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Micheal Moore, Capitalism, and Us

October 03, 2009

I went to see Micheal Moore’s latest movie last night, Capitalism: a Love Story.

Never have I heard a call for revolution delivered so calmly and peacefully and with such good humor.

Micheal Moore literally lays bare the roots and causes of our current economic crisis.  I find it shocking that so few people could craft financial schemes that have impoverished so many of us.  He also illustrates that impoverishment in masterful ways, both blunt and subtle.


But, he doesn’t just complain.  He lays out specific ideas for fundamentally changing out economy.  He also hints at ways that this revolution can be done in a peaceful, straightforward way.  But, it’s clear that if that’s the kind of revolution we want, we’d better hurry.

I felt the power that a peaceful change can bring at the Inauguration, and that feeling is what I want to preserve in our book.  But, having watched the movie is making me rethink aspects of our business plan.  Ujjvala and I need to do some more talking over the weekend.


Gandhi, Obama, and You

October 02, 2009

Today is Mahatma Gandh’s birthday, and two years ago the UN declared October 2 as International Nonviolence Day. Gandhi is one of Obama’s heroes, as has been reported nearly everywhere. Here is a link from an English language Indian paper, for a different perspective:

Americans Owe Enormous Gratitude to Gandhi, Obama Says

Violence tried to break the chain of peace that started with Thoreau, influenced Gandhi, and continued with Martin Luther King Jr,. Yet subsequent history was decided by these peacemakers, not by their violent opponents.  I believe that the violence that is simmering the world will not prevail this time either. I hope you believe this too.

You who attended Barack Obama’s inauguration are not only a part of history. You are also a link in that chain of peace.


Inspire us

October 01, 2009

I voted for Barack Obama, but it’s just now that I’ve started reading his memoir, Dreams from My Father. Isn’t it remarkable that a young man could write such a profound, lyrical book? Wasn’t it moving how he described the different racial environments that he explored, and how they formed his drive to unite Americans? Many were inspired by that book to work for Obama’s election. His memoir shows me that the man in the White House is authentic. I’m so glad we have a President of his character.

Why do we tell our stories? That is the central question that is answered in memoirs, including in this memoir you can submit about witnessing the inauguration of our first African-American president. Consider your account not just a news story, but a new story, a story that can change people.

Think about any or all of these questions as starting points for what you want to say:

    What are you teaching us by telling us this story?
    What did you learn, or discover, or create, etc ?
    What do you feel you are contributing to the current dialogue in the country?

Do you have any more questions that you think you can answer? Do you have a perspective that needs to be heard? There are more ideas on how to start in our Facebook page, “”

Inspire us. Tell us your story.


Me, Julie, and Julia

September 25, 2009

Last night my wife took me to see the movie “Julie and Julia.”  I’ve been interested in the works of Nora Ephron ever since I took a writing class from her many, many years ago.  There were some interesting parallels with my life.  Like, Julie I have a stultifying “day job.”  I work in an industrial ceramics factory, running a huge grinding machine that shapes ceramic blocks for glass furnaces.  The blocks can be up to eight feet long, and sometimes have to be ground to within 1/1000th of an inch.  It’s dirty, noisy, and often dangerous work that demands my full attention for eight hours every day.  My Bachelor’s in English and my Master’s in English education aren’t much help in that environment.   

Also, like Julie, I’m a little hesitant about the idea of blogging.  Giving up one’s privacy is somewhat daunting.  However, it seems that we are becoming a society without boundaries or distinctions.  When I was younger, the idea of mixing personal experiences with work was considered unprofessional.  Now, when it’s unclear what information is true or false, I can understand that people need to see the “genuine” process of creating something like our publishing business. 

And it has been quite a process.  Vaiju and I took several months to decide whether or not to go through with this business.  Neither of us is independently wealthy, so this is a substantial financial risk.  It took me another month to create our business plan.  I have had some experience and a fair amount of success as a grant writer, so I had done budgets and projections before.  This was different, however.  This was my own money and my own life being fit into a business plan.  I put in every contingency I could think of and Fed-Exed it to Vaiju.  When she agreed to try, I knew we could do it.  I’ve known Vaiju for more than 30 years and I trust her judgement completely. 

We’ve had some setbacks.  Our first web developer was incompetent.  I should have paid attention to the feeling in my gut as we were considering hiring him.  But his references and education checked out, and his price and timeline fit our business plan.  We lost several months and thousands of dollars as he struggled to get our website running.  It looked like the whole project might fail.  We ended up letting him go.  Then we hired out current web developer, E-Market South, and the experience has been fantastic.  The site looks great and works perfectly. 

So now we will end up, like Julie, huge internet successes!  With the help of you and your submissions, we can create our first book, helping to preserve the sense of hope and accomplishment we all felt on 1/20/09.  As Barack said, it was never about him.  It’s about us and what we can do as a Nation when we pull together.  That’s the kind of spirit we are striving for here at Mason-Dixon Publishing.  That’s the kind of spirit that can change all of our lives for the better.   


Joe’s Inauguation Story

September 18, 2009

This is my own story of what happened on January 20, 2009.  Your story will be different.  You might choose to tell your story as a poem, or you may have had more humorous or exciting things happen to you.  The point is, use this story as an example, not a guide.  We want to hear your story in your voice.  Good Luck.

—-Joe DeMare

My Experience at the Inauguration

I didn’t have the time or the money to spare to travel to D.C. for the Inauguration. The holidays had left our bank account drained. But, my wife insisted. “You worked so hard and so long for Obama,” she said, “Now history is about to happen. You have to be there.” Luckily, my son is attending Gallaudet University, the national college for the Deaf, in Washington. So, I arranged to sleep on his couch, and to leave my car in Frederick, Maryland with my Aunt. Saturday morning,, I grabbed some leftover quiche and the remains of a jar of salted cashews, hopped in my Ford Focus, and hit the road.

    The drive down was easy. At that point, the news was still predicting up to 4 million people would attend. So I expected to see convoys of cars with “Obama 08” bumper stickers. I saw dozens, not hundreds, including a car with Illinois plates that read “Lincoln 2.” That set me thinking about the high expectations for the Inaugural speech and Obama’s presidency. Could he possibly deliver? I saw one foretaste of the future Obama is promising as I drove down. On highway 76 in Pennsylvania, I rounded a corner and was confronted with a line of ten enormous windmills.  Their hundred and fifty foot blades were turning slowly, generating enough power for thousands of homes.

    On Sunday, I attended an event called “Obama RadioNation” at the Lisner auditorium at George Washington University. It was a gathering of liberal radio talk show hosts from around the country. Some people credit this small group of people with helping to negate the influence of conservative radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Though conservatives outnumber liberals in terms of amount of radio air time by 9 to 1, people like Stephanie Miller, Randi Rhodes, Bill Press, and Ed Shultz still have an enormous influence. Like the liberal talk shows, the Sunday night program was sometimes hilarious, sometimes deadly serious in condemning George Bush, and sometimes it was simply incoherent . Some of the guests got stuck on the Metro or in airports, so the rag time band frequently had to fill in. The liberal talk show hosts are a bawdy and irreverent bunch. When Stephanie Miller came onstage, she gave the host,  Bill Press, a hug that could only be described as obscene. The feedback from their microphones quickly broke them apart, however. Randi Rhodes greeted talk show host Joe Madison with a kiss. Madison, who is black,  was active during the civil rights struggles. He turned to the audience and said, “Now we know we’ve reached equality, when I can stand up onstage and kiss a beautiful blonde woman.”

    On the way home I rode the Metro—Washington’s excellent subway system. I ran into some other people who had also attended. I recognized them because they were wearing V.I.P badges with the RadioNation logo on them.  People all over D.C. were wearing similar badges for other events, usually hanging around their necks on red, white, and blue ribbons. The Metro was crowded, but not overly so. I struck up a conversation with one of the women in the group. She worked for a major Washington D.C. paper and was full of conspiracy theories and gossip. She was a font of information on everything from the JFK assassination to the infidelities of some very prominent Republicans. How much was true and how much was gossip, I had no way of knowing.

    On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, I decided to answer Barack Obama’s call to National Service. The website listed hundreds of volunteer opportunities around the D.C. area. My son, his girlfriend, and I decided to help clean up the Crescent Trail that connected Silver Springs with Bethesda. We arrived at the same time as a family with four small children. They could only be described as adorable as, well-bundled, they ran about the parking lot picking up trash. They were delightedly calling to each other, “I call that cup!” and “Hey! I got a candy wrapper!” as their parents walked along, smiling and encouraging them. I’m old enough to remember the very first Earth Day, and I got some of the same feeling of excitement as I did back then. When we turned the corner onto the trail, we were amazed to see easily a hundred people,  spread out along the trail as far as we could see, picking up trash and ferrying full bags back to a dumpster at the head of the trail. My son threw himself into the task with his usual abandon, wrestling an old car exhaust out of the frozen ground and clambering onto the steep sides of an overpass, looking for trash no one else could get to. I joined up with an older couple who were busy hauling the contents of a pile of some very old, crumbling plastic bags full of trash out of the woods. Those bags had obviously sat there for years, on top of a small hill just about at eye level for people walking on the path. As we were working,, a group of helicopters flew overhead. I wondered if it was President Bush. I knew that whoever was on those helicopters could look down and see tens of thousands of people all over the D.C. area working in the woods and fields, cleaning up. This was a manifestation of the spirit of America. We are ready to pitch in, volunteer, and sacrifice if we believe it will create a better country. Bush had failed to tap into that spirit. Instead, after 9/11 he had told us to shop, visit Disneyland, and to increase our consumerism.  We did, with disastrous results for the economy and our national psyche.  There was one sobering event during the clean up on Monday. An older woman stumbled on a steep, rocky slope and broke her wrist. It reminded me that we are a graying nation. As the baby boomers reach old age, the spirit of service is still there, but in many ways we are less resilient,  a little more brittle than we once were. We need to be more careful and take care of each other if we want to succeed in making the reforms Obama is proposing..

Monday night, I couldn’t sleep. At 1A.M. I was lying on my son’s couch,  full of anxiety. I tried to nail down my fear. Was I afraid that, after all that the country had been through, somehow the Inauguration wouldn’t happen after all? Perhaps it was the fear that Obama won’t actually deliver, that his promises to clean up the environment and bring back the middle class were just another politician’s promises, made to be broken as soon as convenient. Had we been fooled again?

    I woke up about 7:00 AM on Inauguration Day. It was later than I had planned. I quickly showered, and dressed up in the warmest clothes that I had. These included a pair of bright yellow sound protective ear phones with a radio built in. I use them at work to protect my hearing from the roar of heavy machinery. After filling my water bottle and shoving a few granola bars in my pocket, I headed out to the Metro. The subway train in Silver Springs station only had a few people on it. I wondered if the dire warnings of monstrous crowds had succeeded in scaring everyone away from the event. However, as the train got closer to the Mall, it filled with more people at every stop. Several times, the train stopped and the driver told us that we were waiting for other trains ahead of us that couldn’t unload. Some of us began to worry that we might not actually reach the Mall and end up stuck on the train for the whole event.  This was part of the reason I got off the train at Union Station. There, I got my first glimpse of the breathtaking sea of humanity surging towards the Capital building. People were pouring across the road in front of the station, immobilizing several large, black SUVs that were carrying some men in very expensive suits. It seemed like a fitting metaphor. A flood of common people were blocking the access to the halls of power that the rich and powerful usually enjoyed. More than half the people in the crowd were black, though there were people of literally every size, shape, and color. Camera crews from Japan, or Belgium, or other countries would appear like little islands scattered randomly in the streets. If there was one word that I could use to describe the diverse crowd, it would be “nice.” The whole time I was in the midst of that crowd of two million people, I never heard a harsh word or a voice raised in anger. Even later, when we were all faced with exhaustion and frustration, not one person that I saw turned on another. Instead everyone helped each other to the best of their ability.

    After crossing the road in front of Union Station, I headed towards the Capital building. I found myself in front of a huge crowd that was a mixture of people randomly milling about and others who were formed into a number of lines that snaked and looped around each other . No one seemed to know what was happening. I saw signs with arrows labeled with different colors and I realized that I was in the area where the approximately 240,000 people who had been given “official” tickets were corralled. These were the people who were supposed to get “front row” seats on the front lawn of the Capital. Later I learned that many of these people never did get in. Since I didn’t have a ticket, I tried to walk past this area, but was confronted by the first of many high metal barriers. They were dark grey with a metal mesh with very small holes.  They completely blocked off the access to the Mall, so I doubled back and started heading west along a road that paralleled the Mall. Periodically,  I would try to turn down a side street. Time and again, I would turn south, only to find my way blocked by impenetrable crowds or metal barricades or buildings. Once, somewhere around 5th or 6th street, I struggled out through a crowd that was pushed up against the barriers only to find myself facing another crowd pushed up against police tape.  Police vans, buses, and ambulances were embedded in these crowds. I saw an elderly white woman lying in the back of a parked ambulance getting oxygen, and a young black man standing on top of a bus, leading the crowds in cheers.

    At this point, I found the radio station WTOP on my headphones. This is a news station that had reporters on the ground through the whole Inauguration. Listening to WTOP, I learned that the Capital police had blocked all access to the Mall all the way to 14th street. I started heading west, telling other people along the way what I had learned. At 14th, there was a choice. A young girl was handing out cards that had the Inaugural parade route printed on one side. The gates were open, but from the card I deduced that I still wouldn’t be able to reach the Mall.  Instead, those gates led to bleachers and standing room along D street.  Though the bleachers were almost empty, the road was packed with people waiting for Barack to travel from the White House, where he was having a final meeting with President Bush, to the Capital building. At this point, unsure of whether or not I would be able to reach the Mall, I decided to join the crowd trying to catch a glimpse of Obama. A young soldier at the 14th street entrance frisked me and I made my way along the street until I was nearly at the corner of 15th and D right across from the White House Visitors’ Center. There were two rows of people between me and the street. Directly in front of me, a woman of about 65 stood,  wrapped in a wool blanket with a hooded sweatshirt under a leather jacket.  Helicopters kept circling overhead and a pair of snipers with dark ski masks stood on a balcony near the corner of the roof of the building across the street where they had a view of both 15th and D streets. As we waited, I was amazed at one point to see a bald eagle fly in low from the direction of the Potomac and then North alongside 15th street, directly towards the White House. It was slightly bedraggled with one of its white tail feathers sticking out at an angle, but it was still majestic.  Suddenly there was a phalanx of motorcycle police and then a dark SUV whipped around the corner and passed less than 50 feet from me. Sitting in the back seat, smiling and pointing towards the crowd was Barbra Bush.  Somewhat bemused, we sat back and waited. Soon, Barack Obama himself was driven past us. I only saw his face for a moment, but his expression was joyful. He looked happy but still, somehow calm and serene in the midst of the events whipping past.

    Then he was gone and I decided to try to make it to the Mall after all.  It took me a while to work my way back out to Constitution avenue, other people were trying to get down to the parade route while I was trying to get away from it. Based on what I was hearing from WTOP, I decided that I had to actually walk beyond the Washington Monument and come onto the Mall from the west end. I trudged steadily on, past thousands of hawkers trying to sell buttons, t-shirts, hats, programs, posters, air fresheners,  framed photographs, and hundreds of other items all emblazoned with Obama’s name and image. There were also hundreds of people handing out pamphlets with titles like “Interesting Inaugural Facts” which turned out to be fundamentalist Christian literature. The crowd marching west parallel to the Mall at this point was immense. I’ve been in protest marches before, some with hundreds of thousands of people. This did not feel like that.  There wasn’t a sharp, adrenalin rush from being in this crowd. Instead there was a deep sense of peace, centeredness, a rightness about it.  Again I found myself impressed with how friendly and supportive everyone was being towards each other. Across from the church where the Obamas had attended a prayer service earlier that morning, I asked a policeman how much further west I would have to go to get onto the Mall. He told me 19th street, so I kept going..

Finally, I turned down 19th street and made it onto the Mall. As I was approaching the extreme western end of the crowd I could hear on the radio that they were introducing the Vice-President elect. I reached the crowd and positioned myself so that I could see the very last jumbotron on the Mall. Before me was an awesome sight. The Capital building was now so far away that all I could see of it was the statue “Freedom” atop the dome, just peeking over the tops of some of the trees. The space between me and the Washington monument was jammed solid with people. There were so many packed in together that I could see heat from hundreds of thousands of bodies shimmering in the air. I knew that people were packed solidly together like that for the entire length of the Mall. Near me were young people and old, children on shoulders and standing,. One man had managed to climb a tree nearby and kept yelling instructions down to a friend who was trying to follow. During the Benediction, one man among the thousands I could see turned his back to the screen in protest over the conservative right wing preacher Barack had chosen. Then Barack came onto the stage.

    I had been expecting a jubilant, excited, crowd. Instead people were quiet and serious, as if they were trying to commit every word to memory as they heard it. There were a few points where the people let loose and cheered, but it was as if the seriousness of Obama’s message affected the tone of everyone who listened. In many ways his speech was more of a challenge than a promise. A challenge to us to grow up and take responsibility for our own country, and it was a challenge the listeners were paying attention to. At the point where he thanked President Bush for his service, a few people started to grumble and even boo, but they were quickly quieted by those around them. “Not today,” I heard one man say, “It’s all good, today. Show some love.” At another point, I turned to see an elderly black woman near me, standing with her head bent, leaning on some waist high metal barricades, quietly crying. I couldn’t help crying a little myself after seeing that. When Barack uttered the final words of the swearing in, a fierce “Yes!” erupted from my throat.  It had actually happened. Whatever else might come, we had a new President.

    As soon as Barack had finished, people began streaming out of the park. A few stayed and listened to the new National Poet, but most were headed out. As soon as the crowd began breaking up, the temperature plunged by what felt like at least 20 degrees. It was as if someone had thrown a switch. The wind picked up.  Clouds covered the sun, and a white mist appeared above the crowd. I decided to head back up the middle of the Mall. Walking towards the Washington monument, the amount of litter left by the crowd was impressive. Tens of thousands of newspapers and plastic bags were blowing in the wind, thousands of gloves, scarves, and blankets lay abandoned on the ground. As I came even with the Monument, the huge green helicopter, Marine 1, buzzed low over the Mall. It looked as if it were lower than the point of the obelisk. For some reason I thought the Obamas might be in it and began waving. Then I noticed that many of the people around me were making rude gestures and shouting.. Someone said, “That’s Bush in there!” just as I was standing between the helicopter and the Monument. I stopped waving..

    Climbing up to the monument, I looked east towards the capital and saw that it was still jammed solid with people. The crowd was roiling like the surf on a beach, flowing in several directions at once. Later I discovered that the police had not opened the entrances to the mall on the north side, so a million people had surged in one direction, found their way blocked, and were now trying to get off the mall to the south. The wind was blowing fiercely now, and there was a sense of urgency. It was clear that we had to get out of the elements. I walked around to the lee of the Monument to make some quick notes. Then I plunged ahead into the crowd.

From this point on, there was complete confusion in the crowd. No one seemed to know where they were going or how to get there. Some people climbed up onto the rows of portable toilets to get a view above the crowd. As the press of people carried me within shouting distance of one of them, I asked what she could see. She said that once people actually managed to reach the road that bordered the Mall on the south, the crowd was moving. I made my way out to the road and headed with the crowd down towards the Potomac. Some roads were blocked even on the south side, and people joining the road from side streets and alleys gave conflicting advice about where they had been and how to proceed. I passed the Holocaust Museum and had to rest on the steps of the National Engraving museum.

    There were many older, black women and men in the crowd. There were also groups of high school students and others who would all be wearing the same bright orange caps or yellow t-shirts. There were many families with small children. Some people had obviously not walked so far in many years, but everyone bore the pain in their feet and the cold without complaint. Some people did express frustration at the confusion over direction. But, still there were no voices raised in anger and people helped each other when they hit obstacles.

The crowd then carried me through a fence that had been torn open onto a construction site. Several thousand people were streaming through the backhoes, bulldozers, and piles of rubble of a road that was being resurfaced. I managed to catch one man of about 60 when he tripped on the fence and almost hit his head on the concrete. We were trying to head east to get to parked buses, or a Metro station, or to pass beyond the Capital building. At the other end of the construction site, I helped seventy year old women clamber over waist high concrete barriers. From the road we were on, there was what looked like a bridge over the Potomac.  I later learned that many people simply walked all the way back to Virginia. However, what we were looking at was actually an off ramp for the superhighway that encircles the Capital. Some people followed the ramp all the way onto the highway, and then dodged traffic to get back.  Others, like myself, climbed off the ramp onto a pedestrian walkway, and made our way back on surface streets. As I was crossing a bridge back over the highway, I saw another awesome sight. Half the superhighway had been shut down and was being used as a bus stop. Thousands of people were walking down onto the highway and being picked up by metro buses.

As I again approached the Mall, this time from the south, the crowd got thicker and thicker. It was at this point that dozens of sirens from emergency vehicles pierced the air. I dove into the crowd alongside ambulances and fire trucks that were trying to move in the same direction.  They would come roaring up and then have to slow to a crawl as thousands pressed in on all sides. I tried to clear a path in the crowd for one of the stuck ambulances, but the driver didn’t want to enter the space I had opened. So, I continued on past L’Enfant Metro station which was surrounded by a solid mass of people trying to push their way in. Now the crowd was growing thinner closer to the Mall. I stopped at a gate guarded by two policemen because beyond the gate was a man on a white horse, dressed as Napoleon. Figuring this was a staging area for the parade, I stopped to take a picture. Suddenly, the policemen urgently shooed me away. One of the ambulances had finally made it through the crowd. It roared through the gate on its way, I later learned, to pick up either Senator Kennedy or Senator Byrd who both had collapsed during the Inaugural luncheon.

    Continuing on past the Museum of the American Indian, I finally made my way back onto the now sparsely populated Mall. Some people had climbed onto the Reflecting Pool in front of the Capital building and were sliding around on the ice. One man actually had ice skates and was serenely doing large loops while talking on a cell phone. I came on another man, however, who had broken through the ice. He was sitting on some steps, with his dripping,, shoeless foot wrapped in newspapers. I searched a little and found a wool blanket on the ground which I gave him to wrap his foot in.  My plan was to cut past the Capital building, back to Union Station.  There was a small group of policemen and rescue workers gathered around an elderly black woman on the side of the reflecting pool. One man was taking her pulse.

    At this point, the front lawn of the Capital was almost deserted. I decided to risk climbing over the security fences and cutting across the lawn to get back to Union Station. My feet were aching and I didn’t think I was up to walking south again to try to go around the Capital. I made my way up to the point where the driveway from the Capital building connects with Constitution Avenue. Here there were fresh crowds on both sides of the road and on the balconies of the buildings across the street. The street itself was blocked on both sides by security fences, policemen, and soldiers. I realized that I had ended up at the start of the Inaugural Parade route. As I approached the road, one of the policemen made eye contact with me and touched his ear. I knew that I had been observed climbing the security fences. I sat back on the edge of the sidewalk with a group of very nice people who were waving the Colorado state flag, and tried to look as inoffensive as possible. I noticed the snipers atop the building across the street, and for a moment considered heading back.  However, at that point I was simply too tired. I took out my cell phone camera and waited for the chance to see Barack again.

    After a long wait, and much speculation, some of the parade started to dribble past us. At the lead were four men in uniform walking at an easy pace. These were the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.  The four men who controlled the most powerful military organization in the history of the Earth were humbly walking in the cold, preparing the way for the democratically elected civilian who was their superior officer.  Then came a few military bands and suddenly a dark SUV pulled out from behind the Capital. I didn’t see him personally, but the people around me said that Al Gore was in the backseat, waving. At last, another dark SUV slowly turned the corner. In the window was a smiling Michelle Obama in her now famous white dress. The children were sitting opposite her,  facing the back of the car, and on the far side I saw, once again, the handsome profile of Barack Obama.

    My journey home had a few notable experiences. When I finally reached Union Station, I found people pressed together more tightly than at any other time during the day. The next day, I took the Greyhound bus back to Frederick. The terminal was jammed with thousands of people who had to wait, standing in ill defined lines for hours past their scheduled departure times before buses actually arrived for them. Here I again heard the voices of anger as a few young men vented their frustrations on the exhausted Greyhound employees. I ended up next to a young black man in his twenties who had traveled from France to see the Inauguration. Eventually, I made it to Frederick and picked up my car.

  Finally, on the drive home, just west of Sandusky on the Ohio Turnpike, I saw another bald eagle. This one looked fierce, and not a feather was out of place as it flew North, its brilliant white feathers shining against the bright blue sky.

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Red Silk Sari

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