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The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth – Walter Alvarez


The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth

Walter Alvarez

Genre: Geology

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: December 17, 2008

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

One of the world's leading geologists takes readers into Italy's Apennine Mountain Range—the Mountains of Saint Francis—on a journey to discover the fascinating secrets of the Earth's deep history. Modern geologists, Walter Alvarez among them, showed in the last decades of the twentieth century that the history of our planet has witnessed events profoundly more dramatic than even the most spectacular chapters in human history. More violent than wars, more life altering than revolutions—understanding the geologic events that have shaped the Earth's surface is the quest and the passion of geologists. In the knowledgeable and graceful prose of Alvarez, general readers are led to explore the many mysteries that our planet guards. The author has chosen Italy as a microcosm in which to explore this amazing past for several reasons. First, it is the land where the earliest geologists learned how to read the history of the Earth, written in nature’s rock archives. Second, it is where Alvarez and his Italian geological friends have continued to decipher the rock record, uncovering more historical episodes from the Earth’s past. And third, the lovely land of Italy is unusually rich in geological treasures and offers examples of the key processes that have created the landscapes of the entire world. The Mountains of Saint Francis begins in Rome. We discover that the landscape of Rome was built by violent volcanic eruptions in the very recent past, almost certainly witnessed by our human ancestors. Next we travel to Siena and come face to face with a fundamental discovery of the geologists—that much of the dry land that we currently inhabit was once underwater, beneath ancient seas or oceans. Then we stop in the small medieval city of Gubbio and contemplate the amazing secret that the limestone rocks kept hidden for 65 million years—that a huge asteroid smashed into the Earth, disrupting the environment so severely that the dinosaurs, and perhaps half of the other forms of life inhabiting the Earth at the time, disappeared forever, opening the way for the rise of the mammals and eventually of humans. The impact theory that came from those Italian limestones at Gubbio was one of the great geological discoveries of the twentieth century. Just as important to the field of geology was the theory of plate tectonics—the understanding that the outer layer of the Earth is divided into crustal plates that move around, sometimes carrying continents into collisions with one another, like the great collision between Italy and Europe that built the Alps. And yet, to explain the Mountains of Saint Francis requires something more than a collision between continents. These are mountains that are still jealously guarding the secret of their past, and in this book we go along with the geological detectives as they try to uncover that secret. It is a journey that has seen the land of Italy lifted out of the sea, squashed and folded, torn apart, left high and dry when the Mediterranean Sea evaporated away, and then flooded when the Atlantic waters poured back in. The story of the Earth's history is fascinating in its own right, but with Alvarez as the tour guide, the journey takes on a human dimension, full of stories about the landscape and history of Italy and about the great geologists who uncovered the deep past of this land. It is a journey recounted in warm tones and subtle colors, reflecting the transcendent beauty of Italy itself.

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The Mountains of Saint Francis: Discovering the Geologic Events That Shaped Our Earth – Walter Alvarez

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What the Los Angeles Auto Show tells us about the future of cars

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If you ask anyone about the future of the auto industry, it’s all about electrification, ride sharing, and autonomous driving. But in the short-term, at least for automakers, it’s pure anxiety.

Not only did General Motors recently reveal plans to discontinue six of its car models by the end of 2019 (including its only electric offering, the Chevrolet Volt), the Trump administration announced earlier this week that it intends to end automaker subsidies for electric cars after 2022. If pleasing the consumer weren’t enough, now car manufacturers have to worry about a president who clearly doesn’t grasp the complexities of their industry.

Caught between the consumer demands of today and the technology of tomorrow, American auto manufacturers are being pulled in two very disparate directions. Case in point, The Los Angeles Auto Show, which kicked off this weekend to packed crowds, has come to be about two, at times, contradictory concepts: luxury and the environment.

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Finally for those awaiting an electric car that doesn’t look like a science experiment, there’s the Range Rover Plug-in hybrid, Jaguar I-pace (a hybrid SUV), and BMW i8 Roadster and Convertible. Despite the death of the Chevy Volt, nearly every manufacturer is making some sort of entry into electric vehicles, meaning there is more room for fun. EVs aren’t just econo-boxes anymore; the technology is reaching into all aspects of the auto industry, which offers (greener) hope for their future.

In the meantime, however, American car companies still rely heavily on sales of pickup trucks and SUVs. In recent years the balance in the car world has shifted from passenger sedans to SUVs and pickup trucks. When General Motors recently announced it was restructuring, laying off nearly 15 percent of its salaried employees and changing its production offerings, it wasn’t so much an industry shake-up as an aftershock. Ford and Chrysler have largely abandoned sedans, GM is the last of the big American carmakers to make the move.

So how can industry aficionados pursue both what we want (SUVs) and (what we need) new electric options, both snazzy and standard?

The L.A. auto show says as much about the city as it does the state of the industry. The City of Angels is one of the biggest and most important car markets in the U.S., and what happens at this auto show has consequences. As someone who’s been covering the industry for nearly a decade, there’s a lot on display beyond the shiny coats of wax and ginormous red bows.

Here’s what the auto show’s offerings say about the future direction of the auto industry:

SUVs are getting greener

In the U.S., more SUVs and pickup trucks are sold than cars. But that doesn’t necessarily mean people want to drive gas-guzzlers. Consumers are flocking to more fuel-efficient crossover SUVs, such as the Honda CRV. Companies such as Volvo are introducing hybrids, and Kia unveiled its Niro EV. SUVs are getting more fuel-efficient, though three-row SUVs are showing no signs of going away — Ford’s Lincoln brand debuted a new Navigator and BMW showed off its xDrive40i model.

Electric vehicles are still the future (globally)

At a time when other automakers are turning out new hybrid models, what are we to make of GM putting the Volt on the chopping block? It’s not the first time the car company has done away with its electric vehicle offerings. (GM killed the EV-1 back in the ‘90s, then introduced the Volt in 2011.)

Environmentalists have long worried carmakers would abandon electric vehicles due to lagging sales (as they have before). And despite all the space on the show floor for electric cars, U.S. consumers have still not embraced them. Without the federal government incentivizing EVs, you’d expect carmakers to be running in the other direction.

But the good news is even if the current administration isn’t interested in the electric vehicles, California, China, and European nations surely are. China has followed the Golden State’s lead in pushing hard for electric vehicles. Air quality in China is an important political issue. On a tour I took of Chinese manufacturers last year, officials admitted that party leaders feel popular opinion about the environment could threaten their hold on power.

Because of the Chinese and European commitments to electric vehicles, the global market for EVs doesn’t appear to be facing extinction. But despite Tesla’s popularity, EV sales are not what they need to be domestically to make them major market winners.

Vehicles are getting more autonomous and more craaaazy

Veteran car journalist Jean Jennings told me, with a bit of regret in her voice, that the future of the industry is “shared rides, electric cars, and autonomous.” In many ways Jennings says the work that it’s going to take for GM to get to a cleaner, safer, profitable future demands rethinking how the cars are made — and that mean no driver instead of no gas.

A person driving a 2003 Honda Civic would barely recognize the driver-assist technology of today like automated braking and adaptive cruise control. Now, the most exciting tech geared toward driver-assist includes I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-magic features that allow a driver to essentially see through the engine block (making parking easier), and map-the-city visualizations that use the pipes and wires under the road to help autonomous vehicles find their way.

Tough air quality standards are likely here to stay

California’s Air Resources Board, soon to be led by California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom, is expected to fight a long battle with federal regulators to preserve the right for the state to set tougher emissions standards than the rest of the country. Trump being in office might seem like an opportune moment for the auto industry’s air quality standards to relax significantly; but China is the market driving these regulations now, and people there really care about air quality.

Politics and the auto industry typically do not mix well

The talk of this auto show was GM, in part because so many GM workers at the show only have months left at their jobs. It was these job cuts, after a bailout from taxpayers, that drew the ire of President “Tariff man” Trump, whose threats to discontinue electric car subsidies have not played well with industry professionals.

President Trump isn’t the first politician to try to use auto executives as a convenient punching bag. CEOs of car manufacturers haven’t done themselves any favors by, say, opposing airbags and fuel economy standards in the past. But this administration’s public feud is causing major road burn in the industry — and not only for GM. If the president intended to punish the Detroit-based company, he failed to grasp an important part of the electric vehicle rules from the Obama era: Because GM got in early on plug-in electric vehicles, it’s already used up most of its federally backed incentives to sell electric cars. (And its credits drying up is what made the Volt expendable.

Buckle up, because auto trends are part of a cycle

If the future of the industry were a race, it’d be the Indianapolis 500: fast and circular. Take GM’s cuts: The auto industry is cyclical, and layoffs are no surprise. Reshaping the current GM line-up also seems to this reporter (the child and grandchild of auto workers) to be a part of that cycle.

What’s interesting to me about this auto show is the feeling of déjà vu. American car makers are turning away from sedans, just as they did in the early 2000s The shift may not be forever — especially considering that some companies, such as Honda, are investing MORE money in its small cars. As Honda executive Sage Marie pointed out, the company is both investing in sedans and looking to emerging markets, while the American car companies stay wedded to pickups.

So when it comes to predicting the future of the auto industry, don’t get trapped by what’s just around the bend. Automakers are still, in general, looking toward a greener future… but there might be a few pit stops along the way.

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What the Los Angeles Auto Show tells us about the future of cars

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Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat – Barry Estabrook


Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat
Barry Estabrook

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: May 4, 2015

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W. W. Norton

A Splendid Table Staff Book Pick of the Year “Estabrook, a reporter of iron constitution and persistence, has dug deep into the truth about the American pork industry without losing his sense of humor and humanity.” —Christopher Kimball, Wall Street Journal In Pig Tales, New York Times best-selling author of Tomatoland Barry Estabrook turns his attention to the dark side of the American pork industry. Drawing on personal experiences raising pigs as well as sharp investigative instincts, Estabrook covers the range of the human-porcine experience. He shows how these intelligent creatures are all too often subjected to lives of suffering in confinement and squalor, sustained on a drug-laced diet just long enough to reach slaughter weight. But Estabrook also reveals how it is possible to raise pigs responsibly and respectfully, benefiting producers and consumers—as well as some of the top chefs in America. Provocative, witty, and deeply informed, Pig Tales is bound to spark conversation at dinner tables across America.

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Pig Tales: An Omnivore’s Quest for Sustainable Meat – Barry Estabrook

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Considering An Electric Car? 7 Questions To Answer First

Electric cars are growing in popularity, and we’re not complaining. These swift and silent green machines emit less pollution and have lower operating costs than their conventional counterparts. So how do you know if you’re ready to ditch the pump and plug in your very own electric car? Ask yourself these seven questions first to find out.

Electric car exploration

1) What are the overall benefits of electric cars?

Before deciding if an electric car may fit your lifestyle, it helps to first understand how much of an impact driving electric cars can actually have on the planet and on your wallet. Image Credit: andrea lehmkuhl / Shutterstock

Before deciding if an electric car may fit your lifestyle, it helps to first understand how much of an impact driving electric cars can actually have on the planet and on your wallet.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric cars can help reduce emissions, and they can also help increase energy security by reducing our dependence on imported fuel. In addition, while purchase prices for hybrids and electric cars are often higher than conventional cars, owners can see an overall savings in fuel costs, maintenance costs, and tax credits. Indeed, there was a time when electric cars were sold at significant price premiums relative to comparable internal-combustion models. However, in recent years that situation has shown signs of change, and electric cars are now more affordably priced. Furthermore, pretty much all electric cars (except for those made by Tesla) are deeply discounted on the used market.

According to InsideEVs, an industry site that tracks the latest news and trends for electric vehicles, electric car sales in the first four months of 2016 have shown an increase year over year. This suggests electric car sales growth is once again gathering momentum, so it seems our love for these emissions-free marvels of modern technology is only getting stronger.

2) What’s your daily mileage?

Mileage is a consideration when choosing an electric vehicle, because you have to keep in mind how much ground you can cover in between charges. You may have a reasonably short trip to and from work, but if your lifestyle involves running lots of errands, your daily mileage could greatly exceed your commute. If you’re a parent who has to take kids to school and soccer practice, for example, you could wind up putting a significant number of miles on your car each day. The good news is that electric cars have made tremendous strides in recent years with the range they offer.

According to EPA estimates, the 2016 Tesla Model S has a range of up to 265 miles, while the more modestly priced Chevrolet Spark EV will travel for up to 100 miles between charges. Still, keep in mind the 476 miles of range you’ll get with a gas-powered Toyota Camry.

Take a look at the number of miles you travel each day and decide if your driving pattern fits within the range restrictions posed by electric cars.

3) Do you take lots of long road trips?

While in years past, going on a long road trip in an electric car might not have been an option, these days public electric charging stations put road trips back on the map.

Just know that your trip won’t be all that spontaneous: You’ll need to plan your route carefully and determine the stations you’ll visit along the way, as well as account for the time it takes to charge.
Level 2 (220-volt) stations – which are more prevalent – will still generally take three to four hours to charge.
A number of websites, including this electric car charger station locator from the U.S. Department of Energy, offer tools to help you plot your stops.

4) Do you have easy access to a charger?

Access to your charge source, whether public on installed in-home, is a big consideration when it comes to electric car ownership. Image Credit: Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock

Some electric cars can take as long as several hours to charge, but you can reduce the charging time by 50 percent or more by installing a home charger. This adds tremendous convenience to electric car ownership. Just keep in mind that if you rent your home, a home charger may not be an option. Before you buy, talk to your landlord about getting permission for a charger and how the electricity bill should be handled.

5) How’s the weather?

While frigid temperatures will result in a diminishment of range between charges, electric cars work just fine in cold weather. The electric car fleet management company Fleet Carma took a look at trips made in the Nissan Leaf in cold weather and found that the car’s range drops from 80 miles to 50-60 miles when it’s driven in icy conditions. However, it’s worth noting that gas-powered models also suffer a drop in fuel efficiency of up to 20 percent when the mercury plummets, due to factors such as cold engine oil.

6) What’s the terrain like?

Electric cars do best in the flatlands. Mountainous terrain is not a deal breaker for electric cars: Just note that this terrain will tax the cars and diminish their range, so it’s something to consider if you spend lots of time driving in the hills.

7) Is electricity expensive in your neck of the woods?

If you live in a region with expensive electricity, an electric car will be more costly to own. Still, this doesn’t mean you should rule these vehicles out. Electric cars tend to have a low cost of ownership due to the fact that they require less maintenance and repair. You won’t be taking your electric car in for an oil change anytime soon, for example. If you’re discouraged by steep electricity rates in your region, take the time to compare the total cost of ownership of an electric car with that of a gas-powered vehicle before making a final decision.

If you’re one of the fortunate car shoppers whose lifestyle supports electric car ownership, take a moment to celebrate. These whisper-quiet wonders of automotive wizardry afford you the opportunity to glide efficiently into the future.

About the Author

Warren Clarke is a consumer advice writer for CARFAX who prides himself on offering helpful advice regarding car shopping, car buying and car ownership.

Feature image credit: GlennV / Shutterstock

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Considering An Electric Car? 7 Questions To Answer First

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Ohio Republicans Are Freaking Out About the Denali Name Change

Mother Jones

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On Sunday, President Barack Obama announced that the official name for the highest peak in North America, Alaska’s Mount McKinley, would formally be changed to its Athabascan name: Denali. This makes a lot of sense. The mountain was known as Denali long before a gold prospector dubbed it McKinley after reading a newspaper headline in 1896, and it has officially been known as “Denali” in Alaska for about a century, according to the state’s board for geographic names. The state and its Republican legislature have been asking Washington to call the mountain Denali for decades. And for decades, the major obstacle to getting this done has been Ohio, McKinley’s home state.

We need not spend much time discussing Ohio in this space, but suffice it to say that Ohioans are a very proud, if sometimes misinformed, people, and the birthplace of mediocre presidents won’t just take the marginalization of those mediocre presidents lying down. It will fight! To wit, the state’s congressional delegation has decided to show off that old Ohio fighting spirit by condemning the decision in sternly worded press releases and tweets. Here’s GOP Sen. Rob Portman:

No it wasn’t! McKinley was assassinated in 1901. The mountain was named McKinley in 1896, by a random gold prospector who had just returned from the Alaskan Range to find that the governor of Ohio had won the Republican presidential nomination. This is like naming the highest point in the continent after Mitt Romney. Is Portman suggesting that the fix was in as early as 1896? Did Czolgosz really act alone? Was Teddy Roosevelt in on it? My God! Congress did pass a law in 1917 formally recognizing McKinley as the mountain’s name, but that was really just paperwork.

Let’s see what else they’ve got:

The Spanish-American War hadn’t happened yet in 1896—William Randolph Hearst wouldn’t start that for another two years! Okay. Here’s GOP Rep. Bob Gibbs, all but engraving his sternly worded response on obsidian:

Job-killing name change!

I haven’t seen this much loathing directed at Denali since the last time I went on Yelp.

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Ohio Republicans Are Freaking Out About the Denali Name Change

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Here’s Why All the Bees Are Dying

Mother Jones

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Bees are having a really hard time right now. For about a decade, they’ve been dying off at an unprecedented rate—up to 30 percent per year, with a total loss of domesticated honeybee hives in the United States worth an estimated $2 billion.

At first, no one knew why. But as my colleague Tom Philpott has reported extensively, in the last few years scientists have accumulated a compelling pile of evidence pointing to a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids. These chemicals are widely used in commercial agriculture but can have lethal effects on bees. Other pesticides are also adding to the toll. So are invasive parasites and a general decline in the quality of bees’ diets.

Clearly, that combination of factors poses a pretty serious problem for anyone who likes to eat, since bees—both the domesticated kind and their wild bumblebee cousins, both of which are in decline—are the main pollinators of many major fruit and nut crops. The problem is so severe that this spring President Barack Obama unveiled the first-ever national strategy for improving the health of bees and other key pollinators.

Now, it appears that lurking in the background behind the ag-industry-related problems is an even more insidious threat: climate change. According to new research published in the journal Science, dozens of bumblebee species began losing habitat as early as the 1970s—well before neonicotinoids were as widespread as they are today. Since then, largely as a result of global warming, bees have lost nearly 200 miles off the southern end of their historic wild range in both the US and in Europe, a trend that is continuing at a rate of about five miles every year.

As temperatures increase (the US is about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer today, on average, than in 1900), many plant and animal species in the Northern Hemisphere are shifting their range north. But by analyzing a vast archive of bee distribution records reaching back more than a century, ecologists at the University of Ottawa showed that bees are not joining that trend. Instead of shifting north like many other species, the bees’ range is only compressing in from the south, leaving less and less available habitat. That finding is illustrated in the chart below (and explained in more detail in the video at the bottom of this post, produced by Science).

Kerr et al, Science 2015

In a call with reporters, lead scientist Jeremy Kerr stressed that although pesticide use is a critical cause of bee mortality at local levels, it doesn’t explain the continent-wide habitat shrinkage that stands out in the bee data. But temperature trends do.

“They are in serious and immediate risk from human-caused climate change,” Kerr said. “The impacts are large and they are underway.”

The question of why bees aren’t pushing northward is a bit trickier, and it isn’t resolved in this paper. But Kerr said he suspects the answer could be the relatively long time it takes for bees to reach a critical mass of population that can be sustained in new places.

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Here’s Why All the Bees Are Dying

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In Wake of Arizona Uzi Killing, NRA Tweets About Kids Having Fun With Guns

Mother Jones

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There’s no shortage of grim gun news in the United States, including numerous killings involving children, but there was something particularly disturbing about an incident on Monday in which a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot her instructor to death with an Uzi. The tragedy unfolded at an Arizona gun range catering to tourists called Bullets and Burgers. How on earth was such a child allowed to fire such a powerful weapon on fully automatic, by a person who knows enough about firearms to have served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan? See video of the incident below via the New York Times; the clip doesn’t show the actual moment of tragedy, but it’s plenty chilling nonetheless.

Reactions to the news, as you might expect, have ranged from somber to mystified to angry. But with the story making the rounds on social media, only those latter two applied to a tweet posted on Wednesday afternoon by NRA Women, which is part of the National Rifle Association’s Women’s Programs and is sponsored by gun manufacturing giant Smith & Wesson. “7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range” the tweet announced, linking to a recent story that details how kids can get bored with target practice if not properly entertained. NRA Women posted the tweet at 1:51 p.m. Pacific on Wednesday; by about 3 p.m. it had been removed, but not before I and others took a screen shot of it:

The list of options in the article included firing at animal, zombie, and even exploding targets, but surely there was a better time to promote them. Historically the NRA is known for its disciplined and effective messaging. But more recently, as it has branched out to cater to children and women and minorities, America’s top gun lobbying group seems to be misfiring, again and again.


In Wake of Arizona Uzi Killing, NRA Tweets About Kids Having Fun With Guns

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Polar Vortex: Temperatures Fall Far, Fast

A mix of atmospheric ingredients was coming together to create a drop of about 50 degrees in a matter of hours in Central Park. This article:  Polar Vortex: Temperatures Fall Far, Fast ; ;Related ArticlesDot Earth Blog: In One Image: Cold Snaps In Global ContextA Symbol of the Range Returns HomeObservatory: These Females Prefer a Familiar (Fish) Face ;


Polar Vortex: Temperatures Fall Far, Fast

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Observatory: These Females Prefer a Familiar (Fish) Face

A certain neuron prompts female medaka fish to consent faster to mating, researchers says, and may lead to further insights regarding social decision making. View post –  Observatory: These Females Prefer a Familiar (Fish) Face ; ;Related ArticlesObservatory: Mutant Petunias Sing the BluesA Symbol of the Range Returns HomeDot Earth Blog: In One Image: Cold Snaps In Global Context ;

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Observatory: These Females Prefer a Familiar (Fish) Face

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A Symbol of the Range Returns Home

Bighorn sheep, whose populations have dwindled, are the focus of extensive conservation work focused on relocating them to areas where the species once thrived. Read original article: A Symbol of the Range Returns Home ; ;Related ArticlesDot Earth Blog: In One Image: Cold Snaps In Global ContextObservatory: Mutant Petunias Sing the BluesObservatory: These Females Prefer a Familiar (Fish) Face ;

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A Symbol of the Range Returns Home

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