Friday, February 12, 2010

ObstiNation is MOVING

Having moved house twice in the last two years, I think it's only fair that my blog share in the experience.

Whatever is here will stay put for now. I will post new entries at http://www.paulinebrock.com.

What brought this on is that Blogger is cancelling its direct FTP service. That, combined with my wanting to reserve my own domain (finally) is what broke my *inertia*.

So please change your bookmarks, if any (ha!)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

We Don't Need No Education...

It doesn’t happen often but… Keith missed the point.


On his Friday Countdown with Keith Olbermann broadcast, during a discussion with Jonathan Alter, Alter seemed bemused, and Keith was even amused, by the Republican attitude toward President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren next Tuesday.


Some on the right wing are advocating keeping kids home from school that day, which led to this segment:



The conversation becomes most compelling at about the 4:00 minute mark, when Jonathan Alter brings up the “Obama effect: teachers report that African American children actually do better when told that the President wants them to do their homework!


Alter asks, “WHY would they want to undermine that, WHY would they want more children growing up, dropping out of school, causing problems for themselves and for society?”


Well OF COURSE the Republicans, or more specifically, the ideological wing responsible for the debacle of the last eight years, don’t want an educated population. They could not have gotten away with half of what they did if a vast majority of Americans were taught to think critically and behave in a socially responsible manner by schools with the proper resources to do so.


What the Republicans want is a nation of sheep, struggling through their daily lives with little energy to spare, and what energy they do have should be devoted to:


Religion.


Religion, which does not teach critical thinking, rather, encourages magical thinking, which in turn makes people more vulnerable to the fear-mongering that the right wing uses to control thought and control votes.


Keith points out that the Republican attitude is self-defeating, since children of Democrats will stay in school, become educated, get better jobs.


This may be, but the result is not self-defeating for the Republicans, who are powered by corporate interests like the ones that led to last year’s financial meltdown and ensuing recession, corporate interests that were largely bailed out or led gently through bankruptcy protection, while ordinary citizens lost their jobs and homes.


Why did so many ordinary citizens allow themselves to depend so heavily on credit and sink so deeply into debt? Because without massive consumer spending the economy would (and almost did) collapse. Frugality and saving have long gone out of style, replaced by rampant consumerism. Without an EDUCATION in personal finance, people are truly at the mercy of their government-dictated culture.


The Republican goal seems to be to have a small educated leadership elite with the larger general population – and the votes contained therein – receptive to whatever message they choose to transmit.


This is not new. History is full of examples of government by ruling classes with their own agendas, part of which is to keep the majority in their place, providing the lifeblood of the regime in the form of cheap or free labour, taxes, and in the era of democracy, votes.


Furthermore, it’s not by accident that the right wing brands Democrats as “elitist”. The message is, success and education are not cool. It’s also part of the strategy of projecting Republican shortcomings onto the other side, thus, Democrats cannot “keep the country safe” whereas all Republicans did was engage in wars that killed more Americans than the attacks of 9-11, fail to protect the citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and leave the country with vulnerable infrastructure and education and health care systems that don’t work for far too many.


So when the Republicans undermine the education system it’s neither a casual mistake nor a self-defeating move. It’s intentional and it’s dangerous for not only the US but for Western Society as a whole.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Are We Amused Yet?

Yes! Yes! Canada is finally getting noticed!

No longer are we just a red (or grey, or brown) splotch on the map north of the 48 states. No longer is our news unreported, unworthy, unloved. And best of all no longer can Americans pretend to be Canadian when they travel abroad in order to be liked better.

What brought this on, you may ask?

Our Governor General ripped the heart out of a dead seal and ate it raw.

No, really.

When I first saw the headline on Twitter yesterday my reaction was, I don’t remember following The Onion.

My next reaction was, no way. Does not compute. Not is possible. Ignore it, maybe it will go away.

But sadly it is NOT A JOKE. Or if it is, somebody please tell me already and put me out of my misery. I haven’t stopped cringing for over 24 hours.

What was she thinking? Supposedly something to do with solidarity for the Inuit way of life, maybe a protest against the European ban on seal products, whatever.

Couldn’t she just issue a statement???

And I say this as someone who leans toward support of the seal hunt as a source of income for a society that desperately needs it. They no longer club those cute white fuzzy babies and by the way what did you have for dinner last night anyway?

But I don’t want to get into that debate here.

I was kind of hoping this story might go away but alas, it seems to have been picked up by mainstream media. I’ve seen articles on MSNBC and the BBC and honestly don’t have the heart (heh, pun not intended, but acknowledged) to go looking for more references.

Even the gossip website Gawker is having some fun with it, calling Michaelle Jean the “Sarah Palin of Canada”.

Come on that’s totally not fair or even accurate. There is a BIG difference between seal and moose. Jean never claimed superhero bionic x-ray vision to the other side of the International Date Line. Governor and Governor-General are not the same thing (see below). And, up until now at least, Michaelle Jean has been way more respected, especially by those who have heard of her.

So while the message is definitely OUT THERE, it may not be the message Michaelle Jean intended to send. This is after all a serious issue with both sides having passionate feelings about it. Making herself into an international laughing-stock adds nothing to the debate but only creates content for news shows and late night comedians.

Considering the feeble amount of news coverage given to Canada by most American networks, THIS may be the story of the year, leaving people with a rather odd view of us.

Why does this matter? Well when our soldiers are dying in Afghanistan (partly because Americans got distracted by Iraq and neglected the earlier war) perhaps that is a more important story.

When our country does not discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens in civil rights laws or even with regard to the right to serve our country in the military, that is a more important story too.

And perhaps someone should tell the Americans the truth about our *gasp* socialized medicine! While far from perfect, it doesn’t warrant the kind of dismissal politicians give it, when Americans, even those WITH insurance, are at the mercy of some guy in a cubicle whose job it is to find a way to deny them coverage.

This may not help our Arctic sovereignty claims either. But on the other hand.. who would want to pick a fight with us up north?

And you have to admit the woman has balls. Probably more balls than all the male Governors-General we’ve had, combined. And she’s not even our first woman GG, but third that I can think of.. let’s go see if I’m right.

Yup, Jeanne Sauve and Adrienne Clarkson were the others. Go me.

The Governor-General of Canada is not an elected official but is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Canadian Prime Minister. She is the Queen’s representative here and has a largely ceremonial role.

So far to my knowledge the Queen has not commented on the antics of her Canadian proxy. One can only assume that she is not amused.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Moving Forward...

It took me awhile to get around to it, but here it is, the e-mail that got me so worked up in January:
Subject: You SHOULD be concerned

Our National Anthem - at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics

Please read and forward to as many Canadians you can think of. Thank you - WE ARE PROUD CANADIANS
Bruce Allen is on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Committee and new Canadians (specifically Hindi's/Indian's) want him fired for his recent comments outlined below:

Pause to fact check:

1. Does Bruce Allen exist? Yes. He’s a Canadian entertainment promoter.

2. Is he on the 2010 Olympic Committee? Yes.

So far not too bad, eh? It continues:
I am sorry, but after hearing they want to sing the National Anthem in Hindi - enough is enough.
Nowhere or at no other time in our Nation's history, did they sing it in Italian, Japanese, Polish,
Irish (Celtic), German, Portuguese, Greek, or any other language because of immigration.
It was written in English, adapted into French, and should be sung word for word the way it was written.
The news broadcasts even gave the Hindi version translation - which was not even close to our National Anthem.


(The above, supposedly a quote of Bruce Allen’s "recent comments")

Fact check:

3. Did Bruce Allen make “recent comments”? Yes.

In September 2007 (recent, by email forward standards) he did make some anti-immigrant remarks on a BC radio show.

However.

Bruce Allen’s remarks did not include the above “quote”, nor anything related to the singing of O Canada in any language at any time. His comments have been picked over and dealt with and are old news but if you want to see them, go here and here.

4. The Canadian anthem was written in English?

Actually no, it was written in French and much later adapted into English. The English version has continued to evolve during my lifetime.

Furthermore, there is no law that prevents anyone from singing the Canadian anthem any way they wish. It is allowed, the only proviso being that alternate versions are not “official”. Which sounds pretty fair to me.
And the "not even close" Hindi translation? Nowhere to be found.

The email forward continues:
I am not the least bit sorry if this offends ANYONE, this is MY COUNTRY; My Grand Dad served in the military, other family members also served, as well as my wife & I served a combined total of 56 years between us. We made many sacrifices for our country and do not feel we should feel obligated to allow invited people we've welcomed with open arms to influence & change our society to better resemble the one they chose to leave to come here!!! - IF YOU AGREE ABOUT THIS GREAT COUNTRY, SPEAK UP BEFORE ITS TOO LATE...

(edited out some repetitive stupidity)

...ARE you PART OF THE PROBLEM ??? Think about this: If you don't want to forward this for fear of offending someone, will we still be the Country of Choice and Still be CANADA if we continue to make the changes forced on us by the people from other countries who have come to live in CANADA because it is the Country of Choice??????
Think about it!
IMMIGRANTS, NOT CANADIAN'S, MUST ADAPT.
It's Time for CANADIANS to speak up.. If you agree ? Pass this along; if you don't agree?
Delete it and reap what you sew (sic) because of your complacency!

I have left the spelling and punctuation errors in. They give the screed a certain “je ne sais quoi”.

Oops. Not English. My bad.

Okay so if Bruce Allen didn’t actually say the above then where did it come from?

This is good:

It’s an adaptation of an American rant concerning American immigrants wanting to sing the American anthem in Spanish! So the patriotic CANADIAN rant is actually a rip off of an American rant!
Those 56 combined years of military service between the ranter and his wife? American. Or imaginary.

What Bruce Allen "said"? Lifted and adapted from an American rant such as this one.

I actually was a bit disappointed in that. Can’t we Canadians, apart from Bruce Allen and a certain small Quebec town, work up some good xenophobic energy on our own?
Not like the Americans, apparently.

What I most object to here, though, is the bullying tone:

ARE you PART OF THE PROBLEM ??? Think about this: If you don't want to forward this for fear of offending someone, will we still be the Country of Choice and Still be CANADA… blah blah blah.

There is indeed a problem, but it's not immigrants who wish to sing a translated anthem of the country they chose.

The problem is how otherwise reasonable people just click and forward every piece of nonsense that comes into their inbox, thus putting themselves at risk of perpetuating an extreme agenda that, if they thought about it, they might not even agree with!

I'm all for free speech but THE SPEAKER HAS TO HAVE CHECKED HIS FACTS AND STAND BEHIND THE MESSAGE HE IS SENDING!

Sure, some email forwards are fairly harmless (can bananas really do all that?) but some are pure poison, complete with veiled threats about the consequences of not passing along the drivel.

Happily I'm not alone in my outrage. Sites such as snopes and about.com have comprehensive debunking services, although I'm not too thrilled about the way snopes tries to open pop-up ads.
I also found breakthechain.org, another site dedicated to eradicating this scourge.

And finally, another reason to object to this form of clutter: Once you do get it in your head that most of these forwards contain false information, you are likely to discount the rare one that is true, such as this warning about attempts to impersonate the Canada Revenue Agency to gain personal data.

The boy who cried wolf, digital edition.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's All Evil.

I have a new obsession, and it’s not a good thing.

I am obsessed, these days, with the evils of email forwards.

They are coming in even as I write this.

Now, I don’t so much mind the ones with cute animal photos although they are getting a little repetitive. And Maxine is pretty cool her own self.
I don’t even see them all since I refuse to click on any link to a website, a movie file, or anything that doesn’t actually load into the body of the email.
I say that’s on account of viruses but it’s really because I’m lazy.

Too lazy to click?
Yes.
Deal with it.

For awhile I was mostly getting the forwards that told me how much the sender valued me and my friendship which was kind of nice until I got to the part where it urged me to send it along to all my friends (including the ones I didn’t value so much because I was a bad person not to) and even send it back to the sender or else she would realize I didn’t feel the same way about her and though I usually did, both feel the same way AND forward it back, the guilt trip was getting on my nerves, not to mention, affecting my ability to write a sentence which doesn't run on forever.

But now, more and more I’m getting emails with an agenda. Part of the problem is that while the agenda is crystal clear, the source is usually not.
There is nobody behind these messages to argue with, blame, sue, stalk or otherwise punish for spreading their false information, lies, at times hate, and always, attempt to influence.

This really hit home recently when I received a forward from a close friend I’ll call Zelda (not her real name) whose intelligence and worldly sophistication I’d always admired. Zelda is well read, well travelled and far from naïve. What she forwarded was a right wing rant about the (perceived) threat of people singing the Canadian National Anthem in a language other than English or French at next year’s Olympic Games in Vancouver. Zelda even included her own comment about how she was going to contact her member of parliament in protest.

While the issue that reportedly sent off the ranter had actually occurred (albeit over a year ago) many of the arguments were based on misinformation and the tone was decidedly discriminatory.
To put it mildly.

To make matters worse, there was a threatening tone, well more than a TONE, it actually SAID that if I did not forward the letter for fear of offending someone, then I was part of the problem.

I replied to Zelda, explaining why I disagreed with the arguments in the email, and she agreed and even thanked me. But I was left with an uneasy feeling, and did a bit more research, the results of which steamed me up even more, and which I’ll cover in an upcoming entry.

The point is, I am becoming more and more concerned about the insidious effect that these emails must be having on our way of thinking. What happens that makes us suspend our critical thinking and just accept and forward these things like robots? What makes us think that just because it appears in the inbox, that it's true, correct, factual, and verified? We are nowhere near that gullible when it comes to what we read in the paper, what we see in advertisements or what our friends and family tell us.

How much are we internalizing the messages we see? This seems to me an updated version of how societies throughout history have been brainwashed only now it’s easier, just a couple of clicks will do it. Send this along to everyone you know or something bad will happen. Bullying, a nice touch.

I don’t care how inconsequential the subject matter. It’s the process that concerns me, and concerns me deeply. While Zelda was very gracious about my correction, others are losing patience with me. They don’t understand why I can’t let this go, why I have to check EVERYTHING out and take great pains to point out the errors to them. Some have stopped sending me stuff and while that might be good for my short term mental health, I’ve decided instead to take my aggravation and blog it.

Starting with the email that I vaguely referenced above, I will be posting the text of these forwards and deconstructing them. If nothing else, it will help lower my blood pressure.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Isn't THIS Nice...

Am I hallucinating.. or did Canada really have a federal election JUST LAST MONTH?

In which, in my dreams or possibly reality, the Conservative Party won re-election with a larger minority than it had before the election.

Yes a minority. But they still won.

Now I know how minorities work, and how they can be overthrown, I was around during the Joe Clark debacle, etc. etc.

But it seems to me that overthrowing the recently-elected government with a COALITION of parties whose philosophies do not really coincide all that well, bypassing the election process, is a little much.

BUT IT GETS WORSE.

Who will lead this coalition of the insane?
The current leader of the strongest party therein?
The current leader of any of the other parties?
Any leader who was chosen as leader by a party of his or her peers?

No, the new Prime Minister would be someone who was never chosen as party leader and would lead a government that was not chosen by the people, according to a "senior Liberal source".

Oh yes I almost forgot.. this COALITION would depend for its very survival on:

THE BLOC QUEBECOIS, WHOSE PURPOSE IN LIFE IS TO TEAR CANADA APART BY ENABLING QUEBEC SEPARATION.

You couldn't make this stuff up.

And all this was set off by a "financial update" which contained a proposal to do away with public funding for political parties based on popular vote.
Oh they say it was because the update didn't offer enough of a "stimulus package" for the economy. Depending on what you read, this was either necessary, or not. But funding for the minority parties? DEFINITELY necessary.

Forget that Obama came out of nowhere, raised zillions one dollar at a time, and ended up President. Way too much work.

I have never joined a political party of any type. The last two elections, I voted Conservative. I don't entirely agree with their social policies but I felt that Harper was the best of a bad lot as leader, and I strongly support their policies with regard to the military and the Arctic.

However, if this thing goes through, I HEREBY PUBLICLY PLEDGE to join the Conservatives and do whatever I can as a volunteer to get Stephen Harper a majority government.

This is ridiculous.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Deja Vu

News item:

Duceppe to make French his priority in Parliament

Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Quebecois, had some intriguing words for students at the University of Montreal this week:

He wants to change the law to make French the official language of Quebec and to ensure that Quebecers work in the French language.

Say what?

If that sounds familiar it’s because it is. French IS the official language of Quebec and laws already exist that enforce the use of French in the Quebec workplace.

Quebec Provincial laws, that is.

Duceppe wants the Canadian Federal Government to enact parallel laws as well.

Now on the surface that might seem to make sense. Duceppe is a federal politician, leader of a federal political party, even though that party only fields candidates in Quebec.

However.

The party that Duceppe leads, the Bloc Quebecois, is a “sovereignist” party, meaning it is dedicated to the cause of Quebec separating from Canada and forming its own country. It was founded for the purpose of facilitating the separation process, were it to occur.

Now, since it doesn’t look like this process is set to occur anytime in the short term, the Bloc justifies its existence by claiming to defend Quebecers’ rights in Canada – that is, as long as you’re a Francophone Quebecer but that’s a whole other issue.

But how is it logical, for a movement that wants a certain goal – the formation of a separate country – to campaign for changes in the laws of the country that it wants to separate FROM? It’s tantamount to an admission of defeat, to ask for the laws of Canada to fall into place with the laws of Quebec, for it anticipates a long association going forward.

Listen up, citizens of Quebec, your purported leader is at cross purposes with the goals and spirit of his own party!

Quebec has the laws that it (or to be precise, its majority) wants. Dictating what another country (Canada) should do is as ridiculous as the US telling Canada to hand over detailed passenger lists for its aircraft flying through US airspace!

What?

Oh.

Nevermind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Fractured Fairy Tale*

You know that old folk tale, where a man asks for advice from the village elder because his house is too small...

And the elder tells the man, bring six chickens into your home to live with you and your family.
The man does this, but it makes the problem worse and so he goes back to the elder, who tells him, now bring 3 pigs into your home as well...

And this repeats a few times, each time the elder telling the man to add other animals to the menagerie: some sheep, a cow, maybe a horse, whatever is around.

At some point the home becomes totally unbearable, and the elder then says, throw out the horse.

The man does this and reports how much better things are; then each animal is removed in turn, leaving the house ultimately the same as it was in the beginning, but with the people in it much more satisfied with their lot since it feels so much roomier and liveable now.

Well, US President Bush has just thrown out the horse.

A news item conveniently leaked – today – September 11 - by “anonymous administration officials” states that Bush plans to announce that he will reduce the troop levels in Iraq.

To the level they were at before the “surge”, 130,000.

By next summer.

Maybe.

Bush will place more conditions on reductions than his general did, insisting
that conditions on the ground must warrant cuts and that now-unforeseen events
could change the plan.


Doesn’t that house just feel bigger already.



------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
*Yes it's a Rocky & Bullwinkle reference. What can I say, I'm old.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Why?

Tomorrow morning, September 11, 2007, the MSNBC network plans to rerun the original NBC coverage of THE September 11, six years ago. CNN did the same thing last year but only online if I remember correctly.

Why? What is the point?

The usual answer to why media does anything is, ratings. Perhaps people will watch but again I have to ask, why?

Why put yourself through it?

Commemorate the day, of course.
Read the names of the 3000 dead slowly, one by one.
Assess the progress of rebuilding the Pentagon (done?) and Ground Zero (not done).
Assess what was heroic and what wasn't, that day and the days following.
Reflect upon the state of the US and the world and how we got from that day to this one.

Remember, of course. But relive? What on earth for?

Those newscasts have immense historical value; they should be viewed by future generations, but not necessarily by those who viewed them in 2001. There is no need to see it all again - it is permanently etched into our collective consciousness.
Will we learn anything from these reruns? Or will we just reinforce the fears that were born that day - the fears that enabled the US to be led down its current destructive path.

MSNBC calls it "living history". I call it self-serving sensationalism.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Facts and Arguments on Role Models

It has long been a contention of mine that schools ought to prepare students for the real world. School society should, in an age-appropriate fashion, mirror adult societies such as the workplace.

For instance: nobody in a workplace is going to sit down with a bully and ask them nicely to stop it. Bullying exists, will always exist, and while teaching children not to do it is an admirable goal, it is also vital to teach children how to deal with it. Otherwise, they will leave their bully-proof school without the means to handle such an interaction on the outside.

Conversely, what is unethical in a school context must also be unethical in society as a whole, and teachers and other role models have a responsibility to acknowledge mistakes when they are made, and rectify them as much as possible.

This all has to do with a recent column in the Canadian newspaper, the Globe and Mail, brought to my attention by a listserv discussion. Each weekday the paper runs a personal essay in a column called Facts & Arguments. I first heard of it several years ago in a writing seminar, when the seminar leader seemed impressed that one of my fellow classmates had already been published there. “It’s hard to get into that one,” she said.

A little more digging in google shows that the column has hosted numerous award-winning essays and has quite a prestigious reputation.

But it’s probably just as well that I never got around to submitting an essay there, because now I’d be considering removing it from my resume had it been accepted, and would be really really peeved if it hadn’t.

The essay in question is The English Assignment by Sharon Melnicer, herself a well-established author and artist. It revolves around a purported school writing assignment that Melnicer, a former teacher, claims was done by her students in 1997.

It is well-written, entertaining and thought-provoking – but somehow familiar? That would be because the central part of this essay, the work that the students supposedly submitted, has been floating around the internet for at least ten years according to the relevant entry at Snopes.com.

(Update: the Snopes page now includes Melnicer's claim to have written the original piece.)

Hundreds of other instances of the story turn up in google searches for distinctive keywords.

Of course the letters to the editor started rushing in; I later learned that the response I received was the stock response sent to everyone and since it has already been posted online I don’t feel the least bit uncomfortable about reproducing it here:



Dear Pauline Brock,
Thank you for your e-mail re the essay of Sept. 4.
The essay writer, Sharon Melnicer, tells me she first presented this article at a province-wide workshop for Manitoba English teachers in 1997. She says she had found the idea ( 'Writing a Tandem Story') as explained in the essay, in a professional journal . The first part of a sample tandem story (the "Outer Space" theme) as well as the teacher's instructions for students were provided in the article. Ms. Melnicer says she tried it out with Grade XI and XlI students, as her essay describes, then wrote up what happened and presented it at the workshop. Copies of that paper were distributed to the 50 or so participants who attended. Nothing further happened regarding publication of the piece until she picked it up again after retiring, did some revisions, and submitted it to F&A.
Ms. Melnicer says she knows plagiarism is a serious offence, and not one she would commit. I have no reason to doubt her.

Moira Dann
Editor
Facts&Arguments
Okay, I suppose someone had to have written the original story and while I have my doubts, I have no proof.

However.

What on earth was the editor thinking when she decided to use the story? If it’s not a real example of plagiarism it’s doing a darn good imitation of one, and is certainly not worth the potential aggravation!

Obviously there was no fact checking going on, or somebody did a really sloppy job.
The Globe and Mail is a major national Canadian paper. If I can’t be assured of the originality of their essay page, what can I be assured of?

I replied to the editor saying that if I had been aware that they accepted recycled stories that I had a few hundred of my own lying around to send in, and that I was disappointed in the Globe and in the column; to her credit she did bother to answer that email as well but only to say she was sorry that I was disappointed and that she had acted in good faith.

I am sure she did act in good faith however that is not the point. The point is she, or someone, should not have published the essay without some kind of disclaimer, and the paper should now publish some sort of clarification, if not outright apology.

Which brings me to the extra special bit of irony in all this:
Sharon Melnicer had used the example of the student writing assignment to illustrate a point, which was:


Every good teacher - every effective leader, for that matter - knows that it is from our mistakes we all learn. It follows, then, that failure is something to celebrate; it is the very soil in which learning grows and knowledge blooms.




Nice – and something that the editors at the Globe should take to heart. So far no correction, apology, or explanation has appeared, and it seems as if they are hoping the whole thing will just go away.


What on earth does it say when a former teacher puts herself in the position of appearing to plagiarize and the editor who lets it slip by makes excuses and doesn’t address the issue? How can a society that permits this expect better from its students? Schools rightly make a very big deal about plagiarism and must have the backing of those in real life or the lesson will surely fail.

If you can’t trust the integrity of your teachers... and your editors... who can you trust?

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