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Archive for April, 2013

A Review of Hell’s Angels

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 30, 2013

Hell's AngelsHell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this book was Hunter S. Thompson’s first book and I think you can tell. No real sign of “gonzo” journalism here, other than traveling with the Hell’s Angel’s on runs for a year. It seems very much like straight journalism, like he’s right out of journalism school.

I couldn’t finish this book, because in one word, it’s BORING! Yes, that’s right. A book about the Hell’s Angeles is boring. It shouldn’t be. The problem is, Thompson goes so far overboard, so out of his way, to portray this motorcycle gang as the biggest menace America has ever faced, that it’s ridiculous and repetitive. And annoying. Okay, these guys are slugs. Big deal.

Hell’s Angels, written circa 1966 — before Altamont — describes America’s total fixation and fear about this perceived menace. And reading it now in 2013, it just seems somewhat quaint. Almost silly. Motorcycle gangs? We’re talking about maybe, maybe 500 motorcycle gang members. Want gangs? Try L.A., where there are tens of thousands of gang members. Want a real menace? Try the punks with guns that are killing the hundreds of people dying each year in cities like L.A. and Chicago. The most trouble a Hell’s Angel ever got into was a bar fight or two, with few exceptions. The subtitle is “A Strange and Terrible Saga.” Frankly, it doesn’t seem very strange and terrible at all. Try terrorism. That’s strange and terrible. I guess the nuclear family going into the 1960s was scared to death of people who weren’t straight laced, but it’s kind of pathetic and the book drones on and on about how menacing these guys were, when they were just big punks. Big damn deal. Get over it. Now I assume if Thompson were still alive and he decided to re-write the book, it would read quite differently, but it’s a disappointing book without much allure to it and I just couldn’t finish it. Pity.

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Zachary

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 30, 2013

We think we have a ghost. We’ve named “him” Zachary. Don’t know why. We’re not sure if it’s a spirit or not — I tend to not believe in such things — but some odd things do happen. For one thing, both of our cats will stare at a certain spot near our den’s door for lengthy periods of time without moving. We think he’s there then. They’ve also done this in front of the fireplace a couple of times and twice in the dining room. For another thing, lights often flicker on and off, especially in the kitchen area. Don’t know why. It’s not the wiring. The bulbs are new. Also, at night we often hear strange sounds that we can’t account for. Hard to describe, but we hear things. Gretchen also misplaces things constantly. Now that could just be her, or according to the things I’ve read, it could be a ghost. Lastly, Gretchen saw a shadow form by the fireplace last year, just for a moment. Who knows? She has a rune something or other and broke it out recently to ask some questions. I don’t know how much stock I place in such things, but it indicated we do have a spirit here, just one, and male. We don’t know anything else. Our house was built in 1960, but it’s in a nice residential neighborhood, so I doubt it was built over an Indian burial ground or anything. The previous owner’s husband died 16 years ago, but we don’t know if it was here or in a hospital or where. Other than that, we don’t know anything about the house. We think Zachary is a “good” ghost. Nothing bad or evil has happened. But we’d like to find out. I’m considering bringing in a paranormal team to see what they come up with. In the meantime, I took a funny little online test. Here are the results:

Certificate: Test results
Is There A Ghost In Your House?

You might have a ghost. Try to communicate with the ghost, such as asking it yes/no questions and telling it to do something for yes and something for no. Tell it to do something to prove that it is in that room. Whatever you do, be nice! If you don’t have any more signs that you have a ghost, then it is gone. If the ghost doesn’t do anything bad, it is most likely good, so try to be its friend! If anything really serious happens, get help! Good luck!

You have correctly answered 5 of 10 questions.

On average, 21342 of users who took the quiz gave 4.63 right answers.

Take this quiz: Is There A Ghost In Your House?

What do you people think? Do we have a ghost? Is there a way to find out legitimately? Cheers!

Huh. Apparently my wife has heard voices and felt touches, as well as experiencing disappearing items. I didn’t realize that when I wrote this. I have retaken this quiz and here are the results:

 

Certificate: Test results
Is There A Ghost In Your House?


Yes, you have a ghost. Is it good… or bad? Try asking it yes/no questions and tell it to do something for yes and something for no. Ask it to do something to show that it is in the room. Be nice to it! If it doesn’t do anything bad it is probably a good ghost, so try to be its friend! If it causes serious problems or frightens everybody, you should get help. Good luck!

You have correctly answered 7 of 10 questions.

On average, 21348 of users who took the quiz gave 4.63 right answers.
 

Take this quiz: Is There A Ghost In Your House?

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A Review of The Day the Martians Came

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 29, 2013

The Day the Martians CameThe Day the Martians Came by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I like Frederik Pohl, on average, but this book is below average. It’s not even much of an attempt at sci fi — just loosely related to it. It starts out rather promisingly, with some crashed astronauts finding an underground Martian “Macy’s” and ultimately some real Martians. These Martians end up being a little disappointing though, as they’re merely seals with legs. At this point, the novel loses any credibility it had to begin with. Although we’re never told how this transpires, the next thing we know is that the astronauts have somehow communicated with the Martians and have convinced them to get on their spaceship so they can return to Earth together. Um, how did this happen Mr. Pohl? Seems to me this would be pretty major to the plot, but again, it’s never described. What then happens in this novel is a series of virtual stand alone short stories are related about people who are anticipating the arrival of the Martians several months from now, all in their own ways. Very loosely tied together. I guess some of the stories are moderately interesting, but aside from the rare mention of Martians, none are actually sci fi — just generalized stories about humanity in its different forms. You have a Russian tour guide who wants to get to America, a brainwashed cult member trying to get handouts for his cult, a Hollywood screenwriter, etc. The only other time the Martians are really brought into the book is at the end of the “novel” upon their impending landing on Earth, when all of a sudden, we’re given the Martians’ point of view — they refer to us as “humans.” How would they know to do this? They don’t speak; they touch each other for communal language. How did they ever learn to call us humans? I have no idea. With the whole planet watching, they land, then everyone leaves to go back to their lives and Pohl tries to bring the characters from the shorts into play here to tie everything together, but it seems like a really weak effort and thus the book fails. It’s really not very good, and as far as sci fi goes, it seems a failure to me. I love Pohl’s short stories and some of his novels, but I can’t recommend this one.

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A Review of John Lennon: The Life

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 25, 2013

John Lennon: The LifeJohn Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whew! I finally finished this 850 page beast of a book. There is so much there, it’s so packed with information, that it’s hard to recall everything one would want to include in a review. Philip Norman did an outstanding job of going through documents, media, and interviewing everyone under the sun who knew John Lennon. I admire the job he did and it obviously took him years to do it. I almost feel guilty for paying just a couple of bucks for a used copy. Norman deserves a lot of money for his efforts.

I finished John Lennon: The Life on the heels of Paul McCartney: A Life and it is interesting to compare and contrast the two perspectives. Some of it is overlapping, of course, but there are some notable differences which I may touch on later in this review.

First, let me say that I never really knew until now just how big a PRICK John Lennon was!!! The McCartney book hinted at it sometimes, but Norman makes clear just how big a dick Lennon was to nearly everyone in his life, for virtually his entire life, until his son Sean was born a few years before Lennon’s assassination. Man, he was a jerk! The main reason seems to be abandonment issues, dating back to his childhood when his father, Freddie, a seaman, left the family to go overseas and didn’t really return. Meanwhile, his mother, Julia, who he had some sort of sick sexual fantasy about during his entire life, and who had Lennon while having an affair with another man, gave him up to be raised by his strict Aunt Mimi, because she was more stable. Julia was a loose cannon. Freddie eventually came home and John was forced to choose between them, choosing Julia before being shuffled off to Mimi. This trauma appears throughout the book, throughout his life.

John was also very insecure much of the time, it seems. He was also rebellious by nature, making it difficult for Mimi to raise him in the way she would have preferred. By the time he was in high school, he was wearing disreputable clothing and combing his hair improperly. It was the rebellious ’50s after all, with Elvis and everything, and John loved Elvis.

John learned to play the guitar, partly, and not well. The McCartney book makes clear that Paul taught John how to play properly, and this book alludes to that, but not in those exact words. John had a band called the Quarrymen he played with while in art college. This college was next to a high school that Paul and George Harrison attended and they eventually combined their musical interests to form a band of their own. Their bassist was Stu Sutcliffe, an excellent artist but terrible bass player. They didn’t have a drummer for awhile, until Pete Best joined them. In 1960, they were offered a gig to play in Hamburg, Germany, in the seediest section of town — even in a strip club. Apparently they took to it and really played hard edged music. The book describes John as being the original Johnny Rotten of Sex Pistols fame, years before punk rock emerged. I’m not sure I buy that entirely, but they wore all black with black leather jackets, and they ended up playing Hamburg three times, for weeks at a time. Eventually back in Liverpool, Brian Epstein, a reputable (but closeted gay) upper class businessman, found them playing in a club and decided he wanted to become their manager, and so it happened. Shortly after, they got a recording track and “Love Me Do” came out and Beatlemania began. Everything went downhill for John from that point on. John got his girlfriend, Cynthia, pregnant and felt compelled to marry her. They had a son named Julian who Lennon basically ignored. Cynthia was a dutiful wife, because management didn’t want the fans to know any of the Beatles were taken, so she stayed in the background while the boys toured the world to all sorts of acclaim as hit after hit came out. Epstein made the boys (Ringo had replaced Best by now) wear matching suits and ditch their black attire and John resented this. John also grew to resent the fans, who made no effort to listen to the music at the concerts, instead overwhelming the venue with shrieks and loud sounds. The lyrics couldn’t even be heard, and this ticked John off.

John liked Ringo and always got along with him, but he seemed to not respect George, always viewing him as a younger brother of sorts, and credited himself with teaching George everything he knew, which was highly unlikely. He and Paul formed a great song writing team, perhaps the best ever, but he resented Paul’s attempts to manage the group during recording sessions and for marketing, and later for everything. He had a love/hate relationship with Paul. The McCartney book talked about Paul’s resentment of the songs being credited to another “Lennon McCartney” song, when he wrote the majority of the hits. The Lennon book seems to view more of the hits as coming from John. I guess that’s not too surprising.

Lennon had a mighty temper and it was often uncontrollable, especially when he was drinking — he was a terrible drunk. Norman nearly implies Lennon was responsible for Sutcliffe’s premature death by kicking him in the head repeatedly in a drunken brawl. Wow. As we all know, Lennon started doing drugs, lots of them, early on. Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to pot, which became a pretty common drug of use for all of them. Someone else later introduced John to LSD, which he possibly took hundreds of times. And apparently, Yoko introduced him to heroin later on. Pity. Tragedy, really.

The McCartney book seemed to imply to me that Yoko was indeed responsible for the breakup of the Beatles. At least, that’s how I read it. This book doesn’t seem to say that. Lennon had become dissatisfied with and resentful of the Beatles before the White Album even came out and it was everything he could do to keep up appearances. When Yoko appeared on the scene in a London art gallery, where she was displaying her work, visiting from NYC, he felt an instant connection, as did she. They didn’t immediately follow up on it, but when they finally did, it was instant and permanent. Cynthia came home from a vacation to find John and Yoko in robes one morning, sitting in John’s kitchen. Cynthia fled and divorce proceedings began. Meanwhile, Yoko, who had a daughter with her husband, divorced him so she and John could be together. The important thing in all of this was John was insecure and insanely jealous, so he demanded that Yoko be with him at all times, even taking her to the bathroom with him when he had to go! It was crazy. So naturally she ended up at recording sessions, and it was his insistence that she be given the opportunity to comment on the recordings, and since she was an outspoken artist, she did, ultimately to the resentment of the other Beatles. Everyone in the world hates Yoko, but Norman goes out of his way, I think, to portray her in a kind light and I learned a lot I didn’t know, about her sacrifices for their relationship, about the crap she had to put up with, about her artistry, about her business acumen, about her miscarriages before she became pregnant with Sean at age 42. I no longer hate Yoko. John broke up the Beatles, with Yoko’s help. It wasn’t Yoko. John was determined to do it himself. One of the first breaks he tried to make from the others was in obtaining new management. Epstein had died, the Beatles had mismanaged their fortune, so Paul hired his girlfriend Linda Eastman’s lawyer dad and brother to represent them, presumably with the okay of the others. Meanwhile, John and Yoko met with Allen Klein, manager of the Rolling Stones, and hired him to represent Lennon, and possibly the Beatles, leading to a bad scene. He said, “I don’t give a bugger what anyone else wants … I’m having Allen Klein for me.” (Years later, Lennon would admit Paul was right about Klein while Klein was suing him for millions.)

At times, John did recognize he had unresolved issues. At some point, he came across an American shrink named Janov who pioneered primal scream therapy and hired him to help Lennon out. Norman writes, “John’s psychological state came as a profound shock to Janov. ‘The level of his pain was enormous … as much as I’ve ever seen. He was almost completely nonfunctional … At the center of all that fame and wealth and adulation was just a lonely little kid.'” Lennon felt like he had been abandoned by several people — his parents, his Uncle George, who died early, Stu Sutcliffe, and Brian Epstein. He took these deaths as personal desertions, which is kind of an unhealthy way of looking at it in my opinion.

In 1971, after the breakup of the Beatles, John gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine in which “he told what being one of the world’s four most adored and envied young men had really meant — the infantile mayhem that had progressively stifled their desire to do live concerts, the enforced kowtowing to insufferable dignitaries and officials, the ban on expressing a view on any grown-up topic whatever, the backstage sex orgies … belied by the front-of-stage squeaky-cleanliness, the sense of being trapped in ever-increasing, unstoppable madness.” He also discussed his trip to Spain , with Epstein which people had talked about for years with rumors of a gay affair. Lennon said, “No, not an affair…. I watched Brian picking up the boys. I like playing a bit faggy, all that.” Huh. I didn’t have much pity for Lennon and his fame. McCartney handled it just fine. Why was Lennon so put off by everything that came with fame? Oh, speaking of playing “faggy,” at one point Yoko was quoted as wondering if “he had contemplated an affair with Paul, but had been deterred by Paul’s immovable heterosexuality.” “I knew there was something going on there … From his point of view, not from Paul’s. And he was so angry at Paul, I couldn’t help wondering what it was really about.”

I had thought John and Yoko had the perfect marriage, so I was somewhat surprised to learn that Lennon grew disenchanted with her sexually, especially since they really lit it up early on. “They agreed it would do their marriage no harm if John were to find other sexual partners.” Wow. Yoko offered up their Chinese assistant May Pang, who accompanied John on the “Lost Weekend” to L.A., which lasted something like a year and a half and during which time he was a drugged out drunk who missed Yoko. I had heard about May Pang, but had forgotten her. John didn’t even stay faithful to HER, hooking up with various women around L.A. Bad scene.

John and Yoko eventually reconciled and got back together. They had Sean and John all of a sudden grew up and matured. He became a househusband and father while Yoko took care of business. They wanted to match Paul’s solo monetary success, jealous of how he and Linda were doing. I like how much of the book is devoted to Lennon post-Beatles. It really gives you a window into he and Yoko and all they did. The thing I didn’t like about the book was the last few years of Lennon’s life, when he had settled down and became a good father — even to Julian too — take up just a few of the last pages of the book. It climaxes with Mark David Chapman’s assassination of him outside the Dakota apartment building in NYC, just after Double Fantasy had come out and John was in a good place in his life for the first time ever. A real tragedy. There’s a postscript called “Sean Remembers,” which is really sad to read, but it’s a good way to finish the book. The only other things I could have wished for was more on Yoko post-death, and the reactions of the other Beatles to the horrific event. Nothing is said, so we’re left wondering what went through the minds of everyone else. I think that’s a small weakness of an otherwise strong book. It’s a long read and John is knocked down a few pegs, in my estimation, but it’s interesting and worth the time investment. Recommended.

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50 Reasons You Despised George W. Bush’s Presidency: A Reminder on the Day of His Presidential Library Dedication

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 25, 2013

50 Reasons You Despised George W. Bush’s Presidency: A Reminder on the Day of His Presidential Library Dedication | Alternet.

This is a truly excellent list and it’s spot on. Read and remember!

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A Review of The Heaven Virus

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 23, 2013

The Heaven VirusThe Heaven Virus by Clifford A. Pickover

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I gave this book a try, I really did. Ultimately I got to page 168 out of a 364 page novel before giving up. The author, Cliff Pickover, may have a PhD from Yale, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good writer. I thought the writing in this book was very uneven, very stilted, very unbelievable, and just … not very good.

Nick is the protagonist. He takes a train to a mall in the NYC suburbs because someone named Miranda has been sending him messages telling him to. “All of your questions will be answered.” Seriously. What questions? Like why is some quack sending him cryptic message urging him to travel to meet her? I guess. So he goes, finds the mall, enters, thinks some things seem a little weird and then with some searching finds this mysterious Miranda, who happens to be a total hottie. He’s so lucky. Turns out he’s dead, she tells him. Cancer or something. And there’s an inventor named Dr. Adam Wolfchen who has invented something called the Afterlife chip, where you can magically upload someone, somehow, to the chip so they live on for eternity in this mall, for instance. And this has happened to Nick, although we’re never told who uploaded Nick to the chip. And Miranda’s a simulation who’s going to be Nick’s companion for eternity. Um, okay. (This book is partly based on the Internet site, Second Life, so I guess Pickover got many of his ideas from there.)

The thing that drove me nuts about this book is the author goes out of his way to prove his scientific linguistic skills are superior to anyone else who has ever lived, or so it seems. It seems like every other page is filled with words that are either ones no one ever uses and thus they don’t know what they mean, or they’re just trash — nonsense words. I hate having to break out a dictionary to read a novel. Dang it, I have three degrees in English and Writing. I shouldn’t be so easily stymied! Let me give an example or two:

Page 60: “Did you know the scent of roses comes from rose ketones and beta-damascone derived from carotenoid degradation?”

Page 151: “Controlled radical polymerization of methacrylic monomers in the presence of a bis (orth-chelated) arylnickel (IV) complex.”

Yeah. Whatever. Page after page of that crap.

Anyway, the mall starts falling apart, presumably due to a software bug in the Afterlife chip. Strange things happen. Miranda’s always after Nick to do “it” but Nick has other ideas — someone put the notion in his head that there’s a way to escape the mall, so he makes that his goal. But if you’re dead and now software, where are you going to escape to??? Anyway, prime example, page 149: Nick felt an incredible longing building within him. ‘Miranda, you are out of this world. But we are trying to find a way out of here. Stay focused.'” So, some nubile, young, sexy piece of software is offering it up to him for eternity and he can only think of escaping? Doesn’t seem very realistic to me. Meanwhile, there are spiders that communicate, fighting blowfish that float through the air and attack people, ways to ingest others into yourself, and so on and so forth. It seems to me that Dr. Pickover played Second Life a few too many nights and got himself addicted, because this book reads like the ramblings of a VR geek with no real life to live. I’m going to give this book two stars instead of one simply because it’s fairly original and the author does try — just not very well. I’d kind of like to know what happens at the end, but not badly enough to continue reading.

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America’s Baffling Historical Amnesia

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 23, 2013

America’s Baffling Historical Amnesia: Suddenly President Bush’s Approval Ratings Are the Same As Obama’s | Alternet.

Stunning. How can America forget the president who lied to get us into the Iraq war for dubious purposes? How can America forget about Hurricane Katrina? How can America forget about how the economy tanked under Bush? How can they forget torture, the Patriot Act, Cheney and his influence, blood for oil, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians on his head? How?

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Senate rejects expanded gun background checks – CNN.com

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 17, 2013

Senate rejects expanded gun background checks – CNN.com.

It’s ever so nice to know we have the NRA looking out for our rights to get slaughtered in cold blood by assault weapons. The next time there’s a massacre, and there will be one, I’m writing every NRA official and congressman I can think of to personally assign blame for the blood of the victims. The NRA is vile and so are the politicians that support them.

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A Review of The French Connection

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 15, 2013

The French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International ConspiracyThe French Connection: A True Account of Cops, Narcotics, and International Conspiracy by Robin Moore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cautiously recommend this book for anyone who likes cop books or true crime books. I use the word “cautiously” because the detailed, numerous chase scenes through the city on streets no one outside of New York would recognize render the reader nearly brain dead or perhaps dead of boredom. If you can get past the damn chase scenes, it’s an interesting read with an interesting plot. Two NYC detectives stumble across the nephew of a major Mafia boss who’s on the run and who might be involved in some nefarious stuff himself. Turns out they’re right. They get permission to use surveillance on “Patsy” and his family and friends and find themselves at the heart of what turns out to be the biggest heroin bust in US history. (This was 1961, so that record was broken a short time later and probably has been a hundred times since.) French mobsters smuggle in 112 pounds of pure heroin which Patsy takes over to distribute, without knowing he’s being tailed by up to 300 policemen around the city. The descriptions of the surveillance are fairly cool, but it was astounding to find just how often 300 cops could let three Frenchmen and several American mobsters slip right through their fingers while they’re watching them. If it weren’t for Detective Eddie Egan’s “Irish luck” in stumbling smack dab into the thugs while everyone is scrambling to find them, they probably would have gotten away with distributing 112 pounds of heroin and walking away with hundreds of millions of dollars. The climax of the book is exciting, but I do have a complaint. After reading 21 chapters and 250 pages, the court case(s) scenes in the book take up exactly one chapter — 10 pages — explaining the sentences for the criminals and that’s it. No court scene. No legal arguing before the judge and jury. It just ends. Talk about abrupt! Aside from the redundant chase scene, this is an exciting thriller that builds to a climax before it totally peters out at the end. I’m giving it four stars instead of three, though, because I couldn’t put it down and read it in a day. It was that compelling. So I’m going to overlook the negatives and just rest in the knowledge that I enjoyed a good, quick read.

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A Review of The Merchants’ War

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 15, 2013

The Merchants' WarThe Merchants’ War by Frederik Pohl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this sequel to The Space Merchants, written decades earlier. Pohl’s wit and satire are on full display through the entire novel. This is a futuristic world which is run by advertisers and advertising with protesters having migrated to Venus to escape. There are armies that “attack” aborigines to get them addicted to advertised products. It’s pretty funny. Tennison Tarb is a senior ad exec stuck on Venus, but due to go home to an earth that’s polluted and run over with billions of people. He has a love interest and there are numerous plot twists and his career goes up and down throughout the novel. He almost immediately falls victim to a new kind of advertising on his return to earth and starts drinking Moke-Koke, a seriously addictive beverage that’s a combination of chocolate, coffee, and cocaine. As this book was published in 1984, you can bet Pohl is aware of the powerful pull of cocaine at the time, so when Tarb becomes a Moke Head, he kind of beats it into you, but it still fits the story. Toward the end of the novel, Tarb discovers a Venusian plot to beat earth at its own game and essentially keep Venus advertising-free. The plot is at the highest levels of the advertising world, but he agrees to help them (to save his own skin), going against everything he believes in. By the time the rather abrupt ending rolled around, I found it very surprising and somewhat hard to believe, but I still give Pohl credit for a fairly original book and awfully good writing. Not everyone will like this because it’s not hard sci fi, but if you like some wicked humor mixed with futuristic worlds, you might enjoy this book. It’s a fun read.

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