Archive for August, 2016

When are you best?

“Oh, how I hate to get up in the morning:” The music and lyrics were written by Irving Berlin shortly after he was inducted into the Army following the First World War. The song was comedic at the time but if you were to ask some folks today, they’d say they absolutely agree with the tune.

The distractions of yesteryear are certainly not the same as those of today. In 1918, the year of Berlin’s composition, there was no such thing as television – well, there was, but not in every home – and Al Gore had yet to invent the Internet…well shucks, that’s what Momma told me. I-phones, Facebook, FitBit, and all of the other gizmos and gadgets were but the dreams of as yet unborn dreamers. Going to a gym meant you were a bum and if you didn’t smoke you were considered suspicious…of what I don’t know, but it seemed that everyone had a cigar, cigarette, or pipe between their lips.

In contrast, getting up early seems to be quite fashionable these days. A recent Wall Street Journal article revealed that such business leaders as Time Cook, CEO of Apple, General Motors current chief executive, Mary Barra, AOL Chief Tim Armstrong, Ursula Burns, CEO of Xerox, and a ton of other top dogs get much of their work done before many folks crack their eyelids. My personal experience has been to see more and more people making use of the gym at 5 am, and while the folks I see may not include people such as Charles Branson of Virgin, Jeff Imelt of GE, or PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, they, too, are among the early risers who enjoy getting things taken care of while others snooze.

Perhaps my early rising began when my Dad would get me up for our Sunday morning paper route that took four hours and delivered papers all over the South Shore of Massachusetts. Perhaps it was my Mother’s admonition that I should never be late for any appointment of any kind. I just don’t know, but early rising has always been in my nature. While I’ve never been the CEO of anything other than my own life, it was always enjoyable to get to the office early. I’ve found that more things can be accomplished between six and eight in the morning than can get done for the rest of the day. Between telephone interruptions, drop-in-visitors, unexpected “must-do-now’s,” and other emergencies, it seems that others attempt to undo the best time management skills you or I have ever developed.

Another thing that I have found about rising early is that when I work out, the release of endorphins gives me a natural ‘high’ that can last through most of the day. I feel more upbeat and happy, appear to think more clearly and approach projects with a more positive attitude. Am I recommending that everyone should rise and shine early in the morning? Absolutely not! The most important thing is to know exactly when you are at your best. I was blessed to have a couple of people working with me who were night owls. As much as I loved working early, they preferred to do their best work in the afternoon and late into the evening. It was, in both cases, a match made in heaven. Just when my energy clock was beginning to run down, theirs was just getting started. It made for a great team!

I am firmly convinced, based solely on anecdotal “research,” that there are such things as morning and evening people. I happen to be one of the former (along with all of those big shots), and it has served me reasonably well. Several decades ago, I was invited to a black tie function that began at eight in the evening and lasted until midnight. For nearly ten years I attended that event. Fortunately, it was always held on a Saturday evening. Thankfully, Sunday was truly a day of rest for me! On the other hand, serving as a volunteer for the Pan-Mass Challenge meant rising in time to be on the job at 4 am and getting prepped for the cyclists. Watching the sun rise and getting everything ready was my meat and potatoes…I loved every minute of it.

Whoever you are and whatever you are, a morning “give-em-hell” Harry or Harriet or an evening “go-get-em” Chris or Cecily, learn what’s best for you and use it to your advantage. You may not wind up as a CEO, but at least you’ll learn the time when you are at your very best.

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Why do we say that we hold certain people to higher standards? Teachers, law enforcement officers, athletes who have achieved a certain stature, when they make a mistake, we generally say that they are not upholding the standards that we expect of them. Yes, that’s something of a convoluted sentence, but you understand what I mean. Why, why do we do this? Why don’t we hold automobile mechanics or librarians to this ‘higher standard?’ I mean, they’re all just people, people with foibles, people who make the same mistakes you and I might make. The only difference is that their names are on the sports pages or they hold a position of trust…then they turn around and “violate” that trust. Perhaps that’s one of the words we should be using, violation. Another word might be disappointment.

So we have these ‘higher standards’ for some people, but not for others. Is that really the case? I taught police officers and yes, I do hold them to a higher standard than I hold some other people. However, I saw them for 16 hours in a classroom setting. Is it fair for me to judge them based on that brief period, or is it the profession as a whole that I think should be held to a higher standard? The standard in this case, would be that I expect them to be more honest than the average citizen; that I expect them to be more respectful than the average citizen; that I expect them to be…whatever. But, they are still people and probably still have the same weaknesses that other people have. The same is true of all the others whom we say we are holding to a higher standard.

Perhaps I’ve been fortunate…or maybe stupid…or perhaps both. These “higher standard” people I’ve met have generally exceeded my expectations with very few exceptions. It is possible, of course, that my bar or standards may not be as high as those of other people, but I rather doubt it. I only know of one of my former students who was caught up in a rackets scandal and served some prison time, but that’s out of a group of perhaps 4,000. There could have been others, but I just don’t know about them. Yeah, I know, ignorance is bliss.

“Frankly, I expected better from you,” is a statement I have heard only once. I was 16 years old. Although the words used were somewhat different from the polite way it is put in the sentence above, the meaning was all too clear. I have to tell ya, it’s painful to hear, no matter the words that are used. Perhaps I thought that I was getting away with something and got caught. Perhaps I thought that I was doing my best. Heck, that was 66 years ago, and my memory just isn’t that good. The thing I remember quite clearly was walking home feeling hurt, feeling very hurt…so I guess that I did think I was doing my best. Another thing I remember is that I learned over the next couple of weeks exactly how to give my best…lesson learned…the hard way…but learned.

Someone once said to me, “You must have that workshop you teach down pat.” My response was to the effect that I would never have anything I was teaching “down pat.” I never finished a class but that I didn’t feel I could have given more. I never ran a special event where, in critiquing it, I didn’t feel I could have done better. I’ve known other teachers who have told me they felt the same way. I’ve met other special events people who say the same thing. Are we setting the bar too high for ourselves? No, probably not. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your job may be, giving it your very best will not only please others, and you soon learn that it also pleases you. I have been going to the same auto repair shop for over 20 years. Two different mechanics have worked on my car. Whatever is being done, whether it’s a simple oil change, having my brakes repaired, having the front end aligned, or something more complex, I know that when I leave that garage that all of the fluids in the car have been checked; that the tire pressure has been checked; and that if something needs to be done to the car at a later date, I will have learned that before leaving. Both mechanics, as well as the owner of this garage, take great pride in doing their jobs right…the first time.

Setting a high bar for your standards really isn’t all that difficult, yet, some people are content to do the minimum, take the pay check, and walk away. I don’t understand this. If you cannot give your best, why do something at all? On the other hand, we are only people. Sometimes, not often, but sometimes we make mistakes. And, invariably and unfortunately, that’s the time when 60 Minutes has its camera trained directly on us, ergo, keep your standards high and, bad day or not, don’t deviate from that.

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Choices – part II

Brock Turner made a bad choice, but it was his choice. Ryan Lochte made a bad choice, but that was his decision. Michael Phelps made a smart choice and that was his decision. Every Olympic athlete had the opportunity to make good or bad choices at the Rio games. Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and Jimmy Feigan made some bad choices, but then, so did Jimmy Bulger, John Dillinger, Al Capone, you, me, our kids, and almost everyone else we know. Of course, our choices – at least mine anyway – didn’t cost me Federal prison time, my life, or the loss of sponsors who were responsible for a major portion of my income.

Several weeks ago I wrote an article about choices. In it I said that we make 35,000 choices each day. Those choices had nothing to do with the choices made by the above mentioned people. I find it difficult to believe that Lochte, a 32-year old man, was dumb enough to get drunk in a city well-known for its crime, and then lie about what happened on the way back to the Olympic Village. Yes, I said “lie.” He didn’t exaggerate; he lied. And in lying, he seemed to believe that his actions wouldn’t have consequences. With an ego that big, whatever bitch slaps he receives from Speedo, Ralph Lauren, Syneron-Candela, and a Japanese mattress maker, Airweave he well deserves. He has made millions of dollars in endorsement of those products, and he threw it away for a night of drunkenness and vandalism. Actions have consequences, and I don’t believe that we have seen the last of those consequences for Mr. Lochte.

I have the same problem with Lochte that I have with people who choose to use illegal drugs of any kind. Yes, eventually take over their lives and it becomes not so much a choice as a chemical dependency. The first or second time, however, is choice, and if a person chooses that route, knowing full well where it will lead, I have no sympathy for them whatsoever. They made a bad choice. Why then is it so incumbent on the rest of the population to save them from themselves? Recently, I read a newspaper article about a young man who bragged that he had to be saved from heroin overdoses by Narcan four times in one week. Why? If one is sufficiently a fool to overdose four times in a single week, why should that person be ‘saved?’ Better to eliminate him from the gene pool early before he can procreate and become a parent to another fool.

The argument has been made that most overdoses are accidental, and that may be true. However, it does not excuse overdosing at all, except in the case of Prince, who didn’t know what the hell he was taking in the first place. I don’t know about you, but I look at the labels on my medications before I take them…every time and with every medication. This wasn’t always the case. I was hit in the eye by a sail rope one summer. A doctor prescribed a medication for the pain. The pharmacist who filled that prescription, although I didn’t know so at the time, was an alcoholic and was drunk when he filled the prescription. Reading the label, I believed it said what was in the bottle. Thankfully, a nurse friend happened to be visiting when I went to take a pill. “Let me see that,” she said, before I could swallow the medication. “That’s heart medication,” she told us, looking at the colored capsule. She and her husband drove to the pharmacy and found the pharmacist passed out behind the counter. His license was revoked; the store was closed, and I was saved a lot of problems. It was his choice to drink. It was my choice to believe I had the right medication. It was the nurses’ choice to examine the capsule…thankfully.

Perhaps the only thing that I can ask of anyone is that they consider the consequences of their choices. If the course of action chosen may lead to severe and unwelcome results, you might wish to rethink the whole idea of doing it. Oh, yeah, and stupidity cannot be offered up as a reason for making a stupid choice, because if one is that stupid, he or she should not be allowed out of the cage.

If it sounds as though I’m preaching here, perhaps I am. The only thing that I can hope is that I’m preaching to the choir, ie, those who already know enough not to make dumb choices. As far as the lies told by Ryan Lochte, I happen to be a great believer in what Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

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God Help Us

Americans live in the most violent nation on earth. Forget the bloodied little boy in Aleppo. That’s warfare and innocents become collateral damage in warfare. I’m speaking of everyday activities, and I’m not talking just about the 21st Century. We have more prisons and more people incarcerated than any other nation on earth. While crime statistics are, supposedly, being reduced, we still kill, maim, rob, and rape at an absolutely astounding rate.

When one stops to think about it, ours is a history rife with violence. Ten years after the Pilgrims landed, one of its passengers, John Billington, was hanged for having shot and killed John Newscomen. The Pilgrims even codified what counted as a hanging offense; these included willful murder, forming a solemn compact with the devil by way of witchcraft, willful burning of ships or houses, sodomy, rape, and buggery, and adultery. By 1637, the settlers were already at war with the Pequot Indian tribe. In that year, a series of assaults on the Pequot’s resulted in an annihilation of the tribe with the few survivors being sold into slavery. A bit more than a century and a half later, settlers were at war with the British Empire, and we all know how that one turned out. Let me put that another way…we know that America became a nation because of that war, and we know that to win, the ‘rebels’ adopted some tactics that the British had not seen before. We’ve been told of how brutal the British were in their treatment of those they considered traitors, but I can’t help but believe that those on the other side were just as vicious.

We know that those who fought in war, be it that of 1812, the Spanish American, the War of Northern Aggression – I threw that in for my friends from the South – the first or second world wars or, oh hell, any war in which we’ve been involved, come home and are generally very quiet about what they did. “I just did my duty.” It wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association first used the term, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), and yet, it goes without saying that members of the military suffered such a condition long before it was formally identified. Terms that had been previously used included “battle fatigue” and “thousand yard stare.” I prefer to look at it as “violence overload.” It is violence beyond what the human brain is able to comprehend.

However, it’s not just war that has bred violence in America. Violence has been fueled by immigration, overcrowding, and by poverty. We have not always been the nicest people when it comes to treating our immigrant populations with kindness. Just ask the English, Irish, and Germans who settled on New York’s Lower East Side shortly after the War of 1812. Violent gangs sprang up to both protect the ethnic groups and to attempt a grab at the American Dream. Little has changed from those early gangs other than that the violence has become more pronounced.

Figure it out. If you are brought up in an area that has become a sore allowed to fester, what are your options. You could go to school but chances are that the school you attend has already been infiltrated by gangs. I’m talking about middle schools here. As a consequence, your best options are to attend another school – oops, sorry, that isn’t an option or to join a gang and become one of the “homies.” The gang becomes your family, and it’s not a family you want to turn on. Gangs also offer a sense of protection. If you belong to one, the gang will, supposedly, watch out for you. According to a 2015 study from Sam Houston State University, there are over one million juvenile gang members between the ages of 5 and 17 in the United States. Pile that on top of the ‘adult’ gang members in the country and you have some very frightening figures.

America has a population of over 324 million people. One immigrant arrives on our shores every 29 seconds. While 47% of the United States remains unoccupied, newcomers gravitate to the more highly populated areas. Often, there is resentment of some kind or other about ethnic groups that bond and band together. Communities of Muslams, or Jews, or Irish or Italians or whatever, are, all too often, viewed as “hiding something,” or “not wanting to blend in,” or some other bull crap phrases. Then, someone from an ethnic group is found to be sympathetic to ISIS or Al Qaeda, or some other group with whom we are in conflict, and the entire community of that person gets blamed for what one individual has done. Hatreds become more pronounced and by the very nature of the population growth, there are bound to be a few people with undiagnosed mental instabilities. Toss into that mix America’s history of slavery and you have the makings of a violent society. The recent episodes that we have seen are easily explained by ingrained racial hatred and stereotyping…as much as I hate to admit it. I harken back to the Civil War and the stories that have been handed down from father to son since that time in both the black and white societies, and one can easily see how a Dylann Roof or his black equivalent can make headlines.

I began this piece by saying that ours is the most violent nation on earth. How do we change that? I really don’t have a clue. How does one clean up these ghetto neighborhoods? How do we eliminate gangs? How do we ensure that our law enforcement officers gain greater respect? How do we prevent bad apples in the police community? How do we win the war on drugs? How do we eliminate poverty? All of these questions and thousands more must be answered before we can even begin to consider reducing violence in the United States of America, and it will take people far more intelligent than I to provide the answers. Until then, to paraphrase Tiny Tim, “God help us, one and all.”

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Is this a black thing? It seems that any time a black person is killed, whether by a black or white police officer or under any unusual circumstances, some people in the black community look on it as an occasion to riot. I mean, c’mon, it happened in Ferguson; it happened in Cleveland; it happened in Milwaukee, and I could keep on going. “Hey, somebody got killed, and I need a new television. Let’s go down to the store and break some glass so I can get one.” Truthfully, that seems to be the mentality of some of the people in these communities. “Oh look, a car. Let’s burn it!” What the heck is wrong with this type of thinking? All it does is perpetuate a certain stereotype in the minds of others.

The people who do these things generally have no connection to the individual who was killed in the first place. It’s merely an opportunity to destroy whatever they wish to destroy. I don’t understand it. You can’t afford to buy a bottle of booze? “Well sheeeit, let’s just break the windows in the liquor store and grab what we want.” Excuse me, but these are usually businesses in your own neighborhood, and if you get the television set or the bottle of booze, you might just drive the owners out of business. Do you call that “living in the moment” without thinking of the long-term consequences? Is that what this is? Because, quite frankly, it’s pretty messed up thinking.

Politicians scream, “We have allowed these ghetto areas to spring up and we have done nothing!” What a bunch of bull crap. You can do nothing if the people who are living in these areas don’t want you to do anything. Who the hell is going to start a business in a neighborhood where the first time they open their doors they get robbed? Then they close up at night and the place gets broken into and robbed again. It does not take a genius mentality to figure that the business owner is going to say, “Uh, uh, no more. I’m outta here,” and they are absolutely right. Business goes and what’s left behind? C’mon, you know the answer as well as I do…what’s left behind are the gangs and the drug dealers, and the ghetto becomes more of a ghetto. Whether it’s Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Memphis, or New Orleans, there are areas of those cities where the police don’t want to go and will not go into. They are both outnumbered and outgunned…and the politicians scream…and they don’t have a clue!

The real kick in the teeth is that there are generally more good people in those neighborhoods than there are bad people. Unfortunately, the good people aren’t as organized or as armed as the bad. The good people who live in these depressed neighborhoods can’t move away because they cannot afford to, and they’re just as frightened as every other ‘good’ person who has to live there. They are one on many, and if they attempt to organize the ‘good’ people, they generally pay with their lives or even the lives of their children.

It seems to me that there is an unspoken law in the black community and that is, “If it wears blue, you can’t talk to it.” That’s true even if the one in blue is black…and that’s wrong. That just exacerbates the troubles in these black communities. Yeah, yeah, I know…snitches get stitches or wind up in ditches, so how do we overcome these fears? I wish to God I knew. People living in black areas complain that “the man” is holding them down, and “the man” is looking for reasons to kill people of color, and “the man” is responsible for all of the problems in the community, and guess what, that’s bull crap. Is “the man” still around? Oh, yeah, racism is still rampant in America, but you don’t solve the problems of racism by doing things that will only make “the man” say, “See, I told you. All ‘those people’ want to do is riot and burn and loot.” But, it’s not “those people;” it’s a minority of the minority, but because the majority won’t speak out, they get tarred with the same brush.

The time has come to stop being silent; to stop allowing the minority to push the good people around. Yes, it is not an easy road. Just ask the spirit of Dr. King how easy that road is, but it’s a road that’s worthy of travel. It’s a road that is worth the hard work and sacrifice. I only wish that I could live to see the day when there were no more ‘black neighborhoods’ or ‘Asian neighborhoods’ or ‘Muslim neighborhoods,’ or neighborhoods that had to be labeled in any way. I know that I won’t live to see this, and chances are that my grandkids won’t live to see it. Oh, but how I wish someone, somehow, somewhere, would just take the first baby step toward its accomplishment! What a much better world we would be.

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A great idea

“I have this great idea!”

“Ah…your great ideas either aren’t that great or they get us in trouble.”
“You wanna hear my great idea?”

“Um…you weren’t listening, were you?”

“We’re gonna start a petition to change the calendar. From now on, Friday will be called…wait…ready for it…Friday will become Myday. Huh, huh, howja like that one?”

“Oh Lord, please help him. He’s gone to another galaxy again. Alright, I’ll bite, why change the name of Friday?”

“Listen. Listen…This is great. See, I figure the last day of the work week should bring joy and happiness to the average worker…so you call it my day. Just think about it for a minute. We all know that Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be the days off, well for many people anyway…I mean, you’ve got the grocery store people and other retail people and…well, you know what I mean. Anyway, we all know that if you’ve got Saturday off, you really don’t, ya know? You really can’t do what you want to do because of the honey do lists, right? ‘Honey, do this; honey, do that. I mean, like, there is no rest on Saturday. Maybe we should call Saturday, ‘Restlessnessday. Nah, that’s too long, and it would be insulting to all those people who already have to work on restlessness day. Guess that one’s out.”

“Aw, shoot…he’s gone round the bend again!”

“No, no, no…wait a minute…I’m tellin’ ya, you have to think this thing through. And here’s another thing. If you want to be fair and equitable about it, you have to remember that the days of the week already have two “T’s,” two ‘S’es,’ with a ‘W’ in the middle. So doesn’t it make sense to have two ‘M’s,’ with a Monday and a Myday? Sure, it makes all the sense in the world. I’m even thinking that we should change the spelling of Monday to Munday…it sounds more depressing, and you know how people are when they have to go back to work on ‘Munday,’ right?”

“Excuse me, but do you believe there is a possibility that you might just have gone…er, how do I say this…perhaps…batshit crazy?”

“Nah, nah, nah. I have a lot of these great ideas. Ya wanna hear some more?”

“Um, thanks, but, er, no thanks. The prairie schooner’s just leaving, and I promised the Donner party I’d join them for dinner. Besides, those three men in the white coats are walking over here and I think they want to talk to you. Ta, ta, take care, ciao, arrivederciau, au revoir, bon voyage. Ooh boy, that ship has already sailed. Oh, well.”

“Bye…take your hands off me. What are you doing? I don’t need another jacket. Hey, wait a minute…the sleeves are in the back. What’s going on…”

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I have been asked on occasion, both by friends and strangers alike, if my illness is temporary and trivial or if perhaps it is something that will lead to commitment and a place beneath the blue marble’s green earth. These queries no longer bother me, nor am I fully convinced that my answers have any consequence whatsoever.

Among my other oddities is my questioning of why obituaries feel that must place the name of the deceased in every town in which the person ever lived, worked in, or passed through on the way to a vacation spot. Dead is dead. “Well, he/she had friends/distant relatives in Eastbumcrap, Montana, and they would want to know,” comes the answer. I might come close to accepting that if the person was between the ages of one and 30, but when you read that the individual passed away peacefully at the age of 92, I have to heft an eyebrow or two and wonder, “What freaking’ relatives are left to even give a damn. Put the sucker in the ground, throw a flower on the casket, and get on with it.” I counted an obit one day and was flabbergasted to learn that a decedent’s name appeared in 26 different communities including three different states. Now that’s what I call “getting’ around.’ Had the person been male rather than female, I might have thought that he’d outdone George Washington as far as this “father of the country” thing goes.

Some might question why I even bother to read the obituaries, and, of course, the standard answer is, “So that I’ll know whether to get up or not.” I don’t really subscribe to that. Among other reasons, I read them to practice my pronunciation of difficult names. Why? How the hell do I know? It’s just something that amuses me…which, in all probability relates to people asking me about my illness. I neither know nor do I particularly give a damn.

I wish they would list the number of births in close proximity to the number of deaths…and include where these new people were born. That way I could learn which communities were being over- or under-populated. Why does this matter? Well, if they’re being overpopulated, I will know to stay away from them because of the congestion and if they’re underpopulated, I will look to them as a community of peace and contentment, a place I might like to visit and have an ice cream soda or something.

There is something else to be learned from reading the obituaries. By the way, this particular page in the newspaper is also referred to as a “The –fill in your own nationality -sports page” by people whom I believe are much sicker than I am. Thing about it…Murphy calling it the Irish Sports Page or DeMello calling it the Portuguese Sports Page. It just doesn’t have that ring to it. It’s the obituary page, period, and by the way, it’s open to all whose relatives wish to see the decedent’s name in the paper.

If you happen to be somebody famous, like a movie star, a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi – what the hell do I care about a prima ballerina for the Bolshoi in Moscow if I’m living in a small town outside of Boston; let the Moscow Daily cover that – or maybe a beloved teacher or historian, you might get a picture with a write-up beneath it. The degree of your fame is in direct proportion to the size of the picture. What I’d really like to see one day is a newspaper with the guts to publish a picture of some grandmother who died at 99 – didn’t quite make the century mark, did-ja – who had ten children, 29 grandchildren, and 15 great grandchildren, and who lived a wonderful, peaceful, quiet life; who was genuinely loved by everyone who knew her, but didn’t have one newsworthy accomplishment to her name…an average person who, because she was just a wonderful person, got the treatment and the respect she deserved. I just think that would be a nice thing to do.

So maybe this obsession of mine with the obituary page is some sort of illness. I don’t really know…nor do I really care. I should, however, note that while I have never been one to maintain a close relationship with my relatives, I recently found the name of a first cousin on the obituary page. It brought back memories of just how pissed off her parents were when she married the guy, but I guess they had a great life together, which just goes to show ya that love can conquer all. For all of you who still read the newspaper I have some words of advice: Political columns will make you sick. How your favorite baseball team blew it in the ninth will give you ulcers. The murders, robberies, and break-ins will fray your nerves. Read the obituaries and be damned glad you didn’t find your own name!

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