Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'rant'

A Few Thoughts on Zimmerman/Martin

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Jul 14, 2013 @ 6:34 am PDT

userpic=soapboxI’d like to share a few thoughts on the Zimmerman/Martin verdict, and the space in a Facebook status update is likely too small.  We had a niece over last night, and when the verdict came out, she was all worried about riots and such ala Rodney King. Although there have been some protest marches, and a little bit of problems up in Oakland, things so far have been relatively quiet. She was also upset that the jury found him not guilty. This led to an explanation that I gave to her, and I’ll provide to you.

Just because the jury found Zimmerman not guilty doesn’t mean that he didn’t commit a crime.  O.J. Simpson is a great example of that. All it means is that the prosecution either didn’t pick the correct charge, or didn’t prove the correct charge beyond a reasonable doubt to the jury. We don’t have a perfect system in this country — we are on a continual progress towards correction. We would rather have a guilty person found innocent than have an innocent person found guilty. This is also why — except for a few bloodthirsty folks — we would rather wait to kill someone on death row — because we don’t want to take on irreversible action on someone who is ultimately innocent. That is one of the few elements of compassion that our society has.

In this case, the prosecution did not choose a charge of first degree murder. The prosecutor thus felt that there was no planning ahead of time for the murder.  It was not premeditated. He chose a charge of second degree murder, which in Florida is defined as the “unlawful killing of a human being, when perpetrated by any act imminently dangerous to another and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to effect the death of any particular individual”. This meant that the prosecution had to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, that it was unlawful (not self-defense), was initiated by an act imminently dangerous, and was the product of a depraved mind. This is something difficult to show, and evidently the defense created sufficient doubt in the minds of the jury that those three things were not true.

The jury was allowed to consider the charge of manslaughter, which is a homicide without lawful justification. The fact that Zimmerman was found not guilty here probably means that the prosecution failed to dispel the self-defense argument. There was just enough doubt created that it could have been self-defense that a majority (I don’t know if Florida requires something stronger) believed there might have been lawful justification.

Given that Zimmerman has admitted the homicide, it means the prosecution didn’t do their job. It doesn’t mean Zimmerman is safe (he probably would have been safer in jail); nor does it mean that he’ll get away with no penalties. Very likely, as in the OJ case, there will be a civil suit, which has different standards and different charges. Zimmerman, while not locked away, may end up with significant financial penalties, and will forever have a stain on his name. He may not be in a physical jail, but he’ll be in the potentially worse jail of public opinion, with significant financial impacts.

So just remember that a not-guilty verdict is not the end. It doesn’t mean the accused didn’t commit a crime; it means our society would rather err on the side of the innocent. It doesn’t mean the accused will get away with no penalties on their life, especially if society sees them a guilty. All the verdict means is that the prosecution team didn’t do their job well enough — picking the right charge, and proving it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Music: Alive Alive-O (Jose Feliciano): “No Dogs Allowed”

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Misplaced Trust, or Misplaced Understanding

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jul 03, 2013 @ 11:28 am PDT

userpic=don-martinI’ve been meaning for a while to write a lunchtime post about when trust was lost in the US Government. There have been a number of incidents driving that question. We certainly see that lack of trust from the Tea Party / Libertarian sides of the aisle, where the basic belief seems to be that if the government is involved, it is bad… but if the free market is involved it is good. Urging that thought on this week was a piece in the LA Times titled “The NSA is watching. So are Google and Facebook“. The gist of that piece was something I’ve been saying for a long time — why do we distrust the government having limited tracking data, when we willingly give all sorts of private enterprises even more private data for them to use for their commercial advantage. Amazon knows what I like to buy and what I like to browse. I tell Facebook what I like, and it uses that to sell to my friends. To save a few cents, I tell supermarkets what I buy and where and when — from the meat I eat to the lubricants purchased for all sorts of purposes (now, keep your minds out of the gutter). Gas companies know where, when, and how far I drive. We have no problems giving all this data away, but because we think the government is untrustworthy, we worry about the NSA (and I’ve written earlier about why that fear of the NSA is likely misplaced). Sure we can trust the private companies. After all, they would never make it easier for third-party advertisers to target us (oh, but then again, they would).

But what if…

But what if…

Reading another article over lunch about the mess at Science Fiction conventions brought to mind my favorite adage: “Never ascribe to malice what you can to stupidity”. I have difficulty believing that our government, flawed as it is, is intentionally evil. However, I’m perfectly willing to believe that it is unintentionally stupid. Stupidity happens all the time, especially in government. Hell, you’re dealing with committees and bureaucracies, which are by definition stupid. Government stupidly believing that a FISA court is sufficient to protect rights is stupid naivete, not malice. The IRS believing that looking for political keywords is the right way to identify 501(c)(4) abuse is stupid naivete, not malice.

This then brings up another adage from a very wise Kindergarten teacher I once student taught for: “The first time you do something, it isn’t a mistake.” When dealing with unintentional stupidity, don’t assume malice the first time. Worry about the problem only after you have taught the correct way to behave, and the mistake still occurs. For the real stupid ones (read “government”), this make take a few times.

So, all together now, “Government isn’t evil… it’s stupid”.

Intentional Music: C’est Cheese (The Arrogant Worms): “History is Made by Stupid People”

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Revitalizing Westwood

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 18, 2013 @ 5:40 pm PDT

userpic=ucla-csunOne of the lead articles at the LA Times today is on revitalizing Westwood, and there’s a companion article at Curbed LA. Both are bemoaning how Westwood has changed, and both suggest ways out of the problem. The Times article notes how Westwood is looking to Downtown for its revitalization model, and looking to bring it more arts (think galleries), performance spaces, and trendy foods. They believe this will restore Westwood to its former glory. I think both are wrong.

Let’s explore what Westwood was, and how to bring it back.

In its heyday — the 1960s through early 1980s  — Westwood was primarily a local community. It had mostly non-chain stores, and catered to the people living in West LA, H0lmby Hills, and Bel Air. It also catered heavily to the student community at UCLA. It had quaint restaurants, and lots of movie theatres that tended to host premieres (because Hollywood had gotten sketchy).

In the mid 1980s, Westwood began to die. Most attribute the death to a gang shooting in 1988 and an incident where some clown drove on the sidewalk (we were actually in Westwood that evening with clients when it happened). However, that’s not what killed Westwood. What killed Westwood was rising rents, “mallification” (that is, takeover by the chain stores with “trendy” clothes), and corporate consolidations that removed classic entities (such as bookstores). Further, the single screen theatres that Westwood had were no longer profitable… so they started closing. In short, what killed Westwood was that it became a mall — just like any other mall — and lost its audience for newer malls.

Westwood was also hurt by poor accessibility, especially with the continuous construction on the 405. Downtown is now accessible via MetroRail, but Westwood won’t have that for at least another decade or two. You have to drive to Westwood, and that’s increasingly difficult. What this means is that, to succeed, Westwood must focus on the locals, not drawing from elsewhere.

So what does Westwood really need to do to come back? First, it doesn’t need art galleries and super trendy joints. These do not attract students and the middle class that used to shop in Westwood all the time. Put the art galleries in Beverly Hills. Here’s what I think Westwood needs:

  • More Live Theatre. Although the single-screen movie theatre is out of vogue, live theatre is inherently single-screen. Westwood should work on expanding its live theatre presence, especially with relationships with the excellent theatre program at UCLA. Get some small storefront theatres (there are at least two major companies in LA (Celebration is one) that are looking for new spaces). Small theatres are also much more affordable for students (especially when compared with the only theatre currently in Westwood, the Geffen).
  • More Club Space. I don’t necessarily meet nightclub space, although having a local space that would appear to the UCLA student crowd would be great. I was thinking more along the lines of comedy and music clubs, that could attract stand up and local acts.
  • Be a Student Town. This needs to be the mantra regarding both food and shopping. Bring in quirky restaurants and shops, but keep them affordable for students (and if you can, accept UCLA meal plan points). I grew up in the days when Westwood had wonderful places such as Yesterdays, Old World, Annas, Bratskeller, and others. We need to get this style of place back.
  • Aim for the Eclectic. What makes a college town special is its eclectic nature. You never know what you will find, and it is most certainly not a mall. There needs to be enough going on in Westwood to draw the students out of the dorms, and to draw the neighbors into the shops.

Basically, Westwood will succeed again if you can attract the students back, and they start bringing their friends. That’s what has always made Westwood special.

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Misunderstanding Risk (A Lunchtime Musing)

Written By: cahwyguy - Wed Jun 12, 2013 @ 11:43 am PDT

userpic=securityAmericans do not understand risk (actually, most humans don’t understand risk).

Want a good example of this? Look at the recent NSA data collection scandal. People are in an uproar about it. Investigations have started. Lawmakers are claiming they had no idea this is what they approved. Google is saying “don’t worry” and wanting to disclose what they really shared. Polls are, well, polling in various ways. People are pushing 1984 up the best seller lists. Everyone is debating whether the discloser is a traitor or a hero. In short, the Internet has its panties in a wad about this.

Now, I’m not trying to say this data collection — especially in secret — is a good thing. It isn’t. It is likely either unconstitutional or borderline, and should be investigated fully (although we can’t really blame only on the current administration, as the collection started in the previous administration… and as such, both are to blame). But is it risky? Are government agents going to come to your house and bang down your door as a result of this? Very unlikely. The amount of data collected — and the type of data collected — makes the possibility that government will be proactively searching and targeting you extremely remote. Just given the amount of data and its unstructured nature, Occam’s Razor says it will more likely be used for additional investigation after some other intelligence source uncovers a target of interest. In other words: this data will (most likely) only be used after you are already on the radar for some other reason. For 99.9% of the people in America, that means the personal worry is hypothetical. [Again: this doesn't make the program right; it only means you don't need to be as paranoid. That is, of course, unless they really are after you.]

However, there is a data collection program that is a worry — but people don’t think about it. This opinion piece highlights it. We are giving giant corporations loads of personal data every day. Facebook scans and records your every like, status update, and picture… and sells that data to advertisers. Google scans your email, your Google documents, your searches, and sells that data to advertisers and uses it to market to you. Amazon knows your books, your wants, your desires (and soon, what you eat). Credit card companies know your purchasing patterns and use it to market you. Supermarkets know your purchases, tied to you every time you save a penny using an affinity card. What’s worse is that we willingly give our data to these corporations. We ignore the privacy policies they send. We send unencrypted email. We send unencrypted texts and tweets. We post indiscriminately. We give our information away to save 5c.

Yet when do we get outraged? When the “government” gets only part of that data. When the government that gets the data hasn’t even demonstrated that it has the capability to use the data. Why is the implicit assumption that government is bad, and that corporations are good? Why do we ignore all the corporate data mining that goes on? We’re sheep, people, sheep, for the corporations that are the real puppetmasters of the world. You doubt me? Who makes major donations to politicians to get them to do what is in the corporation’s interests?

As you get your dander up about the government data collection, put it in perspective. The real risk isn’t the government collecting the data. The real risk is that these corporations are collecting the data in the first place. While the government has laws — and the constitution — that will eventually limit its reach… corporations have no such restrictions. Yes, Big Brothers are watching you… but is the brother we must really worry about the Government… or that brother from another mother?

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Citizen Journalism: What do Journalists Bring, and Will You Read It Anyway?

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:39 am PDT

userpic=lougrantYesterday afternoon, while driving home, I was listening to the NPR Technology podcast. They had an interesting piece on the death of high-school newspapers, including a discussion of the primary suspect: citizen journalism. Basically, the news reporting that high-school newspapers used to do has been replaced by students reporting in real-time via twitter and other social media sites. At least I think that’s what the article says; I didn’t read it all. More on that later.

What caught my ear at the time was the following statement from Scott Simon, who did the piece:

Hearing that school newspapers are in decline because students now “find out what happened” in social media bites is a little discouraging because it confirms that for millions of Americans, journalism is becoming a do-it-yourself enterprise.

When a tornado strikes or a bomb goes off, we look for social media messages as soon as they flash, too. Facebook posts and Tweets have become the means by which politicians, celebrities, citizens — and reporters, for that matter — can confirm, deny, pass on stories and register opinion without the press challenging, probing, pre-supposing, slowing or straining the message. That’s just how we talk to each other in these times.

Matt Drudge, who runs his own controversial website, says, “We have entered an era vibrating with the din of small voices. Every citizen can be a reporter.”

But truly good journalism is a craft, not just a blog post. It requires not only seeing something close-up, but also reporting it with perspective. It uses an eye for detail to help illuminate a larger view. And even journalism that conveys an opinion strives to be fair. If school newspapers begin to disappear, I hope there are other ways for students to learn that.

This isn’t just high school newspapers. Recently, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off all of their professional photographers, preferring instead to go with freelance citizen photos. Indeed, some papers have had to advertise for citizen photographers because they no longer have the staff. As for the laid-off photographers? That’s a different story.

When I heard this article, it resonated with me. So I decided to take a few minutes over lunch to write up my thoughts. In particular, it resonated with a response I had back in March to an article complaining about amateur vs professional theatre critics. Colin Mitchell of the theatre review aggregation site Bitter Lemons, in turn, wrote a wonderful response to my response. I see the issue as being similar to the issue of citizen journalists vs. real journalists. Both bring something valuable to the picture: citizen journalists (and citizen reviewers) bring timely information and personal reactions. Professional journalists (and professional reviewers) bring a longer-term view. They can put the issue in perspective, provide the needed filtering and context. Regular bloggers fill a middle position — they start as amateurs, but hopefully are learning more and stepping up their game (such as following this advice, if you are a theatre reviewer) as time goes on. (By the way, if you read the commentary on the NPR article, it devolved into exactly the same discussion that was had regarding theatre reviews: are those writing in the blog-o-sphere just hacks, or aspiring independent journalists?)

Of course, the entire issue may be moot. After all, both journalists and bloggers are a dying breed, as we are in the TL;DR generation. Slate magazine provides good proof of that, with an article that examines how people don’t actually read most articles on the Internet to the very end. Given that I’m a long-form writer, I’m sure you haven’t even read this far (or if you have, I doubt that you will comment on this, because nobody comments on what I write anymore — and if you think that is a challenge or is wrong, share your thoughts). Further, those who comment often get shouted out by those louts who take over forums (of course, I didn’t fully read that article). On the other hand, there are those who say long form journalism is coming back. Who is right? Slate and their contention that people don’t read to the end of long articles? USA Today, Politico, and BuzzFeed in their contention on the rebirth of long form journalism?

Personally, I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t think “short form”. I don’t believe one can have a meaningful exploration of a subject in 144 characters or less, or as a Facebook status update.  I think this even applies to the “lists of links” people post. I don’t believe it is sufficient to just post lists of links — there needs to be some unifying theme — there needs to be something the link collector brings to the discussion that ties the links together, or otherwise signifies why this link is worth seeing, why it is time to read that link to the end. That’s why just posting a link to people using cats as afros just isn’t enough.

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Rules to Live By

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 17, 2013 @ 11:18 am PDT

userpic=soapboxI made a mistake this morning before work. I looked at Facebook, and saw the usual political posting going on about some offense or another the side the author didn’t like did. Raised my blood pressure, which is something I don’t like to see. I’ve been thinking about this all morning, and so I thought I would share with you some of my basic operating rules. Perhaps they will help you view such political discussions differently in the future.

Rule Nº 1: Never Ascribe To Malice That Which You Can Ascribe to Stupidity

I sometimes change the last word to “laziness”, but the intent is the same. Often, we see people putting sinister thoughts and actions behind a move when there is likely nothing more than someone just being stupid, lazy, or inept. Good example of this is the recent IRS kerfluffle. I’ve seen a number of folks insisting that Obama is behind all of this, implying some sinister intent or conspiracy. The answer, more likely, is that some office had to make a decision… and given the intensely partisan climate, made the wrong one. To put it another way (as I saw in the LA Times):

The decision by agents in Cincinnati to flag groups that appeared to have a conservative ideology was “very bad,” said Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at the firm Arent Fox in Washington. “But I don’t think it was politically motivated; I think it’s incompetence.”

We’re also seeing this rule apply in the Benghazi situation. More and more the situation is not looking like an elaborate conspiracy from the top — it is looking like various fiefdoms trying in a very stupid way to protect themselves. In particular, this one looks like there was CIA involvement in facility in Benghazi, and the CIA made some stupid choices to try to hide the fact.

The important take away from this is that usually there are not elaborate conspiracies behind everything. Life really doesn’t want to be complex. In reality, people are just stupid.

Rule Nº 2: The definition of “Insanity” is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The primary example of this rule today is the House of Representatives, which just tried for the 39th time to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I get the first couple of times. But at this point, it is just a waste of time and money. The House has more important things to do, such as passing legislation to move this country forward: immigration reform, tax reform, budget bills. Am I trying to say that the ACA (Obamacare) is perfect? Far from it — we’re all starting to see ways in which it isn’t working right, and the recent IRS situtation also shows the importance of providing the IRS with clear definitions of how to interpret the provisions. Instead of trying to repeal Obamacare — which is a waste of time — the House should be working at this point to incrementally improve the bill to make it something workable.

The take away from this rule: If you keep failing at what you do, perhaps you need to achieve the goal in a different fashion.

Rule Nº 3: People will go for “best abuse of the rules”.

The point here is that people will always go through the existing rules, and try to find the loopholes and use them to their advantage — be that political or personal advantage. We certainly saw bankers doing that during the financial crisis, and we’re still seeing that today. We’re also seeing it politically. After the Citizens United decision, non-profits realized that they could donate to political campaigns (previously, they couldn’t as they were corporations). They discovered the 501c(4) organization, which was originally designed for civic groups such as parks or beautification associations. These organizations could receive donations without having to declare the income as tax and without having to disclose the donors. The IRS had ruled they could do limited political activity, but that was never specifically defined. So after Citizens United, the number of applications for such groups grew… and many people thought they were doing this to do political activity. This was the root cause of the problem at the IRS. There were originally a small number of these groups, and the IRS was focused on real charities (think religious institutions) being too involved in politics. After the Citizens United decision in 2010, 1,735 groups applied for 501(c)4 status — a figure that nearly doubled by 2012, according to the inspector general’s audit. This overloaded the office, and made that IRS office need to find a way to determine which groups to examine. How did they do it? Consult  Rule Nº 1.

We’re also seeing this in the partisan climate. I think everyone will agree that the partisan atmosphere led the IRS office to make the wrong decision. But such an atmosphere was also likely legal — there were no direct orders, only an environment that took advantage of people’s stupidity.

The primary take away from this: Take the time to get the specification correct the first time, and try to think through all the angles. If it looks like people are abusing the rules in an unintended way, the first thing to do is refine the rules to solve the problem.

The secondary take away from this: If the rules appear to be being abused, investigate in a neutral manner. There should be three goals from the effort: (1) to discover the errors in the rules that need correcting; (2) to discover errors in guidance and education that need correction; and (3) to determine if there are any real and significant legal violations (which should be prosecuted).

Rule Nº 4: Discuss to understand, not to convince.

Far too often, I see discussions on Facebook or elsewhere on the Internet where the end goal is to convince someone that you are right and they are wrong. That’s too ambitious of a goal, and one that ends up just wasting people’s time. I do not believe that I will get my Conservative friends to switch over to the Liberal side, and I don’t believe that Conservative arguments (especially as I’ve seen them done) are going to convince Liberals to change. Remember Rule Nº 2 here and the definition of insanity. The purpose of our discussions should be more to gain an understanding of where the other side is coming from, and what their real concerns are.

Again, let’s use the IRS example on this. I wrote the other day about the underlying tax problems that led to the mess. A conservative friend of mine hijacked the discussion to start discussing criminal wrongdoing by agents. He was trying to convince me of his agenda of a large conspiracy from the top. I was trying to illustrate the underlying problem with the system in a different way. In other words, my conservative friend was trying to argue ¬Nº-1 (i.e., that there was malice), and I was trying to argue Nº 3 (that there was abuse of the rules going on and we need to fix the rules). We were talking at cross purposes and not listening to understand. I simply ended the conversation.

This is often a problem on the Internet. People come in convinced of a particular Worldview — Obama is a socialist [he isn't, if you look up the definition of socialism], the GOP wants to destroy the social safety net [no they don't]. Our discussions should be to learn information, not convince. Hopefully that’s something I do with my discussions — I’ve learned a lot from how I behaved during the previous administration.

 

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Damaging Effects

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue May 14, 2013 @ 8:27 pm PDT

userpic=tortuga-heuvosIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I don’t just like to post links — I like to comment on the news, with preferably a minimum of 3 news items. I was staring at one of the articles I had saved when suddenly a theme came to mind that tied together with two other items in the news. All of these have to do with how women are seen: by men, by women, and by society, and the damaging effects that can have. Do excuse my errors in this; being a man, these are observations from the outside, and I might word things wrong.

  • Being a Boob. If you’ve been reading the news at all today, you know that Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy recently due to a high risk of breast cancer. Why was there so much attention? Surely, it wasn’t because all of the editors were concerned about women’s health (although that’s what they’ll claim). No, it is because articles about women’s breasts — especially a sexy celebrity — will attract the eyeballs of male readers. I, of course, read the comments and there is the usual number of trolls out there bemoaning Brad’s loss. I refer everyone to an excellent piece by The Ferrett on this, where he notes that the attitude of “Poor Brad” has the implicit statement that women are good for only one thing in a relationship: sex. Once that is gone, why have the relationship. For anyone really in a relationship, we know this isn’t true: we are with our partners for much more than sex: we love the person and the brain and the attitudes and the fun — and for that, we want the physical package to be healthy. True relationships don’t depend on breasts.
  • Getting the Look. Of course, one part of selling the “sex” (and perhaps the submissiveness) of women is marketing, and how characters are marketed to little girls. We’ve already seen Belle lose any nerdiness she had, and Disney was attempting it again with Merida from Brave. They were attempting to turn Merida into the typical princess, not the tomboy she was, and this got people upset. Of course, the good news (for now) is that it looks like the battle has been won.
  • Indoctrinating Them Early. Lastly (and the article that actually inspired this post), we have an article from CNN on the damaging effects of proms. The article details a number of items — cost being only one aspect … with most of them having to do with the message a prom sends. What are these messages? Conventional beauty is valued most. Straight is better. Valued girls are submissive, not assertive. Share everything.  These messages may not come through at all schools, but I’m sure for many they do (especially in more traditional areas).

It seems sometimes that the battle is hard, with the media sending the message that there is only one shape desired, and women are good for only one thing. Luckily, there are some men out there who haven’t swallowed that line: who love their partners because of who they are, not just what they look like or how they are in bed, and who realize that a relationship is more than just sex… it is finding someone who you truly connect with and will be there for… no matter what.

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And Another One Bites The Dust

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Apr 29, 2013 @ 8:02 pm PDT

userpic=lougrantToday, the Ventura County Star announced that it is going digital subscription only – limited articles will be available for limited times. In doing so, it joined the LA Times, Orange County Register, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times, Boston Herald, the Nashville Tennessean, and numerous others in erecting a pay wall.

This is a trend I emphatically do not like. One of the strengths of the Internet is being able to get news from a variety of sources; to read what is happening in local communities; to discover the human side across the world. Paywalls prevent that from happening.

Sure, one could subscribe to each paper individually. That would be very expensive (which is why I only subscribe to the Los Angeles Times). I would be very happy if someone created a business opportunity out of this that allowed one to subscribe to a selected set of paywall papers — 5, 10, 15, all — for a reasonable fixed fee per month. But having to subscribe to each paper individually for a digital product is prohibitive.

 

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