Lest we forget how things were just a hundred years ago. It appears some in Wisconsin and Ohio have already. March 25, 1911 was not all that long ago.
Those who do not read and understand history are not only bound to repeat the mistakes of the past, but drag an entire generation with them. An informed, educated, literate citizenry is essential for a democracy to sustain itself.
I suppose that is why conservatives are also attacking teachers and have declared war on book nerds.
“Here, let me help you with that,” I heard to my left as I was waiting for some testing at the doctor’s office. I glanced over to an older gentleman who was trying to tie his shoe that has come undone. His wife had jumped in to tie his shoe for him.
Our eyes met briefly before he turned his head, silently resigned to the public indignity of having someone else tie his own shoes for him. And what made it worse was that he had to accept it from someone whom he should be trusting would never inflict that embarrassment on him.
Throughout the drive home, I could not shake this man’s eyes from my own mind’s eye. In a moment, he showed anger, shame and then resignation as he stared off into the distance. He knew I knew what he was thinking and feeling and he didn’t want to share that with me.
In the ensuing time between that chance encounter, we’ve seen the revolution in Egypt, the tragedies in Japan and the revolt in Libya. At every instance, we’ve had groups of people in this country rise up and demand that the United States — specifically President Obama — get in there and help. And I kept thinking back to that old man in the waiting area and how his wife jumped in without his permission to tie his shoe for him. I was sure he did not feel at all “helped” but emasculated.
Are we jumping in to help because it solves a problem for us or for the people we are trying to help? Do we ask ourselves this question before we demand that our leaders do something?
Shouldn’t we be asking, “What do you need?” before we jump in to help out? Should the person we’re asking trust us to believe he knows what he needs better than we do?
What the old man needed from his wife was patience while he tied his own shoe and the resolve to allow him the dignity of self-reliance — regardless of how long that took — even if the nurse came in and tried to rush him along for his testing. While I’m sure in her mind she was helping him, she was really only helping herself cope with her own annoyance at having to wait for him to tie his shoe. To her, the issue was hurrying the process of getting him into his medical testing appointment on time.
Sometimes all we need to help another is the patience and strength to just be there as he struggles through helping himself.
This post was inspired by Saxon Henry who pulled this memory out of my brain with her post A Steady View of Heaven which is part of The Road to Promise. Please read it.
Earlier this year, I found Kara Matuszewski’s (@karamat) blog because she started following me on twitter and read a post she had written about hand-written notes. I clicked into the comment box to send her a note, stopped cold and thought, “Wait a minute, I can do better!”
And I went searching for her mailing address, pieced that together and sent her a hand-written note, thanking her for following me on twitter. (I know, corny but so what)
But then I got to thinking that while I send out thank you notes more often than most people, I probably don’t do it enough. Besides, my penmanship is getting worse and worse because I don’t practice. So, I bought me some Moleskins (I know, a cliché) and started writing my to do list in them to practice.
As I was writing last night, (I had a flashback of John Boy from the Waltons sitting at his desk, writing the events and thoughts of the day in his journal but that’s not the point) I realized that not only was my penmanship going down the tubes, but so was my ability to compose a quick thought on a thank you card or a note. It seems simple, but when I get to a blank card, I struggle for the right words. I used to be able to dash off half a dozen before finishing my first cup of coffee in the morning. Way back, when people sent cards.
So, here is the project: Starting April 1st and through the end of 2011, I want to send one note card a day to someone who follows me on twitter or reads this blog. It will help me get my penmanship and note-writing skills back as well as have something physical that connects me to you.
At the end of the year, I will have sent out 274 cards and connected with as many people in a more real way than just a tweet or a comment.
I will scan each card and share at the end of the year (minus your mailing address, of course.) I am not doing this to build a mailing list or anything so you need not worry about giving me your info. Just a fun little project that will help me gain back some skills and have some fun and human connection along the way. Maybe I’ll even build a Google map to see how far and wide we are all connected.
*I’m starting April 1st because I need to get some cards printed up. I went looking to buy some at the store yesterday and found out the selection of stationery has really gone downhill since the email became fashionable. The first hundred or so will probably not be as skillfully done, but you can call them ‘my early works’ if you’d like.
When I was offered a job with Huffy that moved me from Minneapolis to Dayton, I was a young, ambitious, go-getter. Go, go, go. I supposed that is why they wanted me; lots of energy, lots of ideas, gonna change the world.
There was the courtship, the salary dance, the relocation package, the offer letter and then that period of silence. I was eager to get things decided, locked down, set on a to do list, go, go, go and these people were not returning my calls. What the hell was going on? I needed to know!
And then I get a call from Sandy, an older woman in the Human Resources department whom I knew only vaguely. She would later turn out to be a very good friend.
“Cool your jets,” she said.
I learned all I needed to know about salesmanship from those three little words, only I didn’t know it at the time. I learned that there was a natural ebb and flow to persuasion, that people needed time to process and that the timing and candace of information delivery was just as important as what you told them.
I learned how to be patiently calm in the eye of a storm.
I’m using this technique now with you in this blog post. Did you notice?
Does it affect how you feel about me that I told you?
This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about answering the question, What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.
Last year, an acquaintance who has a part-time firefighter job, supplemented by a full-time ambulance driver job with no health benefits had to go to the emergency room with asthma complications. The hospital ended up having to admit him for three days. The total cost of this unplanned vacation was $23,000 and some change.
He had no insurance and he did not have $23,000. He applied for Medicaid, went through some hearings, some denials, appeals and eventually Medicaid paid the bill.
He is a Republican through and through. When asked how he liked his socialist benefits provided by his government, he smiled sheepishly and looked away. He was caught in a lie and he and I both knew it. He is still a Republican. Having his medical bills paid for through no personal merit or responsibility did not change his mind one bit about his political loyalties or the argument for his loyalties.
And that is when it hit me solidly: The GOP is not about fiscal responsibility. They are entirely about social issues.
A little background
My friend was raised in the rural parts of Ohio, right outside my town of Englewood which is ten miles north of Dayton, sixty-five miles north of Cincinnati. So he wasn’t actually raised out on the farm, but enough where there is little if any diversity and no weird artsy-fartsy types with book-leraning and such. The men hunt every fall, fish in the summer, drink beer, watch football and chew tobacco. And the women tend to their men. And everybody goes to church on Sunday and if they don’t, they still believe in Jesus Christ. (Really, these places exist not too far out your front door, wherever in America you are.)
And this is also where they talk openly about “how in the hell we let a g*d**n n****r in the White House” right before they spit chew violently on the ground in disgust.
How we got here
The GOP has gotten its followers to believe and say there is a finite amount of money available and that your ne’er-do-well, slacker neighbors are taking your fair share of your hard-earned money. Only it’s not really true. It’s not what they really mean when they say “money.” Money is just code for “my white Christian culture.”
The Greatest Generation were better storytellers than they were social engineers. When the men went off to war, they brought back stories of valor, courage, bravery, camaraderie and honor. My grandfather never talked much about the War. My dad never talked about the Korean War either. All we had were photos, medals and a few stories of good times with their buddies. They never talked about the horror of seeing their friends die or body parts getting blown off. When they came home, they put the past behind them and created a narrative that was peaceful and prosperous, even though it was not the truth.
Women who went off to work in the factories did much the same thing. It was hard, back-breaking, grueling, greasy, filthy work but when it was over, it was over. They did not tell stories of workplace accidents, the long days and the restless nights. They spun yarns of achievement, honor and patriotism.
And three generations later, that is how we remember the past that never was. Families lived in harmonious, quiet neighborhoods with houses all lined up on clean streets. The dad went off to work, the mom stayed home and kept house. There were regular raises and good benefits at his job. The kids played baseball, went to school and played stickball in the middle of the street. When they grew older, the kids went out on dates, got married and had kids of their own.
Each year, the family would get together and have Thanksgiving dinner, then Christmas and celebrate Easter in the spring. There would be great news of babies and marriages and of course of deaths and funerals. Everyone married a virgin, everyone died at peace. This all played out like some great movie with a well-crafted script. There were things nobody talked about and everybody knew what those things were.
And the children forgot about the struggle the previous generations went through to build this Great Lie. The storytellers of television and the movies gladly filled in the gaps, fueling an even more memorable past that never was.
The Great Lie of our American Dream is even embedded into our future. The following is a video made by Corning. The cues of the Dream are embedded everywhere across generations. Take a look. Can you see them? Do you find yourself wanting to be there? It’s a powerful Dream.
The past is knowable and comfortable. The future is scary. I’m fairly certain in a generation back there were old men who sighed wistfully as a truck blowing smoke passed them by on a farm road. Sure do miss the smell of horse dung, they might be thinking.
Money as a mask
We use price as an excuse for almost every human behavior. If we don’t really want to buy something, we say “that costs too much” or “I don’t have the money right now.” When we really want something, we find a way to get it by charging it, putting it on layaway, leasing it or in the case of a house, commit to mortgage terms that are not in our financial best interest. We rationalize a debt to get the things that we really want.
The GOP understands this about human nature — and particularly the American culture — very well and has masterfully crafted its message around money. “The state is broke,” they rail when a program is funding issues that are contrary to the Great Lie. “Our country is going bankrupt!” “Limited government” and “Take back our country” are all very attractive catch phrases for a population that has been led to believe that the supply of money is finite and being spent irresponsibly by your drunken neighbor. After all, many of these people don’t have much left from their paychecks at the end of the week, so it all makes common sense.
Everything the GOP wants to do is masked as a money issue because they know that American culture understands money. All this other stuff about happiness and rights and liberty is so hard to quantify. But money is easy. You can count money.
The inconsistency is the key
The key to understanding why money and fiscal responsibility is not the real issue is the inconsistency between what a conservative says and what he does. He will take a Medicaid handout to keep from paying a $23,000 hospital bill. He will take a government-supplied paycheck as a firefighter. He will take a home interest deduction on his taxes, a Pell grant from the Federal government, drive on the freeway system without paying a toll, attend a public school and do all these things as if it were his right to do so all the while saying we need less government. Taxes pay for all these things that give him a standard of living yet he perceives to have gotten these things through his own hard work and initiative.
And my favorite inconsistency of all, “Keep your government hands of my Medicare.”
The GOP knows that if they keep the discussion framed as “fiscal responsibility,” they don’t have to address all those other messy issues that go along with promoting the Great American Dream that never was. All they need do is step back in shock about why someone would not want to be fiscally responsible and they win the argument. Only the argument never really was about money. It never will be.
What’s in it for the GOP?
Power, I imagine. I can’t think of any other reason why someone would care more about the state budget being balanced than the health of their own household. Maybe some of these politicians really believe the rhetoric about fiscal responsibility, but I doubt many retain it. I think most of them are angry that not only have they lost their birthright, but it was stolen from them. They see political office as a way to take it back.
The GOP may have been about fiscal responsibility at some point in their distant past, but I think they have always been more about preserving the American Culture. As they become more and more desperate about preserving the Dream, the more they are letting their mask fall away. But judging from my friend above, they may think they can now afford to do it and start being honest about who they really are. Apparently lying about their true intent bears no consequence as at least half the country is one of them.
Of the hundreds of soccer games I have seen my kids play, I remember that soccer game clearly. My daughter was playing U9 for Northmont and we had a game against the Sidney Bees on an unseasonably warm Saturday in April. This was her first full season with select soccer.
The game was pretty tight all the way through. We scored the first goal late in the first half, they scored the second goal early in the second. There were just a few minutes left in the game when their star had a break-away and dribbled the ball all the way to our goalie and took a shot. The goalie deflected, but not cleanly. It bounced to the side of the goal, off the pitch and through the net that was not fastened securely to the ground.
The referee called it a goal.
All the parents saw the ball roll into the side of the net. All the kids saw it. The coaches saw it. But the Sidney parents said nothing, amid the protests of the Northmont parents and coaches. All it would have taken was one brave parent to step forward and say, “We want to win, but not by cheating. We’re not going to accept that goal.”
But nobody did.
All the kids on both teams learned the real rule of soccer that day. The more games you win, the more goals you score, the more your parents will love you. And it doesn’t matter how you get them. And to this day, when I hear about how team sports build character, sportsmanship, etc. Sidney, Ohio pops into my head and I know I am being lied to.
Wisconsin feels an awful lot like Sidney, Ohio on that warm April day.
Sex is part of nature. It’s primary function is for procreation. But, unlike animals, humans have the good fortune (or mis-fortune) of also having a brain with curiosity and a need for recreation attached to the same body as their genitals. When we deny that fact and refuse to study the psychology behind human sex, we’re not really exploring our entire humanity. What’s wrong with demonstrating a sex act as part of an academic exercise for the purpose of studying emotional and psychological reaction? Was it the practical application of a theory that upset people the most or was it just the fact that it was sex? Or maybe it was the modification of a perfectly good power tool?
Studying the psychology of human sexuality without a practical lab is like studying architecture and never building a bridge. Do you really want that guy in charge of the project?
Oh my god, dog, you are going to hell for those thoughts!
Actually, all dogs go to heaven, so I’m not really worried. And even if you believe God made you in His image, certainly He knew what He was doing when He gave guys danglies and women innies. He did it a lot so with your logic, He is either a genius or a pervert.
Secondly, sex acts are neutral. They are neither good nor bad. What makes them good or bad is all this morality and cultural crap we attach to them.
Thirdly, sex is a very large part of who we are (unless of course, you are married.) Why not study it more fully? Why would we not want to know everything about what makes us tick? Why does something like sex make us all giggly or nervous or outraged or ….
The rules of sex are not established by nature. They are established by the class of humans in power. Like every species in nature, the ones allowed to procreate are the ones best suited to advance the species. In the animal kingdom, we have the most cunning, the fastest, the most powerful, etc. In the human world, we have the class most willing and able to dominate the others. That class will use social norms, religion, laws, peer pressure, shame or any other means necessary to impose their will on others. Depriving the “weaker” classes of the means to procreate is the ultimate dominance one human can have over another. (Don’t even get me started on non-hetrosexual sex. I have no idea why anyone wants to prevent that or why they feel it threatens them. Maybe that deserves more study.)
Ever wonder why virginity is prized above all else in some cultures? There is no natural reason for it. It doesn’t destroy a woman or make her any less fit for companionship or procreation. Yet a “ruling class” gets that idea impregnated (pun intended) into a class (women) which prevents them from consenting to intercourse outside of a sanctioned union, i.e., marriage. When a women violates the rules, she is ostracized and in some cultures, killed. A population is now controlled by their own morality. Really simple crowd control, ain’t it? That statement is over-simplified, but you get the idea. You can apply the same kind of thinking to any type of sex. Attach a moral penalty to it and you control a population. Start from there and study outward.
Did you have a strong reaction to Professor Bailey’s demonstration? Why? Like him, do you eventually arrive at a logical, academic reason for not being curious about the psychological basis of sex-toy-induced orgasm? Did you recoil? Did you ever ask why you had that reaction? You probably should.
It seems an unfair symptom of our culture to know what sex is all about almost five decades into life rather than in the prime of youth. It not only robs you of some great interactions with other people, but also a deeper understanding of works of literature like The Awakening, The Scarlet Letter or Sister Carrie. Read them when you are young and intimidated by sex because of fear or confusion and you learn nothing. Read them when you are older and know a bit more and it produces anger and resentment. (Maybe I’m just projecting here.. sorry.) When we fail to give sex cultural or moral power it does not naturally posses, we also free ourselves from the power others wield over us.
And before you go on about “think of the children” and other such nonsense, I am not advocating sex awareness that is not appropriate for children. But as a parent, have you crafted your exit strategy on sex before your child turns 18? Why not; it’s your job. Why are parents getting involved with the class demonstration that happened at Northwestern? Didn’t you give your off-spring the skills to determine his or her own sexual choices? If not, shame on you. You had eighteen years!
Ok, your turn. I’ve already said my piece.
—– *Apparently the sex act was a dildo attached to a modified reciprocating saw where the woman disrobed and consented to the man using the device to penetrate her vagina. I’m not sure what the class was studying, but if they were studying reactions to facsimiles of a penis during intercourse, I’m pretty sure they got some interesting ones. Does my saying penis and vagina upset you? Does my description of the act above? Why? Be honest with yourself, please, even if only in your head. It’s the only way we grow.
And the title? It was a tweet I received yesterday from a fan in response to my 140 opinion on this mater. I promised I’d write more today. It wasn’t really public sex; it was in a classroom, as an academic study with everyone in the room an adult and with full consent.
I read a rather dry account of the last Union, Ohio city council meeting in the Dayton Daily News this morning. Nobody goes to these things and fewer people read the articles recapping them. But maybe we should start paying more attention. (I looked for the article online and could not find it, so I scanned it here and will replace with a link when it gets posted.)
Here is why we should start paying attention.
Fire and police departments are receiving less tax revenue and are set to receive even less for salaries when bills like SB 5 pass. But they are still expected to be on the other end of a 911 call. (I think the City of Englewood has a EMS charge, but not fire.) It appears the City of Union would charge for police, fire and EMS services; first to your insurance company and if they don’t pay, to you.
I understand subrogation and why sometimes it is necessary. But when someone calls 911, the last thing they should be thinking is; “Can I afford this call?” If their house burns down, and they are insured, the insurance company will replace it. If their house catches fire, the fire department comes out, and the insurance company will pay for repairs but not fire services, the homeowner could end up paying a whole lot more than the house is worth in fire-fighting fees.
I think the last thing we need is for a family to be sitting on the front lawn with a calculator, estimating how much a 911 call is going to cost and whether or not it is worth it.
In truth, though, what these laws will eventually do is increase insurance costs. The insurance companies will spread out the risk for everyone, charging people who live in Zip Code 45322 a bit more of course. And since insurance in America is a for-profit game, these additional fees will include the profit expectation a publicly-held company demands. These are also post-tax dollars, so they are about 33% more expensive than an income tax assessment would be to cover the additional cost of fire-fighting services for a community.
Government cuts are always nice, but when your income tax tax bill is cut and your total cost of citizenship rises, where is the savings to the citizens? It’s like buying a really cheap printer but paying hundreds of dollars a year in ink cartridges. Or a really cheap car that costs you the retail prices in repairs every two years. Or buying cheap processed food and paying more than quadruple in medical insurance premiums because your BMI is out of whack (assuming you carry insurance.)
Subrogation for essential emergency services is a very slippery slope. I know that the proposed ordinance is limited to “at-fault” incidents. Anyone who has ever been in an accident knows that at-fault is almost never a 100/0% split. In most instances, you are partially at fault simply because you were on the road. Clearly, if your house was not there, there would be nothing to burn.
Once you crack the door, it is easier to fling open wide.
While you are shaking your head violently from side to side and stomping up and down disagreeing with me, just hear me out for a few seconds. Then you can go back to your ranting about why I am wrong, why Charlie is melting down, how he is bad for his kids, why he is anti-Semetic, a bad role model or any of the other pat sound bites the media are flinging around.
Ready? This stuff could be a bit deep. Or deep in it. I’m sure you’ll decide for yourself. **
Charlie admits his humanity. All of it. He says the “crazy” we think in our minds and acts on it.
Only this stuff isn’t so nutty. He is magic. He is a big star. He was born small and now he is huge. He has navigated the shark-infested waters of the entertainment industry and is smarter than most of the people he has come up against. He is special. He has a natural gift of poise and conversation. He got 1.2 million followers on Twitter before you even got out of bed this morning.
And he is not saying hateful things. He is just saying really, really brutally honest stuff. If we tag it as crazy then we can all feel better about ourselves. If we say he is crazy, we don’t have to deal with why we’re not living up to our potential. And if we go even further and start tearing him down, we’re morally superior.
He is getting away with all of this because he is operating within the bounds of the human condition. He knows down deep inside — way, way, way down deep inside of each of us — is a Charlie Sheen Dream that has been smashed down by years of following the rules and believing what others tell us about our inadequacies. There is always tomorrow. Next time. The next relationship.
Will you embrace your inner Charlie? Yeah, me neither. It’s too bright and scary out there.
You may now resume your lives. Or drop a comment below. Or unfollow me on twitter. Or unsubscribe from this blog. Whatever fills the ignored hole in your soul.
—– ** But I’m betting you won’t.
I was not going to write anything about Charlie Sheen. But then I got to thinking that Martin Sheen, his father, was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. By extension, we invented Charlie. So naturally — as is our way here — we needed to claim the good things this invention brings to the collection of humanity. Just like we do the Wright Brothers, we plant a flag in anything that gets famous and claim it for our own.
Yesterday, we participated in the #letsblogoff about legacy. You can read all the articles submitted here. This morning, I opened the Wall Street Journal to this heart-breaking story of a legacy about to be erased from history. Apparently English teacher Thom Williams encouraged students at Marple Newtown High School in Pennsylvania to write on the walls. But the teacher died of cancer in December 2010 at the age of 63 and the school plans to repaint and renovate the classroom.
While the true legacy of Mr. Williams will always be the students he taught and inspired, there seems something wrong in being quick to wipe out years of written record so blithely, especially in a digital culture that seems intent on removing ink and physical medium and replacing it with transitory screens. Stories like this make me wonder why we are in such a rush to remove those quirky things that make us human and replace them with neat, orderly banality.
If the walls can not be preserved, we should at least make a record of it by photographing every square inch of the walls and recreate them on a memorial site or historical display at the school. To do less would be to marginalize Mr. Williams’ life and vocation.
Be creative, kids! Reach for the sky! You can win the future. But you’ll learn to do it in an environment of neatly painted institution-white walls.
PHOTO: Ryan Collerd for The Wall Street Journal. Please don’t sue me for using the photo. Thank you.
At some point in my pursuit of an English degree at the University of Minnesota (it was the only college that let dogs in), I read the book The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England. It changed my perception of history and ultimately led me to a quest for the meaning of legacy.
I am still on that quest.
I used to think — like most people do — that history was made up of famous people who did great things and left legacies for historians to write about in textbooks and students to learn. When I was young and foolish, I wanted to be one of those people. During my youth, I strove to do big things and nothing I did was ever big enough to make it into the history books.
What I realized after reading Ties is that history is not made up of big men and women doing big things but regular-sized folk doing everyday things that — when strung together over a lifetime — were made into big things. The legacy was written afterwards by those who were left behind after realizing the effects of one’s life. Sometimes these were good things and sometimes bad. Sometimes they were intended consequences and other time unintended.
In the hands of a good storyteller, a person’s life could appear to be a thoughtful, well-planned vocation or an utter waste of time and life. In the end, though, no matter how famous a person was or how many great things he did, he did them one day at a time, one small task at a time. He was just lucky to have lived long and well enough to make a difference, good or bad.
So, what is legacy? I don’t really know yet other than what others say about you when you’re dead. Most of it won’t be true anyway but if enough people like or hate you, it will be a good story. Otherwise, it will simply be nothing but a short narrative on a coroner’s report.
I’m just hoping for the coroner who studied English and went to medical school because Harvard Law School rejected her. At least her report will have some flair and use big words.
*PS Read the book.. it is a fascinating look into how peasant families in the Middle Ages lived by how they died. Funny thing, humans haven’t changed all that much since.
This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about “answering the question, “What is legacy?”” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.
When did the United States of America go from “shoot for the moon” to “circle the wagons?”
We appear to be on a race to become the sickest and dumbest of the developed nations where nothing is going to be possible. The enemy this time is not the Communists, Soviets or al-Qaeda. The enemy is your deadbeat neighbor who is sucking your hard-earned money out of the tax coffers to finance his lavish lifestyle. He is buying big-screen TVs with his unemployment checks and taking extravagant vacations with his Social Security checks. If he is a teacher, he is enriching his pension plan from your sweat and aching back. If he works for the government, he is an over-paid lazy bum who is the reason your health insurance plan at the plant stinks.
Do we really want armed police officers and firefighters hired by municipalities at bargain-basement prices? How stupid and ill-trained do you want the teacher to be teaching your children? Have we abandoned the notion altogether that good schools increase property values? We seem to accept the argument without question from the Right that the public employees need to lower their expectations of compensation and the value of work rather than the private sector workers increasing their expectations.
Smart people are being driven out of politics by zealots and bullies under the mis-guided notion that small government is good government. But a small government that enables corporations to rape the human resources unchecked for the sake of profit only is not a good small. Even small government must be balanced.
The secret to getting cheap labor appears to be convincing everyone that they are not worth the salary or benefits they are asking. From the Tea Party to the GOP to the media, the message appears to be consistent — human beings are just too darn expensive.
Break out the torches and pitch forks, folks. We are turning against each other and it isn’t a healthy debate.
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