Uncommon Sense

September 3, 2022

Attitudes Toward School and Schooling

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:43 pm
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School sucks. There, I said it. This is coming from someone who did his homework every night. I still can’t believe I just sat there and willingly learned what other people told me to learn. I believe every child should be taught how to learn. However, what they learn should be completely up to them. (Anton Lex on Medium.com)

* * *

I have insisted for a very long time that the remote learning, cyber schooling, and home schooling folks are missing the point. This is because schooling has just two goals IMHO of course): to teach people how to learn and how to work with others. Mr. Lex agrees with the first point, but contradicts that belief elsewhere in his quote. In order to teach anyone how to learn, they actually have to learn something, including how to demonstrate that they have learned something, so the thoughts “teach them how to learn” and “leaving what they learn being left up to them” are in conflict, at least in part. (And this is why having a fixed curriculum, containing things everyone should know, is also bonkers.)

Allow me to use my personal experience as a source of information. I counseled, informally, a great many college students. Part of that was explaining the structures that had been created to be able to deliver a high-ish quality education into their laps. Part of that structure was the workload system, which varies a bit from place to place but basically goes like this: students sign up to take classes. Each class is assigned a credit-hour, or just “credit” or “unit of credit” value based upon how much work is involved for the average student. In the Carnegie System 1 credit hour equates to about 3 hours of work per week. A normal workload would be 15 credit-hours per week which would equate to a 45 hour work week. Complete the work satisfactorily and you accumulate 15 credit-hours toward your total. That’s 15 credit hours per semester, 30 credit hours per year, and 120 credit hours over a four year span. Typically a Bachelor of Arts degree requires 120 credits to accomplish, but not just any only credit-hours. Approximately one third of those, or 40 credits, come from major and/or minor courses of study. These courses are courses that people in those fields argue are necessary for you to master to be educated in that field. (As a chemistry major, I had requirements far beyond this, including extensive math courses and physics courses plus required chemistry courses, so that “about a third” is just a description, not a rule.) Another third of the 120 credit minimum for a BA degree was dedicated to “general education” requirements, which were courses that society in general suggested (through all of the various disciplines, not directly) one needed to be an educated citizen in society. These often included English, math, and U.S. history requirements. And the final third were “electives” courses you could take based upon your own interests.

As to “what they learn should be completely up to them” you can do that, but don’t expect to get a college degree. Note that all of the information one can learn in college is widely available, often for free. Public libraries, the Internet, etc. are all chock-a-block full of information that can be learned. But that will not get you one of the primary goals for an education, that is learning to work with others. Part of learning to work together involves working with other students but also working with teachers, being a person representing someone from whom there might be much to learn.

There is a great deal of choice in such programs: you get to choose your major and/or minor courses of study. Within majors and minors there are often choices to be made (concentration areas, this course or that course to meet a requirement, etc.). Within general education requirements, there are often choices to be made, and of course electives are pure choice.

One does get to choose what one learns even within courses. I was one of those students who didn’t necessarily do everything I was directed to do. I had my own goals and if there was a conflict between a professor’s goals and mine, well the professor didn’t always win out, at least for my attention. (As a consequence I didn’t have a sterling grade record. I just couldn’t be motivated to jump through every hoop.)

So, as to choosing what one learns in a college education, there are a great many choices but those are balanced against the system which was created which offers guidance in the form of recommendations, requirements, standards, etc.

So, what Mr. Lex suggests is available to anyone who wants to follow their own path, but it is a very difficult path. You not only need to identify what it is you want to learn, but also how to learn it, then manage your time and effort, plus figuring out when you have learned enough and how well you have learned that.

An endeavor that allows for this process quite nicely is that of becoming a writer. There are a great many “how to write” resources available, many of which are free of cost. And once you have some idea of what you are doing, you need to write, and write, and write. (It is probably best to throw away your first efforts or stash them away. I kept a folder of some of my college papers, labeled “Lest I Forget.” Every once in a while I would take some out and remind myself of what I was capable and it helped me be less negative about the efforts of my students.) On the Internet there are also quite a number of sites where you can “publish” what you write and get feedback on it, not necessarily helpful feedback but some feedback. You can even get paid for those writings, although not much. A number of authors have parlayed writing for the Internet into writing for general publication and made more than a nice living at it, but those people are few and far between. Even accomplished high quality authors have difficulty making a living at it. (Go on Quora and ask Mercedes Lackey or C.S. Friedman for advice, straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.)

The self-educated aren’t getting guidance from experts they can interact with, nor the benefit of the structure provided by a college (this professor and room are reserved for this class at this day and time, etc.) and they certainly aren’t learning how to work with others. To do that, you need “others.”

Too often, people complain about their educations as if it were something done to them. (I rail against teachers who have the same mindset.) A quality education is something you do with others, some of whom you grant some authority over you for a time. You do not have to do this, you choose to do this. If you do not like what you chose, choose differently.

And with regard to “I still can’t believe I just sat there and willingly learned what other people told me to learn,” all I can say is you weren’t holding up your part of the bargain. And I am not saying you should be constantly moaning “Why do we have to learn this?” at your teachers, but at least you need to look to see if you could determine why it is that you needed to learn that. (It is okay to go to your professor’s office and ask them, too. Asking that question in class can be disruptive, to those who already know or just accept that better educated people thought it necessarily for them to learn that and were satisfied with that.

August 23, 2022

Gosh Conservatives Have Been Lying About Public Schools . . . for Decades?

It is common for reformers to overstate the ills they wish to address, but this is an abomination.


August 17, 2022

Teaching is Easy, Anyone Can Do It

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 10:12 am
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I need to tell you a story to refute the nonsense of this title. I was for almost 40 years a college professor teaching chemistry to undergrads. I had BS and MS degrees from accredited universities, a teaching credential, etc.

My niece was a primary school teacher, then teaching a combined Grade 1-2 class of middle class California kids. In conversation one day, she invited me to come to her classroom and do a “special presentation” about what chemistry was all about for her class. I agreed wholeheartedly. So, since I had a 20 minute time slot of class time to fill, I prepared carefully, loading up on visual aides, demonstrations, etc. Then, knowing that things don’t always go as planned, I prepared another 20 minutes worth, and upon further thought, a third 20 minutes worth. That should be enough, I thought.

So, I dressed in a white lab coat, goggles, the entire chemical uniform, and carried my box of demonstrations into my niece’s classroom. The children were very responsive to her directions and were soon “gathered round” a table and I was introduced. Then, and this could have been a cartoon, whoosh, I went through the first 20 minutes worth of material, then the second, and the third, and even answered questions and, a grand total of 16 minutes had elapsed.

And I was exhausted.

From that point onward I have advocated for turning the teacher’s salary pyramid upside down. Instead of primary school teachers being paid the least and college professors the most, I argued that primary school teachers should get paid the most and college professors the least.

This was based upon the difficulty of the job.

Grade school teachers have to teach every student they are sent. College professors teach adults and, if a student doesn’t like the course or the teacher, they can withdraw from the course. If a student was disruptive, we could withdraw them from our classes. We could send adults away to learn. and failure was an option. If anyone thinks failure is an option in primary school, I suspect they have never endured a parent-teacher conference in which the parent was really pissed off.

Teaching is not easy. Not just anyone can do it, and especially not with either no training or a five week training course. Anyone who advocates otherwise is trying to tear apart the public school system for reasons that, I believe, have nothing to do with the quality of the education the kids are receiving, but definitely something to do with either politics or profit.

I still have not gotten a coherent question from the “let’s use business methods folks” as to how extracting profits from a school budget improves the quality of the product?

I would love to hear anyone answer this question.

July 31, 2022

Deep in the Pockets in Texas

The above title is the title of a CNN Special Report, now available on YouTube. I watched it last night and it is truly alarming. (If you have any interest in the future of American politics, I recommend viewing this—it is 42 minutes or so long.)

In short, it is a documentary about how two billionaires who have decide to run the State of Texas as their little fiefdom. And they are pulling it off. Texas is basically a one party state. Democrats don’t get much traction down there. And so Republican primaries are critical for state office holding. And these two guys, and the political action committees (PACs) they have created, and special interest groups, etc., etc. dominate all of those elections and many local ones, too. They even keep a scorecard on the Internet telling people how “conservative” the various office holders are, but that is basically a rating that determines whether they will get monetary support in the next election or a challenger that will be lavishly funded.

Oh, by the way, Texas is one of a dozen states that doesn’t limit how much a candidate can take from any one source, so some of these candidates get 60, 70, even 80 percent of their “donations” from the two of them. To claim there is no quid pro quo involved is more than naïve. This part is not shocking. This is becoming the norm in red states.

What is shocking is that these two billionaire buddies are Christian Nationalists and Christian Dominionists. Neither believes in the separation of church and state (and even claim that that is not part of our Constitution or traditions). They want Texas to run on the basis of a Christian Worldview.

Based on the Christian Bible, political matters are decided by men, wealthy men, and priests. Women are second-class citizens with few rights, and children have no rights at all. There is no democracy, no voting, no public polls, no representative government, no government of the people, by the people, for the people. There is no balance of powers, it is Yahweh or the highway with these folks. Can you spell oligarchy, boys and girls?

Apparently one of the two got his start in state politics stumping for public funding of religious private schools. When that effort failed he found his current partner and they have decided to remake the politics of the entire state. And, of course, what is good for the State of Texas is good for the entire country. Yes, they have dreams to go nationwide.

There is a stop gap measure that will slow these assholes down, but probably not stop them. Currently, for example, outside money can support candidates for your current school board and, when they take over, tell your schools how and what to teach your children. So, should “outsiders” tell us how to run our schools? This is currently happening in Texas, and many other places in our country. A simple corrective is to restrict fundraising to within the districts that are being served. So, for a school board election, funds could only be raised from people who live in the school district. Why should anyone outside of that district have a say in how we school our children? The same should go for all elections. If you are running for state senate, you should only be able to solicit funding from people who live in your senatorial district. If you are running for the Federal Senate, to represent the State of Texas, you may collect donations from anyone who lives in the state. Why should anyone outside of Texas have any say as to who represents the citizens of the state? Now, we all still have free speech, so if you want to go to Texas, rent a hall, and give a speech, you may. You just can’t send cash, material goods, or material support to the candidate or issue you support.

This would not stop the rich assholes out to destroy our country, but it would slow them down. Basically it is drawing a simple distinction between honest political advocacy and influence peddling, which is illegal already.

Addendum Of course, their interpretation of our governmental founding and structure is flawed and so is their theology. That doesn’t even slow these people down. And now that they have allies on the Supreme Court, we are in for a rocky ride.

July 13, 2022

Big Lies are Woven into the American Story

Mafia Don Trump’s Big Lie, that the 2020 election was “stolen” through voter fraud, is still an infant. It won’t become a toddler until this Fall. Many people are addressing Trump’s Big Lie as if it were unprecedented in U.S. history. It is not. In fact, Big Lies are woven into the tapestry of this country.

By definition, a big lie has to be large in scope as well as being patently untrue, just repeated over and over until it can masquerade as a truth.

In my life I have seen quite a few. Remember the Gulf of Tonkin incident? It led the U.S. to fully engage in the War in Viet Nam. Of course, we found out later it was a lie. Remember Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction? These imaginary weapons were used as a justification to wage yet another war.

If you spend a little time reflecting you will discover more than a few: Elizabeth Holmes, the creator of the bio-tech company Theranos, promised to revolutionize blood testing but was convicted of fraud when it was found out that she had just lied her way to prominence and billions of dollars of venture capital, etc.

But in this country’s history, the biggest Big Lie dates back a ways. No, not to Revolutionary times, although there were lies enough to go around, I am talking about just after the Civil War, over 150 years ago. You remember the Civil War, when a handful of Southern states treasonously declared war on the rest of the states, you know the states called the United States. They ended up losing that disastrous war, but to this day there are still claims that they didn’t lose and that they are still fighting. There are claims that the Civil War was about state’s rights (even though the state’s statements of succession all mentioned their desire for slavery to continue as it had as the primary cause).

Just after the war ended, a disgruntled Southerner assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, but accounts of the story taught in our schools never mention the role the Southern state’s treason. The U.S. President, ranked by many as our greatest, was assassinated by a Southern traitor and that never gets mentioned! Confederate President Jefferson Davis, and Gen. Robert E. Lee were traitors under the U.S. Constitution’s definition of treason, according to William A. Blair, yet neither man – nor any other Confederate – was ever tried for the crime. So many families lost people during the war that there was little energy for vengeance and the North opted for reconciliation. We were paid back by the Biggest Big Lie of American History, that of the “Lost Cause,” the fight for the rights of states to not be dominated by the federal government.

Just a century ago, southerners began erecting large numbers of statutes honoring “heroes” of the Civil War, no, not Northern soldiers but Southern traitors. Imagine the people of Boston raising a statue of Benedict Arnold, shortly after the Revolutionary War. There have been no statues raised of Benedict Arnold but we have more than 700 monuments to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate soldiers and politicians who betrayed our country (as of 2020). And this does not count the public buildings, schools, etc. that bear the names of the traitors.

The ironic thing is if you ask school kids who have studied American history to name a traitor to the U.S., they will all pipe up “Benedict Arnold,” whose name is synonymous with treason, but none will mention any of the Southern state’s traitors who did far more damage and cost far more lives. Gee, I wonder why that is? (Look at how textbooks are sold and to get maximum sales, books have to be “acceptable” to a large number of states, especially the biggest ones: California, Texas, etc. Texas, notably, has tried to get slavery in the U.S. downplay as “not being that bad,” “Slaves were treated like family,” etc.)

The recent battle over displaying the Confederate battle flag on public buildings in the South was part of the ongoing Big Lie. They claimed the Southern Civil War battle flag, called the “Rebel Flag” in the vernacular, as merely a token of Southern culture. It didn’t have any meaning otherwise. (They apparently didn’t ask many Black people about that.) My suggestion was to let them keep their flag but it had to be overprinted with a giant “L” because they were and are losers. They lost. So, the flag should stand for the simple lesson that traitors end up losing. Now there is a lesson from American History . . . and a part of Southern culture.

More and more southerners are giving up the Lost Cause Big Lie but it is over 150 years old and not dead yet. Let us hope that Trump’s Big Lie can be laid to rest much more quickly.

May 15, 2022

Intelligent Design Goes Boom!

Can’t let a Sunday go by without a post about religion. I seem to do this religiously. Does than mean . . . nah! S

The theory of intelligent design has been promoted as a serious competitor to the theory of evolution to explain the current mix of biological species here on Earth. It hasn’t been taken seriously by scientists, however, because it isn’t a scientific theory, etc. But that is not the point I wish to make here (as it has been made over and over and over . . .). I have even made jokes that “intelligent design” might be something a sufficiently powerful alien might pull off because there is nothing in the “theory” of intelligent design that indicates the Christian God did it. The authors of the theory of intelligent design, of course, make no bones about this being the work of a god, specifically their god, the god of fundamentalist Christians. But I wasn’t aware that John Stuart Mill destroyed the theory of intelligent design 150 years ago! Here is a quote displaying Mill’s position:

. . . what is meant by design? Contrivance: the adaptation of means to an end. But the necessity for contrivance—the need of employing means—is a consequence of the limitation of power. Who would have recourse to means if to attain his end his mere word was sufficient? The very idea of means implies that the means have an efficacy which the direct action of the being who employs them has not. Otherwise they are not means but an encumbrance . . . if the employment of contrivance is in itself a sign of limited power, how much more so is the careful and skillful choice of contrivances? Can any wisdom be shown in the selection of means when the means have no efficacy but what is given them by the will of him who employs them, and when his will could have bestowed the same efficacy on any other means? Wisdom and contrivance are shown in overcoming difficulties, and there is no room for them in a being for whom no difficulties exist. (John Stuart Mill, Theism, pp. 33-34, 1874 Edition)

And to summarize Mill’s point, I offer another quote:

As Mill points out, there can be no obstacles to divine omnipotence—no difficulties that God must overcome—because God’s “will” is sufficient to produce any effect. The necessity of employing means to accomplish an end is the consequence of limited power; therefore, God cannot be said to employ means in any sense. Extending this argument, we also realize that God cannot be said to act in any manner, because actions are required only of a being who must resort to some means in order to accomplish a given end. Nor can God be said to have any kind of purpose, because “purpose” entails unfulfilled desires or goals—and these concepts cannot apply to an omnipotent being. (George H. Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (emphasis mine)

So, can an omnipotent Creator God design anything? Apparently not. And, accordingly, He makes no plans as plans are a contrivance to accomplish something that couldn’t be accomplished without them. So, “God has a plan for you,” uh, not. No purpose, no plan, no designs . . . or omnipotence is off the table. I think maybe it is more than IDT that has gone “boom.”

Postscript I have made this same argument against the existence of angels because an omnipotent being shouldn’t need “messengers” as it would take more effort to explain a task to an angel than to do it itself.

May 3, 2022

The Pervasiveness of Memes

Mankind was not made to suffer. Bliss is our nature. (David Lynch)

Christianity and creationism are woven into our culture. It is so finely woven in that sometimes it is hard to see.

Take the quotation above. I know it is true because mankind was not “made” and thus cannot have been “made for a reason.” Mankind, like Topsy, just grow’d. Weren’t no creator.

Imagine the unsuspecting child, immersed in a culture in which people are constantly exclaiming things like that. Things like: “She has a gift from god.” or worse “She is gifted.” A child believing she has gifts has been primed to find out that, surprise, it is the family god who bestowed those gifts upon her.

When children ask about a relative who has died, they may hear “He has gone to meet his reward.” Or “He is looking down on us now.” This is Christian propaganda, but the child probably doesn’t know that.

Even non-religious children receive a heavy dose of this indoctrination.

So, when theists ask why we atheists care, why can’t be just let people be, this is what I think of: unsuspecting children of Christians and non-Christians being taught to believe bullshit and thus being primed to believe other fairy dust being sold by politicians and corporations through the years. Once you accept things as being true having no good reason to believe so, you have just been admitted to the land of the Gullible and will be sold many other bullstuffs.

March 24, 2022

Why Do So Many Kids Hate to Read?

Filed under: Culture,Education,language,Technology — Steve Ruis @ 10:55 am

There are, and have always been, people who do not like to read. From things I have read it seems that their numbers are increasing as a fraction of all of us.

There is a societal aspect to this. There are parents who read to their children all of the time and then acquire them “pablum” books to read themselves. There are also parents who have next to no books in their houses and do not read to their children. I presume this has an effect upon children raised in such households.

Sadly, many kids learn to hate reading for the simple fact that they were never given anything interesting to read. Most school books are painful to read and have been so mangled by reading level sweeps and censorship sweeps, as to be incoherent. (They may be “New” but they certainly aren’t “Improved.”)

I think another major factor is imagination. Before TV and video and the Internet, people told stores and, later read stories. As the words tumbled by our imaginations gave life to the dragons, and knights in shining armor, and brave princesses.

Most of you do not remember life before TV, but I was born in 1946 and we got our first TV in 1953, So, I was part of a household that listened to the radio. It was similar to being read to or a story being told and our imaginations did the heavy lifting. (Going to “the movies” was an infrequent thing at the time.) But soon came TV/video/Internet and our imaginations were required less and less.

My guess is that children raised with “handheld devices” constantly available will find reading laborious and somewhat colorless, compared to the whiz-bang visual extravaganzas available to them in vast quantities.

For those who eschew reading, a connection with the past is lost. You can read a writer’s thoughts directly and there is little translation. If you have to wait for the movie or mini-series to come out, you will be getting a treatment one or more steps removed from the original. (Anyone who loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s books was not entirely happy with the movie adaptations.) It is somewhat like reading something translated from another language. Some nuances will be lost. Scholars wishing to seriously study historical documents, for example, learn the languages they were written in so that such translating problems are minimized.

If you have a child who despises reading, a last gasp attempt to show the value to him/her may be as simple as when your child expresses a love for any topic (and I mean any) give them a gift of a good, easy to read book on that topic. It may encourage further explorations.

March 20, 2022

There are Lies and Then There are Breitbart Lies

The Breitbart internet “news” site ran a story claiming a Virginia boy committed suicide because of COVID mandates and critical race theory.

They left out a few things, for example, that the boy had graduated from high school the year before the pandemic broke out and that his school doesn’t teach Critical Race Theory.

Here are the details: Breitbart Claim: Boy Kills himself due to Critical Race Theory and COVID Mandates

If the freedom of the press shall not be infringed, what about the freedom to lie through the press? Is that protected, too?

March 17, 2022

Making Tradeoffs

In Ryan Holliday’s daily blog today he stated “Life has always required making tradeoffs. Life has always placed certain restrictions on people. Life has always included people who face the problem and people who run from it, people who prioritize their own wellbeing and people who look out for the common good. Life, as Seneca would say, has always been in the habit of shattering, as (Michael) Dell writes, our ‘cherished ways of life.’”

Living in a society, instead of a small band/family, requires myriad tradeoffs from all. The saying is “you have to go along to get along.” For example, in this country we have, collectively, decided to drive our cars on the right side of the road. This is a safety measure. (I remember being in a cab in Vienna long ago, on a circle road and cars were lining up opposite us waiting for the light to change. But there was no dividing strip or even painted line about how far one could go. So, there were maybe eight-ten lanes and there were eight-nine cars lined up in opposition on each side of the intersection to one another. The light changed and then everyone rushes forward, jockeying to get into a position to get through the tangle ahead of the others. Madness! I can still remember the fear I felt in being a part of this . . . although, I am sure, the cabby was a veteran and knew what he was doing, still, a little enforced order would have been welcome.)

Driving on the right side of the road is not to be found in scripture anywhere. It is not god ordained, it is a rule we made up so we could get along easier. Anyone claiming that such a rule is an impingement upon their personal freedoms and doesn’t apply to them will be looked upon in horror and disdain. We were taught over and ever in my youth that “ignorance of the law is no defense/excuse.” I think we might need to add “you don’t get to pick and choose which laws you will obey and which you will not.”

Living in a society involves myriad such tradeoffs. I give up some freedoms I might want to claim and I get, in return, something like security.

For example, and again collectively, because banks weren’t the most stable organizations in our society, we decided to provided universal account insurance (within limits, e.g. type of account, amount of money in it, etc.). So by regulating banks (requiring certain rules be followed), the banks could have this insurance, which is reassuring to the bank’s depositors and “good for business.” No longer do you have to fear that a bank “run” will close your bank and you will lose all of the money you kept in it.

We have collectively decided to tax ourselves to provide national defense, lifting that burden from the individual states. Collectively we have decided that all children must receive a minimum education, for the betterment of society. (When I was young, this was about making “good citizens” (hidden message “out of immigrants”). We tax ourselves so as to provide all children this same education. Well-to-do parents can supplement the educations of their children without limit, but public education provides a common experience for all proto-citizens.

Well, all of these things used to be true. But much of the above now seems to be under attack. Ranchers in the West seem to be claiming that they have sovereign powers over land owned by the public, and are willing to shoot first and ask questions later. Parents are claiming the right to tailor their children’s public school curriculum, a recipe for chaos if there ever was one. I don’t see how public schooling would then provide a common experience if every child get’s their own parent-approved “special” curriculum.

National and state legislators are beating their drums for special rules for religion-based organizations to allow them to violate anti-discrimination laws that we passed so that all of us could “go along to get along.” They are defending what they claim are God-given rights to unfairly discriminate. And of course, they are cherry-picking those rights in the extreme. None of these “reformers,” for example, is trying to get Jesus’s rule that divorces should be illegal set in stone anywhere. And, the rules have always been “if you want to play in my sandbox, you play by my rules” in this country. You can’t go investing in the stock market, for example, freely using insider information. You will be arrested and put in jail. But these people are clearly claiming that they want to make up their own rules.

If you are going into business, you can’t also claim special treatment. All of the free-market economists would be screaming bloody-murder, I am sure. (Yes, I am being sarcastic. Those folks only say what they are paid to say.) The religious are claiming that they get to play by their own rules in business, without clearly stating what their own rules are. They are using a smokescreen of toleration of religion (it is almost a taboo to ask them to justify their beliefs) to exercise their personal likes and dislikes and they are being taken seriously. Hey, if you don’t like the rules of the game, don’t play! Can you imagine the reception you would get in a casino if you insisted on the rules of any of their games be changed . . . mid-game? (Security! Escort this customer to the curb, please.)

And this is the reaction we should have to all of the efforts to change the rules of the game to make our society less stable. We should show them the curb.

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