Bonus: Return to the 404Revisionist History
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- 17 Dec 2020
We're back in Atlanta - this week with jaunts to Jamaica, Kenya, court-side NBA games, and a deep dive into fine art forgery. Plus, Malcolm finally gets his big break in the advertising industry. LISTENER NOTE: No editors were involved with the writing of this episode of Revisionist History. Proceed at your own risk. Happy Holidays, everyone!
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Welcome to the bonus holiday special at Lenno themed edition of Revisionist History, Part two, a word before we begin. There is no overarching theme to what follows. No beginning, no middle, no end, no single compelling through line. My editor, Julia Barton, who is normally lovely, actually got all grumpy about doing this episode. So grumpy, in fact, that I thought I should let her put in her two cents before we get going.
OK, I thought about it some more. Happy holidays, Malcolm.
From here on out, you're on your own. All right. All right, all right. Here's my feeling. If there is anything in the world that unites my fellow revisionist historians, it is our endless appetite for wandering down empty corridors and poking through the cobwebs of the half baked and the marginal.
By the way, do you have anything better to do? You know, nor do I. I've been cooped up in my house for nine months and I'm losing my mind. And dreaming up Atlanta. So I'm just going to answer a few more random questions from you, my listeners, Lucas Nicholson asks on Twitter, What's your favorite memory of your father? OK, as you know, my dad comes up on this show every now and again. I like to refer to him as the patron saint of revisionist history because, among other things, Graham Gluba was a deeply mischievous man in a way that we strive every day to emulate here.
PUSHKIN Oh, I should point out, why do we call Pushkin Pushkin? Not because we have some pretentious intellectual connection to the famous Russian poet. Well, kind of. That's half of it. The other half is Graeme Gladwell, named our family's first dog growing up Pushkin, a floppy Your Shepherd lab mix. And I've always loved the name. My dad also named his garden Rototiller Alexander after Alexander the Great and his garden cart Rufous after the English king, King William, the second otherwise known as William Rufus.
He really liked to name things. My dad was English in the 1950s. He meets my mother, they get married, and a few years later they move back to Jamaica, where my mother's from. And my father teaches mathematics at the University of the West Indies, UEE, as it's called, in Kingston, Jamaica. Parenthetically, while he's there. Who does he meet and try to encourage to take mathematics? Donald Harris, father of future Vice President Kamala Harris, small world, anyway.
So my dad is working on some crazily complex bit of math, and this is before the Internet, of course, if you needed to read some crucial bit of scholarship, we had to go to an actual library. And he realizes the closest library that has the books he needs is at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. So he writes the chair of the math department at Georgia Tech. Can I come and use your library? Stay on campus for a bit while I do my research?
They say, of course, he starts to plan his trip boat from Kingston to Miami, bus from Miami to Georgia.
This is 1959. Georgia Tech is still a segregated institution. And the administration realizes that the head of the math department has just extended an invitation to a professor from the University of the West Indies, a place chock full of black people.
Panic sweeps through Georgia Tech, they start calling around other math departments. Does anyone know Agrium? Gladwell No one does because my dad is 25 years old. He's a nobody.
Finally, just before my dad is about to leave Jamaica, they managed to reach him by phone. Professor Gladwell, I have an important question for you, are you white? My father says, why, yes, I am. And the Georgia Tech guy says, Oh, thank God.
Now, my dad doesn't say anything time, because that's the way he was a pokerface, but when he finally gets to Atlanta, a bunch of people from the university take him out to dinner and he announces to the group, Gentlemen, I've just got married.
I want you to see a picture of my lovely bride who passes a photo of Joyce Gladwell sister around the table. I think you can see why he's the patron saint of revisionist history.
It's funny, I hadn't thought about that story for a long time, but Lucas Nicholsons question inspired me to do a follow up. So a few weeks ago, I call it the dean of computer science at Georgia Tech and artificial intelligence researcher named Charles Isbel. I'm going to warn you, this is a tangent. But as Hyman Roth said to Michael Corleone, tangents are the business we've chosen.
Yeah, tell me a little about your own are you are you from Atlanta? Yes, well, as you can tell by my accent from Chattanooga, Tennessee, but my earliest memory is arriving in Atlanta on a moving truck at the age of three. So I think of myself as being from Atlanta.
And did you go to do your undergrad at Georgia Tech? At an undergrad at Georgia Tech? And I did my master's in Ph.D. Remedy. Oh, I see.
So but you are a you consider yourself you're in Atlanta and. Oh, yes, through and through through. Isbel then told me the following story.
We started the first online masters of Science and computer science from a large elite university. Give you a sense of scale of that. We had zero students and as of this past semester we have about 11000. So we went from zero to eleven thousand in less than six years for around six and a half thousand dollars.
You can now get a master's of computer science from Georgia Tech online as opposed to the forty six thousand dollars it would cost you on campus. Same professors, same course materials, same academic standards.
So once you accept this larger idea, you start asking yourself, OK, well, if we want to educate everyone, if we want to truly be accessible and live up to this idea, then where can we go? Who can we talk to? So I took a trip for someone unrelated reasons to Kenya and visited Kenya and then a visiting Nigeria and and a few a few other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and started meeting with people there. And I came to the conclusion that this is a population where you have a large amount of untapped talent, people who are really interested in figuring out how to get formal education in computing and in computer science.
Isbell and his colleagues began traveling to Africa all the time. Their goal is to make Georgia Tech the world's number one educator of I.T. talent in sub-Saharan Africa.
Does it make a difference that you're an African-American when you when you're making this case for Georgia Tech in Africa?
I think it does. Certainly the conversations I've had make me think that it does. I think people are excited that there's someone over here who wants to have those conversations.
Then I told Isabelle the story about my dad feel like there's something personal.
He would have been so happy to hear about what's happening now at Georgia Tech. But just this wonderful story about how in the space of 60 years, the institution has gone from turning its back on people, even if they suspect them of being black, to, like, opening up its doors to sub-Saharan Africa. I think that's I don't know, I was moved.
Well, you know, I'm glad to say that it's actually a remarkable thing, particularly when you put it like that today.
Georgia Tech is one of the largest producers of black engineers, Hispanic engineers and Asian engineers in the country. It has more black undergrads who go on to do PhDs in computer science than any other American university.
Yeah, you know, I have these I talk to people all the time and, you know, they ask me about my life story and the things that I've gone through positive and negative. And and I was having this conversation with some of the other day. And, you know, I was telling about, you know, interactions I've had with the police in my younger days that didn't go very well. And and things people had said to me over the years.
And and I started talking about what I was hoping was going to happen for the future. And and someone said to me, well, you know, you seem very optimistic and hopeful. And I thought about it and I thought, you know, it's true. In the end, I'm optimistic and hopeful. I do like the idea that, you know, within a generation and it's certainly a place like Atlanta, that the reason why I love the city.
Hmm. And I saw on your website that you do know, you still do, but hip hop reviews and I mean this this is the most romantic thing I've ever heard in my life. The a professor at Georgia Tech who does hip hop stuff on the side.
Yes, I've been a I've been a huge fan of hip hop since the very beginning. Well, certainly the modern hip hop artist is very beginning. I did a an online hip hop award show for about eight years. For a while there, I had the first online black history database and I saw on your left page everyone gets a P Funk name, everyone gets a piece like that.
P Funk being, of course, the nickname of Parliament Funkadelic, the legendary funk Ben started by George Clinton on Isabel's laboratory website.
It reads, The P and P Funk stands for probabilistic. As for the funk, it stands for many things as well. It should. Specific interpretations are left as an exercise for the reader. You are atomic dog. You would have to be aware, of course, that atomic dog.
There's no other option.
How much do I love Atlanta? All right, Roger Nation 24 asks on Twitter, Why have you never made an episode about Kanye West? His career trajectory seems like the perfect fit for your podcast. Very, very good question, Roger Nation. Twenty four. Let's put it this way. It's not for lack of trying because no one likes a celebrity hang more than me. I once went David Hasselhoff in Sweden, of all places, got a selfie with him.
And if you look at the photo, I have this big stupid grin on my face like I'm the happiest I've ever been in my life for the Hoff.
But if a better story, which also and you're not going to believe this involves my favorite city, Atlanta.
So a couple of years ago when Kevin Durant was still with the Golden State Warriors, they came to Atlanta to play the Hawks.
And after the game, quaver of the great hip hop group Migas comes up to Durant and Durant, who is like seven feet tall, leans down and takes off his jersey and gives it to quaver.
One of the greatest basketball players in the world comes to town and pays homage to the king of Atlanta hip hop. The picture goes viral. It's a sensation. In fact, you should look it up for yourself. Image Google Coupeville and Kevin Durant.
Epic pop culture defining moment. Right? Now, while you're at it, look to the right, you'll see a bunch of people standing in the background, you might have to zoom in a bit. There's a skinny guy wearing a big jacket, glasses, big head of curly hair. Now, who does that look like? Oh, yeah. Baby of Atlanta. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. Hey, I'm Stephen Johnson, the host of Wonderings Show American Innovations, where we go deep into the stories of the scientists, engineers and ordinary people who shape our modern world.
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It's a way McDonald's says thank you to the ones who give us so much. Along with your donations, McDonald's helps support Ronald McDonald House Charities in keeping families near the care and resources they need when they have a sick child. McDonald's serving here. We're back with more of your excellent questions. This one's from Zoe Rattus. At the conclusion of each revisionist history episode, Mr. Gladwell says original scoring by the next two words could be Louis Scarra, Luis Sierra, Lou was Scarra or some other combo I haven't thought of yet.
I would like to get in touch with this person as I think their talents are neat. And as an aspiring score writer myself, I hope they might share some info with me about how they came to be in this role. Thank you so much, Zoe. Zoe, I am happy to tell you his name is Luis Guerra JI. You are a he's a musical genius. As should be apparent, if you listen to any episode of the show and I will let him answer the rest of your questions himself.
Well, it's like I would Double-take to hear Malcolm Gladwell and put musical genius would by my name in the same sentence as a little bit of a but so I mean that.
With that said, my name is Louis Scarra. You could also say Louis Guare totally fine. I have two ethnic identities going here, so I do compose music for a living I'm pushing into. My thirtieth year is like a full time musician.
So I started really young and my life I grew up in a family where all of us kids, there was four of us. We were encouraged and required to play a musical instrument and I sort of jumped around the most.
So I started out on drums, went to piano, played a little guitar, and then ended up playing bass and for whatever reason, stuck with the bass. It wasn't really something that I wanted to do for a career.
It was more about this is a great way to escape things going on in my life.
And so then, you know, long story short, I moved to Austin, Texas in the early nineties and artist, musician, whatever a creative person, you didn't need a lot of money to pay your rent and your bills.
OK, so as a young person, that was a great place to actually, like, just jump into a scene. And I also was a short order line cook. And those two things sort of merged at later on in my life because I started realizing that as people would come up and ask for their food to be made, they would also sometimes come and ask for me to make a piece of music and, you know, either one. I just would do it.
I wasn't like I didn't think a whole lot of it, honestly, and it was just something that like I would occasionally listen to a podcast when I go run or something. But when this came up, I knew that this was going to be a very serious project. And so I was like, heck, yeah, that sounds awesome. The podcast, what it's things overlooked, right. And misunderstood.
And I think there's room to explore musical clichés. And so I'm feeling like there's that's sort of the top level down. I want to take stereotypical ideas sort of that where they're predictable and start inverting them in, like not just remixing them, you know, but actually like really playing with that. Maybe there's three things that come to mind and how I approach it. When I wanted the music to be transparent, I don't want it to stand out so that it's just overshadowing.
And like overtaking and like, wow, that's a really great piece of music or that's a really great sound.
But then you forget, whatever the topic was, the other one is wanted to support and evolve and be interesting so that if you actually do find yourself thinking about the music, you're like, well, what is that?
What's the sound? What's going on? And then the other is like, I want to be flexible.
I do imagine this music could be performed live. I've thought about revisionist history at this team of producers is like a band. We've been in this band for five years, you know, and sometimes the band gets bigger and more producers step in and they're like, we're all supporting Malcolm, who's the front man.
So how do I shape the music, to sound, to match Malcolm's voice on revisionist history? Well, it's a little trick in composing for media, but every speaker has some sort of tonality to their voice. So if I can find that, then I can actually make things sound more harmonious.
But if I wanted to create tension, then I can actually, like, write in a key to be sort of juxtaposed or to clash specifically with the voice. So Malcolm's voice, there's a few tonal centers that I do.
If you listen to revisionist history music, there are tonal centers that I pick frequently that really I feel like support his voice. So there's a mysterious element to this, right. I want to pull from the cliche that I'm referencing, but I also want it to be done in a revisionist history sort of way. So in this situation, there's marimba, right? But a marimba to me with like a certain amount of delay and reverb is going to put the listener into this zone.
Even if they don't know it, they're going to immediately feel like, hmm, what's going on here, you know? And so it's a device, if you will. And I think that's what composers do every day is a new adventure, a studio. I can't I mean, it's I don't know. It's a fun job. I can think of worse things to be doing. Thank you, Luis, for five years of making me sound fantastic. OK, back to Listener Mailbag, and I have to warn you, you know how like a fleeting moment can inspire a whole novel that takes years to complete?
This one is kind of like that. Jonathan Wolfman's asks on Twitter, What do you do when you feel like you've reached a dead end in a story? Very, very good question, Jonathan. This actually happened to us last season when we were in the middle of doing the episode about the tangled provenance of Van Gogh's vase with carnations.
Here's a little piece of that story. In 1956, Kirk Douglas starred in a movie about Van Gogh called Lust for Life.
Few people know the real story of this intense, strong willed man. Now his tumultuous career is revealed for the first time with frankness and intimacy. With all that, if you look at the corner of the movie poster for Lust for life, there it is Farzat carnations, but by then gets it, sold it. He didn't hang on to his Van Gogh the way he did his other treasures. It wasn't for him. The painting passed to the heirs to the Kmart fortune.
Catherine Kresge, who, among other things, was once married to a Swedish baron. She convinced him to leave London and come live with her in her native Detroit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Swedish parents order for Miss Kresge did not survive the move to Michigan when Kresge died in 1990.
She will vase with carnations to the Detroit Institute of Arts. She gave it without restriction, meaning the DIA, as it's known, could do with it what they wanted sell it, traded. They didn't have to make it part of the permanent collection. Kresge clearly didn't care any more for the painting than guested. And neither did the desire they put it in a basement for 20 years, Vincent Van Gogh painted many remarkable canvases.
This is not one of them. While we were reporting this episode, we had to solve a problem, which was we didn't know whether the Van Gogh was a fake. So I said to my producer, Elvis Clinton, can we find out? Thinking foolishly, it would be easy. Elvis starts with a curator at the Detroit Institute of Arts named George, who went on the record years ago to say that he thought vase with carnations was a fake.
I call his home in Maine. He doesn't answer. I leave a message. I call again. His wife picks up. I tell her what I'm asking about and she says they're going on a trip and if I call back, they won't be there. This was the beginning of the pandemic. April Louise and I had started having these Zoome calls where we shared our frustrations. That's one little we. In fact, number one, he's retired. He's living in Maine.
He doesn't want to talk about a painting that he neither like nor thought was real. OK, next, what was that? What happened next?
Then Louise tries a prominent art journalist who's written extensively about that girl. As soon as she mentions Vase with carnations, the guy disappears. Then she just starts calling up big name Vengo experts one after another. Same thing I told him. I was thinking about the days of carnations and he stopped buying. And then I followed up two weeks later because someone had recommended I talk to him and he said that he would speak to me this morning. And then when I called his office, they said he wasn't there.
And then I emailed him and he never responded.
I understand this is not the Mona Lisa we're talking about. Those with carnations is a third rate, maybe Vengo. It spent much of its life over the past few decades in the basement of the Detroit Institute of Arts and also understand that we're doing this reporting while the entire world is at home. Do you know how easy it is to get people to talk during lockdown? It's been the most fantastic stretch of reporting in my 35 years in journalism.
I could get the pope on the phone if I wanted because he's sitting in his palazzo like everyone else, doing nothing but watching Italian Netflix. Everyone was available except art people. I talk to the lawyer on the other side of that controversy and he says insists everything has to be on background and then sends me this long email in which he tells me something like totally obvious. I could have gotten off Wikipedia and says, you can use that, but only on background.
This is this random painting, which is any good, which. We thought it was fake for years and years and years, and the whole world does want to talk about it, not even just a little old us. Yeah, who knows what I mean.
I can't understand why unless we're just being part of me thinks that we're just alone and quarantined and becoming paranoid or something.
Finally, Alawi's finds a Vengo expert named David Brooks who spells it out for us.
Yeah, everybody kind of walks on eggshells when it comes to the the fakes topic, and rightfully so. I don't really say much about it. And the Van Gogh Museum is always very careful. For example, I'll even say to my friend my contact at the Van Gogh Museum, such and such work. I mean, people have questioned it. What do you think? And my friend will say, we have no opinion. We we simply can't express an opinion unless they're officially called on to do an investigation and to properly study the work.
They're Switzerland. They just remain neutral. And that's a smart move. It makes life easier for them.
Why? Why is it such a use? I think you called it a firecracker topic. It is it's a firecracker topic and again, one that I've avoided over the years because I just don't need the grief.
The art world is a collection of people with a great deal of knowledge about art, who, on the question of fakes, whether knowledge might be useful, declined to use their knowledge.
They don't want to be the one who reigns on someone's parade by telling them that their prized Van Gogh was actually painted by like some dude in Cleveland in the 1970s.
This is like doctors who are happy to tell you that you're healthy, but would rather not break the news to you that you're sick. So finally, Louise tracked down a data scientist at a university in Holland named Eric Postma.
I was working on in the old days of computer vision before the time of deep learning, there was this challenge to recognise visual texture. And I was I had visited the Van Gogh Museum. There was a kind of impressionist paintings, exhibits. And then I had the idea to create a data set from paintings because they all have these different visual textures.
Basically, Postma Trains is a program to match the patterns of authenticated Van Gogh's against unverified Van Gogh's. So Louise sends him an image of us with carnations and a few weeks later he calls with the results to make it very concrete.
I take blocks of two hundred fifty six point two hundred fifty six pixels and I look at each block in the and the image and compare and try to classify that as real. Van Gogh or Van Gogh. And what I see in many paintings that I know are Frangos, I always see, OK, it's about 70 to 80 percent of the surface is classified as van. But in this particular case, it's 50 50. It is really 50 50. I replicated that several times.
I changed the data set. Normally, I would like to have multiple copies of reproductions, but this suggests to me that it's not clearly a Van Gogh and it's also not clearly a non fungo. It's it's something in between, which is not very helpful, of course. But it's the first time that I have such a clear cut where it works, rebalanced. It's really 50/50.
I mean, how perfect is that? 50/50. Then Postma comes back to us and says, actually upon reanalysis, I think the flowers are real, but maybe the background is not. We spared you all this in the original episode because we found a better story to tell. But at least you know how I came to the conclusion that I did, which is the art world is nuts. The only person who would actually discuss the authenticity of Vase wasn't someone in the art world.
It was a data scientist, for goodness sake, an outsider who uses A.I. to analyze pixels. And poor Eric Postma is left spending his days dealing with crazy art world types. Clutching would be masterpieces.
There were even people that wanted to put their painting in my computer. NETTHEIM What do you mean?
Oh, that physical you they call me and my painting. Can I put it in your computer? I said, yeah. What do you mean I can bring it to you. Is there an opening in your computer that I can put it in?
And the three people will be pretty sure this will be my last episode on The Art World. This episode is made remarkable by Maker's Mark, you know, the red wax tipped bottle, but there's more beneath the surface of Maker's Mark than you may realize. A bourbon born of personal touches, Maker's Mark seeks to go beyond the obvious to create something truly remarkable. We invite you to pour yourself into everything you do, treat yourself to some maker's mark and raise a glass to the incredible musicians who continue to create something remarkable.
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I want you to start living a happier life today. As a listener, you'll get 10 percent off your first month by visiting. Better help Dotcom Gladwell join over one million people taking charge of their mental health. Again, that's better help A.P. dotcom slash Gladwell. We're back with more of your insightful listener questions. Aaron Clansman at Glendora asks Love to hear more about your running obsession. Smiley face, what's your routine? Got some good recommendations. OK, I'll just shoes track Smith gear.
My favorite thing in the world is group track workouts.
But sadly, since covid, my only running partner, has been the 13 year old son of my friends who is super speedy and completely plays me, pretends he's all exhausted and then destroys me in the final interval.
Picking up trash, Smith, you may have heard some of their ads and revisionist history. I'm a huge fan of their stuff where it all the time. A few weeks ago, the founder of Trek Smith asked me, could he convince me to write the copy for an ad they were making? And I said, sure, because I don't know if you know this, but my ambition coming out of college was to be a copywriter, applied to twenty eight ad agencies, got twenty eight rejection letters, which I put on the wall of my dorm room.
So I'm a frustrated ad guy. Deep down, that's my core identity, which is why I sometimes go a little crazy on the dance I do for revisionist history.
Do you remember Horace thrugh Barton of the law firm, thrugh bottom, thrugh bottom and thrugh bottom?
That was a character I cooked up with my producer, Jacob Smith for Zip Schruder. Really? And where do you work now? Oh, I just started I'm a partner at rock bottom and rock bottom Horus, my man.
Let's drink to your future Qianjin.
If your horse Cabot Rock Bottom the first, it's easy to figure out who to hire. But if your last name isn't rock bottom, you need zip recruiter. Point is, the head of some little startup who makes my favorite running stuff comes to me and says, Do you want to help out? Of course I'm going to say yes. So here it is. The video of this is a couple of runners, including the great Mary Kane, running through darkened lonely streets.
You could always stay in bed. Pull up the covers, pour a stiff drink, order in worry. You could always let someone else take on the world. Actors playing, heroes, pounding soundtrack, that thing where they take on great risks. Only it's all made up. But then who would you be? Or you could say to the world, I have all I need. I have movement, breath, lungs. Daydreams. Running is a gift.
It's so emotional, the IMO Malcolm Gladwell. Is anyone still listening? At Harsha, SRAW asks, higher percentile your mile time for your age group or your LSAT score. They were actually a bunch of questions like this at Production Labs, writes hello from Germany. What did you score on the LSAT in the Puzzle Rush episode? I get this question all the time. Now, back in season four, my then assistant, Camille Baptista and I took the LSAT not to become lawyers know, just to see whether a young, brainy whippersnapper like Camille was a match for a savvy, grizzled veteran like me.
And at the end of a two episode arc with so much ridiculous build up, I refused to reveal what our scores were, which apparently left many in the revisionist history universe up in arms.
But wait, the whole point of the episode was that standardized tests like the LSAT don't tell us anything meaningful. If you tell someone your score, you're complicit in the scam. Don't ask, don't tell. But we did get one very charming email on the subject from Joan Riddel Steinmann, who teaches Choire at Paradigm High School in Salt Lake City. Steinmann wrote a whole song inspired by our LSAT episodes. I'm not kidding. It's called A Scantron. A Day Keeps All Learning at bay.
She said she was coming to New York with her choir and could they perform it for us? This is what she wrote. We 24 singers for parents, chaperones, myself and our school principal would love to sing to him, meaning me. We can meet him outside a coffee shop or anywhere and sing the song a cappella.
Sadly, because of covid, the meeting never happened. So we're going to play the song for you now.
A, B, C, D, A, C, C, C, and D, B is marked 18 of is city to stop and cantante outfit and stop a scantron a day is part of Steinman's musical solve for X, but you can check out at Solve for X Musical Dukkha.
You want to get on my good side. Read me songs. Joan Steinmann you are a genius.
Proof that sometimes good things happen outside of Atlanta but to just park it every time. That's all.
Ladies and gentlemen, stay safe. Have a wonderful holiday and see you for season six of revisionist history in 2021 a.
I think so revisionist history is produced by Mia Lobell and Leming, astute with Jacob Smith, Alawi's, Clinton, Coby Gilford and on in and our editor is Julia Barton, original scoring by the great Lewis Carroll.
You are a mastering by Flon Williams special thanks to the Pushkin crew, had a famed Carly Migliore, Maia Karnig, Maggie Taylor, Eric Sandler, Jason Kimbrell, Martin Gonzalez and of course, LFN, Jacob Weisberg and Martin.
Put your pencils down. Now I have to sing a little feat, but I've forgotten and I realized that what I thought were the lyrics to Little Feet were not the lyrics little feet. I thought it was, oh, Atlanta, I hear you calling. It's not, you know, the song choice. You guys know the song. But what's what's the matter? Are you serious, Louise, do you know it? Oh, my God.
No. I said, oh, Atlanta, oh, Atlanta, I got to get right. Well, we'll do this later for you. I said, Oh, I said, Oh, Atlanta. Oh, Atlanta, I got to get back to you.
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