Sunday, 30 October 2011

BARBARA TAKES LONDON: Jamaica’s Blake-Hannah celebrated at Britain’s BEFFTA Awards

A MOMENT LIKE THIS: Accepting her prestigious new honour, Blake-Hannah addresses the BEFFTA Awards.

Long before the 2008 advent of the groundbreaking Reggae Film Festival here in Kingston, Barbara Blake-Hannah was a pioneer on another front, making waves back in the late sixties as the first Black news anchor on British television.

It’s a hugely noteworthy achievement that has no longer gone unsung. Two Saturdays ago, at the Light House in London, Blake-Hannah was among a very distinguished batch of luminaries who were joyously celebrated at the 2011 BEFFTA Awards for their accomplishments as Black/ethnic personalities in British entertainment, film, fashion, television and arts.

Blake-Hannah, the recipient of the female Lifetime Achievement Award, finds it delightful that the importance of what she achieved decades ago still resonates with people. “I am feeling very pleased and so very glad to see that my work has been rewarded so publicly,” she exclusively tells TALLAWAH. “I was overwhelmed by the number of FB messages of congratulations I have received, and it overcomes a lot of the pain and suffering I have endured for many years while I did the works Jah has inspired me to perform.”

This recent triumph by Mrs. Blake-Hannah, who has quietly made substantive choices of projects to introduce to Jamaica’s cultural landscape, only serves to amplify the timeless message that recognition adds to the endless value of selfless work. “I have to give special thanks to Pauline Granston of the British Communications Media Union and Peter Gittins, my Reggae Film Festival partner, both of whom engineered my selection as [a] Lifetime Achievement Award winner. I’m humbly grateful to Jah for such a special blessing.”

Modesty aside, Blake-Hannah also found time to bask in the splendour of the glitzy occasion, which generated widespread press coverage. “The atmosphere at the awards was like the Academy Awards, lots of celebrities, gorgeous gowns, unusual people,” she explains. “A beautiful troupe of Ethiopians performed some beautiful traditional dances wearing some beautiful costumes. I was amazed at the red carpet fashions, which were quite amazing. But best of all, I was to be surrounded by so many Black achievers, making me proud to be in such stellar company.”

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HOME GIRL: Danielle Crosskill riffs on national pride and plans for her future

PURPLE TOUCH: “I hope to do nothing but my best for my country,” says Crosskill (left), pictured with Miss Cayman in London.

Gorgeous, smart and very grown-up, Danielle Crosskill has a lot going for her. The 25-year-old Jamaican stunner is currently in London participating in the 2011 Miss World series of events, and has so far notched a gold medal as a member of the winning team in the Sports Final. But in addition to her physical beauty and natural athleticism, Crosskill is in possession of a fierce intelligence, which was splashed all over her recent interview with Times of Beauty, where she spoke about being a national representative – and where she sees herself a decade from now.

Made in JA:
“Being Jamaican means the world to me. I am extremely proud to be part of a nation that has such a strong history and culture and one that has achieved a tremendous amount globally. I am honoured to have been given the amazing opportunity to represent my country at the Miss World Finals in London, and I am looking forward to sharing everything Jamaican with everyone on this wonderful journey. I hope to do nothing but my best for my countrymen and women.

The road not yet travelled:
“[There are] a number of goals I want to achieve within the next 10 years. These include starting a family of my own, being influential in the expansion of my family’s business, hosting several of my own art exhibitions and, lastly, owning and operating my own learning institution.”

“I most admire Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt because he is a national inspiration and a patriotic Jamaican who has come from very humble beginnings but is a living example that ambition, hard work and dedication does pay off.” — Crosskill on which living Jamaican she most admires

Watch Crosskill vie for the title of Miss World 2011 next Sunday, Nov. 6.

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PAGE BY PAGE: Kellie Magnus finds passion in catering to the literary needs of children

STORYTELLER: Magnus weaves tales for young audiences.

Around the summer of 2002, Kellie Magnus had an eye-opening conversation with her young niece, who was extolling the joys of reading books featuring the likes of Dora The Explorer and SpongeBob Squarepants. “I asked her to tell me which Jamaican story characters she liked, and she told me she didn’t know of any,” recalls Magnus. A subsequent trip to a local bookstore confirmed an inconvenient truth. “I was really appalled that there were only a few Jamaican children’s books on the shelves. It felt like Jamaican children didn’t have enough books to inspire them about our culture.”

Spurred by a casual suggestion from her niece to write a book for children, Magnus decided she had to take action. A year later, she published her first book, Little Lion Goes To School, which went on to spawn a series of Little Lion stories. “My childhood was filled with books that I read and which my parents read to me,” explains Magnus, who now operates the small but thriving publishing house Jack Mandora, a specialist in children’s literature. “And I am adamant that our children need to be engaged with our culture from early because they are so bombarded by images from other
cultures. It’s become a passion of mine.”

These days, the 31-year-old author is observing a terrific milestone with the fresh-off- the-press publication of A Book For Baby and Trixie Triangle, the first Jamaican-published board books for babies. A Book For Baby was penned by Magnus herself (with art by Rachel Moss), while Trixie is entirely the creation of frequent collaborator Michael Robinson.

The colourfully illustrated books, which were specially conceived for Book Start Jamaica, a new initiative by the education ministry to get more parents reading to their young kids, will be launched early next month (Parents’ Month). “The ministry put out a call for submissions for the programme, and we decided to enter two books, which were accepted,” Magnus tells TALLAWAH. “It’s a great project, and we loved the idea and were immediately supportive and excited by it. It’s a wonderful initiative to encourage parents to read to their kids from early.”

As if that weren’t enough, Magnus is steering her publishing house toward another major goal. “We are now working on a pretty big collection, which we hope will be ready in time for Jamaica 50,” she reveals. “We want to publish some really great books for that, so we are working with a group of traditional and non-traditional writers.”

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LADY OF THE MOMENT: Juliet Holness brings a sense of authority and a dash of whimsy to the spotlight

BESIDE ANDREW: Juliet Holness is a mix of confident and real.

First impressions, they say, are everything. As regards Juliet Holness (wife of newly installed Jamaican prime minister, Andrew Holness), she strikes most as someone with a sturdy sense of authority and a boardroom-esque approach to style. Overall though, she appears real and confident. But what do we really know about her?

FROM THE GROUND UP: A St. Catherine High alumna, Mrs. Holness (now in her late 30s) is an established building contractor, who has been linked to such firms as JAJ Management and Consultancy Ltd.

NOTES ON A SCANDAL: According to a 2010 Gleaner report, Holness was embroiled in a bit of scandal over a housing development project in the upscale community of Tavistock Terrace, Millsborough (Kingston 6). The newspaper report claims that Holness was brought in to assist with the project, but Tavistock residents opposed the development, raising concerns about everything, including the basis on which it received approval from the KSAC. Delroy Chuck later concluded that the complaints from the neighbours were without merit, “and they had to tried to stop the project before.”

MOTHER KNOWS BEST: Some close to the Holness family say that like any professional mom newly thrust into the glare of the media and public spotlight, Juliet Holness has so far been preoccupied mostly with settling their two young sons into their new life as princes of the first family.

DRESSING THE PART: It would be such a positive move if Mrs. Holness, who seems in possession of a down-to-earth confidence and a desire to dress like the mature grown-up she is, could do her bit to support Jamaica’s current crop of exciting and talented designers – from Kennea Linton-George’s casual sophistication to Shenna Carby and Ayanna Dixon’s refined yet youthful creations. To say the least, this could lend her a truly distinctive air to greatly set her apart from any other prime minister’s wife in recent memory.

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LISTEN UP: Coldplay’s Mylo yields mixed fortune

COLD FUSION: Chris Martin and co. rock on.

While Coldplay’s recently arrived fifth studio album, Mylo Xyloto, stays true to the British band’s trademark lyrical narrative, spacey alternative aesthetics and sonically pleasing instrumentation, there’s very little on the record that measures up to the timelessness of 2003’s Record of the Year-winning “Clocks,” or the haunting melancholia of “Yellow” and “Sparks” or the triumphant optimism of “Viva La Vida.”

What we are in for is a brisk set of 14 momentarily winsome tracks, some more impressively rendered than others. The wonderful “Hurts like Heaven,” with its film score-esque tendencies, works beautifully. Rihanna breaks long enough from her ongoing conquest of the pop charts to lend some wailing vocals on the “Princess of China,” another standout. Best of all is “Paradise,” genuinely absorbing thanks to the sheer delight of its evocative melodies and minimalist yet robust arrangement. Tyrone's Verdict: B

DOWNLOAD: The poignant “Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall”

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FESTIVAL BUZZ: Scoop and suggestions for the big 2012 return of Calabash

TWO OF A KIND: Soyinka and Paul Holdengraber, in 2010.

With just a few months to go until the start of the year-long Jamaica 50 celebrations, the team behind the Calabash International Literary Festival are back from ‘vacation’ and are fine-tuning plans for the grand return of the beloved book-and-fellowship fest next May.

The decision earlier this year to cancel Calabash with the promise of a special event in 2012 intensified speculation about whether the event would in fact make a full-time return to Jake’s (Treasure Beach) and the annual cultural calendar.

An inside source recently confirmed to TALLAWAH that the festival will indeed be back as an annual event as of next year. Meanwhile, the process of recruiting international literary stars to appear at the 2012 leg of the festival is on in earnest and is expected to intensify between now and the New Year. As for the future direction of the decade-old event, it’s safe to conclude that things will remain unchanged, featuring a weekend of insightful readings, meet-and-greets, discussions and live music.

Although in years past, we’ve witnessed the brilliance of the likes of Wole Soyinka and Derek Walcott, my source reveals that the headliner of Calabash 2012 is no Nobel Laureate. Still, he/she is an internationally celebrated voice in the literary world who should prove exciting and inspiring to festivalgoers.

My humble suggestions for appearances at the 2012 fest: The long overdue Asha Bandele (The Prisoner’s Wife, Something Like Beautiful) and the supremely talented Tea Obreht of The Tiger’s Wife fame.

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CELEBS ON THE SCENE: PM Andrew Holness + Danielle Crosskill + Kevoy Burton + Barbara Blake-Hannah

GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Oct. 28, Kingston. Last Friday, PM Andrew Holness welcomed US Ambassador to Jamaica Pamela Bridgewater to Jamaica House for updates on various projects and programmes and the further strengthening of relations between Jamaica and the US. Participating in the meeting were transport minister Mike Henry and Deputy PM Dr. Ken Baugh.

WINNERS' CIRCLE: Oct. 24, London. Across the pond, another fast track competition, the Sports Final, was recently held at the ongoing 2011 Miss World series of events. Contestants competed in three disciplines – swimming, running, and traditional Highland games in both team and individual events. Overall winners were the Blue Team made up of Panama, Paraguay, Latvia, Portugal, Germany and, naturally, Jamaica's Danielle Crosskill (back row, left). Good going!

THE CUTTING EDGE: Oct. 29, Mandeville. What has Kevoy Burton been up to since Ghett'a Life thrust him fully into the glare of the spotlight? Among other things, he's been pursuing tertiary studies at the Northern Caribbean University – and updating his image. The rising actor, 19, is now rocking a buzzy mohawk, courtesy of a recent haircut. Are we feeling the new look?

THE ROYAL WE: Oct. 22, London. Barbara Blake-Hannah's trip to the UK to collect a special BEFFTA Lifetime Achievement Award served as a reunion of sorts. Pictured (from left) are Peter Gittins, Reggae Film Festival co-director; BBH's sis Marion Blake John; Errol O'Meally; reggae singer J.C. Lodge; BBH and Stephen Blake John, her nephew.

EASTERN PROMISE: Oct. 26, Kingston. A recent courtesy call on Jamaica House by Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Zheng Quingdian, provided the opportunity for PM Holness to be brought up to date on the various projects for which Jamaica is receiving assistance from the government of China. Jamaica and the Chinese have several important cooperation projects and also infrastructure projects underway.

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Saturday, 29 October 2011

2011 NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS: Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife among finalists

FIERCE INTELLIGENCE: Tea Obreht's debut, The Tiger's Wife.

As awards season gains momentum, the finalists for the 2011 National Book Awards (among the most highly coveted in the world) have been announced. TALLAWAH is pleased to note that leading the quartet of fiction nominees is 25-year-old Tea Obreht's The Tiger's Wife, which we spotlighted earlier this year amidst widespread buzz. Obreht, a New Yorker "20 Under 40," is joined by Andrew Krivak's The Sojourn; Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic; Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision; and Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward. Winners will be announced Nov. 16.

The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker; Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution by Mary Gabriel; The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt; Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable; Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss

Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney; The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa; Double Shadow by Carl Phillips; Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems: 2007-2010 by Adrienne Rich; Devotions by Bruce Smith.

Young People's Literature:
My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson; Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin; Chime by Franny Billingsley; Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

ANDREW’S HEAVY ‘LOAD’: Does PM Holness have the fight within him?

SEAT OF POWER: Holness takes on the role of a lifetime.

Even at 39, Andrew Holness strikes me as an obedient choirboy. With his refined features, quiet demeanour and polished air, he emits a musk of bespectacled likeability mixed with humility and the obvious smarts. But despite carrying the frame of a sturdy athlete, the 6’2” politician, to any observer, could be deemed “low-key” and a “gentle soul.” The Mr. Nice Guy sort, if you will.

But last Sunday, Oct. 23, Holness’ life forever took on a whole new dimension when he became Jamaica’s ninth prime minister – a colossal job that comes with the trappings of immense responsibilities, to understate it. As head of the Jamaican government, the youngest one in our history, he’s now swimming in the real deep, in treacherous waters with no shortage of sharks. No place for a Mr. Nice Guy. Will a different side to Mr. Holness now finally emerge? With the real tests ahead, does he possess the requisite heft that his new post demands?

By all appearances, as education minister since 2007 (and West Central St. Andrew MP since 1997), he’s led quite an uneventful political career, save for the occasional row with the island’s demanding teachers. He’s had it relatively easy, some would say. But for a vivid, compelling portrait of what is possibly in store for him as Prime Minister, he need look no further than his predecessor Bruce Golding, who eventually had to bow out of the marathon. Does Holness have the endurance?

Early detractors, most notably from the Opposition, have cited his lack of top-brass “experience” as an indicator of the level of performance he’ll give. But in his first address to the nation last Sunday, Holness admirably expressed his readiness for the maze of responsibilities that now rest on his medium-built shoulders. “Today, I take responsibility for the direction of this country,” he remarked. “Today, my generation must take responsibility for charting new pathways to fulfilling our destiny.”

All cynicism aside, there are many of us who share his faith in the future of Jamaica, a nation still being built, a country on the cusp of marking 50 years of Independence from foreign rule. As such, like Holness, we are deeply inspired by Jamaica’s possibilities. But, at the same time, we know all too well that our myriad problems can’t and won’t be solved overnight, and it takes a leader with guts and real decisiveness to keep us above water.

I fervently hope Andrew Holness is a fighter, one equipped with layers of thick skin for when the going gets tough and, like they say, push comes to shove in the war on garrison politics. We are rooting for him, of course. He comes to us with impeccable credentials and a great track record of serving the Jamaican people in whatever capacity. And certainly, over the course of his tenure, he will be out to prove that he’s no pushover choirboy or, worse, a lamb to the slaughter.

Like the rest of well-thinking Jamaica, Mr. Holness himself knows that youthful appeal and charisma will only get you so far in the world of politics – and elsewhere, for that matter. Sometimes what you need, most of all, is the grit and stamina of the long-distance stulla. After all, leadership is a heavy load.

ALL THE PM's MEN (AND WOMEN): Holness and the new-look Cabinet.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

GET LIFTED: DJ Nicholas turning up the ‘Volume’ on dancehall gospel

TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL: DJ Nicholas drops a new CD.

Over the course of his career, DJ Nicholas has wooed the masses with his unique blend of dancehall-spiked hallelujahs and thought-provoking food for the soul. Now, the appealing gospel star is ready to take fans and new converts back to school with his brand new release, School For Volume, another spirit-lifting sample of the ministry-oriented journey he’s making. He dialled up TALLAWAH to talk about finding purpose in his ministry, why the church may never fully buy into dancehall gospel and what’s most important to him at age 31.

TALLAWAH: What’s the best thing about being a gospel entertainer in latter-day Jamaica?
DJ Nicholas: The best thing is that you’re not just performing, you’re ministering as well. You’re imparting something meaningful to people. For me, that’s very fulfilling because it means you have a purpose.

TALLAWAH: The new album takes a sort of educational approach. What inspired you to go in that direction?
DJ Nicholas: The idea of school is line with the theme of most of the songs on the album. When I was putting together the album, I saw where the songs were headed; most of them had a kind of school concept about them. For example, I have songs on the album like “Holy Ghost Gym,” which could be about P.E. class; “Divine Mathematics,” which is about Maths class and “Bad English,” which could be about English class. So the songs encompass the whole school setting. And I am about teaching the gospel to people.

TALLAWAH: You’ve put out three albums now, established a record label, and are married to a wonderful wife. What else do you want to do before you hit age 40?
DJ Nicholas: Well, there are a whole heap of things I want to do. Right now, I am involved with a lot of youth activities and school devotional projects, which I hope to continue. I am a deacon in the church, but I’d love to become an evangelist or pastor. But I’ll leave that up to God to decide. Overall, I’m a very ministry-oriented person, and that is the path I am planning to pursue.

TALLAWAH: Do you find that the local church is now more open to reggae/dancehall gospel than in years past?
DJ Nicholas: Yes, slowly we have seen changes, but I don’t think the entire Christian body will ever fully accept it. Some people were raised a certain way, and they’ll never change their views. But there are some [in the church] who never believed in it before, but are now more accepting of it.

TALLAWAH: Your middle name is Vacianna. Did you get teased about it growing up?
DJ Nicholas: (Laughs). No. Most persons never knew my middle name, except those who were very close to me. Even now, a lot of people only know me by my stage name and my last name, which is Eccleston.

TALLAWAH: How are you planning to close out the year?
DJ Nicholas: After the album launch in Kingston [on Saturday], we are hoping to have some partial launches and performances in Costa Rica, Cayman and Guyana.

TALLAWAH: You’re about to celebrate your 31st birthday. What’s most important to you moving forward?
DJ Nicholas: God comes first and making sure that my lifestyle is pleasing to him. Family and my ministry comes next.

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SPEAK NOW: It brings angst and oomph, but 'Walls' has little to say

THE TIES THAT BIND: Hunt, Bell and Murray share a scene.

As he showed with this year’s Confessions, playwright David Tulloch has a propensity for exploring fractured relationships and human fallibility in his work. He maintains this artistic arc with his latest, If Walls Could Talk, a flawed but unmistakably interesting comedy-drama. Though this time around Tulloch manages to deliver material that’s more enjoyable and occasionally thought-provoking than anything he has ever produced, Walls is not the most meaningful or enlightening piece of theatre doing commercial business in city Kingston.

In addition to the attractive set design, the best thing about the play is Rosie Murray, who steals the spotlight with her hilarious turn as a nosy and boisterous housekeeper who gets caught up in the romantic entanglements of her superiors. It’s not just her vast theatrical experience and bag of tricks that Murray brings to the portrayal; on stage, she appears to genuinely lose herself in the amusing performance. The audience, loving her mix of silly and sexy, eagerly goes along for the ride.

As the story goes, Cindy (Murray) is the long-serving helper of the Baileys, a close-knit middle-aged couple whose marriage is on the rocks. Frustrated housewife Jennifer (Denise Hunt) is madly in love with husband Melvin (Winston Bell, engaging) but is not too dickmatized to realize that he might be slipping it to Megan (Stephanie Hazle), the girl at the office who gives new meaning to man-eater. But is that all Melvin’s been up behind her back? Boy, if walls could talk.

With such a fascinating premise, one expects moments of revelation and head-nodding insight, but in many instances Tulloch chooses to temper the work’s sobering issues with cheap humour, and this works against the production. A sturdy balance between light and heavy would have served to greatly improve the results. At the same time, a sub-plot involving fertility woes, open marriage and surrogacy goes nowhere. And a twist meant to account for much of the play’s action falls flat. Damian Shaw makes a surprise appearance, but in a thankless role.

The show’s pace frequently hits a lull, but occasionally a fun and engaging quality emerges as the story deepens. In the end, If Walls Could Talk has ample vigour and aims for freshness, but it fails to engage meaningfully with the controversial and social notions it seeks to explore. Tyrone’s Verdict: B-

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STRUGGLE AND SURVIVAL: Kelly Clarkson taps into her pain and power on ‘Stronger’

MISS INDEPENDENT: Clarkson is 'Stronger' than ever.

With tracks like her Grammy-winning 2004 smash “Since U Been Gone” and the intense “My Life Would Suck without You,” songbird Kelly Clarkson demonstrates that when it comes to sheer vocal power and raw emotion, she’s one of pop’s bonafide talents. We got it then, and the original Idol champ certainly cements that reputation on 2011’s Stronger, her fifth release. Overall, the album is an edgy, stellar paean to struggle, survival and optimism in the face of odds stacked against you – ideas that have figured prominently in Clarkson’s latter work.

For this particular album, arguably her best yet, Clarkson has stated that she was influenced by such rock icons as Tina Turner, Prince and Radiohead. The proof is in the end product, which bears a rich blend of anthemic, uptempo cuts and soaring ballads steeped in yearning and vulnerability. But the common thread coursing throughout is Clarkson’s lush voice, a superb instrument once again getting a fine showcase.

Ever the rebel, the singer kicks off the festivities with the punchy “Mr. Know It All,” a girl’s
no-nonsense guide to getting rid of a no-good man. In a broader sense, the song takes aim at Clarkson’s detractors who, over the years, have challenged everything from her image to her sexuality. It’s not surprising that the girl chooses to make it clear that she’s no punching bag. She wisely concedes on the follow-up cut, “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger),” that such experiences should only serve to toughen you up.

Such notions of give-and-take, sacrifice and regret speak largely to where Clarkson, who co-wrote the bulk of the album, stands now in her life and career. Like a genuine artist, it’s reflected in the work she has produced while enlisting such reputed songwriters and producers as Toby Gad (the failed-relationship hits “Einstein” and “The War Is Over”) and Rodney Jerkins (“I Forgive You”).

Clarkson is at her most memorable though, when she taps into her longing and pain. She achieves this beautifully on the highlights “Dark Side,” on which she proclaims, “Everybody’s got a dark side/Do you love me?/Can you love mine? – and “Honestly,” a teary petition for a lover to come clean. She also scores a pair of radio-friendly tunes with “Let Me Down” and “Hello”. An excellent duet (“Don’t You Wanna Stay”) with country star Jason Aldean is one of four extra tracks (bringing the tally to 17) that appears on the deluxe version.

There’s ample evidence to support the claim that in naming her album Stronger, Clarkson is essentially making a reference to herself and where she is now on her journey, artistic and personal. She’s given us the songs, full of meaning and power, to share in her therapy. Tyrone’s Verdict: A

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