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More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

In 1981, Johnny Cash was walking around the exotic animal refuge he maintained at his estate in Tennessee when he was attacked by an ostrich. The normally docile ostrich had recently lost its mate.

Cash fought off the animal with a stick, but suffered five broken ribs and a gaping stomach wound. The painkillers he took as a result led to a two-year relapse into alcohol and amphetamine addiction.

Arachibutyrophobia is the fear of having peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.

Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, was King of England from 1100 until his death in 1135. Henry had numerous illegitimate children, but only one legitimate son and heir, William. When William drowned at sea in 1120, Henry took a new wife, hoping to have another son.

When that failed, he declared his daughter Matilda to be his heir. That failed, too, when Henry’s nephew Stephen seized the throne. Stephen spent most of his reign (1135-1147) in a civil war with the supporters of Matilda.

The 1983 movie Return of the Jedi was supposed to be called Revenge of the Jedi. George Lucas even released a movie trailer promoting the Revenge title. For whatever reason, he switched to Return at the last minute and saved Revenge for Revenge of the Sith.

Revenge

The first Nobel Peace Prizes were awarded in 1901. The two recipients were Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, and Frédéric Passy, a French economist.

The 1968 film “Krakatoa: East of Java” takes place in the East Indies in 1883, when a volcano on the island of Krakatoa erupted and erased the island. Nit-picking critics pointed out that Krakatoa actually was west of Java.

In his youth, future country singer Conway Twitty (1933-1993) was a talented baseball player. The Philadelphia Phillies tried to sign him, but the Army drafted him first. After his discharge in the 1950s, Twitty became an Elvis-style rock-and-roll singer. In the 1960s, he transitioned to his first love, country music.

Twitty’s real name was Harold Lloyd Jenkins. He took his stage name from the towns of Conway, Arkansas, and Twitty, Texas, which he picked from a road map.

Art critics sometimes weave tapestries of cryptic blather, as when, in 1931, someone described The Persistence of Memory, the surrealist painting by Salvador Dalí, as “an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time” inspired by Einstein’s theory of special relativity.

When Dalí was asked about that, he said no, he was inspired by seeing a Camembert cheese melting in the sun.

Persistence

Thomas Jefferson is said to have invented many things, including the swivel chair, the metal plow, the dumbwaiter, a machine to extrude pasta, and a hideaway bed that was hoisted to the ceiling during the day.

In truth, he made improvements to the swivel chair, the plow, and the dumbwaiter, and he brought back a pasta-extruding machine from Europe, but the hideaway bed story is bogus. No bed at Monticello had a hoisting mechanism.

Jefferson did, however, invent the revolving book stand. It was a turntable that could hold five books that swiveled to face the reader.

A cat named Stubbs served as Honorary Mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska, from 1997 until his death in 2017. Stubbs was so named because he had no tail. He was “honorary” mayor because Talkeetna is a historic district, not a town, and thus has no elected mayor.

The first charge card was issued in 1950 by the Diner’s Club in New York City. It listed 27 participating restaurants and 200 cardholders. By the mid-1960s, Diners Club had 1.3 million users.

By then, Visa, MasterCard, and a host of other credit cards had arisen because the concept proved to be so lucrative. Well, duh. Why else would they be in the business?

The National Basketball Association adopted its iconic logo of a running player in 1969. According to the New York branding consultant who designed it, he got the idea from a photo of superstar Jerry West, which the designer said captured the pace and spirit of basketball.

NBA logo

 

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I’m a history nut. To me, history is interesting, informative, compelling, and fun. It’s a gas to come across fascinating nuggets from the past that either add to my understanding of events or introduce me to something new.

Recently, I read that the shortest war in recorded history is the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896. Which, of course, I had never heard of.

I was intrigued and promptly Googled it. What I learned was wonderfully entertaining — and a reminder of why I am a history nut in the first place.

###

In the late 1800s, the nations of Europe finalized their conquest and colonization of the African continent. By 1900, most of Africa was under the colonial rule of either Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, or Italy. Only Ethiopia and Liberia remained independent.

It happened because the European countries wanted Africa’s raw materials and were capable militarily of taking them. It also helped that the nations of Europe were highly competitive, and acquiring new territories was a feather in the cap — an opportunity to one-up the other countries.

Further, the new colonies in Africa gave the Europeans a way to address some of the nagging social problems created by the Industrial Revolution: displacement from rural areas, overcrowding in the cities, poverty, homelessness, unemployment. These issues could be alleviated to some degree by sending problematic people to the African colonies as settlers.

The manner in which the Europeans administered the colonies varied. The British preferred indirect rule, whereby they installed locals who would do as the Brits instructed. The French, Germans, and Belgians preferred direct rule, assigning their own countrymen, either military or civilian, as colonial administrators.

The Africans themselves remained in various stages of revolt, of course, which required a sizable European military presence. Meanwhile, the Europeans also clashed among themselves in every way short of armed conflict. They formed temporary alliances, imposed tariffs on each other, and jockeyed to gain control over waterways and trade routes.

Eventually, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck convened a conference in Berlin that laid down a series of rules and guidelines and brought a degree of order to the continent. Among the colonial powers, that is, not the natives.

Against that backdrop, the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896 erupted.

###

For centuries, the island of Zanzibar off the east coast of Africa was a center of the Arab slave trade, enriching a long line of sultans.

But times change, and by the 1870s, the British were able to persuade the Sultan of Zanzibar to end the slave trade for economic reasons; they convinced him that legitimate trade in rubber and ivory was more lucrative.

In 1890, Britain and Germany signed an agreement that gave Germany control of the mainland nation of Tanzania and made the island of Zanzibar a British protectorate. The British soon installed a pro-British Arab, Hamad bin Thuwaini, as Sultan of Zanzibar. Hamad ruled for three years, more or less uneventfully.

Then, on August 25, 1896, Hamad died suddenly in the royal palace in Zanzibar City. The cause was never determined officially, but most believed he was poisoned by his cousin, Khalid bin Barghash.

Lending credence to that belief: within hours of Hamad’s death, Khalid moved into the palace and declared himself Sultan. Khalid, FYI, was pro-German.

The British Consul, Sir Basil Cave, immediately ordered Khalid to vacate the palace. Khalid refused and quickly assembled a defense force of about 3,000 Zanzibaris. They consisted of the palace guard, a few hundred servants and slaves, and a large number of civilians conscripted from Zanzibar City.

The defenders were equipped with assorted small arms, several machine guns, and a few artillery pieces. They were not remotely a match for the British military forces in the region.

By the evening of August 25, three British warships had arrived in the harbor. Hundreds of troops had gone ashore to protect the British Consulate and keep the civilian population in check. The guns of the warships were trained on the royal palace.

Sir Basil asked London by telegram, “Are we authorised in the event of all attempts at a peaceful solution proving useless, to fire on the Palace from the men-of-war?

The reply: “You are authorised to adopt whatever measures you may consider necessary, and will be supported in your action by Her Majesty’s Government. Do not, however, attempt to take any action which you are not certain of being able to accomplish successfully.”

On the morning of August 26, Sir Basil issued a final ultimatum: if Khalid was not out of the palace by August 27 at 9:00 AM, the British ships would commence firing.

Khalid’s response: “We have no intention of hauling down our flag and we do not believe you would open fire on us.

Sir Basil replied that he had no desire to fire upon the palace, “but unless you do as you are told, we shall certainly do so.” That was the last communication between them.

The next morning, the 9:00 AM deadline passed, and the British warships began bombarding the palace with high-explosive shells.

The royal palace stood at the harbor’s edge and consisted of three main buildings: the palace itself, the harem (the part of a Muslim home where females reside), and the “House of Wonders,” a lavish reception hall. The buildings were constructed largely of wood.

Within minutes, Khalid’s machine guns and artillery were eliminated. The damage to the palace by the exploding shells was devastating. Fire quickly spread, and the buildings began to collapse.

Also within minutes, Khalid and a small entourage fled the palace via a rear entrance, leaving the rest of the defenders behind.

When the shelling ended at 9:40 AM, about 500 defenders were dead or wounded. The war had lasted between 38 and 45 minutes, depending on who did the timing.

Britain promptly installed Ali Hamud, another pro-British Zanzibari, as sultan.

As for Khalid, he fled to the German Consulate and was given sanctuary. The British demanded his extradition, but the Germans refused and eventually smuggled him out of Zanzibar and into Tanzania.

Khalid lived under German protection in Tanzania until 1916, when the Brits managed to capture him. He served a term in exile on St. Helena, then was allowed to return to Tanzania. He died there in 1927.

Khalid was the Sultan of Zanzibar for a whopping two days.

Hamad

Hamad bin Thuwaini

Deutsch-Ostafrika, Sultan

Khalid bin Barghash

Cave B

Sir Basil Cave

Palace

The Royal Palace before the war.

Harem

The ruins of the harem building after the bombardment.

###

“Recorded history” is our way of documenting what we consider the important stuff. But the record we keep is only a tiny fraction of literal history.

In the 50,000 years humans have existed, roughly 108 billion of us have been born. That’s 108 billion lifetimes worth of constant interactions within countless societies. In a real sense, 99 percent of history passes quietly, undocumented, known only to the participants.

Hamad, Khalid, and Sir Basil became historical figures. But we know nothing about the lives of the British sailors and soldiers who were ordered to Zanzibar City in August 1896. Nor of the lives of the 3,000 hapless souls who huddled inside the royal palace as British shells rained down.

 

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The Questions…

1. Leonardo da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper gave rise to two well-known superstitions. One is never seating 13 people at the dinner table. What is the other?

2. Bank of America was founded in 1904. Under what name was it established?

3. What British-born movie producer/director/actor/puppeteer is the voice of Miss Piggy and other Muppet characters, plus the voice of Cookie Monster and other Sesame Street characters, plus the voice of Yoda in the Star Wars films?

4. In 2001, pro football inducted a non-player, George Toma, into the Hall of Fame. Who is Toma?

5. What and where is Null Island?

The Answers…

1. In the painting, Judas is knocking over a container of salt with his arm, which led to the superstition that spilling salt is a bad omen.

2. BofA began as the Bank of Italy in San Francisco’s Little Italy neighborhood. The founder was the son of Italian immigrants who said other banks were freezing out Italians. In 1922, it was renamed the Bank of America and Italy. The Italy part was dropped in 1930.

3. Frank Oz, real name Frank Oznowicz. His parents were Dutch puppeteers who fought the Nazis during WWII before fleeing to England. They came to America when Frank was five.

4. George Toma was the longtime head groundskeeper of the NFL as well as numerous MLB stadiums. He prepared the field for every Super Bowl from the first one in 1967 until he retired in 1999. Now age 90, he is still active as a consultant.

5. Null Island is the fanciful name of the spot on Earth where the Equator (latitude 0°) intersects the Prime Meridian (longitude 0°) off the east coast of Africa. Nothing is there except a NOAA weather buoy.

Last Supper

Null Island

 

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More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

———

Now We Are Six

By A. A. Milne

Milne AA

Alan Alexander Milne (1882-1956)

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.

———

Ebb

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

I know what my heart is like
Since your love died:
It is like a hollow ledge
Holding a little pool
Left there by the tide,
A little tepid pool,
Drying inward from the edge.

———

I Am the Song

By Charles Causley

Causley C

Charles Stanley Causley (1917-2003)

I am the song that sings the bird.
I am the leaf that grows the land.
I am the tide that moves the moon.
I am the stream that halts the sand.
I am the cloud that drives the storm.
I am the earth that lights the sun.
I am the fire that strikes the stone.
I am the clay that shapes the hand.
I am the word that speaks the man.

———

The Rainbow

By Christina Rossetti

Rossetti C

Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier than these.
There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.

———

Hug O’ War

By Shel Silverstein

Silverstein S

Sheldon Allan Silverstein (1930-1999)

I will not play at tug o’ war.
I’d rather play at hug o’ war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.

 

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Useless Facts

More “Useless Facts for Inquiring Minds.”

Rhode Island, the smallest of the states, has the longest official name: “The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”

King Francis I of France (reigned 1515-1547), aka “Francis of the Large Nose,” was a major patron of the arts. He attracted many Italian artists to France, including Leonardo da Vinci. Francis acquired the Mona Lisa from Leonardo and hung it in his bathroom.

British filmmaker Duncan Jones (full name Duncan Zowie Haywood Jones), noted for making the sci-fi movie Moon and the fantasy film Warcraft, is the son of the late David Bowie (real name David Robert Jones).

Adermatoglyphia is a condition in which a person is born without fingerprints; the pads are flat, lacking the usual ridges and whorls. The rare condition is caused by a gene mutation and has occurred in only four known families around the world.

adermatoglyphia

Niagara Falls was formed about 10,000 years ago, and in that time, it has eroded seven miles back upstream. At that rate, the falls will disappear into Lake Erie in 22,000 years.

In 2008, the mayor of the Kurdish city of Batman, Turkey, threatened to sue Warner Bros. because it used the city’s name without permission in the film The Dark Knight. The mayor wanted a percentage of the film’s profits, almost $1 billion worldwide. The mayor never filed the suit.

The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 celebrated the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World. Among the new products introduced at the fair: Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, Vienna Sausage, Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oats, Shredded Wheat, and Aunt Jemima pancake mix.

The Nakisumo festival in Japan is a 400-year-old ceremony in which sumo wrestlers compete to make babies cry. Scaring babies is considered a positive thing, based on the Japanese proverb “crying babies grow fastest.”

Nakisumo

If a person at the seashore looks out to sea, and eye level is six feet above the sand, the horizon will be three miles away.

New York City’s “sidewalk sheds” are temporary structures that protect pedestrians from falling debris and construction accidents. They date back to 1979, when a college coed was killed by falling masonry. On any given day, about 190 miles of sidewalk sheds are in place around NYC.

The stock symbol of Steinway Musical Instruments, Inc. is LVB, in honor of Ludwig van Beethoven.

The Venus Flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, is a carnivorous plant with a specialized two-part leaf structure that snaps shut when triggered by a passing insect or spider. The trap includes gaps around the edges so prey too small to be worth digesting can escape. The plant is found only in the coastal wetlands of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Venus Flytrap

 

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The Questions…

1. In most of the Western world, black cats are considered evil omens or symbols of bad luck. In what non-Western country are black cats a sign of good luck and prosperity?

2. Who invented the odometer?

3. Residents of the English cities of London and Liverpool are called Londoners and Liverpudlians. What are natives of Manchester and Birmingham called?

4. The acronym KIPPERS is used on Wall Street to define adult children living with their parents. What does KIPPERS stand for?

5. Who was the first person to appear as Ronald McDonald in a TV commercial?

The Answers…

1. Japan. In Japanese culture, black cats represent good fortune and prosperity in business, a talisman against danger and bad luck, and positive mojo for your love life.

2. Benjamin Franklin. In 1753, he measured the distance from Boston to New York by counting the rotations of a wheel on his carriage. He marked each mile with a wooden stake, then had the stakes replaced with engraved mile-marker stones.

3. Mancunians and Brummies. Mamucium (aka Mancunium) was an old Roman fort that grew to become Manchester. Brummagem was the original name of Birmingham.

4. Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings.

5. The first Ronald was Willard Scott, later the resident weatherman on the Today Show. In 1963, Scott was playing Bozo the Clown for a TV station in Washington, D.C. McDonald’s hired him, and he played the Ronald character until 1965.

Black cat

Ronald-Willard

 

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Known But to God

This is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

Tomb-1

The last time I was there — which I am startled to find was 10 years ago — I took a boatload of photos and videos. I like these two pics pretty well.

Tomb-2

Tomb-3

If you’ve been there, you know that seeing Arlington and the Tomb is an emotional experience. God knows, I am a borderline pacifist, with no militaristic tendencies whatsoever. But there’s something about the Tomb — the story behind it, the rituals, the soldiers who guard it — that is genuinely moving.

As you’re probably aware, the Tomb honors fallen American soldiers whose remains were unidentified. How the monument came to be is a fascinating story.

The Unknown Soldier of World War I

The idea originated with a British Army chaplain during World War I. In 1916, he saw a grave with a wooden cross on which was written in pencil “An Unknown British Soldier.”

The chaplain envisioned a monument to honor all British unknowns. His ambition was to inter an unidentified British soldier at Westminster Abbey “amongst the kings” to represent all of the Great War’s unknowns.

He contacted the Dean of Westminster, who gave his full support. In turn, so did the British Prime Minister. The process of selecting a representative unknown soldier began.

In the fall of 1920, four sets of unidentified remains were exhumed from undisclosed battlefields in France. The bodies were placed in identical flag-draped caskets. A ranking general closed his eyes and placed his hand on one of the coffins. The other three coffins were reinterred.

The chosen coffin was transported with great ceremony across France, escorted by French troops and processions of schoolchildren. At the port of Boulogne, the coffin was piped aboard a destroyer and escorted across the Channel by a convoy of battleships.

On November 11, 1920, Armistice Day, the casket was interred inside Westminster Abbey in soil from various French battlefields. One hundred women, each of whom had lost a husband and all of their sons in the war, were the guests of honor.

The grave was capped with black marble, to which was affixed this plate (made of brass melted down from wartime ammunition):

Tomb-4

The United States followed a similar selection process in 1921.

The Army exhumed four sets of remains from American cemeteries in France and placed them in identical caskets.

Sgt. Edward Younger, who had been wounded in battle and earned the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, made the selection by placing a spray of white roses on one of the caskets. (Later, the roses were interred with the casket at Arlington.)

The casket was taken by funeral train through Paris to the port of Le Havre, then by ship to the United States.

On November 9, a procession carried the casket to the Capitol Rotunda, where citizens and dignitaries came to pay their respects.

On November 11, the casket was escorted by five soldiers, two sailors, and a marine to Arlington, where this interment ceremony that took place:

Tomb-5

The Americans chose a simpler inscription for the Tomb than the Brits.

Tomb-6

The Unknown Soldiers of World War II and Korea

In 1958, the remains of several unidentified soldiers who died during World War II were exhumed from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, Hawaii, and The Philippines. From these, two were chosen, one from the European Theater and one from the Pacific Theater, and placed in identical caskets.

Navy Hospitalman William Charette, a Medal of Honor winner, selected the casket that would be interred at Arlington. The second casket was buried at sea with honors.

That same year, four unknowns who died in the Korean War were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for valor, selected the Korean War unknown.

On May 28, the World War II and Korea caskets were taken to Washington, where they lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda. On May 30, the caskets were carried by caisson to Arlington National Cemetery. President Eisenhower awarded both unknowns the Medal of Honor, and they were interred beside the World War I unknown.

The Unknown Soldier of Vietnam

The unknown from the Vietnam War was chosen on May 17, 1984, by Marine Sgt. Maj. Allan Kellogg, a Medal of Honor recipient. On May 28, President Reagan awarded the Medal of Honor to the Vietnam War unknown, and the remains were interred with the others at Arlington.

But a decade later, a glitch surfaced. At one time, the remains of the Vietnam War unknown had been identified tentatively as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie. Because the estimated age and height of the remains did not match Blassie’s, the identification was rescinded.

But by 1998, DNA identification had advanced significantly, and the Blassie family asked the Dept. of Defense to retest the remains. The DoD complied, and testing confirmed that the Vietnam Unknown indeed was Lt. Blassie.

At the family’s request, Blassie’s remains were removed from the Tomb at Arlington and reinterred in Missouri. Further, the decision was made to leave the crypt vacant rather than select another Vietnam Unknown. A marker on the crypt now reads, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen.”

The Tomb Honor Guard

In 1925, a civilian guard was posted at the Tomb because people were picnicking on the marble slab to take advantage of the view. In 1926, a military guard took over. By 1937, the monument was under 24-hour protection.

Since 1948, the Tomb has been guarded by an elite unit of volunteer Army soldiers. All are members of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, which is stationed adjacent to Arlington Cemetery in Fort Myer, Virginia.

Serving as a guard at the Tomb is a high honor. Only 20 percent of volunteers are accepted for training, and only a few ever become Sentinels.

Applicants must be between 5′ 10″ and 6′ 2″ tall, with a waist size no larger than 30″. Guards must commit to two years of service and will live in a barracks under the Tomb. They cannot drink alcohol, on or off duty, or swear in public for the rest of their lives. If they do, or if they disgrace the uniform or the Tomb in any way, they forfeit the coveted Honor Guard lapel pin.

The pin is awarded after a guard has served nine months as a Sentinel. It features an inverted wreath and the figures of Peace, Valor, and Victory.

Fewer than than 675 soldiers have worn the Honor Guard pin; the Astronaut Badge is the only military pin awarded less often.

Tomb-7

The first female Sentinel came on duty in 2001, the fourth in 2017.

For the first six months on duty, a guard cannot talk to anyone or watch TV. Off-duty time is spent studying the lives of the 175 notable Americans buried at Arlington and knowing where they are buried.

The Honor Guard protects the Tomb at all times, 24 hours a day, regardless of weather, following a precise routine. Here are some pertinent facts:

— The soldier on duty marches 21 steps across the front of the Tomb, carrying the rifle on the shoulder away from the Tomb. The gloves are moistened to help grip the rifle.

— On the 21st step, the guard stops and faces the Tomb for 21 seconds. The rifle is switched to the other shoulder, and the guard marches 21 steps in the opposite direction. The 21 is symbolic of a 21-gun salute.

— The Changing of the Guard occurs every 30 minutes during the summer and every hour during the winter.

— The incoming guard is accompanied by the team commander. The outgoing guard reports to the commander that the Tomb is secure, and the new guard takes over.

— The guards wear sunglasses because the white marble reflects the sun.

— They wear shoes with metal plates to accentuate the ritual clicking of heels.

— To protect the marble, the guards march on a 63-foot rubber mat. The mat is replaced twice a year.

— While on duty (the soldiers call it “walking the mat”) the guards remove insignia that identifies their rank. This is so they will not outrank the interred soldiers, whose ranks are unknown.

— A team of guards works 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty, for five days. Then they have four days off while another team takes over.

— The guards spend an average of six hours a day preparing their uniforms.

In addition to their ceremonial duties, the guards protect the Tomb, prevent anyone from touching or approaching the monument, and confront tourists who are loud or disrespectful.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2019/02/it-is-requested.mp4

So, mind your manners, buster.

 

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