Concern Trolling, Calling Out, and Compassion

Concerned puppy is very concernedFat people are often subjected to concern trolling.  To me concern trolling is when someone couches their opposition to your ideology and/or their oppressive behavior in concern.

Dealing with concern trolling can be complicated, especially since people have a tendency to insist that we accept this kind of behavior graciously (that’s one of the things that makes the tactic popular.  People can be inappropriate and then shrug and say “What? I was just expressing concern, why are you being so mean to me?” Charming, no?) The truth is that each person who gets concern trolled gets to choose how to deal with it.  I’ve recently had a run-in with a concern troll that made me think a lot about this, and gave me a surprising reminder about compassion along the way.

I’m currently training for an IROMAN triathlon.  (I have a separate blog for that so that I can yammer on about my training with being boring, annoying, or triggering to people who come to this blog for Size Acceptance stuff).  On a recent post, I got a comment from a concern troll:

I find your ethic and ambitions inspiring but concerned puppy needs to consider something else – can you make the 17 hour cutoff? Based on your marathon experience I would say that you cannot. (followed by an exhaustive list of the IM time limits, of which of course I’m already very well aware)

That’s so weird, I don’t remember asking for her, or anyone’s, opinion about this, and in fact I covered all of this in my FAQ section.

Ironman is an expensive proposition so if it isn’t likely you can finish, what’s the point?

I can’t believe they don’t make an inspirational poster with this quote in front of a sailboat or something.

Do you really want to spend a couple thousand dollars to show the world that you are brave enough to step up? Something to consider.

Aaand we have another psychic – she knows why I’m doing this.  And apparently she knows better than I do since I covered my reasons pretty extensively in the FAQ and this wasn’t it.  She could have at least left me some lottery numbers…

I was just dying to know, how does someone become this kind of person, so I sent an e-mail “I’m genuinely curious as to how you stumbled onto my blog, and what made you take the time out of your day to comment with your concerns.”  I received a reply:

I just did Ironman Canada in July and it took me 16:48 – I had a very hard day.  Ironman is hard.

Having eaten my bowl of No Shit Sherlock flakes that morning, I already had a grasp on the fact that swimming, biking, and running 140.6 miles in 17 hours is hard.  While I congratulate her on finishing, I’m not sure why she’s telling me about her time or experience, since neither has anything to do with me.  I could be wrong, but the way that this is phrased makes it seem like she thinks I’ll say “Well, if it was hard for a stranger I know nothing about, I’ll never be able to do it, I quit!” which makes me think that a very exaggerated sense of self-importance may be at work here. But again, I could be wrong.

I hate to see you put out this smack down that’s going to cost you $675 for the race and several hundred dollars for accommodations and some more money to ship the bike and something for travel (I didn’t notice where you live).  I just thought you should consider the cost given how unlikely it is you can finish in under 17 hours.

So I’m to believe that this onslaught of discouragement is actually a benevolent attempt at helping me save money?  (Also, IM Arizona is $725, not $625.  If the money is so important, I would think she would know the correct figure.)

You are setting yourself up for failure and what’s the point in that?

Is creating text for motivational posters a real job, because if it is this woman should consider it as a career! It seems like I’ve seen and heard a lot of motivational quotes, songs, and stories about taking risks, setting big goals, and not being so afraid of failure that you don’t try.  But maybe I just misheard all of them,  and what they were saying was “If you might fail, don’t bother to try.” Hey, there’s another poster right there!

Do an Olympic. Do a Half.  See what happens. If it works out, move up to IM and show me how wrong I am.  I’m okay with that.

Well, isn’t she just the sweetest thing, bless her heart.  She’s “ok” with me reaching my personal goals. (And can a fatty get some reading comprehension?  I mention several times, including an entire post about it, that I’ll do a schedule of races before the IM.)  This is a particularly interesting technique of the concern troll wherein they set themselves up to get credit if the subject of their abuse succeeds. When I cross the finish line I won’t be surprised to get an e-mail that says  “See, by [acting like a complete ass] I inspired you, you should thank me…”

Which makes me wonder, what would she do if I quit based on her comment?  “Dear Diary, Today I got a woman to give up her IRONMAN goal! I’m such a good person. Sometimes people don’t notice that about me, but I really am.”  So. Fucked. Up.

I’m a pragmatist and I’m cheap so that’s why you heard from me.

Yes, I’m sure that’s exactly what this is about.  And we’ll all swear to that, even if they question us separately.

As a person being concern trolled, why someone does it doesn’t change my response.  I get to decide how people treat me and so regardless of whether this person really is an altruistic cheapskate traveling the internet helping people choose the fear of losing money over trying to achieve their dreams, or she’s a fatphobic jerk who gets off on discouraging fat athletes, or somewhere in between, the fact remains that her behavior is grossly out of line and completely unacceptable to me.

While I was waiting for her response, I did some digging and found her public website.  There I found this: “I have profound body image issues in spite of being in phenomenal shape. When I was overweight I was quite certain that everyone hated me simply because I was fat. I’m better now but still have issues and worry way too much about the size of my butt and thighs.”

And that’s when the compassion hit me.  This world is designed to fuck people, especially women, up when it comes to our body image, and self-esteem. And maybe some people get fucked up in a way that makes them take to the internet to try to discourage people from training for an IRONMAN.  Unlike her, I’m not psychic so I’m not pretending to know where this woman is coming from, but her behavior towards me is fucked up and I don’t think it can hurt me to have compassion for how it might have happened.

That said, and I cannot be clear enough about this, that does not make it ok.  I am not obligated to excuse bad behavior directed at me for any reason.  But I can set boundaries and hold compassion at the same time and I think that’s worth doing.  So obviously I’ll not be approving her comment, or taking her perspective into consideration. But I also sincerely hope that, if she wants to rid herself of body image issues, she finds a way to do that, and I also hope that if this type of inappropriate behavior is typical of her, nobody else is harmed by her.

This whole thing has also really helped me to be grateful for my own journey to body love and everything that it’s done for me. If I hadn’t found Fat Acceptance I might be using my time to mete out discouragement to those who have what I once didn’t think I ever could.  The truth is that, when it comes to concern trolling, it’s entirely possible that there but for the grace of Size Acceptance go I.

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47 thoughts on “Concern Trolling, Calling Out, and Compassion

  1. People need to stop being afraid of failure. As long as someone is aware of what they are doing and the costs (monetary and physical) (which you obviously are) and aren’t being set up for failure then how does it harm anyone if they try.

    Who does it harm if you compete and don’t make the time? I know you’d be disappointed but I suspect given your attitude to the marathon you walked you are prepared for even as you strive to make sure it doesn’t happen.

    The measure of a person is not how they deal with success but how they deal with failure.

  2. “I can’t believe they don’t make an inspirational poster with this quote in front of a sailboat or something.”

    Ha! They really should. You know what? I’m sure I could find a website where I could make my own. Some of these would be the perfect demotivators to poor innocent associates who wander into my office to ask questions.

  3. Fear of failure is a powerful thing. :/ I know I have struggled with taking up a new hobby (or new anything) because I know I won’t be good at it right away. I don’t have much compassion for myself on the learning curve. That has lead to a LOT of stifling. Only recently have I been able to shake this off a bit. Taking a pottery class was a big deal for me! While it does sound like body issues were in play, it’s also possible that the person finds failure so terrifying that she thinks that helping others avoid the possibility of it is helpful. (Not justifying, just trying to understand.) You are 100% correct about holding compassion and boundaries is important. Reminds me of some Brene Brown teachings. ❤ Best wishes on your IM journey!!

  4. Sounds like she wasn’t writing a comment to you at all; she was writing a comment to her “fat self.” Only because she has a fucked up body image and terrible self-esteem the kindliness is corrupted into a self-loathing defeatist screed.

    Also, she had trouble with her Ironman in spite of the superiority she feels over fat people, and the thought of a fat person completing one when she nearly failed her own probably rankles. Hopefully she can address her body and image issues in the future without involving innocent third parties via concern trolling.

  5. Not only do people have the right to manage their own bodies and health as they see fit and deal with whatever consequences (good or bad) that entails, people have the right to manage their own finances as they see fit. People have their own priorities and passions, and they can choose to invest in them.

    I am a self-admitted cheapskate and I see plenty of people spending money on things that I think are foolish. Quite frankly, unless they’re hitting me up for a loan, it’s not my circus, not my monkeys.

    Cheapskate or no, I have no problem plunking down cash for century bicycle rides I have little to no chance of actually completing. One of these years I may pull it off. If you told me I shouldn’t ride, I might find a new location for my bike pump.

  6. Another terrific post! So much of the envy, hostility, judgement, stereotyping and even outright discrimination that goes on around size is delivered by people who are suffering themselves. There are a lot of sunk costs to defend if you have gotten mired in the perfect-your-body strategy and someone comes along and shows you there is a completely different way to cope. Ragen, your freedom provokes a lot of sphinctered-up responses from the people who have spent their lives decorating their jail cells. It is wonderful that you can hold your heart open to recognizing their suffering even as you stay centered on your own truths and agenda.

    1. “Ragen, your freedom provokes a lot of sphinctered-up responses from the people who have spent their lives decorating their jail cells.”

      THIS so much! Particularly trolls like this who base their self worth and self esteem on the false belief that they are somehow better than fat people. Ragen is challenging their ideals and fat-phobic values – the more scared they are the more they will go out of their way to try and derail and discourage those who challenge their beliefs.

  7. It’s funny because when I first read that you were doing the Ironman, I wondered about the cut off time, not for Ragen, but rather how *I* would feel if I trained so hard for something, but couldn’t complete it because I was too slow in a stage.

    Then I started thinking about Ragen. How did her training for a marathon lead to the Ironman, what was that chain of thought? (Only from a curious not judgmental place) And also I thought about how her previous marathon experience will really help her with the IM.

    People need to mind their own damn business. Whether Ragen finishes or doesn’t finish the IM, even if she decides after some of the other events she does that the IM isn’t for her, it’s nobody’s business but hers.

  8. Without pretending to know for sure, I suspect envy is a HUGE motivator for some of these people. People who have “body issues” often take out their bitterness and frustration on people who are able to not only love themselves, but celebrate their bodies with athletic accomplishments and healthy habits rather than never-ending weight loss attempts.

  9. Some people just don’t seem to grasp the concept of personal goals and challenges. Yeah, an Ironman event is difficult. THAT’S THE POINT. Were it easy, what would be the challenge? Why set our eyes on a goal that doesn’t present difficulties to overcome? Not completing the Ironman in the time allloted isn’t the true failure. The true failure would be quitting without starting, because someone convinced you that you couldn’t do it.

    I’ve gotten some similar concern trolling, as I’ve set a goal to backpack the Grand Canyon rim to rim sometime in the next few years. This after not having done any serious hiking in around 30+ years. I’ve been told it’s a crazy goal, because people have died doing that hike.Um, yeah. People die sitting on their couches watching television, too.

    I’ve been told that, even with loads of training, that hike is still going to kick my butt.

    That’s fine. I still want to do it, and frankly, it’s MY butt that will be getting kicked, so if I’m okay with that, why should it bother anyone else?

    Others are free to set the kinds of goals and challenges for themselves that they find appealing. But as far as our own goals and challenges, my opinion is, if I’m not coming to them for advice (which I have done with some folks I know that have done the R2R hike), then I don’t need their naysaying.

    I need to check out the details of your IM, Ragen, since you mentioned it’s here in Arizona. If it’s somewhere I can manage to get to that day, I’d love to set up along the route and cheer you on as you go by.

      1. I’m thinking about following Ragen’s lead and starting a blog about training and prepping for it. I’ve been carrying my DSLR on my training hikes, though when I actually hike the canyon, I’ll switch back to my little P&S to save on weight and space.

        One of the deciding factors to set that goal was visiting the canyon again earlier this year, and realizing that, for all the times I’ve been there since I was a kid, I’ve never seen it except from the top. It’s such a beautiful area, and I’d really like to see it up close.

        If I do start the blog, I’ll check with Ragen and ask if it’s okay to post the link over here. I suspect it’ll be all right, but it’s common courtesy to not assume.

        1. Woot! I’ve only been once, and that was at the rim for a short period of time, but it is on my bucket list to go back some time, and maybe do something more there.

    1. Best of luck with the hike, hoomi!

      The one that made people tell me I’m nuts was when I made all the lace for my own wedding gown. Yes, finding the materials and resources to learn to make lace well enough was a pain. Yes, it took me a year to make the actual lace, but I looked kickass in a completely original wedding gown decorated with eleven yards of my own handiwork.

      It certainly wasn’t hiking the Grand Canyon or doing IM, but it was something I wanted to do for me. All these years later, I’m very glad I didn’t listen to the people who said it was insane to try. What’s more, I believe I would still be glad of it even if I hadn’t made my goal. I made a lot of friends and had some great experiences at my lace pillow, and I’ve got a fun hobby to this day.

      1. I let people know when I think they are doing something I think is crazy, but I still wish them luck and cheer them. What would be the fun otherwise?

        Did you knit your lace or use bobbins?

        1. bobbins all the way, for me. I’m terrible at knitting. Yes, that’s something I tried that didn’t work out well for me, but I’m still darn glad I tried it.

      2. Twister, I just want you to know that I’m just as impressed with your lacemaking feat as I am with anyone doing am Ironman! (Not to devalue that, of course.)

      3. That was a very cool goal, indeed, and anyone that would think otherwise has no clue about the dedication needed to finish a project like making the lace for your own gown. Eleven yards – WOW.

        That, to me, is one of the cool things about individual goals. We don’t have to all adopt the same challenges or even similar category challenges. Competing in an Ironman and hiking the canyon are both sports-type challenges, but that doesn’t make them superior or more important than hand-making lace or learning an art form or going back to school after many years off or any other daunting challenge.

        I’m betting I’m not the only one that would love to see a photo of that dress!

  10. It strikes me that concern trolls believe in some weird version of the law of conservation of matter — it’s like they’ve decided that body-image baggage can neither be created nor destroyed, so the only way to get rid of it is to transfer their issues to someone else.

    Reminds me of the most wonderful Dear Prudence letter I read this week wherein the woman wrote in because, while hosting Thanksgiving dinner in her own home, she had to deal with being fat shamed by her cousin (who apparent hadn’t dealt with her own issues post-weight loss surgery) throughout the meal. When the cousin likened her to Shamu, the hostess finally lost it, throwing the mashed potatoes at her cousin and kicking her out of the house.

    I found it quite inspirational. Except for the unfortunate fate that befell the mashed potatoes.

    1. “It strikes me that concern trolls believe in some weird version of the law of conservation of matter — it’s like they’ve decided that body-image baggage can neither be created nor destroyed, so the only way to get rid of it is to transfer their issues to someone else.”

      I want you to know that this is my quote of the day! Body acceptance and science geekery combined for the win!

  11. I’m graduating with my bachelor’s in legal studies next Friday, and I’m in the process of applying to law schools. It amazes me how many people feel the need to crap on other people’s dreams and goals, assuming a) what those dreams and goals actually are, and b) what the person’s motivation is. I even mentioned it in my personal statement, that when kids talk about what they want to do with their lives, we encourage them, but when adults do the same thing, we feel the need to tear them down.

    (In case anyone cares about my personal opinion, I figure it’s better to lay out the resources and effort, try, and possibly fail. It’s better than wondering what would have happened if you’d actually given it a shot.)

  12. “But I can set boundaries and hold compassion at the same time and I think that’s worth doing.”
    This is my new daily mantra. Seriously, it is such a wonderful message. Thank you.

  13. While most endurance athletes I’ve met and run with have been positive and supportive (if not super-weird and intense, but that kind of goes with the territory) — there is an element of possessiveness and elitism out there to contend with that I think goes along with deeeeeep insecurity and personal issues. An example: a friend running a 50K — an ultramarathon, his first, which he was proud and happy to compete in — was told dismissively by another competitor that “REAL ultramarathoners don’t consider 50K to be an ultra distance.” F-that, anything longer than a marathon is an ultra, including the 50K distance. But it goes to show that even in a sport filled with positive, encouraging, insanely intense people, there are some people interested in shutting other people down and staking a claim in something so as to exclude others. I’m glad she didn’t spoil it for you.

  14. Hey Ragen,

    I honestly don’t know how you deal with all the hate. I mean we all get it but you deal with it on an industrial scale. You are so amazing and I hope you feel like you get enough gratitude for all the amazing things you do for us. There are a lot of us out here in the trenches who look to your leadership and thank the powers that be for all you do for us.

    Please have a great holiday season and god (she/he/they or it, however you see a greater power) bless you.

  15. The money thing caught my attention. Following that logic, nobody should take a cruise because they might get sick, or buy a new car because it might get wrecked, or get a college degree because you might not end up in the field.

    I know these folks think Ragen’s weight makes her failure a foregone conclusion due to our society’s attitudes, but still. It’s her money to spend as she likes.

    Heck, I’m sure people spend money on IM and get sick or injured and can’t compete in the event. Life happens.

    1. Yes. I have 2 BA’s and can’t get a job in either field. Both are non-traditional (religious studies and history) so you have “translate” the skills into something useful. Lots of time and money wasted.

  16. Deb and Chrissy hit the points I wanted to make on the head with their respective comments. Part of why I love participating in triathlon is because of the physical diversity I see among competitors, and partly for the friendly, empathetic, gracious and compassionate folks who are in my age category. It sucks the excitement out of your dedication and focus to be nattered at by elitist, possessive, competitive-in-the-negative-way folks who don’t get The Underpants Rule. At the end of the day, any number of things can happen just before or during a race that has nothing to do with the competitor’s body, which can affect their performance (e.g., inclement weather, illness, etc.). I am so psyched for your experience of triathlon as another sport that you’ll have under your belt because it’s a sport I love dearly, even though I’m not – nor will I ever likely be – an IM. I will be cheering loudly online for you in your IM year 🙂

  17. Our premier event in endurance riding is the 100 mi Tevis Trail: Lake Tahoe to Auburn, over the Sierra Nevadas. My ex-husband successfully completed it in ’97 (when I was crewing for him; I didn’t have my own mount “legged up” sufficiently at the time), so probably in more of an “Eff You” gesture in the aftermath of our divorce, a generous friend hauled me out there in Y2K… My horse stepped off the trailer lame – I leased a stout mule from a colleague, but missed the cutoff time at 56 mi & was disqualified.
    Worth it?? Every damn step of the way, every last cent I poured into it.
    Eventually I’d like to “try try again”, but the stars haven’t aligned as I struggle more & more just to complete shorter events (most recent 50-miler was miserable – horse was fine, I suffered GI distress, dizziness & nausea). I’m sure some would blame my excess weight, but I know it’s inadequate training on this rider’s part.

    I face a difficult challenge of another sort since I want to participate in a 5-d yoga/horsemanship clinic in Costa Rica at the end of Feb. They set a weight limit of 190 lbs – of course their horses, their rules so I ain’t gonna argue w/pages of statistics, nor my own 8000+ mi of trail experience – I’m buckling down to lose those 20 lbs so I can go on this trip of a lifetime…

      1. “Worth it?? Every damn step of the way, every last cent I poured into it.”

        That right there is the only thing that matters. YOU considered it worth it. Of course, you could always have just blamed not making the time cutoff on having a half-ass mount. 😀 (Yeah, yeah. Ten thousand out of work comedians…)

        Best wishes on making your goal, and getting to enjoy a week in Costa Rica!

  18. It truly is sad when what people take away from their own struggles is the need to tell others not to bother trying.

    I wish this woman could have shared her story of doing IM and her hints for getting through instead of assuring you that you were wasting your money and your time for naught. It’s kind of pitiful to listen to the echoes of her own self-doubt in the concern trolling she sent you.

    Here’s hoping that one day she sees the light of self-love and learns that what a body looks like doesn’t always match up with what she would expect that body to be capable of. Letting go of the hype would make her life much, much happier, I suspect.

    As for you, Ragen, rock on!

    1. I suspect the reason she reacted the way she did isn’t that she thinks Ragen will fail but she’s scared Ragen will equal or beat her time.

      Since it appears she has some serious body image issues the idea that someone who is not only fat but happy with their body while fat can not only compete at the same level as her but potentially beat her achievement will be heartbreaking to her. Especially if she is surrounded by people who mainly value her for her appearance.

  19. It sounds a whole lot to me like, “I did this and it was really hard for me and it is going to destroy me if someone I deem under me does it in my time or better, so I need to contact all those people and encourage them to quit so I can be emotionally stable.” But that is just me wearing my psychic hat myself.

    1. Yes, I thought that too. Someone she deems under her. It’s like that look of angry indignation women get on their faces when they see you with a man who is particularly handsome or slender or JUST NOT FAT TOO. I used to get that a lot when I was younger.

  20. My sister is the big Crapper On Dreams in our family, and she often uses the cost of something as an excuse, even when it pales in comparison to her own spending. Some years ago a vet suggested I take my sick cat to a specialist in a nearby town. It was a 6 hour drive round-trip, so because kitty had to stay in the hospital there overnight, I got a room at an inexpensive chain hotel. Well, my sister hates cats and actually wanted my cat to DIE so she went on and on to everyone in the family about the COST, the HOTEL, the GAS, the VET BILLS when, in her opinion, nothing was really wrong with him (turned out he had spinal cord cancer). Yet every couple months she would fly somewhere for a vacation, and stay in fine hotels and spas for a week or more, just as a treat for herself. The grasp on reality is not strong in her.

  21. I have a sneaking suspicion that the concern troll who is supposedly just concerned about how much money Ragen might “waste” on the IM would have no problem turning around and encouraging Ragen to spend exorbitant amounts of money on weight loss or “lifestyle change” schemes that are basically guaranteed not to work. Ugh concern trolls are so frustrating especially because they really believe they are just looking out for the other person’s own good, but yet they are hurting those people.

  22. Hahah Oh my goodness! The amount of entitlement and self importance that lady shows in her horribly inappropriate email to you is just mind boggling. My jaw dropped when I read “show me how wrong I am. I’m okay with that.” …LOL WHAT!? She’s so full of herself that she thinks that you have something to prove to her? A complete stranger? A rude, narcissistic, disgustingly fat-phobic, complete stranger. Wow.

    The thing that really bites my ass is that if she was talking to a thin person, I have NO DOUBT that she would be encouraging her, giving her a pep talk, showing her support, and would try to persuade her to stick with it even though it’s hard, and tell her that even though she may fail it’s a worth while and valuable goal that is worth shooting for.

    Thin people are allowed to have goals and shoot for hard things, they are encouraged to do so, but fat people are told not to bother, that they are just “setting themselves up for failure”. What is this horrible woman so afraid of? Ohhh wait, I know, she’s afraid that you will not only succeed, but that you’ll BEAT HER TIME and damage her fragile self esteem – self esteem based on the belief that she is somehow better than non-thin people, simply because of her smaller body size.

    Her email is laced with her fear. That’s what brings out these trolls, they are afraid. You’re challenging their ideals and belief system, a false and sad belief system that they base their sense of self worth on.

  23. Her bringing up the costs of training is just extra ridiculous. I think you can do the Ironman and will be rooting you on from across the country, but what if you didn’t finish in time? How would that make all the training not worth it? Also it’s not like it’s a one time shot. If you didn’t make it in 2016 there well be other Ironman’s if you wanted to try again. The bike and other gear for training and the race still wouldn’t be going to waste.

    I’m not cheap so much as poor, but I came up with the money awhile back for an event wanted to do (cheaper, short, and less competitive than an Ironman). I haven’t talked about it much because it was a very bad experience- I got sick right before, but having already bought my ticket and really looking forward to it, I decided to try pushing myself through it anyways. Long story short, I couldn’t and did not complete.
    But ya know what? I’m going to keep training and I am determined I will finish next year (already bought my ticket for next year too).

    So I just don’t get trying to discourage people because they might not make it, or laughing if they don’t. And I’m glad no one said anything like that to my face at least. Before when I was sick most people encouraged me to at least try my best. When that didn’t work out, comments were all “at least you tried. And you’ll do better next year.” Not “haha! You failed!”

    1. That’s awesome that you’re excited about giving it another try, especially after having a negative first experience. You’re the kind of competitor/participant that I love to see at the event! Go you!!

  24. I’m not native speaking english but I do hope you understand me anyway :)!
    I find it admireble how you can stand against these concerned do you do it?

    For me, it would make me so sad and probably after a while break my spirit. On the other hand I have an eatingdissorder that is influencing my everyday life :(.
    It’s so nice to read about health at every size and size acepence and is something I work on every day.

    All my love and thank you for your blog :)!!

  25. I came to this episode of *Concern Troll* via the more recent 2016 post on the subject. I have to say, I have needed this kind of inspiration, notsomuch to learn how to respond to a *CT*, but to understand that what CTs do to others is NOT OK — no matter what the concern of the CT might be as “fat” is nowhere near the only subset of humans who are trolled w/feigning concern.

    You are a great writer, Ragen. Thanks.

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