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Something to Wonder About

Here’s the essential context; I am now sick with a viral infection which may or may not be Covid Omicron. Since the pandemic came on in 2020 I have lost my father on my birthday in November of 2020 and my mother almost a year later in September of 2021. The highest fever I have had the past two days is 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Last Night I had a vivid dream.

In the dream I was walking along the top of a wall made of crumbling yellow bricks. The wall was narrow enough that I had to put my arms out to balance myself, as if I was walking on a tightrope. Each step made pebbles crumble out from under my feet. I was continually wobbling as I moved forward along the top of the wall.

My mother was walking along the top of the wall directly ahead of me.

To one side there were sharp stakes pointed upward. They glistened, possibly with poison. The brownish stuff at least seemed to look poisonous.

The other side was a swamp full of green-brown mud, bugs, snakes, and broken tree branches.

I felt like falling either way would be the painful end of me.

My mother then turned around to face me on the top of that wall.

“You know that I love you, Michael. You don’t have very much further to go down this path. Try not to make a terrible misstep, and I will be waiting for you on the other side.”

And then she kissed me and faded away.

At that point I did not fall, nor did I take another step. I simply woke up.

Of course, you know, I choose to believe this dream means something. Something important. But what that is, I do not know.

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Top This!

“Dad?” asked the Princess, “I heard a funny word in school today.  What does Fuddy-Duddy mean?”

“Oh, that’s a good word,” I said.  “It means an old fogey… a stick-in-the-mud.”

“A what?”

“A fussy old guy who likes to have everything his way.  Like, if you accuse your father of being one… which you often do… he’s a fuddy-duddy daddy.”

“Ooh!  I get it!” said Henry, chiming in.  “And if your father is evil, then he’s a fuddy-duddy baddie daddy!

“Yes,” I said, “and if it makes him sad to be evil, he’s a fuddy-duddy saddie baddie daddy!

“If you are not sure he’s really your father,” said the Princess adding a one-up, “he’s a fuddy-duddy saddie baddie maybe daddy!

“Yeah!” said Henry.  “And if you suspect he may have fallen into a time machine and been turned back into an infant, he’s a fuddy-duddy saddie baddie maybe baby daddy!

“Now that he’s a baby again he will surely want to watch his favorite TV show again,” I said with a tear of nostalgia in my eye, “he’ll be a fuddy-duddy saddie baddie maybe baby Howdy Doody daddy!

“What’s Howdy Doody, Daddy?” asked the Princess.

“No,” said Henry, “now you’ve spoiled it.  It just ain’t funny any more.”

“Yes it is!  He’s become a funny bunny fuddy-duddy hoo-dad doo-dad saddie baddie maybe rabies hoo-dah doo-dah…”

“Just stop,” said Henry.  “You always carry things too far.”

“Right you are!” I said.  “See this grin?  It means I win!”

“AW, Daaad!” they both said at the same time.

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Exploring the Mind of Mickey

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One really weird thing that teachers do is think about thinking.  I mean, how can a person actually teach someone else how to think and how to learn if they don’t themselves understand the underlying processes?  Now that I have retired from teaching and spend all my time feeling sorry for myself, I thought I would try thinking about thinking one more time at least.  Hey, just because I am retired, it doesn’t mean I can’t still do some of the weird things I used to do as a teacher, right?

This time I made a map to aid me in my quest to follow the twists and turns of how Mickey thinks and how Mickey learns.  Don’t worry, though.  I didn’t actually cut Mickey’s head in half to be able to make this map.  I used the magical tool of imagination.  Some folks might call it story-telling… or bald-face lying.

Now, a brain surgeon would be concerned that my brain maps out in boxes.  He would identify it as a seriously deformed brain.  It is not supposed to be all rectangular spaces and stairs.  It probably indicates a severe medical need for corrective surgery… or possibly complete amputation.  But we are not going to concern ourselves with trying to save Mickey from himself right now.  That is far too complex a topic to tackle in a 500-word daily post.  We are just discussing the basics of operation.

You see the three little guys in the control room?  They are an indication that not only did I steal an idea from the Disney/Pixar Movie Inside Out, but I apparently have too few guys doing the job up there compared to the movie version.  (It probably makes sense though that a young girl like the one in the movie has a much more sensible configuration in her brain than someone who was a middle school teacher for 24 years.  Seriously, that job can do a bit of damage.)  The three little guys are not actually Moe, Curly, and Larry, though that wouldn’t be far from descriptive accuracy.  They are Impulsive Ignatz, currently in the driver’s seat (or else I wouldn’t be writing this), Proper Percy the Planner, and Pompositous Felixian Checkerbob, the fact-checker and perfectionist (also labeled the inner nerd… I am told not everyone has one of these).  They are the three little guys that run around in frantic circles in my head trying to deal with a constant flow of input and output, trying to make sense of everything, and routinely failing miserably.

I shouldn’t forget the other two little guys in my head, Sleepytime Tim in the Dream Center, and little Batty up in the attic.  I have no earthly idea how either of them function, or what in the heck they are supposed to do.  But there they are.  The other three run up and down stairs all day, locating magic mushrooms and random knowledge in the many file cabinets, record collections, book stacks, and odd greasy containers that are stored all around in the many nooks and crannies of Mickey’s mind.  They collect stuff through the eyes and ears, and it is also their responsibility to chuck things out through the stupidity broadcaster at various inopportune times.  It is also a good idea for them to avoid the lizard brain of the limbic system in the basement.  It is easily angered and might eat them.

So now you should be able to fully understand how Mickey thinks.  (Or not… a qualifier I was forced to put in by Checkerbob.)

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Time For Wasting

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When I was still alive and still teaching, maximizing and managing time was an incredibly important part of the day.    You had to activate learners with an attention step, a lesson focus that grabbed them.  Usually that had to follow a warm-up, something you got them to do as soon as you had smiled at them at the doorway, offered to shake their hand, and then pulled them into the classroom to do some work for you.  fifteen minutes at the start of the class to rev up mental engines and get the gears turning… shake out the rust and the cobwebs that accumulate the instant the final bell rang in the previous class. I timed that part of class down to the second with my pocket watch… or phone in later years.  Then, once the engines started, the focus is in place, you introduce the learning objective.  Never more than ten minutes… timed to the second… you give the explanation, the road map of the day ahead, the instruction.  Then for the next ten to fifteen minutes you let them discover stuff.  In groups, with a partner, teacher to class, student to class, or (rarely) individually, they must apply what you pointed out and figure something out.  It could be complicated, but probably it was simple.  All answers are welcome and accepted… because all answers will be evaluated and you learn more from wrong answers than you do from correct guesses.  Evaluation comes in the five to ten minutes at the end when you evaluate.  “What have I learned today?”  You try your hardest to pin something new to the mental note-board hanging on the brain walls of each and every student.  Depending on how much or how few minutes you are given before the final bell kills the lesson for the day, you have to put the big pink ribbon on it.  That tightly-wound lesson cycle goes on all day, repeated as many times as you have classes.  In that time you have to be teacher, policeman, friend, devil’s advocate, entertainer, counselor, psychotherapist, chief explainer, and sometimes God.  And you time it to the second by your pocket watch.

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I miss being the rabbit holding the BIG PENCIL.  Now that I am retired, I am no longer on the clock… no longer subject to careful time management.  My pocket watch is broken and lying in a box somewhere in my library.  I live now in non-consecutive time periods of sleep and illness and writing and playing with dolls.  I have entered a second childhood now.  Not really a simple one because of diabetes and arthritis and COPD and psoriasis and all the other wonderful things that old age makes possible.  But a childhood free of school politics and mandates from the school board and from the State.  A childhood where I can once again dream and imagine and create and play.  That’s what this post is if you haven’t already figured it out.  I am playing with words and ideas.  They are my toys.  Toys like this one;

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This, of course, is Tim, the turtleboy of irony, holding his magic flatiron that he uses for ironing out irony.  He is flattening it out now with a cartoony Paffooney and wickedly waggled words.  Ironically, I have often taught students to write just like this, making connections between words and pictures and ideas through free association and fast-writing.  Have you learned anything from today’s retired-teacher post?  If you did, it is ironic, because you were never meant to from the start.

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Native Americans Invade My Artwork

I don’t know if you’ve seen enough of my colored-pencil Paffooneys to tell this, but for an old white guy, I draw a lot of Native Americans and am rather deeply in love with American Indian images.  You may have seen this dream painting I posted before.

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The girl in the painting is a combination of this warrior’s daughter and myself.  I was naked in the dream and a female, facing this huge ghost-stag.  The dream came while I was reading Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill.  Maybe that book was the beginning of my Native American obsession.  Who knows?  I am a crazy dreamer.  But that wonderful book turned me on to the rich spiritual life that the Dakota people lived.  I identified with it so completely that I dreamed myself into their culture.  I was also struck by the manner in which a Native American culture handles education.  The grandfather is in charge of the boy’s learning.  He teaches by story-telling.  Here you see the grandfather in Sky Lodge teaching his grandson.  The girls would learn very different things from their mothers and grandmothers.

Skye lodge

I am also entranced by the life of the people expressed in dance and ritual.  Dance has deeper meaning than we white guys normally assign to it.  Dances could be magical.  Of course, the notion of a “rain dance” is the result of too much simplification in movie scripts and ignorant popular white culture.  Dance could connect you to the Earth, the Sky, and the Spirit World.  That’s what this most recent Paffooney shows.

Pueblo Bonito

So, you can see, I don’t really understand the concept of moderation when it comes to my obsessions in the world of colored pencil art.  Hanta Yo!  Clear the Way!  In a sacred manner I come!

child of fire

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The Cowboy Code

When I was a boy playing cowboys and Indians with cap pistols and rubber tomahawks, we all knew that cowboys had a code.  The guy in the white hat always shoots straight.  He knows right from wrong.  He only shoots the bad guy.  He even shoots the gun out of the bad guy’s hand if he can.  Westerns are about right and wrong, good and bad, and the unyieldingly good knights of the plains.

And boys believe what they see on TV and in the movie theaters.  People who make television shows never lie, do they?  In fact, Wyatt Earp was based on a real guy who really lived and really shot the bad guys at the gosh-darn real OK Corral.

Daniel Boone was a real guy too.  He faced the opening up of new lands full of deadly dangers.  And when Fess Parker played him in 1964, wearing Davy Crockett’s coonskin hat, he walked the earth like a guardian angel, making everyone safe by the end of the episode.  He even knew which Indians were good and which were bad.  Mingo was always on Daniel’s side.  And when they spoke to each other about the dangers they faced, it was never about killing the people they feared.  It was about doing what is was right, about helping the community at Boonesboro to survive.  Being encouraging… looking forward to a more settled future created by following the cowboy frontier code.

So, I am left wondering what ever happened to the cowboy code?  I listen to Republican presidential candidates talking about dipping bullets in pig’s blood to kill Muslims, and building walls against Mexican immigrants, and why our right to carry assault rifles is sacred, and I wonder what happened.  Didn’t they experience the same education from the television versions of the Great American Mythology?  Didn’t they learn the code too?

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I am old enough now to know that cap guns are not real guns and you cannot solve problems by shooting somebody.  But that was never the point of the cowboy code.  We need straight-shooters again in our lives, not to shoot people, but to tell the unvarnished truth.  We need wise people who can tell who are the good Indians and who are the bad   We need them to shoot the weapons out of the bad guys’ hands.  And I know that’s asking for leaders to be larger than life and be more perfect than a man can actually be.  But Daniel Boone was a real man.  Myths and legends start with a fundamental truth.

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Saturdays With The Herculoids

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When I was a kid in Iowa in the 1960’s Saturday morning television was the singular source of fuel for the imagination.  I loved the various adventure cartoons.  Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, Thundarr the Barbarian, and the Herculoids were the source of endless lets-pretend games in Granpa’s grove and in the old barn.

I suppose the characters I envisioned myself being the most often were Zandor and his son Dorno.  These two practically naked people lived on a primitive planet that had to constantly be defended from space-faring invaders and free-booters that had ray-gun technology on their side.  The only weapons that the practically naked barbarians were able to use against the villains were exploding rocks that were shot out of a slingshot by Zandor and Dorno and Tara, or out of the horn-gun on the head of Tundro the living tank-beast with too many legs.  Of course, Igoo the giant rock ape could bop ’em with his big stone fists, or Zok the lightning dragon, could zap them with tail and eye lasers.  And Gloop and Gleep, the living Play-Doh blobs, could also always shape themselves into flyswatters or springs or wet blankets, or… well, you have to see it to really get it.

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I learned valuable lessons from watching the Herculoids and then pretending to be them.  First of all, I learned that back-to-nature, practically-naked barbarians were morally superior to those who solve their problems with technology.  I also learned that you can win fights with exploding rocks and yelling, “Zandor!  Look out!” at the right time over computerized flying robots with lasers and disintegration rays. There was also the thing about never knowing when an old Space Ghost villain like Brakk or Moltarr was going to show up, and you needed to be ready to defeat them by doing the same things to them that Space Ghost had done to them in previous episodes.  And for some reason, bad guys come with a psychological need to capture Tara or Dorno or both Tara and Dorno and put them in cages.

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I hope there was nothing psycho-sexual embedded in those old episodes.  That would be a terrible thing to do to an impressionable young boy who loved to watch the cartoons.  Explain to me again, Alex Toth and Hanna Barbera,  why are Zandor, Dorno, and Tara practically naked all the time?  Oh, yes, it was a tropical planet.  It must have been hot there.

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Anyway, I must end this homage now, before I start analyzing how this somewhat bizarre cartoon actually affected me as a child.  I loved the Herculoids.  I still love them… no matter how goofy and weird they are.

 

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Monkey Mathematics

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(colored pencil, pen, & ink – entitled “Math Monkey” – by Leah Cim Reyeb (my name backwards))

It has been said that if you have an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters, and unlimited time, they will reproduce all the works of William Shakespeare.  Not only that, they will produce every other work of literature in every language on Earth that has ever been written… and that ever will be written, for all time.  Not only that, but every version of Hamlet that has one misspelled word, two misspelled words, three misspelled words… and so on to infinity.

I was having an argument recently with a boy from Brazil who insisted there was no God and Creator.  He claims to be an agnostic, but argues like an atheist.  He was trying to “save” me from my erroneous belief that there is an underlying intelligence and purpose to all of creation.  His intentions were good, but he failed to convince me before sailing off back to Sao Paulo.  Alas, I am unrelentingly still convinced that I am not wrong, as he apparently believed all school teachers are by definition.  Yes, it is written that way in the teenager’s guide to life, the universe, and everything.  “Teachers are clueless and only teach you the wrong stuff” – page two hundred and three, in Chapter Twelve, Adults are Always Wrong.  And, of course, I’m blaming it on the monkeys.  It’s always those danged monkeys and their typewriters.

I tried to explain that the whole infinite-monkeys thing is based on flawed math.  After all, math was invented by enraged Greeks who danced around naked in caves worshiping circles, squares, and right triangles.  Pythagoras must’ve really hated school kids.  He gave them all this froo-frah to learn about whole numbers, integers, algebra, and geometry and stuff, and then threw in theorems and equations to give them something to mind-numbingly practice at their desks in Math classes until they were no different from infinite-monkey typists. 

If you take a pile of bricks up to the top of a mountain and then throw them off, even if you throw them an infinite number of times, how often will they actually land in the configuration of the Parthenon?  …And the Parthenon with one brick out of place, and then two bricks, and …wasn’t the gol-danged Parthenon carved out of marble, not bricks?  If you believe all of reality is based on random chance, then you obviously are figuring that out with infinite-monkey math.  I’m not saying the Theory of Evolution is wrong.  That is ordered and principled in ways that fit Occam’s Razor and is probably just as correct as the Theory of Gravity (which we don’t fully understand, either, yet we don’t go flying off into space with each rotation of the Earth).

“Wait a minute!” screams the head monkey.  “Are you saying you believe in Evolution, or in Creation?”   (I am constantly hearing nearly-infinite monkeys screaming that nowadays.)

Shoot, I think both things are true.  You can’t deny what science offers proof for, fact or theory.  Yet, God speaks to me and comforts me, even though he doesn’t actually answer prayers.  The evidence of God is in all that he created, including the process of evolution, the monkeys, the typewriters (well… man-made is made by God too if he created man with inventive capabilities, right?), and even the voices in my silly head that I interpret as God talking.  Am I guilty of Infinite-monkey math?  I try not to be.  But I also try not to argue with Brazilian teenage agnostics about the existence of God.  Oh, well… can’t win ‘em all.

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Autorumination (the reprise)

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(This is a black-and-white cartoon in pen and ink that I have shamelessly colorized with colored pencil.)

    I have to tell you, driving in Texas, especially the “Big D” is taking your life in your hands, gripping that old steering wheel in a grip of death, and trying like heck not to hit any of the myriad things flying in front of you.  I have had in my lifetime three accidents and too many near misses to count.  Drivers that don’t have their number of kills painted on the driver-side door are rare indeed.
    One of the scariest encounters on the road has to be the legendary Texas Killer Grandma.  They have a private club where they get together over knitting and compare the goriest kills they have managed with their oversized automobiles.  These old lady drivers are invariably white-skinned and have hair either of strange shades of blue and periwinkle, or silver, almost chrome.  They have Killer Grandma nicknames like Suicide Sadie and End-It-All Emma.  They drive big black Cadillacs, Buicks, and Mercedes.  They have mostly no-fault insurance that will guarantee they can mash your children in the back end of your family car without jail time, and usually without paying for a penny of your damages.  They cruise around Dallas watching for unwary drivers so they can leap in front without signaling, getting bashed from behind by the victim, and sending the victim swirling off the overpass to a fiery death and dismemberment.  Then they cackle all the way to the next club meeting.
    Killer Grandmas drive a class of vehicle I call the American Wasp Rocket.  These are large, unwieldy vehicles from Ford and GM that wreak havoc with smaller, slower cars, especially foreign-made cars like Toyotas, Subarus, and Volkswagens.  In the northern precincts of Dallas, Austin, and Houston, where these vehicles truly dominate, you will often see BMW, Volvo, or Italian Wasp Rockets, which are almost an oxymoron by their very nature.  (“I only buy them gol’ dang furrin cars iffen they’re status symbols, cause I only buy American, but I figgur high-dollar wagons like them thar Lambourginis count as American too!”)  These cars are all large enough to crush an SUV under their wheels, and, of course, they are only driven at hyper-speeds while winding their way through heavy traffic so the occupants can arrive anywhere they are going FIRST.  Besides Texas Killer Grandmas, there are few other drivers of these vehicles who aren’t over-weight, middle-aged white males who have high-paying white-collar jobs.
    The most common vehicles on Texas highways are, of course, the typical Bubba.  Bubba cars are always pick-up trucks, and almost always Chevys.  In fact, they almost have to be white, red, or brown, or they don’t count as a proper Bubba.  Bubbas drive like Foster Brooks on speed, always weaving, wobbling, wagging, and wrecking.  The highway is their own personal demolition derby, and if they don’t get you with a straight-on hood-smash, they’ll ding you with whatever falls out of the back of their pick-up (beer bottles, kids, used tires, tools, parts of the vehicle that have already fallen off once before, and sometimes ugly wives).
    A more-or-less brain-damaged sub-species of Bubba is the Billy Bob.  They drive Ford pickups, white, red, brown, and sometimes gold.  They will kill you no less quickly than a Bubba, but they do tend to have better insurance.
    Of course, I can’t even talk about Beaner cars.  It is not politically correct, as a young Hispanic student was pointing out to me just two weeks ago.  “I can say I’m a Beaner,” he said, “But you can’t say it because you’re a Gringo Loco.  Only Beaners are allowed to call a Beaner a Beaner.  You could be killed for saying that in the Barrio!  Even for thinking that!”  So, I won’t talk about those cars on the road in the fast lane doing a mere twenty-five miles per hour.  I won’t mention how they have eighteen kids and a Tia Carmen in the back seat and can’t see out with the rear view mirror.  I won’t even talk about the rosary beads, fuzzy dice, and numerous brightly colored stuffed animals that hang from the rear view mirror blocking the windshield also.  It just wouldn’t be nice to talk about that.
    So, I guess I have to sum up with a concluding statement that makes sense out of all of this Texas road-rage and bumper-car nonsense.  It would have to be something like this:  If you ever plan to drive in Texas, be prepared.  Have your burial plot purchased, your insurance paid up, and “Drive Friendly!”

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Chuck Dickens and the Origins of Writing

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Don’t make the mistake of thinking I have any earthly idea where writing comes from or how it began.  I am only talking personal history here, nothing grander or more meaningful.  This post is only self-referential hoo-haw, which is a fancy way of interpreting “conceited crap”.

So, the truth is, I am writing about Charles Dickens because he is the author I most want to become.  True, I rant on and on about Twain and his humor.  And a good deal of my artwork owes everything to Disney, but everything I am good at in writing is based on Dickens.

The first actual Dickens novel that I read was accomplished during my extended illness as a high school sophomore.  I read in bed, both at home and in the hospital, from my library copy of The Old Curiosity Shop.  I was enthralled by the journey and subsequent tragedy of Little Nell.  I thoroughly loathed the villain Daniel Quilp and was roundly thrilled by his well-deserved fatal comeuppance.  It was my first encounter with the master of characters.  I followed that reading with a biography of Dickens that revealed to me for the first time that his characters were based on real people.  Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield was actually Dickens’ own father.  Little Nell was the cousin he dearly loved who died in his arms.    The crafty Fagin was a caricature of a well-known fence named Soloman, a Jew of infamous reputation, but not without his redeeming quality of caring for the orphaned poor.  So it is that I have chosen to make my silly stories about real people in much the same way Dickens did.  If you are now worried that since you know me, you may end up in my books, never fear.  I change names and splice characters together.  You will have to make an effort to recognize yourself.  And, besides, nobody reads my books anyway.

I also like the way Dickens uses young characters and follows them over time as they grow and change.  Oliver Twist was the first child protagonist in English literature.  David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, and Pip in Great Expectations are also like that.  David Copperfield, in fact, is Chuck’s own fictionalized self.  I fully intend to do the same.  It is the reason my books fall into the Young Adult category.  I also intend to employ the same kind of gentle, innocent humor that Dickens used.  I mean to portray things that are funny in a disarming, absurdist way rather than resorting to attack humor and bad words.

There it is, then, my tribute to Charles Dickens, a writer who makes me be who I am and write what I write.  I am not supposed to do Christmas posts because of my avowed religion, but you can consider this to be as close as I can come.  The author of A Christmas Carol… it doesn’t get much more Christmassy than that.

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