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Posts Tagged ‘good people’

Lovely Human Beings.

This story is really fucking moving. It’s strange that so much money will go to trying the suspect, imprisoning him if found guilty, and rewarding the person who turned him in; but the victim has to face an enormous drop in the quality of life along with a staggering rise in medical costs pretty much alone. At least in this case, someone came along and decided to do something wonderful. If only governments and justice systems did that…

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Malalai Joya is an advocate for women. She is an antiwar activist. She has strongly denounced corruption in her own government.  These are all excellent things. What makes Malalai Joya’s work stand out is that she is not doing all of this work in a western nation, where we happily let women, you know, talk and walk around. Malalai Joya is working and speaking out in Afghanistan.

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This is a pretty big accomplishment. I was, from the very very beginning, against the invasion of Afghanistan. It’s not that I’m an utter pacifist. It’s simply that anyone taking a step back and looking at the demographics of the population there would hopefully have come to the sane conclusion that bombing a nation of children is not the best way to promote democracy and end “terrorism.” The vast majority of children, nearly 100%, had witnessed an act of violence. Two-thirds of those acts involved seeing dead bodies. This information is from UNICEF in 1997. I can’t imagine what the statistics are like after the invasion. My personal beliefs tell me that murder is wrong. They also tell me that the murder of innocent civilians and children is especially evil. I am not interested in terms like “collateral damage.” People cannot, and never will be, collateral damage. My own logic also tells me, strangely enough, that to bomb, kill, and destroy usually does not win one too many friends. The people of Afghanistan who are now in their late 30s have been witnessing horrendous violence since they were pretty much in their infancy. I can’t imagine what the long-term effects of this shall be. I’m against sending more troops there. It is not the “good war.” It was a bad, shitty war in the first place that was followed by a war with absolutely no justification in the realm of human decency. The Taliban was (and is) an absolutely atrocious organization. I find some of the mujahedin to be terrifying (from what I understand of them). They also live in a region of the globe which has been subjected to so much violence and so much outside manipulation that no one living outside it can honestly understand what life has been like for them. To not even bother to understand the anger, rage, ignorance, tragedy, oppression is an act of supreme self-involvement. It stuns me that our culture is capable of constant innovation in computers, iPhones, fighter jets… and yet our answer to Afghanistan and Iraq is still to blow things up and drop bombs. On children.

With that in mind, one of the good things to have come out of this is the representative democracy set up in Kabul with a good deal of participation by women. Unfortunately the repression of women’s rights continues, and it will be a long struggle; possibly there will be some major set-backs in the years to come. Malalai Joya is a woman who exemplifies the current situation. She was a delegate to the 2003 Loya Jirga in Afghanistan (the Loya Jirga is a grand assembly used in times of transformation) and was then elected to Afghanistan’s National Assembly. Good! On the other side, though, there have been multiple attempts on her life, and she was suspended from the National Assembly for three years (she has the habit of pointing out the National Assembly includes criminals and warlords).

I’d like to point out some of the things Malalai Joya has said and done in one of the most dangerous political environments on the planet.

She spoke out on how the Northern Alliance, the group the U.S. helped take over things while the Taliban fled, are warlords and also repressive fundamentalists. Anyone reading anything about Afghanistan and not just listening to cable news, by the way, was aware of this:

Respected friends, over five years passed since the US-led attack on Afghanistan. Probably many of you are not well aware of the current conditions of my country and expect me to list the positive outcomes of the past years since the US invasion. But I am sorry to tell you that Afghanistan is still chained in the fetters of the fundamentalist warlords and is like an unconscious body taking its last breath.

The US government removed the ultra-reactionary and brutal regime of Taliban, but instead of relying on Afghan people, pushed us from the frying pan into the fire and selected its friends from among the most dirty and infamous criminals of the “Northern Alliance”, which is made up of the sworn enemies of democracy and human rights, and are as dark-minded, evil, and cruel as the Taliban.”

Being a woman from Afghanistan and daring to verbalize this is one of the reasons Malalai Joya has to fear for her life. The people she is speaking out against are still in power.

According to a UNIFEM survey, 65% of the 50,000 widows in Kabul see suicide as the only option to get rid of their misery. UNIFEM estimates that at least one out of three Afghan women has been beaten, forced into sex or otherwise abused.

The gang-rape of young girls and women by warlords belonging to the “Northern Alliance” still continues especially in the northern provinces of Afghanistan. People have staged mass protests a number of times but no one cares about their sorrow and tears. Only a few of the rape cases find their way into the media. One shocking case was that of 11 year old Sanobar, the only daughter of an unfortunate widow who was abducted, raped and then exchanged for a dog by a warlord. In a land where human dignity has no price, the vicious rapist of a poor girl still acts as district chief.”

Malalai Joya also has addressed some of the attacks she has to live with:

A mafia system is in place in Afghanistan. The US backed president Karzai and his westernized intellectuals have joined hands with fundamentalists of all brands to impose this mafia system on our people. This is the main reason for today’s problems in the deadlocked Afghanistan. Those who speak for justice are threatened with death.

My voice is always being silenced even inside the parliament and once I was physically attacked by pro-warlord and drug-lord MPs in the parliament just for speaking the truth. One of them even shouted “prostitute, take her and rape her!” Despite hating guns, I need to live under the protection of armed bodyguards to survive.”

Ms. Joya has also forcefully condemned the continued occupation and airstrikes. I find the following excerpt a little frustrating, because the people who argue continually for our involvement there are the same people who A) know nearly nothing about the history of Afghanistan or the Middle East in general B) are certain military involvement is the way to change things and are loathe to discuss other options. Those without a grasp on historical knowledge and lacking in ideas constantly seem to be the ones who know the only way to do things. Ugh.

It is a shame that so much of Afghanistan’s reality has been kept veiled by a western media consensus in support of the ‘good war.’ Perhaps if the citizens of North America had been better informed about my country, President Obama would not have dared to send more troops and spend taxpayers’ money on a war that is only adding to the suffering of our people and pushing the region into deeper conflicts.

A troop ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, and continued air strikes, will do nothing to help the liberation of Afghan women. The only thing it will do is increase the number of civilian casualties and increase the resistance to occupation.

To really help Afghan women, citizens in the U.S. and elsewhere must tell their government to stop propping up and covering for a regime of warlords and extremists. If these thugs were finally brought to justice, Afghan women and men would prove quite capable of helping ourselves.”

Malalai Joya’s memoir will be released this October. Obviously she is a woman of great bravery. She has stood up to warlords and criminals, her own government and the most powerful government in the world. She speaks truth to power and lives with the dangers that creates for her. She tirelessly advocates for the rights of Muslim women and refuses to accept rationalizations of oppression on the grounds of religious fundamentalism. To live with the very real threat of death and to remain so outspoken and committed…

The fundamentalists are counting their days to kill me, but I believe in and follow the noble saying of the freedom-loving Iranian writer Samad Behrangi:

‘Death could very easily come now, but I should not be the one to seek it. Of course if I should meet it and that is inevitable, it would not matter. What matters is whether my living or dying has had any effect on the lives of others…’

Thank you.”

*Interesting bit of trivia: Malalai Joya shares a name with one of the female heroes of Afghanistan, Malalai of Maiwand. During the Second Afghan War (yeah, Britain invaded Afghanistan three times), the Afghani troops were falling back in a particular battle. Malalai, who had been tending the wounded, stood up and rallied the troops, charging into frey herself. She died, though the battle was won. I hope Malalai Joya is able to keep raising her voice and inspiring change, and hopefully one day she will live in a more peaceful nation where she won’t require bodyguards.

Also, I thought the pictures of Afghan women protesting the marital rape law, protesting with their faces exposed, should be seen by everyone. The law was supposed to be overturned, then it was supposed to be reviewed, and there is a powerful faction still advocating for the law. I don’t know what the current status of the law is, but the fact that this is even an issue is beyond horrible.

afghanistan

All of Malalai Joya’s speeches can be found at this excellent website, as well as lots of other information on her doings.

Here is also some basic information on the horrific airstrikes in Farah, Afghanistan that took place in May.

I super-duper highly recommend reading Robert Fisk’s monumental epic The Great War for Civilisation. For some off-the-beaten track information on Afghanistan in particular, see Blue is the Colour of Heaven. By the way, is that the best book title in the world? Yes, yes it is.

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At last.

MichelleObama

The media’s coverage of Michelle Obama has been largely a depressing affair. Right when I was starting to be captivated by her intelligent and sharp speeches, the cable news networks had one of those moments they live for. Michelle Obama said something which they deemed unpatriotic and they proceeded to cover her statement with as much stereotyping, negativity, and general bullshit as possible. Far from using her provocative words as an opportunity to gain insight into the minds and hearts of people who are not wealthy old male WASPs, they fell back on their favorite games of demonizing, wilful misunderstanding, and engaging in outright racism while pretending they’ve somehow been victimized (see: Sonia Sotomayor). Her role in her husband’s campaign was drastically altered. I was completely depressed about how this interesting woman was being relegated to weird stories about her arms and the clothes she bought and which designer she was wearing etc etc: ugh argh curses.

So imagine my surprise when I began to read The Washington Post’s front-page article by Lois Romano about Michelle Obama on Thursday. I couldn’t believe it. Here was intelligent insight into the First Lady which was encouraging, refreshing, which was not about clothing! In fact, there were actual signs for optimism!

Although Obama’s job-approval ratings have soared, the first lady — a Harvard-educated lawyer — wasn’t satisfied with coasting. She is hiring a full-time speechwriter and has instructed her staff to think “strategically” so that every event has a purpose and a message.”

This sounds promising.

In the past couple of weeks, Obama has been more vocal about the specifics of the president’s health plan, and she will play a substantive role in promoting it. She will soon announce the creation of an advisory board to help military families. And she will be the face of the administration’s United We Serve, a summer-long national service program, which she launched on Monday. Even her social events have a message: She let congressional families know that before the annual White House barbecue today, the 500 guests are expected to show up at Fort McNair to stuff camp backpacks with goodies for the children of military personnel.”

Really? I am loving this.

…Obama wants to continue to offer opportunities to people like herself. She grew up in working-class South Chicago, in the shadow of one of the most elite private colleges in the country, the University of Chicago. Yet Obama recalls vividly that when she was a high school student hoping to rise above her circumstances, the university seemed far beyond her reach. She was determined this would not happen at the White House on her watch.

“No one there had ever reached out to say, ‘Hey, maybe there’s a place for you here,’ ” Johnston said. Obama has either visited or invited to the White House students from 30 Washington schools, and she was instrumental in developing the first White House summer internship program specifically for D.C. high school students.”

Are you kidding me? I can’t believe it. I’m surprised and angry it’s taken this long to involve DC kids with the White House, but I am beyond thrilled it’s happening.  And why is it? Because Michelle Obama is sensitive to people who aren’t able to go to elite private schools, to the people who live so close to so much wealth but do not share in it. This is getting inspirational.

“She also intentionally served a formal dinner to the nation’s governors on mismatched china — 28 years after Nancy Reagan famously complained because nothing matched and proceeded to spend $200,000 on a new set of Lenox.”

Oh, so you have a sense of humor too. Stop it, I feel dizzy with joy.

Obama tasked Rogers with ensuring that every social event has a populist component, as she did last week when Duke Ellington High School students attended workshops with jazz greats. Rogers said that the Obamas want to convey that coming to the White House is “just a home visit.” That’s why, she said, the first lady hugs so many people who walk through the doors. “You try to take the fear out of just the mere awe of walking through the gates.”

Fine, Michelle. Are you proud of yourself? You just want to live in the White House and do all these wonderful things and make sure “every social event has a populist component” and you don’t care if it makes me tear up? What if I can’t handle this? After years of living next to DC and watching wealthy elite families roll by, well, I just might not be ready for you to come in here and start trying to make the most famous residence in the nation accessible to the people. Have you thought about that? After eight years of people basically spitting in the face of the poor you come to town, and then one day there’s a  garden for DC students and then suddenly all White House events are supposed to include everyone… Where is the gradualism? How are we supposed to process all of your awesomeness? I want you to know, Michelle Obama, that if you keep this kinda shit up I might be all “Eleanor who?” soon, and that would make me feel bad for about two minutes. Then I will look at this picture of you gardening, just like Eleanor, and I will be swooning with adoration for the both of you.

Michelle. Being Awesome. As Usual.

Michelle. Being Awesome. As Usual.

I guess I’ll just try to live with having an incredible woman as our First Lady. A woman who, yes, is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a lawyer, a woman who wears J. Crew and has nice arms and charms old Queens into hugging her. But she is also a seriously great human being who is actually using her power and voice to do good things for the people who need them the most. At last.

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On June 14, 2009 The Washington Post’s Book World ran a beautiful collection of memories/vignettes by Latin American author Eduardo Galeano. I imagine I would have been entranced by the piece regardless, but I was in the midst of reading Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America which meant I spilt a lot of things in my excitement. The essay is a lovely introduction to an author who I had never heard of until I read The Shock Doctrine a few months ago. I ordered it on-line right after finishing Naomi Klein; a few days later I discovered Barack Obama was given a copy of the famous yellow book by Hugo Chavez, and its popularity skyrocketed. Then Thom Hartmann, a favorite person of mine, reviewed said book for BuzzFlash. At that point I was getting pretty excited for my own copy to come.

For people who do not know much about Eduardo Galeano, as I knew nothing till recently, he is a political and historical writer/poet who hails from Uruguay and focuses largely on the history of the Americas and of the oppressed. He writes about the pillaging of his home continent and is able to say why this has happened, who has benefited, and why it is still happening. This has meant, since life is the way it is, that he’s had to flee for his life and live in exile more than once. Since Open Veins was published in 1971 he has continued to explore the history of Latin America and the world through his work. His most recent achievement, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone will be released this month.

eduardo-galeano

There are several aspects of Eduardo Galeano’s style which I find immensely appealing. The obvious is Galeano’s incredible storytelling skill, which is bound up with one of my favorite traits in an author: his interest in others. Pause for a moment. It’s assumed that writers simply must be interested in other people and the world, because what else is a story? This is absolutely false. A great many authors (just like a great many people everywhere) are interested entirely in Themselves, and their writings reflect this. No matter how they may turn a pretty phrase, no matter how stinging their hilarious sarcasm may be or how accurate their analysis of a certain situation is, they are primarily writing about Their moods, Their troubles, the wrongs They have suffered, the indifference/superiority They feel, how They cope with the world and get by. They are writing to be adored, to be seen as brilliant, but not because they are burnt up about the way things are or should be. I would call them the anti-Kurt Vonneguts. They are so unlike the man who could write absurdly and be sarcastic and tell the truth and feel complete compassion for our species while deploring the state we’re all in. That is the sort of author who really has something to say of value. The best writers, in my opinion, are writers who are passionately interested in what it means to be human, in how society and humanity work and fail, in the pain of being alive, the injustice, the loss… and have this anger at suffering actually mean something because they are passionate about celebrating life. Eduardo Galeano is this type of writer.

He is a man who sees people, who takes an utter interest in everyone around him. Unlike people who lock their doors when driving through a crummy neighborhood, Galeano is the kinda guy who would hop out and start asking questions and making friends. Unlike our mass media which is devoted to keeping its eye on the lives of the wealthy, Galeano does his best to yank our attention to how the conspicuous luxury at the top rests entirely on the backs of others. As I’ve read our major newspapers and magazines through our Great Recession I’ve been thoroughly sickened by the obsessive focus on our elites giving up a yoga listen here or a cruise there. Only recently did the lives of our worst off get any significant attention, and as usual it was up to Barbara Ehrenreich to provide that voice.

The United States is a country with some of the greatest extremes between the rich and the poor in the industrialized world at the same time as there is the greatest divide between the two in human history. Normal people who think of themselves as good have been taught to ignore poverty; if they see it they learn to blame the poor for not pulling themselves up. The media encourages this attitude and works to exacerbate it by shows, news programs, and articles which demonize the poor, the minorities. It becomes so easy to forget the existence of people who have lives unlike our own, and easier to forget about our culpability.

The segregation between NW and SE DC is tied in to our country’s tendency to threaten, oppress, bomb, and intervene in other countries. A man like Hugo Chavez becomes an easy target to demonize because we know so little of the lives of the people he represents. We take so little interest in the lives of others in our own communities, and then we pay even less attention to the lives of the dispossessed around the world who make our lifestyles possible. Our elites attack anyone who does not show subservience to our ideal lifestyle, they chant their mantras about letting the free market decide and accuse anyone who wants to do things differently as being an agitator, a communist, a real mixer. I don’t mean to say the US has never done any good anywhere. That’s baloney. But there have been some real crimes, and they have not been redressed; many are on-going. Oppression and wrong-doing are not things which only Happen in the Past because We Have Good Intentions and Are Different. Because of this we need to hear someone like Eduardo Galeano, who goes through the world telling us the stories of people we’ve refused to listen to.

The highlight of the stunning essay that was featured in The Post provides a heartbreaking example of what I’m talking about:

The Bolivian town of Llallagua lived from the mine, and in the mine its miners died. Deep in the shafts in the bowels of the mountains, they hunted veins of tin and lost, in a few short years, their lungs and their lives.

I spent some time there and made good friends.

The last night, we were drinking, my friends and I, singing laments and telling bad jokes till just before dawn.

When little time remained before the scream of the siren that would call them to work, my friends fell silent, all of them at once. Then one asked, or pleaded, or ordered: “And now, my brother, tell us about the sea.”

I was speechless.

They insisted: “Tell us. Tell us about the sea.”

It was the most difficult challenge in all my storytelling life. None of these miners would ever know the sea; each was doomed to die young. And I had no choice but to bring them the sea, the sea that was so far away, discovering words that could drench them to the bone.”

That is why Galeano is a great writer. More than that, it is why Galeano is a necessary writer. He brings to the forefront the voices of men we’ll never hear, a reality intertwined with ours, a reality we depend on, and yet is mostly unacknowledged. Celebrate Columbus Day and go to the mall. Yeah, he didn’t really discover anything and he enslaved, raped, and murdered the people of Hispaniola, but that’s not cheery. Let’s make that a side note in 9th grade history, explain “sadly slavery was acceptable back then”, talk about cultural relativism and point out that Columbus was only acting in the way his hierarchical, isolated, racist, sexist had taught him to behave, and move on. We won’t have to draw a connection between those crimes and how we ignore , rationalize and marginalize them, and then see how they relate to the crimes and injustices of today. The subtle dangers of such thinking are a huge threat. By not calling things by their name and denouncing them we can pretend they don’t exist and keep going to megastores because clothing and food just pop up here like that don’tchaknow?

I have never understood people who found history boring, or those who didn’t understand why I could never read enough. When I set out to college I just wanted to study history, literature, learn more about philosophy and religious history. How could people not want to spend time studying what human experience has taught us, and what is has not? How could anyone not want to commune with past minds, to see how others found our world? Do people not realize how neat it is we are here, existing? Maybe not, since a great many of them seem eager to shut their minds and hearts down with whatever they find as quickly as they can. Perhaps history books have focused too much on the winners, on analyzing how people have risen to power without asking why, on following a sequence of events without asking what they signify. Perhaps literature classes have too often asked their students to focus on the style of the writer, to monitor what themes and motifs are employed. I know I’ve been frustrated repeatedly by professors who kept wanting me to write about how Hemingway or Morrison were doing something when I just wanted to talk about why they were writing, what they wanted to tell people, what their purpose was for each book. For sure there are those who write conscious of the symbols they employ, who use repetition to reveal something quite meaningful. But to miss the forest for the trees is a great and often-repeated crime when teaching literature and history. The best wonder why, and so many don’t ask. Maybe they don’t want to have to live with the answer.

Eduardo Galeano is writing spectacularly beautiful books that bridge the gap between history and poetry/literature. This is heartening. He looks at the marginalized, the disposable people of the world, all the Surplus Humanity. He dignifies them, he makes them more than statistics of tragedies, or tools/means to perpetuate our lifestyles. He summons up the power of a real artist and uses it to step into the role of a prophet. He’s what I think of as a connector, a person who points to something here and something there and explains why it’s like that. This isn’t rewriting history, and it’s not empty art, but living words which seek to break the grip that this bland, drugged, sanitized worldview has on so many.

As he says so poignantly in  Days and Nights of Love and War (translated by Bobbye Ortiz):

“One writes out of a need to communicate and to commune with others, to denounce that which gives pain and to share that which gives happiness. One writes against one’s solitude and against the solitude of others. One assumes that literature transmits knowledge and affects the behavior and language of those who read…One writes, in reality, for the people whose luck or misfortune one identifies with – the hungry, the sleepless, the rebels, and the wretched of this earth – and the majority of them are illiterate….Our effectiveness depends on our capacity to be audacious and astute, clear and appealing. I would hope that we can create a language more fearless and beautiful than that used by conformist writers to greet the twilight.”

Those are meaningful words, those are ideas to remember when we talk about reality if we want to describe it with any relevance. Galeano reminds us that there are those who will never see the sea, and whether or not it’s fair, the facts of our very different lives are bound together. We don’t live in a vacuum; rather, our every move and every act is connected to everything else. Whether we like it or not that’s the way it is. If we recognize that perhaps we can work to make some real good happen and end some of the injustices around us. The worst crimes happen because we refuse to admit we are involved and turn inwards. Galeano challenges us to change the way we see things and one another, and live in not just our own small world but with everyone else too.

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One of the issues I intend to address in depth here are the ways women’s work is trivialized and forgotten. How many times have I read a book on art history or philosophy where the author excuses the lack of featured women by explaining that up until the 20th century females did not have many opportunities to contribute to that particular field? This is utter bullshit. I am constantly discovering female artists from the Renaissance and female philosophers from ancient Rome and so on and so forth. What is more frustrating is how past discrimination is used to justify present-day neglect, and so all sorts of brilliant women from history simply disappear from our collective memory. I reach the pinnacle of angst when I see how this has never stopped and is still happening with living women. Women’s rights are often discussed in terms of cultural relativism, and people have to fight tooth and nail to point out that women who do not want to undergo genital mutilation need to be protected, or that girls have the right to be educated, and women should be able to live without fear of rape or domestic violence. In our own culture women barely have the right to dictate what happens to their own bodies, and appealing to women is something our popular culture seems less and less interested in. A woman has never won an Oscar for Best Director. Women compromise only 17% of the US Congress. But as some folks like to say, feminism was necessary once but not anymore and now can be safely laid to rest, right?

That’s why I want to talk about women who matter, women like Simone Weil. Simone Weil was a brilliant philosopher, writer, mathematician and activist. She lived an intense life of passionate devotion to her ideals before dying at the age of 34 during WWII. After graduating at the top of her class (a class which included Simone de Beauvoir) she taught, wrote constantly, worked at a factory so as to understand those conditions, and joined the French Resistance. She was a contemporary of Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, men who made equally worthy contributions but who are far better known.

Simone Weil

Simone Weil

Some of Simone Weil’s excellent works include Gravity and Grace, The Need for Roots, Waiting for God, and Intimations of Christianity Among the Greeks. Wikipedia has a pretty impressive page discussing her philosophy, but I highly recommend Intimations or Waiting for God in order to really get an idea of what she was all about.

Simone Weil’s thought deserves much more than a brief summary, a summary which I am not really qualified to make. Some of her ideas are fascinating and I hope I get to talk about them at some point later on. Her own words are the best introduction, and as I have a great interest in ends&means I think this excerpt is fitting.

“…the law of all activities governing social life, except in the case of primitive communities, is that here one sacrifices human life — in himself and in others — to things which are only means to a better way of living. This sacrifice takes on various forms, but it all comes back to the question of power. Power, by definition, is only a means; or to put it better, to possess a power is simply to possess means of action which exceed the very limited force that a single individual has at his disposal. But power-seeking, owing to its essential incapacity to seize hold of its object, rules out all consideration of an end, and finally comes, through an inevitable reversal, to take the place of all ends. It is this reversal of the relationship between means and end, it is this fundamental folly that accounts for all that is senseless and bloody right through history. Human history is simply the history of the servitude which makes men – oppressed and oppressors alike – the plaything of the instruments of domination they themselves have manufactured, and thus reduces living humanity to being the chattel of inanimate chattels.” – Oppression and Liberty.

Pretty interesting, right?

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