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Thread: Another unpopular opinion

  1. #1
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    Default Another unpopular opinion

    I am occasionally the Bilge’s purveyor of unpopular opinions, for which I am unapologetic. This one is bound to get a lot of pushback, and I suppose Dave Hadfield will be one of those who will push, but it might be a lively conversation.

    Here goes: I am opposed to the manned exploration of space.

    Perhaps it seems congruous that as an engineer, I would take such a position. An engineer is really someone who finds practical applications for science, so I suppose that I would be expected to be a kindred spirit to space exploration; after all, when the science is done, space exploration is also the practical application of science.

    Let’s consider our motivations for space exploration. Some might take a ‘Star Trek TNG-ian' attitude that exploration is wired directly into human DNA, that the history of Man is a tale of the desire to expand our horizons and limits, first across the globe, and then, when much of the earth has been explored, to push outward into space. A more realistic view of human exploration might consider that far too often, exploration leads to exploitation; consider what exploration of this continent in the 18th and early 19th centuries did to native Americans... or what British colonialism did to numerous third world countries. Exploration might be considered a virtue, but like any drug, it has its side effects.

    While plain old ‘curiosity’ is a big part of this primitive urge to explore, we might also consider that the primary motivation for space exploration, in the 50’s and 60’s, wasn’t so much a desire to acquire scientific knowledge, as it was hubris. We even called it the ‘space race’, at the time, and numerous shortcuts were risked posting greater achievements than the other side, as a point of what some might call ‘national pride’. Fortunes were spent, and many failures were tolerated, until we ultimately claimed the top position in this international competition by landing a man on the Moon and safely returning him. As an electrical engineer and knowing something about the technology of what passed for ‘computers’ at the time, we could only presume that through the grace of some greater power did we manage to avoid most (but not all) catastrophes. Sure, these efforts yielded a lot of science... but I must wonder if it wasn’t more about either the bragging rights, or the money made by the NASA subcontractors.

    If there is a simple and practical objection to manned space exploration, it would be that it is grossly and horribly inefficient, in terms of the amount of science obtained for the expense of the effort. 50 years ago, when the state of the art of computers was far more primitive, the inclusion of pilots (eventually called ‘astronauts’... it seemed more futuristic) was a necessity. In several missions, having a human aboard ship was critical and essential, because artificial intelligence, sophisticated software, and the ability to automate simply didn’t exist.

    Such may not be the case today. Consider the modern airliner; I am not suggesting that we can dispense with pilots (although drone technology at least hints of that possibility), but the level of automation in aviation is truly breathtaking. Recent aircraft are equipped with astounding levels of automation: auto-throttle, auto-brake, auto-trim, and even auto-land can be found in the most current commercial aircraft. Navigation is almost fully automatic; it’s amazing to think that just 75 years ago, it wouldn’t be unusual for an airliner navigation to be ‘shooting the stars’ with a sextant to find its position.

    When faced with the choice between equipping a spacecraft for human accommodation, or designing a non-manned spacecraft, the difference in cost is staggering... perhaps 50x or 100x more expensive to achieve the former, owing to the mass of equipment needed to guaranty survivability. An unmanned mission sheds an enormous amount of weight, and sheds an even greater amount of risk, especially when considering what happens to the psyche of the nation, should an astronaut die, something which has already happened. What has NOT yet happened, remains a frightening possibility, is that of an astronaut being stranded in space, with no ability to return to earth, nor any possibility of rescue. I honestly must wonder if astronauts are equipped with a suicide pill, for that horrible possibility.

    In contrast, we might consider how much valuable science we get from unmanned space exploration. Voyagers 1 and 2, launched in 1977, and still operating, returned enormous reams of scientific data on their way to the outer planets of our solar system, and beyond... and one of them is expected to continue to return data for some years to come. These are not the only unmanned spacecraft which provide valuable data without the need for a manned crew... in fact, there are hundreds of them, if not thousands, in low orbit, geostationary orbit, or beyond orbit and transiting the solar system.

    If the quest for science and exploration were the only factors in the decision to launch manned spacecraft... but alas, they’re not. The national hubris of the 50’s and 60’s has been replaced, by the individual hubris of billionaires, whose vast wealth has turned manned space exploration onto a game for those poisoned by their own huge wealth. My favorite example comes from Elon Musk, a man who is matched only by Donald Trump in his quest for self-adoration; his early launch of a rocket with a ‘payload’ consisting of one of his electric sports cars, replete with a dummy astronaut sitting in the driver's seat, was a narcissistic stunt with no real scientific value. Musk offers no shortage of gaudy indulgences in his efforts towards space exploration. While it can be argued that his ability to land a reusable rocket, tail first, was a true engineering breakthrough, it can also be argued that the mission which ended with two rockets simultaneously landing, tail first, at the same time and close to one another, was a stunt far closer to Barnum, than Von Braun.

    Even sillier: Jeff Bezos’ ‘space tourism’ rocket, with its short suborbital flights and a few minutes of weightlessness (something that could have been far more cheaply accomplished by riding in NASA’s ‘Vomit Comet’ aircraft). I suppose it was the ultimate moment of life imitating art, when Wiliam Shatner, the ‘Captain Kirk’ of Star Trek, became a passenger.

    The narcissism of the space billionaires might very well have substantial side benefits, since in addition to stroking the egos of these guys, there is undoubtedly money as part of the motivation. While space exploration has always been a business opportunity for aerospace companies, the space billionaires can get multiple and satisfying rewards from participation in this market.

    Finally, I wish to make an argument which is often a very difficult one to defend, and that has to do with national priorities. Progressive activists (which I am not) often subjugate multiple national interests in favor of a narrow and myopic focus on one single issue. The activist who wants to save the rainforests cares little about the fact that, in some places, rainforest destruction is done to provide arable land for people who desperately need the food. The person who protests the use of fossil fuels has considerably less care for the people who ern their living by drilling for it, nor those who depend on fossil fuels for transportation, warmth in the winter, or other derivatives of that industry. Their concerns are certainly not without merit...


    (cont'd)

    "Reason and facts are sacrificed to opinion and myth. Demonstrable falsehoods are circulated and recycled as fact. Narrow minded opinion refuses to be subjected to thought and analysis. Too many now subject events to a prefabricated set of interpretations, usually provided by a biased media source. The myth is more comfortable than the often difficult search for truth."







  2. #2
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    (cont'd)


    ...but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. I am not suggesting that all space exploration should be eliminated in favor of feeding and housing the homeless, discovering cures and treatment for diseases, or solving child poverty. We need to do all these things, in proportion, and while the total budget for space exploration is not actually that large in comparison to other tax expenditures, I think it behooves us to spend that money with far greater efficiency and eliminating the economic penalty for manned space exploration would be a virtue.

    It’s fun to contemplate futuristic ambitions. Landing a man on the Moon again... or more significantly, launching a manned mission to Mars, is the stuff of science fiction, and not infrequently, science fiction can become science fact. We might ask ourselves, however, why we want to do these things. Does anyone really expect that colonizing Mars has value, other than as an excuse to escape the damage we’ve done to our own planet? Do we really need to return to the moon, and will having an astronaut walk on the Moon’s surface again provide any worthwhile science when compared to the cost and the risk?

    What prompted my interest in this topic? I was listening to some CDs from the late 60’s, and many will remember this lyric:



    Men’s mighty mine machines, digging in the ground
    Stealing rare minerals where they might be found
    Concrete caves with iron doors bury it again
    While a starving frightened world, fills the sea with grain
    "Reason and facts are sacrificed to opinion and myth. Demonstrable falsehoods are circulated and recycled as fact. Narrow minded opinion refuses to be subjected to thought and analysis. Too many now subject events to a prefabricated set of interpretations, usually provided by a biased media source. The myth is more comfortable than the often difficult search for truth."







  3. #3
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    I am also opposed to the manned exploration of space but the rest was too long to read

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Hmm, I didn't feel the urge to pushback

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    A sailboat for Titan’s methane lakes would be fun.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    About a decade ago there was a panel convened by NASA to study the exploration of Mars. They were told that with manned missions to build a habitat and using robotic techniques to help, it would take 5 or 7 missions to build (I forget the number). When asked how many it would take to do it entirely robotic, they said 3. So why the manned missions to build the habitat? They said it was what the public wanted.

    Make two lists. On one list give the number of ways that humans are Earth have real benefits from colonizing Mars. It's a short list. You won't find a cure for cancer and you won't solve the world's energy needs.

    On the other list give the number of ways humans on Earth will be inspired to do something challenging by putting people on Mars. That's a much longer list. If you inspire a generation of engineers instead of programmers writing web pages, that's a plus. If you ignite a renewed passion for science and math, that's a plus.

    Now the tough question: If you kill those astronauts on Mars, does that inspire greater things, or discourage them?
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    "Wherever there is a channel for water, there is a road for the canoe. " - Thoreau

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeG View Post
    A sailboat for Titan’s methane lakes would be fun.
    fart
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    If you anchor in a bay and want to explore the shallow estuary around the bend, would you rather send your drone or take your dinghy?

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    I am also opposed to manned exploration of space. A massive waste of money. It is about a lot of things other than science.
    "I'll tell you why [religion's] not a scam. In my opinion, all right? Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that."Bill O'Reilly

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by ron ll View Post
    If you anchor in a bay and want to explore the shallow estuary around the bend, would you rather send your drone or take your dinghy?
    If the estuary is full of great whites or salt water crocs, would you rather send your drone or go in your rubber raft?

    Let me say it another way. The space station is in low Earth orbit and has much of the Earth's magnetic field to protect it from the solar and galactic cosmic radiation. It's like a sod home on the prairie when the dust storm comes. The trip to Mars as well as the outpost on the surface of Mars is like crossing the prairie on horseback when the dust storm hits. There is almost no protection. It's a very dangerous trip and a far cry from visiting the estuary around the bend.
    Last edited by CWSmith; 08-23-2022 at 09:33 AM.
    "Where you live in the world should not determine whether you live in the world." - Bono

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by ron ll View Post
    If you anchor in a bay and want to explore the shallow estuary around the bend, would you rather send your drone or take your dinghy?
    lets ask joe
    Simpler is better, except when complicated looks really cool.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    I share the unpopular opinion. Human space exploration at this point is a tremendous waste of money. For a fraction of the cost we could have done sample returns from half a dozen planets by now.

    Robot probes today are already arguably more efficient than humans, since the cost and risk factors are so much lower. In 10 years they will be able to do anything a human in a spacesuit can do - sooner if some of that pork being burned with Artemis and ISS was redirected to real science.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Good opinion piece, Norman - and I'd agree completely. Manned space exploration is an indulgement, an incredible expense, monies that could be used for so many other needs. Same, of course, can be said about our MIC, and the amount of $$ we blow on having the dominant military in the world.

    But we don't live in a perfect world. And it'd be difficult to effectively argue that we are an intelligent species.
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by ron ll View Post
    If you anchor in a bay and want to explore the shallow estuary around the bend, would you rather send your drone or take your dinghy?
    if you are anchored up in that estuary, enjoying a bit of quiet surrounded by nature, would you rather see a row boat come around that corner, or have a drone fly a big circle around you.

    i would greet the rower with a silent wave hello. and the drone with a middle finger. i'm not even sure why, but that is how i feel.

    eta: sorry norman! i tend to agree about holding off on manned space flight.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by ron ll
    If you anchor in a bay and want to explore the shallow estuary around the bend, would you rather send your drone or take your dinghy?
    A waterborne drone could test for brain eating amoebas
    ITS CHAOS, BE KIND

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Wasting money is what government does well. Manned space stuff is small potatoes.
    Life is complex.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    As a fellow engineer with a business background I would take a more cynical approach to the reason for the space program, especially in the 1960's. The space program was very popular with the general population and therefore got enormous funding for the government.

    The first objective of the space program was to build a rocket capable of carrying a payload into space. The US led the world in rocket technology, and not surprisingly that technology found its way to the US military industrial complex (the same people building rockets for NASA (a non military organization)) and the US led the way in developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, spy satellites, ballistic missiles capable of of being fired from submarines, anti-ballistic missile missiles (star wars) and so much more...oh yeah an Tang. If you believe the space race was about putting a man on the moon...nope, at least not the primary objective.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pless View Post
    fart
    Colder than a fart on Titan.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    one point that the orbiting telescopes have been driving home over the last few decades is that the scope of time and space is utterly beyond the human body.

    but our contrivances can peer into time and space that we can never know.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by Norman Bernstein View Post
    (cont'd)


    ...but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. I am not suggesting that all space exploration should be eliminated in favor of feeding and housing the homeless, discovering cures and treatment for diseases, or solving child poverty. We need to do all these things, in proportion, and while the total budget for space exploration is not actually that large in comparison to other tax expenditures, I think it behooves us to spend that money with far greater efficiency and eliminating the economic penalty for manned space exploration would be a virtue.

    It’s fun to contemplate futuristic ambitions. Landing a man on the Moon again... or more significantly, launching a manned mission to Mars, is the stuff of science fiction, and not infrequently, science fiction can become science fact. We might ask ourselves, however, why we want to do these things. Does anyone really expect that colonizing Mars has value, other than as an excuse to escape the damage we’ve done to our own planet? Do we really need to return to the moon, and will having an astronaut walk on the Moon’s surface again provide any worthwhile science when compared to the cost and the risk?

    What prompted my interest in this topic? I was listening to some CDs from the late 60’s, and many will remember this lyric:



    Men’s mighty mine machines, digging in the ground
    Stealing rare minerals where they might be found
    Concrete caves with iron doors bury it again
    While a starving frightened world, fills the sea with grain
    I am a huge supporter of space exploration and feel that is has resulted in some technological advances that might not have otherwise occurred. That said, I do not feel that the reasons against it are off base either. Let's say that we cancel the Mars and moon missions - no more manned space flight of any kind. NASA's current budget is 24 billion of which 44.9% is spent on manned space flight. That means about 10.8 Billion would be available for nutrition and housing. Federal spending on the USDA's nutrition assistance program totaled 182.5 Billion in 2020 and federal expenditures for housing assistance was just over 90 Billion. So NASA'S 10.8 Billion would result in a 3.9% increase if all the money went into these two programs ignoring all others. I guess my question is: Is this enough to move the needle or would the impact be imperceptible? I don't know? I certainly don't think that any child should go without 3 meals a day, but how many still go without food if you are only increasing spending by 3.9%

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by Boatbum View Post
    NASA's current budget is 24 billion of which 44.9% is spent on manned space flight. That means about 10.8 Billion would be available for nutrition and housing. Federal spending on the USDA's nutrition assistance program totaled 182.5 Billion in 2020 and federal expenditures for housing assistance was just over 90 Billion. So NASA'S 10.8 Billion would result in a 3.9% increase...
    NASA's science budget is only around 4 billion. Adding 10.8 bil would definitely move that needle.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    No question that robotic exploration is more efficient. Building life-support systems for humans in space is complicated. Also far less risky; if a machine crashes or malfunctions, it's not nearly as big a deal, and you don't have to bring them home, And the machinery is getting better and better, particularly sensors and control systems.

    The one advantage of sending humans is popular enthusiasm and support. Mars rover photos are wonderful, but mainly of interest to those of us who are already enthusiastic about such things. The moon landings, OTOH, got EVEYBODY'S attention; everybody can identify with the person in the spacesuit exploring new worlds. Whether this outweighs the extra expense and risk is hard to tell. Probably not, but it's not obvious.

    I wouldn't worry much about the cost, though; the military already spends more on paper napkins or pencil erasers than the entire cost of space exploration. It's the one thing I'm positively enthusiastic about paying taxes to support.
    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
    for nature cannot be fooled."

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by George. View Post
    NASA's science budget is only around 4 billion. Adding 10.8 bil would definitely move that needle.
    Indeed, but as I took the question, Norm was asking how we can have people without food or decent housing while we are sending men into space for dubious benefits. Just curious, would tripling NASA's science budget triple their science output? Can you substantiate that with any facts?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ron ll View Post
    If you anchor in a bay and want to explore the shallow estuary around the bend, would you rather send your drone or take your dinghy?
    Well, if you know the shallow estuary has an outflow of toxic gas, electric eels that slither up and over the transom and big alligators the size of your dinghy the drone might be a good idea. The problem with these earthbound analogies is that the environment out there is not analagous. One isn’t crossing an ocean, one isn’t exploring another radiation free zone full of air, warmth and water. So sure we can create a mobile environment to keep humans alive in hostile environments but it’s not a place to live anymore than the Marianas Trench is a place to live.

    I’m all for throwing stuff into space at great expense to see what’s out there but making it possible to live out there is a big expense for the knowledge gained.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Generates a lot of money, employs a lot of people, makes a few people very rich. It's great team-building. Also, it's a great distraction; a circus for our age.

    That said, I do believe, as CW stated, that space exploration provides a means of inspiration and that's a good thing.

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  27. #27
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    It’s not about cost or science gain. It’s about boldly going where no one has gone before. It’s human nature.

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    While I understand Norman's position, I don't go for the absolutist ban on manned space travel.

    There are certain things that robotic, or remote-controlled spacecraft excel at - certainly astronomy, exploration of other worlds where conditions are too extreme to allow humans to survive, weather forecasting, communication, and navigation. Right now, more importantly, is the ability for orbiting satellites to tell us more about what is going on in remote parts of our planet and about how climate change is affecting all of us.

    That said, the space program itself - and the manned space program in particular - has created some huge technological leaps for those of us here on earth in terms of technology, materials, system efficiency, understanding human physiology and the like. Many things we currently take for granted might be still out in the future, or not developed at all.

    Near earth manned programs seem likely to yield benefits for certain manufacturing processes which benefit from the zero-G environment.

    From a purely human perspective, astronauts who have seen the planet from the outside have influenced those of us who have not had the opportunity to go to space. A talk by Cady Coleman at WPI about her experiences in space and going to space was an eye opener for me.

    Now if we could take some of that Defense budget and shift it to the space program and other human-focused programs on earth, we'd be all set.
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  29. #29
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    I’m more interested in exploring the concept of giving people food, shelter, and health care.

    Jeff C
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Pless View Post
    fart
    <snort>

    Oh Wait!!! ABORT, ABORT, ABORT!!!!!!!
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    I have a short list of people who have earned the right to interplanetary transportation.
    I'd much rather lay in my bunk all freakin day lookin at Youtube videos .

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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Ad Astra, baby. I have read too much sci-fi to give the cosmos over to AI.
    Gerard>
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    The money. I've said it here before: nobody stuffs dollars into a capsule and launches it into orbit. All that money is spent here on Earth. Spent on research programs, on training future engineers and scientists, spent on things that can benefit human lives and further knowledge.

    The efficiency of robots. Curiosity, the rover on Mars for ten years, has driven 17.5 miles. A human geologist could have gone further and studied more in a week. Even on foot, with a shovel. The robots are good, but they're currently no substitute for humans on the ground.

    The future of humanity. The dinosaurs died out because they didn't do space. Don't be a dinosaur.

    The inspiration. Humans, floating in orbit, bobbing about in lunar gravity, is simply awe-inspiring. Cool as...well, just see what this ape can do, if it tries hard enough.

    The risks. 243 set off to circumnavigate the world with Magellan. 56 returned. Would you have boarded one of those ships? Death in space will occur: it's inevitable. But people take risks all the time, and we know that no-one gets out of here alive. Would I rather die on Mars or worn-out in some Earthbound care home? I'll take the Mars option, thanks.

    Andy, still space-cadetting.
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  34. #34
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Awful lot of flotsam in that opinion, Andy!
    There's a lot of things they didn't tell me when I signed on with this outfit....

  35. #35
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    Default Re: Another unpopular opinion

    Waste of money...
    Shirley we could come up with better ways of spending money we don't have.

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