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For Grammar, the Winner Is ... Biden

In last night's vice presidential debate, Sen. Joe Biden used ungrammatical sentences 28 times, not counting grammar errors attributable to "shifts and false starts." Gov. Sarah Palin used 71 ungrammatical sentences not counting shifts and false starts.

Because speech -- especially speech under pressure -- is not a perfect reflection of the speaker's language knowledge, this analysis can't be construed as proof that Biden is more grammatically savvy than Palin. Only that, last night, more of his sentences were grammatical.

My analysis suggests, but does not prove, that Biden speaks in clearer, more logical, more grammatical sentences. However, he is much more likely than Palin to shift from one structure to another mid-sentence. Biden had 47 such shifts and/or false starts, compared to Palin's 14. An example is Biden's sentence, "Look, we have spent more money -- we spend more money in three weeks on combat in Iraq than we spent on the entirety of the last seven years that we have been in Afghanistan building that country." Such grammar problems were counted among the shifts and false starts and not among the serious logical/syntactical problems.

Here's how I did the analysis. From a transcript of the debate, I noted all the sentences that were ungrammatical or semantically illogical. (The logic of the point being made was not considered. Only the logic of the language used to make the point). Often the grammar errors were sentences or clauses that lacked a subject or a verb that the speaker intended to include. For example, Palin sometimes relegated what appeared to be her intended verb to the status of modifier by putting it in a relative clause ("But, again, John McCain who knows how to win a war, who's been there and he's faced challenges and he knows what evil is and knows what it takes to overcome the challenges here with our military.")

I separated out grammatical errors that were clearly the result of stammers, false starts ("John and I plan to -- we wanted"), and deliberate mid-sentence structural shifts, which were often indistinguishable from false starts. I gave the speaker the benefit of the doubt in a few seeming errors I suspect were more likely the transcriber's typos -- especially a few cases in which verb conjugations were off only by the letter S, as in, "It look bad."

A few sentences over which I was conflicted are noted with "squeaker."

Whenever changes to the transcriber's punctuation would make the sentence better, the candidate was given that benefit of the doubt.

I did not focus on pedantic issues such as whether "who" can refer to a nonhuman entity. Of the words with unclear antecents, only the most egregious -- only the ones that could not be logically connected to any subject spoken or even implied -- were counted as errors. I did not count as errors most stammers in which just one word is repeated. For example, Palin's "You -- you walk the walk" was not counted as either type of error.

My general impression is that Palin is much more prone to speaking in sentences that go nowhere and make no sense. Biden is more likely "rewind" and to restructure sentences halfway through.

Also interesting: The candidates had some salient verbal habits. Most notably, Biden numbers things a lot. "Number one. Number two." Palin says "again" and "also" a lot.

Here are all the sentences counted above, categorized by candidate and the type of error they reflect. This hasn't been proofread. As a rule, I'm prone to errors in organization, so if you see any clear errors let me know. Again, many of the sentence categorizations below are highly subjective and I welcome discussion and debate!

************* BEGIN SENTENCE TALLY **********

BIDEN SENTENCES WITH SYNTAX/LOGIC PROBLEMS

If you need any more proof positive of how bad the economic theories have been, this excessive deregulation, the failure to oversee what was going on, letting Wall Street run wild, I don't think you needed any more evidence than what you see now.

And, lastly, what you have to do is make sure that CEOs don't benefit from this, because this could end up, in the long run, people making money off of this rescue plan.

John McCain while Barack Obama was warning about what we had to do was literally giving an interview to The Wall Street Journal saying that I'm always for cutting regulations.

You had actually the belief that Wall Street could self-regulate itself.

As a matter of fact, John recently wrote an article in a major magazine saying that he wants to do for the health care industry deregulate it and let the free market move like he did for the banking industry.

We don't call a redistribution in my neighborhood Scranton, Claymont, Wilmington, the places I grew up, to give the fair to say that not giving Exxon Mobil another $4 billion tax cut this year as John calls for and giving it to middle class people to be able to pay to get their kids to college, we don't call that redistribution.

The bottom line here is that we are going to, in fact, eliminate those wasteful spending that exist in the budget right now, a number of things I don't have time, because the light is blinking, that I won't be able to mention, but one of which is the $100 billion tax dodge that, in fact, allows people to take their post office box off- shore, avoid taxes.

That would keep people in their homes, actually help banks by keeping it from going under.

And there -- ways that we're offering are not being supported by -- by the Bush administration nor do I believe by John McCain and Gov. Palin.

We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be able to be able to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

John McCain voted against funding the troops because of an amendment he voted against had a timeline in it to draw down American troops.

John McCain and Dick Cheney said while I was saying we would not be greeted as liberators, we would not -- this war would take a decade and not a day, not a week and not six months, we would not be out of there quickly.

But look, here's what the fundamental problem I have with John's policy about terror instability.

Five secretaries of state did say we should talk with and sit down.

* (also counted under shifts and false starts) The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge -- the surge principles used in Iraq will not -- well, let me say this again now -- our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.

* (also counted under shifts and false starts) John McCain has not been -- has not been the kind of supporter for dealing with -- and let me put it another way.

My recommendations on Bosnia. I admit I was the first one to recommend it.

Go look at joebiden.com, contemporaneously, held hearings in the summer before we went to war, saying if we went to war, we would not be greeted as liberators.

We would be tied down for a decade and cost us hundreds of billions of dollars.

(Squeaker. It’s possible there was a mumbled “on.”) John McCain was lock-step with Dick Cheney at that point how this was going to be easy.

Gwen, I hope we'll get back to education because I don't know any government program that John is supporting, not early education, more money for it.

I would also, when asked if I wanted a portfolio, my response was, no.

The idea he doesn't realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that's the Executive Branch.

And, by the way, a record of change.

Wrote the crime bill, put 100,000 cops on the street, wrote the Violence Against Women Act, which John McCain voted against both of them, was the catalyst to change the circumstance in Bosnia, led by President Clinton, obviously.

But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand.

He has not supported tax cuts and significant changes for people being able to send their kids to college.

Gwen, thank you for doing this, and the commission.

BIDEN SHIFTS AND FALSE STARTS

So the Congress has been put -- Democrats and Republicans have been put in a very difficult spot. But Barack Obama laid out four basic criteria for any kind of rescue plan here.

And so, as a consequence of that, it brings us back to maybe the fundamental disagreement between Gov. Palin and me and Sen. McCain and Barack Obama, and that is that the -- we're going to fundamentally change the focus of the economic policy.

Well, that's what I've done my whole career, Gwen, on very, very controversial issues, from dealing with violence against women, to putting 100,000 police officers on the street, to trying to get something done about the genocide in -- that was going on in Bosnia.

Yes, well, you know, until two weeks ago -- it was two Mondays ago John McCain said at 9 o'clock in the morning that the fundamentals of the economy were strong. Two weeks before that, he said George -- we've made great economic progress under George Bush's policies.

John wants to add $300 million, billion in new tax cuts per year for corporate America and the very wealthy while giving virtually nothing to the middle class.

Now, with regard to the -- to the health care plan, you know, it's with one hand you giveth, the other you take it.

You know how Barack Obama -- excuse me, do you know how John McCain pays for his $5,000 tax credit you're going to get, a family will get?

That's how he raises $3.6 trillion, on your -- taxing your health care benefit to give you a $5,000 plan, which his Web site points out will go straight to the insurance company.

And then you're going to have to replace a $12,000 -- that's the average cost of the plan you get through your employer, it costs $12,000 -- You're going to have to pay -- replace a $12,000 plan, because 20 million of you are going to be dropped.

So you're going to have to place -- replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company.

And what we're not going to also hold up on, Gwen, is we cannot afford to hold up on providing for incentives for new jobs by an energy policy, creating new jobs.

And we are not going to slow up on the whole idea of providing for affordable health care for Americans, none of which, when we get to talk about health care, is as my -- as the governor characterized -- characterized.

Again, let me -- let's talk about those tax breaks.

Barack Obama -- Obama voted for an energy bill because, for the first time, it had real support for alternative energy.

They've made $600 billion since 2001, and John McCain wants to give them, all by itself -- separate, no additional bill, all by itself -- another $4 billion tax cut.

Only 10 percent of the people who are -- have been affected by this whole switch from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13

And, look, this probably explains the biggest fundamental difference between John McCain and Barack Obama and Sarah Palin and Joe Biden -- Gov. Palin and Joe Biden.

The way in which we can stop the greenhouse gases from emitting, we believe -- Barack Obama believes by investing in clean coal and safe nuclear, we can not only create jobs in wind and solar here in the United States, we can export it.

My record, just take a look at the record. My record for 25 years has supported clean coal technology.

And if the only answer you have is oil, and John -- and the governor says John is for everything.

The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera.

The bottom line though is, and I'm glad to hear the governor, I take her at her word, obviously, that she thinks there should be no civil rights distinction, none whatsoever, between a committed gay couple and a committed heterosexual couple.

John McCain -- this is a fundamental difference between us, we'll end this war.

John McCain voted against an amendment containing $1 billion, $600 million that I had gotten to get MRAPS, those things that are protecting the governor's son and pray god my son and a lot of other sons and daughters.

I always am focused, as you know Gwen, I have been focusing on for a long time, along with Barack on Pakistan.

They are more than - they are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that's able to be deployed.

I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it's going to come -- as our security services have said -- it is going to come from al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Now, John and Gov. Palin now say they're all for -- they have a passion, I think the phrase was, a passion for diplomacy and that we have to bring our friends and allies along.

When we kicked -- along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, "Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because if you don't know -- if you don't, Hezbollah will control it."

(also counted under illogic) The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge -- the surge principles used in Iraq will not -- well, let me say this again now -- our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.

Let me say that again: three weeks in Iraq; seven years, seven years or six-and-a-half years in Afghanistan.

(also counted under illogic) John McCain has not been -- has not been the kind of supporter for dealing with -- and let me put it another way.

They put together a piece of legislation that, in fact, was serious and real. Every major -- I shouldn't say every -- on the two at least that I named, I know that John McCain has been opposed to extending the arms control regime in the world.

We took Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, being told by everyone, I was told by everyone that this would mean that they had been killing each other for a thousand years, it would never work.

With regard to Iraq, I indicated it would be a mistake to -- I gave the president the power.

When a country engages in genocide, when a country engaging in harboring terrorists and will do nothing about it, at that point that country in my view and Barack's view forfeits their right to say you have no right to intervene at all.

And one of the things he said early on when he was choosing, he said he picked someone who had an independent judgment and wouldn't be afraid to tell him if he disagreed.

(also under illogic) But the notion that somehow, because I'm a man, I don't know what it's like to raise two kids alone, I don't know what it's like to have a child you're not sure is going to -- is going to make it -- I understand.

Look, the maverick -- let's talk about the maverick John McCain is.

He has voted against -- he voted including another 3.6 million children in coverage of the existing health care plan, when he voted in the United States Senate.

Can we send -- can we get Mom's MRI?

How are we going to heat the -- heat the house this winter?

(2 shifts in this sentence) When I got to the United States Senate and went on the Judiciary Committee as a young lawyer, I was of the view and had been trained in the view that the only thing that mattered was whether or not a nominee appointed, suggested by the president had a judicial temperament, had not committed a crime of moral turpitude, and was -- had been a good student.

And so that -- that -- that was one of the intellectual changes that took place in my career as I got a close look at it.

Mike Mansfield, a former leader of the Senate, said to me one day -- he -- I made a criticism of Jesse Helms.

I think that's why I have the respect I have and have been able to work as well as I've been able to have worked in the United States Senate

PALIN SENTENCES WITH SYNTAX/LOGIC PROBLEMS

You know, I think a good barometer here, as we try to figure out has this been a good time or a bad time in America's economy, is go to a kid's soccer game on Saturday, and turn to any parent there on the sideline and ask them, "How are you feeling about the economy?"

And I'll bet you, you're going to hear some fear in that parent's voice, fear regarding the few investments that some of us have in the stock market.

A fear, as small-business owners, perhaps, how we're going to borrow any money to increase inventory or hire more people.

The barometer there, I think, is going to be resounding that our economy is hurting and the federal government has not provided the sound oversight that we need and that we deserve, and we need reform to that end.

I think that the alarm has been heard, though, and there will be that greater oversight, again thanks to John McCain's bipartisan efforts that he was so instrumental in bringing folks together over this past week, even suspending his own campaign to make sure he was putting excessive politics aside and putting the country first.

And the American workforce is the greatest in this world, with the ingenuity and the work ethic that is just entrenched in our workforce.

And I've joined this team that is a team of mavericks with John McCain, also, with his track record of reform, where we're known for putting partisan politics aside to just get the job done.

In fact, 96 percent of his votes have been solely along party line, not having that proof for the American people to know that his commitment, too, is, you know, put the partisanship, put the special interests aside, and get down to getting business done for the people of America.

One thing that Americans do at this time, also, though, is let's commit ourselves just everyday American people, Joe Six Pack, hockey moms across the nation, I think we need to band together and say never again.

That's a lot of middle income average American families to increase taxes on them.

As governor we suspended our state fuel tax.

I do take issue with some of the principle there with that redistribution of wealth principle that seems to be espoused by you.

But when you talk about Barack's plan to tax increase affecting only those making $250,000 a year or more, you're forgetting millions of small businesses that are going to fit into that category.

Well, the nice thing about running with John McCain is I can assure you he doesn't tell one thing to one group and then turns around and tells something else to another group, including his plans that will make this bailout plan, this rescue plan, even better.

Sen. Biden, you would remember that, in that energy plan that Obama voted for, that's what gave those oil companies those big tax breaks.

You know what I had to do in the state of Alaska? I had to take on those oil companies and tell them, "No," you know, any of the greed there that has been kind of instrumental, I guess, in their mode of operation, that wasn't going to happen in my state.

And those huge tax breaks aren't coming to the big multinational corporations anymore, not when it adversely affects the people who live in a state and, in this case, in a country who should be benefiting at the same time.

* (also counted under shifts) But here, again, there have -- there have been so many changes in the conditions of our economy in just even these past weeks that there has been more and more revelation made aware now to Americans about the corruption and the greed on Wall Street.

* (squeaker) We need to look back, even two years ago, and we need to be appreciative of John McCain's call for reform with Fannie Mae, with Freddie Mac, with the mortgage-lenders, too, who were starting to really kind of rear that head of abuse.

And we also have John McCain to thank for bringing in a bipartisan effort people to the table so that we can start putting politics aside, even putting a campaign aside, and just do what's right to fix this economic problem that we are in.

And now we have to be ever vigilant and also making sure that credit markets don't seize up.

And East Coast politicians who don't allow energy-producing states like Alaska to produce these, to tap into them.

We're circulating about $700 billion a year into foreign countries, some who do not like America -- they certainly don't have our best interests at heart -- instead of those dollars circulating here, creating tens of thousands of jobs and allowing domestic supplies of energy to be tapped into and start flowing into these very, very hungry markets.

* (squeaker) Well, as the nation's only Arctic state and being the governor of that state, Alaska feels and sees impacts of climate change more so than any other state.

I'm not one to attribute every man -- activity of man to the changes in the climate.

There is something to be said also for man's activities, but also for the cyclical temperature changes on our planet.

We have got to encourage other nations also to come along with us with the impacts of climate change, what we can do about that.

But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

We'll know when we're finished in Iraq when the Iraqi government can govern its people and when the Iraqi security forces can secure its people.

I don't know how you can defend that position now but I know that you know especially with your son in the National Guard and I have great respect for your family also and the honor that you show our military.

And as for who coined that central war on terror being in Iraq, it was the Gen. Petraeus and al Qaeda, both leaders there and it's probably the only thing that they're ever going to agree on, but that it was a central war on terror is in Iraq.

An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider.

Iran claiming that Israel as he termed it, a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped off the face of the earth.

Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are one that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet with without preconditions being met first.

But again, with some of these dictators who hate America and hate what we stand for, with our freedoms, our democracy, our tolerance, our respect for women's rights, those who would try to destroy what we stand for cannot be met with just sitting down on a presidential level as Barack Obama had said he would be willing to do.

It's lining out clear objectives and having your friends and your allies ready to back you up there and have sanctions lined up before any kind of presidential summit would take place.

A two-state solution is the solution.

And Secretary Rice, having recently met with leaders on one side or the other there, also, still in these waning days of the Bush administration, trying to forge that peace, and that needs to be done, and that will be top of an agenda item, also, under a McCain-Palin administration.

A two-state solution, building our embassy, also, in Jerusalem, those things that we look forward to being able to accomplish, with this peace-seeking nation, and they have a track record of being able to forge these peace agreements.

No, in fact, when we talk about the Bush administration, there's a time, too, when Americans are going to say, "Enough is enough with your ticket," on constantly looking backwards, and pointing fingers, and doing the blame game.

I'd like to just really quickly mention there, too, that when you look back and you say that the Bush administration's policy on Afghanistan perhaps would be the same as McCain, and that's not accurate.

Certainly, accounting for different conditions in that different country and conditions are certainly different.

Americans are craving that straight talk and just want to know, hey, if you voted for it, tell us why you voted for it and it was a war resolution.

And you had supported John McCain's military strategies pretty adamantly until this race and you had opposed very adamantly Barack Obama's military strategy, including cutting off funding for the troops that attempt all through the primary.

But as for as Darfur, we can agree on that also, the supported of the no-fly zone, making sure that all options are on the table there also.

What I've done in my position to help, as the governor of a state that's pretty rich in natural resources, we have a $40 billion investment fund, a savings fund called the Alaska Permanent Fund.

But, again, John McCain who knows how to win a war, who's been there and he's faced challenges and he knows what evil is and knows what it takes to overcome the challenges here with our military.

I have so appreciated he has never asked me to check my opinions at the door and he wants a deliberative debate and healthy debate so we can make good policy.

What I would do also, if that were to ever happen, though, is to continue the good work he is so committed to of putting government back on the side of the people and get rid of the greed and corruption on Wall Street and in Washington.

you're going to have a choice in just a few weeks here on either supporting a ticket that wants to create jobs and bolster our economy and win the war or you're going to be supporting a ticket that wants to increase taxes, which ultimately kills jobs, and is going to hurt our economy.

I know education you are passionate about with your wife being a teacher for 30 years.

My brother, who I think is the best schoolteacher in the year.

Education credit in American has been in some sense in some of our states just accepted to be a little bit lax.

We need to make sure that education in either one of our agendas, I think, absolute top of the line.

My kids as public school participants right now, it's near and dear to my heart.

Of course, we know what a vice president does. And that's not only to preside over the Senate and will take that position very seriously also.

That is energy independence in America and reform of government over all, and then working with families of children with special needs.

And it is my executive experience that is partly to be attributed to my pick as V.P. with McCain, not only as a governor, but earlier on as a mayor, as an oil and gas regulator, as a business owner.

My experience as an executive will be put to good use as a mayor and business owner and oil and gas regulator and then as governor of a huge state, a huge energy producing state that is accounting for much progress towards getting our nation energy independence.

But it wasn't just that experience tapped into, it was my connection to the heartland of America.

Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills?

About times and Todd and our marriage in our past where we didn't have health insurance and we know what other Americans are going through as they sit around the kitchen table and try to figure out how are they going to pay out-of-pocket for health care?

And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here.

(also under shifts and false starts) You combine all that with being a team with the only track record of making a really, a difference in where we've been and reforming, that's a good team.

That's what I've done as governor, also, take on my own party, when I had to, and work with both sides of the aisle, in my cabinet, appointing those who would serve regardless of party

Also, John McCain's maverick position that he's in, that's really prompt up to and indicated by the supporters that he has.

When the Democrats, either, though, this last go-around for the last two years.

There have been times where, as mayor and governor, we have passed budgets that I did not veto and that I think could be considered as something that I quasi-caved in, if you will, but knowing that it was the right thing to do in order to progress the agenda for that year and to work with the legislative body, that body that actually holds the purse strings.

And even in my own family, it's a very diverse family.

And that's what the track record shows, is a desire to increase taxes, increase spending, a trillion-dollar spending proposal that's on the table.

We have to fight for our freedoms, also, economic and our national security freedoms.

PALIN SHIFTS AND FALSE STARTS

Again, John McCain and I, that commitment that we have made, and we're going to follow through on that, getting rid of that corruption.

I want to go back to the energy plan, though, because this is -- this is an important one that Barack Obama, he voted for in '05.

But here, again, there have -- there have been so many changes in the conditions of our economy in just even these past weeks that there has been more and more revelation made aware now to Americans about the corruption and the greed on Wall Street.

I think that this is important to come back to, with that energy policy plan again that was voted for in '05.

As governor, I was the first governor to form a climate change sub-cabinet to start dealing with the impacts.

I was surprised to hear you mention that because you had said that there isn't anything -- such a thing as clean coal.

In fact, you said in fact that you wanted to run, you'd be honored to run with him on the ticket.

Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.

John McCain has already tapped me and said, that's where I want you, I want you to lead.

(also under illogic) You combine all that with being a team with the only track record of making a really, a difference in where we've been and reforming, that's a good team.

(2 in this sentence) Look at Lieberman, and Giuliani, and Romney, and Lingle, and all of us who come from such a diverse background of -- of policy and of partisanship, all coming together at this time, recognizing he is the man that we need to leave -- lead in these next four years, because these are tumultuous times.

Up there in Alaska, what we have done is, with bipartisan efforts, is work together and, again, not caring who gets the credit for what, as we accomplish things up there.
And that's what we're going to do in Washington, D.C., also, bring in both sides together.

Comments
5 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

This is a brilliant analysis.

I've forwarded your blog to my colleagues in Rhet/Comp at the University of Tennessee--they will enjoy and use in the classroom.

 Big cheers, Marilyn Kallet 

Comment Bubble Tip

Thank you, Marilyn!

I wish it could be a little cleaner/better proofread/double-checked. But I'm just one person -- and a sloppy one at that!

Still, thanks!

Comment Bubble Tip

June, any thoughts on why so

June, any thoughts on why so many public figures pronounce nuclear "nucular"?  I was dismayed to add Sarah Palin to my mental list (e.g., Jimmy Carter, Dubya).

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Slate puts it better than I can ...

(From a 2002 Slate.com article)

Changing "nu-clee-ar" into "nu-cu-lar" is an example of what linguists call metathesis, which is the switching of two adjacent sounds. (Think of it this way: "nook le yer" becomes "nook ye ler.") This switching is common in English pronunciation; you might pronounce "iron" as "eye yern" rather than "eye ron." Why do people do it? One reason, offered in a usage note in the American Heritage Dictionary, is that the "ular" ending is extremely common in English, and much more common than "lear." Consider particular, circular, spectacular, and many science-related words like molecular, ocular, muscular.

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Thanks, June.  I think

Thanks, June.  I think you've culared it up for me.  :-)