Let’s start with some good political news

“We thought everybody had already been divided into voters and vessels. The voters got to pass restrictions, and the vessels got to sit there and smile! ” — Alexandra Petri on the pro-choice win in Kansas. It’s also amusing to see Republicans insist it means nothing. And Aaron Coleman, abusive teenage Kansas State Rep. (Democrat, I’m sorry to say) came in last in his re-election primary. That I’m happy to say.

One of the Jan. 6 seditionists is getting seven years in prison.

An ad by a pro-choice group really socks it to Texas governor Greg Abbott.

Donald Trump has a long history of threatening and filing lawsuits to get his way. I don’t think his CNN Is Mean To Me lawsuit will be successful.

Alex Jones knows his Sandy Hook trial is not going well so he’s resorted to ranting about how his judge is demonically possessed. And while he’s trying various tactics — bankruptcy to avoid paying damages, paying money to a company his family owns — it sounds like the plaintiffs’ attorneys are pushing back hard. I hope they leave him living under a bridge. But even then he’ll probably still have fluffers in the media. And the “shooting was a false flag” argument lives on.

Now for some not-so-good Republican political insights:

West Virginia’s Chris Pritt thinks forcing dads to pay child support will lead to them pressuring women to get abortions, so it’s bad.

Biden went back to work after covid much faster than Trump. Sean Hannity says that’s not because Biden was vaccinated, it’s because the strain he caught was puny compared to TFG.

Illinois gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey says the Holocaust was nowhere near as bad as American abortion.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville objects to the new PACT act because among other reasons, the VA would be giving veterans prostate cancer care.

Arizona Republicans are stealing pens from election sites in the belief they’re designed to change your vote.

Republicans are banning books. Democrats are holding hearings on book bans. So clearly both sides are exploiting the issue.

The continued right-wing claim that despite Jan. 6 and Charlottesville, it’s the left that’s violent.

Florida’s Governor DeFascist is all about parental rights, unless parents let little kids go to drag shows. He will not, however, condemn ne0-Nazis — after all, they’re supporting him!

I may have mentioned this before, but some Republicans oppose a school lunch-funding bill because it won’t let schools deny trans or gay kids lunch. Twenty Republican-led states are suing over the rule.

Alleged sex-trafficker Matt Gaetz is one of 20 House Republicans voting against an anti-human trafficking bill.

 

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Black confederates, black travel, black helicopters and Shakespeare: books read

SEARCHING FOR BLACK CONFEDERATES: The Civil War’s Most Consistent Myth by Kevin M. Leman looks at claims by Confederate nostalgists and others that the Confederate Army ranks included hundreds, perhaps thousands of slaves and free blacks who fought against the Yankee invaders — doesn’t that prove the war was about states’ rights, not slavery? As Leman details, the Black Confederate has no basis in reality (when the CSA considered arming slaves at the end of the war, it was clear this was an unprecedented step). It springs partly from confusion about slaves who served as cooks or valets when their masters enlisted, partly from people refusing to believe the CSA’s prime directive was preserving slavery, partly from the occasional outright fraud (passing off photos of black Union soldiers as Confederates). A good book.

When I wrote Southern Discomfort, my friend Michele Berger suggested that a town that allowed black travelers to visit and stay without being lynched would have been mentioned in the legendary Green Book, a travel guide for black motorists (she was right, and I worked that into the backstory). While I knew a little about the Green Books, I learned more from  OVERGROUND RAILROAD: The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor.

When the guide started in the 1930s, segregation on buses and trains was often humiliating; driving avoided that, but there was the risk of violence if they drove through or stopped in the wrong place. Victor Green’s travel guide identified businesses  that welcomed black customers, from hotels to restaurants; thanks to the relatively progressive Esso gas company selling it through their stations it reached many more black drivers than it would have otherwise.

Taylor looks at the Green Book through the years, using it to chronicle changes in society and in travel and the problems in the book itself such as colorism in the illustrations. She also covers some of the businesses once listed in the book, most of them now gone (as are many of the buildings). The book includes a lot of Taylor’s ruminations on race in America which make it as much a political essay as a history book, but it’s still a good history book (and I can’t say her points about racism are anything I’d disagree with) .

BLACK HELICOPTERS by Blythe Woolston is an odd story but well-executed story in which the teenage daughter of an off-the-grid radical slides into terrorist bombing, joining a cult and finally becoming a suicide bomber herself. Interesting more than engaging.

BURNING SHAKESPEARE by Shakespeare professor AJ Hartley has a college president strike a deal with the devil (literally) to go back in time and destroy all of Shakespeare’s works. College, in his view, exists to train people for real-world jobs, not sappy major like English and theater; if there’s no Shakespeare, perhaps there’s not enough English literature for anyone to study, problem solved! This leads an angel to recruit a teamo f the newly dead to save the plays, but the black guy on the team isn’t so sure Othello needs saving — and on top of that, there’s an even worse threat lurking alongside the machinations of heaven and hell. The humor is very much in the Good Omens vein but it works (I have a couple of quibbles about the ending but it sticks the landing) and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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Japanese time travel, Hitchcock and the Flash: movies and TV

BEYOND THE INFINITE TWO MINUTES (2021) is a Japanese time-travel comedy in which a coffee-shop owner discovers his PC monitor and the TV in the shop are linked so that the monitor shows events occurring downstairs two minutes into the future. His friends are convinced they can make money off this thing but the protagonist worries no good will come of it, especially when knowing the future apparently kills his chance of dating a neighboring business owner. A fun one with a sense of humor reminiscent of the goofy Japanese Summer Time Machine Blues. “What is the capital of Sri Lanka?”

Hitchcock/Truffaut is a famous book on Alfred Hitchcock’s films that I checked out of the library, though I haven’t read it yet. I did, however, watch HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (2015), a documentary describing how celebrated French filmmaker Francois Truffaut came to interview Alfred Hitchcock about his work, and the impact it had on filmmakers from Wes Anderson to Martin Scorsese. When the book came out in 1966, Hitchcock was still a Mere Entertainer while Truffaut was an Artiste so Truffaut taking Hitch seriously was a very book deal. The documentary was good, but definitely doesn’t substitute for the book. “You have the habit of not necessarily looking for implausibility but of not avoiding it if it’s useful.”

The eighth season of FLASH started very poorly as everything seems to be going wrong for Barry with the various other Arrowverse superheroes stepping in to stop him. Then it turns out it’s an elaborate plot by Reverse Flash to change history, take over Barry’s life and cast him as the villain of the series. It doesn’t work but it was great watching him try.

Then we move on into a somewhat rambling season including a mercifully watered down version of the Blackest Night event in comics, the appearance of the Negative Speed Force and a new super-speedster, Fast Track, joining Team Flash. If not their best, overall it was satisfying, particularly Thawne’s final fall. “I told you before, Flash, finding ways to kill you was my life’s work.”

#SFWApro. Cover by Carmine Infantino, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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It’s a trap — and I walked right into it!

Not really trapped but I do perhaps feel a little hemmed in. As it’s by good stuff and I had a good week, perhaps it’s more that I’m a bird in a gilded cage?

Yesterday McFarland mailed me the PDF of The Aliens Are Here for me to proof, edit and index. This is quite a job, especially the unimaginable tedium of indexing. Due by early September (the book comes out late that month). And wouldn’t you know, after a couple of months of quiet, Leaf suddenly has a ton of articles available. And one of my other clients wants me to do an accounting article.

I think this will rule out any chance of writing any more fiction this month. But that’s okay: I knew the proofs would arrive, I know from experience how much time it takes so I was prepared to drop everything. Well, except the paying stuff.

Oh, and I have a story I need to approve the edits on. I got an email Monday offering to buy Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates and of course I said yes. I got the email today saying they’d done the edits, would I take a look please? But hey, that’s a job I’ll do with pleasure.

I’ve also got some work to do on promoting Questionable Minds. That’ll have to wait, but it can’t wait too long.

But that’s a boatload of sudden deadlines when I normally don’t have any. I’m not really complaining because it’s all good, I just wish the timing had been spaced out. Still, having too much work as a freelancer is better than not having enough work.

Prior to everything heating up, I went over Don’t Pay the Ferryman and I think it’s in good shape. I’m ready to give it a final edit, but obviously not right now. And I finished this draft of Impossible Takes a Little Longer. It’s not looking as good but a first shot at replotting went surprisingly easily. Possibly the problems are more fixable than I thought. Again, not something to tackle right now.

Oh, I also had a filling adjusted yesterday. And posted a couple of articles at Atomic Junkshop, one on the debut of Marvel’s SHIELD and another on comic reboots that missed the point.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holders.

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I thought Wisp was a bush cat?

“Bush cat” meaning that she prefers ground level to climbing. Outside of settling on the back of the couch she doesn’t climb onto anything indoors, and not much outside. However …

Saturday morning we went out to walk the dogs. We heard a persistent, worried meowing but we couldn’t find the cat. We saw Snowdrop in the area but it clearly wasn’t him making the noise. Finally TYG looked up and realized we couldn’t track the sound because it was coming from overhead. Wisp had climbed up 20-30 feet and she was now sitting in the crook of a tree branch, asking for help getting down. Snowdrop stuck around for moral support I guess.

I called the Durham Fire Department but it turns out that contrary to TV, they don’t get cats out of trees. TYG figured Wisp could probably do it herself if we offered an incentive so I went inside and brought out a bowl of kibble. Right after that she started climbing down, the cat way — backwards.She made it down but did not eat the food or seem to want us close. Within a day, however, she was back to being her usual affectionate self.

We have no idea what drove her up there. Coyote would be the obvious choice. I suppose it could have been some human cat hater, too. Either way, it’s a relief she’s safe at ground level again.

#SFWApro.

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Interracial marriage is bad, 25 percent of Republicans say

Sure, Loving v. Virginia is 50 years old but plenty of people still hate black/white marriages (and other “race mixing”). One-quarter of Republicans opposing mixed marriage doesn’t surprise me. Like abortion, contraception and gay marriage, it’s the kind of personal decision right-wingers don’t think people should be able to make — and the logic behind the Dobbs decision could easily extend that way.

It’s also not surprising that the CPAC right-wing conference had no problems with Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban condemning mixing the races in a recent speech. They’re not disinviting him to speak; I suspect it’s one more reason for them to love him.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court’s ruling about the high school coach who led his team in prayer has unsurprisingly encouraged other Christian conservatives to impose more prayer. For all the whining about how prayer has been pushed out of the schools, it hasn’t; federal law solidly protects the right of children to pray. And  curiously, the same conservatives who complain that even talking about “gay” in schools takes away parents rights are fine with ignoring parents who don’t want organized, coercive school prayers.

Even before Don’t Say Gay, the religious right claimed comprehensive sex ed grooms children. You can make a better case for abstinence only sex ed grooming kids because it ignores consent. As Elizabeth Smart said at the link, her classes taught her having sex made her worthless, so after her rape/kidnapping what was the point in escaping? She was damaged goods. The right wing preaches the issue with date rape isn’t coercive sex, it’s that the slut had sex. Nothing makes kids (or adults) more vulnerable to consent than teaching that consent is irrelevant.

And while the forced-birth movement insisted for years that they would never punish women for getting abortions, now that they’ve gotten Roe overturned, criminal penalties for women is looking good. North Carolina Republicans want the death penalty for women who get abortions. Oh, and remember how post-Dobbs the right wing insisted there was no risk to contraceptive rights? About that … Matt Gaetz tries putting lipstick on the pig by explaining he votes against the right to contraception because he’s so very pro-birth control. As Jennifer Rubin says, they aren’t pro-women and they aren’t pro-life. As witness one woman says after her Texas miscarriage it took two weeks to find a doctor who’d remove it.

Irin Carmon sums it up: everything the left predicted would come to pass if Roe fell has happened, and things we didn’t anticipate.

To put that in perspective, the right-wing predicted a string of nightmare scenarios if gay marriage became law (they still do). Straight marriage would collapse. Anti-gay preachers would be silenced! The Boy Scouts will have to shut down rather than admit gay scoutmasters (given subsequent scandals, that one really hasn’t aged well). None of that happened. Our prophets are better than theirs.

So are our historians. Northier Than Thou looks at a gun-lover who cites the US interning Japanese-American citizens as proof we need guns to defend ourselves against government. As the post points out, if Japanese Americans had fought back, or even showed their neighbors they were armed and ready for trouble, they’d be dead. Ditto civil rights activists, gays fighting for their rights, women marching for equal rights, etc. Heck, South Carolina prosecutor Culver Kidd has specifically claimed women can’t claim stand your ground if they kill an abusive partner in self-defense.

“In many of these instances,” the post goes on, “gun owners were actively involved in the very repression suffered by those in question. Since the founding of the country, gun violence has played a far greater role in the repression of civil rights than it has in protecting them. There are exceptions to be sure, but this narrative is not built on the exceptions. It is built on a fantasy that skips any active consideration of how these things actually work.”

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The female hero’s journey, the hot mess and martyrdom.

A post by screenwriter Tony Binns on FB (I thought I’d linked to it before, but I can’t find it) argues the female hero’s journey is different from the male: “The Heroes journey fantasy for men is always starting at the bottom and coming into your own, so you are the complete bad ass at the end. The heroes journey fantasy for women is to be acknowledged for the power they already possess.” Luke Skywalker rises from farmboy to Jedi, for example; Peggy Carter is tough from the beginning but she has to constantly push against men who refuse to see it.

I think there’s some truth to that, but only some. Although Brinn brings up Wonder Woman, for example, as someone fitting this template, in the comics she’s accepted as a hero almost from the start. CL Moore’s Jirel of Joiry is likewise tough and deadly from her first story, Black God’s Kiss and nobody ever thinks being a woman means she’s soft (that cover by Margaret Brundage does not do Jirel justice).

Then again, we have characters such as Batwoman or Pat Savage who get sidelined even though they’re shown to be perfectly competent. While they weren’t written with women readers in mind, I suspect plenty of women could identify with that.

But this version of the hero’s journey isn’t unique to women. The Get Smart! reboot movie, for example, is about Maxwell Smart proving he already has the skills to make it as a field agent, instead of being stuck behind a desk. The Seven Year Itch is one of several rom-coms where the protagonist’s character arc is being recognized as someone special: his wife may think he’s a henpecked nonentity but look, Marilyn Monroe is into him!

Then there’s the hot mess trope where the woman is awesome and recognized as such, but it’s undercut because she’s a screw-up in her personal life. For example, I can think of several female characters who are competent and formidable but oops, they make really bad choices in men (Black Canary in the early Birds of Prey stories, for example). I can’t think of many male characters like that: at worst it’s a matter of having made a bad choice of partner at the start of the story and finding a better one by the finish (as happens to the protagonist of Armageddon Rag).

Which Gail Z. Martin said on FB is typical of men in fiction: they can be screwups or failures and get redemption arcs while women get martyrdom arcs. A bad man or a screwup proves himself over the course of a movie: he redeems his past failures and gets a happy ending. Case in point, Clint Eastwood’s character in The Gauntlet is assigned to bodyguard a witness because his corrupt boss knows Eastwood’s a screw-up guaranteed to blow the job. Nope, Eastwood wins and gets his HEA. By contrast, a woman screw-up can only redeem herself by dying or some comparable level of self-sacrifice. Or, in the hot mess case, stay screwed up.

Like Binns, I don’t think this is a universal rule. Jennifer Connolly in Labyrinth, for example, redeems her original failure for letting the Goblin King take her brother. Angelina Jolie’s Russian mole does so in Salt. But I think there’s some truth to it.

In rom-coms the equivalent is the woman who screws up by prioritizing her career instead of her love life; to get her HEA she has to let her career die. I can’t think of a story offhand where the man’s career has to suffer. In My Best Friend’s Wedding, Cameron Diaz proves she deserves the leading man more than Julia Roberts because Diaz has postponed college and her honeymoon so her husband doesn’t have to interrupt his career.

As Gail notes in her post, this is analogous to real-world attitudes where sexual harassment a few years in your past should never affect your career.

#SFWApro. Armageddon Rag cover by David Swenson, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Hitting people over the head with a theme I don’t have

I appreciate the editorial feedback I got on Southern Discomfort, but that’s not to say I agree with all of it. One which had me scratching my head, for instance, was a criticism that I lack subtlety — I keep hitting my readers over the head with my theme.

I swear to God, I don’t have a theme. I did not set out to write a “Western Union” book, one with a heavy message. So I was somewhat baffled what the hell they were talking about.

My first thought was that they meant the racial aspect of the book. The cast in my early drafts were almost entirely white. While I could have rationalized that easily enough, that felt like bad form. I began thinking about what it would be like in Pharisee in 1973, just a few years after the major civil rights bills had passed. I decided the McAlisters would have done their best not to draw attention from the rest of Georgia, so they wouldn’t challenge segregation law. They would, however, prevent enforcing it with violence; it’s possible for a black worker to tell a white boss “go to Hell” and not pay for it.

For the older generation who remember when lynching was widespread in the South, Pharisee was a glorious haven. A safe place. A place where they desegregated smooth and fast, without conflict or protests (the McAlisters didn’t want that kind of attention either).  The Baby Boom kids aren’t so sure — are they really supposed to kiss the McAlisters’ hems just for mandating a kinder, gentler Jim Crow?

I don’t think that’s a theme, though, as much as characterization, both of the cast and the town as a whole. I mean yeah, I’m saying racism is bad but it doesn’t rise to the point of a theme.

Then I thought, maybe it’s the Vietnam War stuff? My protagonist, Maria Esposito, is an ex-Army nurse and Veitnam veteran turned anti-war activist turned radical anti-war bomber. She comes to see my villain Gwalchmai, as no different than the US government, rationalizing the deaths he inflicts as a dirty job someone has to do.

But again, I see Maria’s view of Gwalchmai as part of her characterization. “The Vietnam War was a bad idea” is, god help us, still controversial but it’s not something I’d make my theme in 2022. I do emphasize that Gwalchmai sees himself as the hero of the story and that I think he’s lying to himself but again, that’s character.

If it was really a theme-centered book, I’d probably end with the theme resolved, my point made. My ending (in terms of this old breakdown) is both Event — the crisis in Pharisee resolved, order restored — and Character. Maria gets her character arc resolved, so does Joan, who’s probably my chief supporting player. Some of the other characters, such as Olwen and Liz, get lower-key ones.

In any case, that’s one of the pieces of advice I’m not inclined to take. Which is not to say I don’t appreciate it being offered — I ‘m grateful when anyone in publishing takes the time to give me feedback, even if I don’t agree.

While it has nothing to do with this post, I do like this Richard Powers cover, so here it is.#SFWApro

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JD Vance: Stay with your abusive husbands, ladies!

According to Senate candidate JD Vance, the problem with making divorce easier is that people walk out on marriages for silly things like an abusive partner: “This is one of the great tricks that I think the sexual revolution pulled on the American populace, which is the idea that like, ‘well, OK, these marriages were fundamentally, you know, they were maybe even violent, but certainly they were unhappy. And so getting rid of them and making it easier for people to shift spouses like they change their underwear, that’s going to make people happier in the long term.”

When asked if he really meant people shouldn’t be able to divorce abusers, Vance went with the playbook from when he called for a dictatorship, whining that even asking the questions is biased. And he’s already answered it, so bygones! And unmarried partners abuse each other too, so divorce isn’t the issue, the left’s [non-existent] war on families is! Um, no, “unmarried couples have abuse problems” does not logically lead to “therefore divorce is bad.” And as a child of divorce I can safely say that while it’s not pleasant for kids, living in a dysfunctional family is worse — and my parents were not abusing each other.

Given his puppet-master Peter Thiel is a raving misogynist (see details at the link), maybe Vance shares his views. Then again, perhaps he’s dog-whistling to the religious right. A lot of them, like odious preacher John Piper, think spousal abuse isn’t as troubling as women defying their husbands (though if the husband proposes consensual kink, Piper suddenly discovers male authority has limits). And horror that liberals respect married women’s rights — the usual meaning of “war on families” — is common on the religious right too. So perhaps Vance’s bullshit response means he wants misogynist votes but he’s aware that won’t play well in the general election. But whether he’s a sincere misogynist or simply play-acting, he’s spewing an ugly message — faking it for votes is no excuse.

The equally odious Matt Gaetz went with one of the classics recently, that women’s looks invalidate their opinions. Specifically that pro-choice advocates are all ugly so they don’t have to worry about anyone getting them pregnant, haha, game over feminazis! Which is stupid, unimaginative bullshit, and of course wrong — rapists, for example, don’t pick victims based on looks. It’s cheap, third-rate trolling, but I doubt Gaetz is capable of better.

I get into this bullshit more in Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers.

I’ll wrap up with an unrelated but equally striking moment of shitbag behavior: flying into Iraq, Trump was so impressed with his own courage (the plane could have crashed, but he didn’t let them turn around!) that he wanted to award himself the Congressional Medal of Honor.

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TV comics, bicycles, romances and Klaus: books!

I picked up AMERICAN TV COMICS BOOKS 1940s — 1980s: From the Small Screen to the Printed Page by Peter Bosch because the idea of devoting a comic book to The Honeymooners, Sgt. Bilko or Welcome Back Kotter must seem like an alternate reality to millennial comics readers.

But back in the 1950s and 1960s, comics routinely turned to TV for spinoff material, some of which made it to series (DC’s Big Town and Mr. District Attorney) to one or two issues of Dell’s Four Color (Bosch also includes specials such as the Saturday Night Live cast teaming up with Spider-Man). While it’s understandable that Westers and detective series made the jump to comics, it’s remarkable how many sitcoms did — even Hee-Haw had a respectable run in comic book form.

This is obviously specialized but if you’re interested in the topic it’s an informative source with some real finds (both Jack Kirby and Gil Kane did unpublished adaptations of The Prisoner, now available in a pricey TPB). However it doesn’t include animated shows — to save space, I assume — and it doesn’t have an index, which is a real pain in the but if I’m looking for a particular actor or show.

TWO WHEELS GOOD: The History and Mystery of the Bicycle by Jody Rosen looks at how the early 19th century Laufsmachine (literally running machine — like Fred Flintstone’s car, riders propelled it by pushing their feet on the ground) and its successors has been variously seen as an indulgence for the rich, a tool of women’s liberation, a vehicle for protesters, a workhorse (the Bangladesh economy runs on a rickshaw/bicycle hybrid) and a practical tool in surprising circumstances (some Yukon prospectors made the trip by bicycle), plus the target of endless flak even before the automobile (horse and carriage riders found 19th century velocipedes just as objectionable). Interesting, if unfocused, so there are some angles, such as women finding freedom on bicycles, that I wish Rosen had gone deeper on.

While at Concarolinas I’d meant to pick up Lucy Blue’s sequel to Guinevere’s Revenge but I wound up with #4 in the Stella Hart Romantic Mystery series, THE PRINCESS AND THE PEONIES. Stella has returned from Hollywood to England for her wedding, but assorted obstacles seem to derail the road to martial bliss, including obnoxious relatives, a burglar and her fiancé’s ex becoming part of the bridal party. The mystery aspect is very slight but as a rom-com it works enjoyably (probably more so if I’d read the two intervening volumes).

TALES FROM THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: YOU LOOK LIKE DEATH by Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and INJ Culbard shows how Klaus became the first of the six to split from Hargreaves, ending up in Hollywood where he discovers drugs and gets involved in a supernatural sequel to Sunset Boulevard (with the serial numbers filed off). Odd but enjoyable, though I’d have preferred a fourth volume in the original series.

#SFWApro. Covers by Robert Oksner, Oksner again and Dave Cockrum.

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