Wednesday, February 11, 2015

WHY IS PADDLING IN PORTLAND SO PROBLEMATIC?


View downstream, north, from the tip of Ross Island.
Portland, Oregon is a river city, or so it is said by some. Yes, the Willamette River runs through the middle of Portland on its way to the Columbia River. The meeting of these two rivers is also in Portland. One would think that Portlanders are river people, by which I mean they use their river for many different activities and consider it one of the most important parts of the Portland identity. Well, that is not the case.

Like so many other American cities, Portland was developed along the river, but the river was considered only a place of business between land and water, and a place to dump things people wanted to get rid of. In the past few decades, however, Portland has changed its mind about the river in many ways, and the land along the river is now seen as an amenity and a public and natural resource.

But there are still problems in regards to Portland truly becoming River City. One of those problems is access to the river, not visual access, but physical access. This is especially true for people who want to put a small, human-powered water craft in the river in the downtown area (I'll call these people paddlers). I am a paddler, and the portion of the river that flows through downtown Portland offers a variety of interesting experiences, if I can get to it.
The new Tilikum Crossing transit bridge behind the Ross Island Bridge,
viewed from Ross Island.

This morning Dry Bag Dave and Paddlin' Paul (that's me) loaded our kayaks and gear and headed off to do an easy and relatively short paddling trip. Our goal was to paddle under the new transit bridge, a cable-stayed beauty named Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People. The new bridge, that will open in September, will only have light rail trains, buses, cycles and pedestrians; no automobiles or trucks.

So we decided to launch on the east side of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland and paddle a short distance upstream and under the Tilikum Crossing. There is a low floating public dock just upstream of the Hawthorne Bridge designed for use by rowing and paddle craft where we have launched before. When we arrived there, we found that there are some visitor spots in the parking lot, but parking is limited to 2 hours; not enough for a paddling trip. Parking there used to be for as long as desired. So we got back in the car and drove to the downstream side of the Hawthorne Bridge because it seemed to me we could launch from the dirt beach under the bridge. I know that the Human Access Project has cleared a lot of rocks from that beach so people can get into the river. There were some parking spots in the lot near the Eastbank Esplanade (pay parking, of course), so we figured we could carry the boats to the beach under the bridge. Well, the river was high, and that spot did not have a safe or easy place to launch kayaks.

We had spent a lot of time trying to find a place to put into the river. Our fallback was Willamette Park on the other side of the river and a few miles south of the Tilikum Crossing bridge. We arrived at Willamette Park and found an almost empty large parking lot. I went to buy the parking tag, and it was $1 per hour, or $6 for all day; pretty reasonable. I figured I would put in $4 for 4 hours - plenty of time for our paddling. But as I pushed the time button on the meter, the dollars kept going up, but the hours stayed at 3. Hmmm; well I read the fine print, which informed me that after 3 hours, a full-day fee would be charged. Really? OK, well the Park Bureau needs the money to maintain the park, so I was kind of OK with this scheme.

I went over to the restroom building at the park to get rid of some excess liquid - and the restrooms were "closed for the season." What? No bushes nearby, either. Luckily for us, there were 2 porta-potties on the other side of the parking lot, probably related to work going on in the park. OK, problem solved, but still, I paid my $6, what did I get for it?

We had a terrific paddle of about 7 miles round trip and spent about 3 hours total. But I was disgruntled about the experience of paddling in Portland.

Why isn't there access for paddlers to the Willamette River in the downtown area of Portland? The public dock on the east side and just upstream of the Hawthorne Bridge is a convenient location, but parking is limited to 2 hours. (I later found out that after 3PM parking time is unlimited, but that really only works in the summer when days are longer.) The only places to launch from close to and south of downtown are Willamette Park and Sellwood Park. Going north from downtown, I can only think of Swan Island Lagoon and Cathedral Park, both very far from the downtown area. These four launching opportunities are shown on the map below.
The only four formal and convenient launching spots for paddlers in Portland are shown as red stars.
And by the way, Willamette Park, operated by the Portland Bureau of Parks and Recreation, is set up for power boats. The parking lot is mostly long spaces for trucks and trailers, with a much smaller number of spots for cars (and you get ticketed if you park a car in a truck-trailer spot, even if there are very few truck-trailers in the lot). The ramp into the river is concrete that is deeply ribbed for tire traction - real hell for the hull of my wood kayak. There should be a gravel ramp into the river for canoes, kayaks and other paddle craft to make this facility truly convenient for paddlers.

There is a new ramp that is being described as a kayak launch in the South Waterfront Central District immediately south of downtown; it will be open later this year. It is a narrow concrete sidewalk that I consider to be a tricky launch spot at best, and a dangerous spot especially when the river is low in the summer. Because there is no way to drive a car close to the ramp, and public parking is not located nearby, it will likely be used mostly by people who live in the condos in the South Waterfront who can cart their boat to the ramp without a motor vehicle. This does not solve the problem for the rest of us.

City planners know that river access is a problem, and they are working on ideas to create more and better access. They will need to change some city codes, figure out access and parking for motor vehicles, and also deal with federal agencies that discourage river access because of alleged issues with fish habitat. In the meantime, I'll paddle the downtown stretch of the Willamette once in a great while, and drive to other places on the edges of or away from Portland that are more welcoming to paddlers.

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Monday, February 02, 2015

WHY I AM CONSIDERING ENDING MY (DIGITAL) LIFE

I am a 70 year old man who tries to keep up with the digital age in which I live. I have a smartphone (Android OS), a tablet (iPad) and a laptop  (MacBook). I spend a lot of my time using these marvelous devices in a variety of ways. And it has truly ruined my real life.

My digital life is dominated by the apps on my smartphone, the apps on my tablet, and the software on my laptop. All of my devices are synced in various ways, mostly in the cloud. The apps shared by me and my wife, such as google calendar, enable us to keep track of our individual as well as shared schedules, as long as we don't make any mistakes when entering data (which we sometimes do). My consulting business relies on my devices, apps and software to communicate, coordinate, collect information, create reports and letters and memoranda.

I have 92 apps on my smartphone (probably a small number compared to many people), including apps to: measure the amount of propane in the tank of my outdoor grill, measure the inclination of a hill, do mathematics, magnify and take photos of things, measure sound level, convert units, convert money, translate languages, record sounds, check the river level, check the weather, buy movie tickets, waste time on facebook, check email, send and receive text messages, take photos. And cables and chargers and dongles - a boatload of them because Apple cables don't fit Android devices and visa-versa, and every device has it's own charger, and I carry a travel-size extension cord when we travel because most hotel rooms don't have enough outlets for the phones and computers we carry.

Photos - I have taken uncountable thousands of pictures with various cell phones and digital cameras. I have these scattered throughout the cloud in various free storage services, most of which I've maxed out without paying an annual fee. This is why I now have a flickr account - they give me 1 terabyte free! But what do I do with all of these photos? Nobody else can see them unless I post them somewhere like facebook or google+ (has anyone heard of google+?). But there are so many photos I don't even remember what they are, or how to find the ones I do remember.

And the convenience of my digital life. I don't have to leave the coach to go shopping - Amazon.com is all I need. (Does anyone else remember when Amazon was just a book seller?) And books - I read on my iPad. I have a banking app on my smartphone, so I can deposit checks and pay bills and all of that from - yes - the couch.

My digital life is becoming more of who I am than my biological life. I have a lot of friends - digital. A lot of people "like" me - digital. I go to exotic places in the world - digital. I read a lot of books, newspapers, magazines and technical journals - digital. I map out where I am driving or cycling - digital. I write to people and have nice chats with them - digital. I have discussions with people who see me and I see them - digital. I write about life and politics - digital. I schedule events and appointments on a calendar - digital. I watch movies, TV shows and listen to music - digital. I keep notes and journal items - digital. I print labels and postage on packages and have them picked up by the postal service - digital. I explore new digital applications for my digital devices - digital!

My digital me is always afraid. My digital being is constantly threatened by hackers who want to steal my identity and rob me of my credit and money. To defend my digital self I need passwords - lots and lots and lots of passwords and user names and secret questions with answers I'm supposed to remember. And the passwords can't be simple, they need to be complex. And I am told to change every password frequently. My digital self is so nervous about safety that I think I need digital drugs to calm me down!

I am no more than 0's and 1's, a vessel of data harvested every nanosecond of my digital life. Minions of madmen ad men algorize my digital being non-stop looking for clues and patterns so they can sell me to those who push advertisements at me. I have no secrets. My own government tracks my digital self everywhere I go, every key stroke I make, every search I google, every email, text and chat I have is harvested and analyzed and stored for the future in vast server farms scattered around the planet. My digital self consists of billions of fragments.

I grow flabby from lack of exercise because more and more of my shopping, banking, communicating and everyday activities are as a digital being rather than a biological being. How will this end?

Can I end my digital life? Is it possible to commit digital suicide - digicide? Is there life after the digital life? After all, my jillions of on-line posts and photos and messages will still be in the cloud even after I've pulled the plug.

If I do commit digicide, how will you know? Maybe you will notice that I haven't posted stupid things on facebook for awhile, or posted to this blog, or tweeted or tooted. Will you notice? Will anyone?  Especially once I install this new DigitalMe app; you know, the one that analyzes everything I have ever done on-line and then starts to generate posts from the digital me, without the biological me having to do anything. The ultimate app for digital immortality!

In fact, how do you know if the digital me or the biological me wrote this blog post?

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

RACISM, COPS AND COMMUNITY - WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

I would say that this is like a bad movie, but that would make light of a very serious and real situation in America. If you didn't live here and were reading the headlines every day, you might think that being a Black man or boy is a crime in America, punishable by death on the spot. Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix are the most recent Black men and boys killed by police, but certainly not the only ones.

"Nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, according to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI" (USA Today). This statement is based on data submitted to the FBI by police departments, and it is a very incomplete and, some think, very flawed database. However, the stark reality is clear, young Black men are killed by police at a disproportionate rate compared to young white men killed.

Propublica has a good summary of these data in a recent article. The graphic below is from the Propublica article.


But rather than get lost in the data, which is readily available on the internet, I want to stick to my opinion, which is, after all, what you are reading.

Racism is alive and well today in America; however, in my opinion the core issue is not racism of individuals but racism inherent in our institutions. A lot has been written on this topic, and should be required reading for every US citizen, not as a guilt trip for white readers, but for the sake of educating all of us. 

There is a lot of justified anger in minority communities, as well as in a large proportion of society in general, concerning the treatment of Black men and boys in law enforcement and the judicial system. (Note that this is true in the Latino community as well.) Some of this anger spills over as rage, and mob mentality has taken over in some places resulting in destruction of property and looting. These actions are not by the majority of protesters and demonstrators, no matter how often the media shows us video and photos of the flames. 

There is a growing movement nationwide focused on police brutality and judicial indifference. Some commentators predict it is a new phase of the civil rights movement, and could grow into a major movement. I hope this is true, and I also hope that leaders emerge who can coordinate strategies, put forward a consistent message, distance the movement from the fringe groups and individuals who favor violence, and organize support for change by a majority of Americans. 

I don't condone war against the police; this is not productive and is a losing campaign. Nor do I condone blaming and labeling all cops as racist. There are many statements and interviews in the media right now by active and former police officers who admit that there is a problem, and state that some small percentage of police officers are "bad cops" who do bad things, and should not be in these positions. They also admit that the majority of cops typically don't speak out when they know what the bad apples are doing, either because they don't want to get involved, or they are concerned about their own careers. This obviously needs to change.

It is not just the bad cops that are the problem, however; it is the system, the institutions of law enforcement and justice, that not only allow these individuals to be in positions of authority, but protect them when they do bad things. The death of Eric Garner by policemen, ruled a homicide by the coroner and seen by millions in a video on the internet, was not considered worthy of a trial. This is the outrage. A policeman killed a citizen whose potential crime was selling cigarettes, and the cop was not indicted.  Would Eric Garner be alive today if he was white? Would the cop be on trial if Mr. Garner had been killed and was white? It is not OK for a cop to kill someone without justification; but it is even more egregious that the justice system takes a pass on it. 

I have been working closely with the Portland Police Bureau over the past year to address issues in our neighborhood. The police formed a special unit, based on what they are calling relationship policing, to conduct daily walking patrols in a few neighborhoods. This has been a pilot project, and has been very successful. The officers assigned to the unit were selected using a set of criteria, including their communication skills. Many cops feel that the public hates them, and they are reluctant to get out of their cars and walk around. But the community response to these walking patrols has been overwhelmingly favorable, including many "street people" who are afraid of the bad elements on the street. The goal of this pilot project is to have cops and people in the community get to know each other, on a first name basis, and to have the cops out there to help people who need assistance, diffuse tense situations, address issues of behavior in public places, and help build a greater sense of community. As Ric, the Sergeant in charge of the unit often says, good parenting is not ignoring your kids until they do something wrong and then punishing them, but that is how policing has worked for too long (and he is quick to point out that police are not your parents!). The situation in our neighborhood has improved greatly, and by the way, this special unit of officers made very few arrests and issued very few citations, not because they weren't doing their job, but because they were doing their job in a different way.

I am hopeful that, working together, we can make needed changes in our society. I'm not yet delusional enough to think that this will be a slam dunk; it will be hard work. Institutionalized racism is buried deep in the core structures of our public institutions, and there is a tremendous amount of inertia to keep it that way. We need to change laws, we need new legal precedent, we need individuals inside federal, state and local governments, including police forces, to push from the inside, we need citizens to participate in public discourse and to vote

Next time you see a cop walking around your neighborhood, stop and say hello. Introduce yourself, get into a conversation, talk about what's going on. Build community. 

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Friday, November 14, 2014

REALLY? PRESIDENT OBAMA IS "POISONING THE WELL?"

AAAARRRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!! Driving home today I was listening to a local talk show (Think Out Loud) on our NPR affiliate, Oregon Public Broadcasting. In the news roundtable segment the host asked three guests (journalists) what the top story of the week was for each of them. One of the two men said that his top story was wondering why President Obama is reportedly going to "poison the well" in Congress by acting on immigration reform through Executive Order. 

WHAT? First of all, why is a journalist using the Republican playbook term of the month? Almost immediately following his reelection to the Senate, Mitch McConnell used the term "poison the well" in his acceptance speech: "In an ambitious speech hours after his party gained control of both houses of Congress, McConnell warned Obama not to “poison the well” by pushing forward with unilateral action on immigration reform...." (source)
Two days later House Speaker John Boehner warned that "the president will "poison the well" for the new Congress if he takes executive action to address the deportation of undocumented immigrants" (source). The floodgates were open, and every news outlet repeated the term "poison the well" over, and over, and over ad nauseum. 

And so, once again, the popular media are following the playbook of a political party by parroting a catchy phrase designed to stick in the heads of the public and sway their opinion. Some consultant to the Republican Party earned her or his pay for that one. 

But there is another, even more important aspect to this discussion; the assertion is false! For the past 6 years the publicly stated goal of the Republican Party has been to thwart every effort by Barak Obama to get things accomplished. McConnell and Boehner each are on record with this message. The Congress during Obama's term will go down as one of the most do-nothing Congresses in the history of the United States, to date. If anyone has poisoned the political well, it is the Republican Party.

And let us not forget the liberal Democrats who have very loudly criticized Obama for not getting tough, going toe-to-toe with the obstructionist Republicans in Congress. What a wimp! What a dish rag! What a disappointment! As if President Obama is the reason the Republicans have stymied every effort by the administration and the Democrats to move things forward. 

The Republican Party is The Poison in the well that all Americans drink from. Name any social issue in this country, and the Republicans are on the front lines to stop any progress. I salute President Obama for his patience and his persistence. He has accomplished a mountain of important things, and yet, for some strange reason, the American public and the popular media allow the Republican Party to write the script and coin the phrases.

I truly hope our President uses his executive authorities to make long-overdue and much needed changes to immigration policies, environmental policies, energy policies, and many more. And truly, if there is poison in the well, we can only hope that the Republicans in Congress drink from it soon! 
---
P. Fishman - November 14, 2014 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

MEANWHILE, 44 YEARS LATER, HAS ANYTHING CHANGED?

I have two books of political cartoons by Ron Cobb published in 1970 that I probably bought within a couple of years of publication (my copies were 2nd printings in 1971).  Raw Sewage is about the environment (remember, the first Earth Day was in 1970). My Fellow Americans is about politics in this country at the time.  I took these books off the shelf a few days ago and paged through Ron's cartoons, truly a trip down memory lane. I expected to laugh again, the way I did 40 some years ago. I was dismayed, however, that it seems things have not changed very much in the past 44 years. And I didn't laugh this time around.

Below are a few of my favorites from these cartoon books, with some commentary.

from Raw Sewage
This was always one of my favorite ecology cartoons by Ron. The grin on the old man's face is perfect. I have to say that in many cities, such as Portland, OR, there has been a push to incorporate plants into the urban landscape. So perhaps there has been progress on this item over the past 44 years. 

from Raw Sewage
Does anything ring a bell here? I think more people know the word "ecology" now than in 1970. We also are very familiar with the term "climate change" because it is in the news media so much. But we are experiencing more severe storms and other major changes in climate patterns than we did then. Katrina and Sandy were not beautiful women but horrific storms that destroyed and killed. Where are the changes needed to slow down this human-induced process? So far, it looks like we will all be sitting on the roof of the car wondering why these things are happening. 

from My Fellow Americans
How true, and how sad. The Civil Rights Movement - the one fought for racial equality - forced numerous positive changes in our society. And yet, 44 years after this cartoon was inked, it seems that beatings and killings (and incarceration) of young men of color by police is more normal than ever. The numbers are chilling; the stories are mind-numbing. How is it that here, in America, racism has become more institutionalized than it was 44 years ago? Didn't we fix this already? Sadly, we didn't. 

from My Fellow Americans
How did Ron know? Thanks to Edgar Snowden and others, we now know so much more about the surveillance state in which we live. How many of us knew what NSA meant just a couple of years ago? We now have surveillance cameras proliferating everywhere, police departments have weapons and vehicles designed for the military (thanks to grants and gifts by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security). What Ron didn't know then was that we would all have smart phones that know where we are all the time, as well as Google, Facebook, email, Twitter and millions of other internet data collectors that the government can hack into (or simply demand from the providers). 

from My Fellow Americans
Do I even need to comment on this one? The most reliable numbers are that more than 30,000 Americans are killed by guns every year! This insanity is perpetuated by organizations like the National Rifle Association that have a strange stranglehold on our elected legislators. This is nuts! 

And so, sadly, I must conclude that many important issues in our society have not improved since 44 years ago. I continually ask myself what went wrong, why we haven't collectively improved these egregious facets of human community. Is this really the world we want to inhabit, and leave for our children? 

And I'm still not laughing. 

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Sources:
My Fellow Americans 1970. Ron Cobb. Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers, Inc. - Sawyer Press
Raw Sewage  1970. Ron Cobb. Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers, Inc. - Sawyer Press 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

AND JUSTICE FOR ALL (EXCEPT THOSE WHO DON'T HAPPEN TO BE WHITE AND HAVE MONEY)

Many people in Europe, America, and Iran are upset and protesting over the jailing of a young woman in Iran for political activism. Ghoncheh Ghavami, a British-Iranian law student in London, has been in jail for 100 days without trial, and she has started a hunger strike. Support for her cause is growing.

Meanwhile, right here in the U.S. of A., a large number of people are incarcerated and awaiting trial under circumstances that are beyond belief. Take the case of Kalief Browder, recently released from prison in New York after spending 3 years (yes, three) in jail without a trial for something he claimed he had not done. Kalief was stopped and arrested when he was 16 years old. Someone had identified him as a person who had stolen his backpack several weeks prior to Kalief's arrest. Because his family could not raise the $3,000 bail, he went to jail awaiting trial. The nightmare of his incarceration for three years without trial is detailed in an article in the New Yorker magazine, and it will make your blood boil. You should read the article; it is infuriating.

Kalief missed his last two years of high school. He missed his prom and being graduated from high school. He missed developing skills for life as a teen because he spent three years behind bars, a major percentage of the time in solitary confinement. The court system in New York has a process for speedy trial if one is requested. Once the request is made to a judge, the trial must take place within 6 weeks. There is a major catch, however, which is played to the hilt by the public prosecutors: if the prosecution asks for a delay (typically because they "aren't ready"), the judge will usually grant a delay of a couple of days. The courts are so overloaded, however, that the new date is usually 6, 8 or more weeks out. But because the judge granted let's say a 2-day delay, the time until the new date is only counted as 2 days towards the 6-week limit. By doing this repeatedly, Kalief spent 3 years of his teenage years behind bars, in very poor, and dangerous, living conditions. 

Kalief was offered plea deals during the three years. If he plead guilty, he would only get something like a 3 to 5 years sentence and his time already spent in jail would count against it. If he didn't take the plea, he was advised that he might lose at trial and get 15 years. Kalief insisted on his innocence, and refused the plea bargain deals. 

Kalief was finally released after a new judge on his case pressed the prosecution when they asked for yet another delay. The reason for this delay was that the accuser had gone back to Mexico and they could not find him. The judge finally said "enough" and dismissed the case against Kalief; he was released.

The life of this young man has been irrevocably changed. He suffers from depression and has contemplated suicide. He has few friends, is awkward socially, is fearful of crowded places (like prison, where people were often beaten, by inmates and guards, or stabbed), and has trouble finding work. He now has an attorney and is suing the City of New York and the New York Police Department.

The case of Kalief Browder is beyond sad, and one has to wonder how this could happen in America. But his case is symptomatic of a common trend in the justice system in this country.  The studies and statistics are chilling; people who are not black or Hispanic and have money generally do not have these experiences. And once in the legal system, it is often difficult to get out or, as in Kalief's case, even get a trial. The plea deals offered to inmates waiting for a trial are too attractive, compared to languishing in jail for an uncertain outcome. "In 2011, in the Bronx, only a hundred and sixty-five felony cases went to trial; in 3,991 cases, the defendant pleaded guilty." I don't know about New York, but in many states a conviction for a felony (i.e. guilty plea) results in the felon not having the right to vote, cannot get public housing, often cannot find a job and faces other social and financial restrictions. Keep in mind, many people take a guilty plea deal even if they are innocent, just to get out of jail and back to some semblance of normalcy.

Racism in America is institutionalized. It is inherent in policing, in the justice system, in the financial system and many other areas of our society. It is often hard to get a grasp on racism and hold it up for scrutiny because many individual acts are not on their face intentionally racist. But taken as a whole, too many parts of our democracy have inherent bias against poor and minority people. 

We need to shine a bright light on the cases like Kalief Browder. There need to be severe consequences for people in the system who perpetrate these outrages. There need to be major changes in how the machinery of "democracy" works in order to guarantee justice for all. 

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Monday, September 01, 2014

WASHINGTON D.C. FOOTBALL TEAM OWNER ANNOUNCES NAME CHANGE FROM "REDSKINS"

The owner of the Washington Redskins football team, Dan Snider, has announced a name change for the NFL team. Snider's statement referred to the controversy surrounding the name, for which one poll found that 9 percent of Native Americans polled found the name offensive (90 percent did not).

Snider was very circumspect when he announced that the new name of the football team will be the Washington Foreskins. He remarked that the name change is very sensitive to non-majority populations. Polling and focus groups found a 50:50 split about whether the new name is offensive or pride-inducing among Jewish people, particularly men.

The Foreskins management is proud about the way the team rose to the occasion, explaining that it was a hard decision.

The new team mascot is still shrouded in secrecy; however, an announcement is expected soon. Insiders, speaking anonymously, have identified several possibilities being considered, including a mohel, kalamari, or four people wearing SCUBA gear.*

With this name-changing decision, team management is hopeful that the public will focus on the team's dismal record rather than their dismal name.

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* It is well known that the method of circumcising a whale involves four skin divers.

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