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"Tradition?? The only good traditions are food traditions. The rest are repressive."

"There are two ways to think. The first is to trust to your ancestors, your religious leaders, or your charismatic professors. The second is to question, to challenge, to explore history for meanings, and to analyze issues. This latter is called Critical Thinking, and it is this that is the mission of my web site. "

Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman  

July 2017

Humor Can Bring Down a State

One characteristic of nasty governments?theocracies, dictatorships, and authoritarian monarchies is that they have no sense of humor. The one thing that can put a frightening government on the defensive is to know that their subjects are laughing at them.

In Jacques Barzun?s final book, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present (Harper Collins, 2000), he tracks the fall of the French monarchy and the French Revolution to the point where the French elites had no fear of makin more...

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Two-State Solution Faces Reality


It has been US and UN policy since the founding of Israel and Palestine in 1947 that two states should live side by side in peace. Israel agreed, but the Palestinians rejected the state they had been offered, opting instead for war, with the help of the entire Arab world, to make Palestine a "one-state solution." They lost that first war and then 13 more attempts to destroy Israel.

The definition for insanity is to do the same thing repeatedly hoping for a different outco more...

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Israel and Its Changing Neighborhood


Nothing is more divisive than discussions of the Israeli/Palestinian century old conflict. The problem with this dispute is that conditions have finally changed in Israel?s neighborhood and in America?s new government.

On one side of the issue is the notion that "International Law" is against Israel?s occupation of "Palestinian lands," a position that pretends that there is really such a thing as "international law." For something to be law, it not only must be agreed by more...

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November 2016

Culture Matters Part 2

Last week, I wrote about the cultural chasm in the United States that gave rise to election results that surprised many of us. This time, I am looking at the global culture wars.

Along with cultural differences of class and ethnicity, there are cultural differences in religions: most of these benign, but some really divisive. No one cares about different dietary laws, for example, unless one culture forces the rest to practice them. Orthodox Jews have dietary issues: no pork or sh more...

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Israel?s Changing Neighborhood


When Israel first became a nation, a unified Muslim world (in particular, Arab world) invaded, hoping to destroy the nascent state. The Arabs did not prevail, but that did not stop them for trying 13 other times since 1947.

In the past 12 months alone, Israel faced 407 terror attacks, including 165 stabbings, 87 attempted stabbings, 107 shootings, 47 vehicular attacks, and one bus bombing. All this is in a country the size of New Jersey!

Today, however, the more...

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June 2016

It Ain't Necessarily So.

Summertime is here, and I find myself humming the song: "It ain't necessarily so." There are some stupid beliefs out there. As a devout centrist, I may make many of my readers unhappy today. But, I suspect there are many more who share my political position: in the thinking middle.

Left-Wing Baloney
? Black Lives Matter. Believers focus on how many police shootings of Black perpetrators there are. However 6,000 blacks are murdered each year, six times the rate of whites ad more...

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The Mystery of Defunding Israel


When one surveys nasty governance, horrible cultures, and rampant injustice in the world, Israel would not appear on any rational list of offenders. Despite this, the campaign to boycott and defund Israel is mindlessly persistent in universities and among far-left radicals. A few people, one of them an "independent" running for Congress, still embrace the conspiracy theory that 9-11 was not perpetrated by Arabs. They insist that the buildings fell because they had been pre-wired and then more...

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Darwin Awards


Mothers? Day, 2016

My periodic columns called Darwin Awards are to nominate those human beings whose existence lowers the global IQ. We hope that those described below will not father more fools.

First prize: Suicidal Skateboarder.
Someone took a phone picture of a skateborder in Syria who, while racing down the street, fell and detonated his suicide belt. This is a real Darwin Award, well deserved. He will father no fools.

Palestinia more...

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"Round Up the Usual Suspects!"


The Vichy French police chief in the delightful movie, Casablanca, hid his scorn for his Nazi bosses by "rounding up the usual suspects." The usual suspects were a roster of hapless escapees waiting to leave Casablanca for the United States. This standing joke has surfaced once more in today?s global war with Militant Islam.

Some of the "usual suspects" are real. France has just revoked the passes of 70 workers at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports. These are baggage hand more...

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Darwin Awards for 2015

I issue mock Darwin Awards each year for those so stupid they should be barred from adding to the gene pool.

Education Official Resigns.
At a press conference recently, Vasile Salaru, Romanian Minister of Education, said schools should teach female students how to walk while wearing high heels; dance the tango; be a good host[ess]; and walk with "chest out, bottom out, let the boys faint!" Several student organizations protested his comments and called for his resignation. more...

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August 2015

Are Arabs Losing Interest in the Palestinians?


Amir Taheri, an Iranian journalist whom I once knew as editor of the English language Tehran Journal in 1978 (while the Shah was still there) has lived in exile since the Islamic Revolution and is a hot potato. He often plays loose with facts, writing things that conservatives love to hear, sometimes without substantiation.

His latest column, however, however, makes a certain amount of sense. The Arab world is in such disarray that the Palestinian issue pales in comparison more...

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We Americans Misread Our Enemies

We are the global giant who never seems to realize our own strength. Unlike so many others around the world who love to boast about how powerful they are, we almost never do this. Think about the Nazi goose-stepping marches in the 1930s, huge swastika flags unfurled, announcing to the world their intentions. Think about the annual Soviet May Day parades with marching Red Armies, tanks, displays of missiles, and aircraft in formation overhead.

These were the warlike adversaries th more...

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What if the 30-Year Religious Wars Prediction Is Wrong?

Yemen, once a backwater that nobody much cared about, is now a failed state that has inflamed an entire region. The Saudis, who have spent obscene fortunes on defense toys that they have never used are now tentatively using them and are rallying other Sunni Arabs to join them. For all their decades of bluster about Israel, they were never this serious before. This time, they are really frightened and their fear is directed at a rag-tag terrorist group that has taken over the government of Yemen. more...

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Let's Take a Long View of the Iran Deal.


The exhausted negotiators had been at it for 20 months, the last many hours of which were nearly non-stop, with the possibility that this important deal might collapse. The United States, Iran, five members of the UN Security Council, and the EU had labored over this negotiation to convince Iran that it was in its best interest to reduce its nuclear program's potential of developing nuclear weapons. Iran had long (and unconvincingly) claimed its nuclear interests were peaceful only, but more...

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Middle East is Running out of Water.

California knows how serious it is to have a water shortage. But we are a modern state and know perfectly well what to do about it. For us, it is just a matter of spending money and having the will to do what is obvious: desalinate the ocean water immediately to our west.

But when the entire Middle East is running out of water, it is another thing altogether. This is a region with a minority of scientifically educated people and a majority of ignorant, religious villagers and rec more...

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History Reveals Presidential Close Calls!


As a historian, I can be pretty dispassionate about reading things that are past and gone. Knowing that President Woodrow Wilson had a stroke and that his wife Edith secretly kept him hidden from October 1919 to April 1920 is certainly alarming, but nothing disastrous seems to have happened. This could not happen today, I hope.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, a weekend when the actions of individuals both in the White House----the cool head of Bobby Kennedy who advised his broth more...

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Defunding Israel but Blind to Islamophobia Ripoffs?


Only in the free Western world can such asymmetrical nonsense take place. Israel, the one western country unfortunately located in the middle of the Muslim world is the focus of accusations of Islamophobia and targeted with boycotts of its industries and products. How ironic. Israel is the one country where Arab citizens can vote, have the highest standard of living, and have any kind of future. Yet young stupid liberals in Europe and the US vent their spleen on Israel and turn a blind e more...

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Understanding Foreign Policy is like Triple-Decker Chess

We are accustomed to thinking of relations with an ally, an enemy, or an interest when we consider a foreign policy relationship. This is part of our assumption that a nation has an independent identity that is like ours, "one nation, indivisible?" This is a convenient fiction, of course, as if a nation is a person, which it is not.

o Pakistan, India, Afghanistan. Some of our most troubling relationships are with countries with not only complex internal identities, but also equall more...

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October 2014

Who?s Counting?

One issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, August 23, 2014, was representative of what is going on globally. ?Hamas kills 18 suspected spies in Gaza;? ?Shiite gunmen kill 70 in attack on Sunni mosque;? ?Nation mourns Flight 17 victims (295 of them); ?Civil War deaths top 191,000 after 3 years of conflict in Syria;? ?Ebola outbreak grows nationally with two new cases? (2,615 cases and 1,427 deaths reported). There is a horrific death toll in South Sudan, where ethnic tribal hatreds are killing a h more...

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September 2014

Will Islam Address Its Internal Crisis?

Muslims have lived so long with governments they cannot trust that the rumor mill serves as their source of information. Conspiracy theories are the favorite explanations for all the horrors in the world. If you cannot blame Allah, you must find someone you can blame.

The latest conspiracy theory comes out of the Netherlands, where a Muslim woman, Yasmina Haifi, who works in the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, has given us the following: ?The Islamic State isn?t Islamic at more...

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This Is No Longer Your Grandfathers' Army.

If we are talking softly but carrying a big stick, as President Teddy Roosevelt advised, we need a big stick. Americans divide themselves into hawks who believe freedom requires defense and doves who believe that if we are nice, others will be too.

The hawks are certainly right that a nation without a good military is vulnerable to the world's bullies. The majority of Western European countries are doves, a position they are permitted because since the end of World War II, the Un more...

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Can Wars Be Proportional?

If columnist Amy Goodman had covered the carpet-bombing of Germany in World War II, she would have indignantly defended the Nazis. Fortunately for the outcome of that war, the public did not get a play-by-play description from observers who want war to be proportional.

Throughout 10,000 years of human history, wars were never proportional. Winners won. Chivalry plays no role in warfare.

In history, total conquest was used when repeated conflicts between warring par more...

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Alliances Have No Longevity in the Middle East.


Not only are borders shifting wildly in today's Middle East reshuffle, but alliances are too. One needs a scorecard to determine who are friends today and enemies tomorrow. This is not a new problem in the Middle East; it is a historic fact of life.

The greatest accomplishment of the Prophet Mohammad was to unify what had been anarchic tribes in the Arab Peninsula. The process of unification was brutal, but there was no other way to do it. Truces were only temporary and su more...

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“When They Love Their Children….”

Many years ago, Golda Meir, then Prime Minister of Israel, was asked when there would be peace with the Arab world. She said: “We will have peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.” We need to look at that astute observation again today because she was right.

A UN observer has released a devastating report on Syria, in which both the government forces and the Islamist insurgents are imprisoning, torturing, raping, and killing children to make a point to more...

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Turkey: How to Lose a Democracy

Once more, supporters of “democracy” in the Muslim world do not understand the issue. Majority rule, when there are no institutions to temper it (such as the courts or free press), does not provide a “liberal democracy.” Rather, it offers abuse of power or anarchy.

Turkey, the one seemingly genuine participatory republic, is teetering on the edge of losing it. The European Union, which rides herd on Turkey's evolution toward a European-style democracy, mistakenly regards more...

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International Marriages Are Risky.

One of the most important decisions in our lives is the choice of marriage partner. This trumps almost any other relationship we might have---because when good, it outlasts even our relationship with our children.

Marriage choices until our own time were the prerogative of parents (mostly fathers) or, in the still benighted parts of the world, clans and tribes. The children were rarely consulted because it was considered much more important than their whims or hormones. Love was more...

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November 2013

The “World Community” Has Double Standards.


The response to Bashar Assad’s use of poison gas lobbed into rebel-held suburbs of Damascus has been fascinating. Finally, somebody is remembering that a treaty was signed by almost every country in the world banning poison gas at the end of World War I. The use of mustard gas in trench warfare decimated a whole generation of young men fighting on both sides of the war. This was the first time that any weapon had been declared unacceptable to human values. Poison gas is an effective ge more...

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July 2013

Russia is an Enigma Wrapped in a Mystery

Russia never fails to fascinate us. The very scary Cold War has been over for several decades, after a fifty-year period in which the Soviet Union and the United States engaged in a conflict that could have ended in nuclear holocaust. But real friendship has not replaced the hostility either. We have a cold peace.

Nations have long histories. Russia has been shaped by its geography It occupies a huge expanse of the Eurasian plains, from Eastern Europe all the way to the Pacific. I more...

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December 2012

Should National Defense be "Proportional?"


Media coverage of the Israeli/Hamas conflict has promoted the idea that Israel’s response to months-long missile attacks on Israel is “disproportionate” because so few Israelis have died compared with the number of Gazan deaths. This outrage comes from people who should know better, such intellectual elites as Amy Goodman, whose syndicated column appears in the Sentinel; the British Economist magazine, and National Geographics.

Amy Goodman is the darling of the poli more...

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The Sad Tale of Three Misled Young People Unfolds


Most of us who are conscientious about rearing our children try to let them learn from small mistakes or small bad choices. However, it is difficult to know if a mistake is small or not, or if it will blight their lives forever. Three young people in the news have made large mistakes, and one of them died as a result.

The three are: Rachel Corrie, John Walker Lindh, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, all of whom were undone by fanatical attachment to extremist ideologies. Their mi more...

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The Saudis Have A “Modest Proposal” for Women

In 1951, Philip Wylie, an American social critic, wrote a novel called The Disappearance. In this fantasy, something happens in the cosmos, a spasm of some sort, that resulted in the disappearance of each gender from the other, both living in parallel worlds. It is always fascinating to contemplate how men and women would manage alone, a fantasy as old as ancient Greece, whose mythology included the Amazons, a tribe of women warriors who managed very well without men.

Men withou more...

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September 2012

Are Israel and the US Really Locking Horns Over Iran?


Foreign policy issues should not be a factor in election campaigns; we need to tell the world that we are united on issues beyond domestic politics. However, it is too difficult for presidential campaigns to resist stirring things up. Mitt Romney did this in unwise remarks about US policy during the orchestrated riots in Libya and Egypt.

Today, a hot issue is Iran, which has lied, cheated, and continued to work toward producing a nuclear capability that frightens its nei more...

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Egypt Has Post-Election Blues.


A few weeks ago, I attended a lecture on Egypt’s “Arab Spring” and their recent round of elections. The speaker was optimistic about this process, and noted a number of “accomplishments” that Egyptians should regard with pride:

• A tyrannical dictator removed
• A relatively free and fair election held
• A member of the Muslim Brotherhood elected (Accomplishment?)
• The military promise to yield to civilian rule
• Treaty more...

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Birds Are Spies, at Least in the Middle East.


Critical thinking is not a natural attribute of human beings. Most of us are more inclined to believing anything in print or that we hear, or believe those things that support our already existing prejudices. It takes hard work to question statements that seem reasonable on their face. Too many of us are ready to believe anything, even when ridiculous.

One recent example is a trend of Middle East countries that so fear Israel’s capabilities that they are ready to believe more...

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What Has Become of Academic Critical Thinking?

When I was in college, I could not tell you how my professors might vote. They were, as were my elementary and high school teachers, resolutely apolitical. We were taught to think, debate, and even act out in mock political conventions and model United Nations conferences.

This is no longer so in many American and European universities. Despite the avowed liberal values of support for the underdog, rights of women and minorities, and distaste for violence, there is an almost univ more...

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How Is Citizenship Determined Around the World?

There are many ways of acquiring citizenship in the modern world. This concept, being a citizen of a country, is relatively new; in the past, in nation states with a king, one was a subject—and that usually depended upon birth. Refugees could and did come to some: many Continental Europeans fled to England, escaping the persecution of revolutions. In those days (late 18th century), they were permitted to remain as subjects. Voting rights was a much later proposition.

Today, mo more...

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November 2011

Was the Israeli and Hamas Prisoner Exchange a Good Deal?


A young Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was snatched by Hamas raiders across the Israeli border in 2006. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time, not a combatant who had been at war with Hamas. They kept him alive for five years, hoping to exchange this him for one thousand violent Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

In October, the exchange was made—to the mixed joy and anguish of Israel—joy for bringing home one of their own and anguish over those they were rel more...

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July 2011

Some People Choose Bad Bedfellows for Their Summer Vacation

It may become a Rite of Summer: dedicated dissidents trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza with a flotilla of ships. Gazans themselves are not asking for such aid, claiming that they are not lacking daily necessities, so that is not the issue. Egypt has opened their port near Gaza to permit all legitimate aid to be brought in. Israel has never cut off humanitarian aid, and for the past year have been permitting more material to enter Gaza.

According to Juliane Von Mittelstae more...

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Beware of Robot Hummingbirds and Other Spying Creatures



I hate to see reality impinge on the colorful world of conspiracy theories—but here it is. DARPA, the Research & Development branch of the US Department of Defense, is working on a robot hummingbird that flies and looks like the lively little bird itself—but is intended to spy on human activities. It is not yet ready to deploy, but it reminds me that the Pentagon is not the only institution thinking about such things. Nor are such inventions only used in warfare. They could more...

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How Do We Deal With “Sticks and Stones?”

In our present day culture, we have been taught (usually at mother’s knee) that “sticks and stones may break your bones but names can never harm you.” Annoying as it is to have people call you names, it does not warrant punching them in the face. But this is not so elsewhere, not did it used to be so in our own civilization’s past. What we are talking about here is “the honor culture.”

Until the middle of the 19th century, gentlemen fought duels of honor. That by ser more...

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In a Democracy, Some Decisions Are Agonizing.


For most of human existence, leaders and priests made decisions and ordinary people either obeyed or suffered the consequences. For almost everyone, tradition left a very small range of independent decisions.

Today, certainly in the developed world, we all have to confront decisions every day, and for our elected leaders, the process is often difficult. The following is a small list of terrible decisions facing both democracies and autocracies today.

• T more...

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Is Peace Breaking Out in the Middle East?


We keep hearing that peace in the Middle East only requires a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. The outbreak of what is being called “the Arab Spring” has proven this notion wrong. None of the Muslim countries currently in ferment give a hoot about the Palestinians and Israelis; they want to get out from under dictatorial regimes that have held them in thrall for decades

They want “freedom” and “dignity.” modernity, prosperity, and the decent li more...

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November 2010

Sometimes Important News Hides in the Back Pages.


Iran’s Problems.
The latest news from Iran: sanctions are really starting to bite. The government has suspended subsidies for food and fuel—which will not please the masses used to the largesse of bread and circuses (stoning women for adultery). People may put up with bad justice systems—but do not take kindly to losing subsidies considered entitlements.

In addition, the internal stresses in Iran’s government are difficult to confirm. Iran has such a lo more...

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Why Are We No Longer On The Same Page?

I remember when more Americans shared core values than had contentious differences. We have always had both Republicans and Democrats who valued fiscal prudence and self-reliance and both believed in the value of government. Both shared the values of a society of law and order, of vigorous but courteous debate, and of winning or losing an argument with grace. The losers in a national election still treated the president of the winning party with respect, and worked with him even while disagree more...

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June 2010

Let’s Have Another Look at the “Humanitarian” Flotilla

A supposedly humanitarian flotilla that set out in June to break the Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza can be looked at a number of ways. The event was not what it seemed in the first 24 hours, when the world press was treated to conflicting video tapes from both sides. What really went on?

The Players.
• The Israelis have grown increasingly sour over events in Gaza, a region once occupied by Egypt and later by the PLO. When the Israelis, under world (and domestic) pre more...

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Some Bedfellows are Incomprehensible

There is an Arab adage: “The Enemy of my Enemy is My Friend.” Unfortunately, this is not always so. The enemy of your enemy may be your enemy too! It makes no sense to me that the University world has demonized Israel in favor of the most repressive of Islamic “friends.”

Since the 1970s, the most radical-left factions of activists in universities have been bedfellows of the most radical-right, socially benighted groups. I recently watched a German film: The Baader-Meinh more...

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January 2009

Why is War Always “Disproportionate”?


Warfare has never been a ballet of equality between combatants. When World War II began, the Nazis, Japan, and even Italy, disproportionately attacked and bombed weak countries that had done nothing to them. Civilians were targeted and the Axis’ occupations were brutal.

But by late 1944, the tide had turned. The United States and Great Britain were disproportionately powerful in the air, encountering little opposition from the Nazis. The US dropped two atomic bombs o more...

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