Category Archives: choice is a beautiful thing

Advance knowledge is power: A trip to the dentist

This is the first post in a short series on engagement and trigger warnings/content notes.
Part 2: The banality of trigger warnings
Part 3: Exposing the true nature of exposure therapy
Part 4: A strange hill to die on

Content note: this post talks about dentists and dental procedures in detail, as well as PTSD and rape.

“It’s going to have to come out,” the dentist said, and my brain squawked fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.

One of my wisdom teeth had done what wisdom teeth tend to do, and grown in at a decidedly funny angle, meaning that whenever I chewed, talked or smiled, it would scrape against the inside of my mouth, causing regular mouth ulcers. I’d sucked it up and dealt with the pain, because, to be quite blunt, I was quite terrified of having to have the thing taken out. I’d heard horror stories about wisdom tooth extractions, and had hoped against hope that maybe my own gob would behave itself.

The dentist couldn’t just yank it there and then, because he didn’t have his instruments of torture to hand, so I had a week to prepare myself.

I read everything I could on wisdom tooth extraction in that week. I learned about exactly what the procedure would entail, what each step would feel like. I swotted up on aftercare, and what I might end up doing wrong and how to do it right. I looked at pictures of all the tools that would be used and where exactly they would be rammed into my poor fucked-up mouth, because I knew there was no way I’d be able to ask the questions I had during the procedure itself.

When the day came, I was prepared, and I went through with something I’d thought I might not be able to. I wasn’t even particularly scared. It all went exactly to the script. Afterwards, it healed perfectly, because I knew what I needed to do–and more importantly, why.

It’s not an experience I’d care to repeat, and I hope anything else that decides to grow in my mouth has the decency to point in the right direction. But it wasn’t traumatic.

*

When I was old enough to have my adult teeth, but still young enough to think strange things, I had my first scale and polish at the dentist. I’d had no idea he was going to do that to me, and I assumed it was some sort of punishment for me not flossing diligently enough.

The scale and polish was a huge factor in me going to the dentist as infrequently as possible, just about often enough to maintain my NHS patient status.

A few years ago, my old dentist–the uncommunicative grump who pulled my wonky wisdom tooth–retired and I got a new one. He was about my age, so must have been quite recently-qualified, with his patient sensitivity training still fresh in his mind. Every single thing he did throughout the dental checkup, he told me in advance what he was going to do, and how it might feel. He told me that if I wanted him to stop, I should raise my hand.

Just the knowledge that I could ask him to stop if it hurt, and knowing what he was going to do and when, was enough. I’m a little less dentist-avoidant now. It’s not exactly something I relish, but it’s not traumatic.

*

I’ve spent 500 words talking about dentists because people find the principles of giving a warning in advance far easier to agree with when one talks about matters of the body–even the body as it interacts with the mind. There’s no objections when you talk about getting a week to prepare yourself before you have a tooth pulled. So why are there objections over giving people who have survived trauma a little bit of a heads-up so they can better ready themselves?

Ultimately, that is all the trigger warning/content note is. It’s a flag which says, be prepared. There’s an asteroid field ahead, captain, engage coping mechanisms!

For me, when I see a trigger warning, sometimes it’s not particularly relevant to me, so I ignore it. Sometimes it is relevant to me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll disengage completely: I’ll make sure I’m in a place to engage. For me, this involves making sure I’m not caffeinated, because a kick of anxiety in combination with caffeine easily translates into a full-blown panic response. If I’ve had a coffee, I might wait an hour before engaging.

That’s the thing with trigger warnings: most survivors don’t simply avoid–they have the advance knowledge to do what they have to do. One survivor might open up a tab with a game they find distracting to play after they’ve read a blog post with a trigger warning. Another survivor might make sure she watches a television show in the strong, comforting arms of her girlfriend after hearing it contains a rape scene. One survivor might start practicing the resilience building affirmations he learned in therapy on a daily basis once again before throwing himself into the rape scene in the set text. Another survivor might steel zerself by taking a beta blocker before ze goes to a class that ze has been warned will be discussing rape.

Each survivor has a unique set of coping mechanisms, but each can only do these things with a bit of advance knowledge. It’s more than a simple choice of engaging or disengaging: it empowers people to choose how they engage.

The debate on trigger warnings has been absent of decent evidence: this is because there’s little to show they’re either helpful or harmful–instead, what we mostly have is anecdotes. Therefore, the question becomes mostly a political one.

Over the next few days, I’ll be looking a little bit more at both the politics and the extant evidence with trigger warnings, particularly looking at the conflation of random exposure with controlled exposure. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at if it’s really so simple, why does everyone lose their shit?

Part 2: The banality of trigger warnings

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This series was made possible by my patrons on Patreon, who give me the motivation to keep on writing. If you found this series helpful, please consider becoming a patron.


An open letter to the Belfast abortion snitches

Content warning: this post discusses abortion and police, and mentions domestic violence and suicide.

Dear snitches,

I read your piece of remarkable self-justification for the unforgivable in the Belfast Telegraph and I am shaking with fury. Your housemate was just 19 years old, so young and in a difficult situation. She was forced to buy pills from the internet to induce an abortion, because she couldn’t afford to hop on a boat or plane across to the rest of the country, where she could have accessed the medical care she needed. Because of your actions, she is a convicted criminal who could be sent to prison on a whim of any old judge with an axe to grind.

You know this, of course, and you chose to do this to punish her, because you are horrible people.

There, I said it.

Sorry, there’s nothing about this situation that doesn’t make you horrible people. In trying to explain why you did it, you’ve just made it even more obvious that you are horrible people, outright admitting that you did it because she didn’t show adequate remorse, and you have feelings about abortion which basically translate to you don’t think access medical care is something which should always be available to someone with a uterus.

You go on in sensationalist detail about how very traumatic you found your housemate’s abortion. Maybe that’s true. Abortion is not always a tidy business. However, I suspect your account is at least part fictitious: your description of the foetus does not match with what the physical evidence found was a 10-12 week foetus. Unless you have frankly microscopic eyesight you’re not going to be seeing it in the detail you describe. And furthermore, in another statement, one of you said that it was about four inches long: more than twice the length of a foetus at that point of gestation.

I’m not saying you’re lying maliciously (although you’re such horrible people, maybe you are). Human memory is a funny thing. It can be very easily modified without you ever knowing it’s happened. If you’re the sort of person who hates other people having control over their own uteruses, you’re probably quite a fan of anti-choice propaganda, where they like to show pictures of foetuses far later in gestation. Those little pieces of misdirection probably wormed their way into your subconscious and you thought that was what you’d seen on the night your housemate was driven to take drastic action and end her own pregnancy due to archaic laws in your part of the country. And I don’t know, maybe your boyfriend is a small-dicked liar which is why you said four inches when in reality it should be no more than two.

Anyway, because of the excesses in your descriptions of what you saw, I don’t believe a word you say about what happened that night.

Maybe you really were traumatised. It can be traumatic when someone you’re close to has a health emergency. I have epilepsy and I am achingly aware of how much worse my seizures are for other people who witness them than they are for me, because at least I have the luxury of being unconscious at the time. Thing is, your situation is different. You have absolutely no empathy for your housemate. None whatsoever. You didn’t help her in her time of need, because you felt she was to blame for what was happening. However traumatised you are about what you think you saw, it would have been much more traumatic for her: desperate and unable to seek medical help for something which needs to be done under medical supervision. If you’re traumatised by what you think you saw, imagine how much more traumatic it must be when that is happening to your own body. Oh wait, you can’t. Because you have no empathy. Because you’re horrible people.

What you did next is beyond cruel. You called the police on your housemate, because you didn’t like something you saw in the bin. Once, a (thankfully former) housemate of mine put some gone-off taramasalata in the bin. When I took the bag out, it split and pungent off-pink fish goo went all over my bare feet. It was gross and upsetting, and I cursed her name and that of all of her ancestors. I was absolutely furious. I didn’t call the fucking cops over it though.

No matter how pissed off you are at something someone else has done, no matter how much you disagree with it, you do not call the police on people. (There may be exceptions to this rule, e.g. in a domestic violence situation or if someone is about to kill themselves. Many people find police intervention even in these situations to be somewhere between useless to actively harmful, and a lot of the time an ambulance is a better bet)

Calling the police shows exactly what you are: horrible people with a desire to punish.

Your housemate made a terrible mistake. Not in self-inducing her abortion, but in trusting you enough to tell you what she was doing. Perhaps she was reaching out, and she didn’t want to suffer alone. Perhaps you had a good relationship before it. I don’t know why she would have trusted you enough to let you know, but I know if she hadn’t, she would not be considered a convicted criminal. Her options were essentially to go through the whole thing alone, or to trust others enough to talk to them. You betrayed her trust, her confidence. You threw it back in her face.

You know that in your part of the country, abortion is illegal and those who need it can face imprisonment. You know that your part of the country has laws which contravene basic human rights–and indeed, basic human decency. You know that Northern Ireland abortion laws are not designed to help, but rather to punish. Rather than feeling disgusted by that, you decided to take advantage of that fact and use this state of affairs to get revenge on a young woman who who made a dire decision.

There are no other words for it. You’re horrible people.

Seeing the anger within and outside your part of the country at what you set in motion gives me hope that perhaps soon these laws will not exist. And perhaps, up and down Northern Ireland, people realise just how important it is to not betray their friends. If someone has an abortion, they’ll show basic solidarity and keep their fucking gobs shut, no matter how much they disagree with a pal’s decision. Maybe they’ll go beyond that and offer help, support and empathy until your horrific abortion laws disintegrate. I hope you are the only people who are as nasty as to dob someone in to the police over something that in no way concerns them.

I wrote a much longer letter to you than I thought I would, but I am furious. I am angry at you, I am angry at your part of the country’s laws and I am absolutely livid that you would choose to throw someone at the mercy of those laws.

You, dear Belfast abortion snitches, are horrible people.

Fuck you,

stavvers

P.S. Anyone reading this may want to donate to Abortion Support Network’s Cover Her Costs campaign, giving people who need abortions in Northern Ireland the financial means to travel to where it’s legal for their care.

__

Note, added approximately an hour after publication: A friend has pointed out that a lack of empathy doesn’t always equal horrible person. I’d just like to echo and elevate this point, and apologise to neurodiverse people for the implication in my phrasing. What I used “empathy” to mean here was “compassion” or “kindness” or “caring about another human being’s welfare”–“empathy” is a loaded term and not necessarily the appropriate one. However, these Belfast abortion snitches are horrible people.


Don’t publish women’s sexual details: An open letter to @RHRealityCheck

Content note: This post discusses misogyny, attacks on reproductive rights, harassment and sex shaming.

Dear RH Reality Check,

Let me start by saying, I broadly support your aims. It’s important to provide news about reproductive justice, especially when our rights to safe control over our own bodies are so constantly under attack. Now that I’ve got your attention by being nice, let me tell you to go and fuck yourselves because you’ve done something practically unforgivably dickish.

Yesterday, you ran a piece by Sharona Coutts about Holly O’Donnell, an anti-choice scummer. I’m not going to link to the piece because of the personal details it contains, but this picture of the headline should remind you what it is:

Untitled

Coutts’s hot journalism was in fact just a misogynistic attack on O’Donnell. Coutts had decided her time was best spent not discrediting the anti-choice bile O’Donnell was spouting to discredit her, but rather choosing to discredit O’Donnell based on her sex life.

Coutts identified O’Donnell on dating websites through her pictures. This is pretty much the kind of creepy stalkerish behaviour we expect from the anti-choice lobby, that we pro-choicers are above.

Coutts then decided to publish details of O’Donnell’s sex life that she had posted about. Again, this is pretty much the kind of creepy stalkerish behaviour we expect from the anti-choice lobby, that we pro-choicers are above.

Coutts even published the usernames O’Donnell was using on various dating websites, exposing her to online harassment. Guess what? That’s the kind of creepy stalkerish behaviour we expect from the anti-choice lobby, that I would have thought we were above.

Coutts even kind of attacked her for supporting LGBT equality, acting as though that’s some kind of thing her peers should be horrified by. Yeeep, smacks of anti-choice lobby bullshit.

RH Reality Check, you thought it was a good idea to publish 1700 words of salacious attacks on a woman for her sexual behaviour and sexual preferences, outing her and exposing her to a high amount of harassment. You claim that you’re exposing hypocrisy, but it is you who are the hypocrites here. You’re sex-shaming a woman. You know that some of the religious types she organises with might attack her for it, and you’ve decided to open her up to that attack.

I fail to see how you could not know what you were doing with this, so I can only conclude you’ve done this on purpose. You’ve decided to act like the anti-choicers you claim to despise, to out a woman and declare open season on her. It’s no coincidence you’ve put it on your front page, you want everyone to join in the puritanical shaming of a fallen woman.

What you’ve done is not OK, it’s never OK. It’s the very opposite of OK. You’ve proved yourselves as gross and misogynistic as those you’re ostensibly opposing.

Get fucked,

stavvers

Update 14.45 21/8/15: It appears that RH Reality Check have taken down the post, although they so far have not mentioned why. This is not good enough. They need to address the issue and apologise to Ms O’Donnell for their misogynistic, sex-shaming harassment. 

Update 18.00 21/8/15: RH Reality Check have run a piece taking responsibility for running the piece, and saying it was wrong. The words “sorry” or “apologise” don’t factor in, and neither do they appear to understand that they basically used the exact same tactics as the anti-choicers. I also remain concerned about RHRC’s management, considering it doesn’t address the fact their fucking Vice President wrote the original hit piece.

Update 20.50: RH Reality Check have added the phrase “apologise unequivocally” to the above post. Also, I see this post has been linked through a right-wing opinion site. If you’re coming from there, hello, you’re mangy, poxy shitcanoes, and I hope you all die alone in pain. 


The Bruce amendment is dead… for now.

Fiona Bruce’s “Trojan horse” amendment has been shot down. I am filled with gush of relief which rushes through me after the latest immediate threat to my reproductive rights is disabled, but, as always, it is edged with fear about what will happen next. What happened yesterday wasn’t a victory, but rather holding the pitiful patch of ground we have staked out.

201 elected representatives voted in favour of restricting abortion rights. That’s a substantial chunk of the House of Commons, and their triumph was only thwarted by the hard work of Abortion Rights in mobilising a resistance and getting enough MPs to show up and vote against it.

Those who voted against it read like a rogue’s gallery of The Worst. The scumbags, the shitweasels, and the repeat uterus-botherers. Nadine Dorries voted for it gleefully, of course. That horrid UKIP cocknozzle who just got himself elected voted for it. Dominic Grieve, Christopher Chode Chope, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Oliver Letwin, Mark Harper, arseholes all. More chillingly perhaps, the health minister Jeremy Hunt wanted to exercise greater control over reproductive rights. Theresa May, the racist Home Secretary also unsurprisingly voted for something which would have ultimately turned out to be racist in its execution. Noted creep Nigel Evans is also on there, presumably he cannot resist barging his way into other people’s bodies. And of course, David Blunkett, who I hope is feeling really sad. The full list is here–is your worthless fuck of an MP on it?

A lot of those in favour of uterus-peeking are repeat offenders, those who seek to gain control over our bodies by any means necessary. However,it could have gone a lot worse. This amendment was framed as a way of saving women, playing upon a white saviour complex. It almost sucked a lot of people in. Fiona MacTaggart, who was well into this narrative until people started talking about how this was a terrible idea shed light on the situation in the debate:

I speak as one of the 13 MPs who co-sponsored the original ten-minute rule Bill of the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). I did that because I think she was right to make people aware that sex selective abortion is illegal, and I thought her Bill was a powerful and good tactic to do that. However, I feel a bit as though I have been pulled along by a Trojan horse because, as the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, the new clause confers the status of an unborn child on the foetus, and that radically changes our abortion laws in a way I believe is dangerous.

As I said in an earlier intervention, clauses 73 and 74, which deal with coercive behaviour, contain a powerful tool that we should use to prevent the kind of coercion to which the hon. Member for Congleton referred. In those references she quoted extensively from an organisation based in my constituency, but personal experience of how that organisation has failed to help individual constituents has led me to the conclusion that it is not possible to depend on the accuracy of what it says. I am therefore concerned that we are using anecdote from an unreliable source to make legislation on the hoof.

Having supported the hon. Lady’s original ten-minute rule Bill, I have since read something from an organisation in America that is closely linked to the all-party pro-life group that she chairs. The head of that group stated:

“I propose that we—the pro-life movement—adopt as our next goal the banning of sex…selective abortion. By formally protecting all female fetuses from abortion on the ground of their sex, we would plant in the law the proposition that the developing child is a being whose claims on us should not depend on their sex…This sense of contradiction will be further heightened among radical feminists—”

I think he means people like me—

“the shock troops of the abortion movement. They may believe that the right to abortion is fundamental to women’s emancipation, but many will recoil at the thought of aborting their unborn sisters.”

Now, MacTaggart has a track record for wanting to rescue women, with her views on sex work leading to attempts to bring the dangerous Swedish model into law (in fact, she attempted to sneak her horrible views in using exactly the same strategy as Fiona Bruce: by tacking it in as an amendment to a bill), as well as co-sponsoring another effort to criminalise reproductive freedoms in collaboration with Bruce.

What we can draw from the affair is this: it’s incredibly easy for the right to seduce with a narrative of saving women. It’s very easy to become carried away with it. This seems to be a new tactic for those who seek to invade our bodies and it is potentially a very powerful one. I will be wary and vigilant at all times.


2014 in review

Content note: this post discusses sexual violence and police violence

And so we reach the end of the year, and despite promising myself I wouldn’t do this, I am doing one of those icky “look back over the past year” kind of things, I’m doing it anyway (I was also meant to stop smoking this year, and I didn’t).

In truth, it’s been a little difficult to write this because there’s been a huge split between the personal and the political for me in 2014. In my personal life, 2014 has been brilliant. I love, and am loved. I have some financial security for the first time in my life. I managed to get quite a lot of my novel written. Everything’s coming up stavvers. It wasn’t all brilliant, of course. I wounded my fanny and got stalked by trolls.

However, 2014 has been pretty uniformly dire outside of my own personal little bubble, and I’ve had a lot to be pissed off about. Each week since the killing of Michael Brown, US cops have taken another Black life. The situation is also bad in the UK: the same pattern of killing and then lying keeps on and our pigs find ways of murdering without even having to carry guns. I haven’t commented on this much, because it’s not my place as a white woman, but I’ve almost weekly shared some content in my post round-ups which I thoroughly recommend you read. All of it. Take an afternoon.

In the UK, our political situation is looking pretty terrible, and it’s unlikely to change in the near future. With a general election looming in 2015, things are going to become completely insufferable. It’s the media’s fault, of course. The media has a fascination with leaders and white men, so we’ve been presented with two ghastly choices: do want Nigel Farage and fascism, or Russell Brand and the curse of left misogyny, God and some really badly-developed thought? One cannot move without tripping over either of these clowns. Of course, this is a false dichotomy: there’s heaps of possibilities, but a media owned by white men cannot conceptualise something which doesn’t involve dreadful white men flapping their awful mouths off.

The awful people who are already in government are making a right fucking hash of things too. We have Theresa May, determined to murder every single migrant, starting with the most vulnerable, like LGBT women. We have Iain Duncan Smith, who is trying to murder the poor through violently stopping their means of subsistence. They’ve been as nasty as ever this year, but come 2015 we’re unlikely to see any improvement even if the red party get elected.

Meanwhile, men who have been in government are emerging as paedophiles and rapists. A constantly-stalling investigation is ongoing into the child abuse rings at Westminster. Unfortunately, because cops and politicians are in each other’s pockets, corruption keeps cropping up and things grind to a halt again as yet more coverups come to light. I’m also a little concerned about the men who are still in Westminster. Nigel Evans, although cleared, was ruled even by the judge to be a complete fucking creep and were it not for his status, I suspect they may have thrown the book at him.

This has been, overall, a pretty good year for violent misogynists. Rapist Ched Evans waltzed out of prison, and, while Sheffield United chose to do the right thing (eventually) and drop him like the turd he is, it’s still entirely possible he may get to continue his illustrious career at another club, all the while continually proving he has learned nothing about consent. Shia LaBeouf spoke out about his experience of rape… to a near-universal chorus of disbelief from men. These were the sort of men who love to bring up “but men get raped too” when women talk about rape, but nonetheless failed to show any support to a male survivor. We also saw misogynist Elliot Rodger go on a killing spree while men tried to downplay the fact this was directly motivated by misogyny. Meanwhile popular left rag The Morning Star spike an article about violent misogynist Steve Hedley, because the left still hasn’t got its affairs in order there.

2014 has been very bad indeed for those of us with uteruses. In Ireland, many of us heard with horror the story of a dead woman whose body was kept on life support while her family were forced to watch her decompose because she had had the misfortune of dying while pregnant. This ghoulish act of violence was a direct result of Ireland’s absurdly restrictive abortion rights, and the judge only ruled that life support could be turned off because the foetus had no chance of surviving. Meanwhile in the UK, the situation is better, but last month our abortion rights were restricted further as sex-selective abortions were banned.

It was also a pretty bad year for sex workers, with momentum growing for the “Swedish model” which does not do anything to make the lives of sex workers safer, and many sex workers say will make things worse. Transmisogyny, too, continues to run rife, with transmisogynists turning up to picket lesbian pride parades and disrupt feminist conferences.

Alas, feminist movement and resistance is spotty at best. I am hoping, perhaps, that we can get our affairs in order in 2015, because we’re going to need to fight all the harder. For this to happen, we need to drop a lot of the crap we’ve been pulling. We need to inventory ourselves, honestly assessing what we may be doing wrong and where we are complicit in kyriarchical violence. We need to challenge violent thought where we see it, so that we may stand shoulder to shoulder with sisters of all colours, all genders, with our disabled sisters and our queer sisters and our trans sisters. Together, we are many, and we must overcome these divisions in 2015 if we are to stand a chance of winning.


Tomorrow, MPs will restrict your abortion rights

Tomorrow, MPs are voting on a bill to ban sex-selective abortion, and it looks very likely to go through. After all, this bill has certain mass appeal. Isn’t it terrible that baby girls are aborted? Isn’t it a feminist issue to stop that?

Of course it is, but not by whacking further restrictions on reproductive freedom. What we need to do is value girls. What we need to do is overturn patriarchy. What we need to do is a whole lot of fucking work, and it’s much easier for liberals to side with the womb-bothering creeps and restrict access to abortion.

The thing about abortion rights is we don’t need to agree with the choice being made. All we need to do is ensure that abortions happen safely, and this can only happen if the law allows it. Nobody should need to give a reason beyond “I don’t want to be pregnant any more, and I understand what this procedure entails”.

MPs are doing the exact opposite of this. They are playing on our racism to make it acceptable to restrict abortion rights for certain reasons.

If you have a little time today, try writing to or phoning your MP. Be loud about this in public, explain why you don’t agree with this invasive bill. Share links explaining why it is a bad idea. Make a lot of noise, because it’s our right to govern our own bodies freely that’s at stake here.


New women’s minister Nicky Morgan wants to restrict your abortion rights

After Maria Miller finally resigns, the bruise from the door hitting her arse on the way out throbbing, we hear of her replacement. While mostly known as culture secretary, Miller was also women’s minster.

The replacement for this part of her job is Nicky Morgan, who meets the qualification of women’s minister by being a woman. Unfortunately, this seems to be the limit of her qualification, because Ms Morgan has shown herself in her voting record to be anti-choice.

Remember back in 2011 when Nadine Dorries was manoeuvring to make it harder for people to access abortion? A fair few people with uteruses wrote to her, giving her the gory details she wanted to know about our relationships with our reproductive systems. Well, perhaps we should have cc’ed in Nicky Morgan, as Nicky Morgan voted with Dorries.

The specifics of the amendment was to make people seeking abortion undertake counselling or advice from an “independent” source: i.e. to delay access to abortion and also provide some grotesque anti-choice propaganda before it happened.

Nicky Morgan, the new women’s minister, voted in favour of this.

Now, while abortion isn’t just a women’s issue, it’s undeniably something which does affect a lot of women. Having an anti-choice women’s minister in place makes me nervous. I don’t want a nosy womb-botherer in that position.

Did David Cameron know that Ms Morgan is anti-choice when he appointed her? Did he go “oh look, a woman, you’ll do?” Or did he actively select Ms Morgan because of this voting record. Is it misogyny by omission or commission? Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is not only do they not give a fuck about crucial human rights, but might seek to make things a little worse.

Nicky Morgan, the new women’s minister, is anti-choice. Remember that, and let it colour your view of all she does until she proves otherwise.


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