Californian by birth and Minnesotan by choice, Kristina is a graduate of Northwestern College who enjoys history, cultures and languages, rain, and climbing trees. If she were not what she already is she would probably be a tree-hugging feminist.
I have hesitated to write about the Kermit Gosnell trial. In some ways it seems unfair. Kermit Gosnell is to the abortion industry (arguably) what Westboro Baptist church is to Christianity. He is the extreme and as such, it seems unfair to uphold him as an example of what the abortion industry is. It seems unfair to put Gosnell next to a nurse practitioner who deeply cares about women’s health and say that they are the same thing.
Atheists are not always my favorite people, though there are a few exceptions (and you know who you are), and it seems like there’s no time of year like the Christmas (oops, I mean holiday) season to bring atheists out of the woodwork and into the courtroom. After all, there are insidious threats abroad during this conspicuous time of winter festivities. There is political correctness to be enforced, and nativity scenes to protest and billboards to put up, greeting cards to hijack and all manner of people, agencies, companies and more who need to be sued or at least intimidated into secular submission. Continue reading The Silliness of the War on Christmas→
Okay, so one thing that’s really been bugging me in the election season this year is the presidential candidates making claims about what they’re going to do when they get into office: lower taxes, balance the budget, decrease the deficit, bring troops home, create jobs, etc. etc. etc.
What frustrates me is that the vast majority of the promises and claims the candidates are making are outside the realm of power that the executive office holds! The president, for example, cannot raise or lower taxes, only Congress can. So, I started researching the powers in the executive office and, since it’s a hot topic, how the federal budget is made. It turns out, the president is not as powerless as I thought, but not nearly as powerful as Obama and Romney seem to think. What follows is my findings about the responsibilities and limitations of the presidential office. After all, if it’s our job to choose a man to fill the job of president, we should probably know what that job entails. Continue reading How Much Can the President Actually Do?→
To be honest, I was surprised that it made the news. I mean, mobs of angry Muslims storming things and burning stuff up are getting a little passé, don’t you think? And in an information era when individual freedom of speech is a global expectation that carries global consequences, someone saying something against Mohammed or Islam is inevitable and Muslims burning things down in response seems equally inevitable.
But maybe that’s what the real news story is after all. How can American politicians continue to pursue a blindly optimistic course of alliance and democracy in the Middle East with a people who prove time and time again their own volatility and inability to uphold the necessary foundational values on which democracy could stand? Oh yeah, because they have oil…why aren’t we drilling in Alaska again? Oh yeah…disturbing the wildlife. Well, the wildlife in the Middle East seems equally disturbed, don’t you think?
I was at a loss for anything to write and, really, I still am. What more can be said? The Middle East is a mess and not a whole lot has changed in that regard over the past two presidencies. Bush pursued policies of assertion, intervention and war and America is now deeply entrenched in the fates of Iran and Afghanistan, two countries we have undone and are helpless to rebuild. Obama has pursued policies of passivity, diplomacy and peace and America does not seem to have grown more popular as our Middle Eastern embassies burn and Iran builds nuclear warheads.
At what point do we accept that we have enemies who cannot be reasoned with, be they entire nations or extremist sects? How many embassies will have to burn before we catch on to the fact that there are some fires that cannot be put out by nice speeches and generous donations.
Islam cannot be pacified or quieted. When she is not already burning she is a tinder box waiting for an internet video match to set her blazing again. Enough naivety. Enough optimism. Smell the smoke. Watch Christopher Stevens’ be dragged through the streets. Recognize that Arab Spring is quickly turning to Arab Summer and soon we won’t be able to stand the heat.
Monday, July 11. Doesn’t sound like a significant date and for most people around the world, it isn’t, but for the nation of Japan it marks the four month anniversary of a national crisis. You remember. It was in the news. A 9.0 earthquake. A devastating tsunami. A subsequent nuclear meltdown. Remember? Most people have forgotten. After all, with high-speed informational technology, 24 hours is enough to make something ‘old news’. And once the media loses interest, everyone else really has no choice but to follow suit and move on to other more current topics.
But for the people I am living with, the events of March 11th are not current news or old news, they’re a daily reality. For the past few weeks I have been working and serving at one of CRASH Japan’s relief bases north of Tokyo (http:/crashjapan.com). This base, Nasu, is specifically working with evacuees affected not by the tsunami, but by the nuclear emergency on the coast. We are located 107 kilometers away from the TEPCO power plant, far enough
to be away from serious danger, but close enough to check the government’s radiation readings on a daily basis.
The people we’re working with are trapped in a nightmarish emotional limbo. Unlike the tsunami stricken areas, these people are unable to return home to rebuild and start life over. Their homes are still there, frozen in time, with dishes on the table, blankets on the beds, gardens growing; all of it is just cut off by the insidious and invisible danger of radioactive contamination. Will anyone ever return? No one has any idea. Nuclear power is still a relatively young and unexplored energy source, and the particular contaminants in this situation have never been confronted before. For the 90,000 people forced from their homes, finding closure in such uncertainty is difficult if not impossible.
The base that I’m working at, therefore, specializes in emotional care rather than physical restoration. All we can rebuild is lives. The volunteer teams we work with are trained not in construction, but in counseling. We’re starting to plan family camps to help get people out of the shelters, even if just for a week, and to a place where they can rest and process. We’re training people to help with Operation SAFE, a children’s day camp for kids dealing with post traumatic stress. We’re partnering with local churches to put together Life Starter kits to help families find and settle into a new living situation.
But three, going on four, months after the fact, the ‘honeymoon’ stage of the disaster, if there is such a thing, is over. Financial support, donations and the volunteer base dry up and disappear. Staff and leaders begin to wear thin and burn out. Focus moves from immediate essential responses to seeking out long term recovery options. The need remains. The resources don’t.
I knew it was time to write a post on this and I considered all the things I could write about. I could write about waking up to aftershocks in the middle of the night, the kind that strike hard and fast and make your heart pound but subside into tremors after just a few seconds. I could write about serving hot homemade ramen to more than 700 evacuees. I could write about watching a refugee taiko drum team play their first post-disaster concert and then weep. But of all the things I could write the most important is this: Japan still needs help, now more than ever, as its national crisis and the personal crisis of thousands slips out of the headlines and into history.
For more information about how you can step in to fill the gap, visit http://crashjapan.com
Thanks to modern technology, when the Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis occurred, the world knew within minutes, even seconds. Thanks to modern technology, millions all over the globe watched Kate Middleton walk down the aisle of Westminster Abbey, and watched Prince William kiss his bride. Thanks to modern technology, when President Obama announced an impending late night statement regarding a national security situation, I, on the other side of the world, heard about it within minutes and was online, waiting for the news.
The news, of course, preceded the statement. Between Facebook and Twitter updates pouring in through a Google Realtime search (which is also the best tool, by the way, for checking up on aftershocks in Japan), the speculations, rumors, assurances and finally confirmations of Osama bin Laden’s death were out long before President Obama (finally) walked the red carpet to the podium to address the nation. By then, it was old news, by at least thirty minutes. I agree with some of the twitterers that they wished people hadn’t stolen his thunder and had let him surprise us all. However, in that case, he shouldn’t have told all of congress first and then spent half an hour writing a speech that he could read off of a teleprompter.
For stateside Americans the news came late at night. For me, it came right before lunch, and so, even as most of my fellow countrymen were sleeping, I was watching as the news networks covered the crowds of exultant celebrants at the White House and Times Square, as they waved flags and signs and sang “Nananana, hey hey, good-bye!” One British new anchor that I heard noted particularly that much of the crowd were young people like me, and how it was their generation that had borne the blow of 9/11 as they watched it happen from silent high school classrooms. They celebrated the justice and vindication of the tragedy that had abruptly thrown them from childhood into frighteningly adult realities that would define the rest of their, our, lives as Americans.
I watched all of this unfold with mixed feelings and a faint frown, trying to put together the pieces of this event, the event of one man’s death.
I am an American. As such, there is a feeling of exultation over this. I saw the planes hit, the people leap to their deaths, the towers fall, the clouds of smoke chase survivors down abandoned streets. Osama bin Laden is dead. The man who hid in the shadows of our destruction that day has been shot down and disposed of. Justice is served. Part of me doesn’t mind laughing, flag waving and hugging strangers in the streets of New York because of the death of a common and dangerous enemy. Read why Goose says appreciating bin Laden’s death is okay.
I am a Christian. This, in and of itself, could mean many things in relationship to this event. The Bible clearly allows both for rejoicing over the defeat of one’s evil enemies, and yet also says to love them, to show compassion on them. As several facebook friends have observed today, the psalmist praises God for the death of his foes, while Prov. 24:17 says not to rejoice when your enemies are struck down. Ezekiel 33:11 says that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, while in Psalms 2 God laughs in their faces. I suppose I can do both too. Osama was a perpetrator of evil and his sins are reprehensible and many. I can rejoice and thank God that such a man has been removed from this earth and has experienced both human and divine justice. At the same time, Osama was a victim of evil; he inherited false teachings of violence and hatred, he was influenced by evil men before him. He was a fallen son of Adam, a broken man in a broken world, like the rest of us, and he found no peace or redemption in the road he walked. He was God’s enemy in sin, but he was also God’s creation. God is infinite, and so I suppose He can mourn and rejoice simultaneously, but I am finite, and am trapped between the two.
I am an American overseas or, as I have called it before, American +. I look at the crowds in Times Square with the signs and flags and songs and celebrations and it reminds me of the crowds that flocked Islamic streets when 9/11 happened, rejoicing over the blow America had taken. Why are we celebrating? Because we are at war and our enemy as a whole has sustained a hard blow, and a specific threat has been eliminated. That is good cause to rejoice, as any nation might, but that is what I see as I watch the footage today. I see any nation. We’re not really that different. We receive a blow, our blood is spilled, and we mourn and we fight back. We achieve a victory, we spill blood in return, and we proclaim it together in the streets. Like any nation would do. Like Afghanistan or Egypt or Libya or anyone else might do. Such is the way of a broken world that we are only one part of after all.
I do not say that I wish him to rest in peace. I’m an American; I can’t. I’m a Christian; he won’t. I’m American +; he is just another casualty of another war. Thus perished Osama bin Laden.
“Now, hypothetically,” says my British professor as only a British professor can, “let us say that Kristina the American decides to go to missions in France. And Kristina the American, no, Kristina the Minnesotan, gets on a plane and goes…” It is only a scenario made up by one of my professors to illustrate something for the class. He scrawls out a Venn diagram on the whiteboard with a circle labeled “M” for Minnesota, and another overlapping circle labeled “F” for France and begins to talk about cultural overlap, how some things would be shared between Minnesotan and French culture and others not. But I confess that for a moment I am not listening. I am caught up in the idea of being identified as a Minnesotan. And I like it.
Living in Singapore, my first obvious characteristic that people notice is that I’m Caucasian, which isn’t terribly uncommon around here, but enough to be different (we’re part of that 1.4% “other”). The second, which comes out as soon as I open my mouth, is that I’m American (as opposed to British, Australian, French or German, other common options). However, being American is problematic, as far as identity goes, for two reasons.
First, when people approach you as an “American” they do so with certain stereotypes and preconceptions. These may be positive or negative, and they may be right or wrong, but, because America tends to export itself globally and without restraint, they are usually very strong. However, these stereotypes are incapable of encompassing what it means to be American as a whole because America is so diverse. So people will ask me “How do Americans feel about gun control?” or something like that. Such questions are impossible to answer simply, and my usual response is “Well, which Americans? East Coast, South, Midwest, or West Coast? Urban or Rural? Liberal or Conservative?”
Secondly, because the idea of being American is so vague and large, it is a very difficult thing to personally identify with. When I say I’m American what does that mean, not just to the people who interact with me, what does it mean TO ME? And the short answer is, I don’t know. Some American characteristics I can identify with, like liberty and justice for all and so on. Others, however, I don’t identify with, such as materialism or individualism.
Because of this, I have tended in my time here in Singapore to veer away from the label “American” and towards my home state, Minnesota, instead. So when people ask “Do Americans value their extended families?” I can answer, “Well, it differs around American, but at least in Minnesota, people tend to not move far from home and to be pretty involved in their extended families.” This is something tangible, something familiar, and something near enough that I can both identify it and identify WITH it. What are Americans like? I don’t know. Most of them are foreigners to me. But Minnesotans, ah, I can tell you what they, what we, are like.
So, while I’m not ashamed (usually) of being an American and I don’t hide my nationality, I have discovered a greater pride and sense of identity with being Minnesotan. America is my country, but Minnesota is my homeland.
I think I wouldn’t mind it as much if things were consistent, that is, if every single unborn child was deemed to be less than human. But that is not the case.
It is now the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that nationally legalized abortion and launched the country into sharp and endless debate on the topic. In the midst of all the semantics and speeches, marches and meetings, the main question has never received unanimous answer: is the unborn child a child?
Regardless of which side of the issue you are on, this is the first and foremost question of the abortion issue. No pro-choice proponent (I hope) would quietly accept the dismemberment and vivisection of a three year old child, for the simple reason that the child is a child, is human. Likewise, no pro-life proponent (I hope) would stand in the way of a woman having a voluntary surgical procedure done on her body. The difference then lies on whether or not the surgery in question kills a human child. If the “fetus” is a child, the act is murderous and absolutely reprehensible under any circumstances (Experiment: try dismembering a three year, two month, or one day old child alive and see how well that goes over in the community). If the fetus is not a child, then abortion is merely a medical procedure and we should all shut up about it.
And I think I wouldn’t mind if we, the American people, the media, the scientific community, and the government, were consistent on how we answer the question.
The American people in communities all across the country, seem to be mostly unperturbed about the approx. 1 million abortions that occur annually in the United States (statistics from 2005). Just to put that number in perspective, that number is equivalent to one fifth the population of the country I currently live in (Experiment: try killing off one fifth of the population of Singapore and see how well that goes over). At the same time, the American people in communities all across the country will mourn over the miscarried baby of a friend or family member. The message here seems to be that if the parents WANT the child, then it counts as a child, but if they don’t, then it isn’t a child.
I read a news story from my home state of Minnesota this past week, the headline of which read “Minn. man accused of trying to kill wife’s fetus” (1/18/2011, kare11.com). The article explained that the man “is charged with attempted murder of an unborn child after he allegedly kicked and punched his pregnant wife in the stomach” and “had threatened to kill her fetus.” The source stated that “He is charged with first-degree premeditated attempted murder of an unborn child and third-degree assault.” The man, Rory Northrup is in jail this week for trying to kill an unborn child (or fetus, the article can’t seem to settle on the preferred term), whereas in that same day, about thirty children (sorry, fetuses, I get confused sometimes) were not only brutally attacked as this one was, but killed in sterilized surgical rooms across the state (stats from 2009, mccl.org). The message here seems to be….actually I have no idea, and I don’t think the article does either. Rory Northrup of Aitkin, is in jail for attempted murder of an unborn child, whereas the practitioners of the “Women’s Health Center” of Duluth, are successfully attempting first degree murder of an unborn child every day and are free and clear.
Well, maybe the scientific community can give us a hand here. When does the blob of tissue inside the womb count as being alive? Well, if life is the opposite of death, then let’s consider what death means. The American legal definition of death is a cessation of brain activity. Medterms.com suggests the traditional “an absence of spontaneous respiratory and cardiac functions”; basically, if it’s not breathing on its own and has no heartbeat, it’s not alive. The American Medical Association accepts both of these, an absence of heartbeat and brain activity, as defining death (accepted in 1980). Okay, so when does that blob of tissue begin exhibiting these signs of life?
The heartbeat of a human embryo (that’s what you’re supposed to call it until it’s been in the womb three months, then it’s a fetus) begins 18-25 days after conception. If you engage in some complex scientific mathematics you’ll figure out that that is less than four weeks. LESS THAN FOUR WEEKS after conception, there is a heartbeat. Brainwaves have been recorded in human embryos as early as 43 days after conception (approx. 6 weeks). At eight weeks of gestation, the unborn child responds to outside stimulus; if it is touched or tickled, it will voluntarily move away from the contact. It should come as no surprise then that you can observe ultrasounds of unborn children (oops, I mean fetuses) fleeing abortive instruments (Watch here, the abortion begins at 4:30. Video includes disturbing images. Go figure.) Scientifically speaking, the “embryo” is a living thing at about 6 weeks after birth. At this point in time, some women may not even realize that they’re pregnant. (information from Human Life Alliance, www.humanlife.org)
What about the government? Is the government consistent on this issue? Well, one might first ask if the government is consistent on anything, but we’ll leave the sarcasm for a day that doesn’t commemorate 50 million human deaths. Another news story broke this week about an abortion doctor in Philadelphia, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, being arrested and charged with eight murders: one woman (due to overdose of anesthetics) and seven children who, during late term abortions, were delivered alive at 7-9 months gestation, and then killed outside the womb “by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord”. However, had this been done inside the womb bare months earlier, Gosnell would be legally charged with only one murder, and not eight. The article makes no mention whatsoever of how many infants Gosnell was able to kill inside the womb in his thirty years of business.
President Ronald Reagan, a man who himself was not consistent on this question, once said regarding abortion on the life of a human child that “Unless and until it can be proven that the unborn child is not a living entity, then its right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must be protected.” “If there is a question as to whether there is life or death, the doubt should be resolved in favor of life.” That is, if a conclusion on this question cannot be reached, we should err in favor of not potentially exterminating a human life.
Experiment: hand someone a pistol and offer to give them a thousand dollars if they will shoot into a closed cardboard box that may or may not contain a child in it. See if anyone takes you up on the offer.
We are inconsistent at all levels of our society in the treatment of the embryo/fetus/human child that is routinely terminated every day across our country. We are not only inconsistent, we are comfortably inconsistent. Just as citizens of Germany quietly sat by during the government sanctioned mass genocide of the Jews and other unwanted minorities, we quietly sit by and ignore the silent heartbeats of slaughtered children that echo across our nation. But maybe it isn’t fair to compare legalized abortion to the Holocaust. After all, at the highest estimates, the Nazi regime only exterminated 11-17 million people. We’re going on 50 million in America alone. Maybe the real question is not whether or not the aborted tissue is a human child, maybe the real question is how we can sleep at night without answering that question in the first place.
“Have you gotten your absentee ballot yet?” my dad asked me over skype.
Oh yeah, I should do that, I thought to myself. I wasn’t sure how to request one, but my dad being the faithfully politically conscientious person that he is was only too happy to poke around the interwebs and get me in contact with my local election officials. The ballot was requested and arrived exactly one week before election day. Since things typically take exactly one week to post from Singapore to Minnesota, I quickly filled it out, relying heavily on the research heavy email my father had sent to all three of his daughters. I knew the big names: Emmer, Dayton, Bachmann and so on, but the local offices are harder to follow from the other side of the world. And so I filled out my ballot, packaged it all up securely, and trekked down the block to drop it in the mailbox while being bombarded by two psychotic crows. I’m not kidding. I have no idea what the crows have against the American political process but they chased me all the way down the block. However, despite the bizarre aerial barrage, mission accomplished: ballot mailed.
Then it was just a question of sitting back for a week and dreaming of the day when Fox News would no longer be dominated by the petty he-said, she-said drama that is election season. I confess, though this may not be the best place to do it, that I suffer from an unfortunate amount of political apathy. I’ve come a long way from riding in the car as an eight year old and cheering every time we passed a Republican campaign sign while booing the Democratic ones. One day I realized that at least the federal government, on both sides of the aisle, had become 90% political games and 10% getting stuff done and it was all downhill from there.
However, despite this attitude of disenchantment, there’s just something about election day. Even here on the other side of the world I woke up excited. I may be politically pessimistic for 364 days of the year (times two), but on election day I am an incurable optimist. It’s the one day in the year it feels like maybe, just maybe, America, the Great Experiment, might work after all. Allowing for the thirteen hour time difference, I started stalking election results websites Wednesday morning in between classes. I was listening to country music and grinning every time “I VOTED!” popped into my facebook news feed. I called my family on skype. I knew they would be at home, in front of the TV with popcorn and peanuts to watch the results come in. So I skyped into election night with them, got the latest results (which were rather scarce at the time), and enjoyed my dad’s speculations and commentary that I’ve been hearing as long as I can remember. Even on the other side of the world, election day and everything that goes with it never seems to lose its shine.
A few days later I got cornered after dinner by my friend Byra from Mongolia who wanted to know all about the American election and how it had gone and if I was pleased with the results. He and I and our friend David from India ended up sitting and talking for over two hours about the political systems of our various countries and how they worked and how they had been developed. Byra shared with us his memories of Mongolia’s (completely bloodless) switch from communism to democracy in 1990 (amazing story, look it up). And I found it strange to look for a moment at America and our process of government through foreign eyes. As I sat and talked with them I felt like being an American somehow felt like more than it had before, not better, not more important, just more distinct as it sat beside Mongolia and India.
So, will we get it right this time? Will these elected officials have what it takes to get the job done (whatever that means) and put our country on solid footing again? Well, given that it is one of the OTHER 364 days of the year, my answer is no, probably not. But even so, our election day has been an exhibition once again, of the foundation of what America is, “We the People”, and, even in a vast global community, that is something special.
Time is a funny thing. It is now October and every time I look at my calendar my mind, soul and body freak out.
“It is NOT October,” they insist most fervently, “October is cold and it smells like fallen leaves and rain. It is obviously NOT October.”
I never realized how much my perception of time is dependent on those seasonal signals. Seasons allow you to be aware of time passing by you as we move from summer heat to fall cool to winter cold and spring warmth. Without those signals, I feel completely lost. I’ll probably have a nervous breakdown come December.
Time is a funny thing. For centuries and millennia, and even today in some places, time is not measured in seconds, minutes, hours or days, but in seasons. Time is determined by rain and by sun, by planting and harvest. As history progressed, some societies learned how to determine the passage of months and years by the heavenly bodies and began to track solstices, phases of the moon and movements of the stars. Such observations produced holidays and observances to mark the passing of time.
In the states, September is not a terribly eventful month for holidays, but for Singapore it was an active month indeed. September 10th was the Islamic holiday, Hari Raya or Eid ul-Fitr, well, September 10th on the western calendar. On the Muslim calendar it was the first day of the 10th month of the year and the last day of the month-long Ramadan fast. The Muslim calendar, measured from the immigration of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina in 622 A.D., is lunar and observes 12 lunar months for a total of 355 days in a year. It is currently the year 1431 on this calendar and will be until December 6th.
On September 18th, the Chinese population was celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival, also called the moon festival. Well, September 18th on the western calendar. On the Chinese calendar it was the 15th day of the eighth month. It observes the autumnal equinox, which for you non-astronomers, means that the earth is standing level in its orbit and isn’t tilted, making our view of the moon particularly clear and close. The Chinese calendar is called a lunisolar calendar, which seems like cheating to me. It is also very multifaceted, confusing and fascinating, but far too complex to delve deeply into here.
And then there’s the Jewish calendar, the ecclesial calendar, the school calendar and on and on it goes. Even in the states we think in at least two calendars, the Gregorian calendar and the school calendar and have to clarify between the two.
“See you next year,” we said to our friends when summer break began, ignoring the obvious fact that we would in fact see them in the same year in which we parted. Same year on the Gregorian calendar, but not the school calendar.
Time is a funny thing. On childhood road trips way back in the day when we were still using cassette tapes, we told time by how many Adventures in Odyssey episodes we could listen to before reaching our destination. The year revolved around two important dates: Christmas and your birthday. We told time by the school day, by our stomachs, and by our favorite TV shows. Then we grew up and grew into days of the week (Monday to Friday) and hours of the day (9-5) and the number of minutes it takes to get our coffee, commute to work or microwave dinner. “White people have three gods,” a South American native once observed, “money, stoplights and your watch.”
Time is a funny thing. We measure it in formal ways and informal ways; in seasons and week ends and sitcoms; in semesters, in credit hours and in term paper deadlines. Time teases us by passing too slowly when we’re waiting in line and too quickly when we’re having lunch with a dear friend. As Einstein said “Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. Sit on a red-hot stove for a minute, it seems like an hour. That’s relativity.”
I am studying in Singapore for a year, well, less than a year. God willing I will graduate with my Masters Degree on May 15th, 2011 on the Gregorian calendar (which happens to be the 11th of Jumada t-Tania, 1432 on the Muslim calendar, in case you were wondering). That’s seven and a half months away, or if you prefer, 224 days, or if you prefer, a semester and a half, or if you prefer, at the beginning of the dry season. Right now it looks like an eternity. But on May 16th it will look like the blink of an eye. Time is funny that way.
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