Axe and misogyny: They view it as a war to defend white supremacy

On January 6, supporters of the sitting president of the United States attacked the United States capitol and rioted inside the building. The stories, images and fallout are all visible and well documented. Here is how I understand that we got here:

In the 80s, republican operatives, mapping demographic changes and voting assumptions began to see rising numbers of people of color as a threat to the electoral power that they had held. Billionare conservatives started funding very specific media sources (Breitbart, Fox News, Daily Caller) to make money from a new market – white people who could be made angry about changes for justice in order to create an enthusastic white supremacist voting block to keep republicans in power.

In their mind, there were just a few short decades to go until the showdown, so they strategized in a couple of very focused ways to ensure that conservative business leaders could resist.

  1. They funded, fostered, nurtured white anger against people of color at every opportunity. Using the axis of race, right wing journalists could re-articulate crushing poverty as the fault of the gains of people of color. It was the Southern Strategy on steroids.
  2. They invested heavily in controlling the courts. Federalist society, nurturing young conservatives, scholarships, mentorship, and guidance to create targeted young right wing ideologues ready to carry the white supremacist mission long after they are dead.
  3. They worked hard to win state legislatures, and use gerrymandering to minimize the power of voters that didn’t vote republican.
  4. They succeeded in establishing a relationships to politicize videogame players and an emerging online troll culture to embrace the symbols of white supremacy with ease and comfort.
  5. They absorbed / hijacked the Republican party in the 2010s and reassured the traditional elements of that coalition that the gains in power would be worth the harm to the nation. Corporate donors, philanthropists, government agencies, and many others became complicit in a full-fledged white supremacist government structure working under the Trump administration to do active harm to people of color at almost every turn.

Here is where we often get it twisted. The justifications and explanations for each of these activist strategies are fairly well documented. The key question is how do a small number of very privileged republican organizers spin this strategy? What do they specifically say and to who – these questions can be part of the educational work to innoculate future fascist moments. In this case, the narrative of white supremacy was the only communiciation strong enough to push working class white people to harm people of color and it was buoyed by hatred of women and an anger at lack of white solidarity.

There are a lot of issues of accountability that will be navigated in the next few weeks. Criminal charges for those who killed a cop, resignations from those leaders who are identifed as responsible (or those who are scapegoated). And this rupture will open the space for new policies that will often have profoundly negative implications for people of color, poor people, women and disadvantaged folks (increased surveillance, new anti-terrorism laws, policing in communities of color etc). To rush into policy-making without reflection is a terrible path forward.

We should take stock of the recuperation efforts. Examine those who played a role, or had been connected to the violence and some-how are attempting to detatch themselves. We should be asking how the invitation was framed such that it made sense to so many people. But finding access points is important.

My first off note about this was Strava – the bike riding app told me that it didn’t support the insurrection against the US government and weren’t cop killers in an announcement at the top of the app. Well yeah . . . you are supposed to be an app that tracks my cycling miles, I hadn’t honestly assumed that you were in favor of a violent overthrow of the government by Nazis and their allies.

“What we saw in the US Capitol this week was the antithesis of what Strava stands for,” the letter read. “It was internal terrorism and we denounced it. Whatever the limits or flaws our democracy may have, we believe that we must protect it. ”

“This is not about politics. These are fundamental principles in which we deeply believe: treat ALL people with decency, respect and fairness ”. says the letter. “When you joined Strava, you joined a global community of athletes who are in line with our community standards: respect each other, respect the rules, and be inclusive and anti-racist.” (Sidenote: it looks like Strava disappeared this note almost as soon as it was made. The only reference I can find to this quote is from a weird fitness webpage that is giving me fascist vibes . . .)

We can probably distinguish those corporations who took a serious loss from their de-platforming of Donald Trump. In this case, we are talking about a corporation that commented on the attacks either for their own gain or to protect themselves from public relations losses.

Axe Body Spray for instance.

Axe Body spray is the worst. Not only in aroma, but in the toxic sexist rape culture advertising that has been marked, mocked and mapped. I’m not surprised that Axe body spray had to respond – they must know that the bogus entitlement to sex because you sprayed yourself down with duck urine is tied to the entitlement of those who tried to murder Nancy Polosi.

“We’d rather be lonely” is the most minimizing and trivializing read on the events of January 6. To understand that Axe would go without their body spray rather than be affiliated with the murderous nazis and that they still have time to indicate that it would make them lonely is grotesque. They still want you to know that if you don’t wear Axe Body Spray you won’t get laid . . . Axe sells entitlement and in this case, a multinational corporation’s PR team put it clearly that this one was too far.

I think that whoever run’s Axe’s twitter handle might not get the depth of this moment. But then again neither did the men who came to DC to murder uppity women. For instance Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. The investigating report indicates that he voluntarily showed Federal agents text messages planning to kill Speaker Polosi.

“How much u give me to go trench the Capital lawn with ma big truk?” The other participant wrote, “Don’t do it.” MEREDITH replied, “I’m gonna run that CUNT Pelosi over while she chews on her gums.” Later in the conversation, MEREDITH wrote, “Dead Bitch Walking. I predict that within 12 days, many in our country will die.” (https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/Cleveland%20Grover%20Meredith%20Statement%20of%20Facts.pdf)

Misogynistic slurs have been uncovered and amplified in the quotes of those who drove to the capital heavily armed with a desire to do harm. The centrality of violence against women is really tied to the logic of the transgression of violating the capitol. The goal was similar to the early 1900s strategies of faux-assasination communications attentat – to illustrate the potential for somene to be harmed. To illustrate that a president or a king can be reached and to strike fear.

We could also examine this from the perspective of the domestic violence literature. Understanding the power and control wheel and the transgression of safe spaces to induce terror. Abusers will communicate in many small ways that the abused is not safe – including by invading previously safe space to communicate disempowerment.

There was no way to understand the photos of the dude with his feet up on the desk outside Speaker Polosi’s office and his initial encounters with the press. Barnett is his name and we can match the entitlement and joy in transgressing with is deep hatred of a powerful woman.

BARNETT states “I did not steal it. I bled on it because they were macing me and I couldn’t fucking see so I figured I am in her office. I got blood on her office. I put a quarter on her desk even though she ain’t fucking worth it. And I left her a note on her deskthat says “Nancy, Bigo was here, you Bitch.” (https://extremism.gwu.edu/sites/g/files/zaxdzs2191/f/Richard%20Barnett%20Statement%20of%20Facts_0.pdf)

Donald Trump has articulated the hurt done to white men in several divisive ways, but the deeply sexist and racist framings he has presented seem to have tracked well with the people who showed up to do harm on January 6.

Challenging white supremacy means contesting the common-sense nature of the dialogue. Fragmented social media (where people can bury themselves in media which affirms their point of view) has reached a point of insulation – where it can protect harmful ideas from critique. This means that unpacking white supremacist (ill)logic means navigating the ways that sexism and racism co-create this moment of deep entitlement and violence.

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“Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?” MF DOOM

It is hard to fathom the loss of DOOM (editing note – “all caps when you spell the man’s name”). I listened to a lot of MF DOOM and spent quite a few hours discussing, debating and analyzing his lyrics. I can’t capture the depth and weirdnesss of thoughts about DOOM in a single post – every time I sit down to outline this post I get a gigantic spider web of entwined themes.

Black america, slang, diaspora reflections, coded language in hip hop, sample choices, mocking, survivorship, graffiti, families, drugs and alcohol, masking, comic books, representation, sex, communication strategies and a million other threads travel through DOOM lyrics. All you can really do is pull some of those strings and hope that they spark meaningful thoughts.

So maybe we start with the fact that DOOM wrote about his death, his legacy and the fragile nature of human existence in his first song as DOOM.

Daniel Dumile emerged in the NYC hip hop sphere as MF DOOM for the potent first album Operation: Doomsday with the support of Bobbito Garcia and his indie record label Fondle ‘Em. Although Dumile had rhymed with KMD, this was a new incarnation for the artist with a new mask, lyrical style and stylized representation as a villain – exhaggerating every hip hop trope with double and triple entendres.

“On Doomsday/ ever since the womb/ ‘Til I’m back where my brother went, that’s what my tomb will say/ Right above my government: Dumile/ Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?”

MF DOOM “Doomsday” from Operation: Doomsday.

Dumile’s brother Subroc was killed in a car accident the same week that his band KMD was dropped from Elektra shelving their second album Black Bastards. The band was fired because of the album cover art presenting the hanging of a Sambo character – symbolizing the birth of a new Afro-centric Black man who refused to perform demeaning roles. Cue Dante Ross.

How do you make art out of this kind of stuff? DOOM is honest about his own upcoming death in the chorus, then he names the stakes. It has been DOOM’s day (centered on him) and also a apocalypse/catastrophe (doomsday) from his birth until his death. His tomb might be engraved (famous) or he may finish his run on this earth as an un-acknowledged anonymous dead person but he is going to work.

It is a weird thing to put in the middle of your comeback/vengence album. But for DOOM life and death never seem all that far apart. This is the opening track (after the intro skit) an honored place in the hip hop album – the centerpiece to tell a consumer if they should buy the album. It might seem morbid, but this is life and death stuff and that crucible produces amazing art.

Doom reports that he made the album while semi-homeless, sleeping on couches, battling doubt and an industry that didn’t understand or like him. Which forced a very intimate album. The samples are friendly (if you like 80s and 90s RnB – DOOM and his friend’s limited record collections) and looped with careful MPC skill by the masked villain himself (as he writes in “Operation: Greenbacks” he owns the crown in “microphone, beats or the wheeles of steel”).

For me this song presents a declaration of his rebirth into a new world of DOOM. The song is an invitation to understand an artist’s use of the medium of hip hop to embody his own will to re-define and rearticulate himself. From a traumatized rejected creative artist who had tried to do the right thing (KMD) to a retaliatory bad-man who was beloved and could also pay his electric bill. That transformation came through intention, lyricism, imagination and the follow-through to make something happen.

We can imagine the tomb as an end piece – the final resting place – but we can also understand the tomb as a transition between worlds. Most mystery cults (and the saccharine descendants like the masons) use simulated burial, re-birth and re-naming as ritual symbols marking a person’s change by committing to the worldview.

In similar ways the end of KMD, ending of intimacy (you don’t get to see DOOM’s face after this) and the death of Dumile’s brother come to a focal point in this song’s chorus. Like a mystery cult burying an initiate in a stylized coffin suffused in incense and low lighting only to have them emerge reborn and shrouded in a new costume and given a new name.

For the comic book loving Dumile, it is also the birth of every significant bad guy character. It is Doctor Doom from the Fantastic Four comic book crafting his metal mask, studying esoteric magic and creating the character to plague the comic book heroes. It is a great story arc for an artist and Dumile could foster a literal mask to keep the public just far enough away from the actual pain while still talking explicitly about how much he missed his brother and was still angry at the journalists and record labels that had ruined he and his brother’s career.

The new DOOM, clad in the metal mask is ready to make fun of the goody goody rappers like KMD. Not only that, he wants their money, the credit and the praise. In his mini Jeopardy segment in the song, DOOM chooses the category “Means to the end” – he will do what needs to be done to get the money. He is “Bound to go three Plat / Came to destroy rap.”

Emerging as a villain from the tomb had to be liberating – and DOOM is free to drive off with sexy women, brag about his toughness in jail, mock the current so-called tough guy rappers and play with verbal expression without any limitations other than being the best. And that is what made him a villain in their eyes — and a hero in ours.

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Ghostfacemas 2020: the conservative discourse of the Ghostface Killah

Some decades ago I began celebrating December 26th as Ghostfacemas – at the time it seemed like a good pun on Boxing day.

But the annual return to the emblematic and lyrically gifted emcee is a good chance to think about Ghostface Killah in the current moment. It seems as though the hip hop of Wu-Tang golden era through the 2000s offered creativity and unlimited opporunities for growth. If you were talented, relentless and willing to match the moment then the world was your oyster. Cue the Wu Wear documentary.

Artists could make a living by spitting aggressive disrespectful bars spotlighted in videos of New York backstreets and bodegas made by friends, cousins and sycophants. I watched the RZA centered Wu-Tang: An American Saga which offers up the early years of the Wu-Tang conglomorate in glacial formation. The series has ended with the crew on the verge of what we know is industry-wide revolution.

In this series the Ghostface character comes across as heartfelt and desperate. A debonaire loyal friend with the need to earn money to support disabled siblings and a drunk mom. For those of us who spent years trying to decode Wu-Tang slang by rewinding the CD, the show was a revelation – background characters and stories come into visibility through memorized Wu-Tang lyrics. And then it all stops.

Amazing emcees with historic catalog of genre-defining tunes who get the veteran musician documentary treatment can still disappear (Ghostface Killah’s most recent album Ghostface Killahs charted at 25 on Billboard top 100, this video has a little more than 100,000 views).

I think that this experience of being squeezed out has guided Ghostface Killah to a more conservative discourse. The rhymes are crisp with clever inventive word choice (“My moms never knew she was nursin’ a wolf/And I wrote this on 9/11 covered in soot”) and the now-pattented rhymeflow that can only be Ghostface Killah (or Action Bronson).

But the subject matter is old. Guns, home invasions, objectification of women, liquor brands, fashion label, and the relentless juxtaposition of upper class symbiology brought to lower class contexts. I loved this from Ghostface Killah in the 1990s, but today it seems nostalgic and out-of-date. The fact that Ghostface created some of the most significant home-invasion fables of all hip hop history probably leads him to lean on this genre when it comes to 2019 recordings, but I find myself longing for a little more from Ghostface.

The other part that seems old is the use of the anti-gay slur “faggot” in a 2019 record. The last 30 years have been a significant period of culture change in hip hop. Hateful language and insulting slurs were the norm in hip hop and over the course of a few decades things have changed. The genre itself has opened, and the artists who record hip hop music select from a wider genre of symbols and narratives. There are quite a few hip hop artists who present a kind of repudiation of the traditional masculinity of hip hop (Lil Yaghty, Future, Young Thug).

The battle for the soul of hip hop can be understood as attempts of gender policing (Sean Price’s anger at emcees wearing tight pants). The small symbols and language of inclusion (and lessening of hateful language) should be understood as a genre discussing teaching, evolving and learning from itself. Careful observers of hip hop can map lyrical choices of emcees to understand how the discourse of the genre evolves over time.

Conservative hip hop vocalists might veer back into the gender policing of men in hip hop in order to dip into the well of hip hop authenticity. This is a tactic to identify who is real and who isn’t. But the cost is too great – the community of those who are comfortable with hateful slurs isn’t real hip hop – it is casual gate-keeping to create an artifical community that nurtures bigotry.

To understand the multiplicity of Ghostface Killer discourse should be a semester-long university course. The contributions of an artist who should be honored and critiqued in equal measure. Which is how we move forward into Ghostfacemas this year – critical, optimistic and savvy about the possibility that the next year might disappoint.

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Moral force against symbols of white supremacy: solidarity means sharing risk

At the heart of white supremacy is the request to those who get white skin privilege to take care of their own. White supremacy means that white people explicitly or implicitly give jobs, representations (front stage in advertising, leading roles in televisions shows) and foreground the needs and stories of white people. White supremacy is insidious because it is the water we drink every day in the United States and the casual continued comfort with the symbols of white supremacy (including the stars and bars) is evidence of how deeply twisted white supremacy is with american culture.

In 2015 Bree Newsome took down the confederate flag that flew in front of South Carolina’s statehouse. Here is the Vox footage from that direct action.

This is a really interesting case study for several reasons.

  1. Newsome’s use of biblical and constitutional rhetoric present a uniquely american rhetorical location for Black amercians – faith in God and indignant appeal to promised democracatic structures for equality (civil rights). Given the central location of separation of church and state in the first amendment, the combination of biblical scripture and civil rights might seem in tension. But Black churches have been central places for spiritual respite, cultural survival and political resistance in this nation. Which is why they have historically been targeted for violence. Newsome is climbing in the shadow of the Charleston South Carolina massacre in the The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where an avowed white supremacist murdered nine worshipers including the pastor and state senator Clemanta Pickney. Newsome puts the pieces together about historical violence and the context of the action in the Democracy Now interview:

2. I was at a lecture this month where the presenter noted this as a good example of white work for racial solidarity. James Tyson climbed the fence with Newsome and helped out with the action. The presenter called this collaborators, arguing that anti-racist work needed more white people interested in collaborating to make changes for racial justice. Others like Noel Ignatiev have noted that solidarity to fight racism means sharing risk and there are ways that this can be done performatively. Thinking, talking and strategizing about how to be productive and ethical allies to people of color means consideration. James Tyson shared in the risk (both got arrested), used his privilege (he argues with the police officers that Newsome should be allowed to come down the flagpole on her own for safety – he notes that “They had enough respect to allow me to help her.” in the Democracy Now interview).

3. The moral authority to remove the symbol of the confederate flag in this case is the justification for civil disobedience and direct action. Newsome is excellent on this point:

Thinking about changing white supremacy means all of the tools in the tool box. The cultural awareness, education, political action, stunts, celebrity endorsements and militant actions will be necessary. This long-standing constellation of white supremacist narratives that have sustained inequality and injustice as normal by stretching and re-articulating violence as community care for people who are like you. To move away from that requires mental and political work. Taking note of the keystones and approaches that can inform the work to come is useful.

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Stooges: Look out honey cuz I’m usin’ technology!

Let this be a warning to you: you will turn your back on the Stooges three times before you realize your mistake!

I was a young punk and I didn’t like anything that wasn’t what I was currently playing on my cassette deck. The stooges just didn’t fit. They clanged out with punk that sounded too rock and roll to my purist ears. And the well-published Stooges story was all about punk as destructive front-man, a trope that I felt should be retired. At the time I valued music that was political, organized, focused and sober – pretty much the opposite of the Stooges.

My second invitation to listen to the stooges came when I taught for a summer at the Michigan Debate camp. The faculty (gathered from around the nation) were all housed in a recently renovated apartment building that was rumored to have been Iggy Pop’s. It was claimed that our apartment was Iggy’s and that I was staying where his old room had been. Payday at the end of a month-long gig was an incredible moment of consumerist joy and I remember weighing an Iggy and the Stooges CD, but putting it back in lieu of the 4xCD Stax/Volt box set (which changed my life).

Reading Gillian McCain & Leg’s McNeil’s book Please Kill me was my third chance to dive into the Stooges catalog. So many terrible stories of Iggy’s destruction and the aspirations of a generation trying to tell new stories with new sounds. Recording an album in Berlin with David Bowie that dabbles in gender play (a song called penetrate on a 70s rock album isn’t that unusual, but that tune is about Iggy being penetrated. )

Having been a music fiend my whole life, and with an origin as a frugal yankee, I look for the cheapest media with the coolest music when I’m buying second hand. I started buying a lot of records 20 years ago because you could get Stevie Wonder’s best songs for pennies at yard sales. In the last 5 years CDs have become useless to most people and they started selling a buck a pop or even less.

I spent a lot of my life desperately saving enough money to buy an $11 CD in a record store. To see an album I’d always wondered about for so cheap . . . sucks teeth. Which is how I found myself in a pandemic with a couple hundred CDs that I’d stacked up in a cupboard. I drew Raw Power from under a stack of abandoned albums because it was the right time and started really listening to the record.

The album is transformative – great guitars, excellent song-writing and some of the most 2020 tunes to be recorded at any moment. I was hunting for the making-of documentary that came out in 2010 when I came across a nice video of Iggy and the Stooges doing Search and Destroy in 2017.

Let’s skip all the body-shaming crap and ageist foolishness. It is great to hear a passionate song sung with passion by passionate people. I love Iggy’s plea for the crowd to save his soul that comes with the wild arm gestures. There is a clear juxtaposition between the naked and the clothed – Iggy of course is shirtless and glowing. But there is also a shirtless security guard who is moving around behind the amps. And there is a guy in the band shirtless playing a pair of claves. But every other member of the band looks like an 8th grade science teacher with tucked in dress shirts. There is the tiny club-sized set that Iggy has compressed into the center space of this festival stage. And the great contrast of how much space both sonically and physically the Stooges take up.

It is never too late to learn or investigate and discover the world. There is music out there that has not been heard and the day is just beginning.

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Grant Morrison documentary

Fear draws out creativity – telling ourselves a story that we made up can be soothing. When we share our stories they go from sublime-to-mundane.

Good writers manage to capture some element of the sublime experience and convey it. Dragging some element of magic along in their prose.

Some writers make us feel more sublime than we have lived or experienced – their words point to something we can only imagine at that moment. Some rare writers create new possibilities by writing them into existence.

That’s Grant Morrison.

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Etymology learnin’: Victoria Coren’s Balderdash and Piffle

Amateur etymology is really my bag. I love learning where words come from and understanding about evolution in context. Several VERY smart arguments from this first episode of Victoria Coren’s show Balderdash and Piffle from 2006.

  1. Great premise where she pitches revisions to the OED. The focus on a few words and the mix of investigative reports / bad CGI and face-the-camera-and-lecture tactics work for me.
  2. I think Mitchell is wrong about the inclusion of gay from the context of the Gertrude Stein quote. I don’t dispute that the quote is dripping with queerness, but the forced inclusion in the dictionary seems like tokenism. It also sort of positions the dictionary editors as resisting the path of inclusion – which is distinct from the request for gay to get an earlier citation. The editors seem to want evidence and Mitchell has suggestion. I can’t help think that early journals and letters could provide this evidence. Not to mention that the actual dates for queer history are important (First gay man on television).
  3. The pig segment is awesome and the narrator seems pretty cool (until the barbecue scene!)
  4. The Ploughman’s lunch is a pretty cool vignette. I like that the evidence tracked down is anchored in consumer advertising culture post WW2. The use of nostalgia to market British cheese may not be the most romantic of origin stories, but it is credibility enhancing that the show would lead with this kind of honest inquiry.

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Electric Wizard early recording footage

. . . the wizard . . .

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Nostalgic Rock N’ Roll: the Hellacopters

I associate the Hellacopters with Pittsburgh. It was the second year that I lived there when a friendly record store clerk and they suggested “Grande Rock,” the third Hellacopters LP after noting my purchasing patterns.

At the time I was heavily into hardcore and punk and had a fairly purist view of DIY ethics (necessary) and corporate record labels (evil). But I will acknowledge a healthy love of classic rock. Part of the reason that I started collecting vinyl LPs was to buy second-hand records and bypass the guilt associated with supporting a multinational death company that might have purchased the soul of some poor talented musician.

It wasn’t uncommon for me to buy an brand new copy of the New Bomb Turks CD and also a thrashed J Geils band LP on Atlantic from the dollar used bin. Which honestly is a pretty good description of the Hellacopters.

Guitars. My memory of the first listen was dominated by the guitars. Slashing, thrashing and almost indulgent levels of guitars. And then that sort of goofy piano playing that becomes so necessary after many listens. Then you sync into just how good respectful 4/4 drumming done well is. And then it’s the guitars, catchy songs and genuine respect for rock n’ roll traditions.

Saw ’em live at least once, maybe twice during these years in Pittsburgh and they were fantastic. About everything you could imagine – with a performance at a pub being particularly memorable for the energy level and amount of beer poured on my head.

From the position of socially-distancing during Covid-19, you sort of wonder what forms music and rock n’ roll will embody in the future. I find myself nostalgic for the kind of energy and excitement of the crowd in the video above in Stockholm in 2018 when the band kicked into “Gotta get some action now” . . .

But the lived nature of a band like the Hellacopters is that they should be enjoyed. The band worked because they weren’t straightforward 70s rock clones, and they weren’t afraid to lay down a lick that was melodic and Zep-worthy. They just rocked and never really looked for justification or permission.

We can trust that the spirits of rock n’ roll can’t really be destroyed and will always re-emerge in some new presentation depending on the local circumstances.

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Sea Slugs are gorgeous

Thanks to science seeker for the link and video creators Hakai Wild.

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