Introducing the American Socialist

Well worth reading. My thinking is tending exactly in the direction summed up in the last few paragraphs of quotes from Bert Cochran. Parenthetically, I did know Milt and Edith Zaslow in Los Angeles, when I was a member of a group called the Revolutionary Marxist Committee that fused with the Socialist Workers Party in 1977. My relations with Milt and Edith centered around thee fact that they cheerfully handed out SWP Internal Bulletins to anyone who wanted to understand the FAPO fight within the SWP. Personally it was all way over my head in those days but I was merely a conduit feeding that massive tome-like documents to leaders of the RMC. Milt and Edith had an apartment in the second floor that was approached by a narrow staircase that had an locked iron grating at the foot to keep out people who wanted to firebomb Milt and Edith for their efforts on behalf of, if I remember correctly, the Black Panther Party. @Melody Roberts may remember that part better than I.

Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Premier issue of the American Socialist, January 1954

Yesterday I got some great news from David Walters of the Marxism Internet Archives:

Louis,

as promised, the entire run of The American Socialist has finally be digitized into high quality PDFs. I integrated the HTML you had done previously into the table of contents. Let everyone who needs to know, know. I’ll announce on Facebook and the MIA’s What’s New page tonight or tomorrow.

http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/amersocialist/american_socialist.htm

Comradely,

David

Some background is in order.

A year or two after Marxmail was launched back in 1998, I noticed that someone named Sol Dollinger had subscribed. That name rang a bell. I wrote Sol asking if he was related to Genora Dollinger, who as Genora Johnson led the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Flint Sit-Down Strike of 1936-1937. She was indeed, he replied. He was married to her until her death at the age of 82…

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Local Tower Garden Farmer Produces Aeroponic Food for Disney, Emeril’s, and other Fine Orlando Restaurants

My daughter Kelly Holmes is considering changing her chefly focus to ways to grow actual food so this repost is in her honor.

Future Growing LLC

Our mission at Future Growing® is to inspire healthy and sustainable living around the world, by empowering people with the technology and training to do so. We have been on this journey for almost a decade, with over 100 successful projects across North America.

The GreenHouse Katherine Grandey, owner and operator of The GreenHouse. (Click photo to enlarge)

The local, grass roots urban food movement has given us the opportunity to meet some truly extraordinary people along the way, and the urban farmer we’ve featured this week is no exception. She is not only a first-class producer of premium produce, but has been instrumental in transforming the quality and standards for the locally grown food market in Central Florida.

I met Katherine Grandey, co-founder and owner of “The GreenHouse”, in Orlando, Fla., three years ago. Even though she was a highly-educated professional with a career and a young family, she wanted to…

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Who wrote this ?

Just noticed that since David McDonald set up the blog his name appears as the author of all the entries.

John Olmsted wrote the titles: Asmaa Says hello, Third blog from Cairo, Waiting for Asmaa, The revolution in Alexandria and the Many Challenges…… These were with input and editorial assistance from David.

All the rest and the photos are by David. More photos to come.

Feel free to leave comments.

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Asmaa says hello

The look and feel of Cairo

Downtown appears as a rotting corpse of noble old buildings built in a riot of styles from pure Islamic Arabesque, to Italianate to spectacular Art Deco and on to the horrible ugliness of the
Nasser/Soviet modern. Parts of it look a bit like many U.S. inner city ghettos prior to gentrification. It is hard to find evidence that anything has been done to them is the past 40 years, rotting plaster everywhere, falling balconies, abandoned buildings in the heart of downtown. Who knows, perhaps as a result of the revolution it will get hip with Europeans scooping beautiful old flats for a pittance.

On the street level Cairo has a wonderful madhouse feel. The sidewalks in the busy areas are packed with street sellers. One man sells socks next to a woman selling bras from a cardboard box. Next door are youths selling t-shirts and newly minted flags and emblems of the revolution. At the bottom are the poor souls pushing packets of tissues in your hand hoping for a coin. The are many places where the sidewalk is so dense the only option is to walk right through traffic on the street.

One one block you can pass folks dressed in a rainbow of outfits. In the men you can see typical western garb, then the long native tunic. This can be in any shade till you see the dandy in a starched bright white one. The fundamentalist are recognizable by their skull caps and full beards. How that stays clean in Cairo I’ll never know. The men range from having nothing on their heads to turbans in colors and styles reflecting all of North Africa. For the women the range is from western garb with no scarf to stylish scarves on top of spiked healed shoes and tight jeans. Women in full black robes, gloves and the covered face veil were more rare in our part of town. I have been told that 30 years ago only 20% of the women were veiled, now over 80%. For some it’s a defense against sexual harassment, others a political statement against the west and others religiosity. The social psychologist in me is thinking it is also basic social pressure. One wears what allows one to fit in with the others.

In general the feel of Cairo women is that they have significant strength and dignity. My friends from Istanbul felt quite a difference from Turkish women. The thing that hit them the most was how out in public and vital to public life women were as compared to more homebound life for many in Turkey. No doubt there are wide differences I am not seeing.

The air is so bad that a local quipped that it if you smoke cigarettes at least you have a filter between you and the air. This is compounded by the near complete lack of green spaces or parks (save one beautiful one we visited that you had to pay to get into) to escape to. We spoke to one youth who said he feels terrible when he goes home to the quiet suburbs. He craves the noise and constant human contact. The heart surely beats faster in Cairo.

We only drove through the rings of slums never getting the time we wished to explore them. We wanted to go to a whole community of garbage workers. The buildings in the slums go up cheap, fast and incredibly dense.

We never did get out to the outer ring of new suburbs where the rich live in gated communities carved out of the desert. These were built in crooked deals with the military which owns all public lands. It all goes by the name of crony capitalism.

The last time I saw this density amidst poverty was in Saigon. In Asia there has arisen cultural norms of suppressing public anger displays to grease social cohesion. Jerome Kagan, the famed temperament researcher has gone so far as to say that Asian children have evolved to have slower responding fear/arousal systems. Egyptians will tell you they are on average quite open to emotional display including anger. We saw a number of public dustups, most often beggars or shoe shine kids being run off by the waiters with related screaming. In general the surrounding folks move in to restrain the two combatants.

One would think this level of constant stress (trying to get by on $2 a day) would create interpersonal aggression and brutality as we see in many hyper dense urban environments. Time and time again we were amazed at the level of kindness and the matter of fact going about one’s business without that aggression. How this combination of stressors can still produce a kind and gentle people on average remains a bit of a mystery to me.

As we were driving through Alexandria we are faced with a car heading straight at us. I ask my friend Mostafa how he managed to stay sane while driving. He said the trick is to expect the mad driving. This frees him from the road rage that comes with an expectation that the others should drive as you wish them to. Because you expect it, you can accept it. When the frustration starts to build in you, you can let it go. It was a sensation that began to grow on me the longer I was there. When you are stuck in traffic, your cab driver is both lost and not understanding the bad directions you are giving him, your late for your meeting, you don’t know if you will make it at all ……… just let it go. Allah must have been looking out for us because we finally did make it to wherever we were going.

Here is where I wish I could time travel back to Tahrir in the heady days after Jan. 28th. Take all I have said about people and density and super concentrate it by packing a million people into one intersection and have a bunch of them camping out for 10 days. Filth, cold, noise, little sleep, constant danger of attack and what did it produce – paradise ! The verdict from all who were there was it was the greatest of times for them and the nation. An explosion of creativity, organizations, sharing, heroism and commonality with your neighbor no matter from where they came producing pure joy. An instant gift economy sprung up providing free everything from food and medical treatment to haircuts. The last time I saw that was at Burning Man in the desert in Nevada. But Burning Man has no purpose beyond a massive party. Tahrir had the critical ingredient that only comes along rarely in history – hope born of thirty years of longing combined with a sense that this is the critical moment to act (talk about living in the present !). And their collective action won a great victory.

This is why I referred to the revolution as the Stanford prison experiment in reverse in my first blog. The lifting of the police state created a rapid and profound shift in behavior. In psychology the power of an experiment is a function of the number of subjects. In the Stanford case it was about 30 and never repeated. Here the number of subjects is in the millions and it is being repeated with significant variations throughout the Middle East. The biggest question that remains is how long these changes will last. Were they just a temporary effects of extraordinary circumstances for a fundamental shift in the mindset of a population ? Perhaps only time will tell. Cairenes are said to be cueing up in lines for the first time.

Pyramids instead of textile workers

Thursday was to be the day to fill in the biggest void of the trip, the chance to talk to workers on the job. We had a contact in the giant Mahalla textile mill (25,000 workers) an hour outside of Cairo. We wait and wait for our translator Ahmed. Finally he calls “feeling too sick” in what sounded suspiciously like a hangover.

Not to be deterred we head to the bus station to try it on our own. We must be in the wrong place I think. No busses that say Mahalla on them. We are told to take a shared cab or a jitney. David starts saying “Mahalla ?” to the various drivers. Arabic is a bit like Chinese where you can have the right word and the wrong tonality and miss it entirely. My memory begins to flood me with horrible trips in third world jitneys where the driver says yes, you hop in, you may leave an hour later and he may or may not be going where you are going at all. Meanwhile you are crunched in a sardine can in Cairo traffic. I convince David to give it up and head to the pyramids instead.

The pyramids of Giza are no longer set in a picturesque beautiful desert. The last of the seven wonders of the world still standing sits a few hundred yards from the sprawl of Cairo. As one the top tourist attraction in the world I am expecting big signs that point to an entrance, perhaps a visitor’s center (how about a Pharaohland amusement park?) and blocks of tourist schlock shops as we get closer. Instead it is a dusty little burb with horses and camels wandering the streets. Pass through entrance, give the woman selling tickets ten dollars and suddenly your staring down the Sphinx’s rather large face. Perhaps there is a beauty to it being so little distorted by development. In the past the police tried to keep the hordes of camel drivers, guides, trinket sellers and hustlers at bay. With the collapse of the police they now rule the place. My strategy when approached was to just keep looking ahead and pretend I was mute. Part of my lack of friendliness came from the fact that the camels and horses that were used for the brutal February 3rd attack on Tahrir came from here. They were desperate from the loss of their livelihood with the exit of tourists.

If you put all of that aside you can lean right on the great pyramid of Giza while staring up at a pile of 2,300,000 stones. It is mind boggling to see each row of two ton stones laid dead straight horizontally and at a perfect diagonal all the way up. This engineering marvel was done 4,500 years ago with what some are now saying was free labor. The new theory is it was not slaves but farmers making the best of the three months when their lands were inundated with the annual flooding of the Nile. There’s no end to theories about aliens building them.

No Asmaa ?

That night brings more bad news. Our flight home has been cancelled, “due to the political situation”. We have to reroute on a flight that leaves on Friday when we had hoped to catch Asmaa. A $60 phone call fixes that. We hang our hopes on the e mail from her handler that we can get time with her after a meeting in a Al Alhazar Park from 2-5.

The morning starts with a visit to a demonstration of media workers in front of the state TV building against new laws banning some strikes and demonstrations. This being the Friday morning prayer time the whole demonstration takes a break at noon and marches to the nearest open air mosque. This consists of a street temporarily covered with mats and a sound system. We take it as a chance to skip out for our next meeting.

Al Alhazar park takes some getting used to. It is the first time in two weeks I am standing on grass and there is no one beeping at me. Peace and quiet on a spectacular hill in central Cairo. Families and lovers are picnicking in circles everywhere. After an hour of aimless wandering we spot two women with cameras looking like they have serious business to attend to. “You don’t happen to be going to the meeting with Asmaa ?” I ask. “Follow us” they say.

I can’t quite believe it. A month ago I am seeing her on a Youtube in my apartment in Portland and here we are shaking her hand as she invites us to sit down for the meeting. She has a radiant smile and an intensely calm presence. About 60 young Cairenes are sitting in a circle talking intensely for two and half hours. We are filming without the slightest idea what they are talking about. What we can see is intense interest in each others’ ideas and no problem sharing the speaking time despite a few that go on and on. Feels exactly like any meeting of people with a mission in the U.S. only a bit more animated. . People will answer their cells, even get on line and get distracted about on par with folks back home. We later hear that they were having a general discussion of where to go next with the movement. They spoke of how to deal with the media and how to overcome the problem of communication with the majority of Egyptians who live outside of the major cities who are more under the sway of the Islamic church.

People get up, now’s our chance. We move in. My third question is about women (who had played a major role in the meeting) and the revolution. Being the perfect busy diplomat she pulls over the most outspoken feminist to answer my question and she is off to other business.

We celebrate our victory with Stella beers at to the local activist expat watering hole. The place is mobbed with hip activists and folks from all over the world who came to Cairo as we did wanting to learn from their experience. An Australian joins us along with his Egyptian journalist friend. We proudly tell them of our encounter with Asmaa. The journalist is not impressed. He thinks she was put up as a spokesperson by the media. That automatically can get anyone in trouble with activists. The reasons are complex. The media is all state owned and universally despised. This is supposed to be a leaderless revolution. So if you are asked to be on TV no matter what you say there is a great danger of suspicion, envy and a “Who are you to speak for us ?” thrown at you.

One more post coming

I am back in Portland now gearing up for the spring semester. I will post one more time with a more extended discussion of where things seem to be going now and into the future in Egypt.

As I said in the first blog, for political analysis you can get better writing from places like Al Jazeera and Democracy Now.

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I hate CDG

The ugliest airport I have ever seen. More concrete poured to create this monstrosity than for the footing of the Bay Bridge in the middle of San Francisco Harbor. I hereby officially take back every bad thing I have ever said about SeaTac, which shines in comparison with this POS. I used to think we could employ the Taliban most productively on Aurora Avenue North, given their propensity for Blowing Things Up, and keep them from picking on World Historical Sites the statues of the Buddha. Idle hands are the Devil’s playground. It seemed like a harmless, even productive use of their main demonstrated talent, but now I am beginning to think that CDG ought to have pride of place in the Taliban queue of Ugly Places That Ought to Go Away.
Even after you have threaded your way through the amazing array of different places you must stand in line to find out that you are standing in the wrong line, and are securely within eyesight of your actual departure gate, boarding pass in hand, all anxieties allayed, you must put up with vistas like this:

Whoops! Used up my free 15 minutes on the internet at CDG and have had to transfer to an airport machine, 3 euros for 30 minutes, not bad, but I can’t download pictures, so that will have to wait till I am in Salt Lake City, making this an unillustrated rant. I am not mostly killing time on this machine while a foot away my Mac is sucking in battery power (74%!).

Let’s leave it at this: CDG is where fascist artists go after death instead of hell. But wait! If they’re fascist artists, will they even know they’re in hell? Maybe they’ll like it, making a mockery of my curse.

So let’s leave it at this instead: if Dante had abandoned the inside of his head and gone searching for an earthly representation of the hell to which he might consign his most bitter enemies, he would look no farther once he spied CDG, and would go to bed that evening a happy man.

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Third blog from Cairo

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Third blog from Cairo

Asmaa gets depressed

It is often said that a revolution is the easy part. It’s building the new society that is so difficult.

This may be especially true here in Egypt. The president was overthrown in 18 days of heroic mobilization by millions. The wretchedness of Mubarak’s rule had turned all but a few into sunshine soldiers of the revolution. It created a beautiful moment of unity in a normally stratified society.

Now that he’s gone the scene looks far different. People have gone back to their daily lives. The poor can’t afford to be sitting in Tahrir too long. Some of them are still in prison. The 18 days were glorious but exhausting. Perhaps it’s time to breath out. The great unity shattered the moment Mubarak stepped down. The wealthy with a gripe share little common interest with the poor now. The hip urban youth have desires quite different than the rural religious and so it goes.

For the dedicated revolutionist this is a time of sobering up from the high they were on. We got a peek into their world through a visit with a young Lebanese activist who had come to Cairo to set up an Indymedia outlet.

Some made a fetish out of the world’s biggest sit-in. Let go back and do it again, they thought. And when they did on March 9th it was a disaster. Split off and isolated they made easy pickings for the army to arrest and beat them.

Some have made a virtue of the leaderless side of the Tahrir events. This has the very sad effect of at times making even a meeting of the core activists problematic. Someone has to call on people. Everyone can’t speak at the same time. Who gets to be the spokesperson to the press? We hear stories of the classic problem we see in the states. Isn’t it a bit boring to sit around talking compared to the excitement of taking the streets?

Even more difficult is figuring out the road forward. A great old revolutionist once said that in times of revolution the extraordinary power, energy and heroism of the masses is like steam in a piston box. The steam is the power but without a piston box it cannot drive the train.
In Egypt there is no piston box. Facebook was not the magical phantom that somehow got the time, date and place of the next event affixed without meetings. In the end folks have to sit together for those long, long wrenching discussions.

We have heard on a number of occasions of these strains creating depression in some of the activists. We are told that our hero Asmaa was depressed after the vote on last Saturday’s referendum was a “yes” (in the interest of more conservative layers), that she was too depressed to meet us. But this depression appears to be dissipated by the next campaign or positive shift in events.

Learning is most profound in the trial-and-error school of hard knocks. The lessons rarely come without some pain. This is how little kids do it and they are the fastest learners. This is far longer lasting learning than books. The youth we have met appear to have arrived on the scene with intense naiveté born of the fact that they have been cut off from any traditions of past revolutions that could be their guide. The upside is little bad baggage. The down side is few elders, few examples from which to learn how to avoid missteps before you take them.

So the learning, the talking, the sharing, the frustrations, the disappointments, the false starts and the uber-hard work of forging some organization goes on.

Back to Alexandria

We returned to Alexandria to film a second meeting with students. The itch to talk politics is intense. It appears far greater and on a higher level than a similar group of my students back home. This leap ahead is only in the past two months. They tell me more stories of how last December they were as self-absorbed and apathetic as the worst we see in the shopping malls at home. Most importantly they all say how much more alive and joyful they feel that their thinking and concerns have been expanded beyond their narrow selves.

I am driving home this point of intense and rapid personal change time and time again in this blog. One of the biggest distortions our brain plays on us is to assume that the future will be like the past. We all do it. We see how folks appear to be and assume that is THE way they are. We also do it to ourselves. In a less than perfect world this can lead to static view of human nature at best and deep cynicism at worst.

Egyptians are living through this intense moment of change with their eyes open. They are not alone. Every time I catch a glimpse of Egyptian TV there are images of people speaking out against the injustices they face be it Bahrain, Syria, Yemen or Libya.

The army is your friend?

Time and time again we hear that the army is the people’s friend. It was the army that stepped in to protect people from the evil police and state security. The army is made up of working people who would never shoot on their brethren. Perhaps it was the army that gave the Mubarak the final push out the door. In our last blog I compared them to school teachers at a traffic crossing.

Now it is looking more complicated. I think I got sucked into the dream image.

The army is a gigantic million-person machine. It has been funded by 2 billion a year in aid from the U.S. It has benefited from Mubarak’s rule. The brass live extraordinary privileged lives. They are own chunks of the economy. When they saw that the revolution could not be contained by the police they figured Mubarak days were numbered. At the end of any war there is a rush to get on the winning side to survive the aftermath. So the army made a very smart decision to move in and appear to be the people’s side.

From Leal we hear stories that the army itself continues many of the arrests, beating and detentions previously carried out by the police. This mornings’ paper repeats stories we have heard about the army carrying out forced virginity checks on female protesters they have arrested and detained.

In some ways getting arrested by the army is worse than by the police. If you are held by the army you can’t use a lawyer or a legal system to get you out. He said that even the activists want the police back so that one can at least have legal protection.

The unions

One place where there is a greater chance for social cohesion is the commonality of work.
We wanted to make sure to visit the union movement. Through my old friend Carl Finamore we are connected with the Center for Trade Union Rights and their director Kamal Abbas.

The labor movement has a long history of battle going back to the fight to kick out the Brits in 1914. Despite that the average worker is dirt poor. Many toil in a huge informal economy. The unions officials were often corrupt and in bed with the government. The revolution has turned that upside down.

In the critical days of Feb 8-11th when Mubarak was thinking he could ride this out, workers launched a wave of strikes across the country. Some say this was the final straw that drove him out. It may also drive out many of the old more corrupt labor officials. A new independent labor federation is being created. They hope to have 3 million members by the time of a founding convention in the fall.

This afternoon we are headed to the giant Mahalla textile mill (25,000) workers. With luck we can get in to talk with workers about their recent strike which netted them a 25% wage hike.

This mornings paper brings a story of the government passing a new law making some strikes illegal with a year’s imprisonment for “disrupting the economy”.

Kindness in the chaos

It is very hard to judge a national character as a brief visitor. The slice we see is too small to generalize. But we have seen extraordinary levels of just plain kindness and gentleness every day. Now it may be the joy of seeing a tourist given how rare we have become but it is not uncommon to hear “welcome!” shouted at you as you walk down the street. Egyptians call themselves kind and generous by nature. At the same time they say they are emotional and excitable. The fact that the intense noise, traffic, air pollution and stress of daily life does not create monsters amazes me every day.

For someone with auditory distractibility one of the worst aspects of the national character is the sport of beeping. It is a language I am learning to decipher. So far I’ve learned there is a quick ” beep beep” that is concern for you as a walker or a signal to the other guy to go ahead. There’s a “beeeep” that’s “get outta my way!” The worse is the “beeeeeeeeeeeeep !!!” that I think is the venting of one’s spleen at being stuck in a jam. Give a driver a half an inch and they are in front of you. Crossing traffic is an acquired skill, terrifying at first since there are few lights that are obeyed. You look up at the sky, say a prayer and then find a little gap in the traffic and start walking across it. You must trust that the waters will part for you. The drivers for the most part will adjust to you. Woe be to you if you break a normal stride.

A few notes on Islam

As I contemplate this enigma of a relative lack of depression despite the intense stress of Egyptian life, I previously mentioned the intense social connection as the main balm.
After visiting many mosques and speaking with Muslims I wonder if religion is another important element of psychic survival. To be a Muslim gives one a meaning and purpose in life and a sense that there is a benevolent god. These elements tend to be shared by most religions. It is mosque life that is a bit different. Praying five times a day means taking a fifteen minute break from the hustle to survive. You take off your shoes, enter a sacred space, focus your mind on the divine and do a bit of aerobics as you bow. Perhaps that provides just the amount of serenity needed to head back out to the rat race. However this custom appears to be only practiced by a minority. The alternative is intense hanging out in outdoor cafes drinking tea and chilling with a sheesha pipe (tobacco).

Most often you hear a certainty that the revolution will not lead to an Iranian style theocracy. That does not mean that the fundamentalist will not press their cause. The Muslim brotherhood is thought to be aiming for a Turkish solution state where an Islamic party rules a secular state.

What has been most interesting is the stories of young fundamentalists coming into the Tahrir and politics for the first time. They rub shoulders with political activists, non-believers, Coptics and women without veils. They discover that they have more in common with them than differences. Perhaps Islam is just a religious view and there are political and social views one can hold outside of it. This of course is threatening to some of the old line folks.

A visit to King Tut’s house

What’s a trip to Egypt without checking out the Museum of Antiquities housing the one of the greatest collection of antiquities in the world? So off we go. The collection is extraordinary. The
hieroglyphs are so clear and sharp one feels like you are reading a tabloid in a different language. The jewelry is astounding, the finest of minute craftsmanship from 4,000 years ago.
But it is a hard to see. The light comes from a bare bulb dangling from a wire. In fact the whole museum is one of the biggest dumps you can imagine. We are told this is because a new one is being built. Light is better upstairs in Tut’s room. The great gold death mask sits lonely in the middle of another dimly lit room. No guards, no gaggle of tourist around it. You feel like you could have stashed it beneath a large overcoat and walked out. This is the same masked that had folks lined up around the blocks when he visited Portland a few years back.

Leal tells us of a less noble use of the museum. The army would drag protesters in there and beat them in the backrooms. The tourists, people exactly like ourselves, provide cover for this. We didn’t hear a thing.

This mornings’ press brings a story of a threatened strike by hundreds of archeologists demanding a new minister of antiquities.

Asmaa tomorrow?

We have only two days left and one of them has to be the pyramids. Will we get to talk to Asmaa? Yesterday I get a message giving me her phone number but I get no answer. This morning a new message comes. She will be holding court for folks Friday afternoon. Then you can interview her. Who knows?

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