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Why is the ending of Beatriz at Dinner so disturbing?

Because throughout the film, we have witnessed our own whiteness: normalized, privileged, comfortable. And then we are confronted with the stark reality of existential choice.

Salma Hayek is Beatriz

Salma Hayek is Beatriz

There are only three ways the film can end:

  1. White people heal ourselves and change.
  2. White individuals are killed.
  3. Healers die.

The first option is decidedly unappealing. The Trump-like character of Doug Strutt (John Lithgow) reeks of white fatalism, and his supporting cast stinks of white fragility. What can one do but ignore the damage and keep doing whatever provides pleasure?

The second option doesn’t solve the problems whiteness has created for all other living beings and the planet.

The third option is our history and our present. Are we so incapable of sacrifice, so afraid of discomfort, that we have already surrendered the future?

Brilliant, unsettling filmmaking suitable to this desperate era. A must see.

My Taichi teacher, Wolfe Lowenthal, asked me to write a book review for our school’s newsletter,  Taichi Thoughts, so I read Brendan Kelly’s book with an eye to implications for practicing Tai Chi.

In The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis: Healing Personal, Cultural and Ecological Imbalance with Chinese Medicine (2015), Brendon Kelly, an acupuncturist and Taichi student, draws on cases from his clinical practice based in Chinese medicine, and a solid comprehension of key scientific findings about anthropomorphic global warming, to come to a diagnosis of climate change as a symptom of Yin-deficient heat. “Heat,” he explains, “is an excess of warmth and a state of overstimulation, which can eventually cause our internal fluids, or coolant, to evaporate.” Kelly jumps back and forth between the levels of an individual human body, majority US culture, and planetary environmental conditions. This logic is legitimate from a Chinese medicine point of view, which holds that “the microcosm and the macrocosm reflect the same conditions and tendencies, with the only significant difference being scale.” Accepting this premise and Kelly’s diagnosis means most of us are operating with too much Yang, generating too much heat and thus contributing via our very bodies to the ecological processes of climate change.

Kelly spends time detailing both the ways in which too much heat is generated and ways in which cooling systems are failing, hence the specific designation of Yin-deficient heat. Water is the element mainly responsible for cooling, in our bodies as well as for the planet. Critiquing the rapid pace and consumer-orientation of our culture, Kelly argues that “stimulation is not strength; it’s heat.” This got me thinking about the sensations of practicing Tai Chi, especially Wolfe’s frequent instructions about how we are to engage the air: “caress the air;” “treat the air as if it had the substance and weight of water;” “feel the water-like air.” What if, in addition to sensing the air as an element in physical contact with our hands, we considered the air as literally cooling the excessive Yang in our bodies?  A new mantra might be, “feel the air like cool water.”

“Climate change is not just happening in the world around us;
climate change is also happening within us.”

As an introduction to Chinese medicine, I found the book compelling. In particular, Kelly’s description of the interaction of the “Five Phases” (or “Five Elements”) with the Sheng and K’o cycles was instructive. “The Sheng or Nourishing cycle is what allows organs and phases to feed what comes next. While the K’o cycle creates balance by limiting and controlling things, the Sheng cycle is the relationship among the different aspects of who we are that promotes growth – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually” (136). If you want to learn the major symptoms of climate change without perusing the scientific literature, Kelly provides a fair and specific representation. His lessons about the Yin and Yang are familiar, e.g., “By itself, the Yang of doing things won’t lead us to the Yin of understanding our lives.” The unique contribution of his book in Tai Chi terms is his articulation of parallels and successful treatments that will help us “to know within us what climate stability would look and feel like” so that we can help to bring about climate stability “in the world around us.”

Brendan Kelly: ”The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis“, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.

Republished with permission, includes minor revisions. Originally published in Taichi Thoughts, Volume 16, No. 3, November 4, 2015.

Subscribe to Taichi Thoughts Internet Journal.

One way to understand the scope of the planetary crisis is how authors of speculative/science fiction deal with the problem of avoiding self-inflicted human extinction.  Alastair Reynolds composed a page of (fictional) historical reflection in Blue Remembered Earth (2012).

 

Context:

Geoffrey (the primary protagonist) is returning to his home in Africa from a space flight to the Moon. Unbeknownst to him until she speaks, he’s accompanied by a “construct” of his grandmother, Eunice (a main protagonist).

cover_BlueRememberedEarth_Reynolds_2014-06-26 at 7.43.43 PM“Look at that planet. It’s still beautiful. It’s still ours, still our home. The oceans rose, the atmosphere warmed up, the weather went ape-shit, we had stupid, needless wars. And yet we still found a way to ride it out, to stay alive. To do more than just survive. To come out of all that and still feel like we have a home.” (Eunice,  p. 167)

Geoffrey and Eunice are in “the recuperation and observation deck . . . Africa lay spread out . . . in all its astonishing variegated vastness. The Libreville anchorpoint was actually a hundred kilometers south of its namesake city and as far west again, built out into the Atlantic. Looking straight down, he could see the grey scratch of the sea-battered artificial peninsula daggering from the Gabon coastline, with the anchorpoint a circular widening at its westerly end.

To the north, beginning to be pulled out of sight by the curvature of the Earth, lay the great, barely inhabited emptiness of Saharan Africa, from Mauritania to the Sudan. Tens of millions of people had lived there, until not much more than a century ago—enough to cram the densest megacity anywhere on the planet. Clustered  around the tiny life-giving motes of oases and rivers, those millions had left the emptiness practically untouched. Daunting persistence had been required to make a living in those desert spaces, where appalling hardship was only ever a famine or drought away. But people had done so, successfully, for thousands of years. It was only the coming of the Anthropocene, the human-instigated climate shift of recent centuries, that had finally brought the Saharan depopulation. In mere lifetimes, the entire region had been subject to massive planned migration. Mali, Chad, Niger . . . these were political entities that still existed, but only in the most abstract and technical of senses., their borders still recorded, their GDPs still tracked. Almost no one actually lived in them, save a skeleton staff of AU caretakers and industrialists.

The rising sea levels of the twenty-first century had scarcely dented Africa’s coastline, and much of what would have been lost to the oceans had been conserved by thousands of kilometres of walled defenses thrown up in haste and later buttressed and secured against further inundation. But there was no sense that Africa had been spared. The shifting of the monsoon had stolen the rains from one part and redistributed them elsewhere—parching the Congo, anointing the formerly arid sub-Saharan Sahel region from Guinea to Nigeria.

Change on that kind of scale, a literal redrawing of the map, could never be painless. There had been testing times, the Resource and Reallocation years: almost the worst that people could bear. Yet these were Africans, used to that kind of thing. They had come through the grim tunnel of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and made it out the other side. And at least climate change didn’t ride into town with tanks and guns and machetes.

For the most part. It was pointless to pretend that there hadn’t been outbreaks of local stupidity, micro-atrocities. Ethnic tensions, simmering for decades, had flared up at the least provocation. But that was the case the world over; it wasn’t a uniquely African problem.

A million glints of sunlight spangled back at Geoffrey from the central Saharan energy belt. When people moved away, machines had arrived. In their wake they had left regimented arrays of solar collectors, ranks of photovoltaic cells and long, stately chains of solar towers, fed by sun-tracking mirrors as large as radio telescopes. The energy belt stretched for thousands of kilometres, from the Middle East out into the Atlantic, across the ocean to the Southern United States, and it wrapped humming, superconducting tentacles around the rest of the planet, giving power to dense new conurbations in Scandinavia, Greenland, Patagonia, and Western Antarctica. Where there had been ice a hundred and fifty years ago, much was now green or the warm bruised grey of dense urban infrastructure. Half of the world’s entire energy needs were supplied by Saharan sunlight, or had been until the fusion reactors began to shoulder the burden. By some measure, the energy belt was evidence of global calamity, the visible symptom of a debilitating planetary crisis. It was also, inarguably, something rather wonderful to behold.” (pp.165-166. Ace: New York)

 

 

#KRKTR is an open game for everyone interested in developing individual character and social resilience.

Points are earned for promoting and continuing communication, especially across different topics and among different groups. The idea is that both character and resilience are built at the intersections.

Rules

This ReTweet is worth 700 points: 100 (tweet itself) + 100 (it's a RT) + 500 (First Response).

This ReTweet is worth 700 points: 100 (tweet itself) + 100 (it’s a RT) + 500 (First Response).

  1. Every Tweet must include the hashtag #KRKTR
  2. Conference-based players should also include the conference hashtag, e.g., #NCORE2014
  3. All players, including non-conference players, may include other relevant hashtags
  4. Official play has distinct start and end times, announced by @KRKTR_HUB (all players are encouraged to follow @KRKTR_HUB but this is not a requirement).
  5. Unofficial play is continuous.
  6. This is a good faith game.
  7. Stimulating laughter is welcome; exercise good taste!
  8. Playing #KRKTR is an assertion of shine, all players are Bright Allies.
This ReTweet is worth 700 points.

This ReTweet is worth 700 points.

Points

  • 100 points per Tweet (remember it has to conform to the Rules above)
    • Plus 200 points if your Tweet is a Reply to another’s Tweet (be sure to include the #KRKTR hashtag!)
    • Plus 100 points if your Tweet is a ReTweet (don’t lose the #KRKTR hashtag!)
    • Plus 500 points if your Tweet is the First Response (as determined by the timelines at twitter.com/KRKTR_HUB and twubs.com/KRKTR)
    • Plus 250 points if your Tweet is the Second Response 
    • Plus 100 points if your Tweet is the Third Response or later; all additional responses earn +100 points
    • The Last Response in each thread earns all the points accumulated in that thread: 500 + 250 + 100 x (nbr of additional Tweets) NOTE: The Last Response is determined by the end of official game play as announced by @KRKTR_HUB.
1500 Points for SJEchat (800 + 700)...will elhistoryprof continue the conversation?

If this was official game play: 1500 points for SJEchat (800 + 700)…will elhistoryprof continue the conversation?

Threads

A thread is created whenever Replies and/or ReTweets are made to any original Tweet that includes the #KRKTR hashtag.

  • Previous Tweets from the #KRKTR archive can be ReTweeted or Replied to in order to earn points during official game play.
  • Threads can originate from any #KRKTR player.
  • Threads originated by @KRKTR_HUB may become privileged. (Haven’t figured this part out yet.)
  • Serious #KRKTR players are encouraged not to respond to “bad will” Tweets. Let them die alone and quickly.
Connecting issues across populations using hashtags. NOTE: The #KRKTR hashtag is missing = no points during official game play.

Connecting issues across populations using hashtags. NOTE: The #KRKTR hashtag is missing = no points during official game play.

Hashtags

Advanced play involves careful and strategic use of hashtags to make connections whenever an intersection appears.

Cultivation of a connection across two different discourses (as organized by the hashtag) requires repetition and persistence.

Rather than hashtagging every word, be focused and deliberate about the connection you’re trying to forge.

Prizes

Prizes will be announced as sponsors come forth with them.  (Negotiations are underway. Contact Steph with offers for this and future rounds of play.)

 

Neal Stephenson said that we’ve now got “350 years of perspective” on the scientific process, and that he is interested in “the attention span of our society” (p. 269, Some Remarks).

Me too.

Twiliocon-developer renaissance 2013-09-19 at 7.41.52 PMLong dialogues are challenging for many reasons. They require perseverance, for one thing, and humility too – because if you stick around long enough you’re bound to encounter perspectives and learn things that cause you to realize some of your own failings and limitations. Thus, long dialogues require courage of a very particular kind. Inspired by some teenagers a few years ago, I began calling this kind of courage “character.” (Specifically #KRKTR, but I will not elaborate upon that digression here.)

Climate disruption and it’s characters

The 2013 scientific report on climate change reiterates  that the “debate on science is over, [the] time to act is now” and another study on the timing of climate change reveals shocking results: ”Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon,” said lead author Camilo Mora. “Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past.”

DGR quote from Arundhati Roy  2013-05-08 at 10.00.29 AMDeniers are caught up in the zeitgeist, playing the political and social drama. The Doomers have already given up. Guy McPherson leads the charge, passionately arguing that hope is dead and only love remains. Avowed Doomers have a head start on the rest of us, because they believed the science from the beginning and have been preparing for the collapse of industrial society. Those Who’ve Given Up more quietly immerse themselves in the immediate concerns of self-gratification and accommodating friends, family and coworkers. Cultural creatives are exercising a different kind of imagination, proposing a mythological kind of speculative living that holds out the promise of transformation.

“When we realize we are the planet,
we’ll be more inclined to do what’s necessary to save it.”

 ~ Christian Williams
reviewing Journey of the Universe for Utne Reader.

12% of the Solution: Biochar

Twelve percent is not enough, of course, to reverse the damage to the atmosphere. Taken in conjunction with other large-scale initiatives (whether these are led by government or quarterbacked by leaders in localized communities), restoring the soil of the planet—the earth of the earth—is essential. Using principles of holistic design based in geographical features and natural processes, there is no reason why human ingenuity cannot be turned to the creation and implementation of a greenprint for the planet. The only obstacle is us getting in our own way.

Biochar: For the Roots is the first in a projected series of Greenprint videos. A captioned version is available here. The series premieres at the North American Biochar Symposium: Harvesting Hope hosted at UMass Amherst from Oct 13-16, 2013.

The “intersection” in this blog entry on social resilience involves computer science and brain science.

What if we gamed Twitter?

What if we gamed Twitter?

While Professor Beverly Woolf and colleagues from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst presented on smart tutoring at the Artificial Intelligence in Education conference, I listened to a webinar from Dr Dennis S. Charney, MD, from the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai present data supporting his “resilience prescription” for individuals.

Stimulating processes of social resilience

Two of Charney’s eight resilience principles, however, involve other people: role models and a supportive social network. Combining the social aspect of resilience with the human-computer interface and education has potential to enhance sophisticated problem-solving around the globe.

The developing world has 4 billion mobile phone subscriptions. In Africa, average penetration is a third of the population, and in north Africa it is almost two-thirds. South Africa now has almost 100% penetration. In sub-Saharan Africa, mobile phone ownership is 30%. ~ Dr Beverly P. Woolf

The potentials for knowledge communication through savvy tele-education exceed youth. These technologies can also enable adults who care about intercultural social networking and mass organizing for social justice. Read the rest of this entry »

(Not) rushing into the urgency of now (while still arriving)

Turning the World Upside Down

Turning the World Upside Down

Every day I face the irony of needing to hurry up to slow down, or perhaps it is the other way around, of slowing down in order to speed up my alignment with lifeforce—call it chi or God or Gaia or maybe it is just with other humans in society, thinking of society as a verb—the actions of living together through culture, work and art. Read the rest of this entry »

   Life Affirming & Life Enhancing

cows save the planet

It is the stuff of Douglas Adams-style science fiction, but what if it were true? That cows could save the planet? Not by themselves, but with a little help from their biped friends–especially everyone who has ever harbored a herding fantasy or wants their children and grandchildren to enjoy special elements of the natural world.

Large-scale rotational grazing would require a massive leap of imagination and concerted effort of collective will.  Humans–lots of us–would have to decide to choose to salvage a living planet rather than continue to pretend catastrophic climate change isn’t happening. While most people delay, many people all around the world—alone and in groups—are already acting on the decision to try. Read the rest of this entry »

Do you believe in math? Before you decide not to read this blogentry because of my known apocalyptic tendencies – e.g., twenty-five years ago a friend told me she was not surprised that I identified with Kassandra in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Firebrand - think about your scientific and rational training. If you believe in math, and you want to know the real deal, this is it. Perhaps you already know what’s coming, but have not believed in what you know? The following info (based in math and science) kicked my ass from knowing to believing.

“I wanna be an un-fucker!”

I want to be funny and still have fun and enjoy living, while confessing that I am not completely eager. Not panicked or desperate, either – at least not yet. Maybe I’ll stave that off until we’re all gasping for the last molecules of oxygen in the northern hemisphere. Even better, perhaps (with a couple of decades left to practice), I’ll have achieved an ideal state of Tai Chi relaxation and simply cross over. I’ll hope the same for you, too (whenever and however your turn comes).

This information didn’t come to me on purpose; I was not trying to learn it. (Crap!)

Randomly, a last minute request came through to interpret a lecture at UMass. The talk by Guy McPherson was livestreamed, you can view his lecture here (simultaneous interpretation into American Sign Language begins at the 7th minute but it’s hard to make out). Trying to prep before the talk began, as good interpreters tend to do, my colleague asked McPherson about his main point. Guy promptly showed us a music video by Katie Goodman. That’s all we got; it was enough to understand that the news was not going to be particularly cheerful.

“It’s not the temperature that’s going to kill us.”

No, its the ecological effects to the environment that are gonna take out homo sapiens and quite possibly every other living creature with us.

In twenty-five years, give or take a few…. (approximately 35 for the southern hemisphere, lucky dogs.)

2037. ( 2047)

Because the oceans are going to get too warm and acidified for the plankton to survive.

Plankton from the ocean produces half, that’s 1/2, as in 50%, of the oxygen for the entire planet. (Guy said something about a potential for losing all the land plants too and then there goes the rest of the oxygen. Poof.)

I’m not going to reproduce his argument – watch the video linked above or check out the data at his website, for instance, this entry on “What’s Important.”  He’s as entertaining as a person can be, under the circumstances. For instance:

The last time the planet was six degrees warmer there were snakes the size of yellow school buses living in the Amazon and the largest mammal was the size of a shrew…. The last time it was six degrees warmer on this planet there were no humans.

McPherson did emphasize that the essential prediction was made in a United Nations report 22 years ago, “rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses” leading to catastrophic ecosystem changes. That results from only 1C degree temperature increase. More recent reports (2009, 2010) show 3.5C  and 4C  temperature increases by mid-century.  Tim Garrett’s 2009 paper sums up the current situation: “ the current rate of energy consumption is determined by the unchangeable past of economic production.”

“Economists think you need population and standard of living to estimate productivity,” he says. “In my model, all you need to know is how fast energy consumption is rising. The reason why is because there is this link between the economy and rates of energy consumption, and it’s just a constant factor.”

{Link to a free version of Garrett’s full published study here.}

The only solution is systemic collapse and the resulting decrease in standards of living.

There is no science fiction solution

Telling a friend about the talk soon afterwards, she asked about a technological solution. So did some of the people in the audience. I’ve kept thinking about this because, I too, want to believe someone, somewhere is figuring out the massive (global) retrofit and someone else, somehow is crafting the implementation plan. (And everyone is getting ready to go along with it, no problem!) Well, call me a pessimist in the end, but I haven’t smoked that much pot! Have you noticed how nicely we’re all managing American democracy lately? And we’re supposed to be the good guys? The ones everyone else around the world looks up to and wants to be like? (Seems that was just a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….)

Guy wasn’t as harsh ast that, he just said there is no politically viable answer. The reason we’re in this mess is because we’ve allowed the system to develop as it has.  We cannot save our lifestyles and ourselves: we have to choose. The other popular question from the audience was, “Why aren’t the climate change scientists talking like this?” Guy’s answer makes sense to me. “They all want to save civilization.”  Dammit!  So do I!  I like being warm and eating all kinds of exotic food and traveling and coming home and not worrying about whether there’s going to be power or water pressure to flush the toilet and SHIT, I’M REALLY GOING TO MISS HOT SHOWERS.

Tim Garrett (quoted above), says we need to be building 2.1 nuclear reactors per day to maintain current energy production/consumption without increasing global warming. Obviously, this ain’t happening. Solar and wind are coming but ever so slowly, and the energy costs of their production contribute to Garrett’s energy consumption constant.

Saving humanity for the next civilization

What there is, however, is hope. Earth’s natural systems can still recover if we simply stop the industrial machine. Unplug. Completely. No more drilling no more unclean power generation of any type. Stop driving stop flying stop with the lights, the internet omg, the factories, the production production production and consumption consumption consumption. I’m thinking of friends who would only attend the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in a camper or by staying in a hotel. I wish it was different; I wish we/our forebears had had the gumption to stick with limits, stop fighting over everything and figure out how to share. They didn’t and we still haven’t, not enough of us (yet) but we can, because we have to.

There is a choice, hard as it is to imagine. We can persist in denial, waiting waiting for the system to collapse (while wishfully hoping not) and then, when the end comes, however it comes, it will truly be beyond awful. Or we can Do It, start shifting now, mobilizing alone and with friends, neighbors, and at the level of communities and towns to transition to old ways of living. I am not excited, but I am less and less afraid.

Feet in two worlds

I will work “aboveground” – but there are options for radical work underground. Please do not inform me about any underground activities.

Guy lists the four things human beings need to survive: clean water, food, shelter that maintains body temperature, and community. Depending on where you live, you’ll have more or less immediate access to any or all of these things. Start thinking about how you’re going to take care of yourself. Better, start talking with people about what to do, identify the important problems and start solving them. How will you get clean water without city plumbing or regular deliveries to the grocery store? I know, it is fantastical to imagine, maybe start by making it a game of What If? 

In the meantime, don’t panic. Keep doing regular things in the world as it is. I’m writing my dissertation, tending my cat, socializing with friends . . . enjoying what each day brings because tomorrow can no longer be assumed to follow today as today followed yesterday. The other popular question audience members asked Guy was along the lines of, “Well, since it’s so fucked up why not just party like it’s 1999? Go out dancing, playing with the band while the ship goes down?” Guy’s answer, again, was laconic: how would we know if Americans became any more hedonistic than we already are?

The point is, there is a chance of evolving beyond our limitations and rescuing humanity (and some of the rest of life on earth) from extinction. We just have to become better than we believe we can be.

 

At a multicultural community gathering this past weekend, Jen’s explanation about the absence of clean natural water reserves led to highlighting the one bright spot: the top layer of natural watersheds can still be saved. Since humans need water to survive, this is kinda a big deal!

Ann, meanwhile, is getting ready to move to her next position in DC. The great bat die-off may not be absolute: some colonies in the northeastern US have managed (so far) not to contract the fatal white-nose disease. From what I understand, this is a big deal because we need bats to eat mosquitoes. Without a sufficiently massive natural predator, mosquitoes breed all out of proportion – leading humans (who reject discomfort) to increase the use of pesticides – which (by the way), poisons the top layer of the watershed.

Linkages

Self-paced distance learning about Emergency Management.

Incontrovertible evidence of the increasingly rapid rate of climate change has visited the continental United States in the past few weeks:  Hurricane Sandy, a follow-up nor’easter which dumped nearly a foot of snow across some areas still engaged in recovery, earthquakes on both coasts, and then another one in the south just the other day.

FEMA has ramped up considerably since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. As shocked as New Yorkers and other Sandy victims are with the proof of vulnerability, the number of domestic fatalities from Sandy stands at 109 (138 total to date), while Katrina claimed 1,833. Many of Katrina’s victims were poor, disabled, or elderly.  Joan Sutton, writing for the Huffington Post, describes Sandy’s impact on the elderly: “Now, we see pictures of what is called a mountain of debris. Surely it is a mountain of heartache.”

Creative Design

If there was ever a time for creative strategizing at the global scale; this is it. We have to begin piecing together the scattered ecological bright spots, establishing institutional connections among them, and crafting scenarios that can guide the assessment of essential priorities and timelines. All of the things that need to happen (if we want to avert an ugly science fiction future) are not going to happen unless and until a comprehensive plan can be sufficiently sketched out – and we need  such a vision of possibility soon.

It is always time for public accountability to progress, and – to date – there have not been enough of us in America thoughtfully considering how to solve this ultimate technological challenge. Roosevelt inspired Americans to prevail in World War II; Kennedy inspired us to the moon. Obama has not yet inspired America writ large, though the potential now exists. To succeed, we will have to learn how, as a society, to move together, better.

The technological solutions required by climate change will probably not be adequately addressed unless

1) such multicultural gatherings as this past weekend’s celebration of Diwali become more common, and

2) participants carry conversations about our knowledge from these safe multicultural spaces forward into productive, public dialogues.

There are people out there from all kinds of backgrounds with special and particular areas of expertise, like Ann and Jen, who are skilled in establishing relationships across social identity differences and equally capable of contributing thought leadership to the invention and implementation of creative scientific and political solutions for today’s complex problems. ‘Cuz here’s the real deal: human societies might somehow manage to do okay without bats, but if the top layer of the watershed goes? The game is going to get a whole lot rougher than it needs to be.

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