The City Birds Journal
We Cut the Crap
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March 11, 2008
The News and the Perplexity of it All
The apparent failure of such institutions as the American public school system under the current Administration, combined with our profligate ways, would seem to imply some sort of numbed ignorance on the part of the American people -- albeit recklessness in dealing with the realities of life is not a condition limited to Americans.
Perhaps we have been so busy spending our way to happiness over the last several years that we have found little time or inclination to look at what is happening outside of our worlds of amusement. Indeed, we are enticed every waking moment to be prodigal in our ways. We are told every day to live as though we are rich and, especially on certain holidays, shop until we drop.
We are told the way to be happy is to be entertained. In human history, there have never been so many ways to be entertained. And, therein lies the problem. Every pleasure has its price -- in both time and money.
We are told, on the one hand, that American kids are so overworked, climbing the ladder to "success," that they are suffering from a lack of down time -- time to just relax and be kids. We are told, on the other hand, that the reason why American kids are so "dumb" is all they do is sit in front of the TV, PC, etc.
Whatever, it is not wise to be prejudiced against them. We may be witnessing a renewed awakening in the American consciousness. Evidence of this is indicated by the growing involvement of American youth in the current presidential electoral process.
The kids are taking a time out from whatever -- too much work or too much pleasure or possibly both -- and asking that age old question: "Just what in the hell is going on around here?" Being so in debt to the Corporation at such a young age, they are starting to wonder and worry about their future. Despite the constant reassurances by The Decider and corporate pundits that everything is ship shape, for a variety of reasons, the majority of Americans no longer believe it.
We can no longer assume that imagined futures -- happy futures just taken for granted -- as being a given for Americans in the way it was in the past. Daily we must spend a little time away from entertainment and look at what is going on in every arena of life and how such things have the possibility of affecting all of us, one way or another.
The City's effort to stop homeless people from sleeping on our streets by offering them the choice between a bed in a dangerous homeless shelter or a jail cell has caused the homeless to go into hiding. By ringing enough building doorbells, eventually someone lets them in. Then the homeless find a quiet place in the building such as this top landing of a building stairwell with sleeping bags and pillows at the ready.
Who can fault the growing millions of homeless Americans from trying to find a safe, quiet place to sleep? Politicians running for the presidency rave about how they are going to do wonderful things for the middle class. Who is going to do wonderful things for our growing poor population -- who?
In his "Outline of History," H.G. Wells describes the final two centuries of the Roman Empire in terms we can identify with today. The Romans were filled with hubris over their conquered possessions and their huge military-industrial complex which created a lot of wealthy people. At the same time the ordinary citizens were gradually becoming impoverished.
Any concern for the plight of the ordinary citizen was overshadowed by the concentration of effort required to create what we refer to as architectural gems today. However, these gems were built both as expressions of worldly power as well as for the comforts and pleasures of the wealthy ruling class. Eventually the Romans' costly infatuation with the pleasures of power was their downfall. Throughout history, many "world powers" have met the same fate as the Romans.
Here we are, around a couple thousand years later, filled with hubris over our projected power around the globe and our enormous military-industrial complex which is creating many millionaires and billionaires while millions of ordinary American citizens are in dire straits. Many are getting rich. Many more middle class Americans are rapidly falling into poverty. When Americans feel that just about everything is out of kilter, we, the People, simply must be concerned and motivated to change things.
With a recently announced need to refurbish our nuclear arsenal, design and build new and better weapons (both for our arsenal and to sell to other countries), replace spent war materiel and, of course build new, larger and taller buildings throughout the land; the real concerns of the ordinary citizen remain unaddressed.
Will America's costly infatuation with the pleasures of power lead to our downfall? Perhaps there really is nothing new under the Sun.
Many thousands of birds could be dying from being covered with the very toxic oil. If the Coast Guard had given early and accurate assessments of the situation the damage could have been greatly reduced. Why was the ship not surrounded with protective measures immediately for "just in case they are needed"? Seemingly, New Orleans hasn't taught our government anything. Just as during Katrina, the government sat around, seemingly constipated, while watching the disaster unfold.
Such tragedies happen in other places as well. Almost in unison with our disaster, a much larger oil spill occurred in a busy Russian port when ships sank during a wicked storm -- spilling around ten times the oil spilled into San Francisco Bay. The effects on the avian and sea animal life there is at least as devastating. The combined effects of these two disasters will impact thousands, if not millions, of birds and other creatures.
The possible death of thousands of birds around San Francisco Bay isn't the entire story. The dozens of Sea Lions which call San Francisco home are also in big trouble. Soaked with toxic oil, hungry and sick, the Sea Lions which bark day and night are now quiet for the first time since they arrived here some decades ago. Hear them bark in our short video available in Flash and MP-4 (optimized for the iPod). Pictures are available in Gallery 31.
What Are Serious Savers to Do?
Optimistic pundits, despite such indicators as the Fed being $9.1 Trillion in debt, and with the American people in about the same miserable financial shape, are, nevertheless, praising us for our "resilience" and projecting there will be no economic recession.
The "New Home Owners," who obtained their homes not long ago by merely accepting the keys to the house (while being patted on the back by the guy in the White House with praise befitting buyers who had paid cash for their homes), are now losing those homes from sea to shining sea. Still the upbeat pundits see signs of a turnaround leading to a merry Christmas season and fine times beyond.
While the American need to buy, buy, buy -- or should we say, charge, charge, charge -- more and more "stuff" on credit cards continues, personal savings continues spiraling downward into negative territory. One effect of the American people being horribly in debt is the dollar dropping down to the value of toilet paper, prompting more and more Americans with money to trade dollars in for Euros. Still, everything seems on a friendly course to many pundits.
While the Fed lowers interest rates to encourage more Americans to go further into credit card debt, the result is that interest rates on safe bank savings accounts and CDs are plummeting. Perhaps lower interest on savings is designed to encourage us to give up on any idea of having some money to call our own in favor of buying more stuff.
So what are serious savers to do? Our answer is to continue to save, even while the interest rates deteriorate. As far as buying more stuff -- NOT! No, instead, it is important to save even more money. If the Fed wants to be responsible for lowering interest paid on savings accounts and CDs, the only way to earn more interest is to save more money; and, that is exactly what we are doing.
The Fed can continue cutting interest rates if they wish. All that means to us is that we will continue to buy less and save more.
Hemingway said in "A Farewell to Arms" that, as long as a person has money and a passport, they are free to go anywhere. As the rich (who have the power) know, money IS the power. They get their money by persuading us to live as though we also are rich. And, as we have learned: Fools and their money are soon parted.
In our purely Capitalist society, the only thing that brings freedom is money. That freedom can take many forms including the ability to go to another country to have medical procedures which are prohibitively costly in America. If we continue going into debt for stuff, we are left without the freedom money extends. Here is a New Year's resolution to contemplate: Let us stop being fools with our money.
October 18, 2007
As Indian Summer Turns to Autumn, We Wonder
It amazes us that people living in San Francisco give even a passing thought to global warming. Throughout Spring 2007 the weather people kept parroting the words "unseasonably cold." Throughout Summer 2007 we heard the same words. Once all of the Arctic ice is melted, will the City start having days and nights of warm weather? Only time will tell. We may find ourselves longing for "the good old days."
From March through August, most days in San Francisco are gray, windy and cold. While oppressive to those living here, the weather is a welcome respite for visitors to the City, providing them with some relief from the heat they are use to back where they live.
See more of San Francisco's Spring-Summer weather in Photo Gallery Thirty-eight.
As August comes to an end, the magic of Indian Summer takes hold. The sky is blue, the air is calm and warm, the people become more relaxed -- an occasional smile is seen. At the zenith of our Indian Summer during the end of September and early October, San Francisco is treated to Fleet Week. The activities and the beautiful weather bring a lot of people out into the sunshine.
No event during Fleet Week in San Francisco is quite as exciting as the United States Navy Blue Angels flying over the City to the glee and delight of the people. Click on the thumbnail for a larger size of this 2007 flyover photo to the right.
An every four-year ritual in San Francisco is to sweep up the homeless, offering them a roof over their heads either in a shelter or a jail cell. The sweep started during the Summer by evicting them from Golden Gate Park and continues at this writing in various parts of town. After the November election things will go back to normal for another four years.
Sweep away as they may, the homeless population just keeps escalating. Some societies see to it that people who, for a variety of reasons, can't care for themselves, are cared for -- even if it means caring for them takes a lifetime. But we Americans just don't care -- there is no money in it.
Homelessness is not just a San Francisco problem. True we have a lot of homelessness here -- the homeless living in the midst of multi-million dollar condos and rental units with average monthly rents starting well over $2,000. However, homelessness may be more evident here because of the smallness of the place -- both geographically and with a rather modest population which shrinks a bit each year.
July 8, 2007
What It Means to Go Green
Life seemingly is filled with mysteries that surpass reason or comprehension.
Recently we have been reading about the demise of songbirds and the under-forestation of cities and ruminations on what it all means.
As we discussed in our last entry, a large old-growth pine tree was recently cut to the ground here in City Birds Country, the Heart of San Francisco.
Although San Francisco supposedly has new laws on the books which treat mature trees like historic buildings, the law was nowhere to be found in protecting this tree from the saw.
If, a few years before falling this tree, two smaller trees had been planted on the owner's ample property, and at least one of the new trees took hold and grew fast and tall; the benefits to the environment provided by the large pine would have continued. But when a large yard is stripped of most vegetation in favor of easy to maintain concrete, we can readily understand why pollution is an ever increasing problem worldwide.
Pollution levels here in City Birds Country have increased dramatically over the last 20 years with resulting deleterious health effects upon the human and avian populations.
Our streets used to be quiet and used primarily by the locals. Then, in 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit and destroyed portions of the elevated freeways which allowed vehicular traffic passing through San Francisco to travel non-stop around the fringes of the City.
The 1989 quake was a blessing to the corporation and their government. Land the freeways once occupied enjoys the best weather San Francisco has to offer. During those endless days of fog and cold wind experienced by most of the City, any sunshine and warmth to be enjoyed is found in the Financial District and surrounding areas.
Although trenched freeways were discussed as an option to replace the elevated freeways, it was decided the land was too valuable to use for freeways which bring income to neither the corporation nor their government.
As a result, thru-town vehicular traffic now travels through San Francisco on what used to be residential streets. With lights timed to allow the thru-town traffic to flow at a steady clip, our streets have, in fact, become the new thru-town freeways. Cars fly up and down our streets while pedestrians are forced to almost run in order to cross previously safe and quiet streets.
As noted, the combination of increased pollution from the vehicles flying through our neighborhoods and concrete replacing trees makes for a high level of respiratory disease among both our human and avian
populations. A July 2, 2007 "Time Magazine" article on urban trees in the United States brought home some very salient points. For one, a U.S. Forest Service employee stated: "A big tree does 60 to 70 times the pollution removal of a small tree."
This Red-tailed Hawk is making a final pass over the courtyard in which once stood a favored old-growth pine. You will find many pictures of a variety of birds which fed and perched on the now dead tree in our Featured Birds Section, Video Section and throughout our Website. Here you can view and download Red-tailed Hawk One and Two which are Quicktime movies -- iPod formated and tested MP-4 videos.
The Time Magazine article stated that San Francisco (like most cities) has an insufficient number of trees to deal with the pollution caused mostly by vehicular traffic. Further, the City's strategy designed to get people living here to give up their cars in order to cut pollution is an exercise in futility.
Unless the City can, e.g., get all those cars going through San Francisco on their way to other locations to be placed on barges and floated around the City -- in effect making San Francisco Bay the "freeways," -- what is the point?
Don't misunderstand, San Francisco is green in a big way. Very soon now plastic bags will be illegal here and the City is eliminating waste receptacles (at about the same rate the Post Office is eliminating mail boxes on the sidewalks) in order to discourage people from buying things which would cause them to end up with waste, such as wrappers, needing to be dispose of. You bet we are green!
May 24, 2007
The Merry Month of May
Once again we Americans find ourselves in the midst of Memorial Day Week and the expectation of a fine, long weekend. With so many diversions grabbing for our attention, it is difficult to focus, even for a few brief hours, upon such "downer" subjects as veterans and troops who have served their country in the military and have died, as well as the troops fallen since the last Memorial Day and before.
Daily the cemeteries from coast to coast are filling up with the remains of old soldiers and the fallen troops of our current wars. Our current wars, unlike those of the past, are open-ended -- and are, perhaps, more about consuming the materiel of war in order that the Corporation might profit from replacing the materiel, than about homeland security. Regardless of the motives for all these open-ended wars, those who have served and the disabled veterans and the fallen are special in our society.
Although we do not currently have a draft into the military, that fact could change if current saber rattling heard in the background is any indication. Young men who have, for a long while, not been required to do anything for the nation, may one day be forced to give of themselves in a conscription army. If for no other reason, it is prudent to spend a bit of time contemplating the human cost of wars.
Memorial Day We Honor
Also, during the merry month of May, the city government passed a law making it illegal to feed the famous wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill in any park. (NOTE: The birds referred to are actually Red-Masked Parakeets -- parakeets being any one of a large number of unrelated small parrot species.) This adds another bird law to the books. It is also illegal to give a handout to ground-feeding birds including Sparrows, Pigeons, Crows, Gulls, Blackbirds, etc.
The "experts," including the guy and his producer who profited from the very existence of the Parrots, told City Hall that feeding the birds endangers the birds in that they will not learn to forage for food on their own.
Such reasoning is enough to boggle the mind -- considering that people buy Parakeets as pets, feed them store-bought bird food and treats, and, thereby, make the birds totally dependent on humans for food. Then, when any of a number of factors come into play such as cost of bird food, no time to clean the cages, the need or desire to leave town, etc.; the birds are released to the wilds of the Concrete Jungle. If people don't feed them, who in the hell is going to feed them?
Another bit of "professional" claptrap is the fear the birds may begin to suffer from obesity if they have too much food offered them. No, unlike humans, birds don't sit around getting fat. Birds, perhaps due to being more evolved than we mere mortals, eat what is good for them. More importantly, they know when to istop eating.
Ironically, property owners with yards are able to feed these birds, and, for that matter, any birds, from their feeders seemingly without endangering the birds' foraging abilities. And, feed the City Birds they do. Every supermarket and many other stores have small to huge bags of bird feed for sale. Perhaps, next, the liberal law makers will pass another law forbidding the sale of bird feed within the city limits.
This recent picture shows one of a pair of wild Parrots foraging on a beautiful, large old growth pine in the heart of San Francisco. During May, 2007 this lush green tree was sawed to the ground. Now the Hawks, Parrots, Robins, Doves, etc., which would perch and feed on this tree are also gone -- to the delight of many of the new city dwellers.
Don't misunderstand, San Francisco is a great place for the rich, party people -- folks such as our mayor. But it is no place to raise kids. Because our new population isn't much into breeding, pet dogs by far outnumber the human children in San Francisco.
It is not by accident, considering our burgeoning world population, that San Francisco has been annually losing around one percent of its population for the last several years. In 1952 the population of San Francisco was 761,000. The current estimated population of the City is 731,000.
San Francisco is a sanctuary city regarding illegal immigrants. The City's protective stance is understandable. The illegals are picking up the slack left by the middle-class moving out of the City. And, to be sure -- and to their credit -- as soon as the illegals become legal and are established and able to, they grab their kids and their belongings and leave the City for greener pastures.
However, many more illegals are lined up to take their place. It is not so much a question of illegals doing work the American middle-class doesn't care to do. It is a question of no middle-class remaining to do the work.
Quality of life continues to deteriorate in San Francisco for the poor and middle classes. On the one hand they can't get the public transportation to run on time and crime-free -- who knows if it is for lack of attention to such matters or the people in charge being just too dumb to make the City run smoothly.
On the other hand, the liberal law makers dig as deeply as possible to make life in City Birds Country, the Heart of San Francisco as unpleasant as possible for people paying the highest prices in the country to live here.
The poor smoker (Many of us have been there.) can't light up in the parks and the bird lovers can't feed the birds in the park. Our parks, which used to attract parents and children and birders now have become little more than a place to walk the thousands of dogs living in San Francisco. Go figure!
March 30, 2007
Some Like it Hot While Others Like it Cold
Spring has arrived. "The Spring-Summer Pattern," which is what these two seasons of the year are called by the weather folks of San Francisco, is quite different from these seasons in most of the Country.
The term means that, while folks living in the cities surrounding San Francisco are basking in the warmth of these seasons, enjoying such things as backyard barbecues, etc., a lot of folks here in SF are bundled up in warm clothing to stave off the icy impact of bone-chilling winds blowing in from the Pacific Ocean.
If one wants a warm Spring-Summer vacation, San Francisco is not a good choice -- although there are some exceptional days thrown in by Mother Nature. The time to visit the City is Autumn and Winter. During Autumn and Winter, the reduced number of visitors, combined with the fine weather, make those seasons of the year a beautiful and relaxing time to visit the City. During Spring and Summer here, the Arctic currents are flowing down from Alaska with their icy winds.
Anchorage, Alaska, which we think of as cold, is actually a wonderful, warm Spring and Summer vacation destination. There they enjoy breezes coming up from the more tropical zones which, combined with 24 hours of light, makes warm Spring and Summer vacations in Anchorage rewarding for those who like it hot.
San Francisco's Cherry Blossom Festival occurs in April -- a logical month in places like Washington DC and Tokyo. However in SF, the warm Winter weather brings the blossoms out during early February. Here, by April, the Cherry blossoms are not to be found.
San Francisco Cherry
December 15, 2006
To Win or Not to Win: That is the Question
"Ruthless" -- without mercy, without pity, without compassion; that is how real war is fought by those who would win.
Probably every war fought by humans, up to and including World War II, saw unbridled ruthlessness by invading armies in order to both conquer enemy armies and to pacify the civilian population of enemy nations.
In the old days, pacification of the people living in invaded territory was not accomplished by handing out toys and candy -- as is the practice today. In the old days, pacification tools included torture, random executions, rape, humiliation, prison, slavery and more. Of course countries which we consider to be uncivilized still use these tools to this day.
During WWII, once the Japanese military decided to sweep their civilian government under the carpet and go to war, they were ruthless. They killed, tortured and enslaved the populations of each country they devoured: China, Burma, the Philippines -- down the island chain to the Solomons, using every weapon at their disposal.
When Hitler went to war, he was ruthless in his treatment of the civilian populations of countries he conquered in the same ruthless manner exercised upon certain elements of his own people; using every weapon at his disposal.
In the old days, dealing with enemies by fire bombing and nuking their cities, killing, God only knows how many millions of people in the process, was commonplace. It is natural and, perhaps, a proverb: When push comes to shove, a nation will use whatever weapons are at their disposal in order to win wars and pacify their enemies.
Former instruments of war such as gas, napalm, torture, rape, slavery, etc., have been rejected by the people of civilized nations as being too immoral, even for war purposes. Now we just politely shoot, bayonet, blow up or bomb out our enemies with no more emotion than a surgeon at work. This type of conduct is considered to be "civilized."
Do we have the stomach for what it would really take in human casualties to completely pacify Iraq in order that they may reach our moral, democratic, high ground? How would we feel if our leader instructed the chemical corporation to whip up large batches of napalm to incinerate every living being in trouble spots such as, e.g., Sadr City? Such and action would certainly stop all fighting in that trouble spot; and, it would serve as a lesson to the remaining population.
If the fighting continued, are we willing and ready to nuke one of their cities after another until they are pacified? Perhaps we could start with Ramadi -- followed by the question: "Are you done fighting?" If the answer is "No" we could nuke Tikrit, then ask the same question. Eventually the fighting would stop; the war would be over; Iraq would become a democracy; our troops could come home. These, of course, are the tactics we used against the Japanese in order to defeat them.
For a number of years we have been hearing, almost daily, that "America is the last remaining super power." The problem with being king of the hill is that there are always others waiting and preparing to throw the king off of the hill. We have a military presence in over 100 countries. We have enemies in at least as many countries.
Recently it was reported one of China's new, modern, stealthy attack submarines, loaded with advanced torpedoes and missiles, followed the aircraft carrier, USS Kitty Hawk, and her battle group for days completely undetected. Enjoying the element of complete surprised, the Chinese sub may have been able to sink the entire group of ships. Fortunately, that super power was not up to no good at that time. But the message China was sending was clear: "Yes, we can!"
The lesson to us is clear. We would do well to lower our hubris level, quit trying to force our way of life upon the rest of the world, bring home all of our troops, and let that part of the world sort things out for themselves. If we begin turning swords into plowshares, all of our insecurities regarding that part of the world and the "War on Terror" may just disappear.
Sadly, we don't expect movements toward peace on earth to be forthcoming. Sadly, our troops won't be home for Christmas. Sadly, troops who have been "rotated" 2-3 times will probably be on their 3rd-4th rotation by Christmas 2007 and their 4th-5th rotation by Christmas 2008; and, thousands more will be ordered to fight and die -- all while the military-industrial complex is enjoying very merry holiday seasons.
August 11, 2006
Summer 2006 in San Francisco was Summery
If we were to have nothing but cold and fog during the remaining weeks of Summer, very few San Franciscans would complain. We have had the most outstanding Summer weather in years.
On such wonderful, lazy days, one has to wonder as one wanders around this beautiful city. Our minds go from the awesome beauty of this special place to the words of W.H. Auden in his poem September 1, 1939. That was the day Hitler invaded Poland, the beginning of World War II (although there were prior events both in Europe and Asia leading up to the War).
Auden was sitting in a New York City dive, "uncertain and afraid, as the clever hopes expire, of a low dishonest decade . . .." Walking our streets, we see people in our dives and sitting in the sunshine or shade offered by numerous sidewalk cafes. With so many heady things occurring concomitantly, do they feel uncertain and afraid, we wonder?
Although we mourn the victims of wars, we go about our lives detached from events occurring "over there." During World War I, battles fought in Verdun, located about a hundred miles East of Paris, killed tens of thousands of troops. Undoubtedly, while the fighting was going on, Parisians were sipping wine and coffee, living their average days. Today, as fighting and dying in wars continues in numerous parts of the world, we go on with our average days here in San Francisco.
What Auden saw September 1, 1939 was: "Faces along the bar cling to their average day. The lights must never go out, the music must always play . . . lest we should see where we are, lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night who have never been happy or good."
Like Auden, we daily see and read the news of corporate corruption, needless wars, war profiteering, threats of terror, etc. And we wonder why? Human civilization could create a heaven on earth. If we only had the sense to make it so.
May 17, 2006
The Therapeutic Value of Watching a Baseball Game
There are few things in our busy lives which have the therapeutic value of watching a baseball game. If not at the park, watching the game on TV can be just as relaxing and rewarding it its own way.
During a fine, warm, sunny day, enjoying those peanuts and crackerjacks and not caring a bit about ever getting back; one moment stimulated by the crack of the bat, the run driven in; then moments of returning to the relaxation provided by the sunshine, the amiable atmosphere, the healthy environment.
Mothers Day 2006 in San Francisco was such a day. The Giants were playing the Dodgers in a rather ill-fated home series. But the weather and the joy of the game made things alright for the folks at the park and those parked on the couch at home watching the game while pigging out on such things as strawberry shortcake and other goodies. No matter Barry didn't hit 714, he will.
The therapeutic value of the Mothers Day game was diminished, however. It seems they just do not want the People to have even a couple of hours free from fear. It seems the ball game was little more than a venue to make us even more aware of cancer than we already are by turning the game into a cancer awareness event.
There were pink bats for the players who were willing to part with their personal, winning bats in favor of pink bats to prove they are promoting cancer awareness. And they were wearing pink arm bands to prove they are cancer aware.
The folks watching on the TV were listening to litanies by the broadcasters of people who have died of cancer and who are dying of cancer. No, we must not get too comfortable in our seats or couch and just relax the day away -- followed by a good, pill-free night's sleep. We are instructed to worry the day away about cancer!
Blending the dread of cancer into a professional baseball game, on a beautiful, sunny day, is a perfect recipe for inciting unnecessary stress into folks who, living in a world gone amuck, are crying out for something other than drugs to relax with. But, they just had to take that away.
The week of the game we were told that the United States ranks 29th in human longevity. We heard that the poorest Brit will probably live longer than the wealthiest American. Why?
Probably the number one reason Americans get sick and die faster than most folks is stress. We Americans are stressed out about everything. What is worse is that we just can't seem to get enough stress -- like we are addicted to the stuff.
We, Americans, are so preoccupied with health, so worried about our health, so terrified of germs, so horrified at the mere possibility of illness; we are quite literally driving ourselves into early graves. We have no time to just relax and live with British nonchalance; cheerfully welcoming each day without that American nagging ourselves about our health.
We, Americans, just can't seem to accept the fact that, stick around long enough, something is going to get each and every one of us.
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