Search Results for: back of the envelope



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img May 10, 20183:29 pmimg 0 Comments

A big pile o’ taxes

Today’s Bwog Finance column meshes a traditional Back Of The Envelope article with our novel Bwog Finance series. We’re going to give you a rough estimate of how to know how much money you’ll *actually* make this summer after taxes are deducted from every paycheck, and how much of a return you *might* get. Remember to send column topics to

Writing this column wasn’t my idea, but I’m gonna give it my best shot: how to know how much taxes will be deducted from your paychecks, and how much $$ you might get back come spring 2019, using basic math and some help from the internet.

Let’s say you make $15/hour and you work 30 hours a week. That’s $450/week. Woohoo!

Let’s say there are 4 weeks in a month (even though for some months, it might be less!). 4 x $450 is $1,800. LIT. That’s just enough for one half of a studio apartment in SoHo. But wait…

If you make $5,400 for the whole summer (3 months x $1,800), according to, because of FICA, you will owe $413 in taxes. FICA, or the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, goes toward social security and Medicare, which Trump hasn’t managed to get rid of (yet).

You’ll also have $30 withheld each month for federal taxes. You might also have money withheld for New York State taxes, to cover things like NY’s new “Paid Maternity Leave.” But you should get those taxes refunded next spring…

Unless you make more money during the year! This calculation isn’t counting taxes you might owe based on other income you earn throughout the year. So…you may need to re-evaluate that 1/2 of a studio apartment in SoHo and go for something a little closer to MoHi, or else venture into Brooklyn or Queens.

The point is, what you expect to make this summer might end up being a lot less than you thought! Unless you have an under-the-table gig, like babysitting.

Does this apply to things like grants? Yep. If you get a grant from the school, that’s still taxable income. What about stipends? That too.

If this newfound tax knowledge changes your summer plans, have no fear. We’ve composed an easy guide to creating a summer budget.

Good luck!

Photo By 401(K) 2012, via Wikimedia Commons



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img January 26, 20182:32 pmimg 3 Comments

I’m pretty sure this is an altoid, so I don’t think it’s gonna help her get over her sophomore slump.

A week into the semester, Bwog received a tip from a concerned reader asking a very topical and important question: how many antidepressant prescriptions are filled at the Duane Reade by campus? Wanting to get to the bottom of the scoop, one Staff Writer decided to put her humanities major to good use and determine the definitive, statistical answer. 

As a History and Political Science major, I have not done any form of math in years (unless you count calculating tip at Serafina). Knowing the importance of this question, I sacrificed my well-being for the good of the Columbia dependent and our very helpful antidepressants. Let us start with the basics before we get into the technicalities.


  • First, let’s clarify our antidepressant variables. Unlike Barnumbia students, not all antidepressants are made alike. There are four core groups of meds that we will incorporate into our method.
  • Although there are SNRI’s, SSRIs, MAOIs and Tricyclic antidepressants, let us assume that the majority of students are prescribed SNRI’s and SSRI’s by their very well paid psychiatrists.
  • As for population, Columbia University has 15,798 undergraduate students. We need to add Barnard students to this – I know, I too was irked to find out we weren’t included in the headcount – and there are approximately 2,576 students at Barnard. Thus, if we add up all the university’s students, there are approximately 35,005 students enrolled in Morningside Heights. For this study, we will not include other Morningside schools, the sole reason being that I hate numbers and I don’t want to deal with more.

Methods, conclusions, and more after the jump



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img January 20, 20185:30 pmimg 0 Comments

Students sitting on the Low Library steps during a sunny day

Thinking of a warmer time

Many of us know that you can measure a cricket’s chirps to determine how warm it is outside. But did you know that there’s another way to scientifically estimate the temperature in Morningside Heights? When it gets a little warmer, you can use this one neat trick to figure out how warm or cold it is on everyone’s favorite fake beach, the Low Steps.


  • Outdoor temperature between 32 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit – Columbia students will not crawl out of their dorms in the freezing cold.
  • A view of the Low Steps – the South Lawns are an ideal location.
  • Thermometer (or, let’s be honest, a weather app)
  • Scratch paper


  • Go outside to check out the Low Steps.
  • Pick either the left of right half of the lower steps, right underneath Alma Mater.
  • Count the number of people sitting on the Low Steps. Ignore anybody walking, as the extra motion can complicate counting.
    • If you would like to increase accuracy, count the second half and average the count of the two halves.
  • If a majority of students have laptops, multiply the count by 1.25.
  • Add 20 to the number of seated students. This will provide the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit.
  • To calculate the approximate temperature in Celsius, learn to use Fahrenheit instead.

Rumor has it that this formula was first found in a 1932 fraternity handbook. Try it out yourself when it gets a bit warmer! Deantini would be proud of your highly scientific estimations.



img October 22, 20176:42 pmimg 1 Comments

A Bwogger getting drunk af circa freshman year

At a university like Columbia, where everyone is constantly under heavy academic pressure, many students choose to imbibe copious quantities of alcohol in order to chill out a little bit. Bwog Staff Writer Gabrielle Kloppers investigates the volumes involved, using a thoroughly scientific method.

First of all, we need to separate Columbia Students into categories, or classes of drinkers. I will be separating into three primary groups: the goodie-goodies, the philosophers, and the drunkest-one-at-the-party.

The goodie-goodie doesn’t drink much; maybe they’ll have a glass of wine with dinner, or a nice mixed-drink (with actually expensive liquor…). They would never be seen at 1020 on a Tuesday night. Their estimated alcohol consumption would be at around 50 ml hard liquor (from their cheeky scotch on the rocks after their last midterm), and a standard glass of wine (150ml) per month. They don’t enjoy getting insane. So, over the course of the year, they would consume around 12 x 50 = 600 ml of hard liquor and 150 x 12 = 1800 ml of wine per year. That comes out to a little less than a 2L bottle of wine (which for some of us is indulgence for only one night), and less than a bottle of hard liquor. These are not the students that we see with entire walls of bottles.

How much do philosophers drink?



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img October 16, 20174:09 pmimg 0 Comments

Pictured: the EC elevators in a rare moment of full light.

Signing into and out of East Campus on a weekend night is a special kind of hell. The lobby is so crowded with Barnard students, NYU folk, and miscellaneous friends & family that guests can hardly move. If you do manage to get past the gates, your (pitch dark) elevator ride up to the 20th floor will make you wish you had just stayed in. How many people face this terror? We attempt to calculate, using our Frontiers of Science/Beginner’s Mind techniques, how many sign-ins EC handles on the average Saturday.

Assume that the number of sign-ins required is equal to: (Number of suites/townhouses in EC) * (Rate of parties per room) * (Number of people per party) * (Rate of sign-in need per partygoer) + Non-party sign-ins.

Number of suites/townhouses in EC
East Campus has 719 residents, split among 80 high-rise suites, 40 high-rise doubles, and 50 townhouses. There are 8 floors of suites in the high-rise. Suites and townhouses total to 130.

Rate of parties per room
Assume that on any given Saturday, there are two major parties on each high-rise floor of EC. This puts the rate of parties at 20%. (If Thursdays and Saturdays have equal party rates, then 20% implies that each suite has a major party about once every 2.5 weeks.) We can also extrapolate this 20% figure to the townhouses. Of 130 suites and townhouses, 26 would host a party on any given Saturday. Doubles, unfortunately, are not cool enough to host parties.

A lot more calculation and estimation after the jump.



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img September 11, 201712:26 pmimg 0 Comments

Fave for soaking up the alc inside

Fave for soaking up the alc inside

In the days of yore, the only food you could scarf down after a night of debauchery was (1) halal, (2) Koronet’s, or (3) Roti Roll, the holy trinity of grease-filled comfort food. As of this month, we can add a fourth destination for those stumbling home from a night out: JJ’s Place, revamped, revitalized, and now open from 12 pm to 10 am, every day of the week. This change is accompanied by several implications for the beleaguered, and unfailingly cheerful, staff of JJ’s Place. Namely: they will have to clean up the puke of freshmen (and juvenile upperclassmen). How much will they have to take, and will their smiles turn upside down?

B-of-the-E Assumptions

  • Assume 85% of Columbia freshmen were unbelievably uncool in high school, to the extent that they (compensate and) start off the school year by going out every weekend and drinking to excess. This number goes down to 65% within a month of each semester’s start, reaches a nadir of 30% during midterms and finals, and otherwise fluctuates throughout each semester.
    • Of the remaining 15% of students, assume 5% drink to excess once a semester, when in a pit of despair.

We sure do suck



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img March 01, 20176:30 pmimg 0 Comments

Canada Goose Jacket Found Orgo Night Poster From Fall 2015

more than just Canada Goose was “lost” here…

For the first-years who don’t know, Cannon’s was a Columbia bar at 108th and Broadway. While the business hadn’t actually been called Cannon’s since 2004 (it turned into O’Connell’s, and then into Tara Hill), the venerated bar was a well-attended watering hole since the 1930’s. Last June, Cannon’s announced that it would be shutting its doors, much to the dismay of many a social drinker. But one thing we won’t miss about Cannon’s was how much stuff went mysteriously missing there.

The bar had a knack for taking people’s coats and hiding them away in that same abyss where all of your sharp pencils go. Records of coats disappearing at Cannon’s go back to Spring 2011, and reports of jacket theft and loss went on until the bar’s closing. Spring 2015 was a particularly disastrous semester for North Faces and Canada Gooses – the Class of 2018 Facebook group alone reported 22 instances of loss or theft at Cannon’s. And this brings up the question: just how much stuff did Columbia students lose at Cannon’s?

Using this data from the Class of 2018, we decided to make a back of the envelope calculation for how many dollars worth of clothing and accessories vanished at 108th Street. While this article will make no claim as to whether or not Cannon’s was simply a front for reselling Canada Goose jackets, it will make several assumptions.

  • Assume that first-years are twice as likely to go to Cannon’s as other students, as evidenced by the the need for a CCSC resolution to make Cannon’s more accessible to non-Freshmen; ignore the graduate school population, as they mostly frequented other bars.
  • Assume that theft has occured at least since Spring 2011 at a relatively constant level. However, treat Fall 2015 as a particularly bad semester, with 50% more theft than the average semester.
  • Assume that 25% of losses at Columbia go unreported, at least among the underclassmen, due to embarassment.

Now, we examined each report from the first-years of Fall 2015 and estimated the dollar value of items lost.

Get the real numbers after the jump.



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img December 03, 20165:44 pmimg 1 Comments



You know what time of year it is. No, not cuffing season. Or Christmas. It’s crunch time, which means (for some of the riskier folk)  d r u g s. It can be hard to know whether to buy at all. And you may not know what to buy, especially if your doctor forgot to prescribe it to you. Don’t worry. Bwog’s got you covered. In this week’s Back-of-the-Envelope, we’ll tell you the ins-and-outs of campus dealing, and whether that guy from Spanish class who’s offering you Adderall is actually worth it. Disclaimer: Bwog does not condone the use of illicit substances, do not try this at home, etc. etc. 

  • Assume 75% of students on campus have ADHD, ADD, depression, anxiety, or another medical issue. These figures are based off actual data about the sharp increase in mental health diagnoses, as well as accepted fact that Columbia is a rich-ass school full of people who’ve been hip to the therapy trend since its beginning (and are also prone to root canals and wisdom teeth surgery that endow them with magical painkillers).
  • Assume 60% of those students are prescribed drugs, and 55% of them actually get the prescriptions filled (what about the other 5%? you’re wondering why anyone would be crazy enough to NOT fill their xanax scrip? well, my friend, try waiting in the basement pharmacy line at Duane Reade).
  • Assume 40% of these students have excess drugs that they are willing and ready to sell.

That 40% market saturation rate can be broken down into drug types. Let’s look at some common ones: Xanax and Klonopin are anti-anxiety pills, and can either make you feel high or sleepy. Adderall and Ritalin are stimulants, you want these for your all-nighters. Percocet, Vicodin, and Tylenol with codeine are painkillers.

  • Assume 40% of the prescriptions are for Adderall, Ritalin, or similar. Assume 30% are for antidepressants like Prozac or Abilify that can’t give you the instant gratification you need during exams. Of the remaining 30%, assume 20% is Xanax and Klonopin, and 10% are painkillers.

The Weeknd has a great song about Percocet, and it’s also commonly prescribed for wisdom teeth surgery. But it also might make you fall asleep. Is this really what you want (or need)? We’ll also assume the hazy qualities of Xanax and Kpins aren’t what you’re looking for during study time. So, let’s zero in on Addy. The above fractions leave us with a relatively low rate of availability for second-hand stimulants.

  • Assume average Adderall street price: $10/20 mg
  • Assume average (generic) Adderall prescription price with insurance: $40/month

Okay, so you’re going to pay a lot more on the street. Maybe you can get the homie price. Either way, do you think you’ll abuse the drug? Do you want to? Let’s assume no to both. In that case, if your level of exam desperation if 10^1 or higher on a scale of 10^2, and if Spanish class boy is offering you one pill for $10 or less, go for it. Just don’t end up like this Adderall-addicted lady in the New York Times.




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img November 20, 201612:52 pmimg 2 Comments

How much does Columbia spend trying to get you to trek all the way up to 215th Street?

How much does Columbia spend trying to get you to trek all the way up to 215th Street?

Yesterday, the Columbia football team pulled off a surprising (and not particularly notable) win against Brown in the last game of the season. Senior staffer Betsy Ladyzhets reflects upon the past season by examining how much money the CU Athletics department spent on promoting the team – and whether or not that investment was at all worth it – in Bwog’s latest Back of the Envelope calculation.

  • Facebook posts and the people Athletics pays to develop them: $50 per game
  • Promoting tweets and Facebook posts: $50 per game
  • “Pump-up music”: $10 per song x 24 songs per game = $240 per game
  • Free T-shirts: ($15 per shirt x 12 per game) + ($25 per T-shirt cannon x 2 per game) = $230 per game
  • Free beer (at “Beer O’clock”): $1.50 per beer x 2 beers per person x 150 people per game = $450 per game
  • Gift cards to local restaurants: $15 per gift card x 3 gift cards per game = $45 per game
  • Complimentary tickets (for football players, cheerleaders, band members, etc.): $10 per tickets x 40 comp tickets per game = $40
  • Roaree’s slick dance moves: Roaree is paid $20 per hour x 4 hours per game = $80 per game

All of the above costs are spent each home game; this brings the total home game cost to $50 + $50 + $240 + $230 + $450 + $45 + $40 + $80 = $1,185. There were five home games this semester, so the cost of all home games is $1,185 x 5 = $5,925.

But wait – there’s more…



img November 14, 20163:30 pmimg 1 Comments

Living the best years of our lives can be costly in a variety of ways

Living the best years of our lives can be costly in a variety of ways

When you’re at a school as competitive as Columbia, it is important to engage in some debauchery to take your mind off CC readings, questionable GroupMe’s and the President-Elect. However, how much is each night of blowing off steam costing you? Bwog Senior Staff Writer Gabrielle Kloppers investigates a few common alternatives.

Option 1: The Carman Party
For freshmen, the primary night out is a shitty dorm party, usually in a sticky (and mold-infested) Carman double. If you’re hosting this, or being a good friend, the initial cost will be about $25 for crap liquor from International. However, this is not the only cost involved. At around 11.30pm, you’ll probably vomit because you’re not used to poisoning your liver, and given that you’re a freshman and your fellow freshman will be worried about you, you may even need to call CAVA. In this case, the $25 is not all you’ll be paying, as you’ll also lose your priceless dignity and perhaps have to shell out around $500 for a trip to the hospital where they’ll essentially ask you what your name and birthdate is and come to the conclusion that you’re probably okay. The only upside to this situation is that you’ll get so drunk so early that you won’t even get drunk food, saving yourself a bit of cash.

That amounts to:
Initial Booze Cost: $25
Dignity: Priceless
CAVA and Hospital: $500

Overall Expenditure: $525 – infinity

How does this compare to the value? This night was never going to be a good night. You only partied in Carman because you didn’t know enough people to do much else. So not only do you have a pretty high cost, but it’s not even a very good night to begin with.

What are your other options?



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img October 13, 201611:31 amimg 0 Comments

When every midterm you have is on the same day

When every midterm you have is on the same day

As midterm season accelerates into full swing, the halls of Butler seem more crowded than the halls of Carman on a Friday night. Suitemate sightings are few and far between. We’re so damn nocturnal it’s like we’ve all gone BATshit (Get it? Because bats are nocturnal?). First year Sarah Kinney has decided to study for (procrastinate for?) her FroSci midterm by performing a few back-of-the-envelope calculations that we all know and love. Specifically, to find out: how many hours has her roommate been awake?

These calculations rely solely on accumulated knowledge and half-assed assumptions. So, in order to discern for how many hours my roommate has been up, I’m going to have to combine my intuitive understanding of her personality with keen observations of the state of our room. This is what I have so far:

  1. On her desk there are three empty Blue Java cups, two empty Ramen bowls, and one lipstick-stained shot glass.
  2. It just took her four tries to jump up onto her lofted bed.
  3. She just asked if today is Tuesday or Wednesday… It’s Thursday.
  4. The pages of her Iliad book are bloated from tears.
  5. Her eyeliner is smeared just enough to where I know it’s been over 24 hours since it was last applied.

But what does it all mean?



img April 27, 20163:31 pmimg 2 Comments

You can't see the cement block but trust me it'll be there.

You can’t see the cement block but trust me it’ll be there.

Regardless of your feelings on the up-and-coming Henry Moore statue to be placed in front of Butler, the cement block that will ultimately form its base has been subject to many reclining figures—especially as outdoor space becomes increasingly limited due to construction for Commencement. Using her Columbia-grade mind, Bwogger Gabrielle Kloppers investigates how many people could possibly fit on our favorite pedestal.

In the hallowed words of a certain Engineering Student Council Representative, not many people have been able to forget the 12 x 5 patch of grass in front of Butler. Now it has already disappeared, and in its place is a cement block. How many people can fit on it, in the context of our increasingly space challenged campus (although let’s not forget that Columbia bought land the size of main campus at the expense of hundreds of people—but yay more space for the students!)?

Let’s assume the cement patch is around 12 x 5 ft in dimension. Now, using the useful skills we gained in Frontiers of Science seminars, we can extrapolate that each person would use up about 1 square foot, and consequently there could fit around 12 x 5 = 60 people on the block.

Now let’s consider the increasingly incestuous college atmosphere at Columbia and how desperate SEAS majors are to get some. Most people would be okay sitting on other people’s laps, right? So let’s double that, assuming each square foot is occupied by a two-person unit. 12 x 5 x 2 = 120 people on that cement block.

Wow, space is truly valuable. It must mean that a prized work of modernist art is not worth relinquishing that 12 x 5 ft patch of grass in front of Butler.

The Statue’s Prospective Home via CU Library Website



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img December 02, 20158:02 pmimg 2 Comments

You'd better recycle all those

You’d better recycle all those

The Culture of Butler Library is strange indeed, especially in the dark days of finals. People sleep, eat, and brush their teeth in the library. Wars are waged over seats in the ref room. People lose their humanity in there. One particular example is the peculiar habit of accumulating piles of garbage around an individual’s dedicated workspace. While in a more civilized library (like noco) where drinks are forbidden people throw out coffee cups and red bull cans once they have been consumed, the denizen of Butler just lets them pile up throughout the day. This explains why so much of the library reeks of piss and stale coffee. Here Editor-in-chief Britt Fossum provides a handy calculation to convert the quantity of garbage at a given neighbor’s desk to approximate hours spent within the bowels of the But.

B-of-the-E Assumptions, Empirically Derived:

  • One small coffee (hot) (12 oz) is consumed in approximately 20 minutes.
  • One medium coffee (hot) (16 oz) can be consumed in 30 minutes.
  • Anything larger (hot) will be consumed in approximately 90 minutes: the first half at a normal rate, the second half at twice the normal rate because it has cooled to lukewarm and is drank only grudgingly.
  • All iced coffees are nursed over at least 120 minutes.
  • One red bull, monster, or other energy drink will only take ~15 seconds to consume but will provide for at least 180 minutes of uninterrupted studying.
  • Candy, pastries, and power bar wrappers add 10 minutes each.
  • Any other kind of food: add 30 minutes.
  • WEIRD things (jerky, beer, halal): infinite minutes. This person lives in Butler. No calculation necessary, just don’t let them hear you complaining about how long you’ve been working.

Get ready for the ~math~



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img November 14, 20151:32 pmimg 0 Comments

Herbal remedies and over-the-counter drugs: or, the solution to your health problems.

Herbal remedies and over-the-counter drugs: or, the solution to your health problems.

Today’s college students may be youthful, physically fit, wildly intelligent, extracurricularly engaged, and former “leaders” of their high schools, but they’re not actually superhuman–they, too, are subject to illnesses, injuries, viruses, diseases, and unwanted pregnancies. Bwogger Rachel Deal investigates just how easy it is to make appointments at Columbia Health, a *potential* cure for these myriad bodily dilemmas.

B-of-the-E Assumptions

  • Assuming you’re actually sick: appointments at Columbia Health for the following day are available at 9:30pm on the website. You’ll probably forget about this, though, and have to settle for a drop-in appointment.
  • Assuming you’re seeking some other kind of health care, which the website deems “future medical visits”: despite there being a section on the website for said kinds of appointments (for things such as vaccinations and contraception), there are actually never any appointments on the website, so you’ll have to call in.
    • Assume that a lot of other people are trying to take advantage of the benefits of Columbia Student Healthcare (particularly first years who are no longer on their parents’ insurance–it’s now so easy to get birth control without your parents knowing!), so they’re also scheduling “future medical visits.” Let’s say 1/10 of the first years, so 212 students, and about 50 more randos, so 262.
  • Appointment lengths can vary from 15 to 45 minutes, so assume they’re each 30 minutes long.
  • Assume 70% of the appointments are released online the night before, 20% are designated for walk-ins, and the remaining 10% are set aside for other medical services.

Keep reading for the mathemagic



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img October 28, 20155:38 pmimg 0 Comments

Remember Occupy Wallstreet?

Remember Occupy Wallstreet?

Wait, fall break is officially titled “Election Day Holiday?” Wtf? Whatever. You may have read our recent predictions about students’ 2016 presidential picks. This post is not about voting (which we assume all of you do). Bwogger and semi-pro mathematician Sarah Dahl calculates about what percentage of time you’ll be politically campaigning this break.

B-of-the-E Assumptions

  • Firstly, Columbia’s WiFi was overloading during the Democratic debate, meaning roughly 69% of what the speakers said was distorted, so most students have no idea what candidates’ actual positions are.
  • Because Columbia is an Ivy League school, assume approximately 75% of students come from the East Coast, therefore a large portion of students will be at home over break.
    • Assume that 72% of the students’ hometowns/cities are decidedly homogeneous, negating the need for political campaigning. The students to which this applies can stop reading here.
    • Assume the remaining 28% will spend break with friends and family (why would you go home to spend your time holding a sign by the side of the road?).
  • Of the 25% of students remaining on campus, assume 15% will spend the weekend exploring New York, the city we apparently live in.
    • [Stop reading if you identify as any of the following:] Of the other 10% on campus, assume 3% will stay in their rooms watching films/pleasure reading, 3% will revel in/document their celebration of the joys of empty libraries/dorm bathrooms/academic buildings, 3% will embark on cooking adventures in their hall kitchens using ingredients from MoWill and hastily bought pans from University Housewares , and 1% may engage in other unknown pursuits.
  • If you are part of this 1%, congratulations! You’ve made it thus far. Now, will you actually campaign this election holiday?
    • There are 120 hours during fall break. Subtract the 24 hours that constitute Halloween. Assume 50% of your remaining time will be spent sleeping, and 30% eating. This leaves 20% of free time during which you it is possible to engage in political activity.

Read on for the arithmetic part

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