The Banality of Evil: Terrorism in Manchester


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day and another heinous terrorist attack on people attending a concern in Manchester, England. Over twenty were killed and many more wounded in the attack which also left the terrorist dead. Among the victims were young children, innocent by any standard.

Terrorists of all kinds share a common hatred for human beings who are not like them, people for whom they blame their condition on. It has been so since people discovered that terror, committed in the name of a religion or ideology either by state or non-state actors works. Monday’s attack by a twenty-two year old Salman Abedi who according to neighbors dressed “in traditional Islamic dress.” The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but at present little is known about Abedi other that he was born and raised in Britain and might be of Lydian descent. His actual connections to ISIS are unknown. It appears that he deployed an Improvised Explosive Device that was loaded with explosives as well as nails, metal scraps, and screws which made it a perfect anti-personnel weapon which he set off at a time guaranteed to cause maximum casualties. His act, as are all terrorist attacks aimed at innocent non-combatants can only be described as evil. The fact that it appears to be done in the name of his Islamic God does make it any less so. It was an act of evil. But the problem is that his act will inspire other Islamists to conduct similar attacks and provide grist to those who want to blame all Muslims for the attack, provoking violence against innocent Muslims who detest and oppose the kind of attack made by Abedi. Th Islamic State claim of responsibility included the statement that the attack “was in revenge for Allah’s religion, in an endeavor to terrorize the [infidels], and in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.” In the United States fundamentalist Christian extremist Theodore Shoebat said “he feels no sympathy for these people. The people who died, the people who were injured… I really don’t care. The types of people who go to these concerts are the same people responsible for the degeneracy that you see in society…” In other words the murder of children is just as fine to self-proclaimed Christian Shoebat as it is to ISIS. Both would have fit in well with the Nazi troops who killed Jews by the millions and killed innocent children up close and personal. They are all evil and they all think that they are the righteous. 

However, it doesn’t have to be this way as historian Laurence Rees notes, we do not need to succumb to the bloodlust of revenge and retaliation. We can seek justice without victimizing other innocent people. We do not have to give in to what Hannah Arendt referred to as the banality of evil.” We have the choice as individuals as how to behave towards our fellow human beings. Rees noted: “…human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” The fact is that we cannot allow the situation to determine what is right and wrong in how we respond to terror and in doing so condemn the innocent along with the guilty. 

Anyone knows me knows that all terrorism is evil regardless of its motivation. Over the years I have spoken out against all types of terrorism and that I have no sympathy or desire no mercy be shown to those who commit or sponsor it, but at the same time I do not believe that we should allow fear and hatred to cause us to seek retribution or revenge upon innocent people simply because they share a common racial, religious, or national origin of the guilty. To do so makes us no different than those who kill children at a concert simply because they live in a country opposed to ISIS, or because they or their ancestors belong to a country, religion, or race that we despise or believe are less than human. 

When will we ever learn?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Papillion Therapy


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dean Koontz wrote: “Petting, scratching, and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as a deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”

I do believe that Mr. Koonz is correct. We don’t have kids, not that we didn’t try, but we have always had dogs. Our first two dogs were Dachshunds, Frieda, a Wire Hair that we got in Germany, and Greta a smooth hair that we got in Texas. They were both great dogs and we still have a soft spot for Wiener Dogs. 


But today we are blessed to have the three best dogs in the world, Minnie Scule, Izzy Bella, and Pierre. They are all Papillons, a small breed of Spaniels from France. The breed is ranked in the top ten most intelligent breeds and they are in my view scary smart. But they are also incredibly sweet, sensitive, playful, decidedly quirky and sometimes obnoxious, in a good way.


I love spending Saturday and Sunday morning with Judy and our babies. Sometimes we sleep late and then after they have gone out to do their business just lay in bed with them, and let them play or cuddle. It is one of the most therapeutic things in the world for both of us since we both suffer from PTSD and have struggled with depression. They are so therapeutic that I often stay off the internet and social media just to enjoy them. 


Our Papillon experience began with Molly, a half-Papillon and half-Dachshund mix that we got as a rescue in September of 2001. We lost her at age 14 in May of 2015, but she was an amazing dog. Exceptionally sensitive and sweet, Judy nicknamed her “Nurse Molly” because if we were physically sick or depressed she would be there doing whatever she could to comfort us. In 2011 Molly decided that she wanted to live with me when I was stationed in North Carolina as our home in Virginia with Judy couldn’t compete with chasing deer off my lawn or running on the beach. So a few months later we got Minnie.



Now Minnie was only two and a half pounds when we got her and she became Judy’s baby. Until she got too big she would sit on Judy’s shoulder like a Parrot. Minnie is funny. She’s very smart, and sweet, but very quirky. She talks like Scooby Doo and has something to say about everything. She’s now five years old, when I walk her in the neighborhood she likes to chase the ducks, geese, and rabbits occasionally diving into the water after a duck. She’s also my drinking buddy. She loves to steal my beer and is an incorrigible thief, but we love her. She can be aloof at times and acts like she’s the Queen of the manor. Minnie grew up a bit. We thought she would be about 7-8 pounds but she topped out at 12 pounds, sometimes a bit more. She has the light bone structure of a classic Papillon and is a Black and White with the black ticking that looks like freckles and a crooked blaze that makes her almost look like a dwarf Australian Shepherd.


A couple of months before we lost Molly we got Izzy. Izzy is fascinating. She like Molly is our nurse and once when we had a friend over and he was mourning the loss of his parents, she glued herself to him trying to make him feel better. In fact it is my plan to get her certified as a therapy dog. We got Izzy at the same age we got Minnie but she was already four pounds and built like a tank. The first time our vet met her he picked her up during the examination and said “My, she’s sturdy!” Sturdy is not a word commonly associated with the breed, but Izzy is just that. Slightly smaller in height and length than Minnie she outweighs Minnie by a pound or a pound and a half. She’s built like a tank, not an ounce of fat on her, just solid muscle and bone. When she jumps on you, especially if you’re not expecting it can take the wind out of you, it’s like being blindsided by a linebacker. Izzy is a very distinctive looking Tricolor who is also incredible agile and loves to dance doing pirouettes when she wants attention.



Izzy and Minnie have been together now a bit over two years and in February we ended up getting our little boy Pierre unexpectedly. Some friends found that his owner could not afford surgery for a luxating patella. They helped arrange for us to get him and he is a joy. He’s a year old and at 4.5 pounds is about as big as he is going to get. He’s incredibly sweet, has a bit of a grumpy side when he doesn’t want to do something, and like Minnie he is talkative, and like Izzy he is incredibly playful. Despite their size difference he and Izzy play constantly and when they wrestle they grapple like MMA fighters with Pierre fighting a bit out of his weight category, but he gives as good as he gets. Sometimes when we go to bed it is time for them to launch their evening Pappy War.


Our life is better for having our puppies, they are amazing therapy. So I guess when I get home from work I’ll get greeted by the three pups and when we get back from our time out with friends we’ll have our evening play and snuggle time with Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre.

Life is good. Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Trump’s Hatchet Men: Christian Pastors Who Should Know Better

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a brief thought to start out the week. Since the beginning of the Trump Campaign his most vocal supporters other that the Alt-Right crowd and people like Roger Stone have been Christian pastors. This really bothered me all weekend so I need to get it off my chest early so I can go on to better things.

To me this has been one of the most perplexing things of the past two years. I wonder how men and women who castigated Democrats, and even some moderate Republicans with epithets often too vile to print ended up supporting a man who exhibits no trace at all of a genuine Christian faith. How they not only support but defend a man whose life if nothing else epitomizes everything that Jesus preached against, even threatening the wrath of God on Trump’s opponents.

I am not alone. Conservative columnist Erick Erickson, who is a Christian by the way noted in a column last week:

“Watergate may have turned Charles Colson from hatchet man to pastor, but defense of President Trump is turning a lot of pastors into hatchet men. Few people come away from Trump’s orbit without compromising their characters.”

Admittedly some of Trump’s big time clerical supports had little in the way of character to begin with, fleecing their flocks and often being caught doing so by law enforcement, some like Jim Bakker even going to jail. However, it is scary that quite a few who even if you disagreed with their politics, theology, or social views, still showed a modicum of Christian character have thrown it away to defend the indefensible. These hatchet men are truly dangerous because they poison the souls of their flocks and in the process demean the entirety of the Gospel message of reconciliation and peace.

But this is nothing new. Ever since Constantine various clerics and preachers have cozied up to rulers in order to gain temporal power for their part of the church. These American preachers today do not believe in the equality of human beings, they delight in condemning people, and frequently use the legislative process to impinge upon or limit the rights of others. Although they said they loved the Constitution when Barak Obama was in office their actions show that they despise it as well as the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence. Their attitudes towards the heart of American democracy are much like the Southern planters and slaveowners. One of them, George Fitzhugh of Virginia wrote in 1850:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.”

Southern preachers condemned opponents of slavery in the abolition movement, including fellow evangelicals as “atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, Bible-haters, and anti-Christian levelers.”  Like the Southern preachers of the ante-bellum era the political pastors of today stand against the weak, the outcast, the poor, and the alien. Instead of standing for the weak, these preachers lead their congregations to despise them as they accommodate themselves to the service of the powerful represented by President Trump. Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed it up well when wrote about the “German Christians” who followed Hitler:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

The sad thing is that the so-called Christianity of our day is not far removed from that of the ante-bellum South or that of Nazi Germany. It worships power and riches and the only rights that it desires to protect are its own. Led by the hatchet men in the pulpits this church have soiled themselves with a stain that they will never shed, and they will stand condemned even more than the man that they support, because unlike him, they know better, or at least they should. 

Conservative scion Barry Goldwater warned us about them in 1994: 

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

But Goldwater also knew that the leaders of the Christian Right who now are solidly behind Trump were easily manipulated by the hard right. In 1981 he told an interviewer:

“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

Donald Trump is manipulating the hell out of them, speaking to their deepest fears and promising them that they will be the ones that come out on top in his America. He has cultivated that by signing executive orders designed to cater to their every desire in exchange for their fealty which they readily give him. He is a nearly cult like messiah figure to many of them and their preachers bask in the favor he shows them without thinking twice about the true cost both to their faith, and the freedom of all people in the United States. 

Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham Alabama wrote after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by Ku Klux Klansmen who claimed to be Christians and by the Christian preachers who over the course of decades had given them sanction:

“It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.”

He was right, as was Bonhoeffer.  So anyway, that’s a hell of a way to start the week.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes: Thoughts on Friendships Enduring Friendships

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes Nothing remains quite the same; With all of my running and all of my cunning If I couldn’t laugh I just would go insane; If we couldn’t laugh we just would go insane, If we weren’t all crazy we would go insane

Jimmy Buffet: Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

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I had the good fortune to be able to see the Jimmy Buffet concert here on Thursday night and that was followed up Friday by the visit of an old friend who had a great influence on my early Navy career as my detailer, and who as a retired contract Priest at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth was there for me during some of my darkest times after my return from Iraq. It was good to see Father Fred Elkin, a wonderful Priest, friend, and confidant. I also met a new friend, an Army Reserve Chaplain doing some of his training over at Fort Story. Last week I had a long telephone conversation with one of my old enlisted shipmates who served on the boarding time that I served on in the Persian Gulf back in 2002. It is really nice to have those experiences, to have a life, and to interact with people face to face.

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I took off for a weekend last month Just to try and recall the whole year; All of the faces and all of the places; Wonderin’ where they all disappeared I didn’t ponder the question too long; I was hungry and went out for a bite Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum; And we wound up drinkin all night

I find that it is all too easy to miss simple things like that, all too easy to become too busy to keep those friendships and find new ones as well. I hate losing friends too. Over the years I’ve lost my share and some of them were due to by own negligence or stupidity and others for reasons that I don’t understand, but I’ve lost more over politics in the past year and a half than I could have ever imagine, again at least a of these were of my doing, mostly for self-protect in the toxic political climate, but then others I just don’t know, but that’s life too.

Of course there are the friends that die too early and often unexpectedly. I have had too many of those lately, and as I look through my various picture albums I remember the good things about them even as I still feel the pangs of grief at their loss. I cherish their memory and pray that one day we will meet again.

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Even so I find particular value in long term friendships and relationships that have endured the years, one of which goes back to 5th grade. Others, schoolmates, military friends, veterans, teachers, others who I have worked, attended church, marched for civil rights, or imbibed heavily of adult beverages with over the years mean so much to me. I guess that’s one reason that Buffet’s Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes speaks to me. Over the years all of us have grown up and changed, we aren’t the same as we were when we first met each other because of life and our experiences, but we’re still friends.

Reading departure signs in some big airport; Reminds me of the places I’ve been Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure, Makes me want to go back again; If it suddenly ended tomorrow I could somehow adjust to the fall; Good times and riches and son of a bitches I’ve seen more than I can recall

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Some of these folks and I have gone through tremendously difficult times together; we’ve faced career crises, health issues, deployments, family separations, lived in the field, and in combat conditions facing danger, coming home to changed family situations, facing physical injury, and the craziness that is part of dealing with PTSD, TBI, and chronic sleep disorders. I have a friend going through chemotherapy for stage-four lymphoma, and others who have recently gone through life threatening health crises. The cool thing is that we are friends and that we have stood by each other. We can disagree about politics, religion, and so many things that destroy other friendships. I am reminded of what William Tecumseh Sherman said of his friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk, now we stand together.”

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I think about Paris when I’m high on red wine I wish I could jump on a plane; So many nights I just dream of the ocean God; I wish I was sailin’ again; Oh, yesterday’s over my shoulder So I can’t look back for too long; There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me And I know that I just can’t go wrong

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The good thing is that life continues and friendships do as well and if I can speak for myself, if I couldn’t laugh and I weren’t crazy I would go insane.

So until tomorrow,

Peace and friendship,

Padre Steve+

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Remembering Those Who Helped Make Us Who We Are

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Historian David McCullough wrote something that I think is all too easy to forget in a world where many people, including our current President seem to think that everything is about them. McCullough wrote:

“We are all what we are, in large degree, because of others who have helped, coached, taught, counseled, who set a standard by example, who’ve taken an interest in our interests, opened doors, opened our minds, helped us see, who gave encouragement when we needed it, who reprimanded or prodded when we needed it, and at critical moments, inspired.”

When I look back at my own life I see the tremendous impact of how others, family, teachers, coaches, pastors, people who I have served alongside or under the command of in the military, as well as just simple people who knew me and cared enough to put an arm around my shoulder, offer an encouraging word, piece of wisdom, of maybe even a observation that wasn’t comfortable to hear, have helped make me what I am today. In fact there are so many of them that it would be almost impossible to list them all, and as we come up on Memorial Day next week I tend to become a bit melancholy thinking about those military personnel who impacted my life and mourning those who have passed on. I have written about many of them and probably will do so again over the coming months, not only the military people but the others, if for no other reason to ensure that they are not forgotten and to remember that everything in life doesn’t have to be about what is going on in the news cycle.

Even so it is humbling to know that if all of these people had not been part of my life that I would not be who I am today.

So anyway, if I can say anything to anyone today, try to remember the people who have helped you become what you are.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Margaritaville a Time Out from Trump All the Time


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Despite the continued bombardment of news about the Trump administration and the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to oversee the investigation I am going to take a breather from what is beginning to feel like “all Trump all the time,” not that there is not more to write about but unless something even bigger blows up in regard to the investigation of what appears to be the most incompetent, most inept, and possibly the most criminal and treasonous Presidential administration in American history, I’m going to take at least a few days to write about other things.

It is possible to become so enmeshed in breaking news without end that one loses perspective and forgets about other things, important things such as family, friends, pets, travel, hobbies, and life in general. I like reading, writing, building model airplanes and ships, hanging out with my wife, traveling, playing with and snuggling my dogs, going for walks, going to baseball games, and hanging out with friends over a couple of beers at my local watering hole.

But last night I scored tickets at the last minute to see Jimmy Buffet in concert. Great time. I like Margaritaville a lot better than Trumpland and I made use of my license to chill. 

So until tomorrow, have a good day and if you can remember who you are and what you enjoy, we’ll have plenty to deal with regarding Trump in the coming weeks and months and after effects that like the half-life of Plutonium may linger for years. But that being said, it’s five o’clock somewhere. 

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Trump’s True Believers: Why Removing Trump Will be Harder than it Seems

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

For those rejoicing in the continued revelations of President Trump’s malfeasance and incompetence hoping that this will soon trigger his removal either by impeachment or the use of the 25th Amendment be assured that unless something totally unexpected occurs that this will not end soon, nor well.

Dona;d Trump is a unique creature in American politics, he has succeeded in establishing himself as the center of a political cult that has taken over the Republican Party. Despite his overall approval ratings consistently being below 40% with terrible numbers pertaining to his basic character and trustworthiness, well over 80% of Republicans in every poll continue to support him. They reject any fact that is contrary to what they believe about their leader, and they tend to support the most unconstitutional aspects of his ill-defined political ideology, which more resembles the Nazi Fuhrerprinzip than anything from the American political tradition. They abhor those who raise objections of any kind based on fact so much that they have gone resorted to repeating what they sometimes refer to as alternative facts or alternative truths.

Guided by an uncompromising propaganda network of talk radio and television hosts as well as internet based organizations they have little loyalty to anyone but the President. This mass movement supported by such propaganda is well described by the great American philosopher Eric Hoffer who wrote:

“All mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.”

This is the world of alternative facts, and the prelude to dictatorship if the trend is allowed to continue. Likewise the true believers, those who follow the President as if he were some sort of Messiah intent on destroying the old order and establishing a new will not stand easily aside. Their support for the President is much deeper than normal political attachment, he is an extension of them who gives voice to their innermost fears, passions, and insecurity. They are defiant in their stand against those that he is against. Historian Timothy Snyder wrote of how the language of their leader and his propaganda works in the minds of the followers:

“Victor Klemperer, a literary scholar of Jewish origin, turned his philological training against Nazi propaganda. He noticed how Hitler’s language rejected legitimate opposition: The people always meant some people and not others (the president uses the word in this way), encounters were always struggles (the president says winning), and any attempt by free people to understand the world in a different way was defamation of the leader (or, as the president puts it, libel).”  

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Thus they cannot be convinced by normal argument or fact. Hoffer noted:

“The leader personifies the certitude of the creed and the defiance and grandeur of power. He articulates and justifies the resentment damned up in the souls of the frustrated. He kindles the vision of a breath-taking future so as to justify the sacrifice of a transitory present. He stages a world of make-believe so indispensable for the realization of self-sacrifice and united action.”

Even when everything comes apart around them and their leader collapses they cannot admit that he was deceiving them. At the end of the war a German soldier told Victor Klemperer that “Hitler has never lied, I believe the Fuhrer.” Snyder writes: “The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said that “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice.” When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truths of our individual discernment and experience. What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual, evidence was irrelevant.”

With that kind of following in the GOP it will take a while before this is finished as most GOP leaders, even those who distrust or oppose Trump on some issues are too afraid of the Trump supporters who now control their party to attempt to remove him unless those supporters turn on him. This is unlikely at least in the near future, and there is always the possibility that early some morning Trump will tweet them into committing acts of violence to crush dissent, even against Republican leaders who have the courage to jump ship and turn on the President.

The man is not normal, he is not stable, and he knows nothing but conflict. His followers believe in him almost as a Messiah figure who cannot be wrong and must be defended to the last and experience has shown us that some of would resort to violence to silence his critics. 

Like Hitler and his most loyal followers, he sees this as a fight to the finish which Trump which he must win or be defeated. It is a zero sum conflict, and I do not expect it to end well, even if Trump is eventually removed by impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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