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Dark Ambitions January 18, 2012

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On Wednesday, we usually have a new post. In fact, we’ve never missed a regular Wednesday post in 565 days. This week, we had something planned about failure as part of the process in some big accomplishments. Instead, we’re participating in the blackout to oppose SOPA and support a free and open Internet.

We want to make it clear that our decision is not a stance in support of Internet piracy nor is it a statement against the rights of content creators like ourselves. Lofty Ambitions blog abides by copyright law. All our posts are original work by the two of us or by the guest bloggers invited to submit their original work. We retain the rights to what we write, and a guest blogger reacquires all rights to his or her work once we post it so that he or she can, say, include that write-up in a future book (with, we hope, acknowledgement). In addition, the images we use are either photographs we’ve taken, images in the public domain (thank you, NASA), or photos we’ve been granted permission to use. We conducted and filmed our video interviews. On a couple of occasions, mostly in the spirit of fun, we have re-posted videos from YouTube as WordPress.com allows.

If you want to know more about SOPA and the blackout, check Wikipedia’s explanation HERE or Google’s explanation HERE.

We’ll be back. For now, we go black.

Guest Blog: A Year-End Round-Up December 5, 2011

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Lofty Ambitions has been posting pieces by guest bloggers for more than a year now. We’ve been grateful to be able to share a wide range of voices, ideas, and topics with our readers, all the while remaining focused on the blog’s main interests of aviation and space exploration, science of the twentieth century and beyond, and writing as a couple.

With the holidays coming up and the calendar year’s end nearing, we decided to use this December guest blog spot to point out some of our guests’ books, just in case you have some holiday shopping to do or need a reading treat for yourself. We also have some non-book suggestions too!

To see all guest blog posts, click on the menu tab for “guest blogs.”


The Boiling Season by Christopher Hebert, a novel due out in March

Welcome to Shirley by Kelly McMasters, a memoir about growing up nuclear

Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl by Sandra Beasley, a memoir about allergies that is a Goodreads nomination for Best Food & Cooking

Celluloid Strangers by Eric Wasserman, a novel set in post-WWII Los Angeles

The Time It Takes to Fall by Margaret Lazarus Dean, a novel set on the Space Coast

Friendly Fallout 1953 by Ann Ronald, nuclear short stories

The Resurrection Trade by Leslie Adrienne Miller, a poetry collection (Y is forthcoming)

the weight of dew by Daniela Elza, a poetry collection due out in April

Truth, Lies and O-Rings by Allan J. McDonald, nonfiction about Challenger

Challenger Revealed by Richard C. Cook, nonfiction

The Berlin Candy Bomber by Gail Halvorson, nonfiction

AC/DC’s Highway to Hell by Joe Bonomo, nonfiction


The film Welcome to Shirley, based on Kelly McMasters’s memoir, made it into Sundance Film Festival this year. Watch the trailer HERE.

Ken Kremer had slideshow featured in Scientific American in August. View those photos HERE.

Lylie Fisher is showing some of her artwork in the exhibit The Space Between at the American Center for Physics gallery in College Park, Maryland, through May 4, 2012.

The Roger and Roberta Boisjoly Challenger Disaster Collection is housed at Chapman University. You can access the finding aid HERE, but there’s a lot more materials to come as they get sorted and catalogued from the many boxes from Roger’s garage.

Joe Bonomo has a piece in the first online issue of The Bellingham Review.

Christopher Cowen’s An Article of Hope was shown at the Atlanta Film Festival and L.A. Jewish Film Festival.

WE ALSO RECOMMEND the work of our new colleague Tom Zoellner. He joined Chapman University’s faculty this fall, and we’d already read his book Uranium, for which he made an appearance on The Daily Show. Tom’s new book, A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us about the Grand Canyon State and Life in America, is due out later this month and is available for pre-order at Powell’s HERE.

Tom and Anna will appear together on the panel “Fallout & Facts: Creative Nonfiction in the Nuclear Age” at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference on March 2, 2012, in Chicago. Both Tom and Anna will sign books on March 3 at the conference bookfair (Table D-21), which is open to the public that Saturday. Other “Fallout & Facts” panelists include Kristen Iversen, M .G. Lord, and Jeff Porter—all of whom have books available or forthcoming soon that are of interest to us here at Lofty Ambitions.

Last Chance to See (Appendix/TOC) July 29, 2011

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Information, Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
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Lofty Ambitions with Atlantis before Last Launch

On Wednesday, we concluded our series “Last Chance to See.” Here is a Table of Contents of sorts, with links and brief descriptions, for this series. Most posts include several of our own photographs; we have noted posts that include video and/or more than the usual number of photos. We’ve also listed our July guest bloggers at the bottom because they, too, fit the topic and themes of “Last Chance to See.”

Part 1: Introduction: Last Chance to See the shuttle and Atlantis in particular (lots of photos)

Part 2: Atlantis rolls over to VAB (video)

Part 3: Arrival at Kennedy Space Center

Part 4: Visit to the launch pad (photos of Atlantis)

Part 5: Pre-launch activities (photos of astronaut walkout)



Part 8: Tidbits from Kennedy Space Center

Part 9: Journey of the last shuttle solid rocket booster (lots of photos)

Part 10: Decommissioning Endeavour (inside look & video interview)

Part 11: Space shuttle poetry

Part 12: Mission time & music

Part 13: STS-135 media coverage (lots of links to Lofty elsewhere)

Part 14: The future & SpaceX

Part 15: STS-135 crew (lots of photos)

Part 16: Landings past (Apollo 11) and future (STS-135)

Part 17: End of STS-135 mission & answering critiques

Part 18: Shuttle as concept

Part 19: Conclusion: nature & technology meet

Guest Blogger: Margaret Lazarus Dean: How To Be a Fiction-Writer Space-Geek in 20 Steps

Guest Blogger: Omar Izquierdo: End of Shuttle




Happy Anniversary! July 1, 2011

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Collaboration, Information, Writing.

One year ago today, we launched Lofty Ambitions (click HERE for our launch post). We chose our three-pronged focus carefully: science of the twentieth century and beyond, aviation and spaceflight, and writing as a couple. Those topics drew from our deep, shared interests but gave us plenty of room to maneuver. As you can tell from the Lofty Topics in our sidebar, we gravitated, over the past year, especially to the space shuttle and various things nuclear, in large part because world events pointed us to these two topics that were already of interest. Had the space shuttle program not been set to end in 2011, we would have launched this blog anyway. But if we hadn’t launched this blog, we aren’t sure we would have gone to such lengths to see a space shuttle launch. We’re all in now and packing our bags for the last launch, scheduled for July 8.

Anna in jet engine at MSI

When we began this endeavor (or do we spell it Endeavour now) a year ago, we committed to writing a post together for each Wednesday. We are proud to report that we have not missed a single week, though there was one Wednesday when the post went up with just two minutes to spare (already almost 3a.m. on the East Coast) and needed some immediate editing. The length of a blog post is manageable (in fact, some weeks, it’s so manageable that we run longer than we expected), and it forces us to shape our ideas. Having a weekly deadline makes us think about what we know that’s worthy of several hundred words and how to balance planning, drafting, and revising. There’s a certain buzz one gets with a tight deadline. Like having your cake and eating it too, we are always meeting a deadline only to face a deadline.

Doug & Anna at Bandelier National Monument

Collaborating has not always been easy, but it continues to be rewarding week to week. At first, we always sat down to brainstorm and draft together, often mapping out a couple of week’s worth of ideas and drafting sentence by sentence together the piece we needed to post pronto. While we still enjoy doing that, schedules and other constraints have forced us to come up with a variety of ways to collaborate. Sometimes, Doug will draft the entire post, and Anna will rework it. Other times, Anna will draft the post, leaving Doug to fill in gaps noted in all-caps or to stylize rather dry paragraphs. We’ve developed a good sense of the voice we’ve created together. Occasionally, a reader who knows us may be able to point a particular sentence that was surely written by one or the other us, but sometimes we laugh that Anna wrote a Doug sentence or vice versa. We have never posted work that we have not both had a hand in creating.

Doug & Enterprise at NASM

Well, that’s not exactly true. We added guest posts on every first and third Monday, beginning with Chris Cowen, a film producer, on September 27 of last year. (Click HERE for our first guest post.) The variety of our guest list surprises even us: artists, poets, scientists, pilots, and an eighth-grader. On Independence Day, we will post a piece by our twenty-first guest blogger (twenty dates, but we had two guest bloggers on January 17 to commemorate the impending anniversary of the Challenger accident), novelist Margaret Lazarus Dean. We hope to meet Margaret later in the week because she’s a space nerd too and will be at the Space Coast for the last shuttle launch. In a recent email, Margaret said that if we gathered all of the people together for a party who were interested in literature and space exploration, that we probably wouldn’t need a very large room. But, it sure would be a great party. We couldn’t agree more.

A couple of months ago, we began running, on the second and fourth Mondays of the month, the video interviews we’ve accumulated. We started with Mike Coats, astronaut and Director of Johnson Space Center, who grew up in Riverside, California, and reprimands Anna for not having yet visited Disneyland. (Click HERE for out first video interview.) We have a bunch more videos, including the charming Apollo astronaut Charlie Duke, whose eyes light up when he talks about flying.

So you can count on something new at Lofty Ambitions every Wednesday and most Mondays, and sometimes we have extras. In fact, “On Today’s Date: August 29 & 30” continues to attract hits most days; we’re not sure why that little gem has staying power.

Today’s post is number 138. For the arithmetically inclined, that means we’re getting something Lofty to you every 2.65 days. The hits the blog has had in the first six months of this year is more than double the last six months of last year (its first six months). April was the blog’s busiest month; we wrote in earnest and in depth about nuclear energy and started our series “A Launch to Remember” (the CONCLUSION includes links to the whole series, and there’s a post-series photo post.) We consider several of that month’s pieces some of our best work together; by then, our voice had come into its own, and we stretched ourselves. May 16 was our busiest single day; no wonder, as that day featured our brief, shaky, but hard-earned video of Endeavour’s launch and the guest post by aviation museum curator Stewart Bailey. The light-traffic day of the week is usually Saturday, so if you’re surfing the Internet on the weekend, give us a click.

We’re looking forward to our second year here at Lofty Ambitions. We don’t know exactly what we’ll cover over the next year, but we’re giddy about next week’s trip and the new series it will generate. We leave for Florida on Wednesday evening and don’t expect a chance for shut-eye until Friday night. That is, if Atlantis lifts off on time. Keep checking back.

Interview: Mike Coats May 23, 2011

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Information, Science, Space Exploration, Video Interviews.
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This video launches our NEW INTERVIEW FEATURE, which will appear every 2nd and 4th Monday of the month. To mark the end of the space shuttle program this year, we’ll begin with a series of interviews we’ve done with astronauts in that program. We have a lot more in store, including interviews with Apollo astronauts Charlie Duke and Walt Cunningham as well as with the first nurse to the astronauts.

Don’t worry! We’re keeping our established format as well. Our guest blog feature continues on the 1st and 3rd Mondays of the month, and we post a regular piece every Wednesday. We include extra posts now and then too.

Today, we begin our interview feature with Michael Coats. We interviewed the Director of Johnson Space Center when we were at Kennedy Space Center for what turned out to be space shuttle Discovery’s not-launch last year. Astronaut Mike Coats flew on Discovery three times. He also grew up in Southern California so you can hear him reprimand Anna for not yet having visited the happiest place on earth.

A Launch to Remember (Conclusion!) May 17, 2011

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Information, Space Exploration.
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The past few days have been amazing! We’ve learned a lot, and we’ve had fun. That’s not to say that “A Launch to Remember” was easy for us. In fact, we’ve been running ourselves pretty ragged.

Anna at Atlantis Rollover on May 17, 2011

Two cross-country trips in two weeks without missing any classes was a bit of a feat for Anna. And the lack of sleep and twelve-hour workdays may be taking its toll on both of us. We were up by 2:00a.m on Monday to see the launch; we woke at 5a.m. today to see Atlantis roll over from the Orbital Processing Facility to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), and then we did the “Then and Now” tour of launch pads at Cape Canaveral; and we’ll drag ourselves out of bed at 2:00a.m. tomorrow morning with hopes of seeing Atlantis “lift to mate” to the fuel assembly in the VAB. In fact, our last day (tomorrow) may be our busiest, with an interview scheduled before we take our flight home so that Anna can meet with her graduate students in the evening.

Doug at Atlantis Rollover on May 17, 2011

Just because it’s hard work, of course, doesn’t mean “A Launch to Remember” has not been thoroughly enjoyable at every stage. We know we’re lucky to have this opportunity. Maybe that’s why we’re expending as much effort as we can muster. We know this trip is not going to last beyond tomorrow. We know the space shuttle program will end soon too.

This concludes “A Launch to Remember” because Endeavour launched, and we saw our first space shuttle launch. Now, it’s the beginning of the end of Atlantis, too. Below, see our Table of Contents for this series (CLICK to view the individual posts):

Part 1: We Get Media Credentials

Part 2: A Space Shuttle Tile in Our Hands and the Leatherby Libraries Collection

Part 3: Arrival at the Space Coast

Part 4: Launch Is Looking Good

Part 5: About the STS-134 Crew, especially Mike Fincke

Part 6: STS-134 Crew Walkout & President Obama’s Visit to KSC

Part 7: PHOTOS of Space Coast Wildlife (Alligator!)

Part 8: Endeavour’s Delay

Part 9: On Leaving the Space Coast

Part 10: On Being a Couple of Journalists and VIDEOS of Us on NASA-TV

Part 11: Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

Part 12: Rotating Service Structure Rollback PHOTOS

Part 13: STS-134 Crew Walkout PHOTOS and more

Part 14: VIDEO of Endeavour Launch

Part 15: This POst (TOC)

Part 16: Launch Photos





A Launch to Remember (Part 9) May 3, 2011

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Doug and STS-133 Astronaut Michael Barratt

While we’ll likely have another post or two in this “A Launch to Remember” series when Endeavour actually launches, we leave Florida today to head home to Southern California. Besides, the NASA shuttle management team met yesterday and decided that May 10 is now the earliest possible launch date. The latest news from Kennedy Space Center: “The date [May 10] is success oriented based on preliminary schedules to replace a faulty Load Control Assembly (LCA) box in the orbiter’s aft compartment.” That means that the swap-out of the LCA box must go smoothly, they must prove that the problem is in the old box, and they must not discover a problem elsewhere as they test the nine systems to which the new box will be connected. To launch on May 10, everything must go exactly right.

STS-134 Crew Patch

This morning, we have an interview scheduled with Stephanie Stilson, the NASA manager who is overseeing the process from each shuttle’s last landing to their transportation to the museums where they will go on permanent display. We’re working several angles of the larger space shuttle story, and we’re thinking about what that might bring to Lofty Ambitions.

After today, though, we’ll take a break from our series. In fact, tomorrow’s regular post will be about radioactivity and the ways we think about risk. In the meantime, here is an overview of what we’ve covered in “A Launch to Remember.” Just CLICK on the PART to read that post.

PART 1 (April 22): Lofty Ambitions is awarded media credentials thanks to Chapman Magazine and Knox Magazine.

PART 2 (April 25): Lofty Ambitions examines the space shuttle tile that the Leatherby Libraries archives recently acquired; Doug is overseeing the acquisition of NASA artifacts there.

PART 3 (Thursday night & Friday morning): We arrive at the Space Coast, discover some things have changed in Titusville, try to adjust to the time difference, and wake at 5a.m.

PART 4 (Friday morning): At this point, launch is a go for the afternoon, the external tank is being filled with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and we’re pretty excited.

PART 5 (Friday afternoon): Lofty Ambitions focuses on the STS-134 crew, particularly Commander Mark Kelly (also see posts HERE and HERE) and Mission Specialist Mike Fincke, a new favorite of ours.

PART 6 (Friday afternoon): In person from just yards away, we see the astronaut crew in their orange launch suits as they head to the Pad 39A. After the launch is scrubbed, we catch a glimpse of the president’s motorcade; he says if the launch is Monday, he can’t return for it because he has plans (we now know what those plans were).

PART 7 (Sunday morning): Lofty Ambitions features the creatures of the space coast, including an alligator.

PART 8 (Sunday afternoon): We each ask questions at the Launch Status Briefing on NASA-TV, find out exactly what’s holding up the launch, and that it’ll take time to fix.

PART 9 (Tuesday morning): On Monday, Lofty Ambitions featured guest blogger Bill Taber, who also wrote about space exploration. Part 9 is the post you are reading.

For our earlier series “Countdown to the Cape,” about our trip to see Discovery‘s not-launch, see posts from October 27, 2010, through November 7, 2010.

25th Anniversary of the Challenger Accident January 24, 2011

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Information, Space Exploration.

This coming Friday marks the 25th anniversary of the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger shortly after launch. We were college students on January 28, 1986.

To commemorate the Challenger accident, Chapman University is hosting a symposium today (Monday, January 24) at 2-5pm in Sandhu Conference Center. “Truth, Lies, and O-rings: Lessons from Challenger” features Lofty Ambitions guest bloggers Richard C. Cook and Allan J. McDonald. Read their posts here (includes CNN video) and here.

The symposium will also feature artifacts (an o-ring?) and documents from the Roger and Roberta Boisjoly Challenger Disaster Collection. Boisjoly, Cook, and McDonald were all whistleblowers in the wake of the space shuttle accident. Boisjoly donated his papers to Leatherby Libraries at Chapman University. He was also a guest blogger at Lofty Ambitions. Read his post here.

We also include discussion of Challenger in one of our “Countdown to the Cape” posts here. You can view the report from the Presidential Commission (before which the whistleblowers testified) here.

Below is a 45-minute NASA documentary of the launch and investigation. If you watch the entire video, you get a sense of exactly what happened, where the o-ring was, where the plume of flame emerged, how the shuttle broke apart, even the path of the crew cabin as it fell to the ocean, and how the shuttle parts were recovered and reconstructed.

Guest Blog: Christopher Cowen September 27, 2010

Posted by Lofty Ambitions in Guest Blogs, Information, Space Exploration.

Today, we launch our Guest Blog feature at Lofty Ambitions. Guest Blogs will continue to appear every first and third Monday of the month. Our first Guest Blogger is Christopher Cowen, who will be at Chapman University on October 5, 2010, to show and discuss the film An Article of Hope. The event is open to the public and is hosted by the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education. Click here for more information.

Christopher G. Cowen (photo by Mark Cowen)

Christopher Cowen is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and is the VP of Original Programming at the award-winning television and marketing content firm Herzog & Company.  A native Californian, he began his career in entertainment as a production assistant on the blockbuster motion picture Apollo 13.  He has worked on other motion pictures and television projects including: From the Earth to the Moon, The Eco-Challenge, Dante’s Peak, and The Chamber.  In 1998, Cowen joined Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman’s Playtone Company as a Development Executive and worked on a myriad of Playtone projects, including The Polar Express, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Band of Brothers. Cowen went on to serve as a Writer and Associate Producer on the IMAX feature presentation Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D. Most recently, he acted as the producer on the Oscar short-listed David McCullough: Painting with Words and the History Channel special The Real Robin Hood.


"The Beach House" (NASA photo)

There is a place at Kennedy Space Center that holds an enormous historical and personal significance to me. It’s called the Kennedy Space Center Conference Center now, but before NASA became too politically correct, it was simply called “the Beach House.” Since the days of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, it has been a place for astronauts and their families to relax, and spend some personal time with family and friends before their flight.

Colonel Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, and his family spent time there, as did the rest of the ill-fated crew of Columbia (STS-107). I have spent that last seven years getting to know Ilan Ramon posthumously as I served as a producer on the documentary An Article of Hope. The film details a story that begins in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust, where a young boy, Joachim “Yoya” Joseph, had his Bar Mitzvah and was given a tiny torah scroll by a Rabbi in the camp. The boy survived, and went on to become Dr. Joachim Joseph, a prominent Israeli scientist who helped train the Columbia astronauts for an Israeli experiment that was to be carried into space. Besides their common faith, Colonel Ramon and Yoya’s bond sprung forth out of the unifying fact that Ilan’s mother and grandmother were held at Auschwitz. The two friends decided that Ramon should carry the tiny torah scroll onboard Columbia to show the world that the human spirit can transcend the depths of hell and go to the heights of space.

I imagine the conversations that took place between Ilan Ramon and his wife, Rona, at the Beach House. I think about them standing on the deck—looking out at the beautiful coastal waters of the Cape and filled with excitement for the mission. I am sure that Ilan had moments of deep reflection, knowing that he carried a great burden on his shoulders being the first Israeli astronaut. He was going into space not only as a representative of all the people of Israel, but of all the Jewish people throughout the world. But his mission had a deeper personal significance; he was carrying the tiny torah scroll that had been birthed in a death camp. The scroll survived a place that was intended to stomp out diversity in the world, and now he was part of a multinational crew that would showcase diversity on the global stage as they launched into the heavens. I imagine he took great pride in knowing that would be his legacy.

Chris Cowen, Eugene Cernan (Apollo 17), Neil Armstrong (Apollo 11) (NASA photo)

I am privileged to have had the chance to spend time at the Beach House. In 1998, while working on the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon, we were allowed to film there and it has always stuck in my mind. I remember standing there and thinking about those that had been there before—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Mike Collins before landing on the Moon, the Challenger crew, those on the first Shuttle flight, the crew of Apollo 1. I remember thinking that the Beach House was a place of historic significance that would probably never be on any tour, but that maybe it should be. Or, maybe the beach house is a sacred place for those of us who support and believe in mankind’s need to explore. At the end of the day, is our manned spaceflight program about how many rocks we brought home from the Moon? Or whether or not ants can live in space? I think that if the walls of the Beach House could talk, we would realize it’s about the more personal stories of triumph, tragedy, friendship, love, passion, and belief.

The American public is bombarded with images and factoids of why astronauts are national heroes in the vein of Superman. I think we need to take off the cape, strip off the superhero suit, and think of them as men and women standing on a porch filled with nervous energy and excitement—looking out at the ocean knowing they will soon leave the earth to celebrate a grand human achievement. The men and women who launch themselves into space are more akin to the likes of Clark Kent. They have families and friends, they dream big dreams, and they suffer losses just like you and I. I never met Ilan Ramon, but I imagine him standing on the porch of the Beach House looking to the heavens and knowing that his dreams would one day be fulfilled.

Guest Blog Announced! September 12, 2010

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Lofty Ambitions announces the launch a Guest Blog feature with a special piece by Christopher Cowen on Monday, September 27. Christopher Cowen is Vice President of Original Programming at Herzog & Company and started his career as a production assistant on the film Apollo 13. He’ll visit Chapman University on October 5 for a special showing of the documentary he’s produced, An Article of Hope, hosted by the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education.

After that, Guest Blogs will appear at Lofty Ambitions every first and third Monday of the month. October guest bloggers will be 7th-grader Jack Dechow on his summer course about the physics of flight and poet, essayist, and blogger Joe Bonomo on his father, an IBM mathematician working on unmanned spaceflight.

Mark your calendars for Lofty Ambitions Guest Blogs! Subscribe via e-mail so you don’t miss anything! To subscribe, just enter your email address in the upper-right side bar (UNDER the search tool) and hit “Sign me up!”

Vote for the wake-up song for NASA’s STS-133, the penultimate Shuttle mission scheduled to launch on November 1. To vote, click here.


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