Happy Father’s Day

There really is nothing quite as much fun as blowing minds, even more so the mind of an inquisitive child. What happens if your brain is in a jar in a room with a billion jars, etc., etc. How about that star getting sucked into the black hole, 3.8 billion years ago, today. There is just so much material available now that is truly mind-blowing stuff.

How much longer are you going to live daddy? Probably not much longer. How long am I going to live daddy? Maybe another 150 years! Science is changing everything. What we know, how long we know it. I grew up with V-8′s and B&W television. I distinctly remember being 5 years old and turning off the TV before dinner to “save” the show I was watching for later, only to be told no, it is coming through the air on radio waves. Now my kids can save anything they watch any time they watch it from any of the many devices they watch it on.

I’m still searching for a name for this device in my pocket we call a smartphone. Smartphone is just not enough, neither is computer. This little thing my kids take for granted has accelerometers, a magnetometer, gyros, and a GPS radio, none of which we fully utilize. One golf supply company wrote an app and designed a cradle that attaches The Device to your putter, no giggles please, that analyzes your stroke. Smartphone or computer just seems inadequate in light of these developments.

Then I try to imagine what it must have been like just a few thousand years ago, sitting around the fire, looking into the heavens, and trying to answer the questions that every kid has asked for a hundred thousand years and not having any answers. They thought they had answers, but we now know they were dumb as a box of rocks. Even so, for the last few thousand years parents have been giving their kids the same bullshit answers. Passing on ancient superstitions and fear.

I ask my kids, what are the most important inventions ever, in the whole history of the world. You know after language, pottery, zero, and magnets. What things have changed our, here’s the hint, view of the universe more than any other inventions. The telescope and the microscope is the unquestionable answer. The invention of both of these instruments is the starting point of everything that has blown our collective mind.

My son has seen Saturn’s rings and ice on Mars. We can see bacteria swimming in a drop of water. No more gods moving the heavens or demons invading our souls. We have more knowledge than that possessed by almost everyone that has ever lived. So, when they ask, what are we made of daddy? I have an answer. What is the Sun made of? Ditto. How big is the universe? How old is the universe? Where do we come from? Well, we think this…so far.

But the best part is I can say with all honesty, that all this may change.

And that is what daddies have never said before.

I love being a father today. Right now. Sitting around our fire. Looking at the same sky with a new view. Waiting for a question. Whether I have an answer, look it up on The Device, or get to say we don’t know, but maybe one day you will.

Happy Father’s Day to everyone who has ever sat by a fire under the stars with a child.

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How I Quit Drinking, Almost

On my fiftieth birthday I realized that I had been drinking at least a fifth of whiskey a day for over a year and not getting drunk. I didn’t otherwise lead a dissolute life. I ate two meals a day, jogged a few miles on the beach most mornings, weather permitting, and I made the daily bottle last from early evening until after midnight, but still…I should have felt something other than a slight elevation of mood and a gradual drift into drowsiness.

I was at the end of a divorce, a quite amicable one as divorces go—it was my fourth, so I know what I’m talking about. Joyce, the woman I was seeing, didn’t have a problem with my drinking. She usually got the first one out of the bottle each evening, which was her limit. She called it our ‘cocktail hour’. Compared to the drunks she knew in the Oregon logging town where she grew up, my drinking seemed almost sedate. But I was worried. And why not? After all, I spent one-third of my time drinking poison.
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Read Us While You Still Can

But we just got online! We’re just a baby. We’re too young to die!

techland.time.com – only a few years left until the social web kills off websites?

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Are Artists Liars? Absolutely…

moreintelligentlife.com – are artists liars?

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Is America Running Out of Psychopaths?

As St. Kurt himself would say, “Imagine that.” Of all the things for this country to run short of, I never imagined it would be those heartless bastards embedded in the military, government, corporations, universities, and hospitals. This country was built on the spirit of psychopathology, from Alexander Hamilton to George W. Bush. What shall become of the America we simultaneously love and fear if we run short of our most precious national asset?

Mr. President, we must not allow a psychopath gap!

David Schwartz at Common Dreams explores the problem:

commondreams.org – the rise of the second-string psychopaths

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Al Qaeda Instructs Terrorists To Stock Up At Local Gun Shows

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Where do we stand?

After billions of years of evolution, life on this planet is asking a question. Where do we stand? The pronoun – we – is meant to include all life, not to exclude all none homo sapien life. Life looks through our eyes, through telescopes we built. None of which would be possible without the bacteria that inhabits our bodies. We means all.

Thousands of years and theories have passed since life became sentient, most of it spent guessing. Theories built on ignorance. Now at the very last moment we have taken a look beyond every look ever taken. After hundreds of millions of years of blindness, we see a universe filled with galaxies, black holes, and a background radiation that points to our origin. Yet homo sapiens embrace ignorance.

What fear keeps the past held so close? Each threshold more difficult than the last, each one coming quicker, leaving less time to live with each new understanding. In the last few thousand years the universe, once simple and static, not much bigger than the edge of the Earth, is revealed beyond any guess. This world, this we, is depending on homo sapiens shedding outdated views and beliefs about the nature of our universe. Every other life form waits, while homo sapiens cling to the past, their collective foot hanging over the next step.

The impossible has happened. This world has been changed. Our survival is not put at risk by a few, but by billions. Billions refuse to shed belief for knowledge. Twisting or ignoring evidence to fit a world view formed in ignorance. They close their eyes and cover their ears in an effort to maintain a childlike naivete, while we slip towards a future that has lost all certainty, real or imagined. No time for mourning a childhood lost. No time for comfortable transitions. The point of no return is every moment.

We depends on us; we depends on us dropping beliefs built before science; we depends on us overcoming our fear, on us letting go, on us following the evidence not our hearts.

Where we stand depends on what each one of us accepts or believes. Accept the evidence or cling to belief. Where do you stand?

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Blue Bee Blues

Presented on a minuten pin, this little blue bee’s even smaller than you’d think.

I have a thing for Osmia, truly I do. I like the whole family. Never met a Megachilid that didn’t make my heart go pit-a-pat. They’re spectacular beasts. But Osmia, especially these little blue charmers? Ah, now here’s a beast, here’s a creature that seems right out of a fantasy story.

When I use the microscope to examine bees, I’m forever amazed and delighted by the shapes and colors and textures. I find them all handsome animals. And I wonder what it would be like to touch them, if I was that small. This is not, I admit, a typical reaction to have when seeing a magnification of an insect. A more expected response would be fear or revulsion, if not when contemplating them as their real life size, then certainly at the thought of a mosquito or spider as big as a terrier or a horse.

But I do imagine bees as big as horses, or myself the size of a medium ant. What would it be like to stand alongside a squash bee and run my hands over its “fur”?

And this one, what about that gleaming bumpy surface? What would it feel like to touch? I imagine it warmed by the sun. I suspect it feels like plastic.

Those mandibles are impressive. This is, after all, the same family as the leafcutters and woolcarders. They can snip, snip, snip with those scissor jaws. But if I am already pretending to be tiny, I can also imagine her docile, like a farm animal. She is not a predator or parasite. She gathers pollen and nectar for a living. Imagine going over her with a curry comb to clean up any stray pollen. Not that you’d ever need to. She, like all bees, keeps herself spit-spot clean. But I’d welcome the excuse to touch her. And, of course, I’d want to photograph her.

So yes, pretend you are small and your camera small too. Here’s a photo op for you. Here’s a star with rigid intricately-textured metallic blue skin and gleaming silver hair and hyaline wings and jewels for eyes. She’s no stranger to you. You’ve eaten plenty of fruit that she and her sisters have pollinated. Time to pay tribute.

You could bow your head, but better yet, you could just hold off on the insecticides. You could let go of the silly idea of a monoculture lawn. You could leave a bit of your yard wild, just a little bit, as nesting area for her. That would be a fitting tribute. Because she’s done ever so much more for you and your kind than you and yours have ever done for hers.


Words & Images Copyright All rights reserved by Ellen Bulger

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Remembering Conflicts On Memorial Day

The New York Times, our gray lady of perpetual sorrows, each day features a mini-history lesson on its editorial page. Today’s Memorial Day factoid is:

”On May 30, 1958, unidentified soldiers killed in World War II and the Korean conflict were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.”

It got me thinking about the decades-long journalistic practice of calling the Korean War a ”conflict” instead of a war. How did this happen? What criteria determine the difference between a war and a conflict? Maybe in the case of human slaughter it’s the body count that matters.

Approximately 35,000 American service members died in Korea, and approximately 55,000 in Vietnam. Yet the latter is called the Vietnam War and the former is called the Korean conflict (they don’t even capitalize “conflict”). The reason probably lies in the numbers. Let’s assume that the separation point from conflict to war is 50,000 corpses. So if a slaughter exceeds that figure it becomes a war and enters the books as such.

Well…maybe not the history books, but it certainly entrenches itself in the editorial staffs of American newspapers and magazines; and trying to get that breed to give up anything it’s grown fond of is harder than trying to get a bone away from a pit bull.

Now let’s extend the 50,000 slaughter rule instead of debating it. That would change editorial style sheets in the following way:

The Revolutionary Conflict
The Conflict of 1812
The Mexican-American Conflict
The Indian Conflicts
The Spanish-American Conflict
The Cold Conflict*
The Gulf Conflict
The Afghanistan Conflict
The Iraq Conflict

The other mass slaughters in our history are, then, justly named, although World War I barely makes the cut. I have long resigned myself to being a conflict veteran and not a war veteran, so if my proposed slaughter rule is adopted, the veterans of the past ten years will just have to do the same.

But the PTSD won’t change.


*There were many casualties during the years of The Cold Conflict. Over a hundred airmen alone were killed during the Berlin Airlift of 1948-49.

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The Toughest Kid at Hooverville School (1941)

Flint, Michigan 1941

We lived in a hooverville when I was a kid … but maybe I should qualify that.

If by hooverville you’re thinking of a shantytown made up of tin and cardboard or tree branches and loose sticks, no, it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t a hobo jungle along the railroad tracks full of homeless derelicts. I’m not talking about mud hovels or piano boxes or Paiute wikiups.

It was a neighborhood of small tar-papered wooden houses. most of them without plumbing, that had built up on the outskirts of the city. They lined the sides of unpaved dirt roads that criss-crossed what was partly farmland and a denuded hardwood forest. The people who lived there were mostly Southern migrants or foreign immigrants. In those days of de facto racial segregation it was an all-White area and we were called hillbillies by the city people whether we were from Tennessee or Hungary.

Such neighborhoods came to be called hoovervilles during the Great Depression, despite their not being temporary encampments, because most of the families who lived there were thrown out of work when the local auto factories cut production, and they tended to blame the hard times on President Herbert Hoover and his Republican party. Ironically, the K-12 school we walked to, weather permitting, had been named for him when it was built a decade earlier during better economic times.

Regardless of when it was built, Hoover school was still an ugly two-story cement box sitting on an otherwise barren field. There was a recess play area with swings and teeter-totters, and a hastily sketched-out baseball diamond and overlapping football field for the older students. There was no cafeteria, so most kids brought their lunch in paper sacks or lunch pails. Some of them didn’t eat lunch at all. During my five years there, from K to 5, it was often referred to as Hooverville School. It was not a happy place. It was an ugly school in a ramshackle neighborhood full of tough kids.
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1. Give it your divided attention. One part of your mind should be free to wander about the room, bum around town. The best poems, anyway, are departures to somewhere else.

2. If you suspect the poem is not telling the truth, do not be offended by or embarrassed for the poet. The best poems contain lies. Just because a thing is true doesn’t mean it’s interesting.

3. Remember that the poet has, in some way or another, invited you to sit and listen. You are a guest, often a paying one at that. You are the most important person in the room. If the poet seems unaware of this, then he or she is either an egomaniac or an asshole.

4. If the poet tells you too much about the poem before it is read, chances are he or she tells you too little in the poem. There are notable exceptions, of course — some prefaces are amusing and instructive — but they are usually examples of the art of bullshit, not the art of poetry.

5. Beware of the tortured and suffering poet. Such a person would be a tortured and suffering bricklayer or social worker. Misery is not an art, it is an affliction.

6. If people write poems for the purpose of self expression, they are hitchiking a ride away from boredom. Do not pick them up. It may be contagious. The only good reason for writing poems is to write good poems. This is a profound tautology at the center of all art.

7. Try not to applaud until the poet has finished for the evening. It can do little good and it may do much harm. Thus encouraged, poets will often continue long past their welcome.

8. Show pleasure if you are pleased. Try not to scowl too ferociously or yell ‘Fuck you’ if you are displeased. There is no need to frighten the poet.

9. Do not remark aloud on the poet’s appearance. A poetry reading is neither a fashion show nor a beauty contest.

10. Do not bring your mother. The chances are your mother does not like the same sort of poetry you do.

11. Do not bring your father. The chances are your father does not like poetry at all.

12. Do not throw sharp or heavy objects at the poet.


— Vaughn Marlowe


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The Man Who Cried Pussy (1963)

Jack was a marvelous liar. But he probably couldn’t help it. As my grandfather said about another man, ”He’d rather climb a tree to tell a lie than face you and tell the truth.” It seemed to be compulsive lying, something he had no control over … but maybe not. I have doubts because he had a successful career at Hughes Aircraft as an aeronautics engineer, where one of his coworkers told me that Jack was regarded by management as something of a genius. And he was also apparently a solid family man, with a wife and two young sons. Maybe he could control it, I don’t know. Perhaps it had something to do with being a reformed drunk, which he readily admitted. Furthermore, he was an Alcoholics Anonymous proselytizer who regularly visited the Santa Monica jail’s drunk tank; and although I don’t really know the drill, I imagine AA’s 12-Steps have something to say about lying.

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Fukushima #5

My friend Denis Chericone, pianist and composer, wrote this musical meditation the week of the Japan tsunami. Give it a listen. You’ll be glad you did.

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One Morning Gregor Samsa Awoke…

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Is The Kid Ready For University?

If you had it to do over, and if you could afford it, where would you try for?


My alma mater is #15, but I would try for #4— the weather is better and it’s not far from San Francisco, maybe the best big city in the world.

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Happy Birthday Pal!

There’s this guy I know, it’s his birthday. He’s been places. He’s seen things. He has a life worth celebrating. I figured I’d do it up for him, to the extent that the internet can accommodate.

But that wasn’t enough, really, for this guy. I need to go bigger. So here:

Better, but still, we need more. There’s going to be a crowd. They’re expecting lots:

All which gets us off to a good start, but I don’t want to drop the ball, so:

Okay, I think this will do it. This will make for a good birthday party:

Happy Birthday Pal!

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The Eye of An Artist


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Picnic at Bug Stump, a small yet delicious feast…

My friend Pat Volk recent put his RISD degree project up on teh intrawebs for us all to enjoy. It is charming. And this, my friends, was made by hand, with none of yer newfangled computers to help:

Picnic at Bug Stump by Pat Volk

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Have a Koch and a Smile!

The ever-lovable Billy Bragg had this up on his facebook page. It made me smile and I thought I would share it here:

Koch Bros – It’s the Evil Thing

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Documentary about a modern-day maiko trainee

This beautiful BBC documentary tells the story of Yukina, a modern-day 15 year-old girl training to become a maiko.

While it is fascinating to view the training and daily life of maiko/geisha through a window other than that of glamourized pop-culture, this documentary is poignant and enjoyable for its subjects; Yukina’s family, her ‘surrogate’ Obaasan and maiko ‘sisters’ and, above all, Yukina herself. Throughout the account, their thoughts and reactions towards Yukina’s choice and progress create a lovely and intriguing real-life story of a girl pursuing an unconventional dream and earning her wings.

In an era where teenagers are too often portrayed as chronically irresponsible and hopelessly confused, young Yukina’s impressive commitment and iron will to meet her goal make for a inspiring tale.

As Yukina evolves through the complex- sometimes grueling- training, rituals and customs of the maiko, we discover both the world of a modern-day Kyoto maiko and a determined young spirit.

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Bobby and Marilyn (1961)

My friend Bill Smith is having some sort of nervous breakdown. I would say he is manic-depressive, except he’s never depressed. He’s always up and running, alert and full of self-confidence. I’ve known him for two years and he hasn’t been down or depressed once during that time. So I guess he’s just manic, although two years is a long time to hang five on the crest of mania.

Listen: Bill is a very unlikely guy. It’s a little hard to believe, but everything I tell you about him is true,

First, he is a Cornell graduate and works as an aeronautics engineer at Hughes Aircraft in nearby Culver City. I know nothing about his background except that his father is some sort of civil servant and his mother is a school teacher. He also spent a few years in the Air Force before he went to work at Hughes. It sometimes seems like all the young intellectuals I know, other than those at UCLA, either work for Hughes or the Rand Corporation at Santa Monica. And most of them are junior engineers and members of Mensa, which Bill says is a national society for underachievers with high IQs.

Secondly, he describes himself as “a multilingual American high-yellow.” Bill was not without a self-deprecating sense of irony before he started cracking up. He claims to speak both Street Negro and Ivy League Wasp. And Russian. His UCLA friend who, I ask you to believe, is also named Bill Smith teaches it and he says Bill is certainly fluent at Ruski. This Bill Smith is working towards a PhD in Russian Literature, so I believe him. When I asked Cornell Bill why he learned the language, he said, “How many niggers you know speak Russian?”
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Big Nurse (1966)

Mitch, one of the two night orderlies, or nurses’ aides, here on ward 5 catches up with me at the patients’ coffee bar in the day room. I’ve been over at the gym, shooting hoops.

“Flint,” he says, “want to play some chess?”

“No, you always beat me.”

“But you give me a good game — and you’re getting better.”

Mitch is a Stanford graduate student in anthropology and works nights here at the Palo Alto Veterans Administration hospital. We get along because I was an anthropology student about a hundred years ago.

“Not tonight, I’m still raw from the last beating.”

“You beat yourself; you castled too early.”

“Bad timing, my life story.”

“I watched you and Burton re-invent the battery-operated portable typewriter,” Mitch says. “Now that’s bad timing.”

I say, “Who knew those things were already on the market?”

“All new technological or scientific ideas are shared by more than one person,” Mitch says. “Ideas are a confluence of current cultural information.”

“You’re leaking your dissertation all over the floor,” I say.

“Darwin and Wallace,” he says.

“Laurel and Hardy,” I say.

Burton is an engineer, I don’t know what kind, who’s always tinkering with gadgets. He’s also usually depressed. I got him to help me design a battery-operated typewriter, which cheered him up. Then another patient said it had already been done, he’d seen it advertised, which kind of depressed Burton again. He’s also a drunk who’s here drying out. I hope he doesn’t go on a binge because of this, I’d feel guilty.

I’m here on the alky ward because I’m faking being a drunk, and my disability checks jump from 10% to 100% when I’m in the hospital. A few winter months of three meals a day, group therapy, AA meetings, and I’ve saved enough money to hit the road again. Continue reading

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Being In Jail (1967)

My daughter wants to go to jail. In fact she’s determined to do so. We argued about it this morning. She’s in her room now, in a blue funk, listening to the Rolling Stones latest album.

“There’s no way I’m going to allow that.” I said. “So just forget it.”

“You went to jail.” she said. “Three or four times.”

“Only twice.” I said.

She scoffs. “You got arrested four times in one week, I remember that—four times.”

“But I didn’t go to jail, do you remember that? I was released on my own recognizance each time—and the charges were later dropped.”

“Well, you tried to go to jail four times.” Continue reading

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If You’re a Sucker for Ascots,

Saw this on bb. They saw it on Neatorama. It sure is swell and it sure needed a mention here on kitTENTACLES:

Etsy tentacled wonderfulness!

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Li’l Lil

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Too Much Masterpiece Theater?



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Don’t Make Your Enemy A Martyr

As the federale general says in ”Viva Zapata” after the death of Emiliano: “Sometimes a dead man can be a terrible enemy.”

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Do You Have An Eating Disorder?

Sorry, I can’t help you. If eating too much for your own good is serious enough to be classified as an Eating Disorder, then you need more help than any diet I can offer. Although you might take a moment to consider why a health professional has tagged your eating habits with a clinical term to describe the simple result of eating too much.

It’s not going to do you any good to think of your situation as medical. You’re probably not sick, you’re just kind of fat. But If you are genuinely sick and feeling shitty and not just overweight, then go to another doctor. And try to find one who respects you and the English language enough not to hang scary words on you.

Doctor:  You have an Eating Disorder.
Patient:  I’d like to get a second opinion.
Doctor:  Okay, you’re fat too.

Sure there are genuine eating disorders. There are some people who will eat anything: nails, glass, dirt, even lima beans. A few years ago a guy in Germany reportedly ground up and ate a Volkswagon. It took him years, but he did it between meals. Now that’s an eating disorder! Sure, I know how bad German food can be, but I still say eating a car can rightfully be called pathological.

Recently there was a story on the cable Fat Channel* about a 1200 pound woman who had to be hauled on a truck to a hospital to have her stomach stapled. Needless to say, she clearly has an eating disorder. Her daily calorie intake was equal to that of a baleen whale’s on a good day. Unless you eat weird things like mud, cotton, Volkswagons, plankton or lima beans you do not have an eating disorder. YOU JUST EAT TOO DAMN MUCH.

So stop it.

* Cable TV offers a number of theme channels for interested viewers. There is no such channel called the Fat Channel, of course; it goes under another name, but it pretty much features such things as grossly fat people, plastic surgery for facial disfigurements, enormous tumors, and alien autopsies. There is also a Water Hole Channel, a Hitler Channel, and, perhaps strangest of all, a Golf Channel.

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Not Your Usual Historical Marker

Bloody Island

One-fourth mile south is the island of Bo-No-Po-Ti (old island) now Bloody Island. It was a place for native gatherings until May 18, 1880. On that day a regiment of dragoons of the U.S. Cavalry, commanded by Captain Nathaniel Lyon and Lt. J.W. Davidson massacred nearly the entire population of the island, mostly women and children. Their act was in reprisal for the killing of Andrew Kelly and Charles Stone who had long enslaved, brutalized and starved indigenous people in the area. The island, now a hill surrounded by reclaimed land, remains a sacred testament to this sacrifice of indigenous lives.

California Registered Historical Landmark no. 427

Upper Lake, California

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