a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Issue #91 (March 30, 2011)

Promontory, Glendale, California

Photo by Chris Collins

Forest Road, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Hirundo Angolensis by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Tim Arango in NYT, "Ready or Not, Iraq Ascends to Take Helm of Arab Bloc".

“After Libya was suspended from the Arab League last month, de facto leadership ended up coincidentally in the hands of Iraq, the Arab nation with the most experience — much of it painful — with a foreign-led military campaign against an unpopular dictator. For all of that still unsettled pain, the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari — in his new capacity as head of the Arab League — rushed off to Paris last Friday evening to join Western and Arab allies, where he argued passionately in favor of action against Libya, citing the American no-fly zone in northern Iraq that protected the Kurdish population from Saddam Hussein in the years before the American invasion here, according to a senior official who took part in the Paris deliberations. And soon, Iraqi leaders, who are facing their own protest movement, plan to use their own troublesome democracy, still bloody and inchoate, as a showcase for Middle East countries. Iraq is taking on a larger diplomatic role in regional affairs as host of the group’s annual summit meeting — while assuming the rotating presidency of the league — in May. ‘If there’s a political message, it’s that Iraq is back to play a major and positive role in the Arab region,’ said Labid Abawi, the deputy foreign minister who has led a committee to prepare Baghdad for the summit meeting. ‘We take pride in that Iraq has already exceeded all these other Arab countries in establishing a democratic regime,’ he said. ‘Now, we can say yes, we are on the right track, and other Arab countries can follow suit in establishing a democratic regime.’ Before the democratic uprisings across the Middle East, the summit meeting had already been seen as an occasion of national pride. Now it represents something larger — an opportunity, Iraqi leaders say, to showcase its fragile democracy. Some Iraqi diplomats envision emerging from the meeting with a so-called ‘Baghdad Declaration,’ a statement that would define the principles of modern Middle Eastern democracy.”


Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com, "The Iraq Effect".

“The most heartening single image of the past month — eclipsing even the bravery and dignity of the civilian fighters against despotism in Syria and Libya — was the sight of Hoshyar Zebari arriving in Paris to call for strong action against the depraved regime of Col. Muammar Qaddafi. Here was the foreign minister of Iraq, and the new head of the Arab League, helping to tilt the whole axis of local diplomacy against one-man rule. In May, Iraq will act as host to the Arab League summit, and it will be distinctly amusing and highly instructive to see which Arab leaders have the courage, or even the ability, to leave their own capitals and attend. The whole scene is especially gratifying for those of us who remember Zebari as the dedicated exile militant that he was 10 years ago, striving to defend his dispossessed people from the effects of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons. Can anyone imagine how the Arab spring would have played out if a keystone Arab state, oil-rich and heavily armed with a track record of intervention in its neighbors' affairs and a history of all-out mass repression against its own civilians, were still the private property of a sadistic crime family?”


Steve Coll in New Yorker, "The Casbah Coalition".

“Ghannouchi was a factotum of the old regime, and even if he was, as he assured the public, only an interim leader, the Casbah protesters regarded the Tunisian revolution as woefully incomplete. The demonstrators had turned the façade of Ghannouchi‘s office into a mural where people could spray graffiti or write on sheets of paper in colored ink. The walls displayed caricatures, political cartoons, a blown-up Facebook page that showed how to join the revolution online, and handwritten signs in Arabic, French, and English. One sign read, ‘Dear Our Government… Get Lost!’ Another observed, ‘Revolutions Never Go Backwards.’ Several images pasted on the wall depicted Mr. Burns, the fictional nuclear power plant owner on ‘The Simpsons,’ to whom Ghannouchi bears an unfortunate resemblance.”


Simon Sebag Montefiore in NYT, "Every Revolution Is Revolutionary in Its Own Way".

“Often temporary leaders arise — think of Aleksandr Kerensky, the strutting Russian prime minister for some months before the Bolsheviks seized power — but every revolution has its figures who provide fig leafs for the hard men. Khomeini appointed Mehdi Bazargan, a democrat, as his prime minister, who ended up resigning during the hostage crisis. The fiesta does not last long. The disorder, uncertainty and strife of a revolution make citizens yearn for stable authority, or they turn to radicalism. Certainly, extremists welcome this deterioration, as Lenin, that laconic dean of the university of revolutionology, expressed it with the slogan: ‘The worse, the better.’ (At that point, extreme solutions become more palatable: ‘How can one make a revolution without firing squads?’ asked Lenin.) At this stage, leadership becomes vital: Lenin personally drove the Bolshevik coup in October 1917. Khomeini was decisive in creating a Shiite theocracy in Iran in 1979 just as Nelson Mandela ensured a peaceful transition in South Africa. But there are no clear opposition leaders in Libya, Yemen or Syria: a ruthless security apparatus has long since decimated any such candidates.”


Bat Ye’or interview at Tundratabloids.com, "The Brotherhood wants to Islamize modernity, not to modernize Islam".

“Europe and the rest of the world are looking at Egypt with greater attention, well aware that there is a conflict of civilizations which we also feel in our own countries. Could this eventually make the situation better for the Egyptian minorities?

It’s hard to say. Europe has long ignored the persecution of indigenous, non-Muslim minorities, and claimed it was Israel’s fault if Muslims persecuted Christians. European leaders are now required to give the Christians some attention, for the European public has become aware of what’s going on. The topic was discussed elsewhere on the Internet long before the media got hold of it; it appeared to have been a kind of secret for decades. When I started writing about it, I was heavily criticized, even libelled. The problem is above all that the Christians in Muslim countries are now acting as hostages. If there is a perception that the West is trying to protect them, it will lead to even more attacks from fanatics. The West has long had a compliant and servile attitude towards the Muslim world, and it will not be easy to show any muscle now. This has also helped to turn Europe into Eurabia. By betraying Israel, one has betrayed Europe. Neither the Obama administration or the political class we have in Europe at the moment can enforce a new, tougher policy. What is needed is an alliance with Muslim forces who reject the Islamic fundamentalism and who will allow minorities religious and national rights to equality and autonomy, and who will accept pluralism in a Middle East which has been colonized by Islam and jihadism. These are the prerequisites for global peace.”


Ilene Prusher in CSM, "Why foreign women are seen as fair game".

“I don’t know if early journalism pioneers like Nelly Bly and Martha Gellhorn – or Edith Lederer and the other women who covered the Vietnam War – experienced the kind of threats and challenges that women of our generation face, but I feel thankful for the trail they blazed. By the time I was covering Afghanistan and Iraq for this newspaper, as I did between 2001 and 2005, I looked around and noted with great satisfaction that about half of the correspondents covering the story were women. The arrival of women in what was once seen as a boys’ bastion, however, is not necessarily matched or welcomed in the places we cover. There are swaths of the globe that are not in sync with the post-feminist realities of the West, though perhaps the dissatisfaction with that lag is one factor fueling the fires of revolution. In almost every place where the Arab Spring has sprung, one can find women (and enlightened men) pushing for change. But this longing for liberation still mingles with a disdain for liberal values that we Western women represent. When working in Afghanistan and Iraq, I would sometimes try to travel under the radar screen by dressing vaguely local – or at least covering my hair with a scarf. It worked, and luckily, I was almost never harassed. I remember seeing a Lebanese colleague in the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, who promptly demanded to know what I was doing walking around with my hair covered. For her, a secular Muslim, not bowing to religious dress codes was a point of defiance against oppression. For me, it was just about wanting to stay safe.”


Gideon Rachman in FT, "Libya, a last hurrah for the west".

“It would be nice to believe that the doctrine of a ‘responsibility to protect’, known colloquially as R2P, now has real bite. With rebel troops advancing swiftly along the Libyan coast, the supporters of the intervention will be feeling cheerful. But the reality is that the Libyan war is more likely to mark a last hurrah for liberal interventionism than a new dawn. For the brutal truth is that the western powers that are the keenest promoters of the idea will not have the economic strength or the public backing to sustain many more overseas interventions. And the rising economic powers -- China, India, Brazil and others -- are deeply skeptical about the whole concept.”


David Rieff in New Republic, "The Road to Hell".

“It is tempting to say that what is taking place here is some sort of Freudian ‘return of the repressed.’ But in reality, the infatuation of liberal elites in the West with humanitarian war was barely shaken by Iraq. Many of the same activists who either opposed the Iraq invasion from the beginning, or soon recanted their support for it, campaigned ardently for a military intervention in Darfur. The problem, it seemed, was not with the idea of regime change, which to be successful would have required regime change in Khartoum, even if most of the leaders of Save Darfur in the United States and SOS Darfour in Western Europe denied it, but with regime changed when practiced by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz. And now, some of those liberal interventionists are in positions of power, whether formal or informal. Two of the most prominent among those who called for Western military action in Darfur played crucial roles in persuading their respective governments to start bombing in Libya. Grotesque as it may sound, though he held no government appointment, Bernard-Henri Levy played a greater role in France’s decision to spearhead the bombing campaign, which involved at least one instance of French aircraft flying close air support for a rebel column, than did the foreign minister, Alain Juppe. Samantha Power, whose book, A Problem From Hell, about the failure of the United States to prevent or halt genocide in the twentieth century, has been the touchstone for American liberal interventionists since its publication (it was a favorite of the late Richard Holbrooke), is in government, where, to give her her due, she will finally be in position to help put these ideas into practice.”


Fouad Ajami in WSJ, "Obama’s Holbrooke Moment".

“This would be an American rescue mission, with a difference: We would not take the lead, we would defer to France and Britain, and we would let it be known ahead of time that we are not eager to assume a bigger burden in that North African country. This was a break with the record of American rescue missions in other Islamic settings—Kuwait in 1991, Bosnia in 1995, Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003. In all of these previous endeavors, it was America that supplied the will and the sense of moral and strategic urgency. But President Obama came to this Libyan engagement imbued by a curious doctrine of American guilt. By his light, we are an imperialistic power, and our embrace would sully those we would seek to help. Middle Eastern rulers and oppositionists alike had come to an unsentimental reading of Mr. Obama: He was no friend of liberty, he had made peace with the order of power in Arab-Islamic lands. Nothing had remained of that false moment of intimacy, in June 2009, when he had traveled to Cairo, the self-styled herald of a new American message to the Arab world. No, what mattered to Mr. Obama, above all, was his differentness, his break with the legacy of George W. Bush. The irony was lost on the liberal devotees of Mr. Obama: a conservative American president who had taken up the cause of liberty in Arab-Islamic lands, and his New Age successor who was nothing but a retread of Brent Scowcroft.”


Robert Kaplan in WSJ, "The Middle East Crisis Has Just Begun".

“Yemen, strategically located on the Gulf of Aden, as well as the demographic core of the Arabian Peninsula and a haunt of al Qaeda, is more important to American interests than Libya. In Yemen, too, a longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, has shot protesters in the street to keep order. Yemen constitutes the most armed populace in the world, with almost four times as many firearms as people. It is fast running out of ground water, and the median age of the population is 17. This is to say nothing of the geographical, political and sectarian divisions in the sprawling, mountainous country. However badly Mr. Saleh has ruled Yemen, more chaos may follow him. Coverage by Al Jazeera can help to overthrow a government like his, but it can't help to organize new governments.”


Michiko Kakutani in NYT on Toby Wilkinson’s book, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt.

“In fact this book draws a sobering portrait of what daily life was like for ordinary Egyptians. Foot soldiers (who actually fought barefoot) were subject to frequent beatings and had to subsist on meager rations, which were supposed to be supplemented ‘by foraging and stealing.’ And peasants, who did not have access to the doctors and dentists available to the wealthy, suffered from a range of debilitating diseases like tuberculosis and parasitical infections. To make matters worse, high taxes, the uncertain nature of agriculture in the Nile Valley (either too much water or too little) and the constant threat of famine combined to make daily life feel perennially precarious. Small wonder, then, Mr. Wilkinson says, that fervent belief in an afterlife — once largely the preserve of the ruling class, who regarded mummification and pyramids as vehicles for overcoming death — spread gradually to the population at large. The nature of an afterlife changed too. Whereas the wealthy, Mr. Wilkinson writes, ‘had been content to look forward to an afterlife that was essentially a continuation of earthly existence,’ Egyptians increasingly came to hope for ‘something better in the next world,’ to believe in the idea of ‘transfiguration and transformation’ — an idea that ‘would echo through later civilizations and ultimately shape the Judeo-Christian tradition.’”


Farhat Taj in Daily Times, "An ignorant friend".

“From a security point of view, FATA has never been an ungovernable territory since Pakistan came into being. It has always been under the control of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. This is especially so since the ISI-CIA sponsored jihad in Afghanistan. Did the ISI and CIA operate their entire jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan from an ungovernable space? Were the Soviets so foolish that they could not destroy jihadi bases in an ungovernable space? FATA is governable but the military establishment of Pakistan is deliberately projecting it as an ‘ungovernable wild west’ to the world because it needs the area for strategic games vis-à-vis India in Afghanistan. Does the writer have any idea about the pro-Islamism activities from the offices of political agents in FATA under the direction of the ISI? May I ask Saleem Ali why the Political Parties Act of Pakistan has not been extended to the area? President Zardari announced the promulgation of the act in FATA in 2009. Who is resisting a formal notification in this regard? Is it the people of FATA or is it the GHQ in Rawalpindi that is so averse to any idea of Pakhtun nationalist political parties operating in the area due to its eternal fear of Pakhtun nationalism?”


Liz Gooch in NYT, "In Malaysia, Shiites Struggle to Practice Their Faith".

“The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, but when it comes to Islam, the country’s official religion, only the Sunni sect is permitted. Other forms, including Shiite Islam, are considered deviant and are not allowed to be spread. Mr. Mohammad was one of 130 Shiites detained by the religious authorities in December as they observed Ashura, the Shiite holy day commemorating the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Ali, in their prayer room in an outer suburb of Kuala Lumpur. There are no official figures on the number of Shiites in Malaysia, but Shiite leaders estimate that there could be as many as 40,000, many of whom practice their faith secretly. While sectarian divisions are associated more with countries such as Iraq and Pakistan, Islamic experts say Malaysia is a rare example of a Muslim-majority country where the Shiite sect is banned.”


Raymond Ibrahim at Meforum.org, "Muslim Jihad in Christian Ethiopia".

“Muslims are an otherwise peaceable minority group in Ethiopia, but in enclaves where they represent the majority, they attack their outnumbered Christian countrymen — giving them a tweaked version of Islam's three choices to infidels — suggests that Muslim aggression and passivity are very much rooted in numbers: the more Muslims, the more potential for ‘assertive’ behavior. This has lessons for the West, especially Europe, which in recent years has seen an unprecedented influx of Muslim immigrants, reaching some 53 million, a number expected to ‘nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim will shrink by 3.5%,’ due to higher Muslim birth rates. In short, it is a matter of time before Muslims account for significant numbers in Europe — perhaps not the majority, but, as the Ethiopian example establishes, a majority is not necessary for the winds of jihad to blow. Indeed, the story of Islam's entry into Ethiopia, one of the oldest Christian civilizations, is illustrative. Around 615, when the pagan Quraysh were persecuting Muhammad's outnumbered Muslim followers in Arabia, some fled to Ethiopia seeking sanctuary. The Christian king, or ‘Negus’ of Ethiopia, welcomed and protected these Muslim fugitives, ignoring Quraysh demands to return them—and thus winning Muhammad's gratefulness. Today, 14 centuries later, when Islam has carved itself a solid niche in Ethiopia, accounting for 1/3 of the population, Muslim gratefulness has turned to something else—not least a warning to Western states.”


Oliver Kamm in Prospect, "Japan will recover".

“Japan’s response to disaster indicates less an enduring characteristic of human nature than the self-correcting nature of a democratic society. For all its political stasis and economic stagnation in the past two decades, Japan has an essential strength born of the democratic culture it developed after 1945. The most destructive earthquake experienced by Japan during the 20th century was the Kanto earthquake of 1923. The tremor was of comparable magnitude to the recent one, and it too generated huge tidal waves. The death toll was more than 100,000. Most of the victims died in firestorms, but xenophobic violence claimed many lives too. The day after the quake, the government declared martial law. Far from pacifying a panicked populace, this galvanised vigilantes into terrorising the Korean minority. Some of the military and police joined in crimes of torture and massacre, and an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 Koreans, mainly migrant workers, were murdered. At the time, Japan was attempting to build a democracy and open economy. The atrocities were evidence of the fragility of that culture, and its vulnerability to the extremist currents to come in the next decade.”


John Bussey in WSJ, "Japan Will Rebuild, Then Face Other Tests".

“Sometimes, too, cohesion is just another word for insularity or even self-dealing. Japan's vast national bureaucracy is a case in point. Decades of single-party rule stunted the nation's political development. That left the bureaucrats to run the country. The revolving door separating Japan's regulators from the industries they regulate is well oiled and much used. Senior bureaucrats generally expect a lucrative retirement post in the private sector. The effect is predictable: Banks in Japan ran amok in the 1980s and 1990s in part because they were sometimes run by ex-officials from the Ministry of Finance and central bank, whose former subordinates had moved up in the regulatory bodies. In Japan, where rank is highly respected, the ties continued to bind: The new regulators had trouble confronting their former bosses, even when the banks teetered. The practice is called amakudari, and it means ‘descent from heaven.’ Several former officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates the nuclear industry, have enjoyed private-sector salaries at the #Tokyo Electric Power Co. One is Toru Ishida, the former director general of METI, who left the agency last year and a few months later joined the utility.”


Jamil Anderlini in FT, "China’s opaque ways of finding new leaders are threat to reform".

“In 2002, as per Deng’s instructions, the current president, Hu Jintao, took the reins on the understanding that he would only stay for two five-year terms. But next year the party will attempt to carry out the first orderly and peaceful power transition since the Communist victory in 1949 that has not been predetermined by a dead emperor…. Future leaders are now chosen by a couple of hundred people instead of a handful of party elders and most of today’s power brokers are patrons for powerful economic interests. That means the current leaders must not offend too many special interests if they hope to get their people to succeed them. The problem is it also means that the political and economic reforms necessary to keep China stable and growing are increasingly being delayed or watered down.”


Martin Wolf in FT, "How China should rule the world".

“As the world’s rising trading power, China is the natural successor of the US as guardian of the open trading system. It is important, for this reason, that China abide by all the rules and principles of the system and play an important part in developing it further. China should play a role in bringing the interminable Doha round to some sort of conclusion. It has a rising interest in protecting its own intellectual property and, for this reason, a matching interest in ensuring its own adherence to these rules. China also has a strong interest in protecting its growing direct investments abroad. For this reason, it should promote rules on protection of foreign direct investment. Finally, as global trader, China has a strong interest in ensuring that the regional trade arrangements it creates, or joins, are compatible with the global rules.”


Bao Daozu in China Daily, "Top legislator warns of chaos".

“The country's top legislator on Thursday warned of a possible ‘abyss of internal disorder’ if China strays from the ‘correct political orientation’. China will never adopt a multiparty revolving-door system or other Western-style political models, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, said while delivering a work report. The establishment of a socialist law system, with Chinese characteristics, institutionally and legally ensures the country stays on the right path, he told about 3,000 NPC deputies. ‘On the basis of China's conditions, we've made a solemn declaration that we'll not employ a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation,’ he said. He ruled out the possibility of separating executive, legislative and judicial powers, adopting a bicameral or federal system, and said privatization was not under consideration.”


James Lamont in FT, "Auditor warns India of naval shortfalls".

“This will come as a blow to naval planners with targets to launch 100 warships during the next decade as they respond to what they view as a growing threat to maritime supremacy in the Indian Ocean. New Delhi is sensitive to comparisons with China, which has three times the number of combat vessels as India and five times the personnel. But in spite of forecasts that the Indian navy will expand rapidly in the next decade, the auditor’s report said more ships were being decommissioned than were being launched.”


Charles Forelle in WSJ, "A Nation of Dropouts Shakes Europe".

“The state of Portuguese education says a lot about why a rescue is likely to be needed, and why one would be costly and difficult. Put simply, Portugal must generate enough long-term economic growth to pay off its large debts. An unskilled work force makes that hard. Cheap rote labor that once sustained Portugal's textile industry has vanished to Asia. The former Eastern Bloc countries that joined the European Union en masse in 2004 offer lower wages and workers with more schooling. They have sucked skilled jobs away. Just 28% of the Portuguese population between 25 and 64 has completed high school. The figure is 85% in Germany, 91% in the Czech Republic and 89% in the U.S. ‘I don't see how it is going to grow without educating its work force,’ says Pedro Carneiro, an economist at University College London who left Portugal to do his postgraduate studies in the U.S.”


Paul Salopek in The American Scholar on Peter Godwin’s book, The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe.

“And as our Dante in Zimbabwe’s hell, Godwin succeeds at capturing the surreality of the regime’s workaday brand of repression. A musty anti-colonialist in Saville Row suits, Mugabe likes to wrap his cudgel in a veneer of bureaucratic normality. Lawyers defend torture victims in the courts, but judges are arrested when they rule against the government. A policeman berates Godwin for blocking traffic, then goes back to cracking women’s and children’s skulls with his stave. And two Anglican bishops — one legitimate, the other a pro-Mugabe usurper — duel, prissily, with their ceremonial crosiers inside a sedate Harare cathedral. It’s government as cargo cult. Behind the cello­phane-thin trappings of state lies the rot of infantilizing patronage — from luxury Mercedes Benzes for bigwigs to crisp $100 bills for loyal soldiers.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Teach History Warts and All".

“To treat the deeds of the 19th-century abolitionist Sojourner Truth in greater detail than those of George Washington, which is the inevitable end-result of a dedicated month, is to perpetrate a distortion. But as memory, Black History Month has been a striking success. Children, and not just black children, quite like it. The reasons are paradoxical. Probably no pedagogical innovation was ever carried out for reasons more political, but Black History Month is the least politically correct corner of the grade-school history curriculum. You always know who the good guys are in Black History Month and their struggles are taught with an old-fashioned, un-nuanced moralism that makes Our Island Story look like Hamlet. The results are plain to see. In 2008, education professors from Stanford and the University of Maryland released a survey of 2,000 11th- and 12th-graders (high-school leavers) who had been asked to name the 10 most significant Americans, excepting presidents. Three mainstays of Black History Month – Martin Luther King, the anti-segregationist protester Rosa Parks and the escaped slave Harriet Tubman – ranked one, two and three, well ahead of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. By about the age of eight or 10, children should have a simple, logical and non-cynical narrative of their country to carry around for the rest of their lives as a net to catch knowledge in. Non-cynical, because children cannot build such a net if teachers are running down the credibility of what they impart. That is the problem with teaching young people: there is a line on one side of which a teacher’s duty is to promote credulity and on the other side of which it is to promote scepticism. Errors are inevitable. But they will be self-correcting, to some extent. By age 16, students will have as much cynicism and ‘distance’ as any educator could wish.”


George Weigel in First Things, "Communism vs. The Church".

“The Commission for New Martyrs of the Great Jubilee of 2000 concluded that there were likely twice as many martyrs in the twentieth century than in the previous nineteen of Christian history combined. The great majority of these twentieth-century martyrs gave their lives for Christ at the hands of communism. Thanks to the new political situation behind the old Iron Curtain it is now possible to describe this almost-forgotten communist war against Christianity in detail and to unlock some of its once closely held secrets. For this was an undercover war as well as a matter of mass murder… The most brutal communist campaign against the Catholic Church in the immediate post-war period is not so well-known…. It involved the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine, Byzantine in its liturgy and polity but in full communion with the bishop of Rome. Feared by Stalin as the repository of Ukrainian national consciousness and hated by the leadership of Russian Orthodoxy for their adhesion to Rome, the Greek Catholics were caught in a political-ecclesiastical vise that closed on them with lethal force in 1946, when an illegal Sobor, or church council, was held in L’viv in western Ukraine. Staged by the Soviet secret police with the blessing of Russian Orthodoxy’s Moscow patriarchate, the L’viv Sobor dissolved the 1596 Union of Brest, which had brought Ukrainian Greek Catholics into full communion with Rome, and announced that this local church had been ‘reunited’ with Russian Orthodoxy. In one stroke, four million Ukrainian Greek Catholics who declined ‘reunion’ with Russian Orthodoxy became the largest illegal, and underground, religious body in the world. Thousands of Greek Catholics, including numerous priests and all but two of ten Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishops, died in the Gulag.”


Henrik Bering in WSJ on John Armstrong’s book, In Search of Civilization.

“Mr. Armstrong is firmly on the side of the popularizers. Unlike many intellectuals, who resent any linking of wealth and culture, he sees the two as intimately connected, but they need to be integrated, he says, since wealth by itself does not compel admiration. Thus he looks for ‘the sweet spot where luxury and spiritual prosperity meet.’ In no age was this more the case than in the Renaissance, which went back to classical times for the best in literature, sculpture and architecture and confidently built upon it with the riches of a newly mercantile age. ‘What is striking,’ Mr. Armstrong finds, ‘is how well money was spent.’ Compare this civilizing project with 19th-century France under Napoleon III, all gold and glitter on the surface but rot and wormholes below. Mr. Armstrong is particularly illuminating on decadence, which he defines as ‘defeatism before the consequences of defeat have been felt.’ In the dark cynicism of writers such as Baudelaire or Stendhal Mr. Armstrong sees not so much indolence as a form of fear and despair masquerading as sophistication. It is possible to inherit a great civilization, he implies, without possessing the will to defend its ideals.”


Nick Cohen in Spectator, "The Tory Party’s Secret Weapon".

“The TUC and Labour Party condemned the violence. But they had not warned in advance that yobs would not be welcome on the march because neither is ready for a full confrontation with the fanatics. On the march itself the TUC allowed the SWP to hand out banners and ‘brand’ the demonstration as its own as it called in apparent seriousness for ‘a general strike now’. The folly of ignoring or indulging the far left becomes apparent as soon as you realise that the similarities between the SWP and the BNP are more important than the differences. Both are hysterical totalitarian organisations that love vicious rhetoric and promote anti-Semites. The left wing press and the BBC will never acknowledge the overlap between fascism and communism, because they fear accusations of ‘betrayal,’ and have a mental block that prevents them accepting that evil resides on the left as well as the right of British politics. As a point of contrast, imagine how they would react if the BNP hijacked a Countryside Alliance march. The Today programme would have had a nervous breakdown on live radio.”


Nicholas Confessore in NYT, "In Budget Fight, an Albany Titan Is Suddenly Overshadowed".

“In years past, Mr. Silver deployed his own well-worn playbook, famous for his gnomic utterances, his refusal to commit to positions in advance and his willingness to wait out governors until they were desperate for a deal, any deal. A close alliance with powerful labor unions, particularly teachers and health care workers, provided Assembly Democrats an effective and well-financed political communications arm in their battles with the governor. An impregnable majority — Assembly Democrats control roughly two-thirds of the chamber’s 150 seats — helped insulate them from any political tides that roiled national and state politics. But those strengths proved less useful against a popular and aggressive governor buoyed by ever-rising public anger against Albany and constrained by the stark reality of the state’s dire finances.”


NYT: "N.Y.C. vs. N.Y.S., the Pension Battle".

“The city negotiates wages and health benefits directly with its employees’ unions. But since the 1970s fiscal crisis — when Albany took over the city’s finances — the State Legislature and the governor have dealt with the city’s pension benefits. The way it usually works, the mayor negotiates a pension deal, which state lawmakers approve and then later ‘sweeten’ for their friends in the unions. Albany is notoriously compliant when it comes to demands from the powerful unions that represent the state’s public employees, which is one of the reasons the state is in such deep fiscal trouble. Legislators have been even more generous to city employees because the city, not the state, pays for their generosity. Unless New York City gets relief, the spiraling pension burden will cripple the city’s finances for years to come. The city’s contributions to the pension fund — for 293,000 employees and about 235,000 retirees — have risen from $1.5 billion in 2001 to an estimated $8.4 billion next year. Payouts to retirees have nearly doubled from $6.6 billion in 2002 to more than $11 billion this year.”


Fran Spielman in CST, "Rahm Emanuel considers cutting City Council seats in half".

“If Emanuel decides to seriously pursue the idea of a smaller City Council — instead of tinkering at the margins by shrinking the roster of committees — he could find an ally in Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th). Twice in the last 16 years, Burke has called the 50-member Council unwieldy, unproductive and unnecessary and proposed cutting it in half to save taxpayers $10 million a year. ‘We are now one of the largest city councils in the country,’ Burke said in 2002. ‘New York has 51. We have 50. Reduced operating expenses would be the principal benefit. But a smaller council would also be more responsive to the voter. They’ve have more constituents. But they’d be more easily identified.’ Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) strongly disagrees, stating, ‘In most cities, people don’t go to their alderman for anything. In Chicago, people go to their alderman first for every damned thing — and they expect results.’”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "The “Cannibalization” of Entrepreneurship".

“The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit that supports entrepreneurship, has a new report out by Paul Kedrosky and Dane Stangler headlined ‘Financialization and Its Entrepreneurial Consequences.’ According to the foundation's press release about the study, the growing size of the financial industry in America ‘potentially suppressed entrepreneurship.’ The release quotes Mr. Kedrosky as saying that the financial companies were hiring people who otherwise might have started their own companies. ‘The financial services industry's steady rise has had a cannibalizing effect on entrepreneurship in the U.S. economy,’ he is quoted as saying. ‘Excessive financialization exacerbated and distorted the flow of capital in the economy, potentially suppressing entrepreneurship by drawing away entrepreneurial talent.’ The same release quotes Mr. Stangler as saying that ‘An excessively dominant financial sector may have made it easier for weaker (or potentially weaker) companies to obtain financing, thus helping to maintain that steady rate of entrepreneurship but possibly contributing to the declining quality of newly established businesses.’ The use of words like ‘may have,’ ‘possibly,’ and ‘potentially’ gives a clue to how confident one can be of the claims in the study. Answer: not very.”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "How Government Grows".

“This case of the lone air traffic controller falling asleep during the overnight shift at Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C. is a perfect example of how the size and cost of government grow. The transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, a Republican, has responded by directing, as the New York Times reports it, ‘that a second controller be on duty during the overnight shift at the Washington airport.’ Am I the only one to see the humor in this? (It's humorous until you have the pay the taxes for it.) In the private sector, you'd fire the guy who fell asleep and replace him with one who will stay awake…. In the government, there is no competition. The Federal Aviation Administration runs the control towers. It doesn't have to worry about being replaced with a competitor. And when one of its employees falls asleep on the job, the reward for the FAA is that its number of staff and budget for the job (a rough Washington equivalent to power) double. The reward for failure in a bureaucracy is that the agency's budget and staff increase.”


Robert Frank in WSJ, "The Price of Taxing the Rich".

“Nearly half of California's income taxes before the recession came from the top 1% of earners: households that took in more than $490,000 a year. High earners, it turns out, have especially volatile incomes — their earnings fell by more than twice as much as the rest of the population's during the recession. When they crashed, they took California's finances down with them. Mr. Williams, a former economic forecaster for the state, spent more than a decade warning state leaders about California's over-dependence on the rich. ‘We created a revenue cliff,’ he said. ‘We built a large part of our government on the state's most unstable income group.’ New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois — states that are the most heavily reliant on the taxes of the wealthy — are now among those with the biggest budget holes. A large population of rich residents was a blessing during the boom, showering states with billions in tax revenue. But it became a curse as their incomes collapsed with financial markets. Arriving at a time of greatly increased public spending, this reversal highlights the dependence of the states on the outsize incomes of the wealthy. The result for state finances and budgets has been extreme volatility.”


FT: "An end to folly and negligence".

“The agency problem has dogged the publicly quoted company since its invention. Adam Smith identified the separation of management and ownership as one of the reasons for the South Sea Company’s collapse in 1720. Given the number of the company’s shareholders, he argued, it was to be expected that ‘folly, negligence and profusion should prevail in the management of their affairs’. Britain’s voluntary stewardship code, launched last year, is the latest attempt to address this. It aims to encourage shareholders in public companies to behave more like owners.”


Washington Post: "Drill, Brazil, drill, says the U.S."

“When was the last time an American president stood before an audience in a foreign country and announced that he looked forward to importing more of its oil? Answer: Just over a week ago, when President Obama joined political and business leaders in Brasilia in hailing the fact that their newly discovered offshore petroleum reserves might be twice as large as those in the United States. Americans ‘want to help with technology and support to develop these oil reserves safely, and when you’re ready to start selling, we want to be one of your best customers,’ Mr. Obama said. Brazil is probably a more stable, secure supplier than, say, Libya. Still, the president’s words were ironic. Brazil already produces vast quantities of a fuel — ethanol — that the U.S. government, under a policy long supported by presidents and farm-state members of Congress from both parties, has promoted as a green alternative to gasoline. But the United States, protecting its own heavily subsidized ethanol industry by means of a 2.5 percent tariff and a 54-cent-per-gallon duty, prevents Americans from importing all but trivial amounts of the stuff from Brazil. Therefore, we need more oil — much of it imported. In Brasilia, Mr. Obama spoke of strengthening U.S.-Brazilian technical cooperation on ethanol but did not propose allowing U.S. protectionist measures to lapse after their scheduled expiration on Dec. 31. As for offshore drilling, Mr. Obama’s enthusiasm for punching holes in the ocean floor off Brazil is hard to reconcile with his decision, announced Dec. 1, to keep the waters off the East and West coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico off-limits to exploration indefinitely.”


MercoPress: "Lula da Silva says Latin America’s left is a model for developed countries".

“‘In the last decades the main left wing movements and currents entered a period of crisis. Many were left without political or ideological references’, said Lula da Silva at a packed closed stadium Friday night, next to Uruguay’s President Jose Mujica and his predecessor in the job, Tabare Vazquez (2005/2010). Lula da Silva was the main speaker at the celebration where he emphasized the importance of regional integration and the performance of left wing political groups in the continent which contrasts with what is happening in a developed world in crisis. ‘With us (the Latin American left) it has been different. We never abandoned our political convictions or our commitment to life and peace with the destiny of oppressed peoples’ said the former Brazilian president recalling the four decades of the Uruguayan ruling coalition born 26 March 1971. ‘The left in Brazil and in Uruguay knew how to change, but without changing sides…That is why our government experiences are a reference not only for Latin America but also for other regions of the world’, he remarked although adding that ‘we are not here to teach lessons’.”


Barry Newman in WSJ, "The Lighter Side of Counterfeiting Puts Zippo in a Fix".

“‘It can take a minute to decipher some counterfeits, which is scary,’ said Ms. Woods. She held the lighter in her palm, judging its weight. She removed its insert — the working parts — testing for the famous ‘trombone fit.’ Ms. Woods said, ‘I have suspicions.’ The logo on the case looked fine. The insert drew out smoothly, and it was accurately etched: ‘For best results, use Zippo flints and fuel.’ What was wrong? ‘There's things, and that's all I'm going to tell,’ said Ms. Woods, with a slight, knowing smile. That lighter would be returned, with regrets but no details. Zippo isn't eager to let buyers know how they've been had. Yet for fans who see the Zippo as a monument to American design, like Ray-Bans and the Slinky, the Internet swarms with rippo-phobia.”


Steve Inskeep provided this month’s illustration of the truism that nobody has thinner skin than the news media, those what dish it out full time yet cain’t barely take so much as a rare whiff of complaint from the public they serve. Inskeep is part of the new hosting crew of “Morning Edition” that replaced longtime NPR fixture Bob Edwards a couple years ago. He should have taken his essay to the New York Times because there he’d have had a sympathetic editor who might have advised him to alter the tone here or admit something there. Not that the Times is expert at this in their own cases, especially now that editor Bill Keller is a regular columnist, but they did go on a correction jag and install a readers ombudsman after a faint whiff or two of plagiarism and falsifications that the current regime feels was all Howell Raines’ fault and so the ombuds get beaten like a one-armed stepchild and there’s much turnover in the position -- as if the body of the NYT is rejecting the Public Editor. Inskeep was evidently confident enough to believe he was pulling one over on the wolves at the Wall Street Journal editorial page when they ran his “Liberal Bias at NPR?” with hardly a change. His main point is to wave the almost bloody shirt on behalf of an NPR correspondent in Libya and thereby place his news-gathering organization above reproach. He manages to belittle all recent criticism, the truth of which has essentially been conceded by the resignations of higher-ups. Then he asserts, “NPR’s audience keeps expanding because Americans want more than toxic political attacks. They want news.” He may not bring up the relief from commercials that people enjoy because they essentially have commercials now and by their own anti-corporate logic this makes them bought -- best not bring it up.

Over the years like any commercial station in a growth phase, NPR has gradually added weather, traffic, sports, automotive, food and music coverage because serving its original base audience of sports-hating, bicycle-riding, vegetarian politicos was accomplished decades ago. NPR as it has become a national fixture is necessarily tethered to a listenership that is bigger and less liberal than its staff is, even on its most deeply closeted days, when nary of whiff of dorm-room pothead radicalia can be smelt. The Times has this problem too; can you imagine what a Times that was still merely the paper of Manhattan would be like?

NPR no doubt feels pressure from the BBC’s increasing audibility in the US and though they must feel center-right in comparison to what the BBC gets away with, neither they nor their Fox-loving enemies appreciate that were federal funding to actually be cut entirely, NPR would then quite quickly slide into that chowder-head hectoring arrogance it envies in the BBC but which in the European context it achieves by getting their budget entirely from the state’s dedicated TV set tax.


Dana Jennings in NYT, "Grab a Brew While They Face Death".

“In Episode 1 of ‘Coal’ a miner is criticized by his boss because the night shift isn’t meeting quota. It’s bad enough to be taken to the mat, but it’s a kind of torture to have it done on national television. And these miners aren’t even paid to appear on the show, a Spike spokeswoman said. To be honest, it is fascinating to watch crab being wrenched from the thrashing ocean and coal wrested from beneath an Appalachian mountain. And it’s refreshing to hear working-class men discuss their difficult lives, partly because of their invisible presence in our own. It’s their pride and muscle that help to ferry oil and coal to our furnaces, that put crab on our dinner plates. But these men — in the mine, on the Bering Sea, at Oil Rig 28 — end up as commodified as the natural resources that control their destinies. What does it mean when an ordinary man’s life is transmuted into entertainment? Is a life of quiet desperation somehow ennobled if it’s shown on television? Some shows — including ‘Deadliest Catch’ and ‘Ax Men’ — also have online stores that sell clothing, video games, pint glasses and other memorabilia.

You can even score a Captain Phil tribute T-shirt. The death of Phil Harris, captain of the Cornelia Marie, was chronicled last year on ‘Deadliest Catch,’ spurring record ratings.

‘Coal’ and its rowdy buddies make no bones that they sell a whiff of the grave, that each episode is a potential snuff film.”


Jeff Klein in NYT, "In NHL Regulating Hits to Head Challenges Tradition".

“A poll of Canadian hockey fans by MacLean’s magazine revealed this month that 83 percent support the outlawing of all checks to the head. (And if there is doubt that Canadian fans have gone soft, only 13 percent would outlaw fighting.) Dryden said, however, that today’s traditionalists were unable to conceive of hockey as being hockey if hits to the head were banned. But the faster game has made hockey so dangerous, he said, that change is necessary. ‘What has changed all of this is the shorter shifts,’ Dryden said. ‘If you’re playing for two minutes as people were in the 1960s, you coast and circle and circle, and then when you see an offensive chance off a defensive problem, you burst. In the 1970s, shifts are a minute long, but it’s still a coast-and-burst sort of game; players don’t finish their checks — they peel off and keep looking for the puck. ‘But today, it’s 35 seconds, so the player can go full sprint from the moment he comes over the boards. People skate faster, they’re fitter, they’re 20 pounds heavier, they’ve got hard-shell equipment, and they’re only on for 35 seconds. So you have the enormous force of bodies hitting at full speed. It allows for players to essentially target the guy who has the puck all game long, splattering them against the glass if they have the puck or even if they’ve just released it.’ Adam Gopnik, a writer and editor at the New Yorker and a lifelong Canadiens fan who will speak about the history of hockey at the University of Toronto’s prestigious Massey Lectures this year, traced the resistance to change to hockey’s origins in Montreal. There, he said, English-Canadians, French-Canadians and Irish-Canadians all played their own versions of hockey, making it ‘a clan game, with clan ethics and clan traditions.’ ‘The thing to do for the commercial good of the game is to eliminate fighting and head shots — you’d double the audience, because women would watch,’ Gopnik said. ‘But they’re not able to do it,’ he said, in part because of the traditionalism inherent in what he called ‘Canadian clannism.’”


Douglas Goetsch in The American Scholar, "Baseball’s Loss of Innocence".

“While Lardner was establishing himself as a writer, the sport he covered was undergoing a transformation: from its 19th-century origins as a club sport among the aristocracy to the game of the masses. The phenomenon of a spectator sport of national proportion was new to America. Football would remain secular to collegiate life for decades, and the two other contenders, boxing and horse racing, operated under increasingly strict regulation. By the turn of the 20th century, every major American city had a major league baseball team — New York, St. Louis, Chicago, and Boston each fielded two — and every substantial municipality had a minor league team. The rival National and American Leagues called ‘a truce’ one winter and staged the first ‘World Series’ in 1903. Major league baseball attendance rose steadily, from 3.5 million in 1900 to double that in 1908. That year the New York Giants alone drew nearly a million fans. Attendance rose throughout the 1910s and exceeded nine million in 1920.”


Randolph Scott made almost three Westerns a year through the 1950s, most of which he had a hand in producing as well. He spent his money buying up ranches north of Los Angeles which later became Bob Hope’s spread and later, in small part, the Reagan ranch. He ended his screen career in 1962 appearing with Joel McCrea in the best of the two early classically styled westerns that Sam Peckinpah made, Ride the High Country, though Brian Garfield is probably right to call it both the last of the old and first of the new westerns. But Dave Kehr in his DVD column in the Sunday NYT, "Classic Cowboy Back on the Range", notices what all of us today are tempted to consider a “new” tone in one of Scott’s three westerns from 1950, The Nevadan:

“Produced by Scott with his longtime business partner Harry Joe Brown, The Nevadan finds Scott already developing the wily, strategically mysterious character that would enter film history with the series of sharp, minimalist westerns that he and Brown made with the director Budd Boetticher later in the ’50s. For most of the film’s running time it’s impossible to ascertain Scott’s exact moral or legal status, as he deftly plays an escaped bank robber (Forrest Tucker) against a corrupt banker (George Macready) in pursuit of a horde of stolen cash. Douglas’s characteristically sharp way with violence and Dorothy Malone’s sleepy-eyed self-confidence as the romantic interest lift this pleasant genre piece above the average.”

WWII changed about everything and one can say it introduced a type of “realism” in films through location shooting, documentary-style tropes, improved second-unit action production values and what is now called “noir”. But in truth all of these new developments are revivals of early thirties and late silent styles such as the location feature (Nanook of the North, Grass, The Silent Enemy, Trader Horn, etc.), the realist strain of westerns and gangster films, and German expressionism. And the one credit that stands out to me in The Nevadan, “Additional Dialogue by Rowland Brown”, pulls it right back to early sound-era realism when Brown somehow managed to wear out his welcome after writing-directing three of the better early uses of sound realism when this was rarely done well, either in terms of writing dialogue, directing the actors, or using the technology of recording live sound: Quick Millions (1931), Hell’s Highway (1932), and Blood Money (1933). Brown’s film career began with his script for the gangster film, Doorway to Hell (1930), and though blackballed thereafter as a director he continued writing for interesting-to-excellent films. The Nevadan credit is his penultimate one and only a story credit on Kansas City Confidential (1952) follows, though he lived until 1963.

Kehr had no room for that aspect of this Scott western, but he does his usual good job filling in on cinematographic detail of the production itself and the DVD release:

“[T]he picture was shot in the Cinecolor process, a low-cost alternative to Technicolor that was popular with Poverty Row studios and independent producers. Because Cinecolor went out of business in 1954, most Cinecolor movies now circulate in very poor copies, if they circulate at all. But Sony has managed to create a sharp, clear transfer that brings out the blue-greens and browns that were the most vivid components of the Cinecolor palette, landscape colors that made the process particularly effective for westerns.”


Michael Cieply in NYT, "A Critique of Clint Eastwood’s “J. Edgar” movie".

“Larry Cohen has issues — 17 pages’ worth — with ‘J. Edgar,’ the movie now being shot here by Clint Eastwood for Imagine Entertainment and Warner Brothers with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role as J. Edgar Hoover. Mr. Cohen is a writer and director who was in the news when his sister, the publicist Ronni Chasen, was murdered last year, and whose film ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’ was released in 1977 with Broderick Crawford in the lead. He has now compiled a lengthy critique of the new Hoover film, based on his reading of a screenplay by Dustin Lance Black, who won an Oscar for ‘Milk.’ Mr. Cohen’s biggest gripe is what he describes as the film’s portrayal of Hoover, the longtime director of the F.B.I., ‘as a closeted gay man.’ In his critique, which Mr. Cohen said he planned to post online if he could find a proper forum, he acknowledges that Hoover had long been the subject of reports and rumors of cross-dressing and of a hidden sexual relationship with his aide Clyde Tolson (who died in 1975, three years after Hoover). But Mr. Cohen insists that the stories, which made a splash in Anthony Summers’s 1993 biography ‘Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover,’ are not backed up by credible evidence that Hoover was ‘anything but asexual.’ Based on its script, Mr. Eastwood’s movie will dwell heavily on the Lindbergh kidnapping case, in which, by Mr. Cohen’s assessment, Hoover ‘had only the most peripheral involvement.’ And he contends the film makes much of Hoover’s reluctance to pursue the Mafia, but underestimates the positive effect of what he calls a ‘gentleman’s agreement,’ under which Hoover supposedly let crime bosses operate prostitution and gambling rings, as long as they helped to block the narcotics trade.”


Chitralekha Basu in China Daily, "The future is now".

“His concern for the future of China in an increasingly mechanized, competitive and conflicted world remains an overriding one. A ‘staunch nationalist at heart’, Han's anxiety that the Western model of development may not be the best for China runs through almost all that he writes. ‘We want to be as powerful and as developed as the Western societies, but our ethos is different. Fast-track development does not agree with core Asian values,’ he says. ‘Science, technology and modernization are not inherent in Chinese culture. They are like alien entities. If we buy into them, we turn ourselves into monsters, and that's the only way we can get along with Western notions of progress.’ A chronicler of sci-fi writing in China, Han is excited by the freshness of ideas and, sometimes, the profundity of philosophical thought that his juniors in the business - Pan Haitian, who was born in the 1970s and Fei Dao, born in the 1980s - are bringing to the table.”


Overkill flyer history.


Obituaries of the Week

Elizabeth Taylor (1932 - 2011), by Camille Paglia.

“To me, Elizabeth Taylor's importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality -- the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct. Let me give you an example. Lisa Cholodenko's ‘The Kids Are All Right’ is a truly wonderful film, but Julianne Moore and Annette Bening -- who is fabulous in it and should have won the Oscar for her portrayal of a prototypical contemporary American career woman -- were painfully scrawny to look at on the screen. This is the standard starvation look that is now projected by Hollywood women stars -- a skeletal, Pilates-honed, anorexic silhouette, which has nothing to do with females as most of the world understands them. There's something almost android about the depictions of women currently being projected by Hollywood.”

Zoogz Rift (1953 - 2011).

“Born Robert Pawlikowski, Zoogz Rift took cues from Beefhart and Zappa to become a sardonic, confrontational vanguard of the new wave fringe. His first album, With No Apparent Reason, was released in 1976; an astounding 38 would follow, including 1979's acclaimed Idiots On The Miniature Golf Course, 1983's Can You Smell My Genitals From Where You’re Standing?, 1986's The Island Of Living Puke, and 1989's Fuck God, Fuck Your Mother, Fuck All Your Bullshit And Fuck You. In keeping with his ‘blue’ image and general disinterest in the mainstream, Rift’s back up band was dubbed the Amazing Shitheads.”

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