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Argument as fun

I think it would be helpful to specify a fourth category of argument: Argument as fun.
"Win" or "lose" are not helpful outcomes. The benefit is in playing the game.
Arguing is intellectually and socially stimulating. It leads to new insights and often to laughter. Sharing a good argument with a friend is FUN. Whether it be about which team will win on Saturday or about whether there is a god, Contesting ideas with friends is a deeply human, growthful activity. Long live debate and argument


Closing Statement from Jonathan Pincus

Well, we’ve come to the end of our allotted period. It’s time to sum up this thread.
It seems that there is at least a partial case for Arguing as Fun, but it is a minority interest and best done with a set of mutually accepted rules or conventions if it is to remain Fun.
Some discussants were concerned about the way that an argument may spill over into anger and ad hominem attacks or even violence.
Some participants preferred to “win” arguments. Others saw it as a purposeful activity trying to ascertain the “truth”. Still others saw arguing as an enjoyable activity in its own right, regardless of “winning” or “losing”.
The discussion largely paralleled the main discussion.
Thanks to all those who participated.
I’ve had fun. Hope you have too.

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    Aug 7 2013: Jonathan,
    It is clear that "fun" in the game of arguing is a reason for some people. If it is done with respect, and all participants know that it is only for fun, I suppose it is ok. When it is fun for only one participant, and that person is trying to "play" with people all the time, it does not seem beneficial. When a person keeps changing his/her identity here on TED for example, and is arguing in all different directions, often contradicting him/herself just for the "fun" of arguing, it doesn't seem very beneficial.
    I love fun, and I do not appreciate fun that is at another person's expense.

    This appears to be a good demonstration of "Argument as fun" Jonathan. In a recent comment, you write......"

    "Jonathan Pincus
    50 minutes ago: I AM convinced that it is impossible, at least at present, to assemble sufficient evidence for a Yes or a No. The only rational answer is "I can't be sure". I am convinced of the rationality of this position.
    Good try though."

    Are you having fun yet Jonathan?
    • Aug 7 2013: I agree, colleen.
      I think that "playing" with people is a rather nasty form of exploitation.
      However there is often a need to try to get someone to change there mind on an issue. (for instance to register to vote.)
      If we adopt argument as War or argument as Exploitation we will not get far.
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        Aug 7 2013: Me too Jonathan.....I agree.....playing with people is not very productive, beneficial or enjoyable.

        I do not perceive the necessity to "get someone to change their mind on an issue".

        We can offer ideas, and I LOVE to hear other people's ideas as well, without a need to change his/her mind. There was another participant here on TED who kept changing his profile and contradicting himself over and over again just to try to get people to change their minds.....just for fun....and you know.....most people can see through that right away....seems like that person is spending a lot of time simply "gaming", or "trolling", which is the popular term for the same thing:>)
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      Aug 7 2013: I think you raise an important point. To bullies, bullying is fun also but not to the target.

      There is also a time and place for such recreations. When people are trying to learn together or make a decision together, arguing for the fun of it can distract a group from learning objectives or from meeting goals and deadlines.
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        Aug 7 2013: I agree Fritzie....it is often a "bully" type person, who will use arguing as fun and entertaining for themselves.

        There are sometimes vulnerable people who participate in TED conversations to genuinely learn and share information. When a person is "trolling" with contradicting arguments to entertain him/herself, changing profiles regularly, often having conversations with him/herself because of so many different accounts, it is a distraction....and that is what it is meant to be by the one doing it.....fun.....a distraction....bullying.
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          Aug 7 2013: I am not sure what you mean by vulnerable here. Some people just don't like to be around bullying even if they are not the target. Some people don't enjoy wasted learning opportunities.

          In many settings thoughtful people who are interested in learning and intellectual engagement choose to focus their attention on settings where they can participate in discourse with others with the same learning interests, steering away from settings in which people are mainly lobbing personal insults at each other. I don't think in that case vulnerability has much to do with it.
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        Aug 7 2013: What I mean by vulnerable Fritzie, is young people looking for genuine advice, people seeking information about suicide, depression, etc.

        I agree...some people just don't like to be around bullying even if they are not the target. The situation you describe, where people are "lobbing personal insults at each other", is a choice those individuals make, and I agree that the vulnerability of one or the other may not be an issue.
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    Aug 10 2013: In ancient Indian tradition there is a discipline named the 'Nyaya' (Art of Argument). In this tradition a young graduate is to engage in a formal argument with an expert in favor of a proposition to establish it. If s/he succeeds then his/her next task is to engage in a formal argument with another expert against the same proposition to prove it false. If s/he succeeds again, s/he is declared a graduate. The message is clear. Argument based on logic is a tool and can be used with a goal in mind. It has no connection with a truth in a fundamental level.
    Argument is fun as long as long as all the parties involved in it are aware of it. Otherwise it is useful to recall the 'Nyaya' stand.
    There are various levels of learning. Knowledge is one. Realization is another. When engaging in argument it is essential to understand which level of learning one is in.
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      Aug 11 2013: Doesn't the integrity of Nyaya depend entirely upon the infallibility of the process of scoring? If the performance evaluation process is infallible and ALWAYS indicates the TRUTH, then let's adopt it globally. Otherwise it is one of many fallible scoring systems which do nothing to meet the goal of any rational, non-recreational or academic, argument-- which is displacement of error and discovery of truth.
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        Aug 11 2013: Nyaya (originally sanskrit) is equivalent to the word 'Just'. It's not truth the discipline seeks to establish. In ancient traditions it proceeds through 'Tarka' (Argument) and 'Bitarka' (counter-argument) based on 'Yukti' (logic) in front of a panel of experts/judges who decides the winner. It is similar to science in as much as taking the validity of a proposition established only as long as it is not challenged and changed in later time. It is different from science in as much as it permits anecdotal evidence and abstract logical axioms in addition to verified physical evidence.
        The conclusion is : For now the proposition A is valid and X (the proposer) is 'Just'.
        It is a precursor of Law and Justice.
        It is somewhat different from modern debate in that the challenger is not permitted to just deconstruct the proposition without proposing an alternate proposition.
        I think in principle 'Nyaya' is already adopted in democratic conflict resolution all over the world.
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          Aug 11 2013: Jolly good explanation sir! Thank you. It seems to me that, even if the goal is merely "fun", the point of argument MUST always be the displacement of error and the promotion of truth. Am I correct?
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        Aug 11 2013: You are welcome sir. I'd agree with you as long as you don't demand that truth is immutable.
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          Aug 11 2013: Only God is immutable. I erringly used the word in a temporal, human sense. Thank you for the correction.
  • Aug 8 2013: I think we have strayed somewhat from the topic I intended.
    Certain types of argument are FUN.
    I enjoy pitting my knowledge and rationality against another person of equal ability. There are big topics to which no-one has the answer but the exploration is fascinating. When I find the right person and the right topic it is like embarking on a game of chess. It is exciting, exhilarating and fun.
    A couple of nights ago I met a young man who was an orthodox Jew. He was well educated and articulate and willing to engage in debate. I am a convinced agnostic, rationalist, humanist. We went at it for several hours covering topics ranging from the existence or non-existence of god to why most of the Orthodox Jewish liturgy is in Aramaic which hardly anyone understands. I'm not sure if either of us changed our ideas but we learnt a great deal about each others outlook and perhaps went away a little wiser.
    The point this that this discussion was great fun. The adrenalin flowed, we became excited, even vehement at certain points. We were deeply involved, respectful of the other, engaged in a battle of intellects and value systems.

    Now I find other people who are afraid of such engagement. They shy away from controversial topics like religion, politics or sex. I do not engage in mental jousting with such types, but I confine myself to willing participants.

    Why is it I wonder that this differentiation exists? What makes some people willing debaters while others confine themselves to evident truths ("the weather has been very bad of late") or trivia ("Did you see that program on TV?")
    Is it perhaps a matter of confidence in one's own case? Or are we dealing with two different personality types?
    I would welcome any speculation regarding this difference and whether readers identify with on or other type?
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      Aug 8 2013: The chess analogy is most fitting. I think that is why many, if not most, people shy away from vigorous , civil, debate. There is a stigma of futility and insoluble complexity best left alone. By the way, it would be FUN to argue that "convinced Agnostic" is an oxymoron. The question to which it replies asks, "Does God exist or not?" The two possible answers are "Yes" (Deist) or "NO" (Atheist). "Maybe" is not an answer. "Maybe" is a declaration that one is NOT CONVINCED.
      • Aug 8 2013: I AM convinced that it is impossible, at least at present, to assemble sufficient evidence for a Yes or a No. The only rational answer is "I can't be sure". I am convinced of the rationality of this position.

        Good try though.
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          Aug 9 2013: You find a difference between believing it is not possible for God to exist and believing God does not exist? The second Law of Classical Logic states that nothing can be both possible and not possible. If you are convinced "it is impossible" for God to exist you are an Atheist, which is the correct title for a "convinced Agnostic". The essense of Agnosticism is being unconvinced as evidenced by the motto, "I can't be sure". The only explanation for your reluctance to be called an Atheist is that you are NOT CONVINCED to say, "Yes, God exists." or, "No, God does not exist." Are we arguing for fun now? Or, are we arguing in one of Cohen's 3 forms? Either way, based upon your testimony, you are an Agnostic, NOT a "convinced agnostic". The question (Does God exist?) is a litmus test. It is binary. There is no third possible answer.
      • Aug 9 2013: Yes we are arguing. I'm enjoying it. Are you?

        You appear to have missed my point. I am neither convinced that god exists or does not exist. I am not compelled to choose one or the other. The third alternative of saying "I don't know" is perfectly valid. I am convinced that this is a rational and logical position.
        It is not impossible for god to exist but there is no credible evidence for gods existence. Nor is there sufficient evidence that he does not exist. Therefore logically. I must suspend judgement pending further evidence.
        I recognise that suspending judgement seems unsatisfactory to some people but I am content with simply not knowing.
        Perhaps rephrasing things will help. I am convinced that the agnostic position is appropriate. Therefore I am a convinced agnostic.
        I am sorry if you don't like the phrase "convinced agnostic" but I suspect you know exactly what I mean.
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          Aug 9 2013: Pure joy Jonathan, pure joy!
          I have not missed your point. You refuse to answer the true or false question "God exists." You won't say you believe it is True, nor will you say you believe it is False. On what basis do you consider the question to be invalid and refuse to answer? Of course the Agnostic position is appropriate, but not for someone who is convinced it is, "impossible, at least at present, to assemble sufficient evidence for a Yes or a No." You have said you believe the answer CANNOT be believed to be Yes/ No or True/False. You say you are convinced the answer can only be "Maybe". It is that conviction which disqualifies you as an Agnostic. There are but two places for an Agnostic to go if they become "convinced". They either become a Deist or an Atheist. They cannot remain an Agnostic. You are correct to say I know exactly what you mean. I do know, and you are not correct. So, what's the score here? Jonathan 2, Edward 1?
  • Aug 13 2013: An argument has various functions. People usually consider it as a contest or competition. But rather than trying to win in the argument, we should participate it with open attitudes, learing from it. 'Argument as a fun' is also a good idea.:P
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    • Aug 7 2013: I have not personally come across these malign individuals but I acknowledge that it can be a problem.
      There was a news item today about a girl who committed suicide as a result of trolling on a teen website.
      This a tragedy and we need to find a means of preventing this sort of thing from happening.. A properly moderated site would prevent such messages from appearing but many would contend that it would be interfering with the freedom of expression on the internet.
      For myself I would simply ignore such attacks - act as though they are not there. Bullies gain their satisfaction from getting a reaction from their victims. No reaction: no satisfaction. Unrewarded behaviour tends to disappear in time.
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        Aug 7 2013: I agree Jonathan....unrewarded behavior and good moderation by the Ted Team will eventually take care of this issue.
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        Aug 8 2013: I agree that bullies enjoy getting a reaction from their victim. And I agree it is a good idea to refuse to display that reaction if possible. But I think it might be a lesser enjoyment than what they get from simply acting on their cowardly, sadistic desires. Even if they get no reaction from their target they enjoy inflicting the wound, whether it be emotional, physical, or both. Now, how do I tie this in with the topic? Hmmm. Oh, I know. . . we are arguing in a way not classifiable using any one of Cohen's 3 models, so there must be a need for a 4th model. Should that model be titled "FUN"?
        • Aug 8 2013: Hi Edward. Good to hear from you again.
          I agree that bullies might get satisfaction simply from inflicting the wound. I remember one lad at school, a big fellow who would regularly twist my arm behind my back just for the joy of it. There was no escape from this daily harassment until I turned and hit him in the face full force with a closed fist. The arm-twisting stopped from that day on.
          But we can't do that on the internet as much as we might want to,because we don't know who they are or where they are. The point of ignoring them is that they don't KNOW that they have inflicted a wound. They might think so, but a permanent non-response must become very frustrating for them and they will take their sadistic impulses elsewhere.
          I try to think of these cyber-bullies as rather sad, frustrated teen-agers all pimply and lonely. The image makes it easier to refrain from making any response
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      Aug 7 2013: I agree Clarence, that there is a difference between arguing for the sake of arguing and honest debate over a difference of opinion.

      The topic is "Argument as fun", which seems to fall under "arguing for the sake of arguing".

      I do not agree that there is a "problem with TED", and I do agree that anyone who tries to force their own opinions onto others may have some issues, and perhaps the need to play games with people, or use arguments for their own entertainment, or fun, is one of those issues. I agree that those folks can be ignored.
  • Aug 7 2013: Thanks Deepak.
    But we are only partly in agreement.
    Not all perspectives are equally acceptable. For example, I find the perspective of supporters of Al Qaida completely abhorrent.
    Furthermore, neutrality is what we require of judges, but courts also need prosecutors and defendants. I prefer to be one of the latter.
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    Aug 7 2013: I'm not sure. I know that sometimes the more fun I'm having arguing the angrier the other person is becoming. Which just makes it more fun....
    • Aug 7 2013: Argument is not synonymous with anger.
      If emotions become too high rationality goes out of the window and the sense of fun gets lost.
      The best arguments have soft motions and hard logic.
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        Aug 8 2013: Okay, which of the following do you think is true:

        A) That I just checked my thesaurus, because I don't believe you about arguments not being synonymous with anger, or

        B) Obviously, they are not synonymous. No thesaurus required. No need to state such an obvious thing, either.

        However, if emotions on one side become too high and their rationality goes out the window that side may lose their sense of fun, but that does not imply that the individual on the other side, where emotions are low and rationality far from the window, loses their sense of fun. They very will might, but not necessarily

        The key word in my comment was "sometimes" and that not all the people in this world can be argued with rationally. I totally agree, the best arguments have soft motions and hard logic. But it takes two to tango that way. Someone once said, "Never argue with a drunk or a fool," and yet what pleasure there is in arguing with such people! Their emotions and rationality might be inversely proportional. But I'm often having a great time and if that sounds crude and immature of me, consider the fact that not all arguments with drunks and fools are avoidable. Ever try to talk a drunk out of their car keys. They are going to get emotional, irrational and most likely angry (although I want to be clear, I do not think that drunkenness and anger are synonymous (smile)). I should laugh at their expense, of course, but wouldn't it be better to look at it as a fun challenge to get their keys away from them, use that sense of fun to remain at play, instead of getting too serious, too emotional, too irrational, and drunk on anger (still not synonymous I know). Anyways, I'm spending too long on one example. I don't think "If emotions become too high rationality goes out of the window and the sense of fun gets lost" qualifies as hard logic. I await your next soft motion.
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      Aug 7 2013: Hi Daniel

      Quoting: "I'm not sure. I know that sometimes the more fun I'm having arguing the angrier the other person is becoming. Which just makes it more fun...." True statement. But it misses the point. Is the next logical step in this scenario a fist-fight? And how good are your boxing skills? (Mine are lousy - thank goodness this is via the internet.) But we still miss the point here.

      Quoting: "Argument as fun. Win" or "lose" are not helpful outcomes. The benefit is in playing the game.
      Arguing is intellectually and socially stimulating. It leads to new insights and often to laughter. Sharing a good argument with a friend is FUN."
      • Aug 7 2013: Thanks Juan.
        We seem to be in agreement with each other. End of argument.
        Does that mean we stop having fun?
        Not necessarily. There is a pleasant inner satisfaction from knowing that someone else agrees with you.
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          Aug 7 2013: May the fun never end! I am not a Physicist. But I've heard of Physicists sitting around over coffee and/or cigars & arguing about just that: ANYTHING!

          They do the same thing in law school.
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          Aug 8 2013: The pleasant inner sense that someone agrees with you stems from the need to be liked, almost as if you don't love yourself enough and are dependent on being liked by others to have a sense of self-worth. (I'm joking, just as I was in my very first comment.)
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        Aug 8 2013: When is a fist-fight a next logical step, Juan Valdez? If the benefit is in playing the game, than why should I care at all whether the other person is a poor player of the game and gets emotional and then irrational and then stops having fun. I'm still going to have fun and I'm not going to feel guilty the other person can't keep control of themselves enough to still have fun.

        It's almost like you and Jonathan are defending the individual in a football game that takes being tackled or blocked as physical assaults, so while everyone else stops at the whistle and continues to have fun playing the game for the game's sake, this can't do that and shoves someone down after the whistle. He deserves the penalty. It's his own problem. You can't penalize the players on the other team if they keep playing by the rules and have fun exploiting this weakness in their opponent and cause him to make more and more mistakes.

        You seemed to have missed the word 'sometimes' in my comment, too. Note that Cohen specified that sharing a good argument with a friend is fun. He added the qualifiers of "good" and "with a friend" to Jonathan's simple statement "Argument is fun." I doubt that Cohen would even believe in Jonathan's over-generalization.
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          Aug 8 2013: I thought you were the guy who wanted to go to Law School! I guess I got the wrong guy. If you can't get this - don't ever consider going to Law School. You'd never make it in a court of law. Even if you were a member of the Bar (i.e. licensed to practice law) - no Judge would ever put up with the kind of attitude you describe. And that's long before we get to the issue of the behavior you describe!

          Try again! Good luck!
  • Aug 7 2013: Give a reason, Edward, so that it can be fun
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      Aug 7 2013: Who needs a reason? Argue just for the fun of it.
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      Aug 7 2013: The gauntlet has hit the ground! All rightey then, let's have some fun. Let's start with this: If arguing was truly fun we would never hear someone end an argument with a phrase like : "You are totally unreasonable and refuse to listen to reason. I will not discuss this any more with you. Good bye!", at which point they storm-off looking for a calming drink . I call this the Thrown Dishes argument because every broken dish confirms the fact that arguing was not meant to be fun. Do you agree, or are you going to argue with me?
      • Aug 7 2013: Yes. Argument may end in rancour or even in violence - but that is because at least one of the players doesn't play by the rules of engagement..
        Rules?? Not yet fully formulated but probably include:
        No ad hominem arguments.
        Take turns.
        Listen to what your opponent actually says and don't put words in his/her mouth.
        Ask questions to clarify what the other means.
        Tacit agreement to remain friends even if you can't agree.

        I hope others will add to this list
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          Aug 7 2013: There is nothing more annoying than arguing with someone who knows what they are talking about. You are diminishing my ability to argue by saying things with which I agree. I suggest combining "Listen" and "Ask" into one rule: At the beginning of each turn the arguer must paraphrase the essential idea communicated by the opposing arguer who must then confirm that the summary is essentially correct. I also do not accept that contestants must "be friends" before and after the bloodbath, congenial and mutually respectful, but not friends. Also, I personally believe the use of certain ad hominem phrases such as, "You addle-brained old coot!", should constitute immediate forfeiture by the responsible party. So who is winning this argument so far? Do we need a score keeper who says, "One point Jonathan!"?
      • Aug 7 2013: ...and at least one point (maybe more) to Edward. But who is trying to win? We are merely having fun and I hope learning something from the process.

        1. Your paraphrasing technique is excellent tactics, especially when people have difficulty in listening to what's really being said.
        2. Perhaps "friends" is the wrong term. I accept congeniality and mutual respect as appropriate though, for me, that comes pretty close to friendship. The point is to avoid becoming enemies.
        3. Ad hominem attacks serve little purpose. Forfeiture implies a win/lose situation which one can largely avoid by responding "I'm sorry you think so, but it doesn't advance your case in any way."
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          Aug 7 2013: Your number 1 hits the nail on the head. People spend the time while the other person is talking preparing their retort and miss the whole point. To these folks the other person's words are just so much yadda-yadda. Your number 2 precludes contestants being enemies. It should not be so. Arguing with a declared enemy can be a bilaterally rewarding experience, but probably not "fun". Your number 3 seems to disallow a final conclusion. That seems to me to be kind of a pointless pastime. Dispelling error and promoting Truth is the highest priority of debate. When the smoke clears what was learned? What misconception was clarified? What falsehood was revealed? etc. Each of those milestones is a point of merit for the contestants and for all who witness their exchange. No loser, just Win-Win. Are we having fun yet?
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      Aug 7 2013: Jonathan,
      You say...."Give a reason, Edward, so that it can be fun"

      "Fun" IS the reason, as you have presented it on this comment thread....is it not?
      • Aug 7 2013: Fun is one of the reasons.
        Sometimes things are more important than that.
        Many political arguments are desperate attempts to improve the world from the perspective of the speaker. Or, conversely, trying to prevent someone else's perspective from causing what I believe will be harmful. These are not often fun and frequently degenerate into argument as War.
        Nevertheless, in a democratic society it is important that we have these arguments.
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          Aug 7 2013: Oh I totally agree Jonathan, that some things are more important than simply having fun. However, your topic idea, as presented, is "Argument as fun", so that is how I address responses.

          I believe the important thing is to realize that we have choices:>)
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    Aug 6 2013: Like Carolyn, I simply must disagree!
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    Aug 6 2013: no its not...hahaha..sorry this was too easy to restrain myself from doing
    • Aug 7 2013: Well there you are then. Argument and laughter.