out.

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When's the other shoe drop?

In the wake of the news that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest after years of detention, I wonder what the hell the generals are thinking?

Late in the evening, the government broadcast a brief report saying Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi had been freed without conditions.
But NPR reports that she's planning to meet with democracy groups within days. If that's the case, are the generals going to immediately regret the release and place her under house arrest again?

The Burmese generals are always opaque, but even for them this is strange.

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November 12, 2010

NY Times succumbs to feline overlords

It prints an article about research which has told us just how cats drink water.

It's actually pretty fascinating if you've ever watched your cat crouch in front of a water bowl (or a faucet, for that matter). For one thing, while a cat's tongue has hairs used for grooming, the tip is smooth. I didn't know that.

What I really like is this sentence:

The robot that mimicked the cat’s tongue was built for an experiment on the International Space Station, and the engineers simply borrowed it from a neighboring lab.

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November 11, 2010


In the past two days I've gotten 543 spam comments from the domain

Now that's persistence!

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11-dimension chess

If Obama goes along with this set of proposals from the Bowles-Simpson Commission, thereby gutting Social Security in exchange for very little, I'm going to conclude that not only is he not a liberal, he's not even a Democrat. As Digby says:

If he ends up signing on to deep cuts in social security in exchange for some tax hikes that will be subject to revision by the next idiot Republican who comes into office bleating "it's your money!" then he will have presided over the destruction of the Democratic Party. If they can't even protect the safety net during a time of great financial stress --- when they have the presidency and one house of congress --- just what the hell is the point?
It would be sadly ironic if we managed to fight off the Bush Administration's attempt to "fix" Social Security in 2005 only to have it blown up five years later by somebody we elected.

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November 10, 2010

Serious players need not apply

The "Deficit" Commission's chairmen issued a set of draft proposals (I put that in quotes because the proposals do not make any sense if the goal is to reduce the deficit). They suggest a whole string of things that are politically impossible or ridiculously small:

  • cutting earmarks (less than 1% of the federal budget)
  • Send all military children based in the U.S. to local schools (there can't be more than 200 schools on military bases in the entire world, for cryin' out loud)
  • Charge admission to the Smithsonian and National Parks (Er, how much revenue would that bring in, really?)
  • Cut $900 million in fossil fuel research funds ($900M is a drop in an eyedropper in the federal budget, and if that is meant to develop cleaner methods of extracting energy from coal, then why would we want to eliminate it? There's more coal in this country than any other energy-producing natural resource)
Then they have various proposals for Social Security:
  • Index the retirement age to longevity -- i.e., increase the retirement age to qualify for Social Security -- to age 69 by 2075.
  • Index Social Security yearly increases to inflation rather than wages, which will generally mean lower cost of living increases and less money per average recipient.
  • "Increase progressivity of benefit formula" -- i.e., means test part of Social Security benefits by 2050.
  • Increase the Social Security contribution ceiling: while people only pay Social Security taxes on the first $106,800 of their wages today, that's only about 86% of the total potentially taxable wages. The co-chairs suggest raising the ceiling to capture 90% of wages.
But then they get to what I suspect the real goal has been all along: cutting taxes for the rich.
  • In their first plan, called "The Zero Plan," they suggest reducing the tax brackets to three personal brackets and one corporate rate while eliminated all credits and deductions. Without any credits or deductions (including the ETIC and mortgage interest deductions), the 3 tax rates would be 8, 14 and 23 percent.
  • In their second plan, they would increase the personal deduction to $15,000, create 3 tax brackets (15, 25 and 35%); repeal or significantly curtail a number of popular tax deductions (including the state and local deduction and the mortgage interest deduction); and eliminate other tax expenditures.
  • The third plan would force Congress to undertake comprehensive tax reform by 2012 by raising taxes for each year Congress fails to act.
  • All their proposals limit Congress to collecting taxes on income made within the United States, reducing or eliminating taxes on American expats and revenues companies earn abroad.
  • They also suggest raising the federal gas tax by 15 cents per gallon.
So, reduce the maximum rate and exempt personal and corporate income earned abroad. Just which class of people would benefit from that, do you suppose?

Now, remember, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairs, are regarded as Very Serious People, so the media will admire their strength of character in proposing such "hard but necessary changes" while ignoring the tax implications.

This should die of laughability on its merits.

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November 09, 2010


I have Connie Willis's All Clear in my hot little hands, and I'm on the waiting list for Bujold's Cryoburn.

The former is the continuation of Willis's Blackout, which I read earlier this year. It's not precisely a sequel; the book got too big and she and her publisher agreed to publish it in two volumes. The latter is the latest in the Miles Vorkosigan saga, which I first mentioned here.

Oh the anticipation!

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November 08, 2010

Automotive advice needed

Back on October 22 I went out and turned the key in the car's ignition and got zip. Just that awful "click." I managed to find a neighbor to jump it for me (with my cables; I learned long ago that it's very useful to have one's own cables) and went down to Sears, where I'd purchased the Die Hard battery in the car.

They tested. They recharged. They said "It's fine, we have no explanation, but it's got a full charge now so worry no more."

Well. Today, slightly over two weeks later, the same thing happened. This time it was a weekday and finding somebody to jump it was a lot harder, but I eventually did. Back I went to Sears. Same thing. Alternator's good, starter's good, battery's dead. They recharged it and sent me on my way, saying there might be something called a "parasitic drain" on the battery that they were unable to find.

This is not good. I can't trust it to turn over every day when I need it to. Has anyone got any suggestions for what might be happening here and how to correct it?

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Not quite, Matt, not quite

In a post discussing deficits Yglesias says

But the question is: What about deficits matters? You often hear deficits discussed as a kind of morality play. Government should “live within its means,” whatever that means. Or else you hear conservatives—who don’t care even the slightest bit about deficits—complain about “deficits” when what they mean is “spending when a Democrat is in the White House.”
Without discussing the balance of his argument, I want to differ slightly with his analysis of what conservatives mean when they complain about deficits.

In my experience, conservatives have no difficulty with a Democratically-held White House spending money on wars and tax cuts. It's when the Democrat residing there wants to spend money on the domestic welfare of the nation's population that they begin to shriek, moan and gnash their teeth.

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November 07, 2010

Reason to turn off the radio

Because Phil Gramm and Arthur Laffer, two of the biggest behind-the-scenes contributors to America's financial problems, are arguing in favor of the motion that government is strangling the American Spirit. This on the radio program Intelligence Squared, which shows up every other Sunday on my public radio station.

Unfortunately, the people on the other side of the motion, Laura Tyson and Nouriel Rubini, are much too polite to slap these two down for their past behavior. You'll remember that it's Laffer who popularized supply-side economics, the idea that reducing taxes and cutting regulations will always result in higher economic growth than anything else. And it was Gramm who put the nail in the coffin of the Glass-Steagall Act which had prohibited banks from acting as both depository institutions and investment traders at the same time.

In my view, both of those actions have contributed mightily to the financial mess we currently find ourselves in, and both Gramm and Laffer should be shunned by polite society.

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November 06, 2010


As a fan, when your team is playing a major rival in your conference and that rival is ranked fourth in the nation, you hope to win, but you certainly hope your guys don't embarrass themselves.

So far, embarrassment is winning. UH has the highest rank in passing yards per game in the country at 491 YPG, and it's got 74 yards in the entire first half against Boise State. Hawai'i averages 39 points per game and it's been shut out for the first half.


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November 05, 2010

Bread machine undergoing first test

After a bit of shopping angst I have the right raw materials or equivalents to try to make my first loaf of white bread, and it's underway.

All I had in the house was all-purpose flour, and the machine's manual is insistent that that variety doesn't have enough gluten to make the perfect bread. So I went down to Safeway and discovered that's the only variety the store sells. "Rats," I said, but then remembered that there's a Down to Earth veggie market at the bottom of my hill. I trundled down there but discovered that, while they have lots of flours, none were specifically bread flours. They had a finely-ground whole wheat which the clerk assured me would work the same, but I didn't feel comfortable with that, since the manual and the recipes I've seen made distinctions between the two varieties. I bought a couple of pounds of it for future use, but I wanted to find flour clearly labeled for bread making.

That was yesterday. Today I went to that teeny-tiny niche market known as the Pearl Harbor Commissary. Goodness! The place had way more kinds of flour than Safeway did, including Gold Medal's Better for Bread. I bought two five-pound bags of the stuff and brought it home.

So I was ready to go, right? Ha! I had gone to one of the local used bookstores looking for a bread machine cookbook and found Bread Machine Bounty from Better Homes and Gardens. It was published in 1992 (an oddity: since it's 18 years old the Resources pages have toll-free numbers but no websites; that looks really strange now), and all its recipes want shortening rather than oil. I have no shortening!

Fortunately I realized margarine = solid fat just like shortening, but I might have slightly overdone the amount (I used 2 tsp, which is the amount of shortening called for). I then added milk, the bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast. We'll see what happens in about 3 hours.

I'm trying basic white bread; for one thing, if I'm gonna bake much I need to lay in a supply of things like brown sugar, molasses, raisins, and other stuff I currently don't have lying around the pantry.

I'm excited to see the results!

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November 04, 2010

Oh, man, 60

I'm more bothered by what seems to be onrushing bronchitis than I am my 60th birthday.

I need stronger drugs than Robitussin syrup and Cepacol lozenges.

However, I was given a bread machine as part of the celebration of my birthday. Isn't that cool? The manual only has about 9 recipes, which is fewer than the number of programs the machine allows you to select.

Who's got suggestions for good bread cookbooks?

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November 03, 2010

No bloodbath here

Swimming against the national tide, Hawai'i re-elected Democrat Dan Inouye to the US Senate, elected Democrat Colleen Hanabusa to replace Republican Charles Djou in HI-01, re-elected Democrat Mazie Hirono to HI-02, and elected former Democratic Congressman Neil Abercrombie to be Governor.

None of the margins between winners and losers was particularly close.

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A Note to American Voters

My fellow voters, with all due respect, you are the most illogical and irrational group of people on the face of the earth. At the same time 41 percent of you tell pollsters you approve of the way Congressional Democrats are doing their jobs and only 31 percent of you approve of the job Congressional Republicans are doing, you have just thrown out of office a whole slew of those Democrats.

Either you're lying or you're schizophrenic.

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November 02, 2010

You know you're a political junkie when

You're astonished and then delighted to see a running total of Facebook users who've voted (or at least clicked the "I Voted" button at the top of the home page).

4.67M voters at 0837 HST. That's fascinating.

Update: Voted at 12:45pm. Polling place not very crowded.

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November 01, 2010

World Series gets serious

If you'd told me the Giants' pitchers, good as they are, would have shut the Rangers out twice in their three wins so far I'd have laughed at you.

Since I want the baseball season to go as long as possible in order to shorten the time between now and April, Cliff Lee had better pitch the best game of his life tonight.

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