Monday, July 31, 2017


IPLawGuy for the win!

He's a baseball guy. He's from DC. So if you ask about Senators, you get this, which is totally perfect:

The Big Train, Fastball
Walter Johnson, Senator
Hall of Famer

Hondo, Frank Howard
My Favorite Senator
at old RFK.

Meanwhile, Texan CTL (not surprisingly) had this:

Reed's and McConnell's
Will never hold a candle
To LBJ's tricks.

And Minnesotan Medievalist offered up in kind:

Hubert H Humphrey,
Could have been a president,
Minnesota tough!

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Sunday Reflection: On Personal Responsibility

Today I have a piece in the Waco Tribune-Herald (you can read it here). This is the gist of it:

Donald Trump threatens to provide too many excuses for those who struggle and suggests that the government can fix things. Unable to find the kind of job your father had? Not making enough money? The problem is immigration policy, we are told, or free trade. And who will fix that? The government, of course. There is no suggestion that the better outcome for an individual might come about by adapting to the new economy.

In his inaugural address, Trump made clear that government was going to save the day: “We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams.” In other words, you will not get a better job because you went back to school or took a risk — you will get a better job because the government will change policies to make things the way they used to be. The government will save you.

My argument is that the Republican Party is in danger of losing one of its principled values, which is an unyielding expectation of personal responsibility. I have always admired that ethic.

But doesn't that make me sound like a Republican?

Maybe. But my faith impacts the way that I think about all of this, too. And that faith says that what we must do is be responsible personally-- that is, be responsible and take the log out of our own eye-- rather than insist that other people be more responsible. Christ taught that we must address our own shortcomings, and be compassionate towards others. Unfortunately, political policies too often are about compassion for self and addressing the shortcomings of others. That's the reverse of the priorities that my faith lays out for me. So when I emphasize personal accountability, that means I need to set a high standard for myself rather than others.

Perhaps that doesn't make sense, but Christianity can come off that way in a self-centered and selfish society. I'm often not a very good Christian, actually, and one of my frequent faults is being self-centered and selfish-- so I suppose that personal accountability project has a long way to go. And if I focus on that, I may not have so much time to lay into others for their supposed failings.

Saturday, July 29, 2017


Haim does it simple

... and I like it. Do you?

Friday, July 28, 2017


Haiku Friday: Senators!

The Senate has been in the news a lot (maybe not as much as The Mooch, but quite a bit at least...). I find the Senate fascinating, both as an institution and as a somewhat bizarre collection of individuals. I never worked there, but wish that I had. IPLawGuy did, though-- that is him in the picture on the right, with a young(er) John McCain on the left and (I think) Freddy Mercury in the middle. God knows what those three were talking about.

So let's haiku about Senators this week-- past, present, or future. You can even name-check members of the old baseball team if you want.  There really are plenty of good choices. Here, I will go first:

Mr. Lindsey Graham
Smashing up his 'lil cell phone
Now that was an ad!

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun...

Thursday, July 27, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: The Churn

Whatever skills he may lack, Donald Trump is good at one thing: controlling the news cycle. I'm starting to think that he wants that more than anything: for good or bad, for all eyes to be on him. Yesterday was pretty typical; the news should have been about the Senate's health care debate, but he seized the attention back with a bizarre Twitter announcement that transgendered people can no longer serve in the military. That was wrong in so many ways-- the way he did it, the irrational choice itself, the insult to people who are serving our country-- and it was right only in that it kept all eyes on him.

I suppose when we pluck our leaders out of reality television, this is what we get. I haven't seen a lot of those shows, but I have seen enough to know that the people who succeed in that world aren't the winners or the heroes, but the ones who get memorable time on camera.

One of these days, too, it will matter a lot. And that won't be good.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Because I do have opinions!

I'll be honest: After two years of wall-to-wall clemency talk at the end of the Obama administration, I really didn't think my area of expertise would be of much interest to anyone for several years. But, as with so many things, Donald Trump was full of surprises!

As you might imagine, I have something to say about all of this. Today I have this piece in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and yesterday I had another one up at a fascinating legal blog, Take Care. I hope you will check them both out!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


New in Minneapolis...

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, these signs are cropping up around town. No, they aren't official-- but they kind of look like it.

Monday, July 24, 2017


My hero, Jill Scoggins

For, if nothing else, this (from last Friday):

Put “Midvale School for
the Gifted” on resume
once. I got the job.

Sometimes, for grins, I
just like to mess with people.
Thanks, Gary Larson.

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Sunday Reflection: An injury to the soul

At a meeting at the White House in 2016, I referred to the pardon power as the "soul of the Constitution."  It wasn't a throwaway line; It is something I deeply believe. Like the best things of this nation, the pardon power is rooted in individual conscience, favors liberty, and requires an intense engagement with deeply human values. It changes with time, and it is enduring even while under attack. Most of all, it is something more that mere words; by allowing grace and mercy, it is spiritual in a way that unifies rather than divides.

And now, like any great thing, it might be ruined in the wrong hands, in the hands of a President who probably cares nothing for what it is and should be. If he uses it for himself or his family, it will be like using a cross to stab someone.

I'm sad, and kind of crabby. I worked hard, for years, to return the pardon power to its rightful place as a principled tool of the president. That... well, it kind of worked, thanks to a lot of other people. And now, we face this. We paddle blithely into the storm.

I hate to see any soul extinguished.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


So long, Sean...

Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer resigned. Sarah Huckabee Sanders is taking his place. Which means we may not get more of this:

Friday, July 21, 2017


Haiku Friday: Comics!

So, yeah, this happens: I'll be flying back from some meeting in DC, sitting on the plane, reading the comics. That's because the Washington Post still has an excellent comics section. I miss Calvin and Hobbes, sure, but there is still a lot to love.

Let's haiku about those this week! We've all read them. You have to love at least one: Doonesbury, Peanuts, Peals Before Swine, The Family Circus... well, maybe not that last one. It's just baffling.

Here, I will go first:

I'm still much in thrall
To  Calvin's Mom. That swimsuit!
And boy could she yell...

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun! 

Thursday, July 20, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: The latest shooting

The latest police shooting to attract national attention occurred just eight blocks from my house. There, a white Australian woman named Justine Damond was shot and killed by a black Somali-American police office named Mohammed Noor. The killing reversed the racial roles seen in many of the other previous shootings.

There is a lot of information yet to come out, it seems, given that the story makes little sense on its face right now. According to what we do know, Damond called the police late on Saturday night to report what sounded to her like a sexual assault in progress. After she made a second call, two officers responded. Noor was one of them, and was in the passenger seat of the police car.

As the officers drove down the alley behind Damond's house, they heard a loud noise. Then Damond approached the driver's side of the police car. As she stood there, Noor fired his gun-- across his partner in the driver's seat-- and killed Damond. The victim was not armed.

How did that happen? What could she have said or done to provoke that response, even arguably?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


A note from Jimmy Carter

As I have described before, in 2008 I was giving a lecture in Atlanta, and Jimmy Carter walked in. When I was done, he responded by urging me to do more than just talk, and his advice deeply affected me-- spurring me to litigate narcotics sentences and push for clemency, among other things. I described this encounter in my book Prosecuting Jesus.

Recently, I wrote to tell President Carter what his words had meant to me, and send him a copy of the book. This was his gracious response:

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Cable TV mysteries

I'm not a big TV watcher-- in fact, I am thinking about cutting the cable, since I watch so rarely. Even so, I'm a little shocked at how little I know about popular shows these days. Below is a list of the most popular shows on cable last Friday, in order. Not only have I not seen these shows, I haven't heard of most of them. I haven't even heard of many of these networks! Home and Garden has a TV channel???? And what in the world is "BizAardvark?" I'm kind of hoping that BizAardvark is a re-imagining of the Arthur cartoon with more of a business focus, but I'm probably wrong...

Top 150 Original Cable Telecasts: Friday July 14, 2017    P18-49    P2+
Rank    Program    Net    Start    Mins    Rating    (000s)
1    LIVE PD: 51 LIVE PD    A&E NETWORK    9:00 PM    180    0.57    1,663
2    WILLIAMS STREAM    ADULT SWIM    4:00 AM    15    0.34    728
3    WILLIAMS STREAM    ADULT SWIM    4:15 AM    15    0.31    658
4    RACHEL MADDOW SHOW    MSNBC    9:00 PM    60    0.29    2,518
5    DINERS, DRIVE INS & DIVES    FOOD NETWORK    9:00 PM    30    0.28    1,017
6    MUTT & STUFF    NICKELODEON    9:30 AM    30    0.28    1,165
7    PUPPY DOG PALS    DISNEY CHANNEL    9:00 AM    25    0.27    1,347
8    BEACHFRONT BARGAIN HUNT    HOME AND GARDEN TV    9:30 PM    30    0.27    1,398
9    DEADLY SINS    INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY    10:00 PM    60    0.25    851
10    BEACHFRONT BARGAIN HUNT    HOME AND GARDEN TV    9:00 PM    30    0.25    1,325
11    MICKEY AND THE ROADSTER    DISNEY CHANNEL    8:30 AM    25    0.25    1,091
12    LION GUARD    DISNEY CHANNEL    8:00 AM    25    0.23    1,057
13    PARDON THE INTERRUPTION    ESPN    5:30 PM    30    0.23    585
14    TENNIS: WIMBLEDON       L: MENS SEMIFINAL    ESPN    8:00 AM    360    0.21    987
15    ANCIENT ALIENS    HISTORY    9:00 PM    63    0.21    1,146
16    K.C. UNDERCOVER    DISNEY CHANNEL    8:30 PM    30    0.19    1,202
17    MIGHTY MAGISWORDS    THE CARTOON NETWORK    4:00 PM    15    0.19    801
18    HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE    ESPN    4:30 PM    30    0.19    383
19    BIZAARDVARK    DISNEY CHANNEL    9:00 PM    25    0.18    1,159
20    K.C. UNDERCOVER    DISNEY CHANNEL    8:00 PM    30    0.18    1,063
21    AROUND THE HORN    ESPN    5:00 PM    30    0.18    409
22    BELLATOR MMA LIVE: 181    SPIKE TV    9:00 PM    130    0.17    514
23    AMERICAS NEWSROOM    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    10:00 AM    60    0.17    1,441
24    FOX AND FRIENDS    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    7:00 AM    60    0.17    1,441
25    KILLJOYS    SYFY    8:00 PM    60    0.17    638
26    HAPPENING NOW    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    11:00 AM    60    0.17    1,362
27    SPECIAL RPT W/BRET BAIER    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    6:00 PM    60    0.17    1,818
28    OUTNUMBERED    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    12:00 PM    60    0.17    1,397
29    WATCHMEN: WATCHMEN    HBO PRIME    8:15 PM    162    0.17    494
30    LATE NIGHT SNACK    TRUTV    11:30 PM    30    0.17    336
31    TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    8:00 PM    60    0.16    2,100
32    FOX AND FRIENDS    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    8:00 AM    60    0.16    1,636
33    SPORTSCENTER 1AM        L    ESPN    1:00 AM    60    0.16    386
34    ANDERSON COOPER 360    CNN    8:00 PM    60    0.16    818
35    PAW PATROL    NICK JR    7:00 PM    30    0.16    572
36    AMERICAS NEWSROOM    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    9:00 AM    60    0.16    1,505
37    SPORTSNATION        L    ESPN    3:30 PM    60    0.16    336
38    DARK MATTER    SYFY    9:00 PM    60    0.15    568
39    FOX NEWS SPECIALISTS, THE    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    5:00 PM    60    0.15    1,463
40    SHEPARD SMITH REPORTING    FOX NEWS CHANNEL    3:00 PM    60    0.15    1,124

Monday, July 17, 2017



Desiree's haiku last Friday referred to something I did not recognize:

Peek out my window
Serviceberry is blooming
The shad are running!

Shad I knew about. Serviceberry, not so much. Apparently, "The serviceberry trees and shrubs (Amelanchier spp.) are members of the Rosaceae family. They are deciduous and found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. They offer four season interest with their beautiful blossoms, pome fruits, autumn leaf colors and bark color in winter." As Desiree notes, the tree blooms when the shad are running, which is a weird measure of time unless you sometimes get out of your house.

Here is what it looks like:

I also loved what the Waco Friend did:

Forty at Grandma's
No one brought food enough
Cousins must rescue.

Mixed some bacon grease
in a peanut butter jar
grabbed some fishin gear.

Out to the bayou
four rigs, six hooks on each rig,
mounted on Y sticks.

Dip each hook in jar;
put rig on sticks in water;
finish fourth rig, AND

Start pulling cat fish
from the first stick and reload.
Fish to feed 40

Return to Grandma's
one hour after leaving, with
fish cleaned and ready

to bread and fry with
hush puppies and potatoes.
Every one ate to full.

Wish I knew today
What Cousin Bobby put in
jar with bacon grease.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Curiosity

Recently I was deep in conversation at dinner with an excellent writer. I told him that when I write op-eds, it begins with an emotion. I then asked him-- he's a fiction writer-- what it was that he began with.

"Curiosity," he answered. Then he explained: He begins with something he wants to know more about, and that propels him into a story he is deeply engaged with. It was a brilliant answer, and I have been thinking about it for a while.

That impulse, curiosity, is undervalued in our society. We seem addicted to certainty, to expertise and technical virtuosity, and that draws us away from the curiosity that makes man and boy, woman and girl, a better and more whole person. And what about our faith life? It seems like we start (at least I know that I do) with a certainty, and from there it can be a pretty short road forward. I think I am going to start being more curious. I will start with what I don't know and go from there.

I imagine that is where the best stories come from...

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Don't Let Me Down

This isn't my favorite Beatles song, but this is my favorite video of them playing a song....

Friday, July 14, 2017


Haiku Friday: Fish

I realize that this topic may seem a little bit like having a theme of "broccoli," but I think fish have a significant role in our culture. In Minnesota, fishing bonds generations, and some people say that the mark of a good cook is how well they can prepare easy-to-destroy fish. Jesus appeared to the Disciples the first and last time when they were fishing, too.  And if nothing else, we all had a favorite goldfish.

Let's haiku about that this week: It can be about catching fish or cooking fish or raising fish or the game of "Go Fish," or whatever! Here, I will go first:

Dappled green and grey
A quick flash and it is gone
See you next year, King.

It is your turn now! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun!

Thursday, July 13, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: The specter of bad clemency

For several months now, no one has called me from the press with questions about clemency, and that is because clemency hasn't been in the press since Obama left office. I have a hunch that this is going to change in the next several months.

Things are getting sticky for a lot of people in the Trump administration as the Russia revelations continue to roll out and we see headlines like Paralyzed by Chaos at Home, Trump Sets Off for Paris. Many of the major players in the administration have wisely hired lawyers to handle their relationships with investigators.  

Here is the thing: pretty soon, some of those major players will either be offered or will seek out cooperation deals with the government. That's because a key tool of investigators is "flipping" co-conspirators to testify for the government in exchange for a break at sentencing. This mechanism, in fact, is built right into the federal sentencing guidelines, which offers benefits to people who offer "substantial assistance" to the government.

Usually, it's very affective. There is one big twist here, though.

Once those people flip and stand ready to testify for the government in order to avoid or reduce their own prison time, Donald Trump can use the pardon power to grant them clemency-- that is, remove the possibility of prosecution and sentencing for those potential witnesses. That means the prosecutors no longer will have a hammer over them, and those potential witnesses can avoid cooperating without suffering consequences.

If that happens, it will be a travesty and a return to the horribly unprincipled use of the pardon power under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to reward their friends and supporters (though with a new and sickening twist).  

Lost will be the turn we made towards the principled use of clemency under President Obama. In the broad scope of things, that will be a significant loss indeed.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


The extinction of species

In the video above, there is a chart at the beginning that shows the rate of extinction of species over history. One thing that surprised me was the severity of the previous extinctions (there have been five), which at times wiped out most of the biodiversity on the planet.

Still the threat of the next one is compelling and scary. It is linked to climate change, but also to other things-- most prominently, to the loss of habitat as people and our stuff take up more of the planet's surface.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Things looking bad on Russia/Trump

According to the New York Times, these things all happened: 

1) A publicist named Eric Goldstone wrote to Donald Trump's son, Donald Trump, Jr., seeking a meeting between the younger Trump and a Russian lawyer.

2) That email told Trump, Jr. two key things: That the lawyer had damaging information about Hillary Clinton, and that the source of that information was the Russian government.

3) Trump Jr. decided to take the meeting with the lawyer. He then invited along the elder Trump's campaign manager and Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

4)  Trump Jr., Kushner, and the campaign manager (Paul Manafort) then met with the lawyer. 

If that is what the press is getting simply through the power of persuasion and publicly available information, I really wonder what Robert Mueller is uncovering with intelligence, subpoenas and the ability to lean on key witnesses.  It might be nothing-- there is the chance that he will announce no action as a result of his investigation. But... my hunch is that we will see a different outcome.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Oh, Wonderful haiku!

People do love their dogs! And I loved this haiku from Megan Willome:

Polo and Clover,
rescue puppies from the shelter.
Yes, they rescued me.

And I've been thinking about OsoGrande's all day-- the idea of a human lifetime being about four dog lifetimes:

Four good dogs, song says,
make a life. Mason, Thatcher,
now Fiona. Next?

Sunday, July 09, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Small Mercies

Yesterday, I did something dumb. I used an ATM to get some cash (that's what they are there for, after all), and then drove off. The dumb part is that I left the ATM card in the maw of the machine. By the time I realized this, I was a long way off.

Somehow, that kind of incompetence undoes me. As Stuart Smalley might say, it can send me into a "shame spiral" where I take it too seriously.

But, it isn't 1885, and I didn't leave a pile of cash by the hitching post (as one of the archaic cases in the crim law book I have been working with sets out). I just canceled the ATM card, and no real harm was done, except to my pride. And the truth is that having my pride harmed once in a while is a pretty good thing, a kind of mercy in itself-- and instruction to maybe not take myself so seriously.

And I'm sure the person who found my card still in the slot had a pretty good laugh over it....

Saturday, July 08, 2017



I love radio, and podcasts are really an extension of that medium. This week, an interview I did with Lions of Liberty host John Odermatt popped up as a podcast, and I thought it turned out pretty well (thanks to the good questions of the host-- I usually cringe at hearing my own voice). If you are interested, you can hear it here.

Also, I had a column last week in the Waco Tribune Herald, and then forgot to post it here. Sorry! That can be seen at this link.

Friday, July 07, 2017


Haiku Friday: Dogs!

It's kind of amazing how many types of dogs there are. I have always most admired dogs that love to work, and as an adult those are the ones I have seen the most up close-- hunting dogs and sled dogs. 

But, there are others, of course. And people love them. So let's haiku about dogs: past, present and future. Here, I will go first:

Handsome Dan, a pup
"Bulldog! Bulldog! Bow wow wow"
Get used to it, bub.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable form and have some fun!

Thursday, July 06, 2017


Political Mayhem Thursday: Parades and Politics

Like a lot of towns, Edina has a parade every July 4th. It's a big one, and usually a lot of politicians march, including Minnesota's two senators.  

The town is divided between two Congressional districts. One (which I live in) is solidly Democratic, and our Rep. is Keith Ellison. The rest of Edina is one of the few competitive districts in the country-- usually Republican, but not by much.  The Rep. for that district is Republican Erik Paulsen.  

Ellison was, as usual, in the parade. Paulsen was supposed to be in the parade (they had reserved a spot), but did not show up. Apparently, he cancelled on Sunday. In what has to be a particularly bad political disaster, protesters took over his spot instead. Paulsen claimed a "scheduling conflict," though his spokesperson didn't see too convinced of that explanation, saying "I think it’s more of an on-year versus off-year thing.”

This builds on top of Paulsen's choice not to have town halls this year, and the level of contempt for him is rising in the community. Fair or not, there is a sense that he is hiding from his constituents. 

Will it matter in 2018?  What do you think?

Wednesday, July 05, 2017


A fireworks mystery....

I hope that everyone had a great 4th of July!  For many of us, that included watching a fireworks show after dark, which is a great American tradition.

But, for me, there is a mystery in all of this.

Blowing off entertainment-grade explosives seems like it must be pretty dangerous work. I'm sure that it requires training and probably some kind of certification in many states. Yet, just about the only time there is work in this field is for a few hours on one day a year. So, are there really all that many people who are qualified to blow off these pyrotechnics, or is it a bunch of amateurs faking it?  

I would appreciate any insights you might have....

Tuesday, July 04, 2017


Chris Christie in the news for the wrong reasons

Almost always, when I say something about politics and IPLawGuy disagrees, it turns out that he is right and I am wrong-- he just understands politics a lot better than I do. One of the rare exceptions involved Chris Christie. Back in 2014, I predicted that the Fort Lee bridge scandal would be a big problem for his presidential campaign.  IPLawGuy disagreed, saying "Non-issue. Gone in two weeks (barring some type of additional disclosures)" and noting correctly that "The people who got stuck in traffic do not live in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, etc."  

It did follow Christie, though, and he is in trouble again with the same kind of tone-deaf move. Because of a budget crisis, he closed some of the New Jersey beaches on this holiday weekend. Then he went on vacation at his residence on one of those beaches with his family. Then he said he "didn't get any sun." When a reporter showed his spokesperson a picture of him on the beach that day, the spokesperson said "he was wearing a hat."

It takes a lot to distract the nation from the Trunp administration, but Christie did it!

Monday, July 03, 2017


Two stunners

As always, y'all made some great haiku last week... but there were two entries that were just spectacular.

In short-form, this from Bob:

What does it all mean?
Justice, love and grace are the
Business of heaven.

And in long-form, this masterpiece from Jill Scoggins:

Lakeview Pharmacy (1958-2004)

Daddy's pharmacy.
Coffee's on. Radio too.
Siddown and visit.

Daddy clicks the pills
in his tray til bottles filled.
"Now, take this with food."

"You see that Longhorns
game Sat'dee?" "Ira, how's your
golf game?" "Got Band-Aids?"

The retirees bring
home-grown tomatoes. "Take 'em!
My garden won't quit!"

Moms keep kids' fingers
outta the candy bars. Not
always with success.

"I need some aspirin."
Cash register churns, then ding!
I slip the bills in.

"Gramps took sick again."
Whispers, worry lines. Daddy
hugs, then hands the drug.

Business? Well yeah, sure,
but so much more. Sustenance
for your very soul.

Customers? No, they
were neighbors, friends, the heartsong
heard in my hometown.

Independent, not
a chain. Of a time and place
we'll not see again.

Sunday, July 02, 2017


Sunday Reflection: Infinity

While addressing the issue of space exploration this week, President Trump said this (in response to a Buzz Aldrin "to infinity and beyond" joke that he apparently didn't get):

This is infinity here. It could be infinity. We don't really don't know. But it could be. It has to be something -- but it could be infinity, right? Okay. 

I'm not sure I understand the metaphysics of what Trump was trying to say, but I can tell you one thing: the idea of infinity freaks some people out. I think it has to do with the ultimate unknowability of the concept of infinity-- the idea that most of the universe is stuff we don't know.

I've never been one of those people, though. Of course the universe is infinite; that seems consistent with a God who creates endlessly.  What would scare me is a limited universe, one where we knew with a certainty the shape and scope of it. To put a limit on all that is, after all, is to put a limit on God.

Probably Trump wasn't thinking about all of this... but I'd like to think that he was.

Saturday, July 01, 2017


A Movie I Want to See!

It's been a while since I have seen Holly Hunter in anything, and this looks great:

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